SEC Previews and Predictions: Week Eight

Jess Nicholas weighs in on Alabama-Tennessee, Arkansas-Georgia and the rest of the Southeastern Conference games this weekend.

Last week: 6-0 (100.0%)

Season: 42-11 (79.2%)


Game within a game: Alabama's healthy linemen vs. Tennessee's injured linemen

Most Alabama fans will watch this game with a keen eye on QB Spencer Pennington, figuring Alabama will need to go to the air two or three times as often this week in order to stretch the Tennessee defense. But the key to this match-up will be found much closer to ground level. Tennessee enters this game with four injured offensive lineman. Guard Cody Douglas will probably miss the game outright. Jason Respert, Arron Sears and Michael Munoz are all battling injuries. The fifth lineman, Albert Toeaina, has been inconsistent so far in 2004. Defensively, it's the same story. DT Jesse Mahelona, probably the best player from a talented defensive line, has a sprained knee. If he plays against Alabama, he won't be full speed. On top of it all, starting strong safety Brandon Johnson's status is doubtful after being suspended earlier in the week. Alabama would thus seem to have the clear edge in health, if not for Juwan Garth being slowed by a shoulder injury, Brodie Croyle and Ray Hudson out for the season, virtually all of the tight end corps slowed due to numerous bumps and bruises, and both Roman Harper and Charlie Peprah shaking off cobwebs after getting nicked up late against South Carolina. Alabama's game plan is likely to be the same as it has been in recent weeks – run the football effectively, create turnovers on defense and don't take many risks. But with Tennessee's team speed, even in the light of the players that won't play in this game, Alabama will have a much tougher task on its hands. This will come down to a game of numbers. Alabama, playing the underdog role, needs to create three turnovers, pass for around 120 yards, run for around 225 and have zero turnovers on its own part. If Alabama can do these things, the Tide has an excellent shot to upset the Vols on the road. But that's likely asking too much. Tennessee 24, Alabama 10


Game within a game: Georgia QB David Greene vs. Arkansas secondary

Arkansas has put together a nicely balanced offense so far in 2004, but the Razorbacks are doing nothing positive on defense. Arkansas can stop neither run nor pass, and Georgia's offense is balanced enough to cause the Bulldogs plenty of problems. The biggest question for Georgia, outside of whether the entire team can get out of the funk it's been in this year, is whether QB David Greene can exploit the youth in Arkansas' secondary like other teams have done. Arkansas has played two tough opponents over the last two weeks, and was thoroughly controlled by both. Georgia is better than Florida, and may be better than Auburn. Arkansas had a legitimate chance against neither. The Razorbacks are ranked 65th in pass defense and 99th in pass efficiency defense. Look for Georgia to knock holes in the Arkansas defense all day. Georgia 34, Arkansas 20


Game within a game: Auburn OL vs. Kentucky DL

This game is barely worth doing a serious breakdown, but Kentucky did hold South Carolina in check last week, eventually losing 12-7, and the Gamecocks are a decent team. But Auburn is more than decent – Auburn has been dominating, and it's not out of the realm of possibility to think the Tigers may end up playing for a national title this year. Kentucky, in the grand scheme of things, is little more than a speed bump for the Tigers. The Wildcats have enough talent on defense to make things interesting for Auburn's offensive line, but there is simply too much speed and too much depth on Auburn's side for Kentucky to stay with them long. Auburn's biggest concern will be staying healthy, as throwaway games like these tend seem to have the uncanny ability to breed season-ending injuries. Auburn 48, Kentucky 17


Game within a game: MSU pass defense vs. Florida QB Chris Leak

Here's a wacky stat that will make you wonder how stats are kept: Mississippi State is ranked 18th in pass defense in the country…and 102nd in pass efficiency defense. In other words, the Bulldogs don't give up a lot of yards, but they do give up a lot of damage. And this week, Mississippi State will be facing a quarterback that can do a ton of damage. Chris Leak leads the nation's 18th-best passing offense into Starkville. The state of Mississippi has not been kind to Florida football in recent years, but this year's version of the Bulldogs isn't scaring anyone. Leak has been off his game somewhat for a couple of weeks, so facing a decent pass defense that is part of a team that can't really do much should be a good situation for him. Florida, with all the off-the-field distractions of the past week, needs an easy game, and MSU certainly qualifies. Florida 42, Mississippi St. 10


Game within a game: LSU's lack of consistency vs. Troy's erratic focus

How Troy goes from upsetting Missouri and nearly upsetting South Carolina to losing to New Mexico State and Arkansas State – a pair of overmatched foes from the Trojans' Sun Belt conference – is one of the great mysteries of the 2004 college football season. Troy seems to focus well against tougher teams but struggle against the ones whose clocks they should absolutely clean. That doesn't bode well for LSU, a Jekyll-and-Hyde outfit whose weekly results seem overly dependent on what's going on under center. LSU was off last week, and hopefully answered some questions about its quarterback rotation, but the best thing for LSU would be for one of the two quarterbacks to assert himself and put the rotation question to bed once and for all. Troy will be no pushover for either QB Marcus Randall or QB JaMarcus Russell. The Trojans are ranked 15th against the run and 47th against the pass. Troy has a decent running game, but no passing threat to speak of. Expect LSU to struggle early, then pull away as depth becomes an issue for Troy. LSU 28, Troy 7


Game within a game: EKU secondary vs. Vanderbilt QB Jay Cutler

Eastern Kentucky can score points, but this is a mediocre Div-IAA team with a 3-3 record. EKU is ranked 113th out of 119 Div-IAA teams in pass defense, which Vanderbilt will need to exploit. The Commodores have been a run-first outfit for the entirety of Bobby Johnson's tenure as head coach, but Johnson would do well to open things up a little here. The game is Vanderbilt's best remaining chance to get another win in 2004, although the Commodores have yet to face schizophrenic Kentucky. So far, Vanderbilt has struggled on both offense and defense, ranked in the 80s in both offensive categories and two out of three defensive categories as well. If the Commodores want to work on their game, here is the chance to do it. Vanderbilt 49, Eastern Kentucky 7

IDLE: Ole Miss, South Carolina

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