All bets are off when the family gets together for the Cocktail Party. Florida and Georgia face off in their annual Jacksonville contest, and it’s the story of two programs in desperate need of wins.
Florida must stay undefeated for the rest of the way to earn a spot in the SEC championship game. All of a sudden, Georgia needs every win it can get just to scrap out bowl eligibility.
A pair of other SEC West foes face off with bowl positioning on the line, and an SEC East team wants to make a statement against one of the conference’s best.
Here are the top five SEC games you should be watching this weekend:
No. 14 Florida vs. Georgia
3:30 p.m. Saturday in Jacksonville, Fla. (CBS)
Even though Georgia has drastically fallen off this season, the “Cocktail Party” is always an exciting weekend. These two teams have contentious fan bases and the result of this game just means a little more. Mark Richt’s 27-3 loss to Florida last year was a big part of the administration turning against him and hiring Kirby Smart.
If one thing is certain, this will be a defensive struggle. Short of Alabama, Florida might have the best defense in the conference, and one of the best in the nation. Defensive backs Quincy Wilson, Teez Tabor and Marcus Maye are all contenders for All-SEC, if not All-America. Both Tabor and Wilson have returned interceptions for touchdowns.
Georgia will need to find a way to get running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel going against a devastating Florida front seven led by Jarrad Davis. Of course, Florida QB Luke Del Rio also has to prove he can produce against a quality opponent – his best win is over Missouri, and he threw three interceptions.
Ole Miss vs. No. 15 Auburn
7:15 p.m. Saturday in Oxford, Miss. (SEC Network)
It wasn’t long ago that these two teams’ rankings were switched. Ole Miss came into the year ranked No. 11 nationally, while Auburn was picked to finish sixth in the SEC West. Just halfway through the season, the tables have turned.
Auburn proved Saturday that it can still score with any team on a good day. The Tigers rushed for 543 yards, the most ever by an SEC team in conference play, and seven touchdowns. QB Sean White had to throw the ball only 11 times in the 56-3 win over No. 17 Arkansas.
Ole Miss is still looking for a signature victory after tight losses to Florida State, Alabama, and Arkansas to open the season. However, the Rebels seem to be trending downward after losing by 17 points to LSU, a team Auburn beat earlier in the year. Chad Kelly will have to produce at the highest level for Ole Miss to beat Auburn.
South Carolina vs. No. 18 Tennessee
7:15 p.m. Saturday in Columbia, S.C. (ESPN2)
Obviously, Tennessee should win this game without many issues. However, South Carolina has an opportunity to make a statement by just staying competitive in Will Muschamp’s first year with the program.
It might have been against Massachusetts, but true freshman QB Jake Bentley played a nearly perfect game in his debut. Muschamp chose to pull his redshirt, and Bentley responded with 201 yards and the first two home passing touchdowns of the season for the Gamecocks.
However, Tennessee has to reassert its dominance on Saturday after consecutive losses to Texas A&M and Alabama. The Vols are broken defensively, but still have perhaps the best defensive lineman in the conference, Derek Barnett. It will be fascinating to watch whether Tennessee will coast to the finish line or try and prove it still deserves consideration for the College Football Playoff.
Missouri vs. Kentucky
Noon Saturday in Columbia, Mo. (SEC Network)
After looking like one of the worst teams in football in the opening two games, Kentucky has quietly transformed into a bowl contender. The Wildcats have won four of five, with the only loss coming to No. 1 Alabama.
Sitting at 4-3, Kentucky just needs two more wins to earn its first bowl trip under Mark Stoops. A Nov. 19 game against Austin Peay should count for one, so the Wildcats could likely lock up a bowl appearance with a road win against Missouri.
The first year of the Barry Odom era has been rough as the Tigers have yet to beat a Power 5 opponent. A narrow loss to Georgia might still be the most impressive performance this season. With games against No. 18 Tennessee and Arkansas left on the schedule, Odom has to find a way to get his team some wins before he runs out of time.
No. 9 Texas A&M vs. New Mexico State
7:30 p.m. Saturday in College Station, Texas (ESPNU)
This obviously isn’t the sexiest game of the weekend, but it will be a showcase for the Aggies after a brutal loss to Alabama. QB Trevor Knight had an inconsistent game against the Crimson Tide, but a matchup against another group of Aggies should help get him back on track.
New Mexico State’s defense is awful and ranks No. 126 per Football Outsiders. There are 128 teams in the FBS. However, it also has the No. 32 offense and proved it can score points after dropping 42 on Kentucky on Sept. 17.
Texas A&M should easily win this game, but fans should watch to see whether the host Aggies are still playing with confidence after the demoralizing loss a week ago. That will be vital to see whether Texas A&M can remain a national championship contender.