Unless I've missed it, there's actually nothing to brand the ACC-SEC football challenge as such. And yet, particularly with Kentucky's game at Louisville getting moved to the last week of the season, it's kind of hard to see this weekend as anything but. It's the SEC -- or the SEC East, really -- against some of the better teams in the ACC.
It is, in short, one of the things that we say we want more of in college football -- teams from one Power 5 conference squaring off against teams from another. And while less than a third of the SEC playing less than a third of the ACC might not really be that good an indicator of the leagues' respective strengths, it gives some bragging rights in the region where two conferences' footprints overlap the most. Not to mention the bragging rights its gives to the fan bases whose teams win those match-ups.
That's really the most important thing about a rivalry game, after all -- which team wins and can condescend to their cross-state rivals for the next 364 days. The postseason implications are generally less important, and the records of each team's respective conferences are far less so. Keeping the other side from being able to rub your face in it for a year -- that's the biggest thing, regardless of which league they happen to belong to.
1Fighting for Pride. In terms of the big picture, Kentucky is the only one of the SEC teams that could lose a great deal with a loss here. The Wildcats will go to a bowl if they win, and not go to a bowl if they don't -- clear and simple. The other teams have some goals that could be helped with a win -- Georgia locking up a bid to a playoff-aligned bowl, South Carolina making sure it gets in the middle pool in the SEC, Florida giving the outgoing head coach one last hurrah -- but they aren't as tangible as what Kentucky stands to lose or gain. On the other hand, if the SEC East sweeps or (more likely) goes 3-1 rather than the most probable outcomes -- 2-2 or 1-3 -- then the division can restore a little bit of shine to its tarnished reputation. That doesn't mean people are going to start talking about the SEC East like they talk about the SEC West or the Pac-12 South, but at least the division might not get compared to the ACC Coastal any more.
2Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets vs. Georgia Bulldogs, Noon ET, SEC Network. The question in this game is not so much which defense can shut down the other team's running game as whether either defense can shut down the other team's running game. We all know about Georgia Tech's famous triple-option offense, which has given Georgia varying degrees of trouble since Paul Johnson took over in Atlanta. But even with Todd Gurley out of commission, the Bulldogs' rushing offense is a strong counterattack. Tech averages 6.0 yards a carry on the season, but Georgia averages 6.2. At 7.2 yards a pop, Nick Chubb is just a sliver behind Gurley's 7.4 yards per carry. Chubb has more than 100 yards rushing in each of the last six games. On the other side of the ball ... well, there is the other side of the ball. Georgia Tech gives up 5.1 yards a rush. Georgia allows a less-terrible but still-mediocre 4.0 yards a carry, and that's largely against traditional rushing attacks.
3The Governor's Cup. Kentucky Wildcats vs. Louisville Cardinals, Noon ET, ESPN2. This has been a series of streaks. The two teams have only played 26 times, but Kentucky's win in 2002 is the only game that was not part of at least a two-game winning streak for one of the teams. Currently, Louisville is riding a three-game winning streak. Enter Bobby Petrino, who has lost once to Kentucky (when he was at Arkansas) and has returned to Louisville after his journey through the NFL, Arkansas, scandal and Western Kentucky. So far, there are few signs that Petrino has worked his offensive magic quite yet, ranking 10th in total offense in the ACC on a per-game basis and ninth on a per-play basis. The defense, though, has been stellar -- checking in at second in the conference in both categories. Kentucky, meanwhile, comes into this game on a five-game losing streak but only one victory away from bowl eligibility.
4The Palmetto Bowl. South Carolina Gamecocks vs. Clemson Tigers, Noon ET, ESPN. It's kind of odd to see this game "return," at least for a year, to the status it held until recent years -- a game that is still fraught with meaning for both teams but is of interest to outsiders only because one of the teams is ranked. This is the first time since 2010 that only one of the teams is ranked, and Clemson's No. 23 ranking in the AP is the lowest such mark for the highest-ranked team in the rivalry going back to 2008, when neither team was in the poll. The game itself is a study of contrasts. Despite the buzz about Chad Morris and the fact that the Tigers average more than 400 yards of offense a game, the Tigers actually rank 10th in the ACC on a per-play basis, averaging 5.2 yards a snap. The Gamecocks average almost a full yard better than that, at 6.3 yards per play, good for sixth in the SEC. Meanwhile, Clemson tops the ACC in scoring defense (17.6 points per game) and yards allowed per play (4.0). South Carolina does not lead the SEC in those categories, nor would it likely lead any FBS conference or a majority of FCS conferences in those categories. Indeed, the Gamecocks rank 13th in the SEC in scoring defense (30.8 points a game) and last in yards allowed per play (a dreadful 6.1).
5'Sunshine Showdown.' Florida Gators vs. Florida St. Seminoles, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN. I'm not even sure the nickname for this game is a real thing, though there's at least one attempt underway to make us think it is. This game doesn't really need all the subplots running through it, but it still has them: Will Muschamp's last game as head coach of the Gators, Florida State's death-defying attempt to remain in the Top 4, etc. Florida's offense is likely a bit more powerful than you think -- which is not saying much -- though its passing game has earned its reputation. In contrast, Florida State's passing offense is one of the best in the ACC -- but an average rushing defense could cause problems.
THREE TO WATCH
Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia: We've already talked some about how important Chubb and his compatriots in the Georgia running game will be, but let's leave with one more stat: 39. That's the median number of rushing attempts for the Bulldogs this year. It's probably going a bit too far to say that Georgia needs Chubb to play well in order to win this game, but Georgia Tech's chances of winning this game improve pretty substantially if Chubb doesn't perform.
Alvin 'Bud' Dupree, DE, Kentucky: Dupree is an underrated but extraordinarily disruptive player for Kentucky, leading the team with 6.5 sacks among 10.5 tackles for loss, and coming in second among the Wildcats with 68 tackles overall. Dupree also has a pick and a blocked kick on the year. Meanwhile, Louisville has allowed 34 sacks this season, worse than everyone else in the ACC except Wake Forest.
Dylan Thompson, QB, South Carolina: Like all the other players on this team, Dylan Thompson has never known a season in which the Gamecocks didn't beat Clemson. Thompson also had a role in one of those games, starting the 2012 edition -- and winning the MVP honors. The ever-unpredictable Thompson will have to have one of his best games if South Carolina hopes to emerge with a sixth straight win against their rivals from the Upstate.
Georgia will have to overcome finding out that their SEC East dreams are dying -- or they could be angry about that and decide there's no better way to heal their pride than blasting their rivals. Georgia 40, Georgia Tech 34. I think Kentucky can give Louisville a good game, but it's just a year early for Mark Stoops' bunch to make a bowl. Louisville 27, Kentucky 17. I always pick South Carolina to beat Clemson, in part because of pure homerism and in part because I don't want to have to try to tease out how much of my hopes/fears for the game have to do with that homerism. But this is one of the years I've felt least comfortable about this prediction. South Carolina 28, Clemson 27. Do the Gators show up wanting to win one last game for Will Muschamp? Or are they already mentally prepping for the next coach? One leads to a close outcome, the other one, not so much. Florida State 37, Florida 13.