TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Alabama just etched an entry into Crimson Tide lore with a stomach-twisting road win over No. 9 LSU after the national title hopes went on life support.
Now, the top-ranked Crimson Tide face another huge, and much different, challenge. No. 15 Texas A&M visits Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday night with a versatile quarterback and a high-speed offense that seldom takes a break.
Such is life in the Southeastern Conference.
"That wasn't the national championship game," Tide left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio said. "We're not done. We've got more work to do. And we've got a different animal this week. That's how we approach it. "
Alabama (9-0, 6-0) can secure a spot in the SEC championship game with a win.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel and the Aggies (7-2, 4-2 SEC) have already made a big splash in a league that's won six straight national championships. They have taken top 10 teams Florida and LSU down to the wire before losing both games by a combined eight points.
"The first game against Florida was a pretty big event," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "We've had some pretty big games already. If anything, the atmosphere going on the road will be different. These guys have put us in a position, by their play, to make these games meaningful. It's not a one-game season. It never has been and it never will be."
He said the Aggies gained confidence from their close calls with the Gators and Tigers that they can handle the league's physical style. They were hurt by nine penalties against Florida and five turnovers against LSU.
Now, their pedal-to-the-medal quarterback and offense take on a more old-school SEC football team.
It's run-and-gun Manziel versus AJ McCarron, who thrust himself more prominently into the Heisman Trophy conversation by engineering a swift game-winning touchdown drive against the Tigers. McCarron still hasn't thrown an interception this season.
Texas A&M linebacker Jonathan Stewart figures it will take a much more pristine performance to beat an Alabama team with two national titles in three years and a third in its sights.
"We know that we're going to have to play up to the part," Stewart said. "We're going against the No. 1 team in the nation. As we saw when we lost to Florida and we lost to LSU, our two losses this year, we can't beat ourselves. When we're going against top 10 teams, they don't beat themselves. Unfortunately, in our two losses, we beat ourselves."
Alabama hadn't looked particularly beatable all season until last weekend in Baton Rouge — before McCarron, wide receiver Kevin Norwood and tailback T.J. Yeldon produced a rapid-fire string of big plays en route to Yeldon's 28-yard catch-and-run touchdown with 51 seconds left.
"If we finish out like we're supposed to, probably one of the greatest wins I've been a part of in my life," McCarron said. "The win only means so much if you finish out strong. If we don't finish out strong, it really doesn't factor in, really. Just another win."
Tide coach Nick Saban said that was easily his team's worst defensive performance of the season. Alabama's defense gave up 435 yards and got stuck on the field for 85 plays.
The Aggies would love to maintain that kind of staying power on the field and keep the nation's top scoring defense out there and McCarron & Co. on the sideline.
That sets up a battle between the swashbuckling Johnny Football and a physical, disciplined defense that would love to make the Aggies look like Johnny Come Lately. That's much easier said than done.
Manziel is leading the SEC in rushing, scoring and total offense. He's averaged 10 points a game not even counting his 16 touchdown passes. Alabama, by contrast, is only allowing opponents to score a tad over nine points per game.
Saban said Manziel reminds him more of Doug Flutie than Michigan's Denard Robinson or former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, now with the Carolina Panthers.
"I had to play against (Flutie) a long time ago," the former Kent State defensive back said. "But he's a really good player, a really good competitor and that's who this guy reminds me of. He can throw it, he's not great big in stature or anything like that, he's extremely quick. He's very instinctive. Has a unique ability to extend plays and seems to know when to take off and run it. And he scrambles and makes plays throwing the ball down the field.
"But this is a unique guy in terms of his playmaking ability and his size, quickness and speed and ability to make people miss in space."
The Aggies will complete a three-game SEC road swing with this trip to 101,821-seat Bryant-Denny, and they're hoping to do it in style.
"I think that in playing college football, and playing football in general, this is going to be the Saturday you live to play for," Texas A&M offensive lineman Patrick Lewis said. "Going up there on the road, I think their stadium holds well-over 100 thousand people. It's probably going to be packed to capacity.
"We look forward to the challenge they're going to present."
Texas to pay Royal tribute against Iowa State
AUSTIN (AP) — When No. 19 Texas takes the field on Saturday against Iowa State, the Longhorns will be paying tribute to former coach Darrell Royal with helmet stickers bearing his "DKR" initials and the first play on offense, which will be run from the wishbone formation Royal introduced to major college football in 1968.
Royal died this week at age 88, and the school wants to honor the coach who won two national championships, a share of a third and 11 Southwest Conference titles from 1957 to 1976.
"He built the foundation that we're working off of today," Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds said. "He took a program that was struggling, and took it to new heights ... Helped build the university. Helped brand the university."
It will be an emotional day for Texas coach Mack Brown, who was very close to Royal and often talked about their friendship and the mentor's role Royal had in his life. Royal was influential in Texas hiring Brown in 1997.
In a statement this week, Brown said he and his wife Sally considered Darrell and Edith Royal their "closest of friends."
"I lost my dad when I was 54 and coach filled a real void in my life and treated me like family," said Brown, who is 61. "I lost a wonderful friend, a mentor, a confidant and my hero."
Brown will have to try to overcome some of that emotion when the game starts against the Cyclones. The No. 19 Longhorns (7-2, 4-2 Big 12) are on a three-game winning streak and still in the running for one of the Big 12's top bowl bids after last week's 31-22 win at Texas Tech.
The Texas defense is coming off one of its best games of the season and quarterback David Ash rebounded from getting pulled from the game a week earlier against Kansas to throw for three touchdowns.
The offense also seems to have found a new weapon in freshman running back Johnathan Gray, who has consecutive 100-yard games in the first two starts of his career.
"Whatever you've got left in the tank, we need it. Full effort. All in," Ash said. "Four more weeks of regular-season football and let's try to be in the best spot possible at the end of the year."
Iowa State (5-4, 2-4) has upended the Longhorns in the recent past. In 2010, Texas was coming off a huge win at Nebraska that the Longhorns believed had turned their season around. Instead, they ran into a Cyclones team that mostly dominated Texas in a 28-21 win in Austin that sent the Longhorns into a tailspin and a 5-7 finish.
Iowa State had never beaten Texas until that game and Brown has warned his team not to fall into the same trap. There are plenty of current Longhorns who remember the loss.
"I realized how well-coached and tough and physical Iowa State is," Texas guard Mason Walters said. "I won't take that for granted. I don't think anybody on this team will."
Iowa State has shown it can trade punches with the top teams in the Big 12 for at least a little while. The Cyclones dropped a tough 27-21 loss to Big 12 leader Kansas State and lost last week 35-21 to Oklahoma. Iowa State's most impressive win this season was on the road at TCU.
"(Texas) is one of the hottest teams in our conference," Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said. "Two years ago, we went down there and played a sound football game. That's what we'll hope to do again."
-- Jim Vertuno
No. 25 Texas Tech looks to end skid vs. Kansas
LUBBOCK (AP) — Kansas coach Charlie Weis is tweaking a couple of routines heading into the Jayhawks' game against No. 25 Texas Tech this weekend.
It couldn't hurt to try something different. The Jayhawks are winless in Big 12 play and have just one win overall this season, so Weis is taking the team to Lubbock earlier and holding practice where they will play the Red Raiders on Saturday.
"We're not just going to go there to take a look at the wonderful stadium they have," Weis said. "We're going to get out there and we're going to go run around."
Kansas (1-8, 0-6) is looking to break an 18-game conference losing streak. The Jayhawks most recent defeat came in a 41-14 loss at Baylor, while Texas Tech (6-3, 3-3) is coming off a second-straight loss, having fallen 31-22 to Texas last week.
After five-straight losses to close last season Texas Tech doesn't want to see this year's skid extended.
The Red Raiders' 28th-ranked rush defense will be tested by Jayhawks running back James Sims, who would be leading the conference in rushing yards per game (124.7) had he played in more games. He served a three-game suspension to open the season.
Texas Tech is allowing about as many yards per game as Sims is averaging. Last week, Longhorns running back Johnathan Gray got 106 yards on 20 carries. Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville said Texas moved its offensive lineman around to create mismatches.
"That's one thing we have to work on and do a lot better job of getting lined up," he said. "You saw us. We were running — we were just trying to get lined up."
Weis said Sims is showing he's more than just a player who comes onto the field to carry the ball.
"Obviously, we're a run-first team," the first-year coach at Kansas said. "That's no secret. And he's the main guy. So, I think that what's really helping James is he's taking more of that leadership role on. And I think it bodes well for both him and us as we go forward."
Texas Tech is one of just two teams nationally — along with Florida State — that's ranked in the top 20 in both total offense and total defense. The latter represents a huge turnaround from last season when the Red Raiders were ranked near the bottom in several defensive categories.
"Now, all of a sudden, (Tuberville's) got himself a more complete team than just one-sided one way or the other," Weis said. "And being that he's a defensive guy by trade, I'm sure that brings a smile to his face, that they are playing much more stout on defense."
The team that'll be passing the ball more Saturday ran into some snags against the Longhorns. The Red Raiders squandered scoring chances inside the red zone against Texas and four times settled for field-goal tries.
Quarterback Seth Doege, who leads the nation with 31 touchdowns, was clearly frustrated.
Penalties twice inside the 20-yard line kept the Red Raiders from possible touchdowns, including one time when running back Kenny Williams crossed the goal line for a touchdown. But center Deveric Gallington was called for holding and Texas blocked an ensuing Red Raiders field-goal attempt.
"It just kind of came down to finishing and we didn't get it done," Doege said. "When it comes down to it, you've got to make plays and score touchdowns to win games, especially in this conference."
Weis believes that the Jayhawks having just played an uptempo team like Baylor could help them against the Red Raiders who like to get up to the line quickly.
"I think that it's a catch-22 there," he said. "I think that having just played against that tempo, there will more plays where guys are more ready to go. Rather than just getting ready to go, I think they will be more ready to go."
-- Betsy Blaney
No. 3 Kansas State highest-ranked team at TCU since '70
FORT WORTH (AP) — TCU knew its schedule was going to get more difficult by moving to the Big 12.
Coach Gary Patterson and the Horned Frogs are finding out just how much, though they have already obtained bowl eligibility in their inaugural season in a BCS league.
"This part of our season is our Custer section. Going over the hill," Patterson said, referring to the closing three-game stretch that starts Saturday night at home against No. 3 Kansas State, his alma mater. "We all knew the schedule, what these last three were like before we started. ... I'm glad we got to six (wins) before we got to these three."
Led by Heisman Trophy front-running quarterback Collin Klein, the Wildcats (9-0, 6-0 Big 12) are in the thick of the national championship chase. They're No. 2 in the BCS rankings behind only defending champion Alabama.
Kansas State is the highest AP-ranked team to visit Fort Worth since 1970, when No. 2 Texas won 58-0 in a Southwest Conference game. TCU last hosted a Top 10 team in 1993, and have lost their last 12 such games at home since a victory over No. 9 Texas A&M in 1965.
"It's a big game. It will be pretty easy for everyone to get ready," said TCU right guard Blaize Foltz, who is from Kansas. "I know people on that team. I know they're just as excited to come down here and play us, and just as fired up."
After Kansas State, the Frogs play Thanksgiving night at 19th-ranked Texas and finish the regular season at home Dec. 1 against No. 14 Oklahoma.
With a win against TCU, the Wildcats would still be in pursuit of their first BCS national championship game appearance. Regardless of what happens, they will still control their Big 12 fate. They go to Baylor next, then have Thanksgiving week off before their regular season finale at home against Texas.
Klein sustained an apparent head injury in the third quarter of last Saturday's 44-30 victory against Oklahoma State. He didn't take another snap after scoring his 50th career rushing touchdown, but should be back in the lineup against the Frogs.
"Would I expect him to play? I certainly hope that's the case, and I would expect that to take place," said coach Bill Snyder, who as usual offered very little information about injuries.
The next step toward a potential championship game for the Wildcats is getting to 10-0 for the first time since 1998. Snyder's team started 11-0 that year before falling to Texas A&M in the Big 12 championship game. There is no more league championship game because the Big 12 has a round-robin schedule.
Kansas State is the nation's least-penalized team (only 31 flags), and has a plus-20 turnover margin that is the best. The Wildcats have lost only two fumbles and Klein has thrown only two interceptions while passing for 1,875 yards with 12 touchdowns and running for 698 yards and 17 scores.
While opponents haven't scored any points after K-State's miscues, the Wildcats have scored an incredible 111 points off turnovers.
"Someone brought that to my attention, and I shared it with our players as well," Snyder said. "But I have never heard a statistic like that because I do not think anybody has ever kept a statistic like that. Whoever came up with it has done some amazing research."
Taking that a step further, those 111 points account for more than one-fourth of the 399 points K-State has scored this season.
For Patterson, his first meeting against his alma mater presents quite of a dilemma.
It comes three decades after he started his coaching career as a K-State graduate assistant in 1982 for then-coach Jim Dickey and was part of the school's first bowl team. He had played for the Wildcats the previous two seasons, when the safety and linebacker played mostly on scout teams and only a little on special teams.
"It's hard, because you love seeing, from their perspective, they've come so far and have an opportunity to be so close to playing for a national championship," said Patterson, TCU's winningest coach with 115 victories in his 12 seasons. "But also on our side of it, just try to get seven (wins)."
TCU got the sixth win needed for bowl eligibility last week with a 39-38 double-overtime victory at West Virginia, the Big 12's other newcomer. The Horned Frogs opted for a win-or-lose 2-point conversion attempt in the second overtime. They obviously made it.
"Now it's about survival," Patterson said. "How you get finished, get things done."
-- Stephen Hawkins
Defense on alert for No. 14 Sooners against Baylor
NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Javon Harris just couldn't wait to sneak an extra peek at the Baylor offense that caused him and the rest of Oklahoma's defense so many problems a year ago.
So, in the middle of a class early this week, Harris pulled out teammate Joseph Ibiloye's iPad and revisited the worst defensive performance in Sooners history.
"I shouldn't have been, but I was watching it in class," Harris admitted. "I've watched the Baylor game from last year a lot of times."
Harris and No. 14 Oklahoma (6-2, 4-1 Big 12) get their long-awaited rematch Saturday against the Bears (4-4, 1-4), who are leading the nation in offense even with Robert Griffin III no longer on the roster after winning the Heisman Trophy last season.
"They're a big play team and a home run waiting to happen," said Harris, who got benched during last year's 45-38 Baylor win, as Griffin's career day helped the Bears amass 616 total yards — the most ever allowed by Oklahoma.
"We're just going to continue to play our defense and do what we've been doing all year. We're looking forward to it, and I'm looking forward to another big game."
Griffin's replacement, Nick Florence, will face same secondary that was victimized in last year's game but with a different look. Harris has switched from free safety to strong safety, Tony Jefferson moved from nickel back to free safety and Aaron Colvin is now playing cornerback instead of safety.
All the changes under defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, who replaced Brent Venables, have led to the Sooners being ranked 12th in the nation in pass defense (170 yards per game).
"We've been complicated enough, but simple enough that we're not having breakdowns ourselves and giving up big plays because of our actions," head coach Bob Stoops said. "We've really reduced that."
The Bears, coming off their first Big 12 win against last-place Kansas, had lost all 20 meetings against Oklahoma before the breakthrough last November.
"We absolutely have confidence from last year," Florence said. "We beat them last year and it's a good deal and we will feed off of that, but at the same time it's a totally different year and we are a totally different team and they are a totally different team.
"So, yeah, we beat them last year. That's great, but it's a new year, it's a new time and let's write a new chapter this year."
For Oklahoma, this week marks a shift in the schedule to a stretch against three of the league's most potent offenses. Between the top-rated Bears and the Bedlam rivalry game against Oklahoma State's No. 2 offense, there's a road trip to face West Virginia and one-time Heisman contender Geno Smith.
"For defensive backs, now it's time for us to shine and go out here and do what we've been practicing all year for, really showing what we can do," Harris said.
Oklahoma's starters have allowed only one touchdown pass all season and haven't allowed any team to come within 200 yards of Griffin's 479-yard performance last season.
"You have your matchups and you still have to go do it and execute properly and be fundamentally sound in what you're doing. You have to go do it," Bob Stoops said. "We'll know what we're doing and so we'll see where it goes come Saturday."
On the flip side, Baylor's defense has given up the most yardage of any team in the Bowl Subdivision and will be trying to build on its best performance of the season. The Bears' 342 yards allowed to Kansas were a season low snapped a streak of five straight opponents who had gained at least 500 yards.
It also ended a four-game losing streak.
"It helps a bunch without question, because you have to feel right about what is going on in order to feel right as a team," coach Art Briles said. "It is definitely a boost to the morale and to the confidence, and it was much needed.
"Our initial goal every year is to get bowl eligible. If you can count to six, then you have a chance to do it. We are at four right now, so we need a couple of more wins."
-- Jeff Latzke
No. 19 Louisiana Tech takes explosive offense to Texas State
SAN MARCOS (AP) — Records have been falling all season for No. 19 Louisiana Tech, and more could fall this week.
The Bulldogs travel to San Marcos to face Western Athletic Conference newcomer Texas State on Saturday night. Already off to the best start in school history, Louisiana Tech (8-1, 3-0) will face a Bobcats team that has lost two straight since opening the WAC schedule with a victory over Idaho.
Picking up that second victory against the reigning conference champion will be difficult.
"We wanted FBS football and we got it," Texas State coach Dennis Franchione said. "Louisiana Tech comes to town and they are the real deal. (They are a) fantastic offensive team. They score a lot of points. I hope our fans turn out and want to see this kind of football. Hopefully we'll play as well as we can and make it into a good, festive evening in our own stadium."
Louisiana Tech is averaging 52.4 points and 570 yards per game. The Bulldogs' only loss was a 59-57 shootout against No. 15 Texas A&M on Oct. 13.
Freshman running back Kenneth Dixon is already the school's single-season leader in rushing touchdowns (20) and needs only one more to tie the NCAA freshman record set by Marshall Faulk (San Diego State) in 1991 and matched by Virginia Tech's Ryan Williams in 2009.
"It's been amazing," Louisiana Tech receiver Quinton Patton said. "The sky's the limit for him. When I first saw him out on the field when he came out for practice, he was always trying to shake and bake and everything, and I told him, 'You're too big to be doing that shaking stuff . just run through people, run over them.' And you've seen where it's gotten him."
Dixon is tied for first in the nation in scoring (13.33 points per game) with Oregon's Kenjon Barner. He is averaging 100.9 yards rushing per game.
Texas State's defense has allowed 32 touchdowns this season and opponents are averaging 202.8 yards rushing.
The Bobcats (3-5, 1-2) can't focus only on Dixon, however. Bulldogs quarterback Colby Cameron is averaging 327.3 yards per game and thrown 24 touchdown passes.
He passed for 348 yards and three touchdowns in a 51-27 win over UTSA last week — the seventh 300-yard game of his career, tying him with NFL Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw for fourth on the school's all-time list.
"I had no clue about records," Cameron said. "It's pretty unbelievable to be mentioned in the same category as Terry Bradshaw. It's pretty cool."
Cameron has not thrown an interception in 358 attempts, but Franchione predicts that streak will stop Saturday.
"I'll bet you we get one (an interception)," Franchione said. "Craig Mager or somebody (will get one). We seem to find a way to hang in there on those kinds of odds. We've made some interceptions that have been from some darn good football plays, especially by Craig and Darryl (Morris)."
-- Raul Dominguez
Mountaineers' Holgorsen faces former boss Gundy
STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) — Dana Holgorsen's stay at Oklahoma State was brief. His impact was immense.
Between his offense developing into one of the nation's best and his presence allowing Mike Gundy to get out of offensive meetings and focus on the big picture, Holgorsen helped the Cowboys take a big step toward their first Big 12 championship a year ago.
It also served him well, with his 10-month stint in Stillwater providing the platform that helped him get his first head-coaching job at West Virginia.
"I think it worked out good for everybody," Holgorsen said.
Holgorsen returns to Oklahoma State on Saturday as an opponent, his Mountaineers (5-3, 2-3 Big 12) trying to break a three-game losing streak against Gundy's Cowboys (5-3, 3-2).
This time, for a change, someone has to walk away a loser.
When Holgorsen arrived at Oklahoma State, the Cowboys were entering what was supposed to be a rebuilding year after starting quarterback Zac Robinson finished the most productive career in school history and Dez Bryant and Russell Okung were picked in the first round of the NFL draft.
Instead of a step back, Oklahoma State took a leap forward with Holgorsen installing the wide-open offense he'd learned from Mike Leach at Texas Tech and used to rack up big numbers at Houston. Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon went from unknowns to first-round picks, even though Holgorsen didn't stick around for their senior years to see it firsthand.
"When we hired Dana, that was a good move," Gundy said, stating the obvious at this point. "Not the most popular at that time but it was a very good move, in my opinion."
Gundy, who had been the offensive coordinator under Les Miles at OSU, had remained involved with the game-planning until he hired Holgorsen. It wore on him.
"I think Mike wanted to go to where he could be more of a CEO-type head coach as opposed to being in the offensive room for 18 hours a day, trying to get the offense better," Holgorsen said. "I think he's done a tremendous job of that if you just look back at since he made that switch, they've won an awful lot of ball games."
Indeed, the Cowboys are 28-6 since the switch, including the best season in the program's history last season as Todd Monken picked up where Holgorsen left off. One of Holgorsen's many quirks was that he never used an actual playbook, so Gundy and Monken had to do their best to duplicate it without anything on paper.
"We've just kind of taken it and we've changed some of the routes and some of the ways we do motions and some of the play-action stuff. You've got to make it your own, like he did. Now it's ours and it's Oklahoma State's offense," Monken said. "When I leave, they'll probably hate half the stuff I'm doing and change all of that, too."
For now, though, there's not much difference between what Geno Smith is running at West Virginia and what Oklahoma State has run with three different quarterbacks this season — with it still up in the air whether Wes Lunt will be able to start or third-stringer Clint Chelf will get the call on Saturday.
"I've watched a couple of their TV copies here, and I can call out about 90 percent of their plays, so I'd assume that's something that is on their mind as well as it is on our mind," Holgorsen said. "We have to be careful what we do from both an offensive standpoint and a defensive standpoint."
The connection goes beyond just Holgorsen and Gundy. Joe DeForest, who was Oklahoma State's special teams coordinator and a defensive assistant for the past 11 years, now runs the Mountaineers' defense. Holgorsen's running backs coach, Robert Gillespie, served the same role on the Cowboys' staff for two seasons. West Virginia quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital and graduate assistant Andrew McGee also came from OSU.
"They would be much more familiar with us, obviously, than we are with them. They've been here. We only know them. We don't know their players," Gundy said. "But once the game gets going, in most cases you actually forget who's on the other side."
That might be a bit of an overstatement. No one at Oklahoma State has forgotten the Red Bull-drinking night owl whose fingerprints are all over the program to this date.
"He had his own way he liked to do things, and so what I tried to do was just stay out of his way and let him do his job because what I needed him to do was be productive for us," Gundy said. "There's traditional coach thoughts that we all have. ... Some people do things a certain way because that's the way they've always done it. Well, he goes against a lot of things, and that's OK."
After all, the Cowboys now have Big 12 championship rings and a Fiesta Bowl trophy they might not have had if not for Holgorsen.
All that matters Saturday is who wins a single game with a bearing on the conference standings and bowl scenarios.
"I think there's always a competitive nature. I think anybody that says that there's not a competitive nature, they're crazy," Gundy said. "But you end up coaching against guys you know all the time. ... Now, Dana's a little different because he was here. But once the game gets going on, you forget who's over there and you certainly can't do anything any more or any less."
-- Jeff Latzke
No. 5 Georgia guns for SEC East title at Auburn
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Auburn remembers being where No. 5 Georgia stands: a win away from the SEC championship game with a national title still within grasp.
It was only two years ago, after all. Before the Bulldogs' impressive rise and the Tigers' dramatic fall.
Georgia (8-1, 6-1 Southeastern Conference) can clinch its second straight trip to the league championship game with a victory over Auburn (2-7, 0-6) on Saturday night.
The Tigers snapped a five-game losing streak last weekend against New Mexico State but are still a longshot to win an SEC game since that requires a win over the Bulldogs or No. 1 Alabama.
"Us playing big in a game like this is huge," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. "Our guys catching a little bit of momentum from last week. This is just a huge rivalry game.
"We've been on the flip side of this where we've got to win to win our side of the league. As a matter of fact, it was against Georgia when we were in the exact same position here at home. Hey, we're excited about the challenge."
The stakes are pretty clear for the Bulldogs. Win, they're in the SEC title game. Lose, and Florida goes to Atlanta instead.
Georgia comes into this game a 15-1/2-point favorite in what's billed as the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry. The border battle has been traditionally competitive with Auburn holding a slender 54-53-8 edge.
But the gap has widened in Georgia's favor since Cam Newton rallied Auburn to a 49-31 win two years ago to clinch the SEC Western Division crown against a Georgia team on its way to a 6-7 season. The Bulldogs produced the biggest margin in the rivalry dating back to 1892 last season with a 45-7 win.
Now, the Tigers are in a tailspin and Chizik's job might be in serious jeopardy.
Richt blames the ultra-competitive SEC, even if that's not how frustrated Auburn fans view it.
"I think the big thing is just our league itself," Richt said. "There is truly a very, very fine line between winning and losing. There are a lot of good teams in our league in my opinion that still might have a losing record in league play. You lose some close games and sometimes you win the close games.
"Sometimes you get a break here or there and you grab momentum, and it serves you well for the rest of the year, and sometimes you don't ever find it."
Time's running out on Auburn's search.
Quarterback Aaron Murray and the Georgia offense face a defense that surrended 63 points to No. 15 Texas A&M two weeks ago but also a team with nothing to lose.
"That makes them extremely dangerous," Bulldogs wide receiver Tavarres King said. "We know they want to ruin our season. What more could they possibly want than to ruin our dreams for the SEC or the national title? You know that's what they want to do. I told the guys you don't want that to happen. You don't want to feel like you did after South Carolina. That's all the motivation you need right there."
Georgia has rebounded from a 35-7 loss at No. 12 South Carolina to win three straight, including a victory over No. 7 Florida. Now, the Bulldogs are moving on without receiver Marlon Brown, who's out with a torn ACL.
The defense has allowed just 19 points total in those games and now faces the league's 13th-rated offense and freshman quarterback Jonathan Wallace. Wallace will make his second straight start and first in an SEC game.
Chizik said this defense is "night and day" from the one the freshman faced against New Mexico State, when the Tigers scored 35 second-half points. Wallace acknowledges that, and the challenge of facing a defense led by All-America linebacker Jarvis Jones, who has 8.5 sacks and five forced fumbles in seven games.
Wallace also has no doubt Georgia will try to rattle him early with pressure.
"Of course. Why not?" he said. "From what I think about Georgia they are going to come for me and I'm going to have to make some plays Saturday. That's just what it's going to come down to. Of course we're going to be able to run the ball some, but it's really going to come down to whether or not I can make the plays that need to be made.
"I'm going to step up to the plate. That's what this game is about, is competing. It's just one of those things where I have to grow up quick. I'm ready for the challenge. It's going to be a lot of fun Saturday."
-- John Zenor
No. 7 Florida plays ULL, then pulls for Auburn
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — No. 7 Florida has one final shot to get to Atlanta. And the Gators have no control over the scenario.
Coach Will Muschamp's team, which hosts Louisiana-Lafayette for homecoming Saturday, needs Auburn to upset Georgia later in the day to win the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division and clinch a spot in next month's league title game.
So Florida (8-1) plays, then watches. That could be a recipe for trouble against the Ragin' Cajuns (5-3). But the Gators insist that won't be the case, especially when they recall what happened last year against lower-division Furman.
Florida came out flat last November and fell behind 22-7 at home before rallying. The scare still resonates with players.
"We definitely can't overlook them," Gators linebacker Jelani Jenkins said. "Looking at the Furman game last year, it kind of reminds me a little bit of them. But I don't think we're looking past them."
The Gators have won 49 consecutive games against teams outside the six Bowl Championship Series conferences. The streak started after a 17-11 loss to Memphis State in 1988 and includes two wins against Louisiana-Lafayette.
The Rajin' Cajuns are 27-point underdogs in this one.
In the program's first "paycheck game," Louisiana-Lafayette lost 65-24 at Oklahoma State in September.
"We'll need to play much better against the Florida Gators, I can promise you that," ULL coach Mark Hudspeth said. "They're a much better football team, obviously, than Oklahoma State. It'll take a great effort by a team, great preparation. We'll need to take care of the ball.
"We didn't take care of the ball at Oklahoma State. You can't go down to Florida and turn the ball over and not play sound and hope to have a chance. They'll smother you."
Maybe, just maybe, ULL can surprise the Gators. After all, their players are coming off a grueling, eight-game stretch against SEC opponents, have rival Florida State in two weeks and certainly know they need help from Auburn against Georgia.
"We're definitely going to watch the game when we get done, just like we did last week," Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel said. "But you've got to worry about what you can do and kind of stay focused on what we can control.
"It is tough, but at the end of the day, you've got to put what's in the past in the past and worry about what you can do. And what we can do is play well this week."
The Gators have played well most of the season. It hasn't always been pretty because of offensive struggles — Florida ranks 102nd in the nation in total yards — but defense and special teams have bailed the team out in several close games.
Florida lone loss was a costly one. Had the Gators beaten rival Georgia two weeks ago, they already would be making travel plans for Atlanta. But they turned the ball over six times and lost 17-9.
Now, the Bulldogs just to beat the Tigers to win the East.
Muschamp is trying to turn his team's attention elsewhere, reminding players that the new goal is to remain unbeaten in The Swamp. The Gators lost two games at Florida Field last year and have a shot at running the home slate for just the fourth time since 2000.
It essentially would be a consolation prize if Florida fails to get to Atlanta.
"I think we have one of the great arenas in all of sports," Muschamp said. "We've got a great following. It's very important. We talk about you want to have a special season, it starts at home. It starts with winning at home.
"Having been a visitor here before, I understand how difficult it is to come in here and play well and win a game. So, I've tried to stress it since Day 1 with our players the importance of playing well at home and defending The Swamp."
-- Mark Long
Tigers, Bulldogs still seek major bowl credibility
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — No. 9 LSU and No. 23 Mississippi State meet at a time when both are trying to get over losses that have essentially dropped them out of the race for a Southeastern Conference championship and squashed any national title aspirations.
Still, plenty is at stake when they meet Saturday night in Tiger Stadium. A victory could set either team back on the path to a major bowl invitation.
"We have to realize the season is not over," LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger said this week. "A 10-2 season would be a pretty dang good season; 10 wins are hard to come by in this league.
"To get 10 wins and play in a good bowl game would be a pretty good season. There will be no BCS championship game for us, but we still have a lot to play for."
Both teams can reach the 10-victory plateau in the regular season only by winning their final three games.
After this weekend, LSU (7-2, 3-2 SEC) finishes with a home game against Mississippi and its traditional Thanksgiving weekend season finale with Arkansas, which this year will be played at Fayetteville. The Bulldogs (7-2, 3-2) will close their schedule with Arkansas at home and then at Ole Miss for the annual Egg Bowl.
While both teams are coming off a loss, their performances last weekend were vastly different.
LSU came within a minute of upsetting No. 1 Alabama, with Mettenberger putting together his best performance as an LSU starter, throwing for nearly 300 yards and a score with no interceptions.
Mississippi State was crushed on its own field, 38-13, by Texas A&M — a team LSU beat on the road. Two weeks earlier, the Bulldogs were run out of Alabama's Bryant-Denny Stadium, 38-7. Those two losses caused Mississippi State to plummet out of the Top 10. Odds makers this week are listing the Bulldogs as two-touchdown underdogs in Death Valley, where LSU will look to win its 13th straight in the series.
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen spoke with no illusions about the challenges LSU would present.
"One of the top defenses in the country. And one of the top teams, that was obvious watching the game last week that they just played," Mullen said of LSU's close loss to the Crimson Tide. "We'll have our hands full offensively. Everybody knows they've got just a stable of running backs and a big, giant offensive line that pounds you and continues to pound you play after play after play after play.
"And last week they did a great job throwing the ball on top of that and balancing their offense out a little bit more, which makes them even more dangerous on that side of the ball."
Mullen's players have been analyzing why after a 7-0 start there are problems now. Recently, they've played two of the toughest teams in the SEC. For all their enthusiasm for those big games, some players think they've lost sight of the details.
"It's just stuff like false starts, not converting on third downs," Bulldogs quarterback Tyler Russell said. "Staying on the field — we haven't done a very good job of that the last two games. You stay on the field, you keep the defense off the field, you keep their offense off the field. It's about converting, taking what they give you and moving the chains."
Russell got off to a remarkable start and remains on pace to break several school passing records. He has passed for 1,954 yards and 16 TDs against only three interceptions. During the first seven games, Russell got plenty of help in the running game from LaDarius Perkins, who has 804 yards and eight TDs on the ground. But Perkins has been shut down the past two weeks, gaining only 38 yards against Alabama and 42 against A&M.
Meanwhile, LSU can hurt teams with any of four running backs: Spencer Ware, Michael Ford, Kenny Hilliard and Jeremy Hill. Lately, freshman Hill has stood out, and he'll seek a fourth-straight SEC game with 100 yards on the ground.
Defensively, the Tigers have the ability to frustrate quarterbacks with a talented secondary and pressuring front four that has combined to make LSU No. 1 in the SEC against the pass.
The only question is whether they're mentally focused enough this weekend after wilting during Alabama's game-winning drive.
"Everybody is obviously down," LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo said. "You hate not wining every game, but especially the ones that are so important that a loss can ruin your postseason. Our goal is to finish the season with W's and not let anything step up in our way."
-- Brett Martel
RB Miles starting again for No. 12 South Carolina
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Kenny Miles wasn't sure he wanted to spend another season just getting spot duty when South Carolina star Marcus Lattimore needed a breather. Now, all the eyes are again on Miles when the 12th-ranked Gamecocks face Arkansas.
Miles was South Carolina's leading rusher in 2009, but that was the year before Lattimore came to campus and became one of the Southeastern Conference's top rushers.
Miles went through Senior Day festivities last fall as he considered leaving the program after four seasons. Miles stayed, though, and will start Saturday against the Razorbacks (4-5, 2-3 SEC).
"I'm prepared and ready to go," said Miles, a fifth-year senior.
It's the first game for South Carolina (7-2, 5-2) since the gruesome knee injury to Lattimore two weeks ago against Tennessee. Lattimore has had surgery and could need more than a year of recovery. He was supposed to be at Williams-Brice Stadium this weekend as the school unveils his name in the building as the team's all-time leader in rushing touchdowns (38).
But on Thursday, the school said team physician Dr. Jeffrey Guy, trainer Clint Haggard and Lattimore decided the junior shouldn't attend.
While the fans won't get to cheer for Lattimore, there could be plenty of praise for Miles, who stuck it out after Lattimore surpassed him.
Miles started seven games and rushed for 626 yards as a freshman three years ago. But he'd gained only 356 yards the next two seasons as Lattimore ate up yardage and helped South Carolina to a 20-7 record — the school's best ever two-year mark.
It wasn't easy for Miles to watch, but he liked Lattimore and loved the team's success.
"Of course, you want to be the starting back, but you've got to think what's best for the team at the time that was what was best for the team," he said. "I was happy we were winning and I wasn't really worried about me personally."
But with his pending graduation last December, Miles thought hard about what was next. He was not the team's first choice when Lattimore injured his left knee last October, freshman Brandon Wilds starting.
Miles ran out onto the field for senior ceremonies against Clemson, not really expecting he'd play a key role with 71 yards rushing in South Carolina's 34-13 victory later that night.
Miles got the start in the Capital One Bowl and had 67 yards in the 30-13 win, then started wondering if he wanted to play one last year — even as Lattimore's backup.
Spurrier remembered Miles asking if he could come back. "And I said, 'Sure, you can come back if you want to,'" he said.
Miles will have to pick his way through an Arkansas defense that's allowed just 125 yards rushing a game, fifth in the SEC. Although the team will be without suspended linebacker Terrell Williams, arrested last weekend for driving while intoxicated.
Arkansas struggled at the start of the season after an offseason of upheaval centered on disgraced ex-coach, Bobby Petrino. The Razorbacks have improved the past month, winning three of four. They've won five of the past six games against South Carolina, including the last three.
"We went to South Carolina last time and got a big win. We were here last year and got a big win. So, they know that we're going to come in and battle," Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson said. "We're not laying down against these guys."
Wilson leads the SEC in passing yards, something the Gamecocks looked particularly vulnerable to in their last outing when Tennessee's Tyler Brad threw for 388 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-35 win.
It took defensive end Jadeveon Clowney's strip sack of Bray to stop the driving Vols from moving in front with less than two minutes left.
The Gamecocks, coming off a bye, have had more than a week to fix what went wrong against Tennessee. Clowney chalked up the poor showing to the loss of Lattimore, a stunningly gruesome injury to a team captain.
"I think a lot of people were down, not even thinking about the game" after Lattimore's injury, Clowney said. "I think we're going to be more focused this game."
Miles plans to take the same approach he always has. Spurrier says Miles' maturity has helped the younger players. Miles stays inside watching horror films and comedies instead of attending parties. He prefers jazz and R&B to rap and he'll often go for a five-mile run after games to clear his head.
"He's a super Gamecock," Spurrier said. "I think our fans and all the Gamecocks appreciate that he decided to stay for five years."
-- Pete Iacobelli
Vanderbilt, Mississippi fight for bowl eligibility
OXFORD, Miss. (AP) — Many football programs in the Southeastern Conference win so often it's easy to take bowl eligibility for granted.
Vanderbilt and Mississippi are not among them.
The Commodores (5-4, 2-3 SEC) travel to face the Rebels (5-4, 2-3) on Saturday night at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. One team will leave bowl eligible and know the postseason is almost certainly in its future.
Vanderbilt is trying to become bowl eligible in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history. Ole Miss hasn't been to the postseason since 2009.
The road gets even tougher for Ole Miss after Saturday's game.
If the Rebels don't beat Vanderbilt, they'll have to try to become bowl eligible against either No. 9 LSU or 23rd-ranked Mississippi State.
"I really would like to get that sixth win," Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze said. "Number one, because it is six — four more than last year — and it helps us build. Number two, to be playing in a 13th game somewhere to send these seniors out would be nice."
Vanderbilt has a slightly easier schedule after the Ole Miss game with a home matchup against Tennessee before a road trip to Wake Forest that ends the regular season.
Still, there's no doubt the Commodores would like to get their sixth win sooner than later.
The matchup will feature Ole Miss' productive spread offense against Vanderbilt's stingy defense.
The Rebels use a quick tempo that has sometimes produced big results. They're averaging nearly 30 points per game, which ranks 7th in the 14-team conference.
Vanderbilt's second-year coach James Franklin said the Rebels' pace means there is less time for play-to-play adjustments.
"It's a challenge," Franklin said. "You're not going to be able to make the perfect call on defense, so it's about executing better than them. I think some defensive coordinators feel that they have to call the perfect play to stop the offense based on personnel groups, and this eliminates a little of that. We'll be in shape and ready for this."
Vanderbilt's defense gives up just 17.1 points per game, which ranks fourth in the SEC. The Commodores are especially good against the pass, giving up just 151 yards through the air per game.
"I think it's just a mentality of 11 players functioning as one," Vanderbilt defensive tackle Rob Lohr said. "That's how we look at it. We don't always have people that jump out at you on the stat sheet, but we work together well and I think we complement each other. We execute the defense and make plays. We don't really care who makes the play, as long as they're made."
The Commodores enter Saturday's game with three straight victories over Auburn, Massachusetts and Kentucky. Freeze said Vanderbilt's defense is impressive on tape.
"They totally understand what they are and what they need to do," Freeze said. "They don't make many mistakes ... Their kids play every play extremely hard and effort's a big deal with them. They're getting a lot out of their kids and that carries you a long way on defense."
Freeze and Franklin — two of the younger coaches in the ultra-competitive SEC — have forged a good relationship over the past several months. Freeze even called Franklin earlier in the week to congratulate him on a good season so far and welcome him to Oxford.
The respect is mutual. But only one program can get that crucial sixth win on Saturday.
Ole Miss is "going to come with a fight," Lohr said. "I believe they are a lot better this year. Their offense is up-tempo and they have a lot of really good skill players. Their offensive line is solid and they pack a punch. Their fast tempo is tough to adjust to, so it's a matter of us lining up and executing. It will be a challenge, but we'll be ready for the challenge."
-- David Brandt
Vols remind Missouri of former Big 12 rivals
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Missouri may feel as if it's back in the Big 12 this week.
Watching highlights of Tennessee certainly reminds Missouri of the high-scoring Big 12 games it played just about every week before moving to the Southeastern Conference this year.
Tennessee has averaged 36.8 points per game and has allowed 35.4 points per game while utilizing the same type of uptempo offense favored by many Big 12 programs.
The Volunteers will be seeking their first SEC victory of the season Saturday when the Tigers come to Neyland Stadium.
"It kind of takes me back to the Big 12 a little bit, as far as them passing the ball," Missouri cornerback E.J. Gaines said. "We haven't really gotten that so far, being in the SEC. it just kind of takes us back to the Oklahoma, Oklahoma State days and stuff like that, so it's going to be fun."
The unusual aspect of this matchup is that longtime SEC member Tennessee (4-5, 0-5 SEC) has a Big 12-style approach while Missouri (4-5, 1-5) is the league newcomer playing the brand of football more typically associated with the SEC.
Like most of the top SEC programs, Missouri relies on a powerful defensive line. Led by standout defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, the Tigers have allowed a total of 24 points in their last two games and gave Florida all it could handle in Gainesville last week before falling 14-7.
"They are playing great defense," Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said. "They really are. Big-time defense. Look at them rankings-wise. Look at what they did to Florida."
Missouri's problem is that it isn't moving the ball nearly as well as usual.
The Tigers have scored at least 29 points per game each of the last seven seasons, but that streak likely will end this year. Missouri has tallied just 22.4 points per game so far this season. The Tigers rank 12th out of 14 SEC teams in points per game and yards per game (319.3).
Missouri quarterback James Franklin has dealt with a knee injury this year and is coming off a four-interception performance against Florida. T.J. Moe, who compiled a combined 1,694 receiving yards in 2010 and 2011, has 30 catches for only 270 yards and one touchdown so far this season.
"Our football team, if we prepare and we do the right things, I think we can compete with anybody," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "And certainly we're as physical as anybody. But we've got to finish."
Tennessee's defense may offer just the prescription to cure Missouri's slumping offense.
The Vols have allowed at least 37 points in each of their five conference games this season. Tennessee beat Troy 55-48 last week in a game that featured the most combined yards and the second-highest point total in school history. Dooley, whose primary background as an assistant was on offense, vowed to take a more active role in the defense this week.
"They've had a few struggles on defense," Pinkel said, "but we've had a few struggles on offense."
Tennessee's offense isn't struggling at all.
Tyler Bray threw for a school-record 530 yards against Troy and has nine touchdown passes with only one interception over his last two games. Justin Hunter caught nine passes for 181 yards and three touchdowns in the Troy game, while Zach Rogers had three touchdown catches a week earlier in a 38-35 loss to South Carolina. Cordarrelle Patterson leads the SEC with 1,292 all-purpose yards.
That offense should have plenty of confidence after gaining a school-record 718 yards against Troy and scoring two touchdowns in the final three minutes to rally from a seven-point deficit.
"It finally showed that our offense can finish the game, that we are not going to go down to the wire and lose like we have in the past," Bray said. "We can go through and actually finish the game."
Missouri and Tennessee aren't similar teams, but they do have one thing in common. Neither has met preseason expectations. Both teams still have a shot at a bowl bid and are eager for the opportunity to get back to .500.
"They're a quality SEC team," Tennessee tight end Mychal Rivera said. "Their record, I don't really think it speaks for the kind of (team) they are, kind of like us."
-- Steve Megargee