Alabama beat LSU last season in Baton Rouge. (Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports)
Just four weeks remain in the SEC’s regular season, and the road to Atlanta is still littered with traffic. The Iron Bowl may decide the West — but in this conference, in this year, who knows — and the East still features Missouri as the lead car, but South Carolina is inches from its bumper. Though the Tide and Tigers appear most likely to occupy the sidelines in the Georgia Dome in just under a month, we still have unanswered questions. This week may not answer many of those questions, but most of the conference contenders will pass another milepost this weekend.
The key game will obviously take place in Tuscaloosa, but bowl eligibility and positioning are on the line in Knoxville, Gainesville, Oxford and Athens. We’ll visit those sites — and all those we’ve not yet mentioned — in just a few seconds, but first, here’s our trivia question!
SEC Trivia, Week 11 (answer at the end of the article): Alabama has one loss to a non-SEC top-25 team since the beginning of the 2008 season. To which team did Alabama suffer that loss?
Top of the Ratings
#13 LSU (7-2, 3-2 SEC) at #1 Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC), 8:00pm ET, CBS
Program guide: Considering the recent history between these two schools, a lot of fans imagined this game would be for the SEC West title. The Tigers are two games out in the division race, though, which would seem to render that outcome virtually impossible. There is still plenty for which to play, of course, and these two teams can be counted on to play their usual classic under the lights in Tuscaloosa.
Both teams come into this game off a bye (LSU’s Les Miles has won five of seven games after a bye), allowing some extra time to prepare. LSU scored 28 unanswered points in the second half against Furman on October 26th, compiling 672 total yards of offense in the process. Zach Mettenberger completed 16-of-24 passes for 328 yards, throwing for three touchdowns while being intercepted twice. SEC all-purpose yardage leader Odell Beckham Jr. caught six passes for 204 yards in the contest.
The Tigers’ sports information department points out an incredible statistic between these two teams. Alabama has only outscored LSU 191-179 in the teams’ last nine games against each other. The last regular-season game that finished with a double-digit margin of victory was LSU’s 28-14 victory over Alabama on November 11, 2006. LSU has never defeated a top-ranked team on the road, however, having lost at Maryland in 1955 and at Florida in 1994 and 1996.
The Crimson Tide enjoyed a big victory their last time out, hanging 479 yards and 26 first downs on the Volunteers in their five-touchdown victory. AJ McCarron completed 19-of-27 passes for 275 yards and two scores, while Kenyan Drake and T.J. Yeldon combined for 29 carries, 161 yards and three touchdowns. Tennessee converted just 3-of-12 third downs in the contest, punting five times and turning the ball over on two Justin Worley interceptions.
The Tide have scored touchdowns in 43 of their 90 offensive possessions this season, good for sixth-best in the FBS. Texas A&M (57-of-111) is the only SEC team with a better touchdown percentage. Alabama’s 462.8 yards per game is only good for 34th-best in the FBS (sixth in the SEC), but their 41.3 points per game is good for second-best in the conference and tenth in the FBS. Alabama has outpaced their season average against conference opponents, averaging 43.8 points per game against SEC teams.
This game also matches two of the top defenses in the country. Alabama and LSU have allowed the fewest touchdowns of any defense since 2009. Alabama has only allowed 78 touchdowns, while LSU is second with 115. Alabama leads the conference (LSU is third) in total defense. The real difference is in points per game, particularly among conference opponents. Nick Saban’s club allows 9.8 points per game to SEC foes, while LSU has given up 24.8 points against other conference teams. Alabama has allowed greater than 322 yards of defense just once this year — 628 at Texas A&M — while LSU has eclipsed that total four times.
Considering Alabama’s offensive firepower this season, the defensive contest we have come to expect from these two teams may not come to pass on Saturday. An Alabama victory draws us one step closer to Atlanta, while an LSU win throws the West into chaos, much like the East.
#9 Auburn (8-1, 4-1 SEC) at Tennessee (4-5, 1-4 SEC), noon ET, ESPN
.222 to .889: Auburn’s record through nine games last season was 2-7, a winning percentage of .222. Through nine games this year, they are 8-1, an .889 winning percentage. This is the largest turnaround between 2012 and 2013 of any FBS team.
First versus worst: This matchup pits the leading rushing team in the conference — and sixth-best in the nation — against the worst run defense in the SEC. The Tigers rush for 306.2 yards per game, while the Vols allow 201.7 yards on the ground. The rushing numbers for Tennessee’s SEC opponents are extremely high, with opposing SEC teams carrying for 242.8 yards per game. Auburn comes close to that number, running for 245.4 yards per game against conference teams. The Tigers’ second-lowest rushing number against an SEC team came this past weekend against Arkansas (233 yards).
A battle of streaks: Tennessee maintained a six-game unbeaten streak against Auburn between 1989 and 1999, but the Tigers have turned the tables. Auburn is undefeated in their last five contests against the Volunteers, including a 26-22 win in Neyland Stadium in 2009, the last time the two teams played.
Vanderbilt (4-4, 1-4 SEC) at Florida (4-4, 3-3 SEC), noon ET, FSN (regional)
Franklin’s fine: Vanderbilt coach James Franklin is one of just two coaches in the last ten to walk the sidelines at Vanderbilt to have a greater than .500 career winning percentage. Franklin (.559) and Steve Sloan (.571 in 1973 and 1974) are the only coaches on the winning side of the ledger. The other eight coaches (Robbie Caldwell, Bobby Johnson, Woody Widenhofer, Rod Dowhower, Gerry DiNardo, Watson Brown, George MacIntyre and Fred Pancoast) have lodged just a .289 winning percentage (117-287-1).
Put on your waders: Florida has suffered three straight losses away from Gainesville, and they will take the field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field for the first time since a 30-10 victory over Arkansas on October 5th. The Gators are 3-0 at home this year, and their only remaining road game is at South Carolina on November 16th.
Double deuce: Florida owns 22 consecutive victories over Vanderbilt. The most recent defeat for the Gators came in a 24-9 Vanderbilt decision on October 15th, 1988. The victory came at Dudley Field in Nashville. Florida’s last — and only — loss against Vandy in The Swamp came in 1945, as Vanderbilt won 7-0. The teams tied 6-6 in Gainesville in 1958.
#8 Missouri (8-1, 4-1 SEC) at Kentucky (2-6, 0-4 SEC), noon ET, ESPNU
Knowing the score: Missouri is averaging over 40 points per game (40.6) for the first time in five years. This average is almost 15 points greater than Missouri’s offense accumulated last season. Only Alabama (41.3 points per game) has a higher per-game average. The Tigers average 36.6 points per game against SEC opponents.
Unfamiliar territory: Missouri has never played in Kentucky’s Commonwealth Stadium. Last year’s 33-10 victory took place in Columbia, while Mizzou’s last visit to Lexington was played at Stoll Field in 1968.
Lucky seven: Missouri is attempting to reach the nine-win plateau in a season for just the seventh time in the school’s 123-year history. Gary Pinkel has three of the current six nine-win seasons. Kentucky, conversely, has only notched four nine-win seasons, with the most recent occurring in 1984.
Arkansas (3-6, 0-5 SEC) at Ole Miss (5-3, 2-3 SEC), 12:21pm ET, SEC Network
Back-to-back bowling: Ole Miss is attempting to become bowl-eligible in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the 2008 and 2009 seasons. The Rebels have been bowl-eligible just three times in the last ten seasons.
Looking for a rebound: Arkansas freshman running back Alex Collins gained greater than 100 yards in four of his first five games, adding three touchdowns. Since then, however, Collins has averaged just 73 yards per game and scored only once. The last 100-yard rusher Ole Miss allowed was Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel on October 12th.
Razor(back)-thin margins: Three of the last five games in the series between these teams have been decided by five or fewer points. Ole Miss won last year’s game 30-27 on a “walk-off” field goal by Rebel kicker Bryson Rose, one year after Arkansas defeated the Rebels 29-24.
Appalachian State (2-7) at Georgia (5-3, 4-2 SEC), 12:30pm ET, WSB (Atlanta)
The final countdown: Appalachian State is closing out its final season as a member of the FCS Southern Conference. The Mountaineers will join the FBS and the Sun Belt Conference to begin the 2014 season. App has defeated seven FBS opponents since 1983 (Wake Forest six times and Michigan once), but Georgia is their first (and only) such opponent this season.
Good time for Gurley: Georgia running back Todd Gurley returned from injury against Florida and tallied 17 carries for 100 yards and a score. Gurley faces a Mountaineer defense that allows just under 233 yards of rushing offense per game.
FCS success: The Bulldogs faced fellow SoCon (and future Sun Belt) team Georgia Southern last season, taking home a 45-14 victory in Athens. Georgia also holds recent victories over Coastal Carolina (59-0 in 2011), Idaho State (55-7 in 2010), Tennessee Tech (38-0 in 2009) and Georgia Southern (45-21 in 2008).
Mississippi State (4-4, 1-3 SEC) at #15 Texas A&M (7-2, 3-2 SEC), 3:30 pm ET, CBS
Lack of ball security: I commented in last week’s preview about how adept the Bulldogs were at protecting the football. At press time last week, they had only turned the ball over six times on the season. However, the Bulldogs committed almost that same amount of turnovers last week against South Carolina (five), allowing 20 Gamecock points off those turnovers.
Super seniors: This is the final game at Kyle Field for this year’s senior class. The seniors will be aiming for their 35th win as Aggies, and will be going to their fourth bowl game in four years. Only six other graduating classes in A&M history have accomplished that feat.
Run/pass option: Johnny Manziel is just 26 rushing yards away from becoming only the third active quarterback in the FBS with 2,000 rushing and 6,000 passing yards for their careers. Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez and Nevada’s Cody Fajardo are the only others to reach this level. Florida’s Tim Tebow is the only quarterback to have reached these numbers in the SEC (2,947 rushing, 9,285 passing).
Trivia answer: I asked earlier: Alabama has one loss to a non-SEC top-25 team since the beginning of the 2008 season. To which team did Alabama suffer that loss?
Utah defeated Alabama 31-17 in the 2009 Sugar Bowl. Utes quarterback Brian Johnson was the game’s MVP.