Braggin' rights, and maybe more, on the line across the SEC
Marlon Humphrey would eat lunch with the other Alabama fans in elementary school, proudly sporting his red wig and his father's old crimson letterman's jacket. The kids who rooted for Auburn sat elsewhere, of course.
It's rivalry week around the Southeastern Conference. States – and school cafeterias, in some cases – are divided, as was the case at Gwin Elementary when it came Iron Bowl time.
''It's crazy. It's a really big deal,'' said Humphrey, now a cornerback for the top-ranked Crimson Tide, where his father Bobby once starred.
So are a half-dozen other games between traditional rivals. Not all of them have high national stakes involved, but they're all big for the respective fans every single time.
No. 13 Florida plays No. 15 Florida State before heading to the SEC championship game against Alabama. Georgia hopes for a strong finish to Kirby Smart's first season against Georgia Tech. Mississippi and Mississippi State hope to put a satisfying ending to disappointing seasons, with the Rebels trying to secure bowl eligibility with a sixth win.
Like Auburn, Kentucky and South Carolina are trying to pull off huge road upsets. Kentucky faces No. 11 Louisville and the Gamecocks go against No. 4 Clemson.
Vanderbilt's also seeking a sixth win against Tennessee, the preseason East Division favorite.
Whatever kind of season they've had, it just feels better with a closing win over that hated rival.
''These games are always quite interesting regardless of record and are always highly competitive,'' Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. ''I know this one will be no different.''
Not every SEC matchup this week has that same history and magnitude but Arkansas-Missouri Friday and Texas A&M-LSU Thursday night are border games for teams with no active in-state rivalries.
Here's a look at this week's traditional rivalries involving SEC teams:
Series began: 1893.
Series record: Alabama leads 44-35-1.
Trophy: James E. Foy V-ODK Sportsmanship Trophy.
Why it's a big deal: The Iron Bowl largely consumes a state year-round partly because there are no major pro teams in Alabama. For folks in Alabama, and probably the region, at least, it's regarded as college football's greatest rivalry.
Best game: No. 4 Auburn 34, No. 1 Alabama 28, 2013. Forever known as the “Kick-Six” game , it was a back-and-forth game featuring key defensive stops and big plays. Then, of course, Chris Davis returned a missed field goal 109 yards on the final play. Plus a trip to the SEC championship game and national title shot was on the line for both.
This year: Alabama has already secured a spot in the SEC title game against No. 13 Florida, and is assured of a playoff berth with wins. Auburn could turn this from a solid season to a really good one in the eyes of most fans.
Series began: 1893
Series record: Georgia leads 65-38-5 according to its records and 65-40-5 according to Georgia Tech, including two wins during World War II which Georgia doesn't count.
Trophy: Governor's Cup
Why it's a big deal: Each team is aiming for a strong regular-season finish to cast a positive shine on mostly disappointing records. Georgia is looking to give first-year coach Kirby Smart a win in his debut in the series, which Georgia Tech is looking for its second win in three years.
Best game: Georgia Tech 51, Georgia 48, OT, 1999. The teams combined for 1,102 total yards in the highest scoring game in the series. Georgia blocked the Yellow Jackets' first field goal attempt in overtime, but Georgia Tech recovered to set up Luke Manget's game-winning 38-yarder.
This year: There are many similarities. Each team is 7-4 overall and 4-4 in its conference. Georgia has won three straight, including a 13-7 upset of then-No. 8 Auburn. Georgia Tech has won four of five, including a 30-20 upset of then-No. 18 Virginia Tech. Each team features strong running games. A major difference is the Yellow Jackets are led by senior quarterback Justin Thomas, while freshman Jacob Eason starts for the Bulldogs.
Series began: 1912 (resumed in 1994 after a 70-year hiatus).
Series record: Tied, 14-14.
Trophy: Governor's Cup.
Why it's a big deal: The schools' longtime basketball rivalry is obviously bigger but getting a head start on Bluegrass bragging rights never hurts. Kentucky dominated Louisville 220-0 in the series' first six games before the Cardinals responded to win 14 of 22 since then with five straight wins. The programs' opposite fortunes in recent years have helped fuel its intensity resulting in close games and short tempers, boiling over two years ago in Louisville with a pregame brawl at midfield.
Best game: Louisville 44, Kentucky 40, 2014. That contest was the series' first as the season finale and the Cardinals trailed 13-0 before reserve quarterback Kyle Bolin entered to throw for 381 yards and three touchdowns in a shootout that denied the Wildcats bowl eligibility. (Note: Louisville did it again last fall with a 38-24 win after trailing 21-0.)
This year: Having ended a six-year postseason drought, Kentucky aims to enhance its profile for one of several bowls. No. 11 Louisville had its College Football Playoff hopes dashed with last week's loss at Houston but remains in the mix for several bowls, including the Orange.
OLE MISS-MISSISSIPPI STATE
Series began: 1901.
Series record: Ole Miss leads 63-43-6.
Trophy: The Golden Egg.
Why it's a big deal: The Egg Bowl is the biggest sporting event in Mississippi, pitting two schools that have long been annoyed by one another's presence. Even in years where both teams are struggling (like this one), a win in the Egg Bowl can put a positive spin on the season. The outcome in some cases can cost a coach his job. In recent history, both Ole Miss' Ed Orgeron (2007) and Mississippi State's Sylvester Croom (2008) have been fired following humiliating Egg Bowl losses.
Best game: Ole Miss 24, Mississippi State 23, 1983. In a game that many call ''The Immaculate Deflection,'' Mississippi State's 27-yard game-winning field goal attempt in the final seconds looked like it was heading right through the uprights until a huge gust of wind came through the horseshoe-shaped stadium in Jackson, Mississippi, and pushed the ball back short of the uprights.
This year: Saturday's matchup is mostly about pride. Ole Miss can assure a bowl berth with its sixth victory, while Mississippi State will try to spoil the party in Oxford and win the Egg Bowl for the first time since 2013.
Series began: 1892.
Series record: Tennessee leads 75-29-5 or 75-30-5 by Vanderbilt's count.
Why it's a big deal: No nickname and no trophy in this rivalry. But Vanderbilt so dominated this series that Tennessee hired coach Robert Neyland in 1926 with the simple mission of beating the Commodores. Since 1928, Tennessee has lost just 11 games to Vandy with 2 ties. Separated by about 200 miles, Tennessee is the state's public university, while Vanderbilt is the Southeastern Conference's lone private school.
Best game: Vanderbilt 28, Tennessee 24, 2005. Jay Cutler drove the Commodore down the field for the winning touchdown with 1:11 left to end Tennessee's 22-game win streak that was the second-longest between major teams in then-Division I-A. The Commodores got their first win at Neyland Stadium since 1975 and kept the Vols from being bowl eligible for the first time since 1988.
This year: Tennessee, with a win and some help from other SEC teams, could go to the Sugar Bowl. Vanderbilt could be bowl eligible before kickoff thanks to its SEC-best APR, but the Commodores want their third win in five years to give coach Derek Mason his best season yet with a sixth win earning bowl eligibility on the field.
Series began: 1958.
Series record: Florida leads 34-24-2
Trophy: Florida Cup.
Why it's a big deal: Once dominated by the Gators, it was especially prominent in the 1990s between Spurrier's Florida teams and Bobby Bowden's Seminoles. The teams were both routinely ranked in the Top 10 during the 1990s. Both teams also have other big rivals, like Florida-Georgia and Florida State-Miami.
Best game: FSU won a matchup of 1 versus 2 in 1996, 24-21. Spurrier complained that some of the hits on quarterback Danny Wuerffel were late and Bowden responded by saying his guys ''hit to the echo of the whistle.'' The teams had a rematch in the Sugar Bowl for the national title, and Florida romped 52-20 for the program's first championship.
This year: Florida has already clinched an SEC championship game berth against No. 1 Alabama, with an outside shot at making the playoffs. The Seminoles, who made the playoffs two years ago, are 8-3 and out of the division race.
Series began: 1896.
Series record: Clemson leads 67-42-4.
Trophy: Palmetto Bowl Trophy
Why it's a big deal: Because there's no pro sports teams in the Palmetto State so the football game between the state's two major universities is the marquee sporting event – something fans salivate over 365 days a year. It once, back in 2004, sparked a sidelines clearing brawl that cost both teams bowl games as punishment.
Best game: Clemson 16, South Carolina 14, 2000. With Lou Holtz leading a turnaround season for the Gamecocks, South Carolina held a 14-13 lead in the final minute. Clemson quarterback Woody Dantzler heaved a 50-yard pass to Rod Gardner that set up Aaron Hunt's last-second field goal. South Carolina fans say Gardner pushed off, Holtz event slamming officials by saying there were ''29 people on the field'' deciding the game. Replays seemed to show Gardner gaining separation on Andre Goodman with a solid stiff arm.
This year: Clemson needs to win to keep its College Football Playoff hopes alive. Spoiling that dream for No. 4 Clemson would perhaps make this bowl eligible South Carolina's greatest victory.
AP Sports Writers Pete Iacobelli, Charles Odum, David Brandt, Mark Long and Teresa Walker contributed to this report.
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