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Week Eleven SEC Recap

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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Looking back at week eleven in the SEC.

Scores

South Carolina 28, Florida 20
(24) LSU 33, Arkansas 10
Ole Miss 50, Louisiana-Lafayette 22
(10) Auburn 40, (1) Georgia 17
Kentucky 44, Vanderbilt 21
(2) Alabama 31, (16) Mississippi State 24
Texas A&M 55, New Mexico 14
Missouri 50, Tennessee 17

10 Things I Learned

-Georgia did have a complete meltdown in it. Losing to Auburn wasn’t a big surprise, but for Georgia to have repeated mental breakdowns, coaching mistakes and poor execution was shocking given how rock-solid the Bulldogs had played all season. The ‘Dawgs had a mulligan (although losing the SEC Championship Game and still getting in the playoff is out), but Saturday’s humbling defeat showed the offense isn’t quite capable of carrying the load if the defense has a bad day.

-Auburn did almost everything right. The red-zone issues popped up early, as the Tigers had a chance to seize control far sooner than they did, but the offensive line was brilliant, Jarrett Stidham was on point, and Kerryon Johnson was a terror in the running game. The defense is as fundamentally sound as any in the country, helping the Tigers to a 30-0 run after Georgia took the game’s first drive for a touchdown. Given Alabama’s issues at the moment, Auburn might be considered the favorite heading into the Iron Bowl in two weeks.

-Alabama is winning in a new way – with its passing game. Big plays from Jalen Hurts and Calvin Ridley saved the Crimson Tide from their first SEC loss in 21 games on Saturday at Mississippi State, overcoming a difficult night for the defense and a relatively modest game from the ground attack. This isn’t an Alabama team that can overwhelm every opponent physically. The offense is having to be more creative, and Hurts proved in Starkville that he can carry a heavy load. He’ll have to do the same against Auburn and Georgia if the Tide hope to win their fourth straight SEC title.

-This is Dan Mullen’s best team at Mississippi State. With apologies to the 2014 team that spent a month at No. 1, this team is more complete. The defense forced Alabama to beat them in an unconventional way, and the running game gave the Crimson Tide defense fits all night. There’s no New Year’s Six bowl in this team’s future, but I’d take this Bulldogs squad over the Dak Prescott-led 2014 team on a neutral field. Saturday night wasn’t a moral victory. It was a missed opportunity that is going to haunt them.

-Drew Lock is the SEC East’s best quarterback. Jake Fromm has only had one bad day, and Jake Bentley is going to be awesome in 2018, but Lock is the man right now in the Power Five’s weakest division. His numbers since the start of October: 121-of-185, 1,897 yards, 25 TD, 4 INT. Lock only connected on 13 of 28 passes in Saturday night’s rout of Tennessee, but four of the 13 went for scores, as he reached the three-touchdown mark for the sixth straight game. Turning pro is a possibility, but I’d love to see Lock back in a still quarterback-starved conference in 2018.

-The Egg Bowl could be interesting. The Ole Miss offense has been even better without injured quarterback Shea Patterson, as Jordan Ta’amu and a talented receiving corps have put up 37, 37 and 50 points in the past three weeks. Mississippi State is the better team, but if the Rebels can defeat Texas A&M next week for their fourth straight win, the Thanksgiving Night clash could be more than just two programs that despite each other. It could be a very entertaining football game.

-I don’t know what’s going to happen at Arkansas. It’s undoubtedly gotten really bad, but I’ve said all season that Bret Bielema is safe for 2018. That was barring some sort of 3-9 disaster, but now the Razorbacks are in danger of a 4-8 finish with home games left against Mississippi State and Missouri. The arrest of part-time starting quarterback Cole Kelley early Sunday morning doesn’t help. My hunch is that athletic director Jeff Long still wants to bring Bielema back, but if the next two weeks bring ugly losses, his hand might be forced.

-Florida might lose to UAB. The 7-3 Blazers are the story of the season in the Group of Five, while the Gators haven’t won since September. If Florida is mentally engaged, it should win by a couple touchdowns, but the mental edge is squarely with the Blazers, who continue to defy the odds on a weekly basis. To think the two-time defending SEC East champions are in danger of losing to a team that didn’t even play football in those two seasons? I’m not sure which program that says more about.

-I’m tired of Jon Gruden. It’s become a running joke now, but some Tennessee fans still actually seem to prefer Gruden to someone like Dan Mullen as its next head coach. That baffles me. Gruden hasn’t been a college coach since 1991 as a position coach at Pittsburgh. How’s that Lovie Smith hire working out for Illinois? (Hint: The only Power Five team that has gone longer without a conference win than Tennessee is Illinois). Gruden is a sexy name, but he isn’t cut out for college football. Stop the madness.

-Who are the top candidates at Tennessee? I’d call Justin Fuente, but he’s probably only leaving Virginia Tech for a top-five job. That’s not Tennessee. The Group of Five head coach candidates should include Memphis’ Mike Norvell, Colorado State’s Mike Bobo and USF’s Charlie Strong, who Tennessee tried to hire five years go before settling on Butch Jones. One wild card candidate? Wake Forest’s Dave Clawson. There is one huge problem, however, as Clawson was the Vols’ offensive coordinator in 2008, Phillip Fulmer’s last season, in which Tennessee was abysmal on that side of the ball. That said, as a head coach, Clawson has won everywhere he’s been at every level.

Around The Nation

The five non-SEC results that shocked me the most:

1. Miami (FL) 41, Notre Dame 8
2. Ohio State 48, Michigan State 3
3. Minnesota 54, Nebraska 21
4. South Alabama 24, Arkansas State 19
5. Old Dominion 37, FIU 30

-Complete dominance from No. 7 Miami on Saturday night vs. Notre Dame. While the third-ranked Irish looked unprepared, slow and wide-eyed, the Hurricanes executed beautifully, exploited the Irish’s weakness defending the quarterback run, and continued their season-long ability to force turnovers. There’s nothing fraudulent about these ‘Canes Miami is a legitimate national title contender in a year without a dominant team..

-No. 5 Oklahoma rendered the other top-10 showdown on Saturday night a blowout as well, as the Sooners rolled to a 38-20 victory over No. 6 TCU that was far more one-sided than the score would indicate. The Sooners’ offense is as playing as well right now as any that college football has seen since they themselves lit up scoreboards for 51.1 points per game in 2008 with Sam Bradford and company.

-The Heisman Trophy race is all but over. Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield wrapped it up on Saturday night with another sterling performance against TCU, finishing 18-of-27 for 333 yards and three touchdowns against the best defense in the Big 12. He added 50 yards of rushing for good measure. With Saquon Barkley struggling behind a porous Penn State offensive line, J.T. Barrett having the Iowa debacle of a week ago on his resume, and Bryce Love playing on a three-loss team on the West Coast, Mayfield should become the Sooners’ sixth Heisman winner, joining Billy Vessels (1952), Steve Owen (1969), Billy Sims (1978), Jason White (2003) and Sam Bradford (2008).

-OK, the playoff race. Notre Dame going bye-bye helps simplify things a bit, but the SEC quagmire still has a lot of moving parts. The champion is in, and Georgia and Auburn are both out if they’re not the champion. But does Alabama still have a mulligan? If the loss is to Auburn, probably not. If it’s to Georgia in the SEC Championship Game? Perhaps.

-Oklahoma, Miami and Clemson are in if they win out. That’s two spots, and Miami would still have a chance at 11-1 with a narrow defeat to Clemson. The SEC is getting at least one spot. That leaves a fight between a second SEC team and the Big Ten champion, either Wisconsin or Ohio State. The Badgers are a lock at 13-0. If they’re 12-1 with a loss to Michigan but a win over Ohio State? That’s probably enough to hold off an 11-1 Miami team that loses to Clemson, but not a 12-1 Alabama team that loses to Georgia.

-As for the Buckeyes, they’re next in line. They need the SEC Championship Game result to be anything except Georgia over Alabama, which likely eliminates a second SEC team from getting in. If it’s not, they would be in great shape as an 11-2 Big Ten champion to join Oklahoma, the SEC champion, and the ACC champion.

-No movement on the New Mexico State bowl chase this week. The 4-5 Aggies were idle, so they could get no closer to snapping their 57-year bowl drought. They close at Louisiana-Lafayette (4-5) before home games with Idaho (3-6) and South Alabama (4-6), needing two victories to become bowl-eligible.

Top 25

1. Alabama
2. Miami (FL)
3. Oklahoma
4. Clemson
5. Wisconsin
6. Auburn
7. Georgia
8. Notre Dame
9. Ohio State
10. TCU
11. USC
12. UCF
13. Penn State
14. Oklahoma State
15. Mississippi State
16. Washington State
17. LSU
18. Michigan State
19. Stanford
20. Michigan
21. Memphis
22. N.C. State
23. Washington
24. West Virginia
25. Northwestern

Week 12 Clinching Scenarios

AAC East: UCF clinches division title with win at Temple AND USF loss vs. Tulsa

AAC West: Memphis clinches division title with win vs. SMU OR Houston loss at Tulane

Big Ten East: Ohio State clinches division title with win vs. Illinois AND Michigan loss vs. Wisconsin

Big 12: Oklahoma clinches berth in Big 12 Championship Game with win vs. Kansas

C-USA East: FAU clinches division title and home-field advantage with win vs. FIU

MAC East: Ohio clinches division title with win at Akron

MAC West: Toledo clinches division title with win at Bowling Green AND Northern Illinois loss vs. Western Michigan

Mountain West Mountain: Boise State clinches division title with win vs. Air Force OR Wyoming loss vs. Fresno State. Boise State clinches home-field advantage with win AND Fresno State loss at Wyoming.

Mountain West West: Fresno State clinches division title with win at Wyoming OR San Diego State loss vs. Nevada

Week 12 SEC Order of Preference

1.   Kentucky at No. 7 Georgia (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)
2.   Texas A&M at Ole Miss (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
3.   No. 17 Mississippi State at Arkansas (Noon ET, CBS)
4.   No. 22 LSU at Tennessee (7 p.m. ET, ESPN)
5.   UAB at Florida (4 p.m. ET, SEC Network)

Week 12 National Order of Preference

1.   No. 19 Michigan at No. 5 Wisconsin (Noon ET, FOX)
2.   Virginia at No. 2 Miami (FL) (Noon ET, ABC)
3.   Navy at No. 9 Notre Dame (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC)
4.   Kentucky at No. 7 Georgia
5.   UCLA at No. 12 USC (8 p.m. ET, ABC)

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.