The final week of the regular season is upon us, and to kick it off, we very well could solve the SEC’s playoff picture out of the gate. In case you missed the scenarios, you can catch all of them on last night’s Inside Blitz Podcast, but in short. This is a must-win game for just about everybody tonight. For a couple teams it’s their playoff lives, for a couple others, it’s the difference between a first round bye or playing in the opening round of the playoffs.
TEXAS vs. CLEMSON
Texas has owned this rivalry for the last three seasons, and a win tonight would not only make Texas SEC champs for their second straight season, but would also guarantee them their second straight first round bye in the playoffs. The reason behind that can only be attributed to quarterback Walker Mills. Mills has come on strong over the last couple of weeks, proving his merits not only as a true dual-threat at the position, but also as a Player of the Year Candidate. He put up four passing touchdowns last week, and combined for 300 total yards of offense alone. Mills has been the driving force of the offense, which has given rise to tailback Tarraj Walker, as well as receiver Scooby Lewis and tight end Nikko Landman. He’s also helped the defense by allowing them to play with a lead more often than not, which lets guys like linebacker Howard Cook and safety Jimbo Smithers tee off on the opposition. Part of the lead though? Corner Terrence Top seems to have a pick-six about once a game, what he has done has been unheard of, and something he needs to do again to rattle the rookie quarterback on the other side tonight.
Speaking of Clemson signal-caller Will Slay, this might be biggest game the freshman quarterback has played in this season, namely because Clemson’s playoff lives hinge on tonight. And he’s had some pressured moments, whether it was his struggles with Florida, or his inability to close the deal against Alabama. But he’s young, and a win tonight will erase those struggles. To win, tailback Mike Chadwick and receivers Keith Blazer and Jay Moe have to stand up strong tonight in order to get ahead. Part of getting ahead requires linebacker Jack Tyler to solidify his Player of the Year campaign by dominating and shutting down a Texas offense that has been lighting up scoreboards for the last couple of weeks. Corners Andrew Fuller and Harper Allen take away the perimeter while safety Barry Allen takes away the deep ball, leaving Tyler to handle the running game with defensive tackle Bill McAllister and defensive end Mike Miller. I already can’t wait to see this tonight.
Final: Texas 45, Clemson 42
ALABAMA vs. AUBURN
The first iteration of the Iron Bowl for the CFSL sees an Alabama team that is coming out of a dogfight in the swamp, and the tandem of quarterback Balion Siege and tailback Joe Pantoja facing a talented defense. That rushing duo won’t be enough I’m afraid, which means receivers Tim Cope and Tyron Terry have to play out of their minds tonight, and make big plays downfield. Defensively, safety Lamar Fant is coming off a 20 tackle performance, and another outstanding game tonight could put him in the Player of the Year conversation. But he can’t do it alone. Corners Jacob McCall and Russell Brazzell have played well, but honestly, defensive ends Richard Bradley and Jackson Adok have to make life difficult for Auburn both rushing and passing. Do that, and the Crimson Tide has a shot.
Auburn finds themselves in a familiar spot. They need to get into the playoffs, they just don’t need help this time. It’s win-and-in night. The difference though, is that quarterback Griffin Jelkic looks confident, poised, and tailback Robert Davis is doing his part on the ground. It’s a balanced offense that can beat you either through the air or on the ground, assuming Jelkic avoids mistakes. If he doesn’t then this Auburn defense has to do their part, which means safety Digger Graves needs to have a major game. He missed a few key tackles last week, he can’t afford that tonight. Between Graves and safety Ollie P. Peters on the back end, and coming down into the box, linebackers Mark Calloway and Micah Myers have to stifle Pantoja. Calloway in particular needs to take this game over for Auburn and start generating turnovers as does corner LaRoi Sanders who can’t seem to hold on to interceptions. If Auburn can’t generate turnovers, then this all goes downhill for the Tigers.
Final: Alabama 35, Auburn 38