The Week 12 mid-week edition of Three & Out takes a looks at Jordan Jefferson's return, the bowl outlook for the Vols and a slate of games that makes "The Jay Leno Show" seem like desirable viewing.
BACK IN THE NICK OF TIME
The LSU Tigers welcome back starting QB Jordan Jefferson this week, after Jefferson sat out last week's win over Louisiana Tech. Jefferson hurt his ankle in the second half of LSU's 24-15 loss to Alabama two weeks ago. In his stead, Jarrett Lee made his first start of the season last week vs. the Bulldogs, and it was nearly a disaster (a recurring theme in Lee's career).
No. 10 LSU squeaked by the Bulldogs Saturday night, 24-16, on Homecoming in Baton Rouge. In that game, Lee was 7-for-22 for 105 yards and one touchdown. Shockingly, he didn't throw a pick six. The game marked the first time in the past 100 years that LA Tech has led LSU in a football game.
LSU's offense wasn't a juggernaut with Jefferson in the lineup. They've been hanging out with Vandy near the SEC cellar in total offense for the better part of the season. But they were still winning due to the fact that Jefferson, for the most part, had been taking care of the football – something that Jarrett Lee seems averse to.
Jefferson's return this weekend vs. Ole Miss is critical to the Tigers bowl chances. A win vs. the Rebels all but solidifies an LSU trip to Orlando on New Years Day to play in the Capital One Bowl. A loss would put the Tigers in a massive jog jam with every SEC team not named Florida, Alabama, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State vying for bowl spots 3-9.
For the Tigers, anything less than Orlando should be a disappointment. This is a team that hung with No. 1 Florida from the opening kick to the final gun and had a chance to beat No. 2 Alabama taken away from them by a replay official. Despite their offensive woes, LSU has been the third-best team in the SEC this year. With Jefferson back in the mix, the Tigers will solidify their standing over the Rebels with a win this weekend in Oxford.
IN THE DRIVERS SEAT TO TAMPA
While LSU and Ole Miss battle for a trip to Orlando, Tennessee – yes, Tennessee – appears to be in the drivers seat to wind up in Tampa for the Outback Bowl. I think it's safe to say that nobody saw that coming back at the end of September.
The Vols fell victim to Ole Miss and Dexter McCluster last weekend, in a 42-17 loss to the Rebels. The Vols allowed McCluster to post the fourth-best single-game rushing performance in SEC history last week (282 yards).
That was an aberration, not the start of a trend.
Tennessee hosts Vanderbilt and visits Kentucky to close out their first regular season under Lane Kiffin. Nobody on the Vanderbilt or Kentucky roster even comes close to the talent of McCluster – not even Kentucky's Randall Cobb. So unless "Bad Crompton" resurfaces for the first time September, the Vols post-season fate seems to be locked up.
The Outback Bowl typically takes an SEC East team. With Tennessee holding wins in their back pocket over SEC East foes Georgia and South Carolina, only a colossal Vol collapse vs. Vanderbilt and Kentucky will prevent Rocky Top from spending New Years on Florida's Gulf Coast.
PART OF THE PROBLEM
No. 1 Florida hosts FIU this weekend in Gainesville and No. 2 Alabama hosts Tennessee-Chattanooga in Tuscaloosa, effectively putting the National Title chase, at least as far as the SEC is concerned, on pause. This mid-season "half-bye week" is an unintended result of the addition of the 12th regular season game, which became permanent before the 2006 season.
I'm not knocking these teams for scheduling cupcakes. These types of games are critical for player development and for the bank accounts of both the traditional power house and the cupcake. Plus, now that the SEC gets the benefit of the doubt from the voters and is generally regarded as the toughest conference to navigate on a week-in, week-out basis, taking a chance vs. a difficult out-of-conference team this late in the season would be crazy.
But it's this type of game that is the biggest obstacle in getting some sort of a playoff or plus one. When the 12th game was permanently added, it gave playoff detractors another out in the never-ending argument for a college football playoff. Opponents to a college football playoff now say that the regular season is too long, and that a playoff would get in the way of the academic progress of the student athlete.
Assuming every conference institutes a conference championship game, if you take away the 12th game and have an eight-team playoff, and the eventual National Champion plays only one more game than they do now - during late December, when class isn't in session. Take away the 12th game and institute a "plus one," and the eventual National Champion plays the exact same number of games as they do today.
It ain't rocket science.
Barrett Sallee covers the SEC for www.CollegeFootballNews.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at
Three & Out Archive: