The college football season gets another week older, and many eyes will be focused on the SEC. Here is a rundown of the key storylines to watch for in Week 12 as Kentucky takes on Middle Tennessee State in Lexington.
1. Dead Week in the SEC
This is possibly the most infamous week in the SEC every year in college football. It’s the weekend before the last week of the regular season which is otherwise known as rivalry weekend. With so much riding on that last game, SEC teams usually spend Week 12 playing a non-power 5 team that is lacking in talent.
This year is no different as 8 of the 14 teams in the SEC are playing mid-major squads within the friendly confines of their own home stadium. There are only three inner-conference matchups, and only one of those involves a ranked team (Arkansas at No. 21 Mississippi State).
In other words, this should be the most boring week of the entire year in the conference. Unless a monumental upset occurs, 11 SEC Teams will walk away victorious on Saturday. The toughest non-conference opponent today will be UAB when they take on Texas A&M in College Station.
As one can imagine, the rest of the college football world isn’t exactly happy that the SEC is basically taking a week off today. If any conference is to get two teams in the college football playoff, it’s obviously the SEC. Having a weekend this easy this late in the season is rubbing people the wrong way.
— Danny Kanell (@dannykanell) November 13, 2018
COLUMN: Why do SEC football teams schedule cupcakes the second-to-last weekend of the season?
— George Schroeder (@GeorgeSchroeder) November 16, 2018
No matter what anyone says, that last tweet is correct. This week has yet to hurt the conference at all the past couple of years. So, if it isn’t broke, then why fix it? The SEC smartly plans cupcakes right at the end of the season. That’s just how it is.
2. Kentucky Tries to Stop Its Free Fall
Every season in college football there is a surprise team that will come out of nowhere in the first half season and be ranked in the top 10 only to then quickly fall from grace.
Sadly, for the Big Blue Nation this year it was the Kentucky Wildcats. In just a matter of two weeks the Wildcats went from possibly making the SEC Championship game to losing to Tennessee by double digits. Yikes.
Despite this crushing fall back to Earth, things are still looking up in Lexington. Despite two straight losses and a 7-3 record, the committee still has the Wildcats ranked in their top 25 at No. 17 overall in the nation.
With only Middle Tennessee State and Louisville left on their schedule, there is no excuses for why UK should not finish the regular season 9-3 overall. Despite a terrible offense, the Wildcat defense led by Josh Allen is still one of the best in the nation.
Even if you are frustrated with how Kentucky has performed over the last month, tune in to watch Allen go to work. His NFL Draft hype is at an all-time high right now as many have him pegged to be selected in the first 15 picks.
Kentucky LB Josh Allen is a Round 1 lock in the 2019 NFL Draft, but how far can he climb? pic.twitter.com/F8tRO6iarE
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) November 17, 2018
3. Tennessee and Vanderbilt Fight for Bowl Eligibility
In the most underrated storyline of the weekend, Tennessee and Vanderbilt will continue their fight for bowl eligibility. The Volunteers currently sit at 5-5 on the year as the Commodores have a 4-6 record.
This week Tennessee plays at home in a very interesting matchup against Missouri as Vanderbilt will also be playing at home against Ole Miss. The Volunteers and Commodores will then end their regular season in a huge conference matchup in Nashville.
Theoretically, it’s still possible for both teams to be bowl eligible. Both squads would have to win today against capable opponents, then Vanderbilt would have to beat Tennessee in the finale and both teams would finish 6-6.
It isn’t the most likely scenario, but it would be a very good look for the SEC if both teams make bowl games. On the flip side, it would be a terrible look if neither one makes a bowl as that is a possible scenario as well.
While the Volunteers are just happy to be considerably better than last season, there is a lot riding on Vanderbilt’s performance in these last two weeks. Head Coach Derek Mason is squarely on the hot seat and finishing with a 4-8 record may just do the trick for the Commodore faithful.
Personally, I’m hoping the best for Mason, but if he coaches as bad as he did last Saturday then his days in Nashville are certainly numbered.
— Steve Layman (@SteveLayman) November 10, 2018
4. Georgia Prepares for a Showdown With ‘Bama
Last week I wrote that if Georgia took care of business against Auburn, then their regular season is basically over, and that’s exactly what happened.
Now, the Bulldogs just have to play UMass today (snore), then Georgia Tech next weekend (also snore) and they will play in the SEC Championship Game with a chance to make the Playoff.
Georgia is one of the teams to watch out for in the weeks leading to the committee Selection Sunday. First off, there is a very real chance that if Georgia pulls off the upset and defeats the Crimson Tide that the committee will put both the Bulldogs and Alabama in the playoff.
Someone else may have to lose a game in order for that to happen, but I think the committee would love to put two SEC teams in the playoff once again. Also, if Georgia was to slip up then this would open the door for one loss teams like Oklahoma, Ohio State, or West Virginia to make a huge run and get into the final four.
Either way, Georgia controls its own destiny at the present moment. If they take care of business in their next two games then defeat Alabama, the Bulldogs will be in the playoff for a second consecutive year. With D’Andre Swift back to playing like the best running back in the SEC, anything is possible for Georgia.
D'Andre Swift is just filthy pic.twitter.com/qlCUtjddvC
— Jasmine (@JasmineLWatkins) November 11, 2018
5. Tua’s Death Grip on Offensive Player of the Year
In case you live underneath a rock, Tua Tagovailoa is winning SEC Offensive Player of the Year in 2018. He is easily the best overall player in the conference, and there isn’t a close second.
Tua Tagovailoa's stat-line when kept clean from pressure is ridiculous pic.twitter.com/wRkwssIW6d
— PFF College (@PFF_College) November 14, 2018
On third down – Tua Tagovailoa has been lights out pic.twitter.com/qB3ty58k4B
— PFF College (@PFF_College) November 16, 2018
No other offensive player in the SEC has had near the impact that Tua has had on the Crimson Tide this season. The only other quarterback that’s comparable stat-wise is Ole Miss’s Jordan Ta’amu and the Rebels has dropped five SEC games this season.
While that race is all but settled, what will be very interesting to watch is how the Heisman Trophy race will wrap up. At this point, it’s really a three-man battle between Kyler Murray, Will Grier, and Tua.
Considering that Oklahoma and West Virginia play each other twice in the next three weeks, whoever plays better in those matchups will have the best chance of beating out Tua for the trophy.
All Tagovailoa has to do is put up solid numbers against The Citadel today then have nice performances in victories over Auburn and Georgia and the award will be his no matter what.
However, after aggravating his knee against Mississippi State Tagovailoa’s health will be something to watch moving forward. Either way, the best player in college football is currently in the SEC so enjoy watching him while you can.