A lot of major conferences have their so-called “light weeks”, where they play smaller schools. It just so happens that the SEC has one of their lighter weeks in the middle of November. Seven SEC schools will face FCS opponents in Week 12, leaving just a handful of conference games. After a wild SEC slate last week, including #1 Alabama’s first loss of the year, we will take a slightly unconventional trip around Week 12 in the conference.
We will also unveil a new feature — for perhaps the only time all year — called the Info Button. This button, much like the one on your remote, will tell you a little about some of the FCS teams going to play SEC opponents this weekend. Since you already know about all of the SEC teams, and they are all favorites to win, this is a great time to introduce you to their opponents.
Get your remotes and notebooks ready. It should be a fun jaunt around the league. Before we set out on that journey, though…it’s time for trivia!
SEC Trivia, Week 12 (answer at the end of the article): Which FCS team was the last to defeat an SEC team, and when did it take place?
Top of the Ratings
Ole Miss (5-5, 2-4) at #7 LSU (8-2, 4-2), 3:30pm ET, CBS
Last week’s episode: Vanderbilt 27, Ole Miss 26; LSU 37, Mississippi State 17
Program guide: In most weeks, this would not be the so-called marquee matchup; however, this is the game of the week among SEC contests. Mississippi gets another crack at bowl eligibility after a heartbreaking loss to Vanderbilt at home last week. Vandy scored 21 of their 27 points in the second half, with the game winner coming from Jordan Rodgers to Chris Boyd from 26 yards out with 1:09 left. Mississippi outperformed Vanderbilt in every offensive category but rushing yards (104 to 55), making the loss sting that much more.
The Rebs are sixth in the conference in total offense, outgaining LSU by just over 20 yards a game. Mississippi has the considerable advantage in passing offense, while LSU has the advantage on the ground. To further underscore the Rebels’ struggles rushing the football, they have not rushed for over 100 yards in a game since a 200-yard total against Auburn a month ago. They have put up rushing totals of 77, 46 and 55 in going 1-2 against Arkansas, Georgia and Vanderbilt.
LSU, on the other hand, put up their second-lowest rushing total of the year (their 119-yard total was eclipsed by only their 42-yard effort against Florida) in their thrashing of the Bulldogs last week. The Tigers have amassed five 200-plus yard rushing games, including two against SEC powers South Carolina and Texas A&M. LSU’s two highest passing totals have also come in their last two games against Alabama and last Saturday against Mississippi State. LSU’s offensive attack seems to be evolving, and the question here has to be how Mississippi’s defense adjusts to keep the Tigers at bay.
LSU has just one player in the conference’s top ten in total offense (Zach Mettenberger is tenth at 184.9 yards per game), but Jeremy Hill, Kenny Hilliard and Michael Ford all take up residence in the top forty. Mississippi has allowed fewer than 300 yards just once in SEC play (against Auburn), and combining this with their allowing every SEC opponent thus far to rush for over 100 yards, it doesn’t look good for the Rebels. Though LSU’s shot at reaching Atlanta appears done, they can send Mississippi reeling toward the Egg Bowl. A victory at Death Valley is a tough hill to climb, and if Mississippi comes out with any kind of hangover from last week’s game, watch out.
Set Your DVR
Arkansas (4-6, 2-4) at Mississippi State (7-3, 3-3), 12:21pm ET, SEC Network (regional)
Program guide: Oh, Arkansas. You get so tantalizingly close to pulling even at .500 and knocking on the door of a bowl bid, and then get hammered by a weakened South Carolina team. It’s not even that the Razorbacks played so terribly, as they were statistically close to the Gamecocks in almost every category. The real gut punch for Arkansas came in the turnover category. Carolina forced three Razorback turnovers, including two Tyler Wilson interceptions. The Razorbacks are dead last in the conference in turnover margin, and this is a great indicator as to why they are 4-6.
Mississippi State, conversely, is tied for first in the conference in turnover margin, and that ball-hawking defense will look to return to its winning ways in Starkville. The Bulldogs are a yard shy of allowing 1400 total yards of offense in their last three games, and this absolutely cannot continue if their three-game losing streak is to end this week. The defensive struggles are coinciding with a lack of success on offense. Tyler Russell, LaDarius Perkins and crew have gained just 907 yards on offense against their trio of top-ten opponents. Given that the Razorbacks have allowed 500 or more yards in a game three times — including 716 to Texas A&M earlier this year — one has to think this might be the spot where Dan Mullen’s charges get back on track.
Syracuse (5-5) at Missouri (5-5), 7:00pm ET, ESPNU
Program guide: Speaking of big-time offenses getting on track, take a look at the Orange. Syracuse put a quick and decisive end to any talk of Louisville possibly going undefeated and being a BCS spoiler by hanging 45 on the Cardinals in a victory last week at the Carrier Dome. Quarterback Ryan Nassib put forth an efficient performance, going 15-for-23 for 246 yards and three touchdowns. Running backs Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley chimed in with 32 combined carries for 242 yards and three scores of their own. Wideout Alec Lemon caught nine balls for 176 yards and two touchdowns.
Missouri’s defense will face yet another formidable challenge in this one. The Tigers allowed 585 yards of offense to a reeling Tennessee club in last week’s four-overtime victory. 432 of those yards came through the air via the right wing of Tyler Bray and the trickery of Cordarrelle Patterson. Both teams are on the verge of bowl eligibility, and Missouri’s keys are their two biggest offensive weapons. Quarterback James Franklin completed 19-of-32 passes last week for 226 yards and four scores, while running back Kendial Lawrence punished the Vols to the tune of 21 carries for 153 yards and two scores. Missouri should again find offensive success against a Syracuse defense that is near the bottom of the Big East in almost every category — and they’ll have to, because if they don’t, a trip to Kyle Field will be ahead on the schedule as their last shot to become eligible for a bowl.
Tennessee (4-6, 0-6) at Vanderbilt (6-4, 4-3), 7:00pm ET, ESPN2
Program guide: I have said many times in this space that anything can happen in rivalry games. I have said to throw out the records in games like this. I am really hard-pressed to say those things in this matchup. Derek Dooley does have a key win against Vandy — immortalized in song, no less — but to hear the so-called “experts” say it, he won’t get another chance to beat them — or anyone else — after this year. His club has been great on the offensive end, as we chronicled earlier in the column. The Vols are second in the conference in total offense, averaging just over 495 yards a game. Sal Sunseri’s defense has been nothing short of disastrous, though, as Tennessee is last by a mile (well, 45 yards a game) in total defense at 480.2 yards per game.
That defensive average is music to James Franklin’s ears, as his Commodores are bowl-eligible for a second year in a row. Franklin has turned Vanderbilt around in short order, both this year and in general. The only hope for fans in Nashville is that he doesn’t decide to turn around another program in the same fashion. Vanderbilt saw running back Zac Stacy get hurt again last week, but managed to fill in the blanks with a platoon of backs led by Wesley Tate. Jordan Rodgers answered the call and took on a leadership role in the win against Mississippi, going 20-of-35 for 267 yards and two scores. Though Rodgers’ numbers have not been gaudy, he has thrown for six touchdowns and just one interception over the course of Vanderbilt’s four-game winning streak. If Tennessee cannot right the defensive ship, Rodgers should extend that winning streak.
And now, grab the remote and get ready to punch the Info Button!
Western Carolina (1-9) at Alabama (9-1), 12:21pm ET, SEC Network (regional)
Western Carolina’s info button: The 1-9 Catamounts are winless in the FCS’ Southern Conference and unwittingly picked about the worst imaginable time to make the trip to Tuscaloosa. Western, an unofficial 65-point underdog in this game, is led by quarterback Troy Mitchell. Mitchell is 81-for-134 passing on the season with four scores and four picks. He has also rushed for 428 yards and eight touchdowns. Mitchell was 18-of-30 for 176 yards and two scores in his last outing against Chattanooga, a 45-24 loss. WCU’s lone win on the season came in a Week 1 defeat of Division II Mars Hill.
Jacksonville State (6-4) at #6 Florida (9-1), 1:00pm ET, PPV
Jacksonville State’s info button: The Gamecocks are 1-4 on the road, and there is every reason to believe that will fall to 1-5 with a visit to The Swamp on Saturday. Jacksonville State started the season with a loss to Arkansas, and has since fallen to two Eastern schools (Kentucky and Illinois) and potential FCS playoff team UT-Martin. Quarterback Marques Ivory has had quite the season, completing 138-of-240 passes for 1908 yards, with 16 TD and 6 INT. Troubled ex-Georgia Bulldog running back Washaun Ealey is also a key cog of the Gamecock offense, combining with fellow back DaMarcus James for 1555 total rushing yards and 16 scores. Jacksonville State allowed 375 yards passing on 40-of-62 attempts in a victory against Austin Peay in their last outing, though they should face nowhere near that type of passing game in this contest.
Wofford (8-2) at #9 South Carolina (8-2), 1:00pm ET, PPV
Wofford’s info button: The ninth-ranked Terriers bring an option attack to Columbia, led by all-everything running back Eric Breitenstein. Breitenstein took over the all-time career Wofford rushing record with 28 carries for 132 yards last week in a 16-13 victory against Chattanooga, passing former quarterback (and Sports Illustrated cover boy) Shawn Graves’ total of 5,218 yards. Breitenstein holds three of the top four spots on the Wofford single-season rushing charts. The Terriers are co-champions of the Southern Conference, sharing the title with Georgia Southern and Appalachian State.
Georgia Southern (8-2) at #5 Georgia (9-1), 1:30pm ET, WSB-TV Channel 2 (local)
Georgia Southern’s info button: A legend in FCS football back to the days of Tracy Ham and beyond, Georgia Southern lost to The Citadel (who also beat Appalachian State) in Week 2, then won six straight before losing to Appalachian State. Georgia Southern also runs the option look, rarely throwing the ball whatsoever. Leading passer Jerick McKinnon has only attempted 26 passes on the season, completing 14 for 396 yards and five touchdowns against two picks. McKinnon also leads his team in rushing, surpassing the 1000-yard mark (1056) while adding 11 rushing touchdowns. Running back Dominique Swope has added 819 yards and 14 touchdowns. GSU has rushed for over 300 yards eight times on the season, including last week’s 69-26 victory over Howard. Georgia State is ranked sixth in the Sports Network FCS poll.
Alabama A&M (7-3) at Auburn (2-8), 2:00pm ET, PPV
Alabama A&M’s info button: Huntsville, Alabama’s Bulldogs are 6-3 in the SWAC (Southwestern Athletic Conference), good for third place in the East Division. Quarterback DeAunte Mason has completed 155-of-269 passes on the season, throwing for 1846 yards with 16 scores and four interceptions. Mason has also rushed for 318 yards and nine scores, second only to Kaderius Lacey’s 891 yards and eight trips to the end zone. Mason struggled in his last outing, a 35-21 loss to Jackson State. He completed just 17-of-40 passes in that contest for 193 yards.
Sam Houston State (8-2) at #8 Texas A&M (8-2), 3:30pm ET, PPV
Sam Houston State’s info button: The Bearkats are third in this week’s Sports Network FCS Top 25 poll, and they were a participant (losing to North Dakota State) in last year’s FCS National Championship game. The Bearkats feature another quality passer in Brian Bell, who has thrown for 1883 yards this year to go with 18 TD and 6 INT. Bell is 135-for-206 on the season, and was 17-for-23 for 239 yards and three scores in a 52-17 victory over Northwestern State last week. Bell is flanked by running back Timothy Flanders, who has rushed for 1091 yards and 16 TD. Leading receiver Trey Diller has caught 45 passes for 671 yards and three touchdowns.
Samford (7-3) at Kentucky (1-9), 7:30pm ET, CSS
Samford’s info button: The Birmingham, AL-based Bulldogs actually feature a former Heisman winner as their head coach. 1971 Heisman winner Pat Sullivan leads the club, and he has an impressive array of weapons at his disposal. Running back Fabian Truss knifed through Elon University’s defense last week in a 26-15 Southern Conference victory. Truss ran for 219 yards and two scores against the Phoenix, bringing his season total to 1026 yards. Truss has added 11 touchdowns to that total, along with a kickoff return touchdown earlier this season against Gardner-Webb. Memphis transfer Andy Summerlin has led the Samford aerial attack, completing 226-of-341 passes for for 2165 yards, 10 touchdowns and six interceptions. Assuming Samford’s defense can hold Kentucky at bay, they should give Kentucky all they want, and then some.
SEC Trivia: I asked earlier: Which FCS team was the last to defeat an SEC team, and when did it take place?
Answer: The Jacksonville State Gamecocks defeated Mississippi 49-48 in 2OT in Oxford in 2010. Coty Blanchard completed a pass to Calvin Middleton on a two-point conversion attempt in the second overtime to seal the win.