At the beginning of the year, Alabama was going to be headed into Baton Rouge as an underdog. At the beginning of the year, this looked like a perfect chance for LSU fans to jeer the man they hate. At the beginning of the year, this was just another game to help sort out which Tigers -- Auburn's or LSU's -- would go to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.
My, how things can change.
Alabama heads into the tilt on the Bayou with a chance to lock up its first SEC West title since 1999. (They did end up first in the division again in 2002 but were ineligible because ... well, it's a college football team from the state of Alabama. You can figure out the rest.)
Following the recent pattern of national champions, LSU has fallen off a bit. The surprising part, though, is that a program that built its reputation on tough defense has almost fallen off the map in that regard. Rushing defense is decent, at fifth in the SEC. But passing efficiency defense is ninth, passing yardage defense is eighth and scoring defense is 11th.
Alabama, on the other hand, shuts down the run (first in SEC), competently defends the pass (fourth in efficiency, though seventh in yardage) and doesn't allow the opponent to score much (second). Meanwhile, their hydra-headed rushing assault of Glen Coffee, Mark Ingram and Roy Upchurch allows the Tide to bleed the clock once Alabama has established a lead.
Yes, this is THESABANBOWLREVENGEFESTFEELTHEHATRED -- but whatever emotion and adrenaline the fans have probably doesn't live on in many of the players -- Les Miles recruited most of them, after all. Even if the players did share the motivation, though, it probably wouldn't matter; Alabama is pretty clearly the better team.
Alabama 24, LSU 17
THIS GAME MEANS SOMETHING, RIGHT?
No. 13 Georgia at Kentucky, 12:30 p.m. ET
On one level, both of these teams have something to prove after losing to Florida by a combined 112-15 margin over the last two weeks. Georgia has not had chance to piece together its shattered pride, having fallen to the Gators last week in The Game of the Year; Kentucky's maiden effort at that task, a 14-13 victory over Mississippi State, was not overly encouraging.
But both teams' fans had hoped they would do a bit better than this. For Kentucky fans, this was going to be the season they finally broke through and sent a clear message to the rest of the SEC that the Wildcats had arrived as a force in the East. So far, they are 2-3 in the SEC East and mathematically eliminated from the division race.
For Georgia, this was going to be the year the Dawgs won Mark Richt his first national title. So much for that; the dream of playing in Miami for the sport's biggest prize was obliterated by the league's actual NC contenders, Alabama and Florida.
This is an interesting matchup nonetheless. Georgia has a good offense and a beatable defense; Kentucky has a great defense and a horrible offense; they are no better than 88th in the country in any of the major offensive categories. Kentucky might reorganize the SEC someday, but this isn't the year.
Georgia 31, Kentucky 20
A RECENT RIVALRY
Arkansas at South Carolina, 1 p.m. ET
When the SEC was carved into West and East divisions before the 1992 season, it perhaps seemed only logical that the two newest SEC teams should be East-West "rivals." And so Arkansas and South Carolina were slated to play each other every year, despite having no shared history or real reason for animosity.
The series, though, has produced some good games, and has become more important to at least some South Carolina fans. (As a South Carolina fan, I now put Arkansas behind only Clemson and Georgia as "teams I want to beat just to watch them lose.") Arkansas allegedly ran up the score against South Carolina in a 48-14 waxing during the 0-11 campaign in 1999, cost the Gamecocks a chance at a 10-win season in 2001 and were part of November collapses that sent South Carolina to a losing record in 2002 and 2003.
And, of course, there was last year's disastrous 48-36 annihilation that marked the low point of the 0-5 season-ending meltdown. This is South Carolina's chance for revenge, and Arkansas' only response -- that the Gamecocks took away a defensive coordinator who had been on the job less than a month -- is weak by comparison.
That coordinator, Ellis Johnson, has re-energized the South Carolina defense and turned it into one of the strongest in the league, if not the country. Arkansas, meanwhile, has struggled to stop anyone whose offense has a pulse; Alabama scored 49, Texas put 52 on the board and Florida rang up 38 points.
The offenses, meanwhile, are strikingly similar -- terrible running the ball, but good at passing. The Hogs and the Gamecocks are second and third in the SEC, respectively, in passing yardage.
South Carolina 34, Arkansas 21
THE EAST MUST STILL BE WON
No. 4 Florida at Vanderbilt, 8 p.m. ET
Despite clobbering Georgia last Saturday, Florida still has not clinched the SEC East. They can do that this weekend by defeating Vanderbilt, still mathematically the Gators' most dangerous division rival.
Mathematically in the standings, of course. Mathematically on the field -- not really. The Commodores are awful on offense, mediocre on defense and incapable of scoring, though they almost somehow manage to keep their opponents from doing so. The 5-3 record and bowl dreams are mostly the result of the Commodores' foes showing an uncanny ability to defeat themselves.
Florida, meanwhile, has rebounded from the Ole Miss loss that somehow seems like it happened a lot more than six weeks ago. The Gators have rolled in every game since, allowing just one team to come within 30 points -- LSU, which lost 51-21. Vanderbilt simply can't keep up.
Florida 42, Vanderbilt 14
Wyoming at Tennessee. Rarely will find a game with the narcotic properties of this match-up, which pairs the 119th- and 114th-ranked scoring offenses in the country. The Vols, though, are fired up for their coach and actually do play some defense. Tennessee 21, Wyoming 3
Tennessee-Martin at Auburn. Thought we were done with these? Nope. (Florida, coincidentally, still has to play The Citadel.) Auburn is dreadful, though, and could use a game like this. Warning: Tennessee-Martin is 7-2, 5-1 in the Ohio Valley Conference. But -- no. I want to, but this is still FCS vs. FBS. We know how that ends, right? In this case, only in the last few minutes. Auburn 14, Tennessee-Martin 13
Mississippi, Mississippi State