The Weekend Open Thread begins at 1 p.m. ET on Friday.
THE IRON BOWL
No. 1 Alabama at Auburn, 2:30 p.m. ET Friday, CBS
If Texas faced the toughest rivalry challenge of any of the national title contenders in its bout against Texas A&M, then Alabama's trip to Auburn has to be the second most dangerous. Auburn can do nothing if not score, and when defensive-minded teams like the Tide get into shootouts, anything can happen.
And this is not last year's Auburn team, one that completed a late-season fold with a 36-0 loss to SEC Championship Game-bound Bama. Instead, this edition has sparked a sense of positive momentum in the Opelika Metropolitan Area, even if another late-season slide has dulled that buzz just a bit. Since its Oct. 3 victory at Tennessee, Auburn has defeated only Ole Miss and Furman.
Alabama, meanwhile, has looked at times like the team that went 12-0 in the regular season in 2008 and at times like something much different. For all the talk of close calls in some of its games, the Tide has outscored its FBS opponents 309-109 this season. Auburn wouldn't be the first team to give Alabama heartburn, but it would be one of the very few.
You want to say that Alabama can't be too concerned with helping out Mark Ingram's Heisman campaign, but it's unlikely that someone like Nick Saban is going to allow anything like that to distract his laser-like focus on the task at hand. Besides, this game is unlikely to get to the point where Ingram will be off the field, with a laugher unlikely and Ingram giving the Tide offense its best chance at scoring against a rushing defense ranked 88th in the NCAA. It would be nice to get Greg McElroy back on track after a stretch in which he's passed for more than 200 yards just once in seven games, but that's unlikely to make a huge difference in the outcome.
The question for Auburn is: Can they move the ball against the Alabama defense? It's hard to see them putting up strong rushing numbers against Terrence Cody, but that only pits the air attack against one of the best passing defenses in the country. Momentum doesn't mean you win them all.
Alabama 37, Auburn 23
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A RIVARLY HAS TURNED AROUND
Florida State at No. 2 Florida, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
Remember when this game used to have national title implications? It wasn't really all that long ago, and it didn't have to end this way. But Jeff Bowden and the other factors in the decline of the Seminoles are water under the bridge; this game is what it has become.
One thing about the tradition of this game that you probably don't know: Steve Spurrier didn't do very well against Florida State during his time in Gainesville. He won just five of his 14 games against the Seminoles and tied another, though one of the wins was for the 1996 national title. Urban Meyer clearly gets the point for this one; not only is he undefeated against the 'Noles (4-0), he's done one thing that Spurrier never did -- namely, winning in Tallahassee.
But this year's game is in Gainesville, where even Spurrier sometimes got the better of Bobby Bowden in the latter's prime. It is not Bobby Bowden's prime any more, and this year's disappointing record reflects a defense that is nothing short of awful. Which is exactly what you want going into Tim Tebow's last game in the Swamp.
Florida 48, Florida State 13
MARTINEZ'S LAST STAND
Georgia at No. 7 Georgia Tech, 8 p.m. ET, ABC / ESPN360
Some Georgia fans looking for a bright side in the seemingly inevitable Tech victory see the end of Willie Martinez's tenure. To be clear, there is no doubt that Martinez should leave his post after this season is over. But that will not end the Dawgs' problems; the offense has generally been down from its high-water mark in the Mark Richt Era when last year's Stafford-Moreno-fueled success is removed from the equation.
And while the Yellow Jackets should have some success with the triple-option attack, they're actually going up against the strongest part of the Georgia defense. The Dawgs are 3rd in the league and 34th in the nation against the run. That said, Georgia Tech is gaining 314.1 ypg on the ground and are unlike anything Georgia has seen so far this year.
All that said, this is not a lost cause for the Dawgs. GT is not that great against the pass either from a yardage or an efficiency standpoint; if Joe Cox can have a good game, it might be enough to keep the game close until late. The problem is that a pass-heavy game plan will leave plenty of time on the clock for the Yellow Jackets. That, and the possibility that WR A.J. Green would have to sit out could harm the Georgia air attack. There is always next year, when Willie Martinez will likely be gone.
Georgia Tech 45, Georgia 28
THROW OUT ALL THE RECORDS
No. 16 Clemson at South Carolina, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN
When these two teams meet, you can always just follow the cliche and throw out the records; Clemson will win. The Tigers have won eight of the last ten and 15 of the last 20. Sometimes, as in 2007, this is the result of Clemson having the better teams; other times, like in 2000, this is because of one of the worst non-calls on offensive pass interference that I have ever seen.
But if you have a chance to watch this rivalry, it's probably a good idea to make some time to do so. Rarely are the games quite as bad as last year's 31-14 waxing or 2003's 63-17 annihilation. More frequent are the 23-21 Clemson win in 2007 or the 31-28 South Carolina victory a year earlier.
In practical terms, this game means very little to either team. It might help South Carolina move up to a better bowl in the postseason, but that could depend as much on how other SEC teams do this weekend. But Clemson always treats this game like its version of the Super Bowl -- something that's easy to do when you are, after all, the team that always wins.
Clemson 35, South Carolina 29
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IF YOU LIKE RUNNING BACKS ...
No. 25 Ole Miss at Mississippi State, 12:21 p.m. ET, SEC Network / ESPN360
Dan Mullen has nothing to be ashamed of this year no matter how the Egg Bowl ends. He might be 4-7, but that's with games against LSU, Houston and Florida that could have been won with a play here or one there. There are some problems with the defense, but Mullen was brought in to help fix the Western Division Bulldogs' offense, something at which he's so far done a credible job.
For Ole Miss, it's the time of year when the victories begin to show up as surely as the losses flow in Columbia. The Rebels have won the last three and five of the last six. Playing UAB and Northern Arizona obviously helps, but their are also victories against LSU, Tennessee and Arkansas in that stretch.
And its the re-emergence of Dexter McCluster that will make the difference in this game. Anthony Dixon is an excellent running back in his own right, but I'm not sure he's as dynamic or influential a player as McCluster. That's the difference between a 4-7 team searching for silver linings and an 8-3 squad angling for a second straight Cotton Bowl.
Ole Miss 34, Mississippi State 10
ANOTHER ENDING THAT THEY'D LIKE TO AVOID
Arkansas at No. 18 LSU, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
Arkansas is on a two-game winning streak in this series, having nearly derailed LSU's national title bid in 2007 with the 50-48 overtime win and merely amplifying what was already a subpar 2008 with a 31-30 victory. If this game weren't required under the league's rules, you have to think that LSU would try to get out of it.
But those are the rules, and so the Bayou Bengals once again have to worry about how to keep the Arkansas game from changing the season. The Tigers could point to the fact that Arkansas has no defense, though that would overlook the fact that LSU has no offense and only an average defense by SEC standards. The Bengals are good at punt returns, so there's that.
Arkansas' offense has scored plenty of points on defenses better than LSU's. -- including 33 against South Carolina and 20 against Florida, which might be enough to defeat the Tigers' offense. Even accounting for the fact that they'll be playing Arkansas' defense. It's not that I'm still skeptical of LSU anymore; I'm pretty sure the Bengals aren't any better than they were last year.
Arkansas 38, LSU 21
THE STREAK WILL LIVE ON
Tennessee at Kentucky, 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU
Even in an inexplicable SEC, I'm not sure there's been a more puzzling team than Kentucky. The Wildcats lost to Florida by 34 after one of the worst first quarters I've ever seen, lost by 18 to Alabama, defeated Auburn, lost to Mississippi State and then won at Georgia after the Dawgs won practically every category except the final score. The only thing that seems to distinguish these games from one another is the outcome.
The Vols' in-season turnaround has been more consistent and easy to explain. With Jonathan Crompton becoming a decent quarterback, Tennessee has a relatively balanced offense to go with the statistically average defense designed by Monte Kiffin.
Kentucky fans might see this as their best chance in a while to end "The Streak," a run of 24 straight wins by Tennessee, often in convincing fashion. But I'm not sure I see it. The Vols are once again the better team.
Tennessee 31, Kentucky 14