All sorts of trophies are at stake this week as SEC teams prepare to play in seven in-state rivalry games.
But mementos from victories over rivals are just a small part of what’s in play as the SEC reaches its final weekend of the season. Bowl appearances, division titles, perhaps even a few careers – all of those things hang in the balance this week in the SEC.
Here’s a first glance at Week 13 around the conference.
SEC West up for grabs: Judging by the way No. 2 Alabama (10-1) has been steamrolling its opponents lately, we’ve all taken for granted that the Crimson Tide will meet the SEC East’s champ, No. 8 Florida (10-1), next Saturday in the SEC championship game.
However, Nick Saban’s team hasn’t wrapped up the Western Division title just yet. It seems highly unlikely, but No. 22 Ole Miss (8-3) can still slip through the back door and win the division. All the Rebels need is to win at Mississippi State (8-3) on Saturday and for Auburn (6-5) to beat Alabama. Then Ole Miss and Alabama would have matching 6-2 conference records and the Rebels would win a tiebreaker over Alabama thanks to a head-to-head win earlier this season.
Mississippi State has beaten Ole Miss in seven of the last eight Egg Bowls that were held in Starkville, however, and Alabama opened as a 13-point favorite to win at Auburn. The Rebels are still alive, but they seem like a long shot to make it to Atlanta for the first time in program history.
Coaches on the hot seat: Two of the SEC’s longest-tenured coaches face questionable futures at their schools.
Although the noise has died down a bit now that Georgia (8-3) has won its last three games, Mark Richt can’t afford to lose to Georgia Tech for a second straight season – especially because the Yellow Jackets carry a 3-8 record into Saturday’s game.
Speaking of three-game losing streaks, that’s how many consecutive games Les Miles’ LSU club has dropped. No LSU team had lost three in a row since 1999, coincidentally the season where then-coach Gerry DiNardo got canned just before the end of the season. It seemed like a bizarre notion a week or two ago that Miles’ job could be in jeopardy, but that’s clearly the case – and he won’t find many defenders if the Tigers (7-3) fail to beat Texas A&M (8-3) and former Miles assistant John Chavis on Saturday.
Farewell to Pinkel: Unlike Miles and Richt, we already know this could be it for Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, who announced he would retire at the end of the season after being treated for lymphoma.
At minimum, Pinkel will coach his last regular-season game with the Tigers (5-6) on Friday against Arkansas (6-5). With a victory he could still be around for a bowl game, which would provide a fitting tribute to a true class act and winner.
Wildcats angling for sixth win: Pinkel’s team isn’t the only SEC team that can become bowl-eligible by winning this week. Mark Stoops’ Kentucky Wildcats (5-6) will host rival Louisville (6-5) Saturday with hopes of qualifying for Kentucky’s first bowl appearance since the 2010 season.
Louisville has won four in a row against the Wildcats, two of which have come since Stoops became Kentucky’s coach. Since the dormant rivalry was revived in 1994, Louisville has won 13 of 21 meetings – including eight of 12 in Lexington.
Bowl positioning: The SEC already has 10 bowl-eligible teams – all seven clubs from the West plus Florida, Georgia and Tennessee (7-4) from the East – and the number of SEC bowl participants could reach as many as 12 with wins by Missouri and Kentucky.
That’s the easy part to determine. Projecting where any of these teams will go bowling requires plenty of guesswork.
Unless Florida beats rival Florida State (9-2) and Alabama – thereby grabbing a possible playoff spot – the Gators probably play in the Sugar Bowl if they split. If they lose both, it could be any number of three-loss SEC teams, with the Egg Bowl winner probably ranking as the biggest threat to the Gators.
Assuming Alabama wins out and Florida draws the SEC’s only New Year’s Six bowl berth, several teams with similar records could wind up in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl, which gets the first pick of remaining SEC teams.
At least three teams will have nine wins after this weekend (Alabama, Florida, the Egg Bowl winner), and the number could grow to five with wins by Texas A&M and Georgia. The multiple highly similar resumes will make it a murky process as the conference office, bowls and schools work to set matchups for the pool of six SEC bowls that follow the Citrus in the pecking order.
That makes this weekend’s outcomes important, as teams jockeying for bowl positioning need every win they can get.