SEC Preview and Predictions: Week 4

Jess Nicholas' weekly SEC look.

Last week's record: 6-2 (75.0%)

Season record: 22-4 (84.6%)



Game within a game: Alabama's front seven vs. Arkansas' RB corps

Judging from the games of each team last week, it would appear at first blush that Alabama could start its second team and win the game. Anyone who buys into that folly hasn't been paying attention to what even the lowliest SEC teams have been able to do to better teams over the years. If Alabama overlooks Arkansas, Alabama can be beat. Arkansas brings a powerful group of running backs into this game, including De'Arrius Howard, Peyton Hillis, Felix Jones, Kyle Dickerson and Darren McFadden. It will be, by far, the most talented group of running backs Alabama has seen this year and will be perhaps the most complete backfield Alabama will face until its game with LSU. The Arkansas offensive line is stout, full of experienced veterans, and wide receiver Marcus Monk creates matchup problems for all Crimson Tide cornerbacks. But at the same time, Alabama is hitting on all cylinders at the moment, both offensively and defensively. The Arkansas defense isn't much better than anything Alabama has already seen – if it is even equal to any of Alabama's first three opponents in the first place. Arkansas has problems at quarterback, where Robert Johnson is battling a back injury and Chris Mortensen has neither the experience nor the arm strength to do much damage against a top-level defense. Head coach Houston Nutt is in a fight for his job, which steels some men's resolve and causes others to melt like an ice cube on a Birmingham street in mid-July. Alabama should, by all counts, win this game. There is the revenge factor in play, as well as putting another notch in the Tide's belt on its way to possibly winning a division title or even more impressive hardware. But this game also has the chance to be a sandwich game, where Alabama is caught between Nutt's motivational abilities and the Tide's own tendency to look forward to a primetime matchup with Florida in the next week. Look for Alabama to win, but it might not be pretty. Alabama 30, Arkansas 20



Game within a game: Florida's concentration vs. Kentucky special teams

Like the Alabama-Arkansas tilt, Florida's game against Kentucky is a sandwich game, except the Gators have to go through it on the road. It shouldn't be a problem for the Gators, though, who hold a decided advantage over Kentucky in nearly every statistical category. Kentucky spent last week ruining whatever good vibrations their inspired start against Louisville might have generated when they lost convincingly to a thoroughly mediocre Indiana team. Florida is coming off an emotional 16-7 win over hated rival Tennessee, and has a road trip to Alabama scheduled for the following week. Only a lapse of concentration figures to do Florida in, and one places those lapses tend to pop up is in special teams. There, Kentucky can hurt Florida. The Wildcats are ranked 3rd in kickoff returns and 4th in punt returns nationally, and if the Wildcats catch Florida napping, they could possibly run a kick or two back for scores. But Florida figures to maul Kentucky's woeful front seven on defense, and as long as the Gators think up even a modestly competent defensive gameplan, they are very likely to contain an offense that ranks just 102nd nationally. Florida 41, Kentucky 19



Game within a game: MSU emotion vs. Georgia's game plan

Aside from kickoff returns, where the Bulldogs rank a woeful 102nd nationally, Georgia ranks no worse than 41st in any statistical category. Numbers like that are truly amazing, and for most teams, it points to a team that has a legitimate shot at a national title. But Georgia has been a strange bunch this year. After blasting Boise State in the opener, Georgia skirted by South Carolina and took nearly three quarters to get started against a terrible Louisiana-Monroe team last week. The Bulldogs have seemed to outthink themselves in the game planning department, trying to do too much rather than simply go out and put the football game away with what they do best. Mississippi State comes into this game with many question marks, and frankly doesn't look much improved from last year's team. The Bulldogs needed everything they had to put away Tulane last week, even though it was the Green Wave's first action of the year. The one thing in MSU's corner is the emotion this team can play with from time to time, and it will fall to head coach Sylvester Croom to cultivate some of that emotion in practices this week. Otherwise, the other Bulldogs will chew up and spit out the Starkville variety. Georgia 34, Mississippi State 14



Game within a game: South Carolina QB Blake Mitchell vs. Troy secondary

Judging from Troy's first three games, this ought to be an opportunity for South Carolina to get back on the winning side of things. Troy is having a terrible time moving the football, ranking 108th in total offense. Statistically, passing is the team's strength, as the Trojans are ranked 70th in passing offense compared to 113th in rushing offense. But that's misleading, as head coach Larry Blakeney would probably prefer the Trojans did their damage on the ground. Troy has no quarterback who has completed more than 50 percent of his passes, and the Trojans can't protect the passer. Take QB Carl Meadows' sack yardage out of the equation, and Troy averages 3.7 yards per carry. With Meadows' sack yardage added in, the average drops to 1.8 yards per carry. But the key issue to watch here will be the success of South Carolina QB Blake Mitchell, whose confidence was visibly shaken against Alabama. Troy's pass defense is a respectable 38th nationally and Mitchell needs success in this game, if for no other reason than to ready himself for Auburn a week later. Look for a modest win for the Gamecocks, but they'll take any win they can get at the moment. South Carolina 27, Troy 10



Game within a game: LSU pass defense vs. Tennessee QB rotation

It was just one game, and it came against PAC-10 air-happy Arizona State, but as a result of the 461 yards yielded to the Sun Devils in week one, LSU is the not-so-proud owner of the worst pass defense in the country at the moment, as well as the worst total defense. Those numbers figure to change in short order over the next few weeks, but they do offer some home to a Tennessee offense that is beset with problems on all sides. The Volunteers' offense failed against Florida after looking barely competent against UAB in the opener. So both teams come into this game looking for answers. Tennessee enters the game ranked 92nd in passing efficiency, and the two-headed quarterback monster of Erik Ainge and Rick Clausen has yet to get on track. If LSU's pass defense is really as deplorable as it looked against Arizona State, Tennessee might pull the upset here. But at the same time, the Vols have problems on special teams, and LSU is ranked at the top of the country in net punting and punt returns. Expect a sloppy game, since these two teams have played three games between them. Also, don't be surprised if rumors of Tennessee's demise are premature – but the Bayou Bengals should still win this one. LSU 34, Tennessee 30



Game within a game: Vanderbilt rush defense vs. Richmond RBs

Vanderbilt has the chance to open up at 4-0 for the first time in the lives of the majority of its players. While nothing is guaranteed in Vanderbilt football, attempting to go 4-0 against a mediocre Division-IAA opponent is a pretty safe bet. Richmond enters the game 1-2, but the Spiders are able to run the ball, something Vanderbilt has not shown an ability to stop. The Commodores are ranked 94th in total defense and 93rd against the run, and they'll need to put up a pretty decent effort against Richmond to keep this from being a sad ending to a popular Cinderella story. Richmond can defend the pass, which is the Commodores' mainstay at the moment. Vanderbilt should win, but it could end up being an ugly win. Vanderbilt 33, Richmond 20



Game within a game: WKU pass defense vs. Auburn QB Brandon Cox

You might not want to get too comfy with this game yet if you're an Auburn fan. Western Kentucky tends to field some of the better Division-IAA teams, and this one is particularly good at stopping the run (3rd in Division-IAA), running the ball (4th), scoring points (7th) and returning punts (7th). WKU is ranked in the top 20 in several other categories. So should Auburn be worried? Probably not. Western Kentucky is also ranked 90th in pass defense, meaning QB Brandon Cox will probably have a field day. But look for the final score of this game to be closer than last week's destruction of Ball State – who Western Kentucky could probably beat. Auburn 48, Western Kentucky 14



Game within a game: Wyoming QB Corey Bramlet vs. Ole Miss secondary

You could see this upset coming a mile away last year, when an unconfident, flagging Ole Miss team traveled to Laramie and got beaten by Joe Glenn's Wyoming team, which nearly every week displays the type of efficiency Glenn is known for as a head coach. It's a trendy pick again this year, although this game will be played in Oxford. Wyoming opened the year by staying in the game for four quarters against Florida, a team so much better than Ole Miss that you need a telescope to see one team while stationed near the other. Things got even worse at the end of Ole Miss' loss to Vanderbilt, when starting QB Micheal Spurlock, who had begun to show signs of being a good SEC quarterback, severely injured at least a finger on his left hand. Added to LB Patrick Willis' knee injury, Ole Miss goes from thin to transparent. Ole Miss has struggled in pass defense this year, and this week, Ole Miss will have to contend with Wyoming QB Corey Bramlet. But Bramlet is completing less than 50 percent of his passes, and it has been Wyoming's overall experience, not necessarily Bramlet's arm, that has gotten the Cowboys to 2-1 on the year. If Ole Miss holds Bramlet to his season numbers, the Rebels will probably win. Let Bramlet have a big day, though, and Ed Orgeron's first season in Oxford will likely become a bust very quickly. Ole Miss 24, Wyoming 20

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