SEC Notebook: Big weekend on and off the field

The Sports Xchange

November 29, 2015 at 4:44 pm.

Nov 28, 2015; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers head coach Les Miles is picked up by his players after defeating the Texas A&M Aggies 19-7 at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 28, 2015; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers head coach Les Miles is picked up by his players after defeating the Texas A&M Aggies 19-7 at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

The big win of the day Saturday in the SEC came at Auburn where Alabama defeated the Tigers 29-13 to clinch the West Division and stay on track for one of the four berths in the second College Football Playoff.

The big news came later in the evening 418 miles to the west in Baton Rouge, La., where it was announced that Les Miles would stay on as coach at LSU, and then on Sunday 180 miles to the northeast in Athens, Ga., when it was announced that Mark Richt was stepping down after 15 seasons with the Bulldogs.

Richt leaves with a 145-51 career record with his current team sitting at 9-3 and looking at the possibility of a 10th season of double-digit wins with a victory in the bowl game.

Richt will coach the Bulldogs in the postseason and then have the opportunity to assume another position in the athletic department, according to the school, though his personal statement pointedly mentioned his “considering any other options that may present themselves in the future.”

LSU athletics director Joe Aleva’s announcement after the Tigers’ 19-7 win over Texas A&M that Miles was being retained ended several weeks of speculation about the coach’s future.

Despite a 110-32 record in 11 years with the Tigers, including a national championship in 2007, Miles (138-53 including his four seasons at Oklahoma State) came under fire this season when his team dropped from No. 2 in the season’s first College Football Playoff rankings to out of the top 25 after a loss to Alabama sent the Tigers on a three-game skid.

Even before kickoff of the night game against the Aggies there were reports — later denied by Miles — that he had indicated to a booster group that afternoon it would be his final game in Baton Rouge.

It was all sweetness and light after the victory, however.

“It’s nice to be head coach of LSU,” Miles said. “I am proud to be associated with a great institution, my colleagues, my coaches, my players, and the president and athletic director.

“It’s a joy. It’s nice for them to come say to me, ‘Hey, the job you’ve been doing, you can still do that.’ I like that.”

Aleva was noted for his silence in the days leading up to the finale, but said that was because he wanted to wait until the regular season was completed before making any kind of statement.

“The season is complete, and I want to make it very clear and positive that Les Miles is our football coach,” Aleva said, “and he will continue to be our football coach. I look forward to working with coach Miles as he leads this team to a bowl game and another great recruiting class.”

The move would seem to be a popular one. Miles received loud cheers from the Tiger Stadium crowd and after the game was carried from midfield to the northwest corner by DT Christian LaCouture and OT Vadal Alexander where the band played the LSU alma mater.

Back on the field, Alabama assured its spot in the SEC title game with its win over Auburn giving the Crimson Tide a 7-1 conference record. Mississippi, which would have earned the berth had the two teams tied, finished in second place at 6-2 with its win over Mississippi State.

The Tide will play East champion Florida, which will go into next Saturday’s game in Atlanta with a 10-2 record following its loss to Florida State.

Two SEC teams lost an opportunity to clinch bowl berths by failing to get to the six-win level. Kentucky finished 5-7 after losing at home to Louisville and Missouri also wound up 5-7 after losing at Arkansas.

That said, the two could be on a short list of teams with 5-7 records that could make it to a bowl. At least two teams with losing marks will see their season continue because after Saturday’s results not enough FBS teams can get to six wins to fill the 80 postseason berths.

Another three spots could open up depending on how Kansas State, Georgia State, and South Alabama, all 5-6 with one regular-season game remaining, fare this upcoming weekend.

ALABAMA (11-1, 7-1)

Game: Alabama 29, Auburn 13. Alabama had a big statistical advantage with 465 yards in total offense to Auburn’s 260, but the Crimson Tide couldn’t relax until putting the Tigers away with 10 points over the final 10 minutes. PK Adam Griffith’s 47-yard field goal gave the Tide a nine-point advantage with 10:04 left in the game, and RB Derrick Henry’s 25-yard run capped the scoring with just 26 seconds remaining.

Takeaway: Considering that on their previous visit to Auburn two years ago the Tide lost when Auburn returned a missed field goal attempt for the winning touchdown as time ran out, Bama players may have been feeling a sense of deja vu when Auburn scored a touchdown on a 77-yard tipped reception to close to within 19-13 late in the third quarter. Coach Nick Saban even said it reminded him of the “kick six” against his team and the tipped pass the Tigers had in their win over Georgia the week before that 2013 win over his team. “They’ve got a lot of good players, and they’re all capable of making the play, but certainly that play reminded me of the play they made against Georgia the same year they made the kick return against us,” Saban said. “It was a good play, and it counts for seven.”

Next: Vs. Florida, SEC Championship Game, Atlanta, Dec. 5.

ARKANSAS (7-5, 5-3)

Game: Arkansas 28, Missouri 3. RB Alex Collins rushed for 130 yards and three touchdowns as the Razorbacks jumped out to a 21-3 halftime lead and coasted from there. The Hogs’ defense gave up only 171 yards to the visiting Tigers and held them to three-and-out or better on seven of 12 possessions.

Takeaway: Collins was the workhorse against the Tigers, rushing a career-high 30 times to record his sixth 100-yard rushing game of the season, tying him with Darren McFadden for the program record set in 2007. Coach Bret Bielema planned it that way. “I grabbed him in pregame and I told him the first of the week if it pans out the way the way it’s gonna we’re going to ride you, my friend,” Bielema said, referring to the junior. “It was fun to see him have that.” Collins now faces a decision on whether to return for his senior season or put his name in for next spring’s NFL draft. “I’ll visit with him tomorrow and send his paperwork in on Monday,” Bielema said. “I know he was a little emotional before the game. I think he really felt the vibe that this could be his last game. If it is, it is. We’ll wish him the best, but there’s a lot of conversation between now and then.”

Next: Bowl game TBD.

AUBURN (6-6, 2-6)

Game: Alabama 29, Auburn 13. Auburn had problems moving the ball with any consistency, rushing for only 91 yards and passing for just 169, but defense kept the Tigers within striking distance until the Tide put the game away with 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter. The Tigers closed to 19-13 late in the third quarter when WR Jason Smith tipped the ball to himself to convert a 77-yard touchdown reception, but that was their last hurrah.

Takeaway: The game started out a competition between kickers with the two teams going nearly 40 minutes without scoring a touchdown. Tide PK Adam Griffith hit on all five of his field goal attempts, four in the first half to give the Tide a 12-6 lead at the break. Auburn’s Daniel Carlson hit on two of his three attempts with his lone miss from 48 yards in the second quarter. “Both teams were kicking field goals in the first half, and we were down six so I felt pretty good,” coach Gus Malzahn said. “We missed an opportunity down near the end zone on a third-down-and-three and I think we missed a field goal. We were in a good spot and, like I said, our goal was to get the game to the fourth quarter and find a way to win.”

Next: Bowl game TBD

FLORIDA (10-2, 7-1)

Game: Florida State 27, Florida 2. The Seminoles broke the game open in the fourth quarter when RB Dalvin Cook rushed for touchdowns on runs for 15 and 29 yards, the last with just 20 seconds remaining. The Gators got their only points when DL Cece Jefferson got to FSU QB Sean Maguire and forced him to fumble into the end zone, but Maguire recovered to keep the Gators from getting a touchdown that could have made it a 13-7 game midway through the third quarter.

Takeaway: Once again the Gators played good enough on defense to win but struggled mightily on offense. “Our defense gave us an opportunity and we didn’t take advantage of it,” coach Jim McElwain said. “Our defense is as good as there is in the country. They played well enough today to win.” The Gators held the Seminoles to 304 yards with 127 of that coming on the final two drives. But the Gators managed only 262 yards themselves. RB Kelvin Taylor rushed for 136 yards, but losses left the Gators with a net of only 128 for the game. QB Treon Harris threw for only 134 on a 19-of-38 night. Harris was sacked four times and couldn’t connect with open receivers at times. PK Austin Hardin missed a field goal attempt from 51 yards and had one from 37 blocked.

Next: Vs. Alabama, SEC Championship Game, Atlanta, Dec. 5.

GEORGIA (9-3, 5-3)

Game: Georgia 13, Georgia Tech 7. The Bulldogs took the opening kickoff and marched 75 yards for a touchdown on RB Sony Michel’s 34-yard dash, but managed only a couple of field goals from PK Marshall Morgan the rest of the afternoon and had to sweat out the closing minutes after Tech made it a six-point game with 3:24 left. The Bulldogs clinched the win when they drove from their own seven-yard line to Tech’s 45 on their final possession, leaving the Yellow Jackets only 17 seconds to work with, and then CB Malkom Thomas intercepted a Tech pass on the final play of the game.

Takeaway: Take a bow, defense. The Bulldogs held Tech’s triple-option ground attack to just 194 yards rushing and limited Jackets’ QB Justin Thomas to just six completions for 82 yards, intercepting him twice. In addition to the late pick, S Domenic Sanders had one in the second quarter that ended a Tech drive deep into Georgia territory. The Bulldogs had three takeaways for the afternoon, ending another Tech drive when DT James DeLoach recovered a fumble at his 33-yard line on the first drive of the third quarter. “I thought we played lights out all game,” LB Jake Ganus said of the defense, “and I’m proud of the way we fought. That’s a tough offense to stop, and it’s not an easy offense to defend. They keep pounding and keep running so you have to be disciplined. We did a great job adjusting and making plays.”

Next: Bowl game TBD.

KENTUCKY (5-7, 2-6)

Game: Louisville 38, Kentucky 24. The Wildcats led 24-7 at the halftime break, setting up their second touchdown on S A.J. Stamps’ 35-yard interception return to Louisville’s 13-yard line and scoring their third on LB Jeff Forrest’s 81-yard interception return for a touchdown. They also had a third pick (J.D. Harmon) that stopped a Louisville drive deep into their territory and led to their final points on PK Mike Butler’s field goal as time ran out in the first half.

Takeaway: With a 17-point lead at the half, this was the Wildcats’ game to lose, and that’s exactly what they did. In a complete turnaround, Kentucky gained only 83 yards in total offense over the last two quarters after compiling 208 rushing and passing in the first two. Louisville, meanwhile amassed 325 yards in offense in scoring 31 unanswered points in the second half after going for 164 in the first two quarters. “We’re not very pleased with the way we finished again,” coach Mark Stoops said. “I know the fans are not happy. And I’m not happy. It’s disappointing. It’s tough.” The Wildcats lost both RBs Stanley “Boom” Williams (elbow) and Jojo Kemp (knee) to injuries in the first half. Williams had seven runs for 37 yards and a touchdown, Kemp five for 15 yards and a score in their limited time.

Next: Season likely completed

LSU (8-3, 5-3)

Game: LSU 19, Texas A&M 7. LSU gave up a touchdown in the first quarter but kept the Aggies in check the rest of the evening, holding the visitors to just 89 yards on the ground and 250 for the night. RBs Derrius Guice and Leonard Fournette added touchdown runs in the fourth quarter as the Tigers snapped their losing streak at three games.

Takeaway: Coach Les Miles called the matchup an “imperfect fistfight” and the guy who delivered the body blows was Fournette. The sophomore rushed 32 times for 159 yards and led the Tigers in receiving with four receptions for another 43 yards, more than half the team total of 83 yards passing. “He ran hard,” coach Les Miles said, but then, he always does. “I don’t know if he ran harder tonight than any other night.” He also had nice support. Guice finished with 73 yards on just 10 carries. The only Tiger with any carries was QB Brandon Harris, who finished with a net 13 yards on four runs.

Next: Bowl game TBD.

MISSISSIPPI (9-3, 6-2)

Game: Mississippi 38, Mississippi State 27. The Rebels came out on fire on both sides of the ball, jumping out to a 28-0 lead on touchdown drives of 62, 68, and 75 yards and CB Tony Bridges’ 45-yard interception return for a score. When the Bulldogs seemed to be mounting a comeback threat, getting the difference down to 28-13 with under six minutes left in the third quarter, the Rebels responded with PK Gary Wunderlich’s 48-yard field goal and RB Jordan Wilkins 38-yard touchdown run to make it a 38-13 game with 13 minutes left.

Takeaway: QB Chad Kelly passed for 236 yards and two touchdowns and ran for a 27-yard score to lead the Rebels. He was 21-of-30 (70.0 percent) passing with no interceptions and wasn’t sacked. “I thought we did good,” he said. “I had missed on a couple of things, a couple of over-routes, but it’s another SEC game. It’s a hard-fought win. Coming into someone else’s stadium and coming out with a victory is huge.” It marked the first win for Ole Miss in Starkville since 2003, when Eli Manning was the quarterback, and marked the first win for the road team in the series since Mississippi State won in Oxford in 2010. Kelly also passed Manning for the top spot in the record book for passing yards in a season. He has 3,740 going into the bowl game. Manning had 3,600.

Next: Bowl game TBD.


Game: Mississippi 38, Mississippi State 27. The Bulldogs found themselves down 28-0 almost before the opening cacophony of cowbells had died down when the Rebels scored on their first three drives and got a fourth score on an interception return for a touchdown. The Bulldogs managed to trim the early deficit down to two scores at 28-13 in the third quarter, but the Rebels countered with a field goal and touchdown to put the game away.

Takeaway: QB Dak Prescott was 31-of-42 passing for 256 yards and two touchdowns, but otherwise had a miserable evening in his home finale. He lost a fumble at the Ole Miss 38-yard line on State’s opening drive to set up the Rebels’ first touchdown, and he threw an interception that made it 21-0 in the first quarter. He rushed for 106 yards overall but lost 41 on seven sacks and netted only 63 for the game after another two-yard loss. “I mean, just a turnover on the first possession,” he said. “He kind of put his helmet right on the ball and caused a fumble. Out of the pocket, I should have thrown the ball away like I usually do.” Prescott rallied the Bulldogs to start the second half, but it was too much to overcome. “Minus-2 turnover ratio, you aren’t going to win many games like that,” coach Dan Mullen said. “I thought we had some opportunities to create some turnovers, but we missed two interceptions. There was a fumble that went right through our hands. They picked it up and ran and scored the next play. Those turnovers led to 14 points. That was a huge difference in the game.”

Next: Bowl game TBD

MISSOURI (5-7, 1-7)

Game: Arkansas 28, Missouri 3. The Tigers never did get it cranked up offensively, rushing for only 88 yards and passing for only 83 for the day. They failed to get a first down on four of their first six series in falling behind 21-3 after two quarters and finished the game with only eight first downs, three of them on one series early in the fourth quarter after the issue had long been decided.

Takeaway: The Tigers couldn’t have gotten off to a better start defensively, holding the Razorbacks to a negative-five yards on their first two possessions combined. But Mizzou’s offense never could get anything going, and the Hogs took command after that, scoring touchdowns on three consecutive series while the Tigers could answer only with a field goal. It marked the fourth time this season that the Tigers failed to score a touchdown or gain more than 250 yards in total offense. The one bright spot was the play of senior LB Kentrell Brothers, who threw Arkansas RB Alex Collins for a loss on the Hog junior’s first carry on his way to 12 tackles for the game, raising his season total to 152, fourth-most in program history.

Next: Season likely completed.


Game: Clemson 37, South Carolina 32. The Gamecocks closed to within three points early in the fourth quarter when RB Shon Carson’s one-yard run capped a 26-yard scoring drive that had been set up by LB T.J. Holloman’s eight-yard run with a fumble recovery. But the top-ranked Tigers answered with a 10-play, 60-yard touchdown drive and later kicked a field goal to withstand the Gamecocks’ late score on Carson’s 11-yard touchdown reception with a second left.

Takeaway: The season may have come to a dismal end for the Gamecocks, who lost their last five games, but just a week after losing to The Citadel, an FCS program, they gave the Tigers all they could handle. The Gamecocks rallied from a 21-3 deficit early in the third quarter to pull within 28-25 early in the fourth and even tacked on a late touchdown when the game was really out of reach. Interim coach Shawn Elliott wasn’t declaring a moral victory of any sorts, but he did see hope for the future in his team’s play. “Considering we just played the No. 1 team in the country to 37-32 and saw the fight and effort in their eyes today, I would say they’re in pretty good shape,” he said of the future for the Gamecocks. “We all understand there are some needs to be addressed, but the foundation has been set. It’s not as far off as you think.”

Next: Season completed.

TENNESSEE (8-4, 5-3)

Game: Tennessee 53, Vanderbilt 28. The Volunteers rushed for 331 yards against the stout Vandy defense, the most yards the Commodores gave up on the ground all season. RB Jalen Hurd led the way with 120 yards on 19 carries, and RB Alvin Kamara (99 on 16 runs) and QB Joshua Dobbs (93 on just 11) were right behind.

Takeaway: The Vols made a pair of game-changing plays late in the second quarter that turned what was looking to be a struggle into a Tennessee rout. First, CB Cameron Sutton returned a punt 85 yards for a touchdown that turned a six-point lead into a 27-14 advantage for the Vols, and then SS Todd Kelly Jr. came up with an interception at Tennessee’s eight-yard line on the ensuing series to end a Vandy drive that could have made it a one-score game at the break. Sutton had 123 yards on five punt returns, giving him 467 yards in returns for the season, a program record. “It’s amazing,” Sutton said of the record. “I didn’t know it until coming off before doing media, but again, it’s not just me. My front 10, the coaching staff — they do a great job of just giving me good opportunities and putting me in the right position to make plays.”

Next: Bowl game TBD.

TEXAS A&M (8-4, 4-4)

Game: LSU 19, Texas A&M 7. The Aggies pushed across a touchdown late in the first quarter with QB Kyle Allen passing eight yards to WR RickySeals-Jones to complete a seven-play, 80-yard drive following an LSU field goal, but never scored again. They had a chance to boost their lead in the second quarter, but Allen’s fumble after taking a sack on third-and-four at LSU’s seven-yard line ended that bid, and their next trip across midfield didn’t come until the fourth quarter with the Aggies trailing by 12 points and ended with an interception.

Takeaway: Coach Kevin Sumlin lamented some mistakes on special teams and penalties. WR Christian Kirk lost a fumble on a kickoff return to set up LSU’s second field goal, PK Taylor Bertolet missed a 54-yard field goal attempt in the third quarter, and the Aggies gave up a 75-yard kickoff return and a 20-yard punt return to the Tigers. The Aggies also gave the Tigers new life after being called for a roughing-the-kicker violation, though the mistake didn’t lead to any points. “We had great effort, but gave them the ball there,” Sumlin said of the roughing penalty. “We also gave up big returns, which we hadn’t done all year, so there were some things that were uncharacteristic of us — 11 penalties, which were uncharacteristic of us, and some composure issues out of some guys that were concerning.”

Next: Bowl game TBD

VANDERBILT (4-8, 2-6)

Game: Tennessee 53, Vanderbilt 28. The Commodores topped the 200-yard mark rushing for the first time against an SEC foe with RB Ralph Webb going for a game-high 149 yards and QB Keyle Shurmur threw for a season-high 202 yards, but it wasn’t nearly enough against a Volunteer offense that rushed for 331 yards and passed for another 192. The ‘Dores were within 17-14 after Shurmur’s 12-yard touchdown pass to WR Trent Sherfield on the first play of the second quarter, but the Vols responded with 36 unanswered points before the ‘Dores scored two late touchdowns.

Takeaway: For one of the few time this season, the defense let the Commodores down. Tennessee accumulated 523 yards in total offense, most against the ‘Dores this season, the previous high being 486 by Texas A&M a week earlier. “Defensively, we just missed opportunities, a lot of missed tackles, too many third downs where we let those guys out,” coach Derek Mason said. “We were our own worst enemy tonight.” The key plays came when Tennessee scored on an 85-yard punt return late in the second quarter to give the Vols a 27-14 lead, and an interception on the ensuring series ended a potential Vandy touchdown drive that could have made it a seven-point game at the break. “We are starting to get our footing,” Mason said. “I believe when you go back and you look at those two big moments in the game, they were game-changing.”
Next: Season completed.


–Alabama RB Derrick Henry made a strong case for Heisman consideration with his performance in the Crimson Tide’s 29-13 victory over Auburn Saturday.

Henry had a program record 46 carries against the Tigers for a 271 yards, his fourth effort over the 200 mark this season. That raised his season total to 1,791 yards, moving him past Trent Richardson (1,679) as Alabama’s all-team single-season rushing leader.

He also scored on his final carry, stretching his streak of games with a touchdown to 17, by far the longest streak in school history and the longest in the SEC in the last 20 years.

Henry carried the ball on Alabama’s last 14 plays on the final two series.

“We’d really like for someone else to run the ball, but it got tough to take him out, and he seemed to get stronger as the game goes on,” coach Nick Saban said “It’s hard to take him out at the end of the game.

“He’s the go-to guy, and he didn’t want to come out. He wanted to go and said that he could, and certainly finished the game like we needed to today. My hat is off to him as a competitor, and he really inspires everybody on our team in the way he competes, plays and the toughness that he runs with.

“What a spirit.”

–LSU RB Leonard Fournette rushed for 159 yards in the 19-7 win over Texas A&M to set a school single-season rushing record of 1,741 yards, topping the 1,686 Charles Alexander ran for in 1977. Both marks were accomplished in 11 games. (LSU’s opener this year was cancelled because of weather issues).

Coach Les Miles said he called in Fournette earlier in the week to talk about going for the record. Miles said he learned that Fournette was 108 yards short of the record, and he told the sophomore that his teammates wanted him to have it.

“We want you to have that record because of how you play, who you have been, and how selfless you are as a teammate here,” Miles said of the message he delivered to Fournette. “We want this for you. He said, “Well, OK.’ ”

Next up in the bowl game: The SEC mark of 1,891 yards by Georgia’s Herschel Walker set in 1981.

“I just want to thank God and all my O-line,” Fournette said. “Each and every day at practice they’re giving it 100 percent — with me and for me. I appreciate them.”

–The four-game winning streak to close out the regular season gives Georgia some consolation after the Bulldogs fell short of their goal of winning the East Division and playing in Atlanta for the SEC title.

“We came up short of our goal to get to Atlanta and try to go beyond,” Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said after the 13-7 win over Georgia Tech. “We all know that. That’s the standard here, to win the SEC.

“But when you also look at a team that was in the position we were in, everybody came together. It certainly could have gone one way or the other. It was that moment of truth where you ask, ‘What are you going to do, lay down and die or lock arms and get after it.’

“They did.”

Get after it, that is. The loss of RB Nick Chubb to a knee injury on his first carry against Tennessee in the sixth game of the season ripped out the heart of Georgia’s offense. But the defense kept opponents to under 20 points in five of the six remaining games, the lone exception the 27-3 loss to East winner Florida.

“I think we are a lot better,” LB Jake Ganus said. “Our biggest thing has been to get better every week, and we’ve done that.”

–Kentucky coach Mark Stoops, who has made some curious decisions this season most notably on fourth-down gambles, left himself open for second-guessing again when he stuck with struggling QB Drew Barker for all but his team’s final series of loss to Louisville.

Barker finished the game 6-of-22 passing for only 128 yards after going 5-of-8 for 129 yards in the first half. Yes, his lone completion in the second half lost a yard.

Junior Patrick Towles, who started the first 10 games but didn’t get in the previous week’s win over Charlotte, came into the game with 4:02 left and his team down by two touchdowns. He completed three of his four pass attempts for 71 yards, but his final attempt was intercepted.

Stoops was asked if he and offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson considered bringing in Towles after Louisville tied the game at 24-24 late in the third quarter. Barker had completed only one of his seven pass attempts in the second half up to then.

“We had a discussion at that point,” Stoops said but decided to leave Barker in. “I talked with Shannon at that point, and we felt like there were some plays that were there that he was making some good decisions. We felt like he was a fraction off. ”

To be fair, Barker was the victim of key drops throughout the day, but also missed some wide open targets.

–The loss to Arkansas likely marks the end of an era for Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, who announced his retirement for health reasons earlier this month.

“I love Mizzou, and not being on the field again, I don’t know how to embrace that,” Pinkel was quoted in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch game report. “I’ll probably get up thinking I’m going to work tomorrow morning.

“At the end of the day I feel honored that we could build a program with integrity and a program with a lot of success, even though the last few games we didn’t.”

QUOTE TO NOTE: “I’m not even thinking about that. All I can do is lay it on the line every time I have the opportunity to lead this football team. It’s not for me to decide, of course, but I’m not even worried about it.” — Interim coach Shawn Elliott, on his chances of being offered the South Carolina post full-time.



1. Alabama is still king. After losing to Ole Miss in September, the Crimson Tide has won its last nine games in a row, including seven in conference play, and will be heavily favored to earn one of the four spots in the College Football Playoff for a second straight season.

2. Can Florida solve its offensive woes and stand a chance against the Alabama defense in the SEC title game? The Gators struggled to move the ball again in a loss to Florida State and have scored only seven touchdowns in four games this month, one coming with the benefit of overtime.

3. Coaching seats are hot in the East. With Mark Richt stepping down (forced out?) at Georgia and Steve Spurrier and Gary Pinkel having earlier departed South Carolina and Missouri, respectively, Tennessee’s Butch Jones and Kentucky’s Mark Stoops, both finishing their third seasons in their jobs, share honors as dean of the coaches in the division.

4. At least four juniors look to have wound up their regular season collegiate careers Saturday. Likely candidates to bypass their senior seasons and enter next spring’s NFL draft are RBs Derrick Henry of Alabama and Alex Collins of Arkansas and WRs Laquon Treadwell of Mississippi and Pharoh Cooper of South Carolina.

5. South Carolina wins the award for hard-luck team of the year. Of the Gamecocks’ nine defeats, five were by a touchdown or less, including a five-point loss to the nation’s No. 1 team, Clemson, this past weekend.