By Kendall Webb
Thanksgiving Day used to mean Texas vs. Texas A&M, but these days the two schools are separated by a gulf much wider than the distance between Austin and College Station, Texas. So instead of Longhorns vs. Aggies, you ended up with Texas against Texas Tech in a Big 12 battle on Turkey Day this year while the Aggies don’t even bother to play on the holiday anymore.
Instead, the Aggies will head to Columbia, Missouri, this Saturday looking to rebound from a listless performance in a 34-10 loss to the LSU Tigers. Even quarterback Johnny Manziel was not his usual self against the Tigers. After posting at least 300 yards of total offense in 19 straight starts, the Aggies’ leader was held to just 224 yards passing and 54 yards rushing. And even those numbers don’t tell the whole story as Manziel was 16-of-41 passing with two interceptions and two sacks.
At 8-3 and only 4-3 in the SEC, the Aggies are playing for nothing more than pride and a final decision on where they’ll play their bowl game. But they can play a role in deciding who will win the SEC East and play for the SEC Championship this weekend in that visit to Columbia. Missouri enters the game at 10-1 and 6-1 in the SEC – a half game ahead of South Carolina (6-2) in the SEC East standings. If the Tigers beat the Aggies, they’ll play for the SEC title against the winner of Alabama vs. Auburn. South Carolina, however, is responsible for the one loss on the Tigers’ ledger, and an Aggie upset on the road this weekend would spoil the Tigers’ surprising season by sending another group of boys from Columbia to the conference championship game. The boys from Columbia, South Carolina, that is.
Week 13 Recap
Do we even have to bother with this part? After entering the weekend with a solid record of 78-17 for the season , I lost almost a third as many games in one weekend as I had lost all season. I went 3-5 thanks in part to Arkansas’ overtime loss to Mississippi State, Vanderbilt’s last-minute win over Vanderbilt and Florida’s stunning loss to FCS opponent Georgia Southern. Sometimes that’s the way it goes, and my 3-5 record last week drops me to 81-22 for the season.
This Coming Weekend
Mississippi and Mississippi State got things started Thanksgiving night in one of college football’s underrated rivalries, the annual Egg Bowl that serves as the de facto state championship of Mississippi college football. Mississippi State kept Ole Miss’ offense out of the end zone the entire game, but still only managed a 10-10 tie as the Rebels’ defense also proved to be stingy. Nevertheless, the Bulldogs were in position to win on the final play of regulation until they missed a 39-yard field goal that would have won it.
No problem. The Bulldogs then scored on their first position of overtime before switching sides to play defense. Ole Miss looked primed to even things up when Bo Wallace broke free on a quarterback draw up the middle only to have the ball knocked loose from behind as he approached the goal line. The ball dribbled into the end zone where Mississippi State pounced on it to end the game with a 17-10 win. The Bulldogs’ win makes them bowl eligible at 6-6 whereas a loss would have knocked them out of the SEC’s postseason line-up.
There’s also one Friday contest in the SEC, but then we get down to the real business on Saturday where both SEC division titles are still on the line. That means there are also national title implications, and the SEC West will be settled first in the afternoon when Alabama pays a visit to Auburn. The winner of that game will play for the SEC title, and the winner will also be solidly in the conversation for the national title although in the Auburn Tigers’ case, they would need a little help the following week during the conference championship games.
Meanwhile, over in the SEC East, we’ll have that Texas A&M at Missouri matchup where the Aggies will try to play spoiler to the Tiger’s East Division title hopes.
Arkansas Razorbacks at No. 16 LSU Tigers
1:30 p.m. Friday, November 29 (CBS)
STORYLINE: LSU’s ninth win could be Arkansas’ ninth straight loss
LSU still has an outside possibility of landing a Sugar Bowl bid as a BCS at-large team, but only if they take care of business Friday afternoon against the Arkansas Razorbacks. That shouldn’t be a problem, however, as the ‘Hogs enter this one on an eight-game losing streak under first-year head coach Bret Bielema.
PREDICTION: LSU’s defense isn’t up to its normal spectacular standards, but they should be able to contain the Razorbacks’ rush offense despite its No. 26 ranking. That should play into the Tigers’ hands, forcing Arkansas into passing situations where the Razorbacks’ anemic air attack will face the Tigers’ No. 18 pass defense. The Tigers should win comfortably, and something in the three-touchdown range or more should give them a chance at covering the spread that was running about -25 at press time.
No. 2 Florida State Seminoles at Florida Gators
11 a.m. Saturday, November 30 (ESPN)
STORYLINE: Florida State tries to put the wraps on undefeated regular season
Yeah, it’s a rivalry game, and despite their awful performance last week, Florida’s defense should be motivated in this one and could actually make Famous Jameis and the high-flying Florida State offense work for points. But the Seminoles will ultimately put points on the board, and that will put Florida’s weak offense to the test against one of the best defenses they’ve seen all year.
PREDICTION: And that’s ultimately where this game will be decided. Florida just won’t be able to keep pace on the offensive end, and ultimately Florida State should win this game and advance to the ACC title game undefeated and one game away from a national title appearance. Whether or not charges are ultimately filed against Seminoles’ quarterback Jameis Winston could change everything after that, but on this day, they should be quite a bit better than the Florida Gators.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons at Vanderbilt Commodores
11:21 p.m. Saturday, November 30 (SEC TV)
STORYLINE: Vanderbilt’s resurgence continues under James Franklin
James Franklin has already written one of the most successful chapters of Vanderbilt’s football history, and there’s really nothing on the line in this season-ending non-conference game vs. Wake Forest. But don’t tell the Commodores or head coach James Franklin that. They know their own story better than anybody, but they aren’t resting on the fact that they are the first Commodore squad in school history to earn three straight bowl appearances.
PREDICTION: That’s because an intense guy like Franklin won’t let them. This is a guy who has sold the entire Vanderbilt community on the premise that the Commodores can be competitive in the SEC, and it’s instilled a mental toughness in this program that has always been lacking. It’s the kind of toughness that gives a team a chance in a tough come-from-behind situation like the Commodores faced late last week on the road in Knoxville, and it’s the kind of toughness that teaches a team not to overlook a 4-7 squad like this Wake Forest team. They won’t overlook them on this day, and look for the ‘Dores to put the wraps on an 8-4 season.
Georgia Bulldogs at Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
2:30 p.m. Saturday, November 30 (ABC)
STORYLINE: A battle of 7-4 rivals in the Peach State
Georgia Tech’s focus on the run is both a defensive and an offensive mantra as the Yellow Jackets feature the nation’s No. 5 rushing offense (316.5 ypg rushing) and the nation’s No. 9 defense (104.2 ypg against the run). With the loss of Georgia’s senior star quarterback Aaron Murray to a season-ending knee injury, you can expect the Yellow Jackets to be that much more dedicated to stopping the run as they look to shut down Bulldogs’ running back Todd Gurley and force the Dawgs to throw early and often with a backup quarterback.
PREDICTION: It’s been a miserable year of injuries for the Bulldogs, but no loss is bigger than Murray ,who ends his career at Georgia as the SEC’s all-time career passing leader. He had started every game of his college career before the diagnosis this week of a torn ACL, but now Hutson Mason steps into the starting quarterback role for the Dawgs. I look for the Dawgs to be a little deflated this weekend without the steady hand of their leader, and I’ll go with the Yellow Jackets to steal the win in Atlanta
No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide at No. 4 Auburn Tigers
2:30 p.m. Saturday, November 30 (CBS)
STORYLINE: First Iron Bowl with both teams ranked in the Top 4 nationally
This historic rivalry is one of the nation’s best, but never before has it featured both teams ranked this high. The winner of this will advance to the SEC title game and will remain very much alive in the national title picture as well. Alabama, of course, has won three of the past four national titles, but the one year they didn’t win in that stretch was 2010 when the Tigers snuck into the title picture with Cam Newton and former head coach Gene Chizik at the controls.
PREDICTION: Unfortunately for Auburn, current quarterback Nick Marshall is no Cam Newton even if head coach Gus Malzahn is an upgrade over Chizik. The Tigers are at home, and I expect this game will be a battle well into the second half. It could even be decided in the fourth quarter, but ultimately I have to go with the Crimson Tide to get the win. That’s how I’ll call it with the Tide putting the wraps on an undefeated season.
Tennessee Volunteers at Kentucky Wildcats
6 p.m. Saturday, November 30 (ESPNU)
STORYLINE: Two programs under first-year coaches look for some early 2014 momentum
Both of these programs have taken their lumps in 2013, and neither will be making a bowl game this year. So about all Butch Jones’ Tennessee Volunteers and Mark Stoops’ Kentucky Wildcats can hope for here is to build a little momentum for 2014 heading into the December recruiting period.
PREDICTION: I’m not even sure the fans of these two schools are all that worried about this one, but I’ll go with history here that says Tennessee usually finds a way to get it done.
No. 8 Clemson Tigers at No. 14 South Carolina Gamecocks
6 p.m. Saturday, November 23 (ESPN2)
STORYLINE: First AP Top 10 matchup in series history
It doesn’t seem possible, but Saturday’s matchup will be the first in 111 games where both of these teams are ranked in the AP Top 10. To say it’s the biggest game in the history of the series – one which dates all the way back to 1896 – wouldn’t be an exaggeration. Clemson has yet to beat South Carolina since Dabo Swinney was named permanent head coach at the end of the 2008 season although they did beat Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks that year while Swinney was serving as the interim head coach. That win, in fact, helped convince the Clemson athletic administration to remove the interim title, but since then, South Carolina has won four straight against the Tigers under Spurrier.
PREDICTION: They’ve never won five straight against Clemson, however, but I think that streak will end this weekend as the Gamecocks win at home.
No. 19 Texas A&M Aggies at No. 7 Missouri Tigers
6:45 p.m. Saturday, November 23 (ESPN)
STORYLINE: Missouri looks to clinch the SEC East title
Make no mistake about it, a team from Columbia is going to win the SEC East, and on Saturday we’ll find out which one it is. And while the fans and players for the South Carolina Gamecocks are scoreboard-watching late Saturday night in Columbia, South Carolina, it will be primarily to check on this game in Columbia, Missouri, where the Missouri Tigers simply need to beat the Texas A&M Aggies at home to win the SEC East and play for the conference title next weekend. There aren’t many college football followers outside of Columbia, Missouri, who would have given the Tigers much of a chance at reaching such lofty heights before the season, but South Carolina, on the other hand, was picked by many to win the SEC East.
PREDICTION: Things can still shake out the way that many prognosticators expected it to, but only if Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel return to form on offense this weekend at Missouri. Even if they do, however, the Aggies’ biggest problems all year have been on defense, and I expect Missouri will find a way to score plenty of points, too. I’ll go with the Tigers to get it done at home Saturday night, and Columbia – Missouri, that is – will be one big wild party all night long.