SEC Coming Attractions: How West could be won; Auburn vs. Gurley and Georgia; more
In order for the SEC to wind up with two teams in the initial College Football Playoff, that second contender is going to need some help. What’s undeniable is that the winner of Saturday’s clash in Tuscaloosa will control its own destiny in the playoff chase and in the rugged West.
A Bulldogs’ win would leave No. 1 Mississippi State needing only a victory over Vanderbilt on Nov. 22 to clinch. The only remaining game on the fifth-ranked Crimson Tide schedule is Alabama’s Iron Bowl matchup with Auburn on the 29th.
There are major Heisman Trophy implications as well, with Dak Prescott in line to distance himself from Oregon’s Marcus Mariota with the Mississippi State quarterback’s fourth win over a top-10 opponent. By comparison, Army’s Doc Blanchard is the only player in history to win the award having beaten that many top-10 teams in a season.
So yeah, it’s big.
While the spotlight on Bryant-Denny Stadium will shine bright, it’s not the only thing worth watching this weekend. Herewith, five storylines worth watching in your SEC Coming Attractions.
Give Blake Sims credit: he delivered when Alabama needed him to at LSU, overcoming a 14 of 37 line in the first 13 possessions by going 6 of 8 on the last two, including throwing the game-winning touchdown in overtime. But the raw numbers, which included the lowest completion percentage by a Crimson Tide QB in SEC play in five years (44.4) and no completion longer than 24 yards, weren’t great as he now faces the nation’s best red-zone defense (58.1 percent) and tries to outshine Prescott. Sims hasn’t hit on at least 60 percent of his passes since Oct. 4 and the last time he saw a top-10 opponent, he threw a game-ending interception at Ole Miss. The stage could be overwhelming for the first-year starter — as well as for Mississippi State, which isn’t used to being in this position — but if Alabama is to set the stage for a return to Atlanta, it will likely need more consistency out of Sims.
GET YOUR POPCORN: When Ed Norton walloped on Oscar-winner-to-be Jared Leto in ‘Fight Club,’ he remarked "I felt like destroying something beautiful." The result will be the same in Tuscaloosa, as either Dan Mullen or Nick Saban is going to all but destroy the other’s playoff hopes.
There’s no cheering in the press box, but a year ago when Ricardo Louis caught the Prayer at Jordan-Hare, a number us media members still leapt from our seats. It’s going to be hard to follow up as No. 9 Auburn and No. 15 Georgia meet at Sanford Stadium. And you wonder how Gus Malzahn’s Tigers are going to respond in general after basically fumbling away their playoff chances (twice) against Texas A&M. The Bulldogs, still very much alive in the East race, got their offense back in rhythm at Kentucky and will have their best player back in Todd Gurley. That could spell trouble for Auburn whose rush defense went from allowing 100.2 yards per game through the first five games to yielding 166 in the last four.
GRAB YOUR POPCORN: Even after having their relationship wiped from their memories, Joel and Clementine got back together. Auburn can’t afford a relapse as it clings to slim playoff hopes, but maybe Gus Malzahn can get the roster a trip to Lacuna to forget what happened vs. the Aggies.
The No. 24 Aggies are fifth in the West with a 3-3 conference mark after knocking off then-No. 3 Auburn, but now two of those league wins have come against top-10 teams (South Carolina, which was ninth at the time). Only one other FBS team can match Texas A&M’s victories over those opponents: No. 1 Mississippi State. Kevin Sumlin’s crew is resigned to playing the spoilers at this point and after dropping the Tigers down a peg in the division, they’ll try to do the same to the SEC’s other Tigers as the Aggies host East-leading Missouri. Maty Mauk has been setting up the Mizzou passing game with his legs, averaging 66.5 rushing yards per game the past two weeks. That bodes well against Texas A&M, which has struggled to stop anyone on the ground, including allowing 363 vs. Auburn. But the key here is freshman Kyle Allen. His confidence will be high after torching Auburn for four passing touchdowns, but he’s going from facing a blitz-heavy D to a Missouri one that plays it safe. Basically he won’t see as much man-to-man coverage and he’ll be dealing with one of the SEC’s top pass-rushers in Shane Ray (19 1/2 sacks).
GRAB YOUR POPCORN: ‘Se7en’ is one of the most depressing movies in recent memory and that scene when Mills (Brad Pitt, making his second appearance this week) looks inside the box is maybe the most gut-wrenching. That had to be what Auburn was feeling last week, just slightly better. Can Missouri avoid a sequel?
Since 2000, Navy and Toledo have combined for the most rushing attempts in a single game with 139 on Oct. 19, 2013, with 93 of those via the Midshipmen. In that span, Arkansas and Ole Miss top the SEC, totaling 130 on Nov. 3, 2011. The Razorbacks were responsible for 80 of those. We may not see either of those figures challenged Saturday in Fayetteville, but there will be plenty of running as No. 17 LSU (49.4 attempts per game) and Arkansas (43) lock up. Adding to the old-school vibe, there is a 40 percent chance of snow, which will make this look more like the Big Ten than the SEC. These matchups have been close of late, with eight of the last nine being decided by one possession. Factor in the Tigers coming off an overtime loss to Alabama and the Razorbacks rested and this could be Bret Bielema’s best bet at an SEC win.
GRAB YOUR POPCORN: Phil was stuck in the same day (over and over again) and it may feel like we’re stuck in the same offensive series (over and over again) with these squads.
If Kentucky is going to bring an end to its bowl drought, this would be the time to wrap things up. The Wildcats follow Tennessee with a trip to Louisville — which has the nation’s sixth-ranked defense and nearly knocked off Florida State — on Nov. 29. A loss here would give the 4-5 Volunteers zero margin of error over the last two games as they host Missouri and head to Vanderbilt. Plus, this could be Butch Jones and Co.’s last shot at a home victory, given that they will be underdogs against Missouri. The Volunteers haven’t won an SEC game at home since Oct. 19, 2013 vs. South Carolina. One way or the other, there figures to be plenty of antsy fans on the banks of the Tennessee River.
GRAB YOUR POPCORN: Yes, ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’ was altogether ridiculous, but think about it, there are children nearing kindergarten age that haven’t been alive for a Volunteers or Wildcats’ bowl game. After Saturday, one of them could be eligible and there’s still a chance both get there. So … I’m saying maybe Lincoln did take down the undead?