AROUND THE SEC

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AROUND THE SEC

GAME OF THE DAY | No. 1 Alabama (11-0, 7-0) at No. 4 Auburn (10-1, 6-1), 3:30 p.m., CBS

Seeing the Iron Bowl from both sides

It’s easy to tell Corey Grant is trying to keep his emotions in check this week.

He is set to appear in the marquee game, after all, as Auburn and top-ranked Alabama square off in the Iron Bowl. The Auburn junior running back holds an interesting distinction: He has suited up for both teams during his college career.

Of course, that’s in more of a figurative sense when it comes to the Crimson Tide. He redshirted during his only season with Alabama in 2010. Once that season ended, the Opelika, Ala., native transferred closer to home to become a Tiger, sitting out yet another season in 2011 because of the NCAA’s transfer rules.

So what are his feelings?

“It’s a personal game,” he said before reversing course. “It’s a big game, but I’m going to treat it like any other game.”

On the field, Grant hasn’t had any problems.

It is he, not Nick Marshall or Tre Mason, who leads the team in yards per carry, gaining 9.9 yards each time he touches the ball. In sum, Grant has 557 rushing yards and five touchdowns this season.

Along with receiver Ricardo Louis, Grant has found great success on speed sweeps, which take advantage of his top-level speed once he gets to the perimeter.

The junior running back said being able to making those plays count are an integral part of the offense, since it takes pressure off Marshall and Mason.

After redshirting in 2010, Grant assumed he would play a larger role with the Crimson Tide’s offense. That spring, however, Alabama moved him to cornerback.

“Things I was getting recruited for, I wasn’t really doing,” he said. “I figured around that time maybe I need to get into a spread offense.”

— Ryan Black, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer

No. 21 Texas A&M (8-3, 4-3) at No. 5 Missouri (10-1, 6-1), 7:45 p.m., ESPN

A shot at redemption for the Heisman winner

Heisman Trophy quarterback Johnny Manziel heads to Faurot Field for redemption, one week after being shut down by LSU.

Recall this: A year ago against Missouri, he put 59 points on the scoreboard.

He’ll have yet another chance to determine the outcome of the SEC and keep his name in the headlines.

“No stage has been too big for him,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. “Being in this league, every stage becomes big. That’s part of winning, part of being in the national spotlight. He understands that, obviously, and embraces that and kind of feeds off of it.”

The loss at LSU, the first road defeat of Manziel’s career, undoubtedly was a blow to his Heisman chances. He finished with a stat line not seen in his previous 23 games: 16-for-41 passing, with two interceptions and one touchdown pass.

He had never completed less than 50 percent of his passes in a game. And it was one of only three times that he has accounted for one or fewer touchdowns.

“There aren’t many times when we come into halftime and you look at the stat sheet and it’s 8-for-22 (passing),” Manziel said. “A big thing for me is getting completions early. … We got punched in the mouth, and it wasn’t fun.”

Barring something unforeseen, he’ll surpass last season’s 3,706 passing yards and still could reach 5,000 total yards. Yet, he seems to realize last week’s issues need to be fixed.

“The thing that makes him different … is he’s so competitive,” Sumlin said. “He plays on the edge. He only knows one way, and that’s who he is. There’s only one way to do things, and if he can’t go 100 percent, then he won’t go.”

— Stu Durando, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

No. 6 Clemson (10-1) at No. 10 South Carolina (9-2), 7 p.m., ESPN2

Remember when Clowney said Boyd was scared?

It was July. Words flowed. “I can tell Tajh Boyd is scared back there. He ain’t no sitting duck, but you can see in his eyes that he’s scared of our D-linemen,” Jadeveon Clowney said.

It’s November. Words are at a premium. Emotions won’t be.

And now South Carolina has to back that up against a hot quarterback from Clemson.

You think Boyd remembers?

The Gamecocks’ hopes of defeating Clemson for the fifth consecutive season, a first in the series history, hinge on the defense slowing a passing attack that features Boyd and sure-to-be-NFL receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant.

South Carolina coaches Steve Spurrier and Lorenzo Ward know that. Defensive linemen Kelcy Quarles and Chaz Sutton know that. And cornerbacks Jimmy Legree and Vic Hampton know that.

Spurrier marvels at how Boyd consistently finds his top two targets.

“He hits guys on the dead run down the field, and they catch everything that comes their way,” Spurrier said. “It’ll be a challenge for our guys. I would say by far this is the best passing team that we’ve faced this year. We’ve got to be sharp and got to get pressure on the quarterback.”

It starts with Boyd, a senior who has completed 233 of 346 passes for 3,248 yards and 29 touchdowns this season. But the Gamecocks have contained him in their past three wins against the Tigers, when he has completed 32 of 71 passes for 339 yards and two touchdowns. In those games, they sacked him 14 times and picked off three of his passes.

“We’ve been getting great pressure throughout the past three years,” Sutton said. “We’re going to still try to do the same thing — keep applying pressure. The more pressure we can get, the more rattled we can get the quarterback. We can affect the quarterback and take over the game.

“I don’t know if we can rattle him, but we definitely want to get pressure on him early,” Ward said. “He’ll pick you apart if you don’t.”

— Neil White, The State (Columbia, S.C.)

No. 2 Florida State (11-0) at Florida (4-7), noon, ESPN

Bowden: Seems like one team can’t win

Former FSU coach Bobby Bowden thought he had seen everything during the annual Florida-Florida State series that has spanned 34 seasons and 36 matchups.

Even when one team had the upper hand, Bowden always believed anything could happen.

Until now.

“I can’t remember the last time it was like this. … I can’t remember,” Bowden said. “You know, it’s always been a game that either team could win. Now, it seems like one of them can’t.”

The Gators and Seminoles will square off in the Swamp, programs sitting at polar opposites.

Florida is riding a six-game losing skid, while Florida State (11-0) is rolling toward the BCS title game. Gators coach Will Muschamp is under fire, while Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher is a front-runner for national coach of the year. Redshirt freshman quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg is Florida’s third option, while FSU redshirt freshman quarterback James Winston could win the Heisman Trophy.

“It is hard to believe the gap is so huge between us two,” Gators senior guard Jon Halapio said. “Especially after how we beat them last year.”

Florida went to Tallahassee last November and physically dominated the nation’s top-ranked defense during a 37-26 win.

— Edgar Thompson, Orlando Sentinel

Tennessee (4-7, 1-6) at Kentucky (2-9, 0-7), 7 p.m., ESPNU

A Kentucky tackler who remains under the radar

Avery Williamson will make his final start feeling confident that Kentucky is on the path to respectability.

That might sound strange considering the Wildcats are winless in the SEC entering the season finale against border-rival Tennessee, but the senior middle linebacker believes he has been around the program long enough to know progress when he sees it.

“I feel like I was a part of the building process here,” Williamson said. “I know these coaches will get things turned around. We really focused on having a lot more leadership and accountability this year, and I think that will help the program in the future.”

The 6-foot-1, 240-pounder certainly has left his mark on the program. He leads Kentucky again with 96 tackles, which ranks third in the SEC. But the Tennessee native would really like to end his college career with a victory over the Volunteers.

“I know people on the (Vols), and everyone back home is a Tennessee fan, so it really would be great to beat them again, like I did my sophomore year,” Williamson added.

Kentucky’s 10-7 victory in 2011 broke a 26-game losing streak against the rival Vols. The Wildcats forced three turnovers in that meeting, including a key one during a third-quarter goal-line stand.

Any success Kentucky hopes to have will require a similar defensive effort, and that all starts with Williamson. That’s not a problem considering he has been the face of the Wildcats’ defense, if not the program, for a while now.

Williamson’s 290 career tackles include 135 as a junior — which rank second in the SEC and seventh nationally. Though he won’t match that total this season, another 100-stop season easily is within reach since he always seems to be around the ball.

His per-game average of 8.7 tackles rank third in the league and 48th nationally. Williamson has led the Wildcats in tackles in five games this season, including four double-digit performances.

“If we had a bunch of guys with (Williamson’s) talent, heart and attitude,” coach Mark Stoops said, “we’d have an awful lot of wins.”

— Associated Press

Wake Forest (4-7) at Vanderbilt (7-4), 12:21 p.m., WPCH

One final chance for Vandy’s Tate

The vision that Wesley Tate had for his senior season rarely has lined up with reality.

But as Vanderbilt prepares for its regular-season finale against Wake Forest, the homegrown running back hopes to follow his team’s lead and end his final home game on a high note.

“Team-wise and individually, it’s been a roller coaster,” Tate said.

Tate is coming off one of his busier games. He turned eight carries into 35 yards and caught five passes in the 14-10 win at Tennessee, getting the lion’s share of the work after starter Jerron Seymour was dinged up and backup Brian Kimbrow fumbled.

Tate, whose career included a season at slot receiver, began this season as the No. 1 back but eventually gave way to Seymour. His first game off the bench produced his best numbers of the season — 71 rushing yards on 10 carries and a 19-yard touchdown catch at South Carolina.

But as the Commodores began their second-half surge to the season, Tate (77 rushes, 319 yards, four TDs) saw his playing time diminish and was limited in two games with a leg injury.

“It’s been a bit up and down for him,” offensive coordinator John Donovan said. “He’s been banged up, and now he’s back to feeling pretty good. He stayed positive, and he knew he’d have a chance.”

Wake Forest’s all-time leading receiver, Michael Campanaro, hasn’t ruled out returning for his final game after suffering a broken collarbone in a Nov. 2 loss at Syracuse.

“He’s supposed to be out four to six weeks,” coach James Franklin said. “This is four weeks, so he’ll be back. We’re anticipating that. I think that’s the biggest thing (for Wake Forest’s struggles). You lose a big piece of the puzzle like that, it affects you.”

— Jeff Lockridge, The Tennessean (Nashville, Tenn.)

Compiled by Ray Cox

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