Good SEC schedule awaits

Breaking down the SEC's weekend games, including strengths, weaknesses and Jess's fearless predictions.

Georgia vs. Florida, neutral site

STRENGTHS
Georgia – total defense, protecting the football, well-planned passing game
Florida – protecting the football, special teams (all facets)

WEAKNESSES
Georgia – punting, not being able to run at will
Florida – not being able to run at will, rush defense

Florida has been just as unpredictable this year as most people expected. The reasons are many, and that's without even considering whether Ron Zook is SEC head coaching material. Florida has an inexperienced defensive line and linebacking corps (evident in the Gators' national ranking of 60th against the run), new players throughout its special teams units and one of only two true freshmen starting quarterbacks in Div-IA (Georgia Tech's Reggie Ball is the other).

Chris Leak, the aforementioned Gator quarterback, took over for Ingle Martin early in the year and has kept the reins. But anytime there is a true freshman at the helm, the results are going to be wildly different week to week. Case in point: Florida slaughtered weaklings like Florida A&M and San Jose State and kept pace with Miami, but nearly lost to Kentucky and did eventually lose to Ole Miss. All of this cannot be blamed on Chris Leak – he wasn't the starting quarterback for some of those games and he's only one player – but a team's psyche is in the balance if it doesn't completely trust its leader yet, and that goes both for Leak and Zook.

Georgia comes into this game very banged up. A source close to the program said 16 players were held out of the UAB game last week and many of those may miss the Florida contest as well. Reserve QB D.J. Shockley is not available, so if starting QB David Greene goes down hurt, trouble lies ahead. Fortunately for Georgia, the Bulldogs match up better against the Gators in virtually every facet save special teams. While Georgia can ably return punts, their net punting numbers and kickoff return ranking is subpar. Neither team is likely to do great things in the running game.

Matched up without regard to injury, Georgia should win this game in a walk. But Florida comes in much healthier, and Leak is slowly getting acclimated to SEC play. Those factors tighten the score up considerably.

Georgia 23, Florida 17

Kentucky and Lorenzen are especially dangerous at home (Getty Images)

Arkansas at Kentucky

STRENGTHS
Arkansas – strong rushing game, pass defense
Kentucky – kick and punt returns, efficient at scoring despite middling passing and rushing numbers

WEAKNESSES
Arkansas – erratic passing game, can't stop a great rushing attack, kick and punt returns
Kentucky – poor punting numbers, starting kicker is likely out, no offensive identity

Kentucky has gone from an air-it-out-all-the-time team to a balanced offensive attack – except by "balance," we mean the Wildcats rank 82nd in rushing and 76th in passing nationwide. Somehow, the Cats are in the top 30 in scoring, perhaps due to Derek Abney's prowess as a kick returner. An offense that struggles is not a good recipe for success against Arkansas, which can use its ground game to eat up the clock and pound an opposing defense.

Arkansas' tailbacks are the walking wounded at the moment, however. Fortunately for Arkansas, Matt Jones is still around, but Arkansas was forced to use receiver Decori Birmingham and tailback-then-linebacker-then-tailback-again Brandon Holmes last week against Ole Miss. It didn't work last week and it probably won't work much better this week.

Kentucky, meanwhile, may be looking to replace Jared Lorenzen with Shane Boyd at quarterback. So there will be plenty of side stories for both teams this week. Look for Arkansas' superior offensive line and secondary to be the final difference.

Arkansas 24, Kentucky 20

Manning has Rebs chasing magical season.

South Carolina at Ole Miss

STRENGTHS
South Carolina – protects football well, good total defensive numbers
Ole Miss – Eli Manning complements a rejuvenated rushing attack, good special teams, great against the run

WEAKNESSES
South Carolina – erratic passing game, unpredictable results week to week
Ole Miss – atrocious pass defense numbers

Who wins this one won't come down to Eli Manning last-second heroics or how well Ole Miss' three-headed tailback monster of Ronald McClendon, Tremaine Turner and Vashon Pearson are working. It will come down to South Carolina QB Dondrial Pinkins, and whether he can shred the Rebels' awful pass defense like so many before him.

Both teams sport a competent – sometimes great, for that matter – rush defense. But while the Gamecocks land in the middle of the pack in pass defense, Ole Miss is ranked second-to-last nationwide. Saying the game lies in Pinkins' hands and him actually doing something about it are two totally different animals, however. Pinkins ranks 86th in passing efficiency among Division I-A's 117 starting quarterbacks. When he's on, he's deadly; a big-bodied, strong-armed leader that can scamper when flushed from the pocket. But when he's not on, which for South Carolina is unfortunately far too often, he chunks interceptions, misses receivers wildly and generally becomes a liability rather than a strength.

These are the games that scare Rebel fans, as their entire Cinderella season could come apart if they drop one to the Cocks. It shouldn't happen, and probably won't.

Ole Miss 37, South Carolina 28

Vol opponent is "let down" proof.

Duke at Tennessee

STRENGTHS
Duke – pass defense, kickoff returns
Tennessee – pass defense, special teams, experience, superior strength and depth

WEAKNESSES
Duke – too many to list
Tennessee – doesn't protect the football well, figures to be physically worn out following five-overtime win over Alabama last week

Boy, did Tennessee ever need this game. Duke is terrible, 2-6 with an overtime win over Rice in week 3 and an unremarkable victory over lower-division Western Carolina in the opener. Tennessee figures to be severely dinged up after its five-overtime win over the Crimson Tide last week, and Duke provides just the salve needed for the Volunteers.

If you're looking for a way Duke can upset the Vols, though, consider Duke lost by only a touchdown – 28-21 – to a far superior North Carolina State team last week. Head coach Carl Franks was fired before the game, and defensive coordinator Ted Roof was picked as his interim successor. For some teams, a change at the top provides a shot in the arm – meaning, at least for this game, that Duke will probably keep things closer than they otherwise would be.

But upset the Vols? Not likely.

Tennessee 24, Duke 0

Tigers won't need to pass.

Louisiana-Monroe at Auburn

STRENGTHS
La.-Monroe – good special teams, fairly effective passing game
Auburn – runs and stops the run well, deep running back group, fast defense

WEAKNESSES
La.-Monroe – can't run the football against top opposition, terrible against the pass, doesn't protect the football at all
Auburn – enigmatic passing game, trouble in the kicking game, battered psyche after falling from lofty preseason predictions

This statement should tell you everything you need to know about this game: Louisiana-Monroe scheduled two out-of-conference games against Division-IAA opponents.

And lost both.

Stephen F. Austin and Northwestern State have notches in their belts that they shouldn't own – which begs the question, how bad should Louisiana-Lafayette, a team that seemed to be making strides this year, feel about dropping one to the Indians two weeks back. To be fair to the Indians, they have been getting better, playing Arkansas State and New Mexico State tough before eventually losing. And Louisiana-Monroe does have some of the best receivers Auburn will face all year.

But Auburn has the ability to simply turn and hand the ball 70 times to Carnell Williams, Ronnie Brown, Brandon Jacobs and Tre Smith and go home happy. Louisiana-Monroe likely won't have the ball enough to really make a difference in the game.

Auburn 37, La.-Monroe 6.

Saban's squad is on a roll. (AP photo)

Louisiana Tech at LSU

STRENGTHS
Louisiana Tech – good passing offense, QB Luke McCown is a star
LSU – number one defense in Division-IA, great special teams, balanced offense

WEAKNESSES
Louisiana Tech – worst pass defense in Division-IA, can't stop the run, either
LSU – if anything, the running game hasn't produced as expected

Statistically, LSU looks like what they are – a national title contender. And Louisiana Tech looks like what they are, as well – a pass-happy also-ran playing the role of hopeful spoiler against its big instate brother. LSU used to be known for a porous pass defense before Nick Saban took over as head coach; now, the Bayou Bengals are as strong against the pass as they are the run. That's a good thing, because LaTech QB Luke McCown accounts for more than 300 yards of offense a game.

LSU can hurt the Bulldogs through the air. The Tigers haven't proven able to stop any opponent's passing offense consistently.

But there is this one small matter of a Sept. 13 game against Michigan State – a game Louisiana Tech won, 20-19. Michigan State isn't chopped liver, and if the Bulldogs can beat the Spartans, they are certainly capable of giving LSU a hard time. Saban has also shown the propensity to lose games like this in the past – but it's not likely this time around.

LSU 33, Louisiana Tech 20.


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