- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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Nothing was hotter this past weekend than the dramatic ending of that Auburn-Georgia game. Elsewhere in the SEC, though, it wasn’t quite as toasty.
Here’s a look at our Week 12 version of Hot and Not in the SEC:
Auburn’s magical ride: Sometimes, it’s just meant to be. Call it miraculous. Call it lucky. Call it whatever you want. But Nick Marshall’s batted 73-yard touchdown pass to Ricardo Louis in the final seconds Saturday, lifting Auburn to an improbable 43-38 win over Georgia, kept this magical ride going for the Tigers. They’ve now won seven straight games and will take on No. 1 Alabama in two weeks in the Iron Bowl with the SEC's Western Division championship on the line. Is this really the same team that didn’t win an SEC game a year ago and was outscored 150-21 in its last three SEC contests? That’s an easy answer … no. Gus Malzahn and his veteran staff have come in and restored everything that had seemingly vanished from a program that won a national championship only three years ago. There was certainly more talent on this team than last season’s 3-9 record would suggest, but the difficult part for Malzahn was restoring the Tigers' edge after they went belly-up last season. It's safe to say he has done that. And before anybody says Auburn has been more lucky than good, show me just about any championship team and I’ll show you a team that has had some luck along the way. This team believes right now, and we’re in store for one epic Iron Bowl on the Plains in two weeks.
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray: He has been around for so long that we’ve probably all taken him for granted, but Murray is one class act and one terrific football player. He did everything he could to bring Georgia back from the dead in the fourth quarter against Auburn. The fifth-year senior has been a rock all season for the Bulldogs despite crippling injuries around him and has exuded class every step of the way.
Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell: The Bulldogs’ senior quarterback hasn’t been able to catch much of a break this season. He suffered a concussion in the opener and had to miss several games, eventually losing the starting job to Dak Prescott. This past weekend, Russell got another shot against Alabama after Prescott was unable to play because of a shoulder injury, but Russell wasn’t able to finish the game after hurting his shoulder while trying to make a tackle following his fourth-quarter interception.
Florida’s grit: Nobody is happy in Gator Nation right now, and that starts with coach Will Muschamp. But there’s something to be said for the way Florida fought its guts out Saturday in a tough 19-14 loss to South Carolina. The Gators were down to their third-string quarterback and had an excellent chance to win the game on the road against a top-15 team.
Preseason rankings: Florida, Georgia and LSU all started the season ranked in the top 12 of the Associated Press poll. As we head into Week 13, those three teams have a combined 13 losses, and LSU still has to face Texas A&M at home this weekend.
Vanderbilt: We all know Vanderbilt coach James Franklin doesn’t like to talk about bowl games, but we will. Thanks to the Commodores’ 22-6 victory over Kentucky last weekend, fueled by 12 catches for 141 yards from senior receiver Jordan Matthews, they’re now headed to a bowl game for the third straight season. For perspective, Vanderbilt had been to only four bowl games in its history before Franklin arrived. The Commodores also have a chance to get to nine wins for the second straight season if they can win out over Tennessee, Wake Forest and their bowl opponent.
Alabama’s focus: Good thing the Crimson Tide’s defense came to play Saturday in Starkville. And good thing the Tide were playing Mississippi State. Against a more talented team, Alabama would have been toast. Four turnovers going forward will mean an end to their national championship run. OK, maybe not this weekend against Chattanooga, but certainly against Auburn in two weeks and any other games after that. Something says this week in practice won’t be a lot of fun for the Tide.
Fans’ patience: It's that time of year again when they’re lining up at the town square. That's a reference to Bobby Bowden’s classic line regarding fans' impatience when a football team or a unit on a football team starts to struggle. Bowden would always say, "They want a hanging at the town square." With only two weeks remaining in the regular season, it's safe to say there are more than a few restless fan bases around the SEC. It remains to be seen who's really in trouble. Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley insists that Muschamp will be back for a fourth season, but it's difficult to see Muschamp's offensive staff returning intact. Mississippi State fans aren't thrilled with Dan Mullen right now, and that's despite the Bulldogs still having a chance to go to a fourth straight bowl. The Georgia fans are furious over the way the defense has played this season, although given the Bulldogs' youth, it was obvious they were going to struggle on that side of the ball. If LSU loses to Texas A&M this weekend there could be grumbling on the Bayou about Les Miles. Even first-year coaches aren’t spared. Arkansas has lost seven straight under Bret Bielema, and the fans in the Ozarks are wondering how they could go from 21 wins in 2010 and 2011 to 15 losses in the past two seasons. In this league, there is no equity and even less patience.