SEC Previews and Predictions: Week Seven

Alabama steps out of conference this week facing Southern Miss, while Florida makes up what would've been its season opener against Middle Tennessee if not for Hurricane Frances. Auburn vs. Arkansas highlights the SEC schedule.

Last week: 4-3 (57.1%)

Season: 36-11 (76.6%)

SOUTHERN MISS at ALABAMA

Game within a game: USM LB Michael Boley vs. Alabama offensive guards

With both teams losing their starting quarterbacks for this game, it will likely come down to a ground battle and a test of defenses. Southern Miss' season statistics bear an uncanny resemblance to Alabama's stats. One team's strengths and weaknesses line up almost exactly with the other's. The key match-up for this week will be how well Alabama's offensive line deals with Southern Miss LB Michael Boley, who if he played for Alabama, might just be the Tide's top linebacker. Boley is big, strong, fast and mean, and plays with great instincts. His tackle stats in four games are gaudy and he's also a force in pass defense. With Alabama figuring to rely heavily on the running game, being aware of Boley is going to be key. Alabama must also introduce RB Aaron Johns to the rigors of first-team work this week, as he'll take the place of the injured Ray Hudson in Alabama's tailback rotation. Keeping new starter Kenneth Darby rested will be a big concern. For Southern Miss, QB Dustin Almond is out with a hamstring injury, leaving Alabama to defense yet another option quarterback with great quickness, Damion Carter. Southern Miss doesn't figure to be doing a lot of passing, either. In a test of running games, give the edge to the Crimson Tide. Alabama 23, Southern Miss 17

ARKANSAS at AUBURN

Game within a game: AU RBs Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown vs. Arkansas DL

The key match-up in this game won't be how well Auburn contains Arkansas QB Matt Jones, but how well Arkansas can shut down Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams. Arkansas has had an odd week – WR Carlos Ousley, an important part of the Razorback offense, suddenly quit the team. OL Zac Tubbs and FB Peyton Hillis were lost to injury. Hillis' loss will be especially troublesome to Arkansas' chances. Meanwhile, Arkansas is still not stopping top rushing teams, and that describes Auburn perfectly. The Arkansas defense is young and prone to make mistakes, and Auburn has been deadly efficient at using others' weaknesses to its advantage in 2004. With Hillis and Tubbs out for this game, and the distraction caused by Ousley's departure, look for Auburn to romp. Auburn 35, Arkansas 21

VANDERBILT at GEORGIA

Game within a game: Bad UGA coaching decisions vs. Bad VU coaching decisions

This is apropos – a game between two teams who should have won their last week's games handily. Georgia allowed Tennessee to come into its house and snatch the SEC East lead from its clutches, thanks to sloppy play, penalties galore and poor game preparation and clock management. Vanderbilt folded like a cheap suit against Rutgers, giving up a big second-half lead and losing by three. So here is a battle of two teams who have been nothing but disappointing of late. Georgia has far superior talent and the Vanderbilt defense isn't stopping anyone with regularity. The Bulldogs should win this game going away, but the same might have been said for last week. Vanderbilt's only chance is if QB Jay Cutler takes over the game for himself and the Commodore defense starts to play up to its potential. Georgia 37, Vanderbilt 17

SOUTH CAROLINA at KENTUCKY

Game within a game: USC QB Syvelle Newton vs. Kentucky pass rush

Syvelle Newton had a great game statistically against Ole Miss, but that didn't stop the Gamecocks from dropping a game they very much shouldn't have. Now, USC's postseason hopes are in doubt. Kentucky may be ready to completely fold after its 45-17 drubbing at the hands of Alabama, punctuated by sloppiness on both sides of the ball. This is definitely the opponent South Carolina needs to play in order to work out the kinks in its offense, but it is incumbent upon the Gamecock secondary to shut down Kentucky quarterbacks Shane Boyd and Andre Woodson before either gets into a rhythm. The key defensively to Kentucky's success will be whether it can put any pressure on Newton, who has a tendency to wilt under heavy duress. If South Carolina's offense gets cranked up quickly, this one will be over by halftime. South Carolina 35, Kentucky 20

TENNESSEE at OLE MISS

Game within a game: Tennessee secondary and pass rush vs. Ole Miss quarterback rotation

Ole Miss is coming off a shocking upset of South Carolina on the road, but can the Rebels make it two upsets in a row by knocking off the heavily favored Volunteers? It's doubtful, but possible, depending on how Tennessee's defense handles the now-three-headed Ole Miss quarterback rotation of Ethan Flatt, Micheal Spurlock and Robert Lane. Tennessee defeated Georgia primarily by harassing QB David Greene into oblivion and playing soundly in the secondary, something the Vols hadn't done all year up until that point. Ole Miss' offensive line will be harder to get through, though. And RB Vashon Pearson is starting to play good football. But defensively, Ole Miss is not nearly the opponent Georgia was. Tennessee's rushing attack behind Gerald Riggs Jr. and Cedric Houston should have a solid day against the Rebels. This is potentially the upset special of the week in the SEC, but Ole Miss simply doesn't have the defense to justify picking it. But if Tennessee's secondary and pass rush takes the day off, bar the door. Tennessee 34, Ole Miss 20

MTSU at FLORIDA

Game within a game: Ron Zook‚s conduct vs. Florida administration

This was supposed to be a ho-hum game, a rescheduling of an earlier game wiped out by a Hurricane. But that was before Florida head coach Ron Zook decided to take a trip to a UF campus fraternity house to „straighten out‰ a fight between some of the fraternity‚s members and some of his players. The resulting hullabaloo has thrown Zook‚s already-questionable hold on his job into severe doubt. And while MTSU isn‚t very good this year, you have to wonder what kind of effect the off-the-field issues of the week will have on Florida‚s on-field performance. In all honestly, probably not much. MTSU head coach Andy McCollum‚s job is also in jeopardy, and MTSU isn‚t good enough to stop Florida QB Chris Leak and the Florida offense. Florida 38, MTSU 14

IDLE: LSU, Mississippi St.


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