- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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There are a lot of interesting matchups and storylines in the SEC this weekend, so let's take a look at what to watch on Saturday:
1. SEC championship matchup: By late Saturday night, we could know exactly who will be playing for the SEC title in Atlanta. Alabama kicks things off with its game against red-hot Texas A&M in Tuscaloosa, while Georgia heads to the Plains on Saturday night to take on struggling Auburn. Neither of these games are gimmies, but Alabama and Georgia are favored and have the more complete teams. If the Bulldogs win, it'll be their second straight SEC East title, while Alabama would be winning the West for the first time since 2009. A loss by Georgia and Florida takes the East. A loss for Alabama, and it could come down to next week's game with Auburn to see who takes the West.
2. Tennessee's defensive changes: After so many bad defensive performances by the Vols, Derek Dooley said this week that he'll be much more involved with the defense going forward. That starts this weekend against a very banged-up Missouri team that has literally limped along on offense all season. But will Dooley's extra help make this defense that much better? He promised "major changes" but understands that he can't have a complete overhaul of things in just one week, and this unit might need exactly that. Still, taking on a struggling offense such as Missouri's could give this unit the confidence it needs to make some real positive strides this weekend.
3. Florida's wide receiver struggles: The SEC season is over for the Gators, and with two cupcakes in a row, it's time for this offense to find more playmakers. Florida got by with only its running game for so long, but a complete implosion on offense against Georgia cost the Gators a shot at clinching the SEC East last week. So Saturday's matchup with Louisiana-Lafayette gives the Gators the chance to find someone who can consistently catch the football other than tight end Jordan Reed. Jeff Driskel needs a lot more help in the passing game if this offense is going to make any sort of progress before the regular-season finale against Florida State. The good news for Florida is that the Ragin' Cajuns are 118th nationally in pass defense.
4. Alabama's D vs. Johnny Football: We saw some holes open up in Alabama's defense last week against LSU. The players insist that things will get cleaned up this week, but the Aggies have an high-octane offense that could exploit Alabama's weaknesses, especially with a quarterback like Johnny Manziel. He has been the SEC's most exciting player and could pose quite a problem for this defense with his ability to run and throw. He's second in the SEC in passing and first in rushing. It comes down to being very sound and balanced on defense to contain him. Alabama's secondary gave up some big plays last week, and Texas A&M has a better passer and receivers for the Tide to handle.
5. Tide and Tigers fatigue: Last week's epic showdown between Alabama and LSU was great for TV, but it had to be very hard on all those bodies on the field. Both teams are a little nicked up this week, but expect to be relatively healthy for the weekend. Still, you have to think that these squads won't have the same amount of energy they had last week -- mentally or physically. That's a lot to ask after such a physical game. The Tide will need a lot of stamina to contain the Aggies, and LSU is dealing with a Mississippi State team that is looking to find its dignity after back-to-back blowouts. We'll find out a lot more about the character of both of these teams Saturday.
6. Bowl hopes: A handful of SEC teams are still looking to get to six wins, and could take crucial steps forward this weekend. Ole Miss and Vanderbilt are both a win away, and the Rebels are essentially in must-win mode with LSU and Mississippi State looming. Vandy has had the Rebels' number recently and has all the momentum going into Saturday's game. Missouri and Tennessee are both sitting at four wins and the Tigers really can't afford to lose, because they end the season at Texas A&M. The Vols still have Vandy and Kentucky on the schedule. Arkansas is also fighting for its bowl life, but has to take on South Carolina in Columbia. However, the Razorbacks have had a lot of success against the Gamecocks recently.
7. Playing without Lattimore: It's life after Marcus Lattimore at South Carolina. The true heart of the Gamecocks' team was lost for the season two weeks ago after suffering a devastating knee injury. Now, it's time for this team to proceed with the rest of its schedule without him. While he won't be on the field for the Gamecocks, he'll certainly be a part of this team and he'll provide major motivation. But how this team responds without Lattimore against Arkansas will say a lot about where it is mentally. South Carolina has running back options in Kenny Miles and Mike Davis, so the Gamecocks should still be able to run the ball. But can they stay focused?
8. Someone is going bowling in Oxford: Regardless of the outcome between Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, someone will leave Vaught-Hemingway Stadium with a postseason berth. If the Rebels win, they will be bowl-eligible for the first time since 2009, after combining to win only six games in the prior two seasons. A Vanderbilt win, and the Commodores will be bowl-eligible for the second straight season, and will have a chance to play in a bowl in consecutive years for the first time in school history. Talk about major turnarounds for both programs. Ole Miss has lost three of its past four to Vandy, including two at home, so it's not as though the Commodores will be intimidated by entering the Rebels' home.
9. Rediscovering that swag: After back-to-back blowout losses to Alabama and Texas A&M, the Bulldogs have lost all of the swagger they had for the first seven weeks. You can point to that soft early schedule and say that it masked a lot of the issues this team has on both sides of the ball. But Saturday is a chance for some redemption for the Bulldogs. They'll take on a tired LSU team that just missed out on taking the SEC West. Their spirits could be low, and if the Bulldogs are going to pounce and generate some momentum for the rest of November, Saturday is the time to do it. It has the secondary to really frustrate quarterback Zach Mettenberger, but does it have the offense to put up points?
10. James Franklin's confidence: Missouri's quarterback has been beaten up all season. Two shoulder injuries and a sprained knee have made him a shell of his former Big 12 self. Franklin has shown his toughness all season, but he was visibly shaken after throwing four interceptions in an ugly 14-7 loss to Florida last weekend. You can tell some of his confidence is gone, and if the Tigers are going to have a chance at making a bowl in their first season in the SEC, they need Franklin to rediscover his confidence. He's hurting, but he still has the ability to make plays, and Tennessee's defense gives him the opportunity to find some of those big plays he's used to making.