Around the SEC

Sports writer Ryne Ryskoski breaks down the final week of SEC regular season play with highlights including the 2021 Egg Bowl between South Carolina and Arkansas. 

Thanksgiving weekend in the Southeastern Conference features a ranked Egg Bowl matchup, an interesting battle between South Carolina teams and the Razorbacks going for their eighth win.

All these teams have gained bowl eligibility and are fighting to get the best-possible bid. Mississippi State looks to get to eight wins against the 9-2 Rebels, Arkansas could have its best season since 2015 and South Carolina looks to get a big win at home against Clemson.

No. 12 Ole Miss (9-2) at No. 25 Miss. St. (7-4)

Saturday, Nov. 27 - Davis Wade Stadium - Starkville, Miss.

6:30 p.m. CT on ESPN

This year’s edition of the Egg Bowl will be a good one, with the Bulldogs going 4-1 over their last five games and Ole Miss going for its 10th win of the year. Both teams have been hot over the last two months, with Ole Miss getting a big win over Texas A&M at home and only losing games to Auburn and Alabama this season. In contrast, Mississippi State has gone 5-2 since losing to Alabama early in the season.

Both teams have surging quarterbacks with potential to throw for 400 yards and multiple scores in each game. Ole Miss junior quarterback Matt Corral has been his usual, efficient self over recent weeks, and he’s been dealing with an ankle injury during that span. Sophomore Miss. St. quarterback Will Rogers has the most passing yards in the SEC with over 4,000 and hits his receivers at an SEC-best 76% rate. He also has the second-most touchdown passes in the conference with 34. Both teams’ defenses are so ineffective overall that it’d be shocking if this year’s Egg Bowl did not become a shootout with Corral and Rogers trading touchdowns. They both give up almost the same points per game and are in the bottom half of the SEC in pass defense. But there’s a player or two on Ole Miss’ defense that will be a big reason why the Rebels pull out a close win. Ole Miss senior defensive lineman Sam Williams has 11 sacks, the second-most in the conference. Sophomore linebacker Cedrick Johnson and senior linebacker Chance Campbell have another 13 combined sacks this season to add onto Williams’ total. They’ve proven their ability to rush the passer, and there will come a point in Saturday’s game where they make an important play. Williams especially will be a key for the Rebels in limiting Rogers and disrupting his timing due to size, speed and experience.

In the end, Corral will prove why he is one of the top signal-callers in the SEC with a lot of throwing yards as Ole Miss’ defense gets a few crucial stops late in the game to leave Starkville with the Golden Egg Trophy.

Prediction: Ole Miss 44, Miss. St. 42

Missouri (6-5) at No. 21 Arkansas (7-4)

Saturday, Nov. 27 - Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium - Fayetteville, Ark.

2:30 p.m. CT on CBS

Missouri is coming off a 24-23 overtime win at home over Florida, which was ultimately the last straw on the Alligator’s back for coach Dan Mullen getting fired, while Arkansas is looking to get its eighth win of the season — something which hasn’t happened since the 2015 Razorbacks.

The Tigers and coach Eli Drinkwitz seem to have figured out their offensive identity in the last quarter of the season. Senior running back Tyler Badie has had a brilliant last few games to vault himself to the top of the SEC in rushing yards. He’s statistically been the best at his position this year with the most carries, 227; second-most rushing touchdowns, 13; and 335 receiving yards. In the last two games for Missouri, both wins, Badie ran for over 450 yards and scored twice. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Connor Bazelak has also been efficient getting the ball to his receivers while dealing with a lighter workload in terms of passing. The running game appears to now be Drinkwitz’s go-to playstyle, and it has been successful in the latter part of the year.

Arkansas has had a pretty wild season, at one point getting up to No. 8 in the AP poll before coming back down to Earth. However, the Razorbacks have been consistent since dropping a few games in the mid-season. Since its three-game losing streak to Georgia, Ole Miss and Auburn, Arkansas has won three straight games and nearly upset Alabama in Tuscaloosa this past Saturday, losing 42-35. What has been consistent, though, is sophomore quarterback KJ Jefferson and the ground game. Jefferson threw for 326 yards and three touchdowns against Alabama and hasn’t thrown an interception in five consecutive weeks. He stands fourth in the conference in quarterback rating, is tied for the least interceptions and completes passes at a 66% rate. The running game has paired nicely with Jefferson, as the Razorbacks’ running game averages 222 yards a game, the second-most in the SEC. Junior running back Trelon Smith has led the unit with over 500 rushing yards this season and averages 5 yards per carry.

With this game being in Fayetteville, Ark., combined with how well Arkansas’ offense has performed in recent weeks and the low quality of Missouri’s defense, it’s hard to envision the Tigers outscoring the Razorbacks for 60 minutes. Arkansas takes this one in a high-scoring game.

Prediction: Arkansas 40, Missouri 30

Clemson (8-3) at South Carolina (6-5)

Saturday, Nov. 27 - Williams-Brice Stadium - Columbia, S.C.

6:30 p.m. CT on SEC Network

Many have simply forgotten about Clemson after a 4-3 start to the season, but since then, the Tigers have gone 4-0 with a big win over previously-undefeated Wake Forest this past weekend. South Carolina, on the other hand, has shocked people in the last three weeks with a blowout win over Florida three weeks ago and a home win over Auburn to achieve bowl eligibility and get above .500 for the season.

The Gamecocks have played great defense in the last few weeks, along with efficient quarterback play. Third-string senior quarterback Jason Brown has been quite the surprise after having to play due to multiple other injuries at the position. In the last three weeks, Brown has thrown for over 500 yards, seven touchdowns to two interceptions and spread the ball between several different receivers in each of those games. Credit must be given to coach Shane Beamer, who has turned around the program in his first year while dealing with a wealth of injuries at premium positions.

Over its recent run, Clemson found its offensive identity after failing to score many points early in the year. The Tigers have scored 122 points in their last three games as sophomore quarterback DJ Uigalelei has progressed with his accuracy and decision making. Freshman receiver Beaux Collins has established himself as one of Uigalelei’s favorite targets and one of the team’s best pass-catchers in recent weeks. He became the first true-freshman Clemson receiver to catch a touchdown in three-straight games against Wake Forest and had a career-high 137 receiving yards against the Demon Deacons. In his last three games, Collins caught 15 passes for 281 yards and three touchdowns. In the first six games of the season, Collins had no touchdowns and only 11 catches.

This should be an entertaining rivalry game between two teams who are playing good football. But Clemson has the offensive advantage and moxie to win its last regular-season game to try and get in the ACC Championship. It’ll be a close one, but the Tigers will find a way to win in Columbia.

Prediction: Clemson 32, South Carolina 24

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