In & around SEC football: conference championship preview

December 17, 2020 chris
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By Cole Frederick/Staff Correspondence

Alabama Week 12 Recap
Alabama capped off perhaps its most dominant re-gular season under Nick Saban with a 52-3 road win over Arkansas in a game where the Crimson Tide did not play anywhere close to its best game. UA has won every game this season by at least 17 points, and only the Georgia game was competitive in the second half. Brian Robinson scored three touchdowns on the ground, while Najee Harris ran for two more and Jase McClellan scored once. Alabama improved to 10-0 and will take on Florida in the SEC Championship Game this Saturday (Dec. 19) in Atlanta. Regardless of the outcome, Alabama will likely be in the playoffs. Additionally, both Mac Jones and DeVonta Smith will have a chance to win the Heisman Trophy depending on how they perform against the Gators.
Auburn Week 12 Recap
The Tigers pulled away in the fourth quarter and emerged from Starkville with a 24-10 victory in what turned out to be Gus Malzahn’s final game as head coach. Malzahn was fired last Sunday afternoon after eight years on The Plains. His tenure included a 68-35 overall record, one SEC title, two West Division titles, one national championship game appearance and three wins over Alabama. The Tigers lost at least four games in seven straight seasons, however, and Auburn boosters felt like the program was stuck in neutral. Malzahn is owed over $21 million dollars from the school, with half of that amount due within 30 days. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele was tabbed the interim head coach and is a candidate for the head coaching vacancy. In AU’s regular season finale, Tank Bigsby finished a terrific freshman season with 192 yards on the ground. Bo Nix threw for 125 yards and a touchdown while rushing for another score. Seth Williams caught three passes for 57 yards and a touchdown as the Tigers improved to 6-4 on the year.
SEC rankings
1. Alabama (10-0)
2. Florida (8-1)
3. Texas A&M (7-1)
4. Georgia (7-2)
5. Auburn (6-4)
6. Missouri (5-4)
7. LSU (4-5)
8. Ole Miss (4-4)
9. Arkansas (3-7)
10. Kentucky (4-6)
11. Tennessee (3-6)
12. Mississippi State (2-7)
13. South Carolina (2-8)
14. Vanderbilt (0-9)
Week 13 Previews and Predictions
Week 12: 4-1; season: 52-11
Saturday, Dec. 19
SEC Championship Game Preview
Game of the Week: Alabama vs. Florida (+17). The conference title game lost its luster when LSU stunned Florida in the Swamp last weekend. Had the Gators won a week ago, they would have been playing for a playoff spot. While they are not technically eliminated from playoff contention, the Gators will need some help even if they pull off the upset over Alabama. This will be the 10th time since 1992 that Alabama and Florida will meet for the conference title. Alabama is 5-4 in conference championship games versus the Gators, including three straight victories. Three Heisman Trophy candidates will be on the field on Saturday. Mac Jones and DeVonta Smith both have a chance to bring home the prestigious award, while Florida quarterback Kyle Trask is still in the mix for the award despite a poor performance against LSU. These are the two best offenses in the SEC and two of the best in the country, but Alabama’s defense is much stronger than Florida’s and should force more stops. UF tight end Kyle Pitts is a matchup problem for the Tide, but Alabama should pull away in the second half for another double-digit victory and an SEC title. Prediction: Alabama 48, Florida 31.
Texas A&M at Tennessee (+14). Texas A&M has one more opportunity to impress the College Football Playoff committee as the Aggies travel to Knoxville to take on Tennessee. A&M has been ranked fifth in the playoff rankings for several weeks, trailing Alabama, Notre Dame, Clemson and Ohio State. The Aggies best chance for making the field is Ohio State being upset by Northwestern, but even that would not guarantee a spot. Iowa State has slowly crept up the rankings, and a win over No. 10 Oklahoma might be enough for them to leapfrog the Aggies. Florida lost to Texas A&M in head-to-head competition and has one more loss, but would a win over Alabama be enough to justify moving the Gators over the Aggies? It’s possible and certainly can’t be ruled out, so Jimbo Fisher’s team simply needs to control what it can control. A resounding win over Tennessee would at least give the committee something to think about, but it’s hard to imagine the Aggies jumping Ohio State, despite the Buckeyes playing only six games this season. Prediction: Texas A&M 38, Tennessee 13.
Ole Miss at LSU (+2.5). LSU’s national championship defense was over after the first game of the season, but give credit where credit is due for Ed Orgeron’s team: even though the Tigers were 3-5 entering last weekend’s matchup against Florida, LSU never quit competing and pulled off perhaps the biggest upset of the season in a 37-34 win. The Tigers are now 4-5, which is not anywhere near where they wanted to be, but it is a rebuilding year and the win over Florida is a building block entering the offseason. Lane Kiffin has enjoyed a productive first season in Oxford, and the icing on the cake would be beating former co-worker Ed Orgeron in Baton Rouge and finishing the season with a winning record. Prediction: Ole Miss 44, LSU 41.
Missouri at Mississippi State (+1). Missouri could not keep pace with Georgia in last week’s top 25 matchup, but the loss doesn’t take away from what Eli Drinkwitz has accomplished in his first season in Columbia. The Tigers are 5-4 ove-rall and have an opportunity to finish with a winning record and third in the SEC East with a win on Saturday. Despite Mississippi State’s 2-7 record, the Bulldogs have been competitive in recent weeks. Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense has not been very successful, but the Bulldogs do not have the personnel to fit his offense right now. A home win over a solid Missouri squad would be a great way to end Leach’s first season. Prediction: Missouri 24, Mississippi State 20.