SEC CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW CAPSULE
TV: Saturday 3 p.m. CT, CBS
CFP rank: No. 2
Best win: vs. Alabama, 26-14
Worst loss: at LSU, 27-23
Offensive stars: Leading passer – Jarrett Stidham (2,682 yards, 16 TDs, 4 INTs). Leading rushers – Kerryon Johnson (250-1,276, 17 TDs), Kam Martin (64-409, 2 TDs). Leading receivers – Ryan Davis (69-703, 5 TDs), Kerryon Johnson (27-187, 2 TDs).
Defensive stars: Deshaun Davis (65 tackles, 4 sacks), Derrick Brown (46 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss).
Key team statistical rankings: Total offense – 18 (470.3); Scoring offense – 19 (36.7 ppg); Total defense – 11 (303.3 ypg); Scoring defense – 9 (16.4 ppg).
Gus Malzahn on rematch with Georgia: “I think the unique thing about playing a team again is it was just a couple weeks ago. As far as the revenge, and I’m sure they’re going to have some of it, but this is a championship game. This game is as big as it gets for our conference, and the winner wins the conference championship. So I know both teams are going to be motivated.”
CFP Rank: No. 6
Best win: at Notre Dame, 20-19
Worst loss: at Auburn, 40-17
Offensive stars: Leading passer – Jake Fromm (1,990 yards, 19 TDs, 5 INTs).Leading rushers – Nick Chubb (178-1.098, 13 TDs), Sony Michel (124-903, 13 TDs). Leading receivers – Javon Wims (38-631. 6 TDs). Terry Godwin (24-402. 5 TDs).
Defensive stars: Roquan Smith (100 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks), J.R. Reed (65 tackles, 5.0 tackles for loss).
Key team statistical rankings: Total offense – 36 (434.7); Scoring offense – 23 (35.5 ppg); Total defense – 4 (271.9 ypg); Scoring defense – 5 (13.8 ppg).
Kirby Smart on being more physical in rematch with Auburn: “I think that our job is to improve physicality. I don’t think that you just snap your fingers and have that happen overnight. I think some people have said, oh, you played Kentucky. You were more physical. You played Georgia Tech. You were more physical. Well, they weren’t Auburn, you know what I mean?
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
(All times Central)
SEC Championship Game: Auburn vs. Georgia, Atlanta, Saturday 3 p.m. CT, CBS
- Auburn (10-2, 7-1): Last Week – W, Alabama, 26-14. The Impact – Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, who I got to know when he was at Florida State, had a plan that limited Alabama to a pair of big plays. Gus Malzahn’s Tigers started strong and finished stronger. Sidenote: To quote from my Week 1 SEC Landscape, referencing that I had turned down a chance to continue my professional career as a sports editor while covering Auburn: “This will probably be the Year of the War Eagle, and I could have been there to see it all. Enough said.”
- Alabama (11-1, 7-1): Last Week – L, at Auburn, 26-14. The Impact – Nick Saban didn’t need long after loss to Auburn in Iron Bowl to start his campaign for one of the four College Football Playoff spots and the CFP committee did Crimson Tide a solid with No. 5 ranking this week. A loss by just one of the top four teams this weekend in the conference championship games would put Tide back in hunt. What’s unknown is whether Clemson could still get a shot if either Oklahoma or Wisconsin lose their games and Tigers are also upset by Miami in ACC title game. Surely, we couldn’t have a third-straight national championship game between Tide and Tigers could we?
- Georgia (11-1, 7-1): Last Week – W, Georgia Tech, 38-7. The Impact – Quarterback Jake Fromm had another strong outing, completing 12 of 16 passes for 224 yards and pair of touchdowns with no interceptions in romp against rival Georgia Tech. That should give him a boost in confidence going into rematch with Auburn in SEC Championship game. The last time the teams met, three weeks ago at Auburn, Fromm completed less than half his passes and was sacked four times. Bulldogs will need to find balance with Fromm’s passing and the running of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel if they are going to have different outcome against Auburn.
- LSU (9-3, 6-2): Last Week – W, Texas A&M, 45-21. The Impact – Ed Orgeron’s work isn’t finished, but he’s built up a good head of steam with the Tigers winning six of last seven games, including handing Auburn its only loss in mid-October. Tigers are likely headed to Citrus or Outback bowls against Big Ten opponent.
- Mississippi State (8-4, 4-4): Last Week – L, Mississippi, 31-28. The Impact – Losing two of their last three games wasn’t nearly as damaging to the Bulldogs as losing quarterback Nick Fitzgerald to a broken ankle in the first quarter of the Egg Bowl and then learning head coach Dan Mullen was leaving to take the Florida job. The Bulldogs have quickly moved on with Fitzgerald having successful surgery and Mullen being replaced by Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead. Despite the setbacks, the Bulldogs won eight games and will go bowling with freshman QB Keytaon Thompson getting the start.
6. South Carolina (8-4, 5-3): Last Week – L, Clemson, 34-10. The Impact – With eight wins and a Florida bowl invite in the works, Will Muschamp’s Gamecocks have a lot to celebrate despite disappointment of fourth straight loss to rival Clemson. But Tigers exposed fact that Muschamp’s Achilles’ heel remains offense – Gamecocks were No. 27 in scoring defense (20.8) but only No. 98 in scoring offense (24.1)
7. Texas A&M (7-5, 4-4): Last Week – L, at LSU, 45-21. The Impact – After loss to LSU, Kevin Sumlin was fired with Aggies turning their attention to courting Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, who is keeping everyone on hold since Seminoles still having a game to play. Texas A&M will go bowling, but winning fewer than nine games – or losing as many as five games – isn’t acceptable with the unreasonable fans in College Station. Sumlin also was just 16-20 against SEC West teams and didn’t win a division game at home the past three seasons.
8. Missouri (7-5, 4-4): Last Week – W, at Arkansas, 48-45. The Impact – Drew Lock passed for 448 yards and five touchdowns in wild road win against Razorbacks. The victory allowed Barry Odom’s squad to finish .500 in SEC and improve its positioning for one of the SEC’s bowl bids. Lock finished season with at least three touchdown passes in eight straight games and set SEC record with 43 touchdown passes, surpassing the 40 by Kentucky’s Andre Woodson in 2007. Mizzou won six in row after starting season 1-5.
9. Kentucky (7-5, 4-4): Last Week – L, Louisville, 44-17. The Impact – Wildcats entered November entertaining thoughts of at least a nine-win season but lost three of final four games. Being dominated at home by rival Louisville certainly wasn’t the way Mark Stoops’ squad wanted to end regular season, either. The UK defense again took a beating, surrendering more than 500 yards and 40 points for second straight week. Fortunately, the Wildcats clinched a bowl bid in just eight games.
10. Mississippi (6-6, 3-5): Last Week – W, at Mississippi State, 31-28. The Impact – Winning the Egg Bowl will have to be reward enough for the Rebels since the school played season under a self-imposed bowl ban. Quarterback Jordan Ta’amu threw for 247 yards and touchdowns passes of 77 and 63 yards against Bulldogs.
11. Florida (4-7, 3-5): Last Week – L, Florida State, 38-22. The Impact – Gators lost six of last seven games, including a blown opportunity to end five-game skid to rival Florida State. FSU scored a pair of defensive touchdowns off a fumble and interception from UF quarterback Felipe Franks. It’s just the second losing season since 1979 by Florida and Gators will miss playing in a bowl game for only the second time in 27 seasons. It’s now up to new coach Dan Mullen to get the program back on track.
12. Arkansas (4-8, 1-7): Last Week – L, Missouri, 48-45. The Impact – Bret Bielema’s time in Arkansas ended with more frustration when Mizzou rallied late and won on field goal with five seconds left. Bielema was fired before he could get to the locker room, finishing his five years with Razorbacks with an overall record of 29-34 and only 11-29 in the SEC.
13. Vanderbilt (5-7, 1-7): Last Week – W, at Tennessee, 42-24. The Impact – Ralph Webb finished college career as SEC’s all-time sixth leading rusher with 4,173 yards after gaining 163 and scoring two touchdowns against Vols. The win over their state rival allowed Commodores to break a two-game skid but it was too little, too late to salvage a bowl berth for Derek Mason and his players. They were done in by a five-game losing skid in the middle of the season. But by beating Tennessee, they did move out of a tie for the SEC cellar by finally winning a conference game.
14. Tennessee (4-8, 0-8): Last Week – L, Vanderbilt, 42-24. The Impact – UPDATED Tennessee AD John Currie’s difficulty hiring a new football coach after firing Butch Jones cost him his job after only 10 months. His latest target was Washington State coach Mike Leach, who may have accepted offer, but that’s when things in Knoxville took nasty turn with alleged interference from former Vols’ coach Phillip Fulmer. Now Fulmer is AD and Currie has been kicked to curb. Reports have had Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy, N.C. State’s Dave Doeren, Purdue’s Jeff Brohm and Duke’s David Cutcliffe turning down the job but Fulmer May have had something to do with that. Trouble began when Currie initially pursued Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano but school rescinded offer because of fan outrage. If we can believe reports, former NFL coach-turned broadcaster Jon Gruden also may have declined to interview. Meanwhile, in season finale Volunteers couldn’t stop the run or generate a rushing attack, allowing 246 yards to Vandy while gaining just 55 yards.
(Predicted winner in Bold Caps)
AUBURN 27, Georgia 13
Last Week: 6-3
Overall: 83-20 (80.5%)