Florida head coach Will Muschamp , left, and South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier greet each other on the field prior to an NCAA college football game in Gainesville, Fla., Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
John Raoux
November 19, 2014

COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) Texas A&M, LSU and Kentucky are off this week and five other teams in the Southeastern Conference get a respite from the rigors of league play with nonconference games.

It's a nice break for SEC teams looking to finish the season strong or improve their bowl destination - or simply becoming eligible for one - with rivalry week looming in Week 14.

No. 9 Georgia, which is coming off a win over 16th-ranked Auburn, hosts Charleston Southern, an FCS school with an enrollment of about 3,300.

''We look at it as an opportunity,'' Georgia cornerback Damian Swann said. ''An opportunity to get better. An opportunity for guys to get some experience.''

It's their last tuneup before next week's game against rival Georgia Tech, and Swann noted the value of stepping out of SEC play late in the season.

''You can't go out and play a 12-game playoff schedule,'' he said. ''Guys wouldn't last. This is a physical sport. This is a physical conference. Trying to play all those games in back-to-back weeks is going to be difficult ... so getting a change of pace is good for a lot of guys to get some experience and get some playing time.''

Second-ranked Alabama got a hard-fought win over No. 4 Mississippi State last week. On Saturday, the Crimson Tide faces FCS school Western Carolina. Alabama coach Nick Saban raved about the improvement of the Catamounts, who won just two games last season, but have already collected seven victories this season.

He then acknowledged that regardless of the opponent, he tries to make sure his team's focus is on itself.

''We care about what we can get fixed, how we can do better, and what we need to do to do that,'' Saban said. ''It's really not so much about who you are playing but it's about who you are and what you have to do to ... find out if we can take advantage of the opportunity that we have.''

At 5-5 and needing a win to become bowl eligible, the up-and-down South Carolina Gamecocks know they can't take South Alabama lightly. South Carolina beat Florida in overtime last week after losing four of five.

''We're not good enough to think we can show up and roll over people,'' coach Steve Spurrier said. ''We know that we have struggled a lot this year and we've got to really play our best if we're going to give ourselves a chance to win.''

Florida is in a similar situation as the Gators get ready for Eastern Kentucky after coach Will Muschamp was fired following the loss to South Carolina. He'll coach the final two regular-season games, giving the five-win Gators another reason to finish strong.

''We have to win to send all our seniors out of our last home game with a win and to send (Muschamp) out with a win,'' offensive lineman Trenton Brown said. ''It's like his senior night, too.''

Auburn hosts Samford after consecutive losses to Texas A&M and Georgia, looking to get back on track before the Iron Bowl next week at Alabama.

The Aggies and LSU are off on Saturday to prepare for a Thanksgiving game in College Station that will close the regular season for both teams. Texas A&M hopes to use the break to get several members of its defense healthy including freshman defensive end Myles Garrett. He is second in the SEC with 11 sacks, but sat out A&M's loss to Missouri on Saturday with an undisclosed injury.

LSU will try to snap a two-game skid in its first game on the holiday since 1973.

Kentucky appreciates that it gets a week off before meeting rival Louisville on Nov. 29.

''We're banged up, for sure,'' quarterback Patrick Towles said. ''But it's also great because we've got our biggest game coming up in two weeks and we've got an extra week to prepare.''

Not everybody in the SEC has it easy this week with Vanderbilt traveling to No. 4 Mississippi State, Arkansas hosting No. 8 Mississippi and No. 19 Missouri meeting Tennessee.

The Commodores are 0-6 in SEC play and can't make a bowl game. First-year coach Derek Mason said they're treating their last two games as their postseason.

''Bowl-type atmosphere,'' said Mason of facing their highest-ranked opponent this season on Saturday. ''That's what it is. That's what you're looking forward to. Again, you're looking for an opportunity to show what you have and how you are.''

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AP Sports Writers Gary Graves, Mark Long, Pete Iacobelli, Paul Newberry, Teresa Walker and John Zenor contributed to this report.

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