Alabama has won two straight in the Iron Bowl. (John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports)
(Author’s note: Since the Georgia-Georgia Tech game is played in an ACC stadium, the preview of that game can be found in the ACC edition of Clear Your Schedule.)
Well, ladies and gentlemen, we’ve arrived. The season that seemed to have just started yesterday has reached its end, and what an end we get to witness. The Iron Bowl awaits on Saturday, and the Missouri-Texas A&M game determines the other team in Atlanta. The Egg Bowl could add another bowl participant from the conference. Clemson and South Carolina meet with bragging rights in the Palmetto State on the line. If you’re an SEC fan — and honestly, why would you be reading this piece unless you were? — there is little reason to move from your couch all weekend…except for the pesky “family” thing.
We’ll break down the weekend’s action ahead…but first, a trivia question!
SEC Trivia, Week 14 (answer at the end of the column): The 2000 Iron Bowl was played in Tuscaloosa for the first time in the series since 1901. What was the final of that game, and who were the coaches?
Top of the Ratings
#1 Alabama (11-0, 7-0 SEC) at #4 Auburn (10-1, 6-1 SEC), 3:30pm ET, CBS
The 78th Iron Bowl will be played in Jordan-Hare Stadium for the 12th time, and the stakes have rarely been bigger. Auburn’s Gus Malzahn has already led his team to the largest single-season turnaround in SEC history, and he is aiming to cap that turnaround with a Western Division title.
Though Alabama has the number one ranking, Auburn has enjoyed a great deal of offensive success. The Tigers outgain the Tide by 55 yards per game, with Auburn averaging just shy of 500 yards per game. The teams are relatively close in points per game, with Alabama just .7 points (39.7-39.0) better than Auburn. Where the Tigers enjoy the real edge is in rushing offense, carrying for 3,523 yards this season (320.27 yards per game). No other SEC team has gained greater than Missouri’s 2,618 yards on the ground.
The cliche of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object will be in play on the Plains on Saturday, as Alabama allows just 91.27 rushing yards per game. The Tide have allowed greater than 100 yards rushing in just four games, and just 189 combined rushing yards in their last three games. SEC foes have carried for just 98.9 yards per game against Kirby Smart’s defense.
Auburn is no slouch on defense, to be sure. Though two of the conference’s more high-powered offenses (Texas A&M and Georgia) scorched the Tiger pass defense for 884 passing yards, they have allowed 354 yards or fewer in four of their last six games, with the Aggies and Bulldogs composing the other two. They will obviously need to be as stingy as possible against a Tide offense that averages 444.7 yards per game on the season and 490.9 in conference games. Alabama also ranks 18th in time of possession in the FBS, keeping the ball for almost 32-and-one-half minutes per game.
This column is clearly not a space in which to offer gambling advice, but it bears mention that Alabama was favored by 24 points in this game at the Golden Nugget sportsbook in Las Vegas in June. That line has now moved in Auburn’s favor by two touchdowns. Auburn needs to find a way to jump out to an early lead in this game and let their dominating running game take over. The Tigers are ranked eleventh in the conference in passing (179.6 yards per game), and it is clearly to Auburn’s advantage if they can run instead of throw. It seems as though the SEC has a “game of the decade” multiple times each year, and this game clearly lines up to fit that bill.
Ole Miss (7-4, 3-4 SEC) at Mississippi State (5-6, 2-5 SEC), 7:30pm ET Thursday, ESPN
Getting even: The schools have evenly split the last ten games in the series. Ole Miss has won 61 of the 107 games played in one of the ten longest consecutively-played series in FBS football. The winning team has scored 31 points or greater in each of the last five games. This is the first time in ten years that the game has been played on Thanksgiving night.
Bowl streak in jeopardy…: Mississippi State finds itself at 5-6 and in danger of missing out on a bowl berth for the first time in four years. The Bulldogs defeated Michigan 52-14 in the 2011 Gator Bowl, then claimed a 23-17 victory over Wake Forest in the 2011 Music City Bowl. Northwestern defeated Mississippi State 34-20 in the 2013 Gator Bowl.
…but a team record is also in jeopardy: Mississippi State’s single-season record for total offense occurred 31 years ago. The Bulldogs averaged 422 yards in 1982. Dan Mullen’s club is ninth in the SEC in total offense this season, averaging 436 yards per game. Aside from their 197-yard output against Alabama two weeks ago, Mississippi State has gained 333 yards or greater in every game this season.
Arkansas (3-8, 0-7 SEC) at #17 LSU (8-3, 4-3 SEC), 2:30pm ET Friday, CBS
Winners facing winners: Arkansas coach Bret Bielema is 15th among active FBS coaches with five or more years of experience in winning percentage (.689). Bielema’s career record is 71-32. Bielema has faced Kevin Sumlin, Steve Spurrier and Nick Saban among the group this season, and Les Miles will be the fourth such coach to face Bielema in 2013.
Trophy staying home: LSU and Arkansas instituted the Golden Boot trophy in 1996. The Razorbacks have won the trophy in Baton Rouge just once during that period. Arkansas took home a 50-48, three-overtime victory at LSU in 2007. The Tigers’ tying two point conversion attempt was intercepted after Brandon LaFell caught a touchdown from Matt Flynn. This was just Arkansas’ second all-time victory in Baton Rouge, with the other being a 42-24 Razorback triumph in 1993.
Three for 3,000: Tiger quarterback Zach Mettenberger is attempting to join single-season LSU record holder Rohan Davey (3,347) and JaMarcus Russell (3,129) as the only passers to throw for 3,000 yards in a season in Death Valley. Mettenberger ranks fourth in the SEC in total offense (256.4 yards per game), and has thrown for greater than that average six times this season.
#1 Florida State (11-0) at Florida (4-7, 3-5 SEC), noon ET, ESPN
We hate the ’70s: Florida’s current six-game losing streak is their longest since 1979. Florida tied Georgia Tech 7-7 in Gainesville in week two in ’79, then did not win again. That nine-game losing streak closed out an 0-10-1 season, which was the most recent such season in program history.
Our kicker’s better than your team: Florida State freshman kicker Roberto Aguayo has converted 15-of-16 field goal attempts and 80-of-80 extra point attempts, good for 125 points on the season. The Seminoles’ defense ranks first in the ACC in scoring defense by a seven-point margin per game over Virginia Tech (11.4-18.5), and has allowed 125 points.
Your offense is offensive: Florida is ranked outside the top 100 in three of four offensive categories. The Gators are ranked 110th in scoring offense (19.9 PPG), 105th in passing offense (176 YPG) and 111th in total offense (327.9 YPG). UF is 82nd in rushing offense (151.9 YPG). Florida State’s lowest defensive ranking is 17th, as they allow 121.6 rushing yards per game. They are second in scoring defense and pass defense, while ranking fifth in total defense.
Wake Forest (4-7) at Vanderbilt (7-4, 4-4 SEC), 12:21pm ET, SEC TV
Record or…dismissed?: Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe is tied with “Peahead” Walker for career victories as a Demon Deacon head coach with 77. A win gets him the all-time record. A loss may get him fired. Numerous sources have reported that Grobe may be out of a job after the season. Grobe’s career record in Winston-Salem is 77-81.
Eight is enough: Vanderbilt is attempting to reach back-to-back eight-win seasons for the first time since the 1927-28 seasons. Meanwhile, Wake Forest is trying to avoid their first eight-loss season since 2000. The Deacs had four consecutive eight-loss seasons between 1993-96.
Sorry folks, series is closed: Vanderbilt has won nine of the 15 games played in the series between the two schools. The Commodores have won the last two series games by a combined score of 96-28. This game will mark the end of the series for the foreseeable future.
Tennessee (4-7, 1-6 SEC) at Kentucky (2-9, 0-7 SEC), 7pm ET, ESPNU
To the winner goes…nothing: The Tennessee-Kentucky game used to present a beer barrel to the winner. The tradition was started in 1925, and was even labeled “Ice Water” during the Prohibition years. The trophy was discontinued, however, after a car crash involving booze and two Kentucky football players took place in 1998. The prize was removed before the 1999 game, and no replacement has been instituted since.
31-3: The Volunteers have won 31 of the 34 contests between the teams since the beginning of the 1980 season. Kentucky defeated UT in 1981 and 1984 before losing 26 consecutive games in the series. The Wildcats defeated the Vols 10-7 in the teams’ most recent meeting in Lexington in 2011, before falling 37-17 in Knoxville last season.
Dodging futility: A win in this game would help Tennessee avoid three consecutive 1-7 finishes in the SEC. Those seasons occurred under former coach Derek Dooley, except for the Vols’ lone conference win last season. That victory over Kentucky came with interim coach Jim Chaney on the sidelines. Kentucky, on the other hand, is trying to avoid consecutive winless seasons in the conference for the first time in over 70 years.
#6 Clemson (10-1) at #10 South Carolina (9-2, 6-2 SEC), 7pm ET, ESPN2
First time for everything: This is the 111th meeting between Clemson and South Carolina, with Clemson holding a 65-41-4 edge in the Battle of the Palmetto State series. However, this is the first time in the history of the rivalry that both teams will be ranked in the top ten when they take the field. South Carolina owns four consecutive victories in the series, coming on the heels of Clemson taking six of seven.
Only time for something: Through the entirety of the series, one quarterback has notched four victories in the series. That quarterback was former Clemson and current San Diego Charger quarterback Charlie Whitehurst. Whitehurst led the Tigers to victories in 2002 (27-20), 2003 (63-17), 2004 (29-7) and 2005 (13-9).
A lot of streaks at stake: South Carolina is playing to keep alive three separate streaks. Their current four-game winning streak in this series matches their longest (1951-1954). The Gamecocks have won 17 consecutive games at Williams-Brice, which is an active school record. Finally, South Carolina has defeated 13 consecutive non-conference opponents. Their last non-conference loss was a 26-17 loss to Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on December 31, 2010.
#21 Texas A&M (8-3, 4-3 SEC) at #5 Missouri (10-1, 6-1 SEC), 7:45pm ET, ESPN
Johnny Football heading for a record: Johnny Manziel will become the all-time single-season record holder in passing yards at A&M if he throws for 208 yards against the Tigers. Manziel has thrown for 3,537 yards this season, with this game allowing him the chance to break Tannehill’s record of 3,744 in 2011.
Gary Pinkel heading for a record: If Missouri coach Gary Pinkel manages a defeat of the Aggies in this contest, he will tie former Tiger coach Don Faurot for the all-time lead in coaching victories in Columbia. Faurot won 101 career games as the Tigers’ coach, while Pinkel owns a career record of 100-62 at Mizzou.
Filling the stat sheet: Texas A&M joins Baylor, Clemson and Florida State as the only teams to be ranked in the top ten in the FBS in passing offense, scoring offense and total offense. Missouri ranks 41st, 13th and 16th, respectively, in those categories.
Trivia answer: I asked earlier: The 2000 Iron Bowl was played in Tuscaloosa for the first time in the series since 1901. What was the final of that game, and who were the coaches?
Auburn, led by coach Tommy Tuberville, defeated Alabama and coach Mike DuBose 9-0 on November 18, 2000. DuBose was fired after the season, in which the Tide finished 3-8 (3-5 in the SEC).
Since it’s Thanksgiving week — and the end of the regular season — let me thank all of you who continue to visit this space each week. It’s a pleasure to talk SEC football with all of you, and I’ll be back for the bowls and the 2014 season to keep doing so. Thank you all, as well, for continuing to visit us here at FBSchedules. We appreciate each and every one of you. My best to you and yours this Thanksgiving, and I’ll see you all for the SEC Championship Game and the bowl games!