The final week of the regular season brings us plenty of anticipation with two showdowns in the SEC to decide who will meet in Atlanta.
The Iron Bowl may be the biggest one in history as two top five teams meet for the second time ever. Auburn and Alabama face off with the SEC West on the line for the first time under the divisional format.
Missouri will face Texas A&M in the other big game with the Tigers needing a win to secure the SEC East and head to Atlanta. Missouri is also still alive for the BCS title but must knock off Johnny Football in what is sure to be his final regular season game as an Aggie.
Auburn has crafted the biggest turnaround in the nation this season and is trying to become the first team since the 1976 Kentucky team to go from winless in the conference to champions. The Tigers are a big-play team. The rushing offense is dynamic at third in the country with 320 yards per game, but they can also find big plays on special teams and the passing game.
Chris Davis leads the nation in punt returns at 22.5 yards per game and Sammy Coates is second in the nation in yards per reception at 22.9. Coates is sure to get man-to-man coverage on the outside if Alabama defends Auburn the same way it did in Tuscaloosa in 2010. I would expect Auburn to have some tricks up its sleeves including some deep balls on first down.
On defense the defensive line is the center of their playmaking ability with Dee Ford, Gabe Wright and Carl Lawson.
Alabama is playing as good on the defensive side of the ball as it has at any point in the last three years. CJ Mosley is arguably the best defensive player in the country and not only leads the Tide in tackles but has nine tackles for loss, five pass breakups and eight quarterback Hurries. The defense has held nine opponents to 10 points or less this season.
The offense will be centered on AJ McCarron who I think has a chance to jump to the top of the Heisman list with a big game. McCarron loves the deep ball on first down having completed 12 of his 22 completions of over 25 yards on the initial play in the series.
The Crimson Tide run game perfectly complements itself with TJ Yeldon and Kenyon Drake. Amari Cooper only has three touchdown receptions, but they have all come over the last five games. I believe he is due for a big game and Bama will look to throw 30 times in this showdown.
Both teams are very good in the red zone on offense and defensively each holds opponents to around a 50 percent conversion rate. Which team forces a field goal from the other? Georgia nearly beat Auburn because the Tigers only converted 2 of 6 for touchdowns in the red zone. Alabama has only allowed 18 attempts in conference play inside the red zone, so it is going to be tough to get there.
Alabama has only allowed three runs of 20 or more yards this season. Auburn has 33 runs of 20 yards or more on the season. Can the Tigers get some chunks against the tough Alabama defense?
Quarterback play will decide this game. Nick Marshall will have to make some throws to give Auburn a chance to win. Marshall is just a 50 percent passer in conference games on third down while AJ McCarron is a 68 percent passer in those situations.
Missouri has won four of the last five meetings with Texas A&M and is looking for its fourth win over a ranked opponent in 2013. The Tiger ground attack has to be licking its chops after the Aggie performance versus LSU. Missouri is averaging 238 yards a game on the ground which is second in the SEC and 18th in the nation.
Johnny Manziel is coming off his worst performance in College Station and will look to take advantage of the Missouri secondary. The Tigers allowed an SEC high 272 yards per game through the air. They have relinquished more than 300 yards four times this season including over 400 in their only loss to South Carolina. Manziel only had one touchdown pass last week which was the first time in five games he did not throw at least four.
Georgia starts Hutson Mason against Georgia Tech, but it will be the defense that must control the Jackets. Only two teams have run for more than 200 yards on the Bulldogs (South Carolina and Auburn). Georgia held Auburn to 70 yards rushing in the second half on the road in Jordan Hare. Both these teams turn the ball over as Georgia is minus-7 and Tech is minus-5 in the turnover margin.
South Carolina looks to continue some streaks against Tajh Boyd and Clemson. A win would give them a five-game win streak in the series, their longest ever in 111 years. It would also extend the home winning streak to a school record 18 and give the Gamecocks a 10th win for the third year in a row. Prior to 2011 South Carolina had one 10-win season.
Vanderbilt looks to extend its November winning streak to nine games. A win gives the Commodores consecutive eight-win regular seasons for the first time since the 1920s. Vanderbilt is now second in the SEC with a plus-eight turnover margin. Jordan Matthews will play his final game in Nashville and holds all the big SEC receiving records. I was stunned this week to find out he was not a Biletnikoff finalist, but I gather it will serve as motivation when he goes to the next level.
Tennessee looks to finish the season on a high note and get Rajon Neal a 1,000-yard season with a win over Kentucky. The Volunteers have rushed for 2,043 yards on the season, the most since 2009. Kentucky is 12th in the SEC, giving up 195 yards a game on the ground. The Vols are looking for their 28th win in 29 games against the Wildcats.
Florida will need to force some turnovers and get short fields to pull the upset of No. 2 Florida State. Last year the Gators won by 10 in Tallahassee but only have six starters from the bowl game last year that should start in this game. The Gator secondary heralded as one of the best in the country only has nine interceptions and one since September. They need to play zone and gamble to potentially give themselves a shot at turnovers and defensive scores.
LSU looks to finish unbeaten at home with a win over Arkansas. Zach Mettenberger needs 74 yards to become the third 3,000-yard passer in school history. Jarvis Landry has done his dirty work on third down with 424 of his 1,059 receiving yards on the money down. The Tigers lead the nation in third-down conversions with a 58.6 percent success rate.
Ole Miss looks to get to 8-4 with its second win in a row in the Egg Bowl. This is the first road game since early October as the Rebels have played six home games in a row. Jaylen Walton had 128 all-purpose yards against Missouri and I expect him to be a factor this week. Cody Prewitt did not make the Thorpe Award finalists list but he is having a heck of a year and should be first team All-SEC.
Arkansas has one last shot to get an SEC win and it’ll have to beat LSU this weekend to get it. The Hogs will need some help and turnovers must go their way. The Razorbacks forced seven turnovers in their first four games and only five in the last seven. LSU is the fifth top 15 team Arkansas has faced this season.
Mississippi State needs a win in the Egg Bowl to become bowl eligible. It looks like the Bulldogs may have to start third-string quarterback Damian Williams. Williams scored the winning touchdown last week against Arkansas. Dan Mullen is 2-0 at home versus Ole Miss.
Kentucky looks to get its first SEC win in the final game against Tennessee. The Wildcats snapped a 26-game losing streak to the Volunteers the last time the Vols visited Lexington. Alvin Bud Dupree is fourth in the SEC with seven sacks.