With the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division championship now firmly clutched in their Orange-and-Blue gloves, Florida will take on the school more than a few college football observers have said started the downfall of Michigan’s once-proud program: Appalachian State.
In case you had forgotten, the date was Sept. 1, 2007. Ranked No. 5 in the country, the Wolverines no doubt looked at the Mountaineers as the proverbial “opponent” that was a guaranteed victory entering the always tough Big Ten season.
But someone forgot to tell 27-point underdog Appalachian State, which exited Ann Arbor that day with a 34-32 victory. The Wolverines did recover somewhat, finishing 9-4, beating Florida and Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow in the Capital One Bowl to end the year ranked 19. But head coach Lloyd Carr retired, Michigan went outside its own house and hired Rich Rodriguez away from West Virginia and the Wolverines have seen gone 3-9 and 5-7.
Florida shouldn’t worry about the same thing happening on Nov. 20, but don’t think coach Urban Meyer didn’t bring up the Wolverines at least a half-dozen times in the practice and film sessions leading up to kickoff.
As for the rest of the SEC in Week 12, those with remaining conference games mainly are playing for positioning and pride. The rest, like Florida, are either hosting a Homecoming-type opponent or taking the week off.
Appalachian State (8-2) at Florida (9-1)
Breakdown: Being a small school with recruiting disadvantages (though Boone, N.C., is beautiful and has great ski slopes), Appalachian State does quite well for itself. Still, Florida is a different animal than Elon, Furman and Wofford, and the talk around Gainesville entering the contest centered on UF’s younger backups, specifically do-it-all freshman Trey Burton. Coming out of Venice High School, many analysts and fans questioned whether Burton had the passing skill needed by a major Division I quarterback. No one doubted his athleticism and desire, but the arm was a different story. In spot duty throughout his first season, the quarterback/tight end/fullback/slot receiver has become a favorite of Meyer, who enjoys having a Swiss Army Knife at his disposal. And Burton shines against the Mountaineers, coming off the bench to complete 8 of 10 passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns while also carrying 10 times for 101 yards, a rare double-triple. Starting quarterback John Brantley, meanwhile, has a relatively easy afternoon, completing 10 of 14 passes for 206 yards and three touchdowns in a little more than a half. The Gator defense also has a nice day, allowing only a 12-yard second-quarter touchdown run by quarterback DeAndre Presley. A trio of freshmen – linebacker Neiron Ball (nine tackles), cornerback Joshua Shaw (three tackles, interception) and end Ronald Powell (four tackles, sack, pass break up) – have standout performances on defense, and punter Chas Henry’s lone boot of the day travels 63 yards before bouncing out of bounds at the ASU 2.
Player of the Game: Burton finishes with 230 all-purpose yards (120 passing, 101 rushing and nine receiving) and also plays special teams for the Gators.
The Pick: Florida 62, Appalachian State 8
Mississippi (6-4, 2-4 SEC) at Louisiana State (7-3, 4-2 SEC)
Breakdown: Had the Rebels not slipped up last week at Tennessee, this game would have allowed the winner to tie Arkansas (providing it wins at Mississippi State) for second place in the West. Now, Mississippi needs either to win in Baton Rouge or beat visiting rival Mississippi State next week to become bowl-eligible. The Tigers, meanwhile, will play in a bowl, likely a New Year’s Day contest like the Outback, Capital One or Gator. Last year’s contest between these two was a good one, as host Ole Miss upset visiting LSU, 25-23. But it doesn’t quite work out the same this time around. After the Rebels jump out to a 7-0 lead on a 12-yard swing pass from quarterback Nathan Stanley to running back Rodney Scott, it’s all Tigers. Jordan Jefferson throws a pair of touchdown passes, Stevan Ridley runs for another and All-American cornerback Patrick Peterson picks off two passes – all in the first half! The final two quarters are a lot quieter (though the folks packed into Tiger Stadium aren’t!) as the Rebels get a 35-yard touchdown run from Scott and LSU’s Josh Jasper kicks field goals from 38 and 32 yards.
Player of the Game: Peterson finishes with four tackles, two interceptions (both of which led to scores) and a sack.
The Pick: LSU 27, Mississippi 14
Arkansas (8-2, 4-2 SEC) at Mississippi State (3-7, 0-6 SEC)
Breakdown: It’s been a tough season for Dan Mullen and Co. The Bulldogs were dealt one of the nation’s toughest schedules, playing games at Alabama, Florida, Houston and LSU while also hosting Auburn, Kentucky and Arkansas, each of whom could be bowl-bound. Sadly for MSU, it missed out on facing Vanderbilt. Last year’s game at Arkansas was forgettable for the Bulldogs, who were beaten 42-21. This game will garner national interest because it will mark the first career start for freshman quarterback Dylan Favre, who (unlike his famous Uncle Brett) reported to camp on time. Unfortunately for Mississippi State, Ryan Mallett starts for the Hogs and he uses this game to cement his status as a probable Heisman Trophy finalist (and perhaps the winner of the award). Despite being sacked by senior defensive end Pernell McPhee on the afternoon’s first play, Mallett is stellar throughout, leading Arkansas to scores in five of its first six possessions. The Bulldogs keep up for a little bit and are only behind 24-21 at the half before the Razorbacks pull away. For his part Favre completes 19 of 34 passes for 263 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. The victory sets up a showdown next week between Arkansas and visiting LSU for second place in the West.
Player of the Game: Mallett finishes 28-of-40 passing for 344 yards and five touchdowns. He doesn’t throw an interception, but fumbles once.
The Pick: Arkansas 44, Mississippi State 31
The rest of the games: Tennessee 26, Vanderbilt 18; Alabama 48, Georgia State 0; South Carolina 38, Troy 13; Auburn, Georgia and Kentucky are off.
It’s a week of big in-state rivalry games for Southeastern Conference programs. From Florida at Florida State to Auburn at Alabama to Georgia Tech at Georgia to South Carolina at Clemson to Mississippi State at Mississippi, bragging rights are on the line.
Additionally, Louisiana State will visit Arkansas with second place in the SEC West at stake. And Kentucky will travel to Tennessee with the Wildcats hoping to keep alive a potential 10-win season and the Volunteers looking to move to .500.
Florida (10-1) at Florida State (9-2)
Breakdown: Both teams have conference title games to look forward to in a week, but make no mistake the Gators and resurgent Seminoles aren’t overlooking one another. Remember, many of these players grew up either playing with or against one another. Additionally, this game will match up two quarterbacks – Florida’s John Brantley and FSU’s Christian Ponder – getting considerable Heisman Trophy hype. That said, each team comes in a little banged up with the Seminoles having to go without their best blocker, senior guard Rodney Hudson (knee), while the Gators will not have No. 1 receiver Deonte Thompson (ankle). That said, both clubs have the depth to overcome the injuries to those standouts who hope to return next week. The game starts out a defensive battle, as each team ends the first quarter with zero points, one first down and two punts. Florida State then gets on the board first on a 53-yard field goal by Dustin Hopkins. It could have been worse for Florida, but a 51-yard touchdown pass from Ponder to Willie Haulstead is called back because of a holding penalty. The ‘Noles follow their score with a big mistake, however, as they don’t steer their kickoff away from Jeff Demps, who races 88 yards for the game’s first touchdown. The trouble continues for FSU two snaps into their next series when Ponder’s pass is picked off by UF safety Ahmad Black, who darts and dashes 34 yards for another touchdown. Seeing an opportunity for a free lick, Gator defensive tackle Lawrence Marsh wipes out Ponder with a clean block at the 5. Just before the half Hopkins drills another field goal, this time from 48 yards, to make the score 14-6 UF. The Gators get the ball to open the third quarter, and this is when their offense starts to get going. Brantley goes 4-for-4 for 44 yards, culminating the 9-play, 76-yard drive with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Carl Moore. The rest of the quarter is scoreless, but FSU opens the fourth with a 36-yard touchdown pass from Ponder to Bert Reed, a former starter who has battled his way in and out of coach Jimbo Fisher’s doghouse this year. Florida then responds by adding a 43-yard field goal from Caleb Sturgis, giving the game its final margin.
Player of the Game: Black finishes with six tackles, two pass break-ups and the interception for a touchdown.
The Pick: Florida 24, FSU 13
Auburn (6-5, 2-5 SEC) at Alabama (11-0, 7-0 SEC)
Breakdown: The Tigers travel to Tuscaloosa feeling really good about themselves. Prior to taking last week off, Auburn blew out Georgia, and there are a few analysts predicting an upset victory against the Crimson Tide. Hey, last year’s game was 26-21 Alabama, so why not? Unfortunately for the Tigers, the defending BCS national champions aren’t going for that talk and go up 14-0 quickly on a pair of 18-yard touchdown passes from Greg McElroy to Julio Jones. Auburn responds with a 6-yard touchdown run by freshman tailback Michael Dyer and a safety following an errant punt snap from the Crimson Tide to make the halftime score 14-9. The Tigers take a 17-14 lead on a 11-yard touchdown run by Mario Fannin that is followed by a two-point conversion with 6:49 remaining in the third quarter. Suddenly, Bryant-Denny Stadium starts to hush and televisions throughout the country turn to the game. That’s when Alabama shows why it has spent the entire season ranked No. 1. The Crimson Tide gets touchdown runs of 4 yards by Trent Richardson and 2 yards by Mark Ingram, and all-conference safety Mark Barron picks off a late pass from Auburn’s Cameron Newton to seal a tight victory.
Player of the Game: Projected as a first-round pick in the April 2011 NFL Draft, Jones catches nine passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns. He also completes a 12-yard pass to Ingram that gives Alabama a key first down late in the third quarter.
The Pick: Alabama 28, Auburn 17
Louisiana State (8-3, 5-2 SEC) at Arkansas (9-2, 5-2 SEC)
Breakdown: Last year’s game was a memorable 33-30 overtime victory for the host Tigers. With second place in the West on the line, there was a lot of pregame speculation that this season’s matchup might actually top the 2009 version. It does. Between them, Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett and LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson throw for 801 yards with 456 coming from Mallett, quite possibly the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. With standout Tigers’ cornerback Patrick Peterson out with a sprained left ankle, Mallett’s favorite target once again proves to be Greg Childs, a future NFL starter who catches a whopping 14 passes for 267 yards and three touchdowns. Jefferson, meanwhile, sees two of his receivers (Terrance Toliver and Russell Shepard) each catch eight passes and combine for 211 yards and a pair of scores. With all of that said, it is a play on special teams that decides the outcome as Razorbacks’ junior defensive end Jake Bequette uses all of his 6-foot-5-inch frame to extend and block Josh Jasper’s 51-yard field-goal attempt on regulation’s final snap.
Player of the Game: Mallett completes 37 of 50 passes for 456 yards and six touchdowns. He is intercepted twice. Not exactly known as a scrambler, the 6-6 Mallett also carries the ball five times for 22 yards.
The Pick: Arkansas 48, LSU 46
The rest of the games: South Carolina 23, Clemson 22; Tennessee 21, Kentucky 20; Mississippi 31, Mississippi State 27; Wake Forest 28, Vanderbilt 24; Georgia 27, Georgia Tech 21
x-Florida 7-1 11-1
South Carolina 6-2 10-2
Kentucky 4-4 8-4
Georgia 4-4 8-4
Tennessee 2-6 6-6
Vanderbilt 0-8 1-11
x-Alabama 8-0 12-0
Arkansas 6-2 10-2
Louisiana State 5-3 8-4
Mississippi 3-5 7-5
Auburn 2-6 6-6
Mississippi State 0-8 3-9
Thursday, Nov. 18
Alabama 48, Georgia State 0
Saturday, Nov. 20
Florida 62, Appalachian State 8
Arkansas 44, Mississippi State 31
Louisiana State 27, Mississippi 14
South Carolina 38, Troy 13
Tennessee 26, Vanderbilt 18
Auburn, Georgia, Kentucky are OFF
Friday, Nov. 26
Alabama 28, Auburn 17
Saturday, Nov. 27
Florida 24, Florida State 13
Arkansas 48, Louisiana State 46
Tennessee 21, Kentucky 20
Mississippi 31, Mississippi State 27
South Carolina 23, Clemson 22
Wake Forest 28, Vanderbilt 24
Georgia 27, Georgia Tech 21
Saturday, Dec. 4
SEC Championship at Georgia Dome, Atlanta
Alabama vs. Florida