Rotating cross-divisional matchups loom large in SEC

Rotating cross-divisional matchups loom large in SEC

June 14th, 2016 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Georgia quarterback Greyson Lambert accounted for just 85 total yards in last October's 38-10 loss to Alabama. The Bulldogs have another rotating cross-divisional challenge this season with a Sept. 24 trip to Ole Miss.

Photo by Sean Taylor

ROTATING SUCCESS

Since Missouri and Texas A&M joined the Southeastern Conference before the 2012 football season, every participant in the league’s title game defeated its rotating foe from the opposite division during that season.

2012

Alabama 42, Missouri 10

Georgia 37, Ole Miss 10

2013

Auburn 55, Tennessee 23

Missouri 24, Ole Miss 10

2014

Alabama 42, Florida 21

Missouri 34, Texas A&M 27

2015

Alabama 38, Georgia 10

Florida 38, Ole Miss 10

LSU's Les Miles, Auburn's Gus Malzahn and Florida's Jim McElwain are the only Southeastern Conference football coaches to lead their programs to the league's championship game in their first seasons, with Malzahn going the extra step and winning it in 2013.

For Georgia's Kirby Smart to join that club, his Bulldogs will have to be successful against Eastern Division rivals Florida and Tennessee, as well as his most recent nemesis.

Georgia's rotating cross-divisional foe from the West this season is Ole Miss, a team Smart failed to defeat in each of his last two years as Alabama's defensive coordinator. The Bulldogs visit Oxford on Sept. 24, which follows a trip to Missouri and precedes the showdown against the Volunteers.

Hugh Freeze's Rebels are coming off a 10-win season that concluded with a 48-20 drubbing of Oklahoma State in the Sugar Bowl.

"They do a great job of getting their playmakers the ball," Smart said. "Any time you play them, especially in the environment they've created in Oxford recently, it's a tough game, but we'll be looking forward to the challenge."

Since Missouri and Texas A&M joined the SEC before the 2012 season, creating a 6-1-1 scheduling format that calls for six games within your division, one permanent foe from the opposite division and one rotating opponent, every division champ has won its rotating game. Most of those outcomes have been lopsided, including last year, when Alabama routed Georgia 38-10 on its way to the West title and Florida surprisingly drubbed Ole Miss by the same score en route to the East crown.

This year's rotating cross-divisional matchups, in addition to Georgia-Ole Miss, are Kentucky-Alabama, Florida-Arkansas, Vanderbilt-Auburn, Missouri-LSU, South Carolina-Mississippi State and Tennessee-Texas A&M. The West teams host each of the rotating games this year, while the East teams host all the permanent cross-divisional pairings such as Alabama-Tennessee, Auburn-Georgia and LSU-Florida.

Tennessee, the likely East favorite this year, has lost each meeting against its rotating cross-divisional foe since Missouri and Texas A&M joined the league, falling to Mississippi State in 2012, Auburn in 2013, Ole Miss in 2014 and Arkansas last season. Florida has never lost to Arkansas since the Razorbacks joined in 1992, winning all nine meetings, including two in the SEC title game.

For Georgia to defeat Ole Miss, the Bulldogs must slow a Rebels offense that has racked up 66 points in its last six quarters against Alabama. Receiver Laquon Treadwell and offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil have moved on to the NFL, but quarterback Chad Kelly is back after compiling eight 300-yard passing games a year ago.

The rest of the returning SEC quarterbacks this year have a combined five 300-yard games.

"I expect more of the same from them, because if it's not broke, don't fix it," Smart said. "I thought they really outplayed us last year as far as the energy level and the confidence level. Obviously they lost some good players, but Laremy didn't play against us last year anyway. Treadwell played a great game and was a problem for us the past two years while I was at Alabama, and it does wonders when you have a quarterback like that back.

"It gives you confidence to put more in. It opens up the offense, and I always say the number one factor in how an offense goes is the quarterback. When you've got a guy coming back who's a proven winner and a competitor, that opens things up for you."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.