By David Brandt
It’s rivalry week for several Southeastern Conference teams and many are playing for more than just bragging rights.
This year’s Iron Bowl – featuring No. 1 Alabama at No. 4 Auburn – is the main attraction. The winner clinches the SEC’s Western Division and a trip to Atlanta for the league championship game on Dec. 7.
It’s showdown full of intrigue: Nick Saban’s unstoppable Alabama machine against the upstart Tigers, who have had an impressive turnaround under first-year coach Gus Malzahn.
But several other matchups also have postseason implications.
The Missouri-Texas A&M matchup pits the two former Big 12 foes against one another. If the fifth-ranked Tigers win, they’ll clinch the SEC’s Eastern Division. If they lose, No. 10 South Carolina who goes to Atlanta to play for the SEC crown.
Also on the schedule: No. 2 Florida State at Florida, Georgia Tech at Georgia, Ole Miss at Mississippi State, Arkansas at No. 15 LSU, No. 6 Clemson at South Carolina, Wake Forest at Vanderbilt and Tennessee at Kentucky.
Alabama and Auburn have never been ranked this high at the same time for the Iron Bowl. That only adds to the stakes of what is one of college football’s most heated rivalries.
“I love these kinds of games,” Alabama safety Landon Collins said. “They’re going to talk a lot of trash and that’s the type of thing I like. I don’t like quiet games – it takes that fire out of me.”
Collins will get his wish. Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium figures to be the loudest it’s been in a long time.
“Everybody’s going to be playing their best football,” Auburn center Reese Dismukes said. “The guy across from you is going to be playing his best. You’re going to be playing your best, and it’s going to be a hostile environment that you live for.”
The two newest additions to the SEC will also engage in a must-see game when Texas A&M travels Missouri.
The Tigers have bounced back from last year’s 5-7 season, improving to 10-1 overall and 6-1 in league play. Texas A&M had a disappointing loss to LSU last weekend, but still has defending Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel under center.
Missouri’s stadium also is expected to be electric on Saturday.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Missouri offensive lineman Max Copeland said.
When Clemson and South Carolina play on Saturday night it will be the first time both teams are in the top 10 at the same time for the in-state rivalry.
The Gamecocks are also trying to beat Clemson for an unprecedented fifth straight time
But South Carolina will have one eye on the Tigers and the other in Columbia, Mo. The Gamecocks need Texas A&M to beat Missouri to keep its SEC title hopes alive. If that happens, South Carolina and Missouri would both be 6-2 in the league, but the Gamecocks have the tiebreaker because of their head-to-head win over the Tigers.
Gators’ lost season
The Florida Gators are struggling through a disappointing 4-7 season, capped by an embarrassing 26-20 loss to FCS opponent Georgia Southern last weekend. The loss secured the program’s first losing season since 1979.
The injury-riddled Gators are four-touchdown underdogs this weekend at home against No. 2 Florida State. There will be no postseason for Florida, so players are hoping to wreck Florida State’s dream season as consolation.
“This is the season for us,” Florida offensive lineman Kyle Koehne said. “This is our bowl game. This is our big game of the year.”
Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason will be making his first career start against Georgia Tech. The Bulldogs are 11-1 against Georgia Tech under coach Mark Richt, who said this year’s game will be a good test to find out if Mason “can handle the pressure of the job.”