Predicting SEC action

Several key games are scheduled this week involving Southeastern Conference schools. The Ole Miss/Auburn game could spell gloom for the Tigers' conference hopes or glory for the Rebs. While Tennessee will probably catch Miami in a bad mood in the biggest out-of-conference clash.

Vanderbilt at Florida

STRENGTHS
Vanderbilt – pass defense, balanced offense
Florida – protecting the football, special teams (all facets)

Will Vandy make a game of it?

WEAKNESSES
Vanderbilt – protecting the football, stopping the run
Florida – not being able to run at will, rush defense

It is surprising, yet true – Vanderbilt has a balanced offense, yet also has a defense that can't stop the run.

The hallmark for the Commodores in years past has been the ability to stop their opponent, but not the ability to fight back. That appears to be changing, as Vandy is ranked mid-pack in both rushing and passing offense. But while the pass defense is ranked 19th nationally, the team's rush defense is ranked 88th nationally, yielding nearly 183 yards per game on the ground. Vanderbilt also has problems with turnovers and special teams are middling. Florida, meanwhile, is coming off a big victory over Georgia that has put the Gators back in the race for the SEC East crown.

Florida's biggest problem will be avoiding a letdown. Florida is 3-0 in its last three games, defeating SEC strongmen Georgia, LSU and Arkansas. But Florida was 1-2 in the three games before that, losing to Ole Miss and Tennessee and nearly getting beaten by Kentucky.

Which Florida team shows up Saturday? Probably the one that will beat the hapless Commodores soundly.

Prediction: Florida 37, Vanderbilt 10

South Carolina at Arkansas (played Thursday night)

STRENGTHS
South Carolina – protects football well, good total defensive numbers
Arkansas – strong rushing game, pass defense

Arkansas coach Houston Nutt

WEAKNESSES
South Carolina – erratic passing game, unpredictable results week to week
Arkansas – erratic passing game, can't stop a great rushing attack, kick and punt returns

Once again, South Carolina's failure or success falls on the shoulders of QB Dondrial Pinkins, who nearly single-handedly pulled off the upset of Ole Miss in Oxford last week.

The word for South Carolina in 2003 has been "erratic," with the passing game and the team's overall results fluctuating wildly week to week regardless of the opposition. South Carolina has been midpack against the run this year, and while the Gamecocks did a good job against Ole Miss' ground attack, Arkansas is another matter entirely; the Razorback offensive line is a far sight better than the one belonging to the Rebels of Ole Miss.

The unknown quantity in this game will be whether Arkansas can shake off the fatigue of a seven-overtime win over Kentucky. Tennessee's overtime match with Alabama the week before contributed heavily in the Vols' lethargic showing against Duke, and a similar performance from Arkansas would be more than enough to allow USC to deliver the upset.

Prediction: Arkansas 28, South Carolina 14

Ole Miss at Auburn

STRENGTHS
Ole Miss – Eli Manning complements a rejuvenated rushing attack, good special teams, great against the run
Auburn – runs and stops the run well, deep running back group, fast defense

Will Eli Manning prove Heisman worthy?

WEAKNESSES
Ole Miss – atrocious pass defense numbers
Auburn – enigmatic passing game, trouble in the kicking game, pass defense isn't as strong as it seems

Gone are the days when Ole Miss got its inspiration for this game from the questionable way in which Tommy Tuberville left Oxford for Auburn. Ole Miss has much stronger motivation these days – the school's first-ever SEC Western Division crown.

If Ole Miss wins this game, it puts the Rebels squarely in the driver's seat for the remainder of the year. Lose to Auburn, and the Rebels have to hope either Georgia or Alabama takes down the Tigers later in the year.

Auburn's pass defense has been dodging bullets all year and is clearly the Achilles' heel of the Tiger defensive unit. Ole Miss QB Eli Manning will be the best Auburn has faced, and if Ole Miss is able to get something going on the ground, look out. Manning is easily capable of shredding Auburn.

The key in this game will be how well the Rebels stop Auburn running backs Carnell Williams, Brandon Jacobs and Ronnie Brown. If Auburn is allowed to run at will, Ole Miss' defense will be run ragged early and Manning won't get enough opportunities to make a difference.

Prediction: Auburn 31, Ole Miss 28

Alabama at Mississippi State

(See BamaMag.com's extended preview for more information.)

Prediction: Alabama 30, MSU 21

Tennessee at Miami (Fla.)

STRENGTHS
Tennessee – pass defense, special teams, experience, superior strength and depth
Miami – kick and punt returns, strong pass defense

Fat chance this week for Fulmer's Volunteers?

WEAKNESSES
Miami – troubles with turnovers, rush defense barely adequate, poor passing efficiency from the team's QBs.
Tennessee – doesn't protect the football well, having trouble stopping the run

Now the question arrives: Will Tennessee finally bounce back from the aftereffects of the Alabama-UT overtime game? Or will the Hurricanes bounce back from an embarrassment at the hands of Virginia Tech and take out their frustration on the Vols?

Miami has a middling rush defense, but against the pass, there are few teams more solid. The Canes have put up decent passing numbers, but QB Brock Berlin languishes at the bottom Conference USA in passing efficiency. Simply put, this isn't the same Hurricane team you've been used to watching recently.

The good news for Miami is that Tennessee isn't its usual self this year, either. With several off-the-field distractions lately, Tennessee has often looked like a body without a head.

Prediction: Miami 35, Tennessee 20


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