Breaking down the SEC

The Southeastern Conference's regular season is almost done, but several important rivalry games remain to be played before the post-season gets underway.

Last week's record: 5-1 (83.3%)

Florida State at Florida

Game within a game: FSU QB Chris Rix vs. his own demons

A team as talented as Florida State shouldn't have to depend so much on the play of one person, but it does. Quarterback Chris Rix has been maddeningly inconsistent across his college career, to the point now that backup Fabian Walker is a legitimate threat to take snaps away from him late in his senior season.

On the other side of the ball, we have a Florida team that often struggles against inferior opponents but seems to rise up to meet the challenge of a strong opponent. With the game at Florida Field, it would seem foolish to pick the Seminoles, but that's what I'm doing.

Rix will be tested by the Gators' secondary, but Florida State's defense is likely to harass young Florida QB Chris Leak even more.

Prediction: Florida State 30, Florida 24

Mark Richt and the Bulldogs have everything to play for.

Georgia at Georgia Tech

Game within a game: GT QB Reggie Ball vs. Georgia pass rush and secondary

Reggie Ball has done about the best he could do in 2003, considering he's a true freshman leading a tradition-filled team in a tough conference. But the numbers still paint Ball an average-at-best quarterback at the moment, getting intercepted at the same rate as he throws touchdown passes (10 each).

Georgia Tech has been erratic in 2003, beating Auburn soundly in Atlanta, then falling to Duke late in the year. Georgia's defensive front and talented secondary should combine to keep Ball caged, but look for Tech to make a close game of things nonetheless thanks most to its rushing defense.

Georgia must also win this game to stay in the SEC Championship Game, as a loss would torpedo the Bulldogs' BCS ranking.

Prediction: Georgia 21, Georgia Tech 17

Alabama at Hawaii

See BamaMag's extended preview.

Prediction: Alabama 37, Hawaii 27

Tennessee at Kentucky

Fulmer's team is on a roll.

Game within a game: Kentucky OL vs. Tennessee DL

If Kentucky wins this game, the Florida Gators go to Atlanta no matter what Georgia does with Georgia Tech. Also, by playing a little game we like to call BCS Math, a Kentucky win would also go a long way to putting LSU in the national title game, leapfrogging Southern California.

While your brain chews on those possibilities, let me tell you that Kentucky really has no legitimate shot at winning this game in the first place. The Wildcats have the talent to make it work, but Tennessee is rolling as of late.

The key for Kentucky will be its offensive line giving its backs enough holes and QB Jared Lorenzen enough time to find receivers. The game should be close early; Kentucky must work hard to keep it that way.

Prediction: Tennessee 38, Kentucky 17

Arkansas at LSU

Another challenge for Nick Saban

Game within a game: Arkansas QB Matt Jones vs. LSU blitz scheme

For Arkansas to win this game, quarterback Matt Jones will essentially have to take the entire game into his own hands. Jones is a unique athlete and football player in the sense that no real pre-planned defense exists that can completely stop him. Whether he can be contained is a matter for the LSU defensive coaches.

LSU's keys to victory are twofold: Stop Jones from becoming a threat operating at will, and find a way to penetrate Arkansas' formidable defense early. Getting Arkansas into catch-up mode early is a sure recipe for LSU victory. Otherwise, the Tigers could be upset, putting Ole Miss in the SEC Championship Game for the first time ever.

Prediction: LSU 27, Arkansas 14

Ole Miss at Mississippi State

David Cutcliffe will cash in following this season.

Game within a game: Mississippi State emotion vs. the reality of the game

MSU's Jackie Sherrill will coach his last game from the Bulldog sidelines Thursday night, and it remains to be seen whether the emotion surrounding that spectacle will be enough to rally Mississippi State's talent over their more-talented rivals of Oxford.

Mississippi State has had the talent all year to be much more competitive than it is, but Sherrill never succeeded in motivating that talent. Playing Ole Miss provides motivation aplenty, as does the prospect of sending a beloved coach out with a win. But Ole Miss still has Eli Manning, Chris Collins, Jesse Mitchell, L.P. Spence, Jonathan Nichols and a host of others that have made the Rebels what they are.

If MSU can stay close until after the half, you might see an upset. But if Ole Miss gets up early, this game will turn uglier than you could ever imagine.

Prediction: Ole Miss 35, Mississippi Sate 27

IDLE: Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Auburn


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