By C ole Frederick/Sports Correspondent
Iron Bowl Review
Auburn’s win over Alabama in the Iron Bowl didn’t come as a total surprise, but the manner in which the Tigers won the game certainly wasn’t expected. While Auburn didn’t rout Alabama, they did prove on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium that they are the better team right now. Jarrett Stidham was razor-sharp in the 26-14 win, as he threw for 237 yards while completing 21 of 28 passes. Kerryon Johnson carried the ball 30 times for 104 yards before leaving the game with an injury. Johnson also threw for a touchdown, while Ryan Davis caught 11 passes for 139 yards en route to setting the single-season record for receptions at Auburn.
The Tigers kept Alabama’s rushing attack in check for most of the day. Jalen Hurts led the Tide on the ground with 80 yards on 17 carries, and Damien Harris was second on the team in rushing with 51 yards. Hurts threw for 177 yards and a touchdown, but the Alabama passing game wasn’t much of a threat. Auburn won the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, which played a major role in the victory. Alabama fell to 11-1 overall and 7-1 in league play. The Tigers improved to 10-2 overall and 7-1 in the conference and clinched the SEC West Division. Auburn will meet Georgia for the second time in four weeks when the two rivals square off in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta on Saturday (Dec. 2).
1. Auburn (10-2, 7-1)
2. Alabama (11-1, 7-1)
3. Georgia (11-1, 7-1)
4. LSU (9-3, 6-2)
5. Mississippi State (8-4, 4-4)
6. Missouri (7-5, 3-4)
7. Texas A&M (7-5, 4-4)
8. South Carolina (8-4, 5-3)
9. Kentucky (7-5, 4-4)
10. Ole Miss (6-6, 3-5)
11. Vanderbilt (5-7, 1-7)
12. Arkansas (4-8, 1-7)
13. Florida (4-7, 3-5)
14. Tennessee (4-8, 0-8)
SEC Championship Preview and Prediction
Week 13 record: 7-2
Saturday, Dec. 2
Georgia vs. Auburn (-2.5). These two rivals met three weeks ago in Auburn when the Tigers dominated the Bulldogs, 40-17, and now Georgia has a shot at revenge. The stakes are much higher this team, as the winner almost certainly will clinch a berth in the College Football Playoffs. It’s been four years since Auburn’s last conference championship, while Georgia hasn’t won the league title since 2005 under Mark Richt. This will be the first meeting between the Tigers and the Bulldogs for the SEC championship.
During the first meeting, Auburn dominated on both sides of the ball. The Tigers were much better up front in limiting Georgia’s vaunted rushing attack to only 46 yards. Auburn rushed for 237 yards with Kerryon Johnson leading the way with 167 on the ground. Johnson’s status for the game is in doubt after he suffered a shoulder injury late in the Iron Bowl, and Gus Malzahn said Johnson is “day-to-day.” If Johnson can’t suit up or is limited, Kam Martin will likely receive the bulk of the carries.
Even if Johnson does play, he won’t be 100 percent, so the pressure will be on Jarrett Stidham’s shoulders. Stidham threw for 214 yards and three touchdowns during the previous meeting against Georgia, and Auburn will need his best performance to win the conference title.
Georgia will also need its quarterback to improve on his play from the first meeting against Auburn. True freshman Jake Fromm threw for 184 yards and a touchdown but connected on less than half of his throws. He won’t be playing in a hostile environment this time, as the crowd will likely be close to a 50-50 split, so that should help the freshman out a bit on Saturday afternoon.
Kirby Smart is only in his second year as the head coach at Georgia but has his team in a spot where the can potentially play for a national title. While he’s never been a head coach in a championship game, Smart served as an assistant under Nick Saban at Alabama for many years and is familiar with this situation. This will be Gus Malzahn’s second appearance in the SEC title game as a head coach, and he won the previous game, 59-42, over Missouri. He also served as the offensive coordinator when Auburn defeated South Carolina in the 2010 SEC title game.
It would be very surprising if this meeting was a blowout like the first time these schools met this year, and this figures to be an intense showdown between two rivals to determine who makes the playoffs. Auburn needs to dominate the Bulldogs up front again or else Nick Chubb and Sony Michel will run wild on the Tiger defense. If Johnson isn’t healthy for Auburn, Stidham must take over the game. He was rattled easily early on in the season, but he’s since settled in and been one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Prediction: Auburn 31, Georgia 24.
SEC coaching carousel
Five teams in the SEC made a coaching change over the last few months, and two schools have alrea-dy filled their vacancies. Here’s a quick recap of the always fluid coaching carousel:
Florida. The Gators fired Jim McElwain during the middle of the season, and neither of their presumed top targets, Chip Kelly and Scott Frost, expressed much interest in the job. Florida eventually landed on the coach they probably should’ve had first all along in former Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen. Mullen doesn’t have the flashiest resume but he built Mississippi State into a consistent winner. He formerly was the offensive coordinator at Florida under Urban Meyer. He’s a great fit at UF and is the most logical candidate that the school could have selected. Mullen signed a six-year, $36 million deal with the Gators.
Ole Miss. Ole Miss made its coaching change in the offseason after the school fired Hugh Freeze before the season began. Offensive line coach Matt Luke took over on an interim basis and guided the Rebels to a 6-6 season, including a win over Mississippi State last week in the Egg Bowl. The school rewarded Luke with the full-time job, and he signed a four-year deal worth about $12.5 million with incentives. The Rebels landed on Luke rather quickly, which has led some to believe the sanctions from the NCAA could be worse than many realized.
Tennessee. It was no surprise the Vols fired Butch Jones before the end of the regular season but the search to replace him has been disastrous. New AD John Currie planned to hire Greg Schiano as the new head coach, but the decision was met with backlash on social media. So, Tennessee backed out, and the Vols remain without a coach. It’s not the best situation in Knoxville at the moment.
Texas A&M. The Aggies parted ways with Kevin Sumlin after a 7-5 season and reportedly have their sights set on Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher. They’ve made a Godfather-like offer to Fisher but might not find out his answer for another week. If Fisher says declines the position, the next candidate likely to emerge is SMU coach Chad Morris.
Arkansas. The Arkansas administration didn’t even wait for Bret Bielema to get off the field to fire him after the Razorbacks lost to Missouri and finished 4-8 on the year. It wasn’t a very tasteful way to let him go, and now the school is looking for both a new coach and new athletic director. Gus Malzahn has been rumored to be the school’s top target, but Malzahn is a bit busy preparing his team for a conference championship. Memphis coach Mike Norvell – who played at Central Arkansas – could be in play as Bielema’s replacement.
Mississippi State. Mississippi State wasn’t expecting to have a coaching vacancy but Dan Mullen left to take over at Florida. Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has reportedly interviewed for the job, and the school is also interested in Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead. MSU’s approach has been a bit different from other schools in the conference, as it appears the Bulldogs are targeting a younger coordinator to take over for Mullen.