Here are some things to keep an eye on in the SEC this weekend:
1. How the East was won: Despite the East’s struggles this season, Saturday could be a very exciting day to determine the East champion. South Carolina gets things started with its crucial home game with Florida. Three hours later, Georgia, which is currently a half-game ahead of South Carolina in the East, takes on rival Auburn “Between the Hedges.” A South Carolina loss and a Georgia win give the Bulldogs the division. If South Carolina wins and the Bulldogs fall, preseason East favorite South Carolina will make it back-to-back years in Atlanta. Both win, and we have another week of waiting. Nerves will be high Saturday afternoon in the SEC East.
2. A potential letdown on the Bayou: After an emotional win over Alabama last week, it would be natural for LSU to come out slow and lazy against Western Kentucky. Coach Les Miles said earlier this week that he worried about his team overlooking Western Kentucky this weekend. He was impressed by a vigorous Monday practice and thinks his team has the right mindset heading into a game with an overmatched out-of-conference team. Still, don’t be surprised if Miles has to get on his players early if the Tigers stumble through part of the first quarter.
3. Alabama’s rebound: Losing by a field goal in overtime to LSU could derail the Crimson Tide’s chances at a national championship. Do you think that will go over well in Alabama’s locker room this week? We didn’t either. The Tide will be beyond mad from here on out, knowing that it has to win each and every game left on its schedule. Alabama will not only be looking to win, it will be looking to run over and through opponents. The Tide gets its first shot at redemption this week against Mississippi State. The Bulldogs haven’t been close to the team we expected it to be this year, but playing at home will help some. But how long can the Bulldogs hold this fuming Tide back?
4. Isaiah Crowell’s return: It has been an up-and-down first year for Georgia’s freshman running back. From enormous hype entering the season, to questions about his heart out on the field, to off-field issues, this has been a tough transition for Crowell. His maturity has been called into question time and time again, but few freshmen come in with the attitudes of veterans. However, Crowell is the starting running back at Georgia and he has to understand that he has a lot of responsibility to deal with. After serving a one-game suspension, he returns this week for a crucial game against Auburn and the Bulldogs will need him for all four quarters. He’s had a LeBron complex during games, but now that he’s back and he says he’s looking to make a change, a great way to show that is to play a complete game.
5. The battle for a bowl: Vanderbilt and Kentucky square off this weekend with identical 4-5 records, and the winner will take a mighty step toward a bowl game. Vanderbilt coach James Franklin has said time and time again that these aren’t the Commodores of old, and while the energy and excitement truly is different, the outcomes against conference teams have been the same. As for Kentucky, things started off slow and ugly, but the Wildcats are right back in the bowl race after beating Ole Miss last week. A win over Vanderbilt would be huge for coach Joker Phillips, who has come under a lot of scrutiny in his second season. This is a big game for both football programs.
6. A loose Florida offense: The Gators have been playing tight ever since quarterback John Brantley went down with a serious ankle injury in the second quarter of the Alabama game. Obviously, when Brantley isn’t running the offense it is nothing short of inept, but even during his return in the past two weeks, Florida still hasn’t moved the ball like it did during its first four games. The running game got back on track against Vanderbilt last week, but the passing game was still sluggish. Florida isn’t playing for the SEC East, so it could be time for this offense to let loose against South Carolina. Playing with a nothing-to-lose attitude could be what this team needs to generate some much-needed momentum from here on out.
7. Rested Tigers: Auburn has been quite the surprise this year. It isn’t just the record that has impressed but the way Auburn has been able to pull victories out. For a team littered with youngsters, Auburn has won games by showing off its resiliency time and time again. This week, the Tigers could upend Georgia’s SEC title hopes by walking about of Sanford Stadium with a win. Auburn has had two weeks to prepare for this game and is well rested. Coach Gene Chizik talked this week and last about tightening things up on both sides of the ball and he’s done a great job of making adjustments this year. The Bulldogs won’t intimidate this Tigers team Saturday.
8. Jarrett Lee’s confidence: After a tough game against Alabama last week, you have to wonder how LSU’s quarterback is feeling after watching Jordan Jefferson get the majority of the snaps in such a big win. He’s heard all year that Jefferson could be coming for his job and the two-quarterback system has shown more and more of Jefferson. Miles has been pretty quiet about how much time each quarterback will get this weekend and he has been very clear about one thing: he won’t coddle the fifth-year senior. Miles said Lee wouldn’t be shaken by a rough outing in Tuscaloosa because he’s been through this plenty of times. Still, with title hopes engulfing LSU’s locker room, Jefferson wants to keep his job and wants to be THE GUY going forward. Will he finally try to do too much this weekend to cement himself as the starter?
9. Broken records: Arkansas will say goodbye to 17 seniors Saturday before the Tennessee game. Two of them -- wide receivers Joe Adams and Jarius Wright -- will be looking to break the school record for career receptions. The Arkansas record is 153 catches and Adams is two catches behind (151), while Wright is three behind (150). How great would it be if they both did it at home on senior day? But who will come out of the game as the all-time leader? Wright has been the conference’s best receiver this year, while Adams has hovered in and out of the limelight. He’s been making plays in both the running and receiving games. It will be a fun battle to watch Saturday as the Hogs not only look to send these players out on a high note but keep their BCS hopes alive.
10. Beginning of the end for Houston Nutt: Saturday begins the countdown to Nutt’s resignation at Ole Miss. He had a great start with the Rebels, with back-to-back nine-win seasons and Cotton Bowl victories. But recruiting misses and attrition have rocked the Rebels’ depth in the past two years, and now after back-to-back losing seasons, including a current stretch of 12 straight conference losses, Nutt has been let go. Now is the time for his players to send him out as best as they can. It all starts with a strong showing against Louisiana Tech. This will no doubt be a very emotional game for Nutt and his players, but this team should come out fighting for their coach.