SEC Previews and Predictions: Week 12

Alabama-Auburn match-ups, preview, strategy and predictions, plus the rest of the week's Southeastern Conference games from Jess Nicholas.

Last week: 3-2 (60.0%)

Season: 57-17 (77.0%)

AUBURN at ALABAMA

Game within a game: Alabama QBs vs. Auburn secondary

Auburn doesn't have many weaknesses, but one of the few places the Tigers can be hit is in the secondary. Two defensive backs – CB Carlos Rogers, S Junior Rosegreen – are among the tops in the conference. Of the other two starters, S Will Herring lacks athleticism and CB Montavis Pitts lacks consistency. If Alabama has any kind of luck throwing down the field, it will take help away from a front seven that is smallish in spots and gives Alabama a chance at the upset. Unfortunately for Alabama, QB Spencer Pennington may be out for this game, leaving no backup. Marc Guillon is still hurt, and the other two players, true freshmen walk-ons Adam Thrash and A.J. Milwee, are redshirting. WR Tyrone Prothro is the emergency quarterback, and Alabama may have to use him like the Tide once used David Palmer. If that's the case, though, it's going to be nearly impossible to beat the SEC's best team. Auburn has incredible balance on offense, doing whatever they please. The defense is strong. Special teams can get dicey, particularly in the placekicking, but it's a good bet Auburn doesn't let things go that far. Auburn has scored on eight of its 10 first possessions this year, fumbling the other two times. In other words, no team has forced Auburn to punt on its opening drive. Alabama needs to do that to send a message. The Tide must also be careful not to fall behind – two scores, and the game is over on the spot. It's not impossible to win this game, but given the injuries, it would qualify as the biggest upset the Tide has recorded since it knocked off Miami in the 1993 Sugar Bowl for the national championship. Auburn 24, Alabama 7

ARKANSAS at MISSISSIPPI STATE

Game within a game: Arkansas DL vs. Mississippi State QB Omarr Conner

Mississippi State was building momentum, and then an off week came into the picture. The Bulldogs played tough against Alabama two weeks ago, and coupled with wins in the previous weeks against Florida and Kentucky, were starting to move forward with some punch. It will be interesting to see how the off week affected State's momentum. Arkansas should win this game fairly easily, but if the Razorback defensive line falls asleep, MSU QB Omarr Conner can hurt them. On the line for Arkansas is bowl eligibility; the Razorbacks must win here and again next week against LSU to get to the Independence or Houston bowls. While the game against LSU is still too tough to call, expect Arkansas to take care of business here. Arkansas 34, Mississippi St. 20

FLORIDA at FLORIDA STATE

Game within a game: FSU QB Wyatt Sexton vs. UF secondary

Florida's secondary is getting better, but it remains to be seen how the Gators will fare against a truly top national opponent. Florida usually has tons of trouble playing FSU in Tallahassee, where this game is being played. Florida State doesn't seem to have much of an offense this year, but the Seminoles' defense is stifling, as evidenced by its holding of N.C. State to just three offensive points. For Florida State, the game hinges on how well QB Wyatt Sexton can stretch the Florida defense. For Florida, the Gators would like to get QB Chris Leak going early, helped by the running of RB Ciatrick Fason. The problem for Florida, however, is that the Seminoles have the nation's #1-ranked rushing defense. Florida State 24, Florida 12

OLE MISS at LSU

Game within a game: Ole Miss RBs vs. LSU defensive line

Ole Miss is not a physical team by nature, but this season, the Rebels' success has come mainly when they are able to imitate a physical team. The time is not right for such an imitation this week. LSU's defensive line controlled arguably the league's best offensive line last week in a defeat of Alabama. Ole Miss has a good offensive line, but not one as good as Alabama's, and the Rebels don't have Kenneth Darby in their backfield. The quarterback rotation of Ethan Flatt, Micheal Spurlock and Robert Lane only works when RB Vashon Pearson is able to find holes. LSU figures to plug every hole Ole Miss tries to open. Ole Miss is no longer in the bowl hunt, and factor in the task of having to travel to Baton Rouge, this one smells like a rout, cooked Cajun style. LSU 43, Ole Miss 14

SOUTH CAROLINA at CLEMSON

Game within a game: Clemson's drive for a bowl vs. South Carolina's erratic nature

These two teams come stumbling into this game with a lot on the line. For South Carolina, it's the seventh win that would likely wrap up a Peach Bowl invitation. For Clemson, it's the sixth win that guarantees bowl eligibility, and probably saves head coach Tommy Bowden's job. That was supposed to happen last week, but someone forgot to inform Duke, 1-8 at the time, that it was supposed to lie down for Clemson. The Tigers have no offense to speak of this year, ranked 105th in rushing offense. 79th in passing offense and 109th overall in the country, casting quite a bit of doubt on Bowden's tag of "offensive genius." South Carolina, however, can't be pinned down due to the fact that the same team never shows up two consecutive weeks. The Gamecocks have assumed the role of the SEC's most inconsistent team, able to scare Tennessee and beat Alabama and Arkansas, then fall completely apart against Florida and lose to Ole Miss. USC has a lot to play for in this game, including revenge for last year's embarrassing 63-17 loss to the Tigers that nearly cost Lou Holtz his job on the spot, but Clemson has much more to play for right now. Expect this one to come down to who makes the fewer mistakes. Clemson 22, South Carolina 17

TENNESSEE at VANDERBILT

Game within a game: Vanderbilt OL vs. Tennessee DL

Everyone will be looking at how Tennessee QB Rick Clausen handles his new role as starter, now that freshmen Erik Ainge and Brent Schaeffer are both out. But the bigger question will be how well Vandy's offensive line is able to push around Tennessee's defensive line, because if it can't be done, Vanderbilt can't win. On Tennessee's side, Schaeffer is done for the season, while Ainge is out at least through the SEC Championship Game. It's imperative that Clausen develop some confidence against Vanderbilt and Kentucky before Auburn comes calling in Atlanta. Clausen's error cost Tennessee the game against Notre Dame two weeks ago, and the only other available quarterback is C.J. Leak, who has been playing safety and tight end for much of the year and hasn't been getting reps under center. Vanderbilt's secondary is highly unpredictable, but is probably good enough to shut down Clausen when it is on. The key will be whether the offensive line can plow holes for the Commodore running backs and protect QB Jay Cutler; if Vandy hits on all cylinders, an upset is possible, but if any one thing is off by even the most minute of measurements, Tennessee rolls. Given that Vanderbilt lost late to Kentucky last week and has made key errors throughout the season, don't look for much to change on Saturday. Tennessee 28, Vanderbilt 7

IDLE: Georgia, Kentucky


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