By the time the lights go out on Week 10, it is likely that the fate of both the SEC East and West has been determined.
In one of the most eagerly anticipated weeks of the season, #1 Alabama travels deep in to the heart of the Louisiana bayou to take on a buoyant #3 LSU, whilst # 6 Georgia travels to Lexington to take on # 9, Kentucky.
Alabama and Georgia wins would see the East and West divisions secured, setting up a repeat of last years SEC championship decider at the Mercedes Benz dome in Georgia on December 1 to determine SEC Champions.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. What of Saturday’s match up’s? Surely these are not givens for the Crimson Tide and the Bulldogs.
Far from it.
Alabama at LSU
LSU have been a sensation under Coach Ed Orgeron this season with their only defeat coming early in the season at the hands of a resurgent Florida. You could say the Tigers met Florida at the wrong time. Had they met them later in the season, the result could well have been quite different. But they didn’t and LSU chalked up an x in the loss column.
But aside from the Florida game the Tigers have beaten Auburn, Ole Miss, Miami, Mississippi State and most recently opening up a big can of whoop-ass to defeat Georgia 36-16. This was the most impressive result of them all, making the Play Off Committee sit up and take notice. It should also give Alabama cause for concern.
The game against Alabama has been labelled the battle of the QB’s but really it is much more than that with both sides having strong run games and exceptional defensive units.
But it is hard to ignore the very impressive performances of Tua Tagovailoa this year. 25 touchdowns, 13 of these being in the first quarter of games and still no interceptions. On this form Tagovailoa is set to pass Baker Mayfield’s record breaking stats easily. Oh and not forgetting that Tagovailoa has yet to play in the fourth quarter of any game so far. But even the most ardent of Alabama fans envisage Tua having to play in the fourth quarter in Baton Rouge. This is expected to be Alabama’s toughest test this season especially as Tiger stadium has the reputation of being the most difficult atmosphere to play on the road.
LSU QB, Joe Burrow is labelled a game manager and has produced nowhere near the same level of performance as Tagovailoa. However, by the same token he has engineered wins over SEC rivals including that very impressive result against Georgia, so is not to be underestimated. Where the LSU game plan falls over is if Alabama can stifle the LSU running game. Burrow is nowhere near accurate enough if he has the ball in his hands and that is where LSU can be vulnerable.
Currently Alabama are Vegas favourites by 14.5 points. It is difficult to see those odds being overturned.
Georgia at Kentucky
In the early kick off game, the hype started equally early this week with Kentucky football running a hype ad campaign in NYC’s Times Square early in the week and running back Benny Snell proclaiming that Kentucky “is not just a basketball school anymore”.
This confidence is good for Kentucky as Georgia looked more like their dominant selves getting back to winning ways against Florida, which must have been welcome relief for Kirby Smart. Many people’s favourites to run Alabama close for the National Championship win, it is hard to say the Bulldogs season has been disappointing but it has failed to scale the same heights as last year.
Jake Fromm has been inconsistent this season, as you might expect from a Sophomore QB, but was more like his old self against Florida. At running back, Evander Holyfield’s son, Elijah is the Bulldogs leading rusher (559 yards over 8 games). So there is more than enough offensive power to overwhelm Kentucky.
But for me the story is all about the Wildcats. A red hot start to the season put running back Benny Snell on the national stage. Play off places and Heisman talk was all the rage early in the season but a stumble against Texas A&M halted all that talk . But Kentucky have had a successful season. While Kentucky’s basketball team is more used to National acclaim than the football team, a record of 7-1 (5-1 in Conference), means the Wildcats have put basketball in the shade and Lexington football on the map.
Given Georgia’s impressive victory over a resurgent Florida last week it is hard to imagine them not building on that and winning the SEC East. BUT. Georgia has proven vulnerable to the run game this season with LSU running for 275 yards in Georgia’s only defeat of the season so far. Benny Snell needs to get his game back after some faltering performances, however there have been signs of his early season form returning with him averaging 133 yards in each of his last two games.
Similar to the LSU/ Alabama game , Kentucky need QB Terry Wilson to protect the ball. Wilson runs the ball a lot which makes up for his throwing inaccuracies. Stop Wilson and Benny Snell running and then Wilson has no option to put the ball in the air. Georgia, like Alabama would relish this prospect.
But here are a couple of stats to keep the Wildcats faithful optimistic. Kentucky’s defence is elite and are tied first in scoring defence, with an average of 13 points per game. And! They have yet to let any team score more than 20 points against them. Keep Georgia in the 20’s and the Wildcats have a chance.
The Vegas odds makers Georgia favourites, albeit odds have shortened through the week. But the Wildcats are playing to win their first SEC East title since the conference was split back in 1992. Better still, Kentucky has not won the SEC outright since the great Bear Bryant coached the Wildcats in 1950. If ever there was incentive to win this game it is now. And that is what will make for a great game and one closer than many think.
And here’s some food for thought. Since the College Football Play-Off’s commenced four years ago, the Committee’s selection in the first week at #1 and #3 has not remained ranked #1 and #3 in the final rankings. So history tells us something will give tomorrow.
photo credit : margaritaville.com