SEC Previews and Predictions: Week Five

As the Southeastern Conference schedule picks up steam, so do the previews and predictions of Jess Nicholas

Last week: 7-1 (87.5%)

Season: 27-6 (81.8%)


Game within a game: Alabama playcalling vs. South Carolina veteran defense

It's tough to look at the Alabama-Arkansas game and believe the Razorbacks were 17 points better than the Crimson Tide. But Alabama made it that way, perhaps through no fault of its own. At this point, no reasonable person can say Alabama is the same team without Brodie Croyle under center, and the cautious thing to say is that Alabama needs to prove it can be the same team with Marc Guillon at the helm before predicting any future wins. South Carolina won't make things any easier, given the Gamecocks have a tougher defense, particularly up front. But South Carolina lacks a Mark Jones at quarterback – even if Dondrial Pinkins is improved from past years and Syvelle Newton is a spark off the bench. Alabama coaches need to open the offense a bit, and Guillon needs to execute. On top of that, Alabama can afford no mistakes. It's almost too much to ask this week. South Carolina 20, Alabama 10


Game within a game: LSU rushing defense vs. Georgia playcalling

Georgia hasn't exactly struggled in 2004, but the Bulldogs aren't setting the SEC on fire, either. Georgia played footsy with Georgia Southern in the opener, skated by South Carolina in game two and beat a hapless Marshall team 13-3 last week. LSU, meanwhile, is coming off a major blow to its title hopes with a 10-9 loss to Auburn on the road, although the Tigers did a complete hack job on Mississippi State last week. LSU's quarterback situation is still unsettled, but JaMarcus Russell is getting more of the reps now and that figures to continue. Georgia, meanwhile, must find a way out of its offensive doldrums. The Bulldogs are very balanced offensively, but it's a balance stuck in the midst of mediocrity. Neither team is playing championship football at the moment. Georgia needs help from its coaches in finding a way to get the offense started, particularly on the ground against an LSU defense that has been soft up the middle at times. Heaven help the Dawgs, though, if LSU follows up last week's performance with an encore. Georgia 20, LSU 14


Game within a game: Auburn QB Jason Campbell vs. Tennessee secondary

Looking for a weakness on either of these teams right now is like looking for an unmolested doughnut on Phil Fulmer's desk. A statistical comparison of both teams shows Tennessee lacking in a couple of special teams categories – kickoff returns and punt returns, where the Vols have been completely neutered – and in pass defense. Tennessee is ranked 85th in pass defense and 83rd in pass efficiency defense. Auburn, quarterbacked by Jason Campbell – who until this year was feared by few as a signal-caller – is ranked 18th in passing efficiency and 44th in passing, and Campbell is among the nation's leaders in quarterback rating. Auburn's defensive ratings are all among the tops in the league and the country, so why do I think Tennessee takes this game? Because aside from a good performance against quarterback-poor LSU, Auburn's stats have been recorded against three teams who may not win 10 games between them in 2004, The Citadel, Mississippi State and Louisiana-Monroe – as well as the obvious reason that the game is in Neyland Stadium. This will be the game that tests whether Auburn's pass defense is for real. Tennessee 24, Auburn 17


Game within a game: Kentucky QB Shane Boyd vs. Ohio pass defense

Ohio is slowly trying to come out of its one-dimensional shell and mix things up on offense, but it's a learning process. As such, Kentucky should have little trouble with this lower-tier MAC school. But Ohio is capable of playing tough pass defense (ranked 20th in pass defense, 31st in pass efficiency defense) and Kentucky QB Shane Boyd is prone to make mistakes when going downfield. Expect Kentucky to continue to work its running game for use later in conference games. Even more important will be how (or if) Kentucky is able to fix problems with its defense that were unforeseen in the preseason. Kentucky 45, Ohio 20


Game within a game: ASU defense vs. Ole Miss' sense of impending doom

Ole Miss is coming off a loss to Wyoming, which should say something about the confidence level in Oxford right now. Arkansas State represents perhaps the last chance for a Rebel victory before the season-ender with Mississippi State. Breaking down the match-up, Arkansas State is quite capable of throwing the ball effectively, but the Indians can do little else. Arkansas State plays almost no defense to speak of, and the rushing attack is anemic. Ole Miss should be able to do little more than give the ball to Vashon Pearson 40 times, then sit back and watch the results. But this should be a time for Ole Miss to get its passing attack back on track, and decide whether Ethan Flatt or Micheal Spurlock gives them the best chance to win in future games. If the wheels are truly coming off in Oxford, however, Arkansas State has enough offensive firepower to at least make things interesting. Ole Miss 35, Arkansas State 17


Game within a game: Vanderbilt's dashed expectations vs. Mississippi State's low confidence

Neither team does anything well aside from pass defense, where the Commodores are ranked 43rd and the Bulldogs 51st. And that's the best ranking you'll find on either board. In most cases, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State are fighting for 11th and 12th place in the conference. In all fairness, the Bulldogs return punts fairly well, and Vanderbilt QB Jay Cutler is far better than anyone Sylvester Croom has trotted out so far. It is Cutler who will likely make the difference in this game, but one has to wonder whether Vandy is on the cusp of collapse after the possibility of being bowl-eligible is now effectively ended. State, meanwhile, looks to have already quit, and nothing is working. Vanderbilt 27, Mississippi State 14


Game within a game: Arkansas DL vs. Florida RB Ciatrick Fason

Arkansas managed to defeat Alabama at home last weekend, a team that was probably better than the Razorbacks when all factors are considered. Most troubling for Arkansas was the ease with which Alabama moved the ball on the ground. Alabama didn't have Brodie Croyle available for its game, but Florida does have Chris Leak available. Worse yet if you're an Arkansas fan, Florida has talented RB Ciatrick Fason. Florida is physical up front, plays good defense and is more solid in special teams than is Arkansas. The best hope for the Razorbacks is for Florida head coach Ron Zook to have one of his trademark goofy moments in playcalling or preparation. Florida 27, Arkansas 24

IDLE: None

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