SEC Previews and Predictions

Week three in the college football season pits Auburn-LSU and Florida-Tennessee among highlights.

Last week's record: 8-1 (88.9%)
Season record: 18-2 (90.0%)

LOUISIANA-MONROE at ALABAMA
There really isn't a key match-up to watch in this game, as Alabama is four scores better than the Warhawks – at least four scores – any way you slice it. Alabama's greatest responsibilities will be stopping QB Kinsmon Lancaster on defense and finding some way to get its offense untracked when it has the ball. Louisiana-Monroe will run a one-back spread for most of the game, marking the third time in three weeks Alabama has seen that alignment. The Warhawks spooked Kansas last week by staying focused and not getting overwhelmed as the game stayed close late, so it will be paramount for Alabama to get off to a big lead early and hold it. ULM's top receiver is a tight end who didn't play football last year, so Alabama isn't exactly up against the likes of the New England Patriots, but ULM's performance against Kansas shows that this team isn't just going to roll over. The Warhawk defense was decent but not great against the run in 2005, and then lost five of its front six starters, including all four defensive linemen (the Warhawks will open in a 4-2-5 base alignment). This needs to be the game Alabama uses to get its running game tuned up, as well as a chance to work some young players into the rotation. Here's betting it happens. Alabama 45, La.-Monroe 7

FLORIDA at TENNESSEE
Match-up to watch: Florida secondary vs. UT QB Erik Ainge
So far, no one has stopped Tennessee QB Erik Ainge, and that's been the difference in Tennessee's first two games. Ainge is the country's top-rated passer after two weeks, and whether Florida is able to put a dent in him will determine whether the Gators can upset Tennessee on the road. Things were already tenuous for Tennessee heading into this game, but injuries to Inquoris Johnson and Justin Harrell might be too much for the Volunteers to bear. Johnson's production can be replaced in the secondary, but Harrell's presence can't be fully filled by Turk McBride and J.T. Mapu, neither of whom is in Harrell's league as a player. Tennessee must also contend with a Florida rushing defense that has so far throttled a pair of usually decent teams on the ground, Southern Miss and Central Florida. The home team in this game is generally at a great advantage, but with the injuries Tennessee suffered last week it may be enough to tip things to the Gators. Florida 27, Tennessee 20

ALABAMA-BIRMINGHAM at GEORGIA
Match-up to watch: UAB secondary vs. Georgia QB Matthew Stafford
Joe Tereshinski III wasn't going to win the Davey O'Brien Award this year, but as average as he was, he at least had experience and could manage the offense. Whether new starter Matthew Stafford, a true freshman, can do the same things as Tereshinski is yet to be seen. Stafford is 11-for-24 (45.8%) for 211 yards, 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions through his first two games. Tereshinski will be back in a month or so from a sprained ankle, but one of the games he'll be out for is Tennessee on Oct. 7 and Georgia needs to know now what Stafford can do for them. UAB's pass defense hasn't been great so far this season, so this may be a chance to get Stafford some confidence. On the other hand, this Blazer team nearly knocked off Oklahoma in the opener. Don't look for a runaway game. Georgia 24, UAB 7

MISSISSIPPI at KENTUCKY
Match-up to watch: Kentucky QB Andre Woodson vs. Ole Miss secondary
Ole Miss' pass defense was supposed to be a strength of its team in 2006, but the Rebels have looked surprisingly bad against Memphis and Missouri, teams breaking in new quarterbacks. In Kentucky's Andre Woodson, the Rebels will be facing the nation's 12th-ranked passer, who looks to finally be putting together the mental game needed to win in the SEC. Kentucky is coming off a comfortable win over Division-IAA Texas State, but the week before the Wildcats got hammered by Louisville. Ole Miss QB Brent Schaeffer has been shockingly poor under center so far in 2006 and would like to exploit the Kentucky secondary, but the Wildcats have been a couple notches better than Ole Miss so far. The other issue for Ole Miss is that the Rebels are 1-5 on the road under Ed Orgeron, with the only win being a 10-6 victory over Memphis in the 2005 opener. If Woodson gets cranked up early against the Rebel defense, look out. Kentucky 27, Ole Miss 26

WOFFORD at SOUTH CAROLINA
Does this really need analysis? South Carolina 40, Wofford 14

ARKANSAS at VANDERBILT
Match-up to watch: Arkansas OL vs. Vanderbilt DL

Despite holding Alabama's running game largely in check, Vanderbilt's rush defense numbers this year are still atrocious and the lack of depth on the Vandy defensive line is a concern. Against Arkansas, the conference's leading rushing team at the moment (and for most of the last few years as well), having questions on the defensive line isn't the preferred scenario. And you can bet Arkansas will be running. Mitch Mustain made his debut at quarterback last week against Utah State, but things didn't go as Arkansas fans would have liked; Mustain was just 9-of-17 for 117 yards and a touchdown. Mustain will spend most his time turning around and saying hello to Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. The key for Arkansas will be to control the offensive line of scrimmage and to keep Vandy's fine linebacking corps at least neutral in this game. Defensively, Arkansas will have to find a way to replace Freddie Fairchild and Desmond Williams at linebacker. Look for Vanderbilt to play gamely, but Arkansas should be able to take this one, even on the road. Arkansas 26, Vanderbilt 13

LOUISIANA STATE at AUBURN
Match-up to watch: Auburn QB Brandon Cox vs. LSU secondary
LSU has been good but not great against the run so far, but where the Tigers from Louisiana have shined is against the pass. As expected, LSU has the best secondary in the conference, and Auburn's passing offense, while effective in the first couple of games, hasn't been explosive. For Auburn to win this game, QB Brandon Cox must display, if not explosiveness, at least some playmaking ability. Auburn is not good enough to simply line up and pound Kenny Irons and Brad Lester into the LSU defense. Defensively, Auburn will be facing a very balanced, veteran offense that so far has been difficult to contain. This is the game that most likely will decide the SEC West, so expect a close affair with the deciding points coming late. LSU has better depth than Auburn on both sides of the ball, but Auburn has the home field advantage, and if Cox proves capable through the air, a balance of the pass and the Tigers' running game will likely send LSU home unhappy. Auburn 27, LSU 24

TULANE at MISSISSIPPI STATE
Match-up to watch: MSU QB Tray Rutland vs. Tulane secondary
Tulane has played only one game so far, but what a game it was: 621 yards allowed to Houston, good for the worst total defense rating and worst pass defense rating in Division-IA. Hurricane Katrina effectively put Tulane on probation, as it not only depleted the Green Wave's roster but also made recruiting to storm-ravaged New Orleans difficult. Tulane figures to do better this week, as it will be facing one of the worst Mississippi State teams – at least offensively – in years. Unfortunately for the Green Wave, they're just as bad on offense as Mississippi State. The Bulldogs' superior defense should make short work of Tulane and give MSU its first win of the season. Mississippi State 20, Tulane 7


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