Pasquali's Pix: Tide will hold off the Bulldogs in Atlanta

Pasquali's Pix: Tide will hold off the Bulldogs in Atlanta

November 29th, 2018 by David Paschall in Sports - Columns

OTHER PICKS

South Carolina 48, Akron 13

Middle Tennessee 27, UAB 22

Central Florida 30, Memphis 27

Virginia Tech 28, Marshall 21

Iowa State 35, Drake 16

N.C. State 33, East Carolina 14

When they weren't fighting at midfield or in the end zone, Southeastern Conference football teams managed to produce quite the stellar 2018 regular season.

Alabama and Georgia comprise half of the top four teams in the College Football Playoff rankings heading into conference championship Saturday, with a record eight league members earning a spot in the top 25. The SEC program currently with the ninth-best overall record, Auburn, can claim a Pac-12 crown this weekend should Washington defeat Utah, given that the Tigers topped the Huskies in the marquee national game of the opening weekend.

Much has changed since Labor Day, but some things haven't, most noticeably this week's as-expected title matchup between the Crimson Tide and the Bulldogs. Alabama received 263 first-place votes to win the Western Division compared to Auburn's 19 at SEC media days in July, while Georgia gathered 271 first-place votes in the East to outdistance South Carolina's eight.

The media doesn't have the best track record of picking the correct SEC title-game participants, but Nick Saban and Kirby Smart made this year very easy.

Before Alabama and Georgia vie for the confetti that falls to the Mercedes-Benz Stadium turf, here is a by-the-numbers look at the SEC's regular season:

0.2: The percent chance, according to ESPN, that Texas A&M had of defeating LSU last Saturday night with 20 seconds left in regulation. The Aggies trailed 31-24, but quarterback Kellen Mond converted on fourth-and-18 before throwing a 19-yard touchdown pass with one second left to force what would become a seven-overtime marathon. Texas A&M's 74-72 victory set a Football Bowl Subdivision record for total points, but there were incidents afterward that tainted the contest and may prevent it from being viewed as a classic down the road.

1: Winning streak by Kentucky over Florida after ending 31 years of frustration against the Gators with a 27-16 upset in The Swamp on Sept. 8. That triumph helped catapult the Wildcats to their first nine-win regular season since 1977.

3: Combined points by which Missouri lost to Kentucky and South Carolina, preventing the Tigers from a potential 10-2 record in Drew Lock's final season at quarterback and Derek Dooley's first season as offensive coordinator.

5: Consecutive SEC games down the stretch by South Carolina that were decided by less than a touchdown. Will Muschamp's cardiac Gamecocks closed their league schedule with a 37-35 win over Mizzou, a 26-23 loss to Texas A&M, a 27-24 win over Tennessee, a 48-44 win over Ole Miss and a 35-31 loss to Florida.

10: Losses by Arkansas, which had never lost 10 games in a season before. The Razorbacks lost nine games in 2013 and lost eight in 2012 and again last year, and year two of the Chad Morris era in Fayetteville will begin on an 11-game league losing streak.

12: Consecutive losses by Tennessee to Alabama in the Saban era. The Volunteers made progress in Jeremy Pruitt's first season compared to the debacle that was the fifth and final year under Butch Jones, but there seems to be no end in sight to this record streak in this colorful rivalry. Alabama's 58-21 road romp on Oct. 20 gave the Crimson Tide an average victory margin of 43-14 in their past six trips to Neyland Stadium.

13: Consecutive wins by Georgia against SEC East foes. This streak began for the Bulldogs with a 27-24 escape at Kentucky in 2016, but the past 12 victories have occurred via double digits.

14: Where Ole Miss ranked within the league in defense. The Rebels had an exciting aerial attack this season, but they couldn't overcome allowing averages of 483.4 yards and 36.2 points per game.

34.5: Points per game scored by the Florida Gators, up from 22.1 last season. After experiencing Steve Spurrier's Fun 'n' Gun offense and the sparks provided by Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin, fans of the Gators don't just expect wins but excitement, and Dan Mullen delivered more of each with his 9-3 start.

81: Weeks in which Alabama has been ranked No. 1 in the past decade. The rest of the FBS has combined for 79 weeks at the top.

92: Years since Vanderbilt has been able to savor a three-game winning streak over rival Tennessee, with Derek Mason having humbled Jones, interim coach Brady Hoke and Pruitt by wider margins each season.

118.1: Average rushing yards per game by Auburn when the routs of Alabama State and Liberty are thrown out. Gus Malzahn's Tigers never came close to matching last season's 218.3 rushing yards per game, which is the chief reason the 2017 SEC West champs are 7-5.

144: Points allowed this season by Mississippi State, the fewest among FBS teams. The Bulldogs could produce an elite, Alabama-like NFL draft class with defensive end Montez Sweat, nose guard Jeffery Simmons, center Elgton Jenkins, and defensive backs Johnathan Abram, Mark McLaurin and Jamal Peters, which in turn could lead to the argument of whether going 4-4 in SEC play was an underachievement.

3,500,000: Dollars that LSU coach Ed Orgeron is receiving this year. Orgeron took down the two league coaches operating on seven-year, $49 million deals, Malzahn and Smart, and he would have defeated $7.5 million man Jimbo Fisher had last Saturday's game ended with the Gatorade bath.

Pasquali's Pix

Utah vs. Washington: This pairing of 9-3 teams is why the playoff should never expand to eight simply for the reason to guarantee spots for all Power Five conference champs. Huskies 24, Utes 17.

Texas vs. Oklahoma: This is the first meeting between these two away from Cotton Bowl Stadium since 1923. Sooners 38, Longhorns 35.

Alabama vs. Georgia: The Bulldogs become the first team this season to play Alabama within 22 points. Crimson Tide 31, Bulldogs 24.

Clemson vs. Pittsburgh: The Panthers are the sixth different Coastal Division champ in six years. They will be the sixth straight Coastal champ to lose an ACC title game. Tigers 45, Panthers 14.

Northwestern at Ohio State: Pat Fitzgerald appears to be the more likeable coach in this one. Buckeyes 38, Wildcats 19.

Last week: Winners — 17; khakis — 8.

Pasquali is 255-70 overall (78.5 percent) this season.

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

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