SEC Week 13 Preview: It All Comes Down To Rivalry Week
Everything that has happened this season has been building up to this week. Rivalry week is the one week where all bets are off and anything can happen.
Since 2013, only four games have been won by 20 points or more during rivalry week. To provide a better perspective on what to expect, here is a recap of some of last year's closest rivalry games.
- South Carolina, who only had three wins on the year, managed to keeps thing interesting with the undefeated Clemson Tigers. Still, the Gamecocks attempt came up short as they lost, 37-32.
- Alabama entered last year's Iron Bowl as big time favorites but only had a six point lead going into the fourth quarter. The Tide eventually pulled away with a 29-13 win.
- A low scoring affair almost saw Georgia lose to their in-state rival Georgia Tech. The Bulldogs did manage to win 13-7.
There is no longer any drama regarding which teams will make it to Atlanta as Alabama and Florida will meet for the ninth time in the SEC Championship. What this means, however, is that this year's rivalry week will be one big holds barred match.
**All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com**
The LSU-Texas A&M game is not a game that most would consider a "rivalry." The questions surrounding this matchup are what make it interesting. Will LSU bounce back from last week's loss? Will A&M get back on the right track before bowl season? The answers to these questions will help decide the state of each of these programs moving forward.
LSU's loss to Florida, especially in such heartbreaking fashion, may have damaged any momentum the team had moving into this matchup. Still, this is not the same Tigers team from earlier this season. This stingy defense will be going up against an offense that is as vulnerable as ever. If anything, LSU must continue to search for consistency through the air especially with Aggies ranking 13th in the SEC in pass defense.
Fortunately for A&M, the Tigers will likely not be able to do too much damage in the passing game, so they can scheme around stopping Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice. Offensively, the Aggies are still reeling from losing Trevor Knight for the season. Knight's replacement, Jake Hubenak, has not struggled passing. However, he does not pose the same running threat that Knight had. This offense cannot be one dimensional against this LSU defense.
Just like LSU-Texas A&M, the Arkansas-Missouri game is not your typical "rivalry." The winner of this game does receive a trophy, so there is definitely an attempt being made to create a rivalry. For now, this game will just be looked at like any other game until these two teams reach new heights.
Missouri has not had the year they hoped for under new coach Barry Odom. The Tigers are 3-8 with only one of those being a conference win. Offensively, the team has shown promise with quarterback Drew Lock, who has thrown for over 3,000 yards this season. Lock does not have many weapons around him, and he has not, and likely will not, get the help he needs from his defense.
Arkansas certainly has the clear advantage in this matchup. The Razorbacks, while inconsistent, have proven that they can be extremely dangerous. Quarterback Austin Allen is one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the conference, and running back Rawleigh Williams leads the SEC in rushing. This duo is set to have a field day against the worst defense in the conference.
This will be the first established rivalry game of the day within the SEC. In-state rivalries always have added drama and this one is no different. This year's version could go either way, which makes it all the more exciting.
If there is something that sets these two teams apart its Georgia Tech's offense against Georgia's defense. The Bulldogs are holding opponents to 131 rushing yards per game. With the Yellow Jackets' entire offense revolving around their ground game, the scheme will have to be adjusted slightly if they plan on beating Georgia.
The Bulldogs' scheme does not have to change, it just has to continue to improve. Despite not scoring an offensive touchdown in its upset win over Auburn, Georgia seems revitalized on offense. Freshman Jacob Eason is showing flashes of the future while veterans Nick Chubb and Isaiah McKenzie are providing offensive sparks. If the improvement continues then a win on Saturday is in sight.
The Kentucky-Louisville matchup is an example of an in-state rivalry that does not carry too much excitement. That does not mean that it is not an important rivalry. It just means that the rivalry, at least recently, has been pretty one sided.
Most would consider this matchup to be a one sided affair because of one person: Lamar Jackson. Jackson has accounted for 47 touchdowns this season, and he remains the frontrunner for the Heisman trophy despite last week's loss to Houston. The Cardinals shocking loss last week was due to the Cougars' stingy defense, which is a quality Kentucky does not possess.
What the Wildcats do possess is a ground game that has grown exponentially in the last few weeks. They currently rank third in the SEC in rush offense. Kentucky is averaging over 300 yards per game since their loss to Alabama. Something will have to give on Saturday, however, as Louisville is holding opponents to less than 100 yards rushing per game.
The Egg Bowl has always been a unique in-state rivalry and this year's version will be no different. Neither team met their preseason expectations even though Ole Miss' expectations were much higher. There are enough question marks around both of these teams for us to say that this game could go either way.
The Rebels in the preseason were thought to be a team capable of dethroning Alabama in the SEC West. Now, they are just trying to remain on top of this rivalry. Hugh Freeze made the decision to burn the redshirt of quarterback Shea Patterson, which is a move that has paid off. However, problems in other areas have forced this team to go downhill. This is evident by their loss to Vanderbilt last week.
Mississippi State did not have as high of expectations, but they certainly did not expect to be this inconsistent. The loss of Dak Prescott has really weighed this team down as new quarterback Nick Fitzgerald is trying to show the same versatility through the air and on the ground. Like Ole Miss, the Bulldogs have struggled on defense all year long. This is why this game should be a high scoring affair that could go either way.
Arguably the most heated rivalry in all of sports is the Iron Bowl. This game is the only game that matters to many Alabama and Auburn fans. The Crimson Tide is the favorite for obvious reasons, but this is certainly one game where you can throw everything out the window because it comes down to who wants it more.
The reason you should throw any stats out the window for this matchup is because Alabama leads the SEC in almost every statistical category. Jalen Hurts has struggled with throwing down field which could serve as a problem if Auburn's defense stifles the ground game. Another issue for the Tide could be figuring out the trickery of Auburn's offense.
Any trickery the Tigers use will depend on who Gus Malzahn trots out at quarterback. John Franklin and Jeremy Johnson are very clearly bigger threats on the ground while Sean White is much more dangerous through the air. Malzahn has to figure out a way to successfully score on an Alabama defense that has not given up a touchdown in 13 quarters.
Last season, Clemson was expected to beat South Carolina without issue. That ended up not being the case as the Gamecocks gave the Tigers everything they could handle. Clemson is not playing as well as they were this time last year, and South Carolina is playing better than they were this time last year. In other words, this could be a close one.
The Gamecocks improvement over the last few weeks speaks to their potential in this game. At one point this season, it was predicted that Will Muschamp would not be able to make a bowl with this team. Now, they are bowl eligible and are looking to knock off a highly ranked in-state opponent. The team's inability to consistently score is the one thing that may weight them down.
Clemson, while not as good as last season, are still one of the best teams in the country. They can ill afford to lose this game if they want to make it to the playoffs for the second consecutive season. The Tigers have played completely different in various weeks, which makes one think that they overlook opponents. Now more than ever, Clemson cannot afford to overlook South Carolina.
This game is yet another example of an in-state rivalry that does not carry much luster. It did, however, get much more interesting following Vanderbilt's win over Ole Miss last week. The Commodores are now one win away from bowl eligibility and what better way to do it than versus an in-state rival.
Tennessee is reeling from the thought they once again missed out on an opportunity to play in the SEC Championship. Losses to South Carolina and Texas A&M cost this team their opportunity. The Vols must move forward because a loss to Vanderbilt would certainly be the downfall of the season. Defensively, Tennessee has struggled greatly, so it will be up to Josh Dobbs and company.
Vanderbilt has had an up and down season with wins over Georgia and Ole Miss and losses to Missouri and Kentucky. The defense, led by Zach Cunningham, has allowed this team to improve by keeping scores low and giving their offense more to work with. That should be the strategy as they look to upset the Vols on Saturday.
Rounding out rivalry weekend in the SEC is the Florida-Florida State matchup. This is a very heated rivalry that could go either way this year. Florida is coming off of a big win over LSU while Florida State is consistently improving as the season moves along.
The Gators' defense will be the key to this game and their game against Alabama in the SEC Championship. This defense ranks in the top five nationally by holding teams to 282 yards of offense per game. Slowing down Dalvin Cook will be key for Florida to win this year's rivalry game. Still, the Gators will also need to find an offensive spark in order to provide some insurance on the scoreboard.
Florida State did not have the season they wanted to have, but they certainly can cap it off with a win over Florida. The Seminoles have won in each of the last three meetings, and they have done so behind their offense. The Gators are still inconsistent on offense, so they could be decided in a low scoring affair.