Breaking down the SEC

Some games are crucial, some games are somewhat less so. Taking a look at this weekend's slate of conference match-ups, examining the "game within the game," and finally making our fearless predictions.

Last week's record: 3-2

Florida at South Carolina

Game within the game: Florida's special teams vs. South Carolina's special teams

Can Lou Holtz pull off the upset?

It's odd to take a look at Florida and South Carolina and think the end result may come down to the kicking game. But that's just what might happen here.

South Carolina is an erratic team to begin with. At some positions, the Gamecocks are highly talented. At others, they are very talent-deficient. Florida has a young defense, a true freshman starting at quarterback and a running game by committee.

Most important in Florida's case has been the way Ron Zook's teams have looked like world-beaters against the conference's elite while struggling with the SEC also-rans. Columbia is a difficult place to play, and Florida is primed for a letdown. So in a game like this, look to the kicking game.

Florida's special teams were suspect at the beginning of the season. Now, Florida is ranked no worse than 36th nationally in any special teams category. South Carolina, meanwhile, is ranked higher in punt returns and net punting, but is 73rd in kickoff returns and Florida's kicker, Matt Leach, is a better option than Gamecocks kicker Daniel Weaver.

If you're feeling frisky this week and want to bet an upset, this is a good pick.

Prediction: Florida 29, South Carolina 21

Auburn at Georgia

Game within the game: Georgia's secondary vs. Auburn QB Jason Campbell

Richt's Bulldogs must win to keep pace in the East.

After the loss to Ole Miss last week, writers and fans looking for positives turned to Jason Campbell's performance at quarterback. Campbell put up good numbers and was cool under fire on the final drive.

But the defensive opposition gets a significant upgrade this week, as Campbell goes from facing the SEC's worst pass defense to facing its best. And with Georgia capable of lining up to shut down the run, it's going to take a Herculean effort from Campbell to pass well enough to keep the Bulldog defense honest.

It's the same defensive game plan all teams have used against Auburn this season, and aside from LSU, Georgia may be the best equipped to execute it. Georgia also has more to play for, as a loss here would likely knock the Bulldogs out of the SEC Championship Game.

Prediction: Georgia 24, Auburn 17

Kentucky at Vanderbilt

Game within the game: Vanderbilt QB Jay Cutler vs. Kentucky's linebackers

Vandy plays hard, but can they win a league game?

Kentucky is fighting for bowl eligibility and you couldn't ask for a better SEC opponent than Vanderbilt. Trouble is, unlike fellow SEC doormat Mississippi State, Vanderbilt hasn't mailed it in yet this year.

That leaves a match-up of Vanderbilt's Jay Cutler, who is developing at the quarterback position and can hurt you either with his arm or with his legs, against a Kentucky defense that is still learning and growing at the linebacker positions. If Cutler works the offense well and starts mixing running and passing plays, this game could very well turn out for Kentucky the way the Alabama loss did.

Kentucky has more talent, more speed and more to play for; the Wildcats must now guard against the upset.

Prediction: Kentucky 30, Vanderbilt 20

LSU at Alabama

See BamaMag.com's extended preview for a closer look at this game.

Mississippi State at Tennessee

Game within the game: Tennessee defensive line vs. MSU offensive line

Sherrill's swan song is badly off key.

In all honesty, the game within a game here may be Mississippi State versus clinical depression. The Bulldogs have already gift-wrapped the rest of this season and mailed it in with insufficient postage.

To control this game, Tennessee need only to control the Mississippi State offensive line. Mississippi State isn't good enough on defense to hold Tennessee out of the end zone, but the Bulldogs are good enough on offense to get into a shootout with the Volunteers.

To prevent that from happening, Tennessee needs its front four, easily the worst part of its defense, to regularly penetrate MSU's offensive line and disrupt plays behind the line of scrimmage. It shouldn't be too hard; MSU's line is slow and doesn't play with great footwork.

But upsets are built by inferior players making superior plays, and Tennessee will have to do more than just show up.

Prediction: Tennessee 45, Mississippi State 7

New Mexico State at Arkansas

Game within the game: Arkansas schedule maker vs. boredom

Nutt owes his AD a steak dinner for this one.

There isn't much to say here. New Mexico State was supposed to have a good team this year. The "other Aggies" won seven games last season and had plenty of returning starters, but this year has been a disappointment.

New Mexico State is 3-7 overall and 2-4 in a weak Sun Belt conference, while Arkansas needs a breather in its schedule. Well, the Razorbacks got it. This will be a chance for Arkansas to rest up before closing with Mississippi State and LSU.

Prediction: Arkansas 40, New Mexico State 21


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