SEC Previews and Predictions

Last week's record: 3-3 (50.0%) Season record: 43-12 (78.2%)

UTAH STATE at ALABAMA

Game within a game: Alabama LBs vs. Utah State QB Leon Jackson III

Unless Alabama is so drunk with the success of a big win over Tennessee, this game should be a blowout before the first half even ends. Utah State's team statistics are, in a very simple word, weird. QB Leon Jackson III leads the team not only in pass attempts, but rushing attempts as well. The Utah State offense, which under the previous regime was virtually a pass-only attack, purports to be more balanced, and it's currently achieving balance – bad balance. Utah State is ranked 108th in rushing offense and 95th in passing offense nationally, although the offense has consistently put up points for most of the season. The only exception was a seven-point showing in the opener against Utah. If there's a single key to victory for Alabama, it will be to take care of Jackson on every play. Jackson will be running designed draws, rollouts and option plays, or throwing the ball somewhere. Alabama's linebackers will have to be alert, because Jackson can be dangerous at times. He threw for 206 yards and rushed for 49 yards against Boise State last week – and actually had a positive 97 yards before sack yardage was included. Fortunately for Alabama, Utah State's defense, particularly against the pass, is just about as bad as the offense. This will be a good chance for Alabama to retool its passing game and develop third and fourth options at wide receiver before the SEC schedule cranks back up. Alabama 41, Utah State 7

 

FLORIDA vs. GEORGIA (Jacksonville, Fla.)

Game within a game: Florida DL vs. Georgia running backs

In recent weeks leading up to this game, it looked like any talk of the Florida Gators winning this affair were nothing more than pie-in-the-sky dreams. Florida's offense has fallen into finesse mode, and the more physical SEC opponents on the Gators' schedule have taken advantage. Georgia, meanwhile, looked to be a machine in the making. Then, QB D.J. Shockley went down with an injury to his knee, and the Bulldog fan base still hasn't started breathing again. His replacement will be Joe Tereshinski, a little-used junior who has made more of an impact on special teams than anywhere else this year. Tereshinski looked competent in his relief stint against Arkansas, but competent is a far cry from being able to carry the Bulldogs to a win in this rivalry game. The key element for Georgia, however, may not be Tereshinski's arm. It may instead be the success of the ground game against Florida's defensive line, which has held serve against even the best conference rushing attacks. If Georgia can't get it going on the ground, Florida will be able to take full advantage of Tereshinski's inexperience. The Gator offense, in that scenario, would only need to not give the game away. Look for a Gator upset in this cocktail party. Florida 24, Georgia 17

 

MISSISSIPPI STATE at KENTUCKY

Game within a game: MSU QB Omarr Conner vs. Kentucky secondary

There's much to like about Bulldog QB Omarr Conner, particularly his desire, toughness and the ability to make plays in the open field. But it's past time for Conner to begin making plays with his arm, and all the heart in the world can't justify a second-year starter putting up numbers like 14-of-31 for 84 yards against the likes of Houston. That kind of performance won't get it done this weekend, either, even though the Bulldogs are facing lowly Kentucky, fresh off a 13-7 loss to Ole Miss. If that game doesn't deserve to be named the Sominex Bowl, maybe this one will. These two teams are ranked within eyelashes of each other in all offensive categories. The difference is, to this point, Mississippi State has fielded a far superior defense. With Kentucky entering the game ranked 82nd in pass defense and 96th in pass efficiency defense, the opportunity is there for Conner to step up and make plays. If he can do it, MSU has a chance for a SEC road win that will keep the Bulldogs' slim hopes for postseason play alive for at least one more week. Kentucky, also still technically in the bowl picture, needs a big-time bounce-back from its offense in order to avoid its sixth loss of the season. Mississippi State 20, Kentucky 13

 

SOUTH CAROLINA at TENNESSEE

Game within a game: Tennessee RB Arian Foster vs. South Carolina front seven

Tennessee will go into this game likely without the services of RB Gerald Riggs Jr., who injured a knee late in the Alabama game. The Volunteers' ground game thus falls to Arian Foster, who was getting trash time carries less than a month ago but has steadily increased his playing time. With walk-on David Yancey his principal backup, it's important that Foster not start slowly against the South Carolina front seven on defense. South Carolina is ranked 85th in the country against the run, but the Gamecocks completely shut down a fairly decent Vanderbilt rushing attack last week, holding the Commodores to just 41 yards on the ground. On paper, Tennessee is clearly the more talented and more physical team, but the Vols are not catching this game at the right time. Tennessee is on a two-game losing streak, with those losses coming to rivals Georgia and Alabama. South Carolina is on a two-game winning streak, albeit with wins over Kentucky and Vandy. To pull the upset, South Carolina will have to use all the good mojo it can find, especially the sideline advantage they'll have with Steve Spurrier against his old nemesis Phil Fulmer. Look for South Carolina to make it close, but the significant advantage Tennessee has along both lines of scrimmage will probably lead to an ugly win – but a win nonetheless. Tennessee 17, South Carolina 10

 

OLE MISS at AUBURN

Game within a game: Ole Miss DL vs. Auburn rushing attack

If Ole Miss is to upset Auburn, the Rebels must come with the same intensity and purpose on defense that it brought to the Alabama game. Alabama found running against the talented, veteran Rebel defensive line to be tough sledding. Auburn comes into this game with a newfound star at running back, Kenny Irons. And unfortunately for Ole Miss, the success against the run hasn't been consistent this year, as the Rebels rank just 61st in that category. The best news for Auburn is that the game is in Auburn, and Ole Miss hasn't been impressive in road games this year. Whatever advantage Ole Miss used to get from its hatred for Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville has probably evaporated by now, as players affected by Tuberville's jump from Oxford to Auburn have long since graduated. Look for Auburn to find ways to get Irons loose, and once that happens, the passing game will open up for QB Brandon Cox and his talented group of receivers. Auburn 30, Ole Miss 10

 

NORTH TEXAS at LSU

Game within a game: LSU DL vs. North Texas rushing attack

This game is a rescheduled affair due to Hurricane Katrina, which wiped out what would have been these two teams' openers. At the time, it looked as if North Texas' two-pronged rushing attack of Patrick Cobbs and Jamario Thomas might cause trouble for LSU, but the Mean Green has been surprisingly bad this year on both sides of the ball. North Texas is coming off a 40-14 manhandling by Louisiana Tech, and the Cobbs-Thomas duo has never gotten off the ground in 2005, ranking just 79th nationally in rush offense. The team as a whole is dead last in the NCAA in total offense. Defensively, North Texas has been terrible against both run and pass and had the dubious distinction of allowing 54 points in back-to-back games this year. Look for LSU to maul this team. LSU 55, North Texas 10

 

IDLE: Vanderbilt, Arkansas


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