November is the month for many in the SEC to step out of conference and take a break from the grueling week-by-week conference schedule. Several conference teams have decided to do just that this week, while others are trying to come off the high of beating a big-name opponent. We have yet another top-five matchup this week, as well as two top-20 teams facing off.
We need to take a spin around the packed eight-game schedule involving SEC teams this week, but before we do, here’s some trivia!
SEC Trivia (answer at the end of the column): This week features Missouri’s first trip to Florida as an SEC opponent. When did these two schools last face off on the gridiron?
Top of the Ratings
#1 Alabama (8-0, 5-0) at #5 LSU (7-1, 3-1), 8:00 p.m. ET, CBS
Last week’s episode: Alabama 38, Mississippi State 7; LSU 24, Texas A&M 19 (10/20)
Program guide: Alabama gets to face the second of three straight ranked opponents on this week’s trip to Death Valley, and the book of Saturday night games in Baton Rouge gets to add another chapter. The Tide plays just their fourth “true” road game — all against SEC competition — and they have outscored their opponents 138-23 in those previous three contests. This rematch of last year’s BCS championship game looks to be a solid test for Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide club. No one has given Alabama a real fight this year — their closest game was a 33-14 victory over Ole Miss — and last year’s 9-6 regular-season LSU win has to still be on Alabama’s mind.
We have spoken often of LSU’s defensive prowess, and Alabama’s rushing tandem of Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon will find it tough to continue their success this week. LSU is the only SEC team besides Alabama to allow less than 100 rushing yards per game, good for second-best in the conference (eighth-best in the nation). The Tigers allow 14.6 points per game, forcing A.J. McCarron to try to open things up a bit. Facing a defense that allows only 148.5 passing yards per game makes that an added challenge.
There has been a lot of space devoted in this column to Alabama’s defense, just like their counterpart. LSU has had its share of challenges throwing the football this year, averaging just 177.4 passing yards per game. Les Miles’ Tigers are a top 25 rushing team, getting contributions from a handful of backs to lead them to 208.38 rushing yards a contest. Though Alabama’s rush defense has been incredible this year, LSU will still have to try to establish their run game early. Zach Mettenberger (112-for-198, 1419 yards, 7 TD, 4 INT) has struggled at times, and Miles would prefer to avoid having to rely on Mettenberger to throw out of an early deficit.
Turnovers and special teams often help turn games like this, and both teams are in the top ten in turnover margin. Alabama is tied for 2nd with a +2.13 margin, while LSU is tied for 10th at +1.13. Both teams also have a weapon on return teams, with Christion Jones for Alabama and Odell Beckham for LSU both having a return for a score this season. The difference between these two teams — statistically, at least — is razor-thin, and games of this nature are often decided by one play through the course of the game. LSU and Alabama have put on a show of late, and this looks to be another in a line of great games.
#16 Texas A&M (6-2, 3-2) at #15 Mississippi State (7-1, 3-1), noon ET, ESPN
Last week’s episode: Texas A&M 63, Auburn 21; Alabama 38, Mississippi State 7
Program guide: Ladies and gentlemen, Johnny Manziel is a touchdown machine. He added five more to his total (two throwing, three rushing) in last week’s thrashing of Auburn, bringing him to 29 (16 throwing, 13 rushing) on the season. Manziel is fourth in the league in passing touchdowns, the league leader in rushing touchdowns and also leads the league in total offense with 376.1 yards per game. The closest player (Tennessee’s Tyler Bray) is over 50 yards away from Manziel’s average. The redshirt freshman led the Aggies to a 671-yard effort against Auburn last week, and this further cemented A&M as the leading offense in the SEC at 542.9 yards per game.
The previously-undefeated Bulldogs find themselves squarely in the middle of the SEC, ranking seventh in total offense and seventh in total defense. The struggles of Tyler Russell (15-for-30, 159 yards, 1 INT) and LaDarius Perkins (15 carries, 38 yards) told the tale of the Bulldogs’ challenges against Alabama last week, as the offense managed just 256 total yards while turning the ball over three times. State has performed fairly well at home, however, allowing just under 300 yards a game in Starkville while averaging just under 407 on offense. That defensive unit will find their match in an A&M offense that has done even better on the road and in neutral sites, averaging a ridiculous 608-plus yards per game.
Tyler Russell will need to rebound in a hurry after last week, and the conference’s sixth-best offensive player (220.3 yards per game) will need to involve the 15th-best offensive player (LaDarius Perkins, 95.3 yards per game) and pound away at a defense that allows 292.3 yards per game passing on the road. These two teams have not played in 12 years, and two ranked teams have not played in the home of the Bulldogs in 11 years. As such, this game is going to be on a lot of televisions in the parking lots in Baton Rouge as fans toss bean bags and load up on gumbo before heading to their seats.
Set Your DVR
Missouri (4-4, 1-4) at #7 Florida (7-1, 6-1), noon ET, ESPN2
Program guide: It may seem a bit hard to believe, but despite the 0-4 start in SEC play from the Tigers, they still stand a reasonable shot at bowl eligibility. Sure, the two teams in the middle of their remaining schedule (at Tennessee and Syracuse) appear to be a better shot at reaching bowl eligibility than the bookends (Texas A&M to close the season and the Gators in this one), but the Tigers hope to catch the Gators still hung over after their loss to Georgia in Jacksonville last week. The Tigers got untracked — somewhat, anyway — on offense last week, compiling 20 first downs against Kentucky, despite only finishing with 273 yards of total offense. Neither team passed for 100 yards in Missouri’s 33-10 victory, as the combination of Corbin Berkstresser and James Franklin looked a lot like Florida’s Jeff Driskel in terms of efficiency through low passing yard totals.
The Gators, for their part, could not have had a more even game than they did in last week’s 17-9 loss to Georgia. 15 first downs for the Gators, 14 for Georgia. 266 total yards for Florida, 273 for the Bulldogs. The equality ends, however, when you get to the turnover column. Florida turned the ball over six times last week, and even through all that, the Gators still somehow have a positive turnover margin. Missouri is right behind them in the conference turnover margin statistics, though, and forcing mistakes from the Gators will be key if they have any chance to escape The Swamp with a victory.
Missouri had been outscored by 78 points in their previous four conference games before the Kentucky victory, and with James Franklin back at the helm, they hope to continue last week’s streak instead of that of the previous four. Florida is still in the running for the SEC East, despite the loss last week, and they will look to look to keep the pedal to the metal early.
Tulsa (7-1) at Arkansas (3-5), 12:21 p.m. ET, SEC Network
Program guide: It is not all that common that an out-of-conference game — rivalry games aside, of course — draws a lot of interest in November. The leaders of Conference USA’s Western Division provide a fun matchup for Arkansas this week, though. Tulsa is 5-0 in their conference, with their only loss a 38-23 setback at Iowa State in Week 1. Former Nebraska quarterback Cody Green (107-for-205, 1329 yards, 10 TD, 6 INT) leads the Golden Hurricane attack, with running backs Alex Singleton and Ja’Terian Douglas by his side. Singleton is tied for fourth in the nation in rushing touchdowns (15), and he will look to add to that number against a somewhat stout Razorback run defense.
Speaking of defenses, the Golden Hurricane will look to get extra pressure on Tyler Wilson. The Razorbacks allowed the same number of sacks to Alabama (four) as they did their other six opponents in the first seven games combined. Arkansas allows 1.5 sacks per game, while Tulsa averages 4.4 sacks, which leads the nation. Arkansas put up 464 yards of total offense against Mississippi last week, with Tyler Wilson going 24-for-43 for 297 yards with two picks and two scores in a 30-27 loss. Getting Wilson time to throw will obviously be a large key against Tulsa’s swarming defense, and running back Dennis Johnson (27 carries, 161 yards, 1 TD last week) will look to run to set up that passing game. When Wilson does have time, look for Cobi Hamilton (12 catches, 146 yards last week) to be a prime target.
Mississippi (5-3, 2-2) at #6 Georgia (7-1, 5-1), 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
Program guide: Georgia welcomes the Rebels to Athens for their penultimate game of the 2012 SEC schedule, and they do so as the new front-runner in the SEC East. Georgia’s victory over Florida in Jacksonville means that the Bulldogs need simply to win this weekend and next weekend at Auburn, and they will again go to Atlanta to represent their division. This is not to say that this is a foregone conclusion, by any means, as the Rebs are a win away from bowl eligibility in the first year of Freezeball in Oxford. Running back Jeff Scott has enjoyed a solid year thus far (612 yards, 6 TD), and a heavy dose of Scott may do a number on Georgia’s run defense, which is tenth in the SEC. As previously mentioned, though, the Dawgs forced six Florida turnovers, and the ball-hawking unit we have grown accustomed to may have returned between the hedges.
Though Mississippi’s offensive resurgence has keyed the first year of their rebuilding effort, Georgia’s high-octane group ranks second behind the Texas A&M juggernaut among SEC teams. The Bulldogs average just over 460 yards per game in total offense. Aaron Murray did not have what most would consider eye-popping numbers last week (12-for-24, 150 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT), but his running game picked him up. Todd Gurley welcomed himself back to the Georgia offense, carrying 27 times for 118 yards and a score, while likely cementing his status as Georgia’s featured back.
Troy (4-4) at Tennessee (3-5), noon, FSN (regional)
Program guide: Be honest. If I had told you at the beginning of the season that Troy would have a chance — of any degree — to beat the Volunteers on Rocky Top, how hard would you have laughed? Of course, Troy would need a number of things to go their way to get a victory against Derek Dooley’s club, but they do bring a robust offense that averages 459.6 yards per game. The Trojans hosted Mississippi State earlier this season, and only lost 30-24. Troy’s problems have been on defense, where they give up just shy of 400 yards per game. The Trojans gave up 421 to one-win Florida Atlantic in their last outing, resulting in a 34-27 loss.
The Vols have allowed 500 yards of offense in four of their five SEC losses, which does not bode well for their chances. Tennessee enjoyed their own measure of success on offense against South Carolina last week, though, as Tyler Bray completed 27-of-43 passes for 368 yards, four scores and an interception. Zach Rogers caught six balls for 107 yards and three scores in last week’s game, and if he, Justin Hunter, Cordarrelle Patterson and the other offensive weapons in Knoxville can have their way with the Troy defense as they should, this will be a pretty entertaining game. A victory against the Trojans will get Derek Dooley’s crew in a little better position to fight back and secure a bowl berth. A loss may seal Derek Dooley’s fate, buyout or not.
Vanderbilt (4-4, 2-3) at Kentucky (1-8, 0-6), noon ET, ESPNU
Program guide: Speaking of teams that are fighting back, here comes Vanderbilt. Jordan Rodgers completed 17-of-21 passes for 217 yards against a frankly overmatched UMass team in a 49-7 victory last week. The Commodores were faced with having to replace running back Zac Stacy, who hurt himself early in that game. Wesley Tate and Brian Kimbrow filled that role, combining for 179 yards on 22 carries and two scores against the Minutemen.
Vandy gets to face yet another struggling defense this week in the Commonwealth, with Kentucky in the bottom four of the conference in every defensive category. Kentucky is also near or at the bottom in every offensive category, and they are coming off a 33-10 loss to Missouri. The Wildcats put just nine first downs on the board to go with 179 yards of total offense against the Tigers. They also turned the ball over three times in the loss. It seems tremendously unlikely that Joker Phillips makes it past this year in Lexington; meanwhile, James Franklin’s team very well may be facing Tennessee with bowl eligibility on the line for his club. If this is the case — and looking at the schedule, it may be — this will be a tremendous game to watch, especially with Vandy owing the Vols some payback after their overtime victory in the last meeting between the two schools.
New Mexico State (1-7) at Auburn (1-7), 12:30 p.m. ET, CSS
Program guide: It’s really tough to find the silver lining in a 63-21 loss. It’s even tougher when your team was never competitive in that game, and has not been competitive most of the year. The Auburn Tigers may have managed to do just that, though, as freshman quarterback Jonathan Wallace seemed to spark the offense during his time on the field last week, going 6-of-9 for 122 yards with two touchdowns. Wallace also carried the ball 13 times for 71 yards in the loss. The keys will be handed to Wallace this week, and he will look to continue to grow as the newly-minted leader against the Aggies this week.
New Mexico State won their first game of the season against Sacramento State of the FCS, and they have proceeded to lose every time out since. The Aggies are 94th in the nation in total offense, averaging 361.6 yards per game, to go along with their low ratings in rushing offense (117th) and scoring offense (101st). The team is 41st in passing, which they figure to have to do quite a bit against Gene Chizik’s Tigers. New Mexico State also struggles on defense, ranking 105th in total defense, 102nd in scoring defense, 100th in rushing defense and 102nd against the pass. If there is a good time for Auburn to ease Jonathan Wallace into the quarterback spot, this has to be that time. It is too late to rescue Auburn’s season, but the future may be a lot brighter with Wallace at the helm and another good recruiting class on deck.
Before we forget, it’s time for the answer to this week’s trivia question!
Trivia answer: The last time Missouri and Florida played each other took place in the 1966 Sugar Bowl. The Tigers beat the Gators 20-18.
Brian Wilmer is a contributor to FBSchedules.com. Follow him @sportsmatters.