Three Games: SEC West race about to take center stage - KAIT-Jonesboro, AR-News, weather, sports

Three Games: SEC West race about to take center stage

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Mississippi State' LaDarius Perkins will try to keep the Bulldogs' undefeated streak alive against Alabama this week. (Source: Mississippi State athletics) Mississippi State' LaDarius Perkins will try to keep the Bulldogs' undefeated streak alive against Alabama this week. (Source: Mississippi State athletics)
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(RNN) – Last week wasn't as thrilling as the games seem to suggest.

Important games in the SEC East are winding down, but the important games in the West are just starting.

Below is a look at three games from Week 8 and what they mean going forward followed by a look at three big games from next week and the impact they will have.

Week 8 recap:

LSU 24, Texas A&M 19

In what was Texas A&M's first foray into the teeth of the SEC West, the Aggies and their high-powered offense ground to a screeching halt. It was the first game of the season that Johnny Manziel did not account for a touchdown. Even with the poor outing, the Aggies (5-2, 2-2) still lead the SEC in scoring offense, total offense and rushing offense.

LSU (7-1, 3-1) needed a win because taking a second conference loss would have been a huge blow to its chances of making the SEC championship game. The Tigers have a bye week before playing Alabama at home.

LSU couldn't ask for a better scenario. Offensively, the Tigers have been struggling to get their passing attack moving, which is 12th in the SEC and will undoubtedly be needed against the Tide's defense, which is first in the nation against the run and second nationally against the pass.

With extra time to prepare, a few changes can be made to the game plan without tipping Alabama off. LSU also had several players suffer injuries against the Aggies, and additional time heal will only help the Tigers.

Florida 44, South Carolina 11

South Carolina had to deal with running back Marcus Lattimore being injured and only gave him the ball three times. Without his running ability, the Gamecocks (6-2, 4-2) weren't able to get anything going.

South Carolina has suffered a fall from grace in the last two weeks. After beating Georgia 35-7 and earning a top five ranking, the Gamecocks have lost two straight games and seen their passing offense fall from the most efficient in the SEC to fourth in the conference.

Florida, meanwhile, continues to cruise. The Gators (7-0, 6-0) have just two SEC games remaining – Georgia and Missouri – and winning either one clinches them a trip to the SEC championship game.

Alabama 44, Tennessee 13

Tennessee was hanging around at halftime, but the Crimson Tide (7-0, 4-0) turned up the heat with an aerial assault and intercepted Tyler Bray twice to put the game well out of reach and win going away.

Alabama is first in the nation in first downs allowed, passing efficiency, opponent's passing efficiency, red zone offense, rushing defense, scoring defense, total defense, and is one of only two teams (Louisiana Tech is the other) yet to throw an interception this season.

The Tide is also second in opponent's third down conversion and passing defense, and third in turnover margin.

Tennessee (3-4, 0-4) has played three of its toughest games in a row, and has lost all three with another one against South Carolina slated for Saturday. With the Vols' remaining schedule, they are still in contention for a bowl game and could have as many as three SEC wins, but a loss to South Carolina would mean Tennessee failed against all ranked teams on its slate.

Games to watch in Week 9 (All times Eastern)

No. 2 Florida vs. No. 10 Georgia in Jacksonville, 3:30 p.m., CBS

What is on the line here is simple: If Florida wins, the Gators are in the SEC championship game, and a win by Georgia puts the Bulldogs (6-1, 4-1) in control of their own destiny with Ole Miss and Auburn the only teams standing in their way.

Georgia also will be trying to win consecutive games over the Gators for the first time since 1989. The Bulldogs lead the all-time series 48-40-2, but that record is disputed because Georgia includes a 52-0 win from 1904 on the record, while Florida does not because it came before the modern-day University of Florida was formed by the state Legislature a year later. What isn't disputed is that Florida is 18-4 in the "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" since 1990.

The matchup is a good one. In the areas where Georgia's offense is highly-rated, Florida's defense is equally highly-rated. Where Florida's offense has struggled, The Bulldogs' defense has also struggled.

The major difference in the teams is the Gators' dominant rushing game. Florida has the SEC's No. 3 rushing offense (25th nationally). Georgia's rushing defense is 10th in the conference and 72nd in the country.

No 20. Texas A&M at Auburn, 7 p.m., ESPNU

On paper, Tennessee at South Carolina looks like a better matchup, but there isn't much at stake in that game.

Texas A&M wants to keep its fading chances at the SEC West crown alive and Auburn (1-6, 0-5) wants to get an SEC win and avoid being the first team since Georgia Tech in 1992 to have a losing season two years removed from a national championship.

With Georgia and Alabama left on the Tigers' schedule, the losing season is all but guaranteed, and the Aggies represent the easiest opportunity for a conference win. Texas A&M has the best rushing offense in the SEC and Auburn has the worst rushing defense in the SEC.

It will take the Tigers' best defensive performance to date to contain Johnny Manziel. A win by A&M means it will go into games against Mississippi State and Alabama in contention for the SEC West, but unable to afford a loss to either.

No. 11 Mississippi State at No. 1 Alabama, 8:30 p.m., ESPN

Mississippi State could be accurately described as "Alabama light." Both teams tout efficient passing games, athletic defenses, consistent running games and neither is prone to turnovers or penalties.

It's a clash of the same style of football and provides a rare apples-to-apples comparison.

Alabama isn't the only team to lead the nation in something. Mississippi State (7-0, 3-0) is first in turnover margin, and jumped Alabama last week to get there. The Crimson Tide had led that category entering last week's games, but a late fumble by the Tide's reserves help drop them to third.

Both teams are good at the same things, but the only other major stat category Mississippi State leads the Crimson Tide in is passing offense. The Bulldogs also hold an edge in punting, kickoff coverage, sacks against, first downs, fourth down conversions, penalties against and on-side kicks, for what those are worth.

Alabama is ahead in everything else, including scoring offense, scoring defense, total offense, total defense, rushing offense, rushing defense, passing defense and passing efficiency. No matter who wins, both teams will still be in contention for a trip to the SEC championship game because neither has a conference loss and neither has faced Texas A&M or LSU.

The difference will likely be that Alabama has more depth and hasn't struggled against any of its opponents as Mississippi State did a couple of times, and will be playing at home.

Even with Mississippi State's excellent start, Alabama is a 24-point favorite.

Copyright 2012 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.

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