Our Five Burning Questions about the SEC as November draws to a close:
1) Georgia learned Friday that it is not going to the SEC championship game. Will there be a letdown or a lack of focus against Georgia Tech? Let’s put it this way: If Georgia (9-2) lacks focus against Georgia Tech (9-2) the Bulldogs are going to get beat. Remember that the Georgia defense that played so well against Auburn gave up 418 yards rushing against Florida just 28 days ago. The 27 players who are going to be honored on Georgia’s senior day have never lost to Georgia Tech. And then there is this: Georgia Tech is pretty good.
2) Can Auburn’s Gus Malzahn go to where only two men have gone before? As is usually the case, there is a lot riding on the Iron Bowl. Alabama (10-1, 6-1 SEC) is again No. 1 and a win puts the Crimson Tide in the SEC championship game with a shot at the first College Football Playoffs as the No. 1 seed. Auburn (8-3, 4-3) has had a disappointing season by its standards but for the second straight year can crush Alabama’s dreams. But consider this little nugget: After the now-legendary “Kick Six” that gave Auburn the win last season, this is definitely a “revenge game” for Alabama coach Nick Saban. Only twice at Alabama has an opposing coach beaten Saban in consecutive years (Steve Spurrier in 2000-01, Les Miles 2010-11). Gus could be the third.
3) Does Mississippi State need to win with “style points” at Ole Miss? Under normal circumstances, just winning the Egg Bowl (for the fifth time in six years) would be enough for the No. 4 Bulldogs (10-1, 6-1). But these are far from normal circumstances. Mississippi State first needs to win, which won’t be easy in Oxford, but there are three one-loss teams (TCU, Baylor, Ohio State) bearing down on them for the last spot in the playoffs. Mississippi State could still get to the SEC championship game if it wins and Alabama loses but that game is later on Saturday. The short answer to this question is a most emphatic “yes.”
4) Can Florida send Will Muschamp out with a win at Florida State? Muschamp will coach his last game for the Gators against the No. 3 Seminoles in Tallahassee. The way that Florida State has been living on the edge (they needed a field goal with three seconds left to beat Boston College), you have to say that anything is possible. But I just don’t think the struggling Florida offense can manufacture enough points in a game like this. But here is the X-factor: For all of his late-game heroics, FSU’s Jameis Winston has been sloppy with the football throwing 13 interceptions this season.
5) Will this be Steve Spurrier’s last regular-season game as the head coach at South Carolina? Spurrier, in his 10th season at South Carolina (6-5, 2-5), will be going for his sixth straight win over Clemson (8-3) on Saturday at Death Valley. It has been an incredibly frustrating season for Spurrier, whose team was in just about everybody’s preseason Top 10. The offense has been good but the defense has given up an average of 34.6 points in its last five SEC games. So the question becomes: Is Spurrier, who turns 70 next year, frustrated enough to walk away? I don’t think so. He does not want to go out like this.