SEC Football: Matchups That Will Decide Conference Championship Game

Chris Stephens@@chris_stephens6Correspondent IISeptember 17, 2012

Every year, certain matchups decide which teams will make it to the SEC Championship Game.

Some, like LSU and Alabama, are obvious, while others are not as obvious to begin the season.

For LSU and Alabama, the Nov. 3 game at LSU will decided the SEC West champion. In turn, that could decide the SEC champion, and ultimately, the national champion.

Alabama has a strong defense again, and showed they could stop a high-powered offense in Arkansas. Although some will argue that Arkansas was without Tyler Wilson for the game, making it hard for them to move the ball.

Honestly, that game wasn't about Wilson not playing. It was more about how the holes in Arkansas' offensive line need to be addressed and how running back Knile Davis is not as good as advertised.

Then, you have the Alabama offense that is very balanced. Alabama is averaging 42.7 points per game, with only one touchdown having been scored by the defense.

The Crimson Tide are averaging 212.3 passing yards and 186.7 rushing yards per game. Now, that's balance.

For LSU, there's been balance as well with 203 yards passing and 269.3 yards rushing per game.

However, the schedule has been weak to start the year, with games against North Texas, Washington and Idaho.

The Tigers will get into the bulk of their SEC schedule starting Oct. 6 against Florida. From there, we'll see how important the Alabama-LSU game will be in deciding who will play in the SEC Championship Game.

Will the loss of Tyrann Mathieu be that big of a deal? Can Zach Mettenberger compete against the big boys of the SEC?

We'll see in a few short weeks.

As far as other games that could decide who will play in the conference championship game, they will all come from the SEC East.


Georgia at South Carolina (Oct. 6)

Steve Spurrier had to be disappointed when he looked at the schedule and saw  South Carolina wasn't opening SEC play with Georgia.

As he put it to ESPN's Chris Low:

"I don't know. I sort of always liked playing them that second game because you could always count on them having two or three key players suspended."

Now, Spurrier will have to see if South Carolina is as good as they think they are. They'll get a full Georgia squad that should have all of its defensive starters back.

Quarterback Connor Shaw can't make any mistakes, because the Georgia defense will make him pay if he does.

The running game could also see some problems as Georgia's 3-4 defense knows how to pursue the ball.

Where South Carolina can make the biggest difference is in its run defense. If they can keep Georgia's running backs from breaking off big runs, then it will be a ballgame.

But, if they allow Georgia to stay balanced, this could turn out to be a blowout.

Georgia, on the other hand, has to continue to play Georgia football. They can't get caught up in the man that is Spurrier.

Aaron Murray has to make better decisions with the football than he did last year, and just throw it away if nothing's there.

South Carolina at Florida (Oct. 20)

South Carolina and Florida has been fun to watch since Spurrier took over at South Carolina.

The Gamecocks have won the previous two meetings over the Gators. In 2010, the win secured their spot in the SEC Championship Game.

South Carolina has Marcus Lattimore at running back, who has been impressive throughout his college career.

However, where the Gamecocks might experience problems is with Shaw. A shoulder injury has been noticeable early in the season. This is mainly due to him diving for yardage, instead of sliding.

South Carolina's defense is very good, led by sophomore Jadeveon Clowney. If he and the rest of the defensive line can get pressure on quarterback Jeff Driskel, it might be a long night for the Gators.

For Florida, it simply comes down to solving Steve Spurrier's defensive system. The Gators' defense should have no problem making plays against South Carolina's offense. However, they have to be able to get the ball out in space to get away from the Gamecocks' defensive line.


Georgia vs. Florida (Oct. 27)

This is the matchup that propelled Georgia into the title game last year against LSU. This year, Florida is going to be coming out hungry for a win.

The rivalry has been one-sided for many years, as Florida has usually gotten the best of Georgia.

Both teams will come in with stout defenses. Both will be able to pursue the ball and create havoc for receivers out in space.

Where the biggest difference will be made is in the running game.

Can Georgia's three-headed monster of Keith Marshall, Todd Gurley and Ken Malcome keep the Gators' front-seven off balance? Can Mike Gillislee and Trey Burton get out in space and make plays?

In the end, it's going to come down to the same thing it came down to last year—holding onto the football.

The team that has the fewest turnovers will win the game. And, with such balance for both teams, it may only take one mistake to doom someone.

Also look for the kicking game to play a large role. Georgia will depend on freshman Marshall Morgan, while Florida counters with senior Caleb Sturgis.


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