SEC Preview and Predictions

Last week's record: 4-2 (66.7%) Season record: 47-14 (77.1%)  

ALABAMA at MISSISSIPPI STATE

Game within a game: Alabama LBs vs. MSU RB Jerious Norwood

The key to success in this game is a no-brainer: Contain Jerious Norwood at all costs. Mississippi State did the impossible last week; the Bulldogs lost to Kentucky. The end result of that game is that Kentucky still holds an outside shot at bowl eligibility while the Bulldogs are the first SEC team to know its holiday destination for certain, and that destination is home in front of a television. In response to that 13-7 embarrassment, head coach Sylvester Croom uttered an ominous proclamation that included the phrase "changing the offense," which rarely works at the game nine mark of the season. Croom's declaration was codespeak for starting a new quarterback, which the Bulldogs will do by replacing Omarr Conner in favor of Michael Henig. It's a questionable decision that is probably the result of Croom watching Henig complete a higher percentage of his passes against Kentucky, but Conner has been more effective on the season as a whole and he can make plays outside the pocket, which Henig cannot. For Alabama, it comes down to stopping Norwood, who has rushed for 802 yards on 125 carries this year, a whopping 6.4 yards per carry. If Norwood can be stopped, it won't matter who is under center for the Bulldogs. The MSU offensive line doesn't pass block well, the Bulldog receivers are below average and the team's athleticism is in the bottom third of the conference. For Mississippi State to pull off the upset, Alabama will have to be severely overlooking this team and would have to fall apart on defense. Assuming that doesn't happen, Alabama should be able to take care of the Bulldogs easily, even in Starkville. Alabama 24, Mississippi St. 7

 

VANDERBILT at FLORIDA

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

Vanderbilt leads the conference in passing offense, while the Gators rank third in that category in the SEC and 10th in it nationally. If Florida can win the battle against Vanderbilt QB Jay Cutler, the Gators will win the war as well. Vandy had an off week in the schedule Oct. 29, while Florida is coming off an emotional win over Georgia in the Cocktail Party. It will be interesting to see whether Florida uses that win as a springboard or whether the Gators are still basking in the glory of that game and overlook a dangerous Commodore team. Vanderbilt needs an upset either here or against Tennessee, plus a win over Kentucky, to become bowl-eligible. Florida needs to win this game to stay alive in the SEC East race, as it hopes for Georgia to fall against Auburn in three weeks. If Cutler can throw for around 300 yards and Vanderbilt's running game can contribute another 100 or so, Florida could have its hands full. But don't look for the Gators to throw away the season at this point. Florida 27, Vanderbilt 20

 

AUBURN at KENTUCKY

Game within a game: Auburn DL vs. Kentucky RBs

Suddenly, Kentucky has a rushing offense, or at least you might think that after watching the Wildcats run up 183 yards (216 before sacks and kneel-down plays) against Mississippi State. Unfortunately for Kentucky, that probably had more to do with MSU's putridness than the Wildcats' own prowess. Auburn comes into this game playing as well as can be expected with the overtime loss to LSU still a bit in the Tigers' rear-view mirror. Kentucky is still eligible for a bowl game, but just barely. The Wildcats would have to upset Auburn in this game to keep the dream alive, and that's just not likely. Kentucky is healthier than it has been all year, meaning Auburn will have to account for a wide receiver corps that has decent ability. That could open up running room for Rafael Little and Arliss Beach, but Kentucky has yet to show explosiveness. Auburn, on the other hand, is plenty explosive on offense, developing balance this year despite replacing many of its difference makers on offense. Kentucky's offense might give Auburn some things to think about, but the Wildcats will likely be chasing Auburn running backs too often for it to make a difference. Unless Auburn lets Kentucky run at will, this game won't be close. Auburn 38, Kentucky 17

 

SOUTH CAROLINA at ARKANSAS

Game within a game: South Carolina DL vs. Arkansas RB

This is as even a matchup as you'll find in SEC games this year. Neither team is a complete team; Arkansas has far and away the league's best rushing attack, but the Razorbacks have no passing attack to speak of. South Carolina is good through the air, decent on the ground, but can't stop the run. The key for both teams is how they've been playing lately, and both teams are improving. Arkansas kept its game with Auburn close three weeks ago before losing control of things late, then nearly knocked off Georgia in Athens. South Carolina took care of business against Kentucky and Vanderbilt, then pulled off the upset of the year with its 16-15 win over Tennessee. A win here and South Carolina is bowl eligible, while Arkansas sits home over Christmas. Were the game in Columbia, the Gamecocks would probably be favored. But even given the difference in these two teams' records, South Carolina does not match up well with Arkansas. Look for the Razorbacks to control the line of scrimmage for most of the day, and South Carolina probably won't have enough possessions to put up enough points to put this game out of reach. Arkansas 31, South Carolina 21

 

TENNESSEE at NOTRE DAME

Game within a game: Tennessee QBs vs. Notre Dame pass defense

The Fighting Irish can't stop the pass (ranked 114th out of 117 teams nationally), but unfortunately for Tennessee, the Volunteers' quarterbacks don't throw it well enough to take advantage. Notre Dame is going to put up points in this game, that's almost a guarantee. In six of seven games so far, the Irish have scored more than 30. Only a 17-point showing against Michigan in week two did not live up to expectations, although that game was a win anyway. This will be the best defense Notre Dame has faced in 2005, so don't look for a 30-point output. But with Tennessee in disarray and some real X-and-O coaches on the Irish sidelines, don't look for a Vol upset, either. This game figures to turn into an aerial show early, and the Irish will win that battle – and the game. Notre Dame 27, Tennessee 14

 

APPALACHIAN STATE at LSU

Game within a game: LSU front seven vs. ASU QBs

Appalachian State has a good team in Division-IAA – 6-2 through Oct. 29. The ASU offense is a good one, ranked 19th in rushing and 27th in passing in its division, and defensively, results have been mostly favorable. But the team ranks 93rd against the run, and LSU is more than capable of running all over the ASU defense. Don't look for a repeat of last week's throttling of North Texas, but LSU has virtually no chance of being upset in this game, even if the Tigers are looking ahead to Alabama. LSU 41, Appalachian State 14

 

IDLE: Georgia, Ole Miss


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