Clear Your Schedule – SEC 2014, Week 12

By Brian Wilmer -

If you are a reader of our ACC version of Clear Your Schedule, you’ll know that I’m currently in “freak-out” mode over the fact that Thanksgiving is just two weeks away.  While I’m wondering where the heck 2014 went, there is still a lot to be decided in the SEC.  The debate continues to rage about how many — and which — SEC teams will end up in the College Football Playoff, but we don’t even know who’s going to Atlanta yet.  We’ll try to get all of that ironed out before another FCS invasion of the conference next week — before we do, though, it’s time for last week’s Three Big Things!

  1. Kenny who?:  Texas A&M freshman Kyle Allen displayed last week why he was the top quarterback recruit in America this past offseason.  Allen had an incredible game last week against Auburn (see stats below), and his play has his team in line for a big bowl game — and the passer he relieved potentially out of a job for good.
  2. Glory glory hallelujah:  Georgia is still alive and well in the SEC East.  The Bulldogs stubbed their collective toes against Florida, but responded by curb stomping Kentucky.  Mark Richt’s club threw 559 yards of total offense at the Wildcats, and Georgia now sits just a half-game behind Missouri in the SEC East.  The Bulldogs also own the tiebreaker over the Bulldogs, having defeated them 34-0 earlier this year.
  3. Yea Alabama:  Reports of Alabama’s demise were greatly exaggerated, as the Crimson Tide escaped Baton Rouge with an overtime victory last week.  The biggest thing to note — and this was largely underreported — is that ‘Bama held LSU to a paltry 76 passing yards.  The Tigers completed just 8-of-26 passes last week, and in a passing league, this just may be the one edge that gets Alabama over the proverbial hump.

Before we move on to conference play, it’s trivia time!

SEC Trivia, Week 12 (answer at the end of the column):  Arkansas won the first Battle of the Boot played on its campus in 1992.  Who quarterbacked each team in that game?

Thanksgiving Dinner (all times Eastern and rankings AP)

South Carolina (4-5, 2-5 SEC) at Florida (5-3, 4-3 SEC)
Noon | SEC Network

  • Cranberry sauce:  South Carolina tries — improbably, I might add — to get its first win against an FBS opponent in nearly two months.  The Gamecocks knocked off Vandy 48-34 in Nashville on September 20th, but have beaten only FCS opponent Furman since doing so.  South Carolina’s much-maligned defense has given up 1923 yards (480.8 per game) in the four SEC losses they have suffered since that September victory.
  • Turkey:  Florida has experienced an offensive renaissance in the last two games, first gaining the school’s fifth-highest single-game rushing total in history (418 yards) against Georgia, a total that had not been approached in 25 years, then annihilating Vandy last week in a 34-10 victory.  The Gators were considerably more balanced last week, throwing for 215 yards and rushing for 214.  Freshman Treon Harris completed 13-of-21 passes for those 215 yards last week, setting up running lanes for himself, Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor.  Harris found the end zone twice on the ground, with Taylor adding a score.
  • Pumpkin pie:  South Carolina has not failed to reach bowl eligibility in the nine years the HBC has strolled the sidelines in Columbia.  However, taking a look at their schedule shows a tough path toward extending that streak.  Matt Connolly of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal reports that Carolina has “made some personnel changes” on defense in an effort to bolster the struggling eleven.

Carve that, serve that, whatever:  South Carolina has to win two of three against Florida, South Alabama and Clemson to go to a bowl.  One has to come this week.

#1 Mississippi State (9-0, 5-0 SEC) at #4 Alabama (8-1, 5-1 SEC)
3:30pm | CBS 

  • Cranberry sauce:  This game is — for entertainment purposes only, of course — up to a ten-point spread in favor of Alabama.  This is a highly unusual prediction against the nation’s top team, but the Crimson Tide have been trending upward for several weeks now.  The over/under — again, for entertainment purposes — is 53.
  • Turkey:  Amazingly, this game will present the first top-ten opponent Alabama has faced this season.  Ole Miss was ranked 11th when they played the Crimson Tide, which was the highest-ranked team to tee it up against Nick Saban’s team.  Mississippi State will be facing their fourth top-ten team (at the time of playing) this week, with the Bulldogs having defeated then-eighth-ranked LSU, sixth-ranked Texas A&M and second-ranked Auburn earlier this year.  Ole Miss, A&M and LSU were ranked when they played the Tide.
  • Pumpkin pie:  Mississippi State has won just 18 times in the 97 games between the schools.  The Bulldogs have only two wins in the last 13 games against Alabama.

Carve that, serve that, whatever:  Alabama is rolling (pardon the pun), but don’t sleep on Mississippi State.  This should be one of the best games of the year.

Kentucky (5-5, 2-5 SEC) at Tennessee (4-5, 1-4 SEC)
4:00pm | SEC Network

  • Cranberry sauce:  Tennessee has beaten Kentucky more than any other opponent they have faced.  The Vols have 76 victories over the Wildcats in 109 games.  Tennessee has won 28 of the last 29 in the series.  A 10-7 Kentucky victory in Lexington in 2011 was their only win since 1985.
  • Turkey:  Kentucky has already eclipsed their win total from the last two combined seasons (five this year, four the previous two), and has already outscored last year’s team.  Kentucky has scored 294 points this season, against 246 last season, 215 in 2012 and 190 in 2011.
  • Pumpkin pie:  Tennessee’s sports information department points out that the Volunteers have not been 5-5 (or better!) after ten games since 2009.  The Vols finished that season 7-6 (4-4 in SEC play), losing 37-14 to Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl that year.

Carve that, serve that, whatever:  A win makes Kentucky bowl-eligible — while snapping a considerable skid — and keeps Tennessee alive.  Huge stakes on both sides.

#9 Auburn (7-2, 4-2 SEC) at #16 Georgia (7-2, 5-2 SEC) 
7:15pm | ESPN

  • Cranberry sauce:  A Georgia win would pull the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry even after 118 games.  Auburn’s five-point victory last year gave the Tigers a 55-54-8 series edge.  Georgia’s sports information department points out that the Bulldogs have not actually led the series since a 42-41-7 lead in 1986.  Auburn has won just two of the last eight games played between the two, claiming victories in 2010 and 2013.
  • Turkey:  It has been greater than 40 days since the Bulldogs played between the hedges.  Georgia went 3-1 during their time away from Sanford Stadium, falling only to Florida in Jacksonville.  The Bulldogs hammered Kentucky last week, compiling a season-high 559 yards against the Wildcats.  Georgia tallied 9.3 yards per play in the victory in Lexington.
  • Pumpkin pie:  Auburn is built to get ahead and stay ahead.  The Tigers are 1-2 when trailing at the half, and both of their losses have come when they were trailing after the third quarter.  Auburn tops the SEC in third-down conversions, moving the sticks 55 percent of the time.  Georgia ranks fourth, with 47.79 percent of successful conversions.

Carve that, serve that, whatever:  The home crowd in Athens should provide a boost to Georgia that they’ve missed for over a month.  Auburn has a huge challenge ahead.

Missouri (7-2, 4-1 SEC) at Texas A&M (7-3, 3-3 SEC)
7:30pm | SEC Network

  • Cranberry sauce:  Missouri has played at Texas A&M four times in the last five years — twice as a Big 12 member and twice as an SEC member.  Mizzou took home victories in both Big 12 games, while A&M clubbed the Tigers by 30 in the first SEC outing.  Missouri got their revenge last season, taking home a 28-21 victory.
  • Turkey:  After all of the hype surrounding Kenny Hill to begin the year, freshman quarterback Kyle Allen proved to be the star last week against Auburn.  Allen completed 19-of-29 passes for 277 yards and four scores in the Aggies’ 41-38 victory over the Tigers.  That performance earned Allen the Walter Camp National Offensive Player of the Week award.  Allen’s four scores also equaled the Aggies’ school record.
  • Pumpkin pie:  Texas A&M’s sports information department passes along that, after last week, Kevin Sumlin is the first Texas A&M coach ever to take home three road victories over top-ten opponents.  Texas A&M has won 15 of the 17 night games they have played under Sumlin.

Carve that, serve that, whatever:  Mizzou needs this win to nearly cement another trip to Atlanta.  A&M could become a player for a major bowl with a win.

#20 LSU (7-3, 3-3 SEC) at Arkansas (4-5, 0-5 SEC) 
8:00pm | ESPN2

  • Cranberry sauce:  The Battle for the Boot has only been played at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium twice in its history.  Arkansas won in 1992, while LSU won in 2012.
  • Turkey:  We have repeatedly chronicled the difficulty of Arkansas’ schedule in this space, but Arkansas’ sports information department offers this illuminating statistic on just how challenging it truly is.  LSU is the first SEC opponent Arkansas has faced that was not in the top ten at the time the game was played.  The Tigers are ranked 20th.
  • Pumpkin pie:  Arkansas’ running game has led the Razorbacks to the fourth-best time of possession in the FBS (tops in the SEC).  Arkansas “hogs” (pardon the pun) the ball for 34:15 per game, allowing them to stay in most games this season.  LSU possesses the ninth-best rush defense in the conference, allowing 154.3 yards per game on the ground.  This is Arkansas’ best — and probably only — path to victory.

Carve that, serve that, whatever:  Believe it or not, Arkansas is still in play for a bowl game.  Beating two of LSU, Ole Miss and Mizzou is a daunting task, though.

Trivia answer:  I asked earlier:  Arkansas won the first Battle of the Boot played on its campus in 1992.  Who quarterbacked each team in that game?

Barry Lunney was the starting — and winning — quarterback for the Razorbacks.  Former Atlanta Braves minor leaguer Jamie Howard quarterbacked for LSU.  Lunney completed 10-of-18 passes for 115 yards and a score.  Howard went 15-for-21 for 159 yards, throwing three rips.

Questions? Comments? Follow Brian on Twitter @sportsmatters!

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