SEC Preview and Predictions

Last week's record: 3-3 (50.0%) Season record: 55-18 (75.3%)


Game within a game: Alabama DL vs. Auburn RB Kenny Irons

The Alabama-Auburn game is likely to play out in similar fashion to the Alabama-Tennessee and Alabama-LSU games, due to the amount of talent on the Tiger sidelines. You can expect Auburn to stack up to stop RB Kenneth Darby and then pressure QB Brodie Croyle into making bad throws, which Croyle has shown a tendency to do in recent weeks. But the game-deciding matchup in this affair is likely to come from the performance of Alabama's defensive line against Auburn RB Kenny Irons. Irons has been on fire for a month or more, as he uses a tremendous first step to hit the hole hard and fast and be in the secondary before anyone realizes he's even got the ball. In Auburn's opener against Georgia Tech, though, future opponents got a look at Auburn's offense without a running game. It's not pretty. Against Tech, Auburn was still trying to run behind Tre Smith and Carl Stewart. Irons hadn't emerged yet. When Tech threw a monkey wrench in Auburn's running game, it put the game in the hands of sophomore QB Brandon Cox, and Cox wasn't up to the challenge. That is the task before Alabama this week. If Alabama can hold Irons to around 60 yards on the day, Cox will have to make multiple tough throws to beat Alabama. In that regard, Cox is unproven. He is developing ahead of the curve most predicted for him, but it's unlikely Cox can beat a defense of Alabama's caliber all by himself. Offensively, Alabama must solve the riddle of run  blocking, and do it fast. Auburn's defensive line isn't quite in the league of LSU and Tennessee, but it's a solid group nonetheless and quite capable of putting a crimp in Alabama's offensive style. Alabama was effective early against LSU when the outside running game was clicking and the middle of the Tide line was keeping Croyle clear of pass rushers. It's all about the execution against Auburn, and Alabama must be able to make plays on offense or Auburn will put enough points on the board to lock this one down. Also at issue is the fact this is a road game for Alabama; the Tide's opening road salvo was against South Carolina, perhaps Bama's best game of the year. Subsequent road games at Ole Miss and Mississippi State were sloppy and frustrating. Auburn is peaking now, while Alabama probably peaked around the South Carolina or Florida games. For those reasons, Alabama needs to come up with something it hasn't shown against an SEC team in the last month in order to win this one – a minimum of three offensive touchdowns to help the defense. Otherwise, it will be an Auburn day. Auburn 24, Alabama 14



Game within a game: Georgia DL vs. Kentucky RB Rafael Little

Before we go any further, understand that a Kentucky upset of Georgia would be somewhere on the order of Alabama losing to MTSU or the Miami Hurricanes losing to Wake Forest. Both Alabama and Miami got tough games – at least for a couple of quarters – against those opponents, but both teams emerged as comfortable victors at day's end. The same scenario is in the cards for Georgia. Kentucky beat Vanderbilt 48-43 last week largely because Vanderbilt never stopped RB Rafael Little, who toted the ball 28 times for 198 yards. Little is a playmaker, something Kentucky has sorely lacked for a couple of seasons now, but unfortunately for the Wildcats, he's pretty much the only one they have. QB Andre Woodson has good ability and has the potential to take a game over, but he rarely does it. If Georgia's defensive line can shut down Little, Georgia wins easily. Likewise, Georgia wins easily if Kentucky's defense pulls the same trick it did last week. Ahead by the score of 48-17, the Wildcats yielded four touchdown passes from Jay Cutler to Earl Bennett in the third and fourth quarters. Those kinds of breakdowns against Vanderbilt are ugly, but tolerable. Against Georgia, they're lethal. A Georgia win here clinches the SEC East outright, and look for the Bulldogs to do just that. Georgia 38, Kentucky 17



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

Clemson whipped Florida State 35-14 last week largely because the Tigers held Seminole quarterbacks to 124 yards on 13-of-34 passing and picked off two throws. FSU's quarterbacks were inexperienced, and so is Blake Mitchell, for the most part. South Carolina, though, is on a five-game winning streak and is playing with a lot of confidence, which Florida State couldn't say. Also, this game will be in Columbia, and it's a rivalry game that still carries with it the embarrassment of last season's final game, which ended in a brawl and both teams being sent home for the holidays by their school administrators despite being bowl-eligible. The intangibles are all over the place in this one. South Carolina wants an 8-win season and is still entertaining a chance at winning the SEC East. Clemson's coaching staff is on the hot seat and needs this game to help cool things off. South Carolina figures to be the favorite, but it will come down to Mitchell succeeding against a good pass defense and the Gamecocks stopping Clemson's veteran QB Charlie Whitehurst. Clemson looks to have a slightly more well-balanced team overall, but the intangibles are with the Gamecocks, and so is home field advantage. South Carolina 20, Clemson 17



Game within a game: Tennessee RBs vs. Vanderbilt front seven

Vanderbilt's bowl dreams once again ended with a devastating loss to Kentucky, a team that, like MTSU, has made a habit of beating Vandy at the most inopportune times. With no postseason in Vanderbilt's future, the Commodores only have state pride left to play for. Tennessee comes into this game with a 4-5 record, and must beat Vanderbilt and then Kentucky next week to go to a minor bowl. Vandy could throw a wrench in that plan by upsetting the Volunteers in Knoxville, but it isn't likely to happen. The only way Vanderbilt takes this one is to limit the Volunteer rushing attack and force the game into the hands of the Tennessee quarterbacks, who aren't getting much done at the moment. Rick Clausen appears to be better suited for relief work, but he'll likely start this week in front of Erik Ainge, who has devolved into a terrible liability to his team through what is probably very little fault of his own, if any. Vanderbilt must also not be one-dimensional on offense, and get running backs Jeff Jennings and Cassen Garrison-Jackson involved early on. If Vanderbilt keeps this one close through the first three quarters, the Commodores have a chance behind QB Jay Cutler. But if Tennessee gets its ground game going, it's curtains for Vandy. Tennessee 24, Vanderbilt 20



Game within a game: Arkansas pass rush vs. Mississippi State QBs

Mississippi State was off last week, and hopefully the Bulldogs took the opportunity to learn how to play the game of football again. On offense, the Bulldogs looked like a NAIA school against Alabama, unable to get anywhere near the end zone. Defensively, it's a different story. Mississippi State has a good line, decent linebackers and competent defensive backs. But to beat Arkansas, fresh off a 28-17 win over MSU's rival Ole Miss,  Mississippi State will have to play far over its head on defense. Ole Miss managed to shut down Darren McFadden and at least limit Peyton Hillis and Felix Jones, but neglected to keep QB Casey Dick in check. Don't expect Arkansas to have more passing yards than rushing yards for a second straight week, however. Even if MSU's defense is playing tough, Arkansas can make up for it by simply keeping the Bulldog quarterback duo of Michael Henig and Omarr Conner bottled up. Mississippi State has shown that even when RB Jerious Norwood gets yardage, the Bulldogs struggle if the passing game is shut down. Should Arkansas be able to make Norwood account for all the Bulldog offense, the Razorbacks can play the waiting game and let their running backs find their holes. This game will be in Little Rock rather than Fayetteville, but it probably won't make much of a difference. Expect a sloppy Arkansas win. Arkansas 27, Mississippi State 13



Game within a game: Ole Miss pass rush vs. LSU QB JaMarcus Russell

Against Alabama, LSU could account for only 46 yards rushing. Slowed by injury, Joseph Addai carried the ball only twice and gained 4 yards. Justin Vincent got 56 yards on 20 carries – sorry numbers overall. But LSU gave QB JaMarcus Russell ample time to throw, and he passed for 229 yards and the game-winning touchdown. Ole Miss must not only limit the Tiger rushing attack, it must harass Russell, or Ole Miss will suffer a similar fate to the one that befell the Crimson Tide. Ole Miss did a tremendous job stopping Arkansas' rushing attack last week, holding the Razorbacks to just 89 yards on 40 carries. But the Rebels accomplished this at the expense of accounting for QB Casey Dick, who threw for 3 touchdowns. JaMarcus Russell is far better than Casey Dick, and if Ole Miss leaves Russell alone, he could double Dick's 175-yard output from last week. LSU must beat Ole Miss and Arkansas to clinch the SEC West outright, and even though Ole Miss is improving on defense, it's probably not enough to result in an upset here. And there is still the issue of Ole Miss' offense, which is terrible. LSU 26, Ole Miss 13


IDLE: Florida

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