SEC Preview: Week Two

Jess Nicholas' Southeastern Conference predictions column for Sept. 10, 2005.

Last week's record: 10-1 (90.9%)
Season record: 10-1 (90.9%)

Game within a game: USM defensive ends vs. Alabama offensive tackles
Unfortunately for Southern Miss, this will be the Golden Eagles' opening game. The scheduled opener against Tulane was wiped out by Hurricane Katrina, and the Southern Miss team has been in Memphis this week after storm damage made staying in Hattiesburg impossible. Alabama, therefore, doesn't quite know what to expect from a team that replaced both coordinators after 2004 and hasn't played a game yet this season. But USM does know quite a bit about Alabama, and expect the Golden Eagles to try to expose a weakness along Alabama's offensive line. The most likely place to look is over left tackle, where Chris Capps struggled against a set of defensive ends from MTSU that aren't exactly tops in the country. Fortunately for Alabama, Southern Miss' defensive line is also not what it has been in recent years. The biggest challenge for Alabama will be finally facing a healthy QB Dustin Almond, who seems to get hurt just before the Alabama game each year. Aside from Almond, however, Southern Miss doesn't have much to brag about on offense outside of WR Antwon Courington. Defensively, Southern Miss is weak at linebacker and the secondary is average at best. It will be much below average for this game if CB John Eubanks misses it; Eubanks was to be suspended for the Tulane opener, but with that game not being played, it remains to be seen whether Eubanks will play or sit. If he plays, Alabama will have to avoid him. If he sits, not only can QB Brodie Croyle pick on the Golden Eagle secondary, the USM kick return unit will also have to replace Eubanks' production. USM usually plays Alabama tough, and this game will be no different. With Alabama's offensive line still a work in progress, look for this game to be closer than Alabama's talent level suggests it should be. Alabama 20, Southern Miss 10

Game within a game: Louisiana Tech RBs vs. Florida DL
It's hard to believe Louisiana Tech will even be in this game. It's the Bulldogs' opener, while Florida has a game under its belt to work out the kinks. The Bulldogs must replace RB Ryan Moats, who took his 1,774 yards to the NFL. The game is in Gainesville, and heaven only knows what kind of distractions the Bulldogs have been facing as a result of Hurricane Katrina. The key for Louisiana Tech is to get something going on the ground early, taking the pressure off its quarterbacks, who were inconsistent in 2004. Florida had a solid opener against Wyoming and must simply not shoot themselves in the foot too often against the Bulldogs. It's hard to imagine the score will even be close. Florida 42, Louisiana Tech 17

Game within a game: Georgia pass rush vs. South Carolina interior DL
For a brief time last Thursday, it appeared South Carolina was going to instantly become the Florida Gators of old under head coach Steve Spurrier. The Gamecocks lit up the scoreboard in the first half, but in the second half, allowed one of college football's worst teams in 2004 to completely dictate the pace of the game. If Carolina shows up with the same approach against Georgia this Saturday, the Bulldogs will run the Gamecocks right out of the building. Georgia had perhaps the most shocking opener of any SEC team, as the Bulldogs pounded the ranked Boise State Broncos into complete submission. Part of Georgia's success can be attributed to a defensive line that looked more solid than expected. South Carolina's offensive line did a poor job of containing Central Florida, particularly in the middle, and Georgia is expected to target that area of the Gamecock offense. South Carolina will eventually be a respectable team under Spurrier, but this game is starting to have the look of a blowout. Georgia 38, South Carolina 10

Game within a game: Kentucky's team mindset vs. ISU offense
Kentucky gave Louisville all it wanted in an opener that figured to be a blowout from the start, but wasn't. This week, Kentucky gets Division I-AA Idaho State, a team that won convincingly in its opener over Southern Utah. The Bengals have a balanced offensive attack, but let it not be forgotten that they play in a lower division. Still, Louisiana-Monroe learned all about overlooking a Division I-AA opponent, as it lost to Northwestern State in its opening game. Kentucky should be good enough to beat Idaho State in a walkover, but at the same time, the Wildcats can look so inept at times that an upset isn't out of the question. Kentucky's greatest challenge will be to forget about what might have been against Louisville, and concentrate on stopping a decent ISU attack. Kentucky 34, Idaho State 13

Game within a game: Vanderbilt RBs vs. Arkansas front seven
Vanderbilt is to be commended for going on the road against a quality opponent in week one and winning, but a road trip to Fayetteville is another matter entirely – especially when Arkansas just finished putting up 483 rushing yards against SW Missouri State. Granted, SW Missouri State is a Division I-AA opponent, but the fact of the matter is Arkansas is going to gain quite a bit of yardage against Vandy, and the Commodores' only hope is to do the same when they have the ball. Enter the tandem of RBs Jeff Jennings and Cassen Jackson-Garrison, who must improve upon their week one efforts significantly if the Commodores are to pull off the win. Vandy's pass defense figures to be able to shut down the Arkansas aerial attack, which was anemic even against Arkansas' weak opening opponents. But if Arkansas is allowed to control the clock unabated, Vanderbilt will lose yet another SEC opener. The Commodores are capable of pulling this upset, but look for the Razorbacks to be able to keep the Vandy running backs sidelined well enough to score the victory. Arkansas 27, Vanderbilt 17

Game within a game: MSU pass rush vs. Auburn QB Brandon Cox
The last five possession of Auburn's game with Georgia Tech went like this: Interception, interception, interception, interception, fumble by the quarterback. Brandon Cox's poise has to be shaken, even still today. The question is whether Mississippi State can exploit the situation and use it to its advantage. Talent-wise, Auburn laps MSU at least twice, but it's not always about talent. Auburn had more talent than Georgia Tech, too, and the Yellow Jackets still came into Auburn and beat the Tigers. Mississippi State's defense looked stout against Murray State in the opener, but it's hard to get a true gauge of a team's strength watching it beat up on a Division I-AA opponent. If MSU's interior pass rush can have its way with Auburn's offensive line the way Georgia Tech did, the opportunity exists to get in Cox's head and force mistakes. Offensively, Mississippi State is developing enough weapons to at least cause some worry in the Tiger camp. But the talent gap is still too wide to pick an upset here. Auburn 34, Mississippi State 17

Game within a game: ASU passing attack vs. LSU secondary
Hurricane Katrina forced this game to be swapped from a Baton Rouge home game for LSU to a road trip to Tempe, Ariz. As a double whammy, Arizona State has played already, completely dismantling poor Temple 63-16 Saturday. LSU is still searching for answers under center, but it is the Tiger secondary, which has some questions at cornerback, that will be tested early by Dirk Koetter's balanced, high-speed offensive attack. With all the distractions LSU has faced the last two weeks and now a cross-country move of the game site itself, it would appear Arizona State should now be considered the favorite. But the Sun Devils tend to fold when faced with bigger, stronger teams who put a premium on physical play, and that's exactly what LSU has become known for doing. Look for more of the same Saturday. LSU 30, Arizona State 24

IDLE: Tennessee, Ole Miss

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