The penultimate weekend of the SEC's regular season is in the books, and uncertainty reigns supreme in the nation's toughest college football conference.
Missouri went on the road to topple Ole Miss to stay in control of its SEC East destiny on Saturday night, which means both division titles will be decided on the final weekend of the regular season.
Meanwhile, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel's chances at repeating as the Heisman Trophy winner took a major hit in Baton Rouge, after the very average LSU defense held him in check in a loss to the Tigers.
What did we learn in Week 13?
Pressure? Missouri Feels No Pressure
If Missouri is feeling pressure of having to win out in order to earn its first SEC East title, it sure isn't showing it.
The Tigers dominated Ole Miss on Saturday night in Oxford, displaying their dynamic offense and stifling defense in a 24-10 win over the Rebels.
"To say I'm proud of my football team and my staff would be an understatement," head coach Gary Pinkel said in quotes released by Missouri. "They battle every time they play. They prepare well and focus at a very high level."
That focus better carry over to next week, because the Tigers will host Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel on Saturday night in Columbia. Manziel is coming off of a dreadful performance versus LSU, but with the Heisman field falling around him, playing spoiler against Missouri in a big game could earn him some votes in his quest to repeat the feat.
It should be a great atmosphere in Missouri on Saturday night, and judging from how they played this week, the Tigers won't play scared.
LSU Has a Defense After All
Remember when LSU's defense was inconsistent, unreliable and a liability?
That seems like ages ago, after the Tigers defense held Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel to 54 rushing yards, a completion percentage of 39 percent (19-of-41) and forced two interceptions in a 34-10 win over the Aggies.
"You set up the plan and you stick to it and you practice it and you tell them, ‘This is what it’s going to be like'," head coach Les Miles said in quotes released by LSU. "When it starts to go that way, they say, ‘I got this.’ And that’s what happened."
It was the performance LSU fans have been waiting all season for, and one that will likely cost Manziel his shot a second consecutive Heisman Trophy.
"You have to give a lot of credit to them. They have a very talented defense regardless of how their season’s gone," Manziel said according to LSU. "I think they came out and played a heck of a game defensively scheme-wise and all."
It's the kind of performance that LSU can build off of. A defense that's young and out of division title contention could have quit, and packed things in for the holidays. But shutting down Manziel for the second straight year was a mission for these Tigers, and they accomplished that mission in a big way.
An athletic Tigers defense makes them dangerous in the future.
Aaron Murray Deserved Better
It's not supposed to be like this.
When Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray announced in January that he was coming back for his senior season, it was supposed to be for one last shot at SEC glory. An attempt to get those extra five yards his team failed to get in the SEC Championship Game last season and bring an SEC title home to Georgia.
Injuries to his team and inconsistency on his defense and special teams ended that dream earlier this season, and now his own career isn't coming to a close, according to the plan.
Murray injured his knee late in the first half of Georgia's 59-17 win over Kentucky. He was taken to the hospital for an MRI, according to Dean Legge of DawgPost.com.
Aaron Murray left Georgia's locker room on crutches after half time and entered a patrol car to leave Sanford Stadium pic.twitter.com/rRZkwSt4jm— Dean Legge (@Dawg_Post) November 24, 2013
According to Marc Weiszer of the Athens (Ga.) Banner-Herald, Murray suffered a torn ACL and will undergo surgery on Tuesday.
Georgia QB Aaron Murray will have surgery to repair an ACL injury on Tuesday, his mother posted on social media.— Marc Weiszer (@marcweiszer) November 24, 2013
Murray thanked his fans on Sunday morning for supporting him throughout his Georgia career.
Thank you for all the prayers over the past few hours. Gonna come back stronger than ever! Dawg for life. Truly love you all #GoDawgs— Aaron Murray (@aaronmurray11) November 24, 2013
This is not the way one of the SEC's most decorated quarterbacks deserved to close out his career. Hopefully he gets well soon and finds a place at the next level to continue his career.
Injuries Aren't an Excuse for Will Muschamp
Florida has suffered a rash of injuries that make it nearly impossible for any team to compete for a division title in the SEC, but it should still be able to handle lower-level teams—particularly mid-level FCS teams like Georgia Southern.
It didn't on Saturday, as the Gators fell to the Eagles 26-20 in a game in which Georgia Southern—which runs the triple option—didn't complete a single pass. It ensures the Gators will miss a bowl game for the first time since 1990, and cements their first sub-.500 record since 1979.
"Very disappointed for our program, an embarrassment (to be) in this situation," Gators coach Will Muschamp said, according to the Associated Press. "It's all disappointing. It's hard to measure it at this point."
I wrote yesterday that it's going to be difficult for athletics director Jeremy Foley to keep Muschamp around after this embarrassment. Muschamp better not sell the injury angle too much, because Florida's problems are much bigger than the rash of injuries. The program needs a philosophical change on offense in a hurry.
It's going to get uglier after Florida State gets done with the Gators next week, and you have to wonder just how much more the Florida administration is willing to take before pulling the plug.
Despite Playing Remarkably Ugly Games, Vanderbilt is a Lot of Fun
Vanderbilt has won three straight games, averaging just 260.3 yards per game in the process.
On Saturday night in Knoxville, the Commodores made it two straight over intra-state rival Tennessee in the unlikeliest of ways. They got the ball back on their own 8-yard line with 4:16 to play and calmly marched 92 yards on 14 plays in four minutes for the game-winning touchdown—which came on a fake jump pass quarterback run from backup quarterback Patton Robinette with 16 seconds left to earn the 14-10 win.
It was crazy, it was brilliant and it was fun. Everything college football should be.
Sure, it wasn't without controversy. Tennessee thought it had the game in the bag after stopping Vandy short on a 4th-and-1 from the Vols' 34 earlier in the drive, but the spot was reviewed and properly overturned to keep the drive alive.
That gave head coach James Franklin the chance to get created on the game-winner, and he came through.
An Emotional and Important Senior Day in Tuscaloosa
The most heavily anticipated Iron Bowl in the history of the rivalry is now set, after Alabama cruised by Chattanooga 49-0 in game that wasn't really as close as the score indicated.
AJ McCarron's final game in Bryant-Denny Stadium was nearly flawless, as the redshirt senior signal-caller for the Crimson Tide completed 13-of-16 passes for 171 yards and two touchdowns on senior day, including a three-yard pass to his little brother, Corey, on AJ's final drive of the game. His mother, Dee Dee Bonner, recognized what was going on.
"I literally could hear her screaming as soon as he caught it over everybody," AJ McCarron said according to ESPN.com. "I guess the rest of the crowd was, `All right, great, 5-yard gain.' And she was still yelling. The whole family was probably crying."
More important for this year's Crimson Tide team was the absence of running back T.J. Yeldon on Saturday afternoon. Yeldon has been nursing an ankle injury and didn't see action this week in preparation for next week's top-five showdown with the Auburn Tigers in the de facto SEC West title game.
That's a good thing.
Alabama needs its horses for the stretch run, and Yeldon needs to be fresh. He got the break he needed on Saturday.
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