Editor’s note: Our John Patton has been recuperating from a few non-life-threatening injuries suffered when he fell off a ladder while trying to rescue a few kittens that were treed by a Williston neighborhood door. While he was on doctor-prescribed medication to dull the pains, he put together his futuristic look at Weeks 10 and 11 of the Southeastern Conference football season. In an attempt to get his crystal-ball season wrapped up before the real one begins, here they are:
WEEK 10 (Nov. 6)
Eastern Division-leading Florida has a bye. Actually, not really. The Gators must play Vanderbilt in Nashville. They have to show up if they want the win to stay ahead of the Ol’ Ball Coach and his South Carolina Gamecocks.
Come to think of it, wasn’t it SOS who once uttered this immortal quote (or something close to it) a few years back: “Ten of the 12 SEC teams take football seriously.” He said Vanderbilt was one of them (the other, we guess, was Kentucky.
Playing Vanderbilt at this particularly time of the season is just what the good doctor would have ordered for his Gators Patience. Yes, Florida was off two weeks ago, but this is the stretch run, and the Commodores find themselves sandwiched between Georgia and South Carolina on UF’s schedule.
While the Gators may not have the most compelling of matchups this week, that doesn’t mean the Southeastern Conference is devoid of big games.
Quite the contrary, actually, as four of the league’s five best teams will square off when Alabama visits Louisiana State and Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks host high-powered Arkansas.
Both of those games figure to help shape not only the conference, but also the national picture.
WEEK 10 (Nov. 6)
Florida (7-1, 5-1 SEC) at Vanderbilt (1-7, 0-5 SEC)
Breakdown: Some day, first-year Commodores coach Robbie Caldwell will pick up his first league win. Unfortunately for him, it won’t be this week. The Gators open the game sharp and confident, coming off a 41-17 beatdown of the rival Bulldogs in Jacksonville. John Brantley sets the tone early with a 51-yard pass to Andre Debose that sets up a 2-yard touchdown run by Mike Gillislee. One series later, Brantley finds Deonte Thompson for a 20-yard touchdown and a 14-0 Florida lead with 4:16 remaining in the first quarter. Vanderbilt responds with a 98-yard kickoff return by Warren Norman, but that is the Commodores’ lone first-half highlight, as UF ups its lead to 28-7 after two quarters, courtesy of a 13-yard touchdown run by Jeff Demps and a 22-yard touchdown pass from Brantley to Chris Rainey. The second half is much the same. Demps scoots 18 yards for a score, while Brantley hits Omarius Hines for a 15-yard touchdown and Trey Burton runs nine yards for Florida’s final points. Vanderbilt does get a 4-yard touchdown pass from Larry Smith to Norman, but that is it.
Player of the Game: Brantley completes 22 of 28 passes for 324 yards and three touchdowns. He doesn’t throw an interception and isn’t sacked (giving the Gator offensive line an honorable mention nod here).
The Pick: Florida 49, Vanderbilt 14
Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC) at LSU (6-2, 4-1 SEC)
Breakdown: Like when “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan split in the 1980s, the West’s traditional megapowers will collide here. And there will be no excuses, as in a rare scheduling quirk, both teams are rested and healthy, coming off byes. Early on the Tide looks like it wants to be anywhere but Baton Rouge as the Tigers jump out to a quick 10-0 lead, courtesy of a 21-yard touchdown run by 226-pound junior Stevan Ridley and a 43-yard field goal by reliable senior Josh Jasper. The latter score was set up when senior safety, Jai Eugene, a converted cornerback, intercepts a pass from Alabama’s usually mistake-free Greg McElroy. LSU appears to be on the verge of breaking the game open when quarterback Jordan Jefferson doesn’t cleanly deliver a handoff to Ridley on the ‘Tide 10 and Alabama junior Will linebacker Jerrell Harris scoops up the ball and races 76 yards to the Tiger 16. One snap later, McElroy throws a perfect end zone fade to Julio Jones to put ‘Bama on the board with 9:59 remaining in the half. The score remains 10-7 until 5:04 left in the third, when Jasper boots a 35-yarder. That may have put points on the board for LSU, but the Tide faithful were happy, as the Tigers reached the Alabama 7, only to see Jefferson sacked for an 11-yard loss on a third-down safety blitz by Mark Barron. As they have all season, the Crimson Tide came up big late when they had to. This time 2009 Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram capped a 14-play, 84-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run with just 34 seconds left to give the visitors their first lead. LSU makes it very interesting late, as Jefferson leads his team to the Tide 44 but is unable to complete a Hail Mary attempt to 6-foot-5 Terrence Toliver as the clock reaches 0:00. Tigers’ coach Les Miles says after the game that he contemplated having Jasper try a 61-yard field on the last play, but decided against it after an assistant pointed out a slight headwind. For his part, Jasper says he would have liked to have had the opportunity to attempt the kick.
Player of the Game: Once a visitor to UF’s Friday Night Lights, Harris records six tackles, breaks up two passes and has the big momentum-changing fumble recovery.
The Pick: Alabama 14, LSU 13
Arkansas (7-1, 4-1 SEC) at South Carolina (7-1, 5-1 SEC):
Breakdown: This one will features the No. 2 team in the West and the East’s co-No. 1. It also will match up the conference’s top-ranked offense in the Ryan Mallett-led Razorbacks and its No. 1 defense in Stephon Gilmore’s Gamecocks. Both teams are undefeated against everyone but Alabama. And this will be the first of two consecutive huge games for South Carolina, as it will visit Gainesville in a week. But first things first. Looking to avenge last season’s 33-16 road loss – the second in a three-game losing streak – the Gamecocks strike first, as Gilmore intercepts Mallett on the game’s first play. That gives South Carolina the ball on the Arkansas 33. The series sees tailback Kenny Miles carry four times for 28 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown run with three minutes gone. The Razorbacks respond well, however, as Mallett goes 5-for-6 for 55 yards to lead Arkansas on an 80-yard scoring drive that ends with a 5-yard touchdown run by junior Broderick Green. After each team goes three-and-out, the Razorbacks get back on the board, this time with a 43-yard touchdown pass from Mallett to junior receiver Greg Childs, beating Gilmore. Just before the half, South Carolina adds a 44-yard field goal by Spencer Lanning to cut the Hogs’ lead to 14-10. Gamecocks’ quarterback Stephen Garcia opens the second half impressively, completing all four of his passes for 62 yards, capped by a 14-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery with 7:15 remaining in the third. The two teams combine for four first downs (three by the Razorbacks) on the next three series as the defenses stiffen. Then, Garcia makes a big mistake. The junior from Tampa is caught staring down Jeffery in the flat, allowing Arkansas senior cornerback Ramon Broadway to step in front of the pass and take it 75 yards for a score, allowing the visitors to reclaim the lead, 21-17. At this point, Spurrier yanks Garcia for freshman Connor Shaw, who does his coach proud. Shaw leads his team on a 12-play, 82-yard drive that is culminated by a 10-yard touchdown pass to Jason Barnes that winds up being the final score of the game.
Player of the Game: Jeffery catches five passes for 86 yards and a touchdown.
The Pick: South Carolina 24, Arkansas 21
The rest of the games: Kentucky 63, Charleston Southern 6; Tennessee 20, Memphis 10; Georgia 54, Idaho State 14; Mississippi 34, Louisiana-Lafayette 13; Auburn 45, Tennessee-Chattanooga 8; Mississippi State is off
This will be the day the East is won.
With victories against Georgia, Auburn, Tennessee and Arkansas, Steve Spurrier and his South Carolina Gamecocks have been one of the biggest surprises of the college football season, but with the division title on the line, can they knock off always powerful Florida?
The Gators, meanwhile, have been here before. They love the national television stage. They tan themselves in the spotlight.
And one additional (and no doubt Spurrieresque) item makes this game even more enticing than it might be: the head ball coach has decided to go Noah Brindise/Doug Johnson on us by rotating quarterbacks Stephen Garcia and Connor Shaw in Gainesville.
It’s a risky proposition, and leading up to the game UF coach Urban Meyer is quoted as saying “I’m not sure I could ever feel completely comfortable doing it, but Steve is the one guy who has shown maybe he can, so I’m sure he’s got a few tricks planned.”
As for the rest of the Southeastern Conference, it’s kind of a ho-hum week with Georgia at Auburn and Mississippi at Tennessee being the best of the rest.
South Carolina (8-1, 6-1 SEC) at Florida (8-1, 6-1 SEC):
Breakdown: This game will determine not only the Eastern champion, but also will allow one of these teams the opportunity to avenge its only loss of the season when it plays Alabama in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 4 in Atlanta. And there are storylines aplenty. Obviously, there is yet another return to Gainesville for Spurrier. There will be two of the nation’s best cornerbacks in UF’s Janoris Jenkins and South Carolina’s Stephon Gilmore. Ocala Trinity Catholic will be represented big-time in Gator quarterback John Brantley, now talked about as a serious Heisman Trophy contender, and Gamecocks’ defensive back Antonio Allen and receiver Dion Lecorn. But almost overshadowing even what the winner of this game will earn is the quarterback situation at South Carolina. And Spurrier opens with an even crazier curveball than expected as the Gamecocks begin their first possession with Gilmore taking a shotgun snap in a Wildcat package. He runs for four yards and then is tackled for a loss of one (later in the game he completes his only pass attempt) before Garcia enters the contest. His first pass – a swing into the flat – hits running back Marcus Lattimore in the hands, but falls harmlessly to the grass, invigorating the record crowd at The Swamp. The Gator faithful gets even louder on the next play when Chris Rainey catches Spencer Lanning’s punt at the UF 9, sidesteps a would-be tackler and jets down the Florida sidelines for a 91-yard touchdown. Things get even worse for the visitors on the next series when UF safety Will Hill dislocates Gamecocks’ receiver Alshon Jeffery from the ball at the South Carolina 34. Linebacker Jon Bostic recovers the fumble and returns it to the Gamecocks’ 29. Once again striking quickly, first down sees Brantley hit Rainey on a skinny post for a touchdown. At this point, Florida has run one offensive play but has two touchdowns with the game less than four minutes old. The next series sees South Carolina regain a little bit of its mojo, driving to the UF 33 and getting a 50-yard field goal from Lanning, the first kicker or punter ever to be named a team captain under Spurrier. The score stays 14-3 until the final series of the half, when Rainey takes the same handoff that helped make Percy Harvin an All American and sprints 48 yards for another touchdown. One half brought one touchdown return, one touchdown reception and one touchdown run for Rainey. The third quarter doesn’t begin ideally for Florida, as a pass attempt from Brantley to tight end Jordan Reed is tipped at the line of scrimmage by 6-foot-8 defensive end Devin Taylor into the waiting hands of linebacker Shaq Wilson at the UF 28. After a 10-yard run by Lattimore on second down, the Gamecocks have first-and-10 at the Florida 17. However, they are limited to five yards total on the next three plays, leaving Spurrier with a dilemma: kick the field goal and make it 21-6 or really get back in it by going for it. Ever the gambler, Spurrier calls for a fake field goal and it works when holder/No. 3 quarterback Seth Strickland rolls out and completes a 12-yard pass to reserve tight end Justice Cunningham (yes, four players attempt at least one pass for South Carolina in this one). Two plays later, with UF’s secondary applying impeccable coverage, Shaw takes off and scores on a 5-yard touchdown run. The Gamecocks would add a 46-yard field goal from Lanning two minutes into the fourth quarter, cutting Florida’s lead to 21-13. However, the Gators would tack on a 37-yard field goal from Caleb Sturgis and an 11-yard touchdown run from Emmanuel Moody to palindrome their rivals from Columbia.
Star of the Game: It was a Rainey day, as the junior from Lakeland had a 91-yard kickoff return, a 29-yard touchdown reception and a 48-yard touchdown run as part of his 268 all-purpose yards. He is named the national player of the week by several publications.
The Pick: Florida 31, South Carolina 13
Georgia (7-3, 4-3 SEC) at Auburn (5-5, 1-5 SEC)
Breakdown: The season hasn’t gone the way Auburn fans had hoped, but a couple of different bounces and the Tigers would be 8-2. And having lost five consecutive conference games since beating Mississippi State in the conference opener has made the fans at Alabama’s “other school” start to get impatient. For some reason, everything comes together in a positive way for the plainsmen this week at the expense of the visiting Bulldogs. The Tigers’ secondary forces Georgia redshirt freshman quarterback Aaron Murray into the worst performance of his young career, intercepting four passes (two by cornerback Neiko Thorpe). Meanwhile, former UF quarterback Cameron Newton finishes with the best game of his career. After the game, even ultra-critical alum Charles Barkley remarks that he believes in the direction coach Gene Chizik has Auburn headed. He then predicts the Tigers will beat archrival Alabama in two weeks, a sentiment ESPN’s Lee Corso echoes.
Star of the Game: Newton completes 20-of-30 for 301 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He also runs seven times for 49 yards and a score.
The Pick: Auburn 38, Georgia 16
Mississippi (6-3, 2-3 SEC) at Tennessee (3-6, 0-5 SEC)
Breakdown: Who would have thought Tennessee would ever fall from elite status into the role of spoiler? Well, that’s just what has happened for the Volunteers. But, with a lot of young players now getting full-time looks, the team plays inspired football against the Rebels. Perhaps hyped up after a surprise visit and speech from UT alum Peyton Manning before Tuesday’s practice, the Vols race out to a 21-7 halftime lead on the strength of two touchdown passes from Matt Simms to freshman Da’Rick Rogers. The Rebels tie the game midway through the fourth quarter on a 7-yard touchdown run from Brandon Bolden, his second score of the final half. However, the Volunteers respond nicely, driving to the Mississippi 16, where Daniel Lincoln drills a 33-yard field goal with just three seconds remaining to win the game.
Player of the Game: A five-star recruit out of the Atlanta area, Rogers records career highs in catches (eight), yardage (124) and touchdowns (two) to lead UT. He also picks up a key fourth quarter first down by taking a reverse 13 yards.
The Pick: Tennessee 24, Mississippi 21
The rest of the games: Alabama 34, Mississippi State 15; Arkansas 56, UTEP 13; Kentucky 20, Vanderbilt 10; Louisiana State 38, Louisiana-Monroe 0
SEC STANDINGS (after Week 11)
x-Florida 7-1 9-1
South Carolina 6-2 8-2
Kentucky 4-3 8-3
Georgia 4-4 7-4
Tennessee 1-5 4-6
Vanderbilt 0-7 1-9
x-Alabama 7-0 10-0
Arkansas 4-2 8-2
Louisiana State 4-2 7-3
Mississippi 2-4 6-4
Auburn 2-5 6-5
Mississippi State 0-6 3-7
Saturday, Nov. 6 (Week 10)
Florida 49, Vanderbilt 14
Alabama 24, Louisiana State 13
South Carolina 24, Arkansas 21
Kentucky 63, Charleston Southern 6
Tennessee 20, Memphis 10
Georgia 54, Idaho State 14
Mississippi 34, Louisiana-Lafayette 13
Auburn 45, Tennessee-Chattanoog 8
Mississippi State is OFF
Saturday, Nov. 13 (Week 11)
Florida 31, South Carolina 13
Auburn 38, Georgia 16
Tennessee 24, Mississippi 21
Alabama 34, Mississippi State 15
Kentucky 20, Vanderbilt 10
Arkansas 56, UTEP 13
Louisiana State 38, Louisiana-Monroe 0
Thursday, Nov. 18
Georgia State at Alabama
Saturday, Nov. 20
Appalachian State at Florida
Arkansas at Mississippi State
Mississippi at Louisiana State
Troy at South Carolina
Tennessee at Vanderbilt
Auburn, Georgia, Kentucky are OFF
Friday, Nov. 26
Auburn at Alabama
Saturday, Nov. 27
Florida at Florida State
Louisiana State vs. Arkansas at Little Rock, Ark.
Georgia Tech at Georgia
Kentucky at Tennessee
Mississippi State at Mississippi
South Carolina at Clemson
Wake Forest at Vanderbilt
Saturday, Dec. 4
SEC Championship at Georgia Dome, Atlanta
Alabama vs. Florida