SEC Previews and Predictions

Columnist Jess Nicholas looks at this weekend in the Southeastern Conference...

Last week's record: 7-1 (87.5%)
Season record: 25-3 (89.3%)

ALABAMA at ARKANSAS Match-up to watch: Alabama LBs vs. Arkansas RBs Arkansas is trying its best to go with a more balanced offense in 2006 than in past years under Houston Nutt, but the fact remains the Razorbacks are trying to do it with a true freshman quarterback under center. Mitch Mustain has all the tools to be a great quarterback someday, but he'll get his toughest test of his young career Saturday when he starts against Alabama (by the time Mustain entered the blowout loss to Southern Cal, the game had already been decided). The key for Alabama is to make Mustain be the one to beat them. To do that, Alabama will have to severely limit the effectiveness of Arkansas RBs Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis. Accomplishing that feat will fall to Alabama's inexperienced linebackers and a defensive line that has spent most of its time so far in 2006 in a 3-3-5 defense and playing mostly gap control. Mustain can be error-prone; he threw an interception against Vanderbilt and nearly threw two or three others during the game. That mediocre effort followed a thoroughly tame outing against doormat Utah State the week before. But this Alabama defense has yet to step up in the way the 2005 Alabama defense did against more physical teams. Despite Razorback quarterback woes in 2005, Alabama's win over the Hogs wasn't convincing, largely because Alabama didn't shut down the Arkansas running game. In order to leave Fayetteville with a win, Alabama must at least come close to doing that in 2006 – especially since the Tide offense is still largely an unknown quantity. Alabama 23, Arkansas 16

Match-up to watch: Florida's mindset vs. Kentucky's thirst for upset
This is a sandwich game if there ever was one. Florida is coming off a big win on the road against Tennessee, and next week will host Alabama in a revenge game for the 31-3 whipping the Crimson Tide administered in 2005. So does that give Kentucky a chance at an upset? Believe it or not, maybe. Kentucky has played Florida tough at times over the last few years and the Wildcat offense is beginning to show enough life so as to be thought dangerous. But Kentucky's defense is still a liability all around, and Florida has weapons. QB Chris Leak leads the nation in passing efficiency and the rushing game is adequate, but most of the weapons may reside on the Florida defense, which has been virtually impenetrable against the run. Look for Florida to be a little sloppy in this game, but don't bet on the Kentucky upset unless you're beyond brave. Florida 37, Kentucky 20

Match-up to watch: Georgia QB Matthew Stafford vs. Colorado secondary
There hasn't been much to cheer about this season for Colorado, which has three losses and only 23 points scored in its first three games. The Buffaloes have been good against the run but bad against the pass, and the only hope they'll have of upsetting Georgia is to sell out to stop the run completely and make true freshman QB Matthew Stafford beat them through the air. Then, it becomes an issue of whether Colorado's secondary can play the Bulldogs straight-up and keep them contained. Unless they can, Colorado is going to be headed back home with an 0-4 record and probably not many more points scored than they already have. As Colorado is struggling to adjust to new head coach Dan Hawkins' schemes, don't look for the Buffaloes to score many points. They'll have to win this game on defense, but it's very unlikely. Georgia 17, Colorado 0

Perhaps it was a mistake to pass up analyzing South Carolina's game against Wofford last week, which ended in a 27-20 victory for the Gamecocks, but I'll take a chance again this week and pass up looking at match-ups in this game. FAU is terrible, averaging 4.7 points per game and looking generally disinterested. South Carolina should roll in this one and give new WR-turned-QB Syvelle Newton a chance to get comfortable under center instead of running routes. South Carolina 24, Florida Atlantic 7

Match-up to watch: Marshall QB Bernard Morris vs. UT secondary
Remember the glory days of Marshall football – Randy Moss, Byron Leftwich, etc. – when the Thundering Herd threw the ball all over the field and beat teams it had no business beating? Those days are gone all the way around; Marshall is now a running team (34th in rushing offense, 92nd in passing offense) and unfortunately, are also schedule filler now for bigger teams. Marshall's mission this week is to take on an angry bunch of Tennessee Volunteers who saw what could have been a magical comeback season hit a brick wall in a 21-20 loss at home to Florida last week. Tennessee will be spoiling for a fight in this one. Marshall's only chance is for the passing game to get unhitched and provide some kind of offensive balance to keep the Vol defense honest. Unfortunately, what's more likely to happen is for Tennessee to freight-train the Herd into submission. Tennessee 45, Marshall 10

Vanderbilt saw a promising 2005 season derailed with a loss to MTSU after big wins over several stronger opponents. Tennessee State isn't MTSU, but TSU has been respectable in cobbling together a 2-1 start to the season. There's no match-up to watch here other than Vanderbilt's own psychosis, which often rears its head in games such as this. Look for the Commodores to prevail anyway. Vanderbilt 32, Tennessee State 7

Match-up to watch: Auburn RBs vs. rushing record book
Buffalo looks better in 2006 than in previous seasons, but the highlight of its year still is a 9-3 win over Temple on opening day – the same Temple team that has put up back-to-back 62-0 losses to Purdue and Minnesota, respectively, over the last two weeks. There truly isn't a match-up to be concerned with in this game, as Auburn will likely have a five-score lead, minimum, by the time the band takes to the field at halftime. Buffalo is ranked 118th in rushing defense at the moment out of 119 teams; here's betting they have sole possession of last place by the time this one's in the books. Auburn 55, Buffalo 7

Match-up to watch: Tulane QB Lester Ricard vs. LSU pass defense
The Tigers are ranked 1st in total defense and 1st in pass defense nationally coming into this game, and they'll get a bit of a test from Tulane QB Lester Ricard, who is the nation's seventh-ranked passer. But the question isn't whether Tulane will win this game; it's whether the Green Wave will keep things respectable against their larger, far more powerful in-state rivals. Tulane must be surely riding a high from its upset of Mississippi State in Starkville on Saturday, but highs have a tendency to carry over in one of two ways: Either Tulane will be buoyed by the experience, or a mad LSU team fresh off a loss to Auburn will catch them with a haymaker that they never saw coming. Bet on the haymaker. LSU 40, Tulane 3

Match-up to watch: UAB QB Sam Hunt vs. MSU pass defense
Mississippi State has been good enough against the run so far, but the Bulldogs' pass defense numbers have been uncharacteristically disturbing. Enter UAB and QB Sam Hunt, who have so far failed to make much of an impression. Although UAB came within 7 points of Oklahoma on opening weekend, that was probably more a function of the Sooners' scrambling to replace dismissed QB Rhett Bomar than anything the Blazers brought to the table. This game is already a landmark for UAB because it's a case of a SEC team visiting Legion Field, and it could turn out to be more than that considering UAB is an early betting favorite. But Omarr Conner, once again the quarterback at MSU, could have something to say about that. He looked fairly sharp against Tulane in his first action under center in almost a year, and with his athleticism and guile, State's game has already been elevated. UAB's chances at victory largely hinge on whether Hunt can keep the Bulldog defense honest and allow RBs Dan Burks and Corey White to get loose. Mississippi State 14, UAB 9

Match-up to watch: Ole Miss RBs vs. Wake Forest rush defense
This may be the last game Ole Miss wins until November, so the Rebels need to get this one right. Ole Miss is coming off a 31-14 loss to Kentucky that was frankly embarrassing. New QB Brent Schaeffer has been rendered almost a non-factor, something that no one who saw him play at Tennessee would have ever thought could happen. With Schaeffer a question mark, the onus falls onto RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis' shoulders and the shoulders of his backups. Wake Forest has a stout rush defense, and the Demon Deacons are an improbable 3-0 so far in 2006 with wins over Syracuse, Duke and Connecticut. The Deacs might actually enter this game as a betting favorite, but on the road against an SEC school with a roster not quite as big or fast as its opponents doesn't exactly scream success for Wake. Look for an ugly game, with Ole Miss pulling one out at the end by way of simply wearing down Wake Forest. Ole Miss 17, Wake Forest 12

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