SEC preview and predictions for Sept. 18

Jess Nicholas provides previews and predictions on some big Southeastern Conference week three games. Nicholas is 14-2 on the young season.

Week two: 6-0 (100.0%)

Season: 14-2 (87.5%)

WESTERN CAROLINA at ALABAMA

Game within a game: WCU offense vs. Alabama falling victim to a letdown

Believe it or not, Division I-AA teams sometimes beat Division I-A teams. Appalachian State used to make a habit of upsetting Wake Forest and other teams in the area. Western Carolina opened the year beating West Virginia State by an eye-popping 77-7. The Catamounts followed up that win with a 28-7 beating of Nicholls State. The Catamounts lead Div-IAA in turnover margin and are near the top in several defensive categories. QB Bennett Swygert is a dual-threat quarterback, and RB Nicholas Wishart is probably better than anyone Utah State put on the field against Alabama. This one will come down to whether Alabama can control the lines of scrimmage. A letdown following the emotional win over Ole Miss is virtually unavoidable. The question will be how well Alabama deals with it. Alabama 40, Western Carolina 21

LOUISIANA-MONROE at ARKANSAS

Game within a game: La.-Monroe QB Steven Jyles vs. Arkansas pass defense

Even though Arkansas lost late to Texas by a close margin, the Razorbacks can't go totally on autopilot this week against the Indians. If there is one area Arkansas must pay closer attention to, it is its pass defense, which ranks 88th in pass efficiency defense in Div-IA. La.-Monroe QB Steven Jyles is a dual-threat player, but realistically, he can't beat Arkansas by himself or even get very close. Expect Arkansas to roll, even though the Indians have had a week off after getting pasted 31-0 by Auburn. Arkansas 48, La.-Monroe 17

LSU at AUBURN

Game within a game: LSU rushing offense vs. Auburn rushing defense

Much of the focus of this game will turn to how Auburn's quarterbacks fare against LSU's secondary, or how LSU's quarterbacks do against Auburn's secondary. But lost in that comparison is how LSU's rushing attack, which has been quite average until this point, can do against an Auburn rush defense that has put up mediocre statistics against far inferior competition. Auburn must do a better job of containing LSU's talented running backs, while LSU's backs must perform to take the heat off the Bayou Bengals' young quarterbacks. This game could end up being an ugly fumble- and penalty-filled affair. LSU 27, Auburn 17

FLORIDA at TENNESSEE

Game within a game: Florida's inexperienced defense vs. Tennessee QB Brent Schaeffer

Both teams have played just one opponent each so far, as Florida's opener with MTSU was hurricaned-out and rescheduled for mid-October. So far, the sum total of what everyone knows about these two teams was recorded in wins over bad UNLV (Tennessee) and Eastern Michigan (Florida) teams. What is known is that Florida is rebuilding much of its defense, and will have its hands full with dual-threat QB Brent Schaeffer. While Erik Ainge could also see time for UT, it is Schaeffer who looked more dangerous against UNLV. Neither team has really been tested yet, but the game is in Knoxville and Tennessee's offense looks more potent than Florida's defense at this early point in the season. Tennessee 24, Florida 17

MARSHALL at GEORGIA

Game within a game: Georgia's struggling defense vs. Marshall's struggling offense

Here's one you probably didn't think you'd see, ever – Marshall can't score. The Thundering Herd dropped its opener 17-15 to Troy State, then took Ohio State to the wire before losing on a last-second field goal 24-21. Along the way, Marshall finds itself ranked 107th in total offense, including 92nd in rushing offense and 97th in passing offense – this from a team that used to give all opponents fits trying to figure out how to stop its potent spread attack. But Georgia has problems of its own. The Bulldogs were nearly upset by ground-based South Carolina a week after giving up four touchdowns to the option-oriented Div-IAA school Georgia Southern. The Bulldogs are ranked 86th in rushing defense and 58th in pass efficiency defense. If this was a normal Marshall team, I'd pick the upset. But both teams are struggling. Georgia 28, Marshall 17

INDIANA at KENTUCKY

Game within a game: Kentucky's subpar offense vs. Indiana's opportunistic defense

Don't look now, but Indiana is 2-0 and is coming off a 30-24 upset of Oregon, ranked in many prognosticators' polls. Statistically, you'd never know it – Indiana is 96th in total offense and 95th in total defense. So how do the Hoosiers do it? They're ranked 7th in turnover margin, and lead the nation in kickoff returns. Basically, it's a fluke, and one that even poor Kentucky should be able to exploit. Look for a fairly close game without much scoring, but Kentucky's defense should rebound from the Louisville loss enough to stifle the anemic Indiana attack. Kentucky 17, Indiana 12

VANDERBILT at OLE MISS

Game within a game: Vanderbilt secondary vs. Ole Miss quarterbacks

Simply put, who knows. Ole Miss is now officially in the middle of a quarterback controversy, with Michael Spurlock and Ethan Flatt competing for a job no one may want. If the Commodores are serious about wanting to turn their season around, it has to start here. Vandy matches up better with Ole Miss than it did against South Carolina, but the key here will be which quarterback starts for the Rebels. Flatt and Spurlock demand two completely different defensive schemes. Vanderbilt might not have the talent to pull off both. Vanderbilt 20, Ole Miss 17

MAINE at MISSISSIPPI STATE

Game within a game: MSU RB Jerious Norwood vs. Maine rushing defense

It's sad that MSU can't automatically count this one as a win, but truth be told, the Bulldogs can't. Maine is 1-1, losing an opener to Montana but shutting out Northern Colorado last week. Along the way, Maine finds itself ranked 9th in Div-IAA in rushing defense. Mississippi State looked good in its opener against Tulane, but the loss to Auburn last week was painted in shades of the Jackie Sherrill-led breakdown of the last two seasons. If Sylvester Croom plans to recapture the attention of his team, the Bulldogs have to run away with this game early. Mississippi State 31, Maine 10

SOUTH FLORIDA at SOUTH CAROLINA

Game within a game: USC running game vs. South Florida front seven

South Florida is ranked #1 in total defense in NCAA Div-IA at the moment – on the strength of one game, a 21-7 win over Tennessee Tech in week one. Therefore, throw out a statistical comparison of these two teams, as there isn't enough information to get a clear answer. USF should be worried at its low-scoring performance against a lower-division school, but it should be even more concerned about the rushing attack of the Gamecocks, as USF's front seven were the principal weakness Alabama exploited in the Tide's opening win of the 2003 season. South Carolina, meanwhile, needs to shore up the pass defense; the Gamecocks are ranked dead last in the SEC. But despite its spread formations, USF was unable to get the passing game going against Tennessee Tech. This one has the chance to be a real snoozer. South Carolina 35, South Florida 14


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