One of the nice things about the last week of the season is that nearly every SEC team has a rivalry of some sort on tap for its fans -- there aren't a lot of meaningless games, or contests that only count in the standings. There are the great conference clashes, like the Iron Bowl and the Egg Bowl. But there are also the games between teams from the SEC and those from other leagues -- and specifically our next-door neighbors in the ACC.
In fact, more than half of the members of the SEC East now spend their final weekends playing teams from the ACC, from Georgia's annual tilt with Georgia Tech to Kentucky's yearly battle with Louisville to South Carolina's showdown with Clemson. And there's Florida's season-ending bout with Florida State, a series that once again has echoes of the high-stakes games that were played every year when Steve Spurrier led the Gators and Bobby Bowden was the head coach of the Seminoles.
That's the only game with echoes of anything significant. Sure, Clemson is still playing for a national title -- but the Tigers face a dreadful South Carolina team and are favored by something approaching 19 points in most books. Georgia is already in the bowl picture and Georgia Tech is already out. Kentucky has an opportunity to clinch a bowl bid, but how much is a postseason trip to Shreveport worth in the grand scheme of things?
1Some things never change. Almost one year ago to the day, we previewed the informal ACC-SEC football challenge. And here's some of what we said in that post.
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.
As the kids say: welp. Here we are with the SEC East coming off a weekend that featured Georgia nearly losing to Georgia Southern, Florida nearly losing to Florida Atlantic and South Carolina actually losing to The Citadel. Of the four divisional teams squaring off with ACC opponents this week, only Georgia is favored -- and that probably has something to do with the fact that two of Georgia Tech's three wins are against Alcorn State and Tulane.
2Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate. Georgia Bulldogs vs Georgia Tech Jackets, Noon ET, ESPN2. The 8-3 Georgia Bulldogs will have revenge on their minds when they face the 3-8 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Last season, the Yellow Jackets defeated Georgia 30-24 in overtime, but this Georgia Tech team has underachieved after falling from the heights of winning the Orange Bowl on New Year's Day to missing a bowl this year. Georgia should be somewhat prepared for Georgia Tech's option offense after defeating Georgia Southern, 23-17, in overtime last week. The Bulldogs limited Georgia Southern's offense to 145 yards below their rushing average, and limited star running back Matt Breida to 66 yards on 22 carries. For perspective, the Georgia Southern S&P+ offensive rankings are 45th, while Georgia Tech registers at 61st. The Bulldogs will look to establish a running game of their own behind their best offensive weapon running back Sony Michel. Georgia Tech's S&P+ rush defense is ranked 97th, which is nearly identical to Kentucky's S&P+ rush defense that the Bulldogs had 300 yards rushing against. This game looks to be more of the same, and the longer Georgia maintains possession, the fewer possessions the Yellow Jackets will to try and get their option attack going.
Dale Zanine -- USA Today Sports
3The Governor's Cup. Louisville Cardinals vs Kentucky Wildcats, Noon ET, SEC Network. For the second year in a row, the 5-6 Kentucky Wildcats must defeat the 6-5 Louisville Cardinals to achieve their postseason aspirations. Kentucky took care of business last weekend, and defeated a hapless Charlotte team, 58-10. The Wildcats are one or two red-zone failures against Vanderbilt away from having a two-game winning streak heading into their big rivalry game against the Cardinals. The ‘Cats could've used that extra momentum, as the Cardinals are very good again on defense this season, and the offense -- despite rotating quarterbacks and poor offensive line play -- is still ranked 57th in the country in the latest S&P+ rankings. UofL looks set to dominate UK's spotty offense, but the same S&P+ rankings say UofL's defense is 114th in the FBS at stopping teams once they get beyond the Cardinals' 40-yard line. If, and that's a big "if," UK can get in scoring position, they have been slightly above average at finishing drives this season. This will be the second start for quarterback Drew Barker, and the quickest way for him to become a bluegrass legend is to knock-off Kentucky's biggest rival while simultaneously propelling the Wildcats to their first bowl game since 2010.
4The Palmetto Bowl. Clemson Tigers vs. South Carolina Gamecocks, Noon ET, ESPN. There are a lot of ways to sum up this game, but one Gamecock blogger wrote the most succinct version Friday night on Twitter.
We have a chance to win tomorrow except a) I don't know how we're going to score and b) I don't know how we're gonna stop them from scoring.— TRC Unofficial (@RubrChickens) November 28, 2015
That's not drawing on a lot of advanced statistical evidence, but no matter what frame reference you use, it still boils down to this: If the Gamecocks don't get killed in this game, it will be almost inexplicable. South Carolina's offense, ranked 77th in S&P+, will be going up against the fourth-ranked Clemson defense. But that's okay, because the Tigers' 11th-ranked offense will face off with the Gamecock's defense, which checks in at No. 97. If there were anything that the Gamecocks were good at doing, there might be some way to manufacture a way to see an upset in this game. You can say "throw out the rankings" all you want, but that's only sporadically true in this rivalry (if it's true at all), and there's no empirical evidence that this would be one of those years.
5'Sunshine Showdown.' Florida St. Seminoles vs. Florida Gators, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN. This is the first time that a highly-ranked Florida team has come into this game having gone nearly two months without breaking 30 on the scoreboard since -- way back in 2012. Sure, this Florida team has been having a harder time than usual finding the end zone in recent weeks, but they have a sterling defense (No. 6 in S&P+) that could keep the game in reach for the mediocre offense. The problem is that Florida State is the more balanced team between defense (S&P+ No. 17) and offense (No. 19). The Gators have struggled to put up points against worse defenses than the Seminoles, and while Florida State has also had some less-than-impressive showings, FSU has handled its lower-tier opponents, and its only real bomb has been the loss at Georgia Tech earlier this year. Florida does have more at stake here, though; the Gators still have a chance at making the playoffs (they might need help even if they win out), while Florida State is trying to keep its chances at a New Year's Six bowl alive.
THREE TO WATCH
Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State: You might have heard some kvetching about the fact that Cook is not a finalist for the Doak Walker award, and the decision is utterly mind-boggling. Cook has 1,475 yards and 16 touchdowns on 185 carries, for an average of 8.0 yards per attempt. The snub could stem at least in part from the offseason controversy in which Cook was charged with and quickly acquitted of battery. Cook probably doesn't really need any added motivation in this one, seeing as he's going up against one of the best rushing defenses in the nation, but you have to think that Jimbo Fisher and his staff have reminded Cook a few times that he was left off the list.
Melina Vastola -- USA Today Sports
Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson: Good luck to South Carolina's offensive line in blocking Lawson, who has been terrorizing quarterbacks and other players in opponents' backfields this year. Lawson has 7.5 sacks among his 19 tackles for loss, and another couple of quarterback hurries to boot. He leads the ACC in TFLs and ranks fifth in sacks (per cfbstats.com). While the Gamecocks have not been particularly vulnerable to sacks on a season-long basis, Perry Orth has been taken down behind the line 12 times in South Carolina's last four SEC games; the Gamecocks have allowed 29 tackles for loss over the same time frame.
Justin Thomas, QB, Georgia Tech: If Georgia Tech's offense is going to hold its own against the Bulldogs, they will need Thomas to play a great game. For the year, Thomas is averaging 115 yards passing and 45 yards rushing per game this season, which is a decline from his 2014 numbers. If the Bulldogs are able to limit the Yellow Jackets leading rusher, freshman running back Marcus Marshall, Thomas will need to pick up the slack with his legs and arm. Any interceptions, or fumbling like last season against Georgia, could easily result in points for the Dawgs.
The Bulldogs get their revenge and end a terrible season for the Yellow Jackets with an exclamation point. Georgia 31, Georgia Tech 10. Earlier this season, it looked like a bowl bid was a near-certainty for Kentucky, but the Wildcats are just one loss away from staying home for the holidays. They should keep in mind that there are advantages to that. Louisville 27, Kentucky 17. There is nothing that would redeem a wretched season for South Carolina fans more than ending Clemson's hopes at a national championship, but the line in this game is way, way too low. Clemson 45, South Carolina 13. There are not going to be a ton of points scored in Gainesville on Saturday night, but the Seminoles have more to offer on offense and likely get away with the win. Florida State 17, Florida 10