This week, Georgia and Florida renew a classic SEC rivalry in Jacksonville. Elsewhere, some teams, such as Kentucky and Auburn, will hope to stay hot while others (Missouri and Ole Miss) will try to stop the rot.
Let’s see how things line up in the Week 9 storylines for each school:
Kentucky and Missouri
Two roads diverged: Schools heading in very different directions will cross paths Saturday in Columbia (noon ET, SECN).
Kentucky comes off a last-second win over Mississippi State and its dreams of a bowl bid alive. Just two wins in its last five games will do the trick, and this is one the Wildcats will be hoping to grab.
The running game has been the harbinger of success for the Wildcats. They’re 4-0 when they rush for more than 96 yards, and 0-3 when they don’t. Last week’s total was 262, and they’ll be looking to keep it up against the Tigers.
An inability to stop that sort of thing has the mood far more sour at Missouri. Middle Tennessee State gashed a depleted defense for 300 yards on the ground last week, and in their three-game losing streak, the Tigers have allowed 1,005 yards and nine scores.
At 2-4, Missouri needs to win four of its last five games to reach automatic bowl eligibility. But unless it can get their run defense sorted out soon, any bowl discussion for the Tigers is pure fantasy.
Georgia and Florida
Sorting through the SEC East: The schools would like us to call the annual Georgia-Florida game the “River City Showdown.” Whether you prefer that, or “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party,” it’s time for the Bulldogs and Gators to meet again (3:30 p.m. ET Saturday, CBS).
Florida has had a pair of off weeks sandwiched around a 40-14 win over Missouri on Oct. 15, and it has used that time to get healthy. Bryan Cox, Jordan Sherit and Joey Ivie all have the chance to return this week, strengthening the front seven.
The Gators still have the inside track to the East crown, but a loss in the WLOCP would muddy the waters. Tennessee and Kentucky each trail Florida by a game in the loss column.
Georgia took off the week after a disappointing home loss to Vanderbilt, and must be content with the spoiler role in the division race.
This is a good place for the “throw out the records” cliche, and despite the ups and downs this season, Florida can expect the Bulldogs’ best shot in Jacksonville.
Shaking the slump: When Fred Ross hauled in a touchdown pass from Nick Fitzgerald with 1:09 left, it looked like Mississippi State was going to walk away from Lexington with a spirited comeback win over Kentucky.
Instead, for the third time this season, the Bulldogs lost on the game’s final play. Austin MacGinnis’ 51-yard field goal dropped MSU to 2-5 overall and 1-3 in league play.
Samford visits Starkville this week (3:30 p.m. ET, SECN), and the hosts are sure to be in a foul mood. It will take a strong finish to reach a bowl game, and it will be shocking if the Bulldogs don’t take a step in the right direction this weekend.
Tennessee and South Carolina
It’s a trap?: After back-to-back losses to Alabama and Texas A&M, Tennessee enjoyed a much-needed bye in Week 8. Some of the injured players, such as Dylan Wiesman, Darrin Kirkland and Malik Foreman, should be ready for the trip to South Carolina (7:15 p.m. ET, ESPN2).
The Volunteers are about a two-touchdown favorite, but can’t afford to slip up if they want to catch Florida in the SEC East race.
South Carolina took the redshirt off Jake Bentley, and the freshman fared well in a 34-28 win over UMass. That wasn’t the only good news to come out of that game.
With that outburst, the Gamecocks offense now has more touchdowns than the Alabama defense and special teams this season (14-12) and moved out of last place nationally in scoring average (16.9).
This game could be troublesome for the Volunteers. While Tennessee has won three of the last four in the series, all have been by three points or less. Even last year, in the midst of a 3-9 season, the Gamecocks had the ball in Tennessee territory late before fumbling in a 27-24 loss.
Auburn and Ole Miss
Highs and lows: Much like the Kentucky-Missouri clash, the mood around the Auburn and Ole Miss programs couldn’t be more different.
Auburn ran for 543 yards against a helpless Arkansas defense last week. It’s only negative rushing play came on Sean White’s kneel down to end the night. That’s four wins in a row for the surging Tigers, who lead the league in rushing with more than 300 yards per game.
It’s not out of the question for Gus Malzahn’s team to enter the Iron Bowl late next month with a shot at claiming a share of the SEC West title, and it’s a long way from the 1-2 start with which the Tigers began the season.
Ole Miss goals were modest before last week’s loss to LSU, and are even more so now.
Some are even calling for the Rebels to get out in front of the NCAA and self-impose a bowl ban. Of course, Ole Miss needs three wins in its last five games to hit the six-win mark. The way the Rebels are playing right now, it’s hard to say that’s a sure thing.
Going forward: The best thing for the Aggies after a 33-14 loss to Alabama would be a week off. The next best thing? How about a visit from New Mexico State?
The other Aggies are 2-5 and are a whopping 42.5-point underdogs against A&M. They shouldn’t be an issue for Kevin Sumlin’s squad.
Staying focused is key for his team, since it still has a shot at the playoff. The Aggies need to win out and have a few things break right for them around the country, but there is a chance it could happen.
Note: LSU, Alabama, Vanderbilt and Arkansas are off this week.