This Saturday, the eyes of college football nation will once again be on the SEC. Both divisions will be up for grabs in Baton Rouge and Lexington.
On Tuesday, the first College Football Playoff rankings came out and the SEC once again showed its dominance by placing two teams in the top three. However, one of those teams will fall out of the top four after Saturday night, as number 1 Alabama travels to number 3 LSU. We could be witnessing the real College Football National Championship game in Death Valley Saturday night.
Meanwhile, in the SEC East, the Kentucky Wildcats find themselves in a position they have never been in before. Kentucky is one of just three SEC teams never to win a division title. That could all change if the Wildcats win on Saturday.
#1 Alabama (8-0, 5-0) at #4 LSU (7-1, 4-1) 8 PM EST CBS
Like I mentioned earlier, one could argue that Saturday nights primetime matchup in Death Valley is the real National Championship. With respect to Michigan, Clemson and Notre Dame, they don’t play in the toughest conference in the nation.
Both teams were off last week and had had plenty of time to prepare for the game of the year.
BREAKING DOWN LSU
The Tigers lost their only game of the season at Florida on October 6th, 27-19. They committed three turnovers against the Gators which almost matches their total in their seven other games combined.
LSU strength on offense is it’s running game which ranks sixth in the SEC averaging 190.6 YPG. The Tigers ran for a season-low 110 yards in their last game, a 19-3 win over Mississippi State, but pounded their previous four opponents averaging 238.5 rushing YPG. The Tigers 19 rushing touchdowns rank second in the SEC to only Alabama’s 21. Along with the Crimson Tide, they are the only SEC team to run for a touchdown in all of their games this season.
Nick Brossette ranks sixth in the SEC in rushing with 697 yards, but his 10 rushing touchdowns are the most in the conference. Brossette ran for the Tigers only score in their win over the Bulldogs.
LSU quarterback Joe Burrow has struggled at times this season, ranking second to last in the conference in completion percentage (53.8) and eighth in passing yards (1,544) but has thrown just three interceptions on the season is the second-fewest among SEC QB.
The Tigers defense has been their strength all season. They rank third in the SEC and seventh in the nation allowing just 15.1 PPG. LSU has been excellent at turning over their opponent. They are tied for the most interceptions in FBS with 14 and lead the SEC with 19 turnovers forced. They and Alabama are the only teams to force a turnover in every game this season.
LSU will be at a significant disadvantage in the first half, however, as LB Devin White was flagged for targeting quarterback Nick Fitzgerald in the fourth quarter in the Tigers game Mississippi State on October 20.
The Tigers protested the partial-game suspension, but to no avail. White ranks third in the SEC in tackles with 76, including seven tackles for loss, a sack, and a forced fumble. He also has six quarterback hurries and two fumble recoveries.
BREAKING DOWN ALABAMA
Much like last season when the Crimson Tide dominated the competition during their first eight games (47.6 PPG, 37.8 PPG differential) no one has come close to Alabama this season.
The team offensive numbers are staggering. Through eight games the Tide lead the nation in scoring at 54.1 PPG and have won their five SEC games by an average of 35.4 PPG. Overall they are outscoring their opponents by 38.2 PPG on the season.
They rank second in the nation in total yards per game (564) and have outgained their opponents by an average of 256 yards per game. The Crimson Tide are the only team in the SEC that has recorded a rushing and passing touchdown in every game. Alabama has only punted on 18 of their 102 possessions (17.6 percent).
Individually the Crimson Tide rank near the top of almost every offensive category. They are led by Heisman Trophy candidate Tua Tagovailoa, who has been nothing short of inhuman. Tua leads the nation in passer efficiency (238.8) and yards per attempt (13.6). He is on pace to shatter both records set last season by Baker Mayfield (199.8, 11.5).
For the season, Tua has 25 TD, 0 INT, 2,066 passing yards and 123 rushing yards. He is three TD shy of setting the NCAA record for most TD passes without an interception to start the season (set by Colby Cameron of Louisiana State in 2012 threw 27 TD before throwing his first INT). Against Tennessee, Tua tied his mentor and fellow graduate of St. Louis School in Honolulu, Marcus Mariota, who started his 2013 season at Oregon with 25 TD before throwing his first interception.
Oh yes, and one other unique thing about Tua is that he has not played a single down in the fourth quarter. Did you hear that right? The Crimson Tide has dominated their opponents so impressively that their number one Heisman Trophy candidate hasn’t needed to take a snap in ANY of Alabama’s games in the fourth quarter this season. The only reason Tua won’t win the Heisman this season is because he only hasn’t played enough.
Five Alabama receivers rank in the top 10 in the SEC in yards per reception led by Jerry Jeudy (25.1 YPC). Jeudy also leads the SEC in receiving touchdowns (10).
The Crimson Tide’s defense hasn’t been as dominating as last season when they led the nation in PPG allowed (11.5). They rank 4th in the SEC and 10th in the nation allowing 15.9 PPG. They are allowing 308 YPG which ranks 4th in the SEC and 15th in the nation.
Alabama leads the SEC in sacks (26) while ranking second in the SEC in turnovers forced (17). Along with LSU, they are the only two conference teams to force a turnover in every game. The Crimson Tide’s defense has been very opportunistic as they have four defensive touchdowns off turnovers which is tied for the most in the nation.
Alabama has dominated the series recently, winning seven straight by an average of just under 13 PPG. This includes the 2011 National Championship Game. The last time the Tigers defeated Alabama was during the 2011 regular season.
LSU has had a hard time scoring against Alabama. In their last eight meetings, the Tigers have never scored more than 17 points and have averaged just 10.3 PPG.
Saban vs. Saban: A big factor in this series has been Saban himself. While he was the head coach at LSU, the Tigers went 4-1 against the Crimson Tide. Since Saban took over as head coach at Alabama, they are 9-3 against his former team.
LAST TIME ALABAMA TRAVELED TO DEATH VALLEY
The Crimson Tide shut out the Tigers 10-0, in their last visit to Baton Rouge in 2016. Both teams were scoreless through the first three quarters before Jalen Hurts ran for a 21-yard touchdown with 12:48 remaining, capping a 12-play 90-yard drive. Alabama held the Tigers to just 125 total yards for the game.
Alabama – Tua Tagovailoa, QB
Would there be anyone else? Tua perfect season with no interceptions will be put to the test against a Tigers defense that is tied for the most interceptions in the nation. Will this be the game that he finally plays in the fourth quarter? Tua did not play in Alabama’s 24-10 win over LSU last season.
LSU – Cole Tracy, PK
What? A kicker? Yes, a kicker. Tracy is a graduate transfer from Division II school Assumption College this season.
Assumption College is a Division II school in Worcester, Mass. Cole set five school records in his three seasons there, including most points in school history, most points in a single season, most career field goals, most field goals in a single season and most field goals in a game.
Last season Tracy Fred Mitchell Award given to the top kicker in FCS, Division II, Division III, and NJCAA. This year Tracy leads the nation in field goals made, converting 21 of his 23 attempts (91.3 percent). Both of Tracy’s misses this year have been from 53 yards, as he is 19-19 on attempts under 50 yards. He was named a Lou Groza semifinalist this season.
If this game comes down to a late field goal, LSU holds the decided advantage with Tracy. Alabama has made just 9-14 field goal attempts on the season and has the worst percentage of any SEC team in extra-points made (54-58, 93.1 percent).
Tracy also knows how to kick under pressure as his 42-yard field goal on the final play of the game helped LSU win at Auburn this season.
This is the 12th straight meeting where both teams are ranked, and the fourth time both teams are ranked in the top 5.
THEY SAID IT
“We really haven’t been tested on offense, and sometimes you worry about things maybe being a little bit too easy and how you’re going to respond when things are much more difficult.”
– Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban
“You come into Tiger Stadium; it’s loud, you’re going to be under some stress.” “Play our defense; you’re going to be under some stress.”
-LSU Head Coach Ed Orgeron
#6 Georgia (7-1, 5-1) at #11 Kentucky (7-1, 5-1) 3:30 PM EST CBS
The Bulldogs and Wildcats enter Saturday’s matchup both ranked for just the third time in this their 72nd all-time meeting.
In 2007 the 6th ranked Bulldogs defeated the 22nd ranked Wildcats 24-13 in Athens. The only other meeting where both teams were ranked took place in 1946 when 8th ranked Georgia defeated 19th ranked Kentucky 28-13. Georgia finished 11-0 and finished as the only team that won all of their games that season. This is the first time in their history that both sides are ranked playing at Kentucky.
Last weekend Kentucky stunned Missouri with a miraculous fourth-quarter comeback that culminated in a game-winning touchdown pass with no time remaining. Trailing 14-9 Kentucky QB Terry Wilson lofted a pass in the corner of the end zone to Ahmad Wagner as time ran out. The pass fell incomplete, but Missouri defensive back DeMarcus Acy was called for pass interference. Since a game cannot end on a defensive penalty, that gave Kentucky an untimed down with one chance at the two-yard line to win the game. Wilson connected with C.J. Conrad for the game-winning score to give Kentucky the win and send them home at 5-1 to take on Georgia.
Georgia slew their beast earlier in the day when they handily defeated Florida, 36-17 in Jacksonville. The Bulldogs enter Lexington at 5-1 also. The winner will clinch a spot in the SEC Championship game.
Georgia has won eight straight and 23 of the 26 meetings since the SEC separated into two divisions back in 1992. The Wildcats have won just two of their 11 meetings at Lexington over that time span, including losing the last five. The last time that Kentucky defeated Georgia at Kroger Field was 2006.
Last season Georgia defeated Kentucky 42-13. Over their eight-game win streak, the Bulldogs have beaten the Wildcats by an average of 19.6 PPG and have averaged 38.8 PPG.
The last time these two teams met in Lexington, Georgia defeated Kentucky 27-24. Georgia has won their last five meetings at Kroger Field by an average of 11.4 PPG and averaged 41 PPG.
BREAKING DOWN GEORGIA
Georgia ranks second behind Alabama in PPG in the SEC, averaging 38.6 PPG. They rank third in total defense, allowing 306.1 yards per game. While Kentucky gets many accolades from their rushing attack, the Bulldogs have rushed for more yards per game than Kentucky this season. Georgia’s 221.6 rushing yards per ranks second in the SEC and 27th in the nation.
BREAKING DOWN KENTUCKY
Kentucky’s defense has been one of the best in the nation all year. They lead the SEC and FBS in scoring defense (13.0 PPG) and rank second in the SEC and 10th in the nation in total defense (295.9 yards per game).
Offensively, the Wildcats have run for over 200 yards in six of their eight games this season. The two games they failed to, they lost at Texas A&M (70 yards, 2.3 YPC) and last week barely escaped last week at Missouri (91 yards, 2.6 YPC).
Benjamin Snell Jr leads the SEC in rushing (935 yards) and has excelled at home, running for 131.6 rushing yards. However, he ran for only 60 (Texas A&M) and 67 rushing yards in two of the last three games.
Snell has had success in his previous two games against Georgia, averaging 104 rushing yards per game and scoring three touchdowns.
LAST GAME IN LEXINGTON
Georgia overcame a 21-16 fourth quarter deficit to take the lead on Sony Michel’s 26-yard touchdown run. The game came down to Rodrigo Blankenship who kicked a game-winning 25-yard field goal as time expired.
Georgia – Jake Fromm
After struggling through a brutal performance at LSU where he threw two interceptions and completed a season-low 47.1 percent of his passes. In Georgia’s five other SEC games, Fromm has completed 70.9 passes with 10 touchdown passes and one interception.
Kentucky – Lynn Bowden Jr.
No one was more responsible for his team’s success in any game this season than Bowden Jr. was in Kentucky’s dramatic comeback against Missouri last week.
Trailing 14-3 with under 5:30 remaining, Bowden Jr. returned a punt 67 yards to cut Missouri’s lead to 14-9. On the Wildcats game-winning drive, Bowden collected two of career-high 13 receptions and 29 of his career-high 166 receiving yards. Bowden’s 13 catches were the second most for a receiver in Kentucky history.
FINAL NOTES & QUOTES
Kentucky’s Josh Allen was named SEC defensive player of the week after his 11-tackle performance against Missouri. For the season, Allen is the only player in the FBS since 2000 to have at least 56 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, five forced fumbles, and four passes defended in his team’s first eight games of a season.
Georgia Head Coach Kirby Smart
“I got a lot of respect for Mark (Stoops) and the job he’s done,” Smart said. “I think it’s really remarkable, and it shows the patience of an athletic department to stick with a guy who I think is one of the best coaches in all of college football. He’s now put his roster together.”
Georgia was a huge favorite to win the East by the media who voted in the league’s preseason poll, as they totaled 271 of 285 votes.
Meanwhile, Kentucky was pegged to finish fifth, ahead of only Tennessee and Vanderbilt. Realistically, the Wildcats had just won one SEC Championship in 1950. However, in 1978 due to Mississippi State committing NCAA violations in 1975 and 1976, the NCAA awarded Kentucky a share of the SEC title due to the Bulldogs have to forfeit their win over the Wildcats.
Fans in Lexington have a reason to be excited. The winner of this game will clinch the East, as it will give them a 6-1 conference record. With each team having just one more conference game remaining, that would give the winner the head-to-head tie-breaker, which is the first in any scenario.