Rivalry week is upon us in the SEC, and with Thanksgiving coming up on Thursday and Alabama and Auburn playing on Friday, we’ll take an earlier look than normal at what to watch this week in the SEC.
Here’s how Week 13 shapes up:
1. Keeping an eye on each other: Both Alabama and Florida face tough rivalry games, which makes it anything but ideal to think about anything other than what’s right in front of you. Still, how far away will the Gators be from the Crimson Tide’s mind, and how far away will the Crimson Tide be from the Gators’ minds? These two teams have been on a collision course now for this entire month. With the big showdown looming next week, the key is for both teams to block out that game and play winning football this week against two teams that would love nothing more than to ruin their seasons.
2. Ingram vs. Tate: Who’s the best running back in the state of Alabama? Looks like we’re going to find out. Auburn’s Ben Tate is already on record (sort of) as saying that he is. The truth is that both he and Alabama’s Mark Ingram have had outstanding seasons. Both are alike in that they’re power runners and thrive on contact. Tate’s a little bit bigger, but Ingram’s probably more explosive through the hole. Ingram heads into this game as the front-runner in the Heisman Trophy race. But if he’s out-dueled by Tate, it will be interesting to see how much that hurts his chances. This is a nationally televised game the day after Thanksgiving, and everybody will be watching.
3. Winning on the Plains: Alabama last won at Auburn in 2001, a 31-7 victory during Dennis Franchione’s first season as the Crimson Tide’s coach. But for Nick Saban, he’s still looking for his first win on the Plains. He’s 0-4 at Auburn as a head coach. His first Alabama team lost 17-10 in 2007 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. And at LSU, he lost in 2000, 2002 and 2004. That 2004 loss (10-9) came when LSU was ranked No. 5 nationally and had won 10 straight games dating back to the previous national championship season.
4. Tebow’s farewell: He’s scored an SEC-record 54 touchdowns and been the most visible player in all of college football the last two years. Tim Tebow plays his final home game on Saturday in the Swamp against Florida State. He’s part of a senior class that’s gone 46-6 at Florida with two national championships and two SEC championships. As loathed as he is around the league by opposing fans, Tebow is beloved by the Gator Nation. While this will be his finale as a player, he’s hinted that he might return to Florida some day as a coach.
5. Les is more: It’s going to take a while for LSU coach Les Miles to crawl out from under that end-of-game disaster last weekend against Ole Miss. There are some on the Bayou who think it won’t ever completely go away. Then again, they forget pretty quickly in the SEC when you’re winning big. Miles was winning big a couple of years ago when he won the BCS national championship. But since that game to end the 2007 season, the Tigers are just 7-8 against SEC foes. The last thing Miles needs is for that mark to slip to 7-9 this Saturday against Arkansas. A win over the Hogs certainly wouldn’t fix everything. But a loss to the Hogs would take an already difficult situation and make it unbearable.
6. Jackson’s impact: After having the attempted armed robbery charges against him dismissed this week, Tennessee freshman safety Janzen Jackson will jump right back into the starting lineup against Kentucky. The whole ordeal was embarrassing for Tennessee, but the most damaging thing on the field for the Vols was not having Jackson in the lineup. He’s missed the last three games, including the Memphis game for an earlier suspension. Tennessee defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin feels like Jackson is as important to what the Vols do defensively as Eric Berry, and it’s pretty obvious the last few weeks that Tennessee hasn’t been nearly as good without him on the field. Jackson will be a big key in helping to keep Kentucky’s Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke contained.
7. Defenseless Dogs: Nobody has a short memory in the Georgia camp this week. The Bulldogs were shredded last season by Georgia Tech to the tune of 409 rushing yards in a 45-42 loss in Athens. They get another shot at Paul Johnson’s option offense this Saturday in Atlanta, although there’s not a lot of proof that the Bulldogs are any better equipped to stop the Yellow Jackets. Despite its struggles on defense, Georgia is actually ranked third in the SEC in rushing defense. What’s killing the Georgia defense is its inability to keep teams from scoring. If you eliminate Tennessee Tech and Vanderbilt this season, the Bulldogs are giving up an average of 31.4 points per game.
8. Turning it over in bunches: Georgia is 119th nationally in turnover ratio. The only team worse is Miami (Ohio). The Bulldogs are minus-18, which includes just eight takeaways and 26 giveaways. David Hale, who covers Georgia for The Macon Telegraph, did some research and discovered that the Bulldogs’ turnover ratio this season is the 11th worst of any FBS team over the last decade. You knew it was bad, but that’s really putting it into perspective. Of the 10 teams that were worse than Georgia this decade, nobody finished with more than four wins. The Bulldogs have six heading into Saturday’s game against Georgia Tech.
9. McCluster’s race to 1,000: Ole Miss’ Dexter McCluster needs 97 yards this weekend against Mississippi State to get to 1,000 yards rushing for the season. That’s always an impressive milestone in the SEC. But when you consider that McCluster didn’t even have 200 yards heading into the Arkansas game on Oct. 24, it reinforces what an incredible second half of the season the 170-pound senior from Largo, Fla., has enjoyed. He’s been the Player of the Year in the SEC the second half of the season and is averaging 184.7 yards rushing against the last four SEC defenses that he’s faced.
10. Ending droughts: Kentucky has lost 24 straight football games to Tennessee, the longest active losing streak in the country among teams that play every year. South Carolina has lost 10 of its last 12 meetings with Clemson and 16 of the last 21 games in the series. It’s difficult to call either one a rivalry at this point. Tennessee has dominated Kentucky, and Clemson has dominated South Carolina. Is this the year the Wildcats and Gamecocks finally quit becoming the punching bag in the game their fans care most about? We find out on Saturday.