The SEC is set for a huge week because of four teams that all have the same goals of winning the SEC and of clinching a college football playoff birth. The consistent Crimson Tide of Alabama look to extend their playoff streak to 5 years in a row. The Tigers of LSU push to make their first appearance and establish themselves as a powerhouse again. The vengeful Georgia Bulldogs looks to get a shot at redemption from last year’s championship defeat. Lastly, the plucky underdog Kentucky Wildcats, who are one of the biggest surprises this season, look to prove this team is for real. Let’s break down what I am calling “The SEC Playoff.”
The SEC West semifinal game takes us to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where long time rivals will face off this Saturday night in front of a crowd of 102,000 fans.
Top ranked Alabama comes in with an 8-0 (5-0 in SEC) record. Their closest game was a comfortable 22 point beat down over the 20th ranked Texas A&M Aggies. Alabama’s defense has always been a strong suit. However, the talk of this year for the Tide has been their offense. Starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has been virtually unstoppable this season with his best stats being both his 25-0 touchdown to interception ratio and over 2000 yards passing. Every good quarterback needs a favorite target, and speedster Jerry Jeudy has played that role while racking up 777 total yards and 10 receiving touchdowns from the wide receiver position. Alabama has been outscoring their opponents this season by an average score of 54-16. Although these stats may seem insurmountable, Alabama still has only played one ranked team and only 2 power five schools with an above .500 winning percentage. Alabama will be taking the road against a ranked team for the first time this season, and it is one of the rowdiest home crowds in college football. Alabama has overcome Death Valley in the past, but every year brings a new team. Additionally, in college football rivalry games, you throw out all the records. Alabama’s main point of concern would be their lack of experience in close game scenario. If they were to have a tight contest against a battle tested LSU, the game could get dicey for what looks like an indestructible Alabama team.
Alabama’s foe in this “semifinal” game is the 3rd ranked LSU tigers (7-1(4-1)), who have not beaten the Crimson Tide since 2011. That makes for 7 straight victories for Bama. If LSU wants to break that streak it will take an all around great performance on every phase of the game. However, the key for LSU is their defense. LSU prides themselves in their defensive back play. Cornerback Greedy Williams and Safety Grant Delpit have been locking things down up to this point, but they will have to pass their biggest test for LSU to pull off an upset. If Alabama’s offense can be held in check then LSU can keep themselves within striking distance. LSU’s defense has played Alabama one of the best out of any team the last 2 seasons by only allowing an average of 17 points against the Tide. Unfortunately their offense has only averaged 5 in those two games. LSU has a great playoff resume, but it all means nothing if they do not get a win over their heated rival.
As for my prediction, I think Alabama wins this game comfortably and virtually locks up the SEC west division. Alabama’s offense will be challenged, but ultimately they figure things out and cruise to a 31-14 victory.
On the eastern side of things comes a semifinal featuring the Georgia Bulldogs and Kentucky Wildcats being played on a Saturday afternoon in the “Bluegrass State.” What could possibly be the biggest game in Wildcat football history is set to occur at Commonwealth Stadium.
The 6th ranked Georgia Bulldogs (7-1(5-1)) have had some controversy. With inconsistent play from their star quarterback, Jake Fromm, bulldog fans were pushing towards a QB change to Justin Fields, the big time 5 star recruit. Fromm silenced the haters last week with a solid victory against the 11th ranked Gators, one of their most hated rivals. Georgia’s strength comes at their stable of running backs, who have put up 1600 total yards and 5.6 yards per attempt on the ground as a collective group. This group consists of Elijah Holyfield, D’Andre Swift, James Cook, and Brian Herrien. If Georgia can run the ball and control the line of scrimmage then it will be a likely SEC title game berth for the Bulldogs.
Kentucky has the opportunity of a lifetime. They have a chance to win the SEC East, beat a high ranked Georgia team, play in the SEC title game, and continue their playoff aspirations. It all comes down to whether or not they can win this game against Georgia, a team that has won 19 of the last 21 in the series. Benny Snell has run for 935 yards this season with 9 touchdowns. He has been a reliable offensive threat for a Kentucky offense that has been doing what it takes to get the job done. In Kentucky’s lone loss Snell only rushed for 60 yards and 0 touchdowns. If Georgia can shut down Snell then it’s game over, but if Kentucky can utilize Snell in the run game and use him to open up the pass game for the starting quarterback, Terry Wilson, Kentucky could put up some points. Kentucky has found ways to win close games this season, (aside from the Texas A&M game) and that experience may come in handy if this game gets close down the stretch.
As for my prediction here, I think Kentucky puts up a valiant effort in this game, but the talent of Georgia proves to be too much. Kentucky will establish an early lead and keep the momentum rolling until they are eventually edged out by Georgia. Georgia squeaks by Kentucky 30-27.
Overall, the murky waters of the SEC race will become all the more clearer this weekend. Will any of the underdogs come out on top? Or will it be the powerhouses continuing to show their dominance to the college football world?