With only five games involving SEC teams on the docket, Week 12 didn't exactly look like the most thrilling week on paper.
But games aren't played on paper. They're played on football fields. And the one that was played in Auburn, Ala., on Saturday afternoon was just a bit thrilling.
The Deep South's Oldest Rivalry between Auburn and Georgia saved the SEC weekend and will go down as one of the most memorable games in college football history.
What did we learn in that game and the rest of the SEC in Week 12?
"Ball Don't Lie"
The phrase "ball don't lie" refers to a sort of sports karma where, if a team gets the short end of a missed call or bad break, the ball tends to bounce its way down the stretch in a key spot to even things out.
Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall's 73-yard prayer to Ricardo Louis on 4th-and-18 with 36 seconds left didn't lie. In fact, it told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
The defining play of the Tigers' improbable 43-38 win over Georgia came only after Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray dug his team out of a 20-point fourth-quarter hole with a five-yard touchdown run on 4th-and-goal with 1:49 to play to put the Bulldogs up 38-37. That touchdown run was reviewed and the call stood, although it appeared that Murray was down short of the goal line. There just wasn't conclusive video evidence to overturn the call on the field.
"It was unbelievable, I thought I was going to drop it for real," Louis said in quotes released by Auburn. "Coach (Dameyune) Craig always tells us to always look the ball all the way in."
Whether you believe in karma or think that Auburn lucked out, the Tigers have magic working in their favor this season. Everything first-year head coach Gus Malzahn has touched seemingly has turned to gold, and as a result, Auburn will host Alabama with the SEC West title on the line for the first time since the divisional split in 1992.
Get your popcorn ready.
U-G-L-Y...and It Just Doesn't Matter
After Auburn's miraculous win, South Carolina knew it had to beat Florida to post a 6-2 conference record and put the pressure on Missouri to win out in order to win the SEC East. That proved to be easier said than done against the beat-up Florida Gators, who made the Gamecocks sweat in a 19-14 South Carolina win in Columbia.
How ugly was it?
Florida quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg threw only 13 passes and the Gators were incredibly one-dimensional, and it didn't matter. The Gamecock offense struggled to get things in gear until the second half and needed two fourth-quarter field goals and an interception by Jimmy Legree with 1:22 left to put the resilient Gators away.
"Somehow it worked out for us," head coach Steve Spurrier astutely pointed out in quotes released by South Carolina. "We weren't very good on offense again. Although we did make 370 yards, that's pretty good I guess. Third downs we struggled again, but we had a lot of long ones. Anyways it worked out again."
It doesn't matter what it looks like for the Gamecocks. They're out of the national title race, so style points don't matter. They posted that 6-2 mark and will see if Missouri can handle the pressure over the next two weeks.
"Maybe something bigger is going to happen for us down the road, I don't know," Spurrier said. "We'll watch Missouri play a little bit, from a distance."
They may be watching from a distance, but they'll be casting a mighty big shadow on the Tigers.
Will Muschamp Is Feeling the Heat and Handling it Well
There's no other way to slice it, Florida head coach Will Muschamp knows that this is a lost season. The Gators are 4-6, mired in a five-game losing streak and have suffered a mind-boggling 10 season-ending injuries to contributors.
But they're still fighting, as Saturday's valiant effort with a third-string quarterback making his first career start showed.
Despite the losing streak and calls for his job, Muschamp is handling it the right way—by making sure the blame falls on him and not his kids.
He'll be asked to make some philosophical and perhaps some coaching changes after the season, but barring a complete meltdown versus Florida State to close out the regular season, he'll be back in Gainesville in 2014.
Speaking of Ugly...
Alabama didn't exactly bring its A-game to Starkville. In fact, its B- and C-game may have also been left back in Tuscaloosa.
The Crimson Tide slugged out an ugly 20-7 win over Mississippi State on Saturday night in a game in which they turned the ball over four times and kept giving the Bulldogs chances to stay in the game.
So Saban. RT @CecilHurt: Nick Saban: "We won the game. But we didn't really beat the other team."— Bleacher Report CFB (@BR_CFB) November 17, 2013
Luckily for Alabama, it still counts as a win for the Crimson Tide and keeps the No. 1 team in the country unblemished. It wasn't pretty, but Alabama has elevated itself to a place in the college football world where it really doesn't matter.
It wasn't the best effort in program history, and something tells me that's a silver lining that Saban is going to use moving forward. With a tune-up with Chattanooga next week before heading to the Plains with the SEC West title on the line, Alabama can keep focusing on getting better and striving for perfection.
Because Saturday night was far from perfect.
Speaking of Uglier...
Vanderbilt topped Kentucky 22-6 on Saturday afternoon in Nashville to become bowl eligible for the third straight season—the first such streak in program history.
But it wasn't easy. In fact, it was remarkably difficult.
The Commodores took a 9-6 lead into the fourth quarter before pulling away from the Wildcats late. The 'Dores were 4-of-15 on third down, managed only 14 first downs and couldn't mount a functional offense until the final frame.
Head coach James Franklin is content letting the media tell him if he should be excited about bowl eligibility.
"When you beat an SEC team, you couldn't be more excited," he said in quotes released by Vanderbilt. "We'll enjoy this tonight and get started for our next opponent tomorrow. At the end of the year, you guys can tell us if we've been invited to go anywhere and we'll be excited."
What he's not telling you is, yes, he's thrilled to get back to a bowl game. Anytime the culture of winning can creep into a locker room, that helps move a program forward. Vanderbilt is headed that direction now and will keep going that way as long as Franklin is steering the ship.
Ole Miss Keeps Chuggin' Along
Beating Troy is nothing to write home about. The Trojans entered the game with Ole Miss with the Sun Belt's worst pass defense, and Rebel quarterback Bo Wallace lit them up to the tune of 272 yards and three touchdowns in the 51-21 win on Saturday afternoon.
What it does, though, is give Ole Miss its fourth straight win and keep momentum going in the right direction.
"Today we were at a good pace," head coach Hugh Freeze said in quotes released by Ole Miss. "We had 93 plays and really didn’t go fast in the second half. I’m pleased, but we are playing a very good defensive team next Saturday night.”
That team is the Missouri Tigers, which gets pressure with four and leads the SEC in turnover margin (1.40). The Rebels have a chance to play spoiler and improve their own bowl standing in the process.
Don't discount the possibility of an upset, something that would certainly please South Carolina—which would clinch the SEC East with a Missouri loss.
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