SEC Previews and Predictions

Columnist Jess Nicholas gives his weekly Southeastern Conference previews and predictions.

Last week's record: 8-2 (80.0%)
Season record: 33-5 (86.8%)


ALABAMA at FLORIDA
Matchup to watch: Alabama RBs vs. Florida front seven
While it would seem, looking at statistics, that Alabama has its best chance at beating Florida through the air, if the Crimson Tide completely abandons the running game then Alabama might as well not even get off the bus. Sophomore QB John Parker Wilson is a good quarterback now and will probably be a great quarterback soon, he isn't capable of taking on the Gators with just pass blocking and his friends Keith Brown and D.J. Hall. Kentucky's running backs actually put up decent rushing numbers against Florida (5.1 yards per carry), but the Wildcats only handed off to a tailback 11 times in the game and lost their composure altogether in the second half. If Alabama is to beat Florida, the Tide's offensive line must not only keep the Florida defense at bay, but also go on the attack and loosen up the secondary so the receivers can make plays. Defensively, Alabama needs to remember what won last year's game – aggressiveness, playing downhill and confusing Florida QB Chris Leak, who often has problems with complicated defenses. Unfortunately, this is a much better Florida team than the 2005 edition, and Alabama isn't nearly the team it was when it played Florida early last year. Florida 27, Alabama 13

GEORGIA at MISSISSIPPI
Matchup to watch: Georgia RBs vs. Ole Miss DL
This may be the week of the running back; not only does Alabama's game probably hinge on the play of Kenneth Darby and friends, but the only chance Ole Miss has against Georgia is to shut down the Bulldog running game. The Rebels are coming off an embarrassing loss at home to a lower-tier ACC program, Wake Forest, a game in which the Demon Deacons ran the football on 53 out of 58 snaps and handed the bigger, supposedly more physical Rebels their own butts. Georgia never established a running game against Colorado and it put the Bulldogs behind the 8-ball early, so look for Georgia to try to get something going on the ground quickly in this one and keep their young quarterbacks from having to engineer any late, come-from-behind scoring drives. For Ole Miss, the Rebels suddenly find themselves in Quarterback Situation Purgatory, with Brent Schaeffer and walk-on Seth Adams now locked in a competition for the job. It really appears Ole Miss is on the brink of just giving up. Georgia 28, Ole Miss 7

CENTRAL MICHIGAN at KENTUCKY
Matchup to watch: Kentucky special teams vs. CMU special teams
For a top-tier team, Central Michigan would represent an easy opponent, but for a Kentucky team still trying to craft an identity, the Chippewas present some danger. This is a veteran team that is 2-2 with one of its losses being a very close one to Boston College. Kentucky is beginning to develop a passing game with some teeth, but where the Wildcats can hurt anyone – especially a mid-major like Central Michigan – is in the kicking game. So far, Central Michigan has been strong in net punting, but Kentucky is dangerous anytime the kicking game is in play and if the Wildcats can create scores or at least good field position with their special teams play, they'll stand a good chance at quelling a potential upset before it happens. The other thing Kentucky must do is shake off the disappointment of a valiant effort that still ended in a loss at Florida. Kentucky 24, Central Michigan 14

AUBURN at SOUTH CAROLINA
Matchup to watch: Auburn RBs vs. South Carolina front seven
It's a no-brainer; South Carolina, ranked 101st in rushing defense in Division-IA despite playing such luminaries as Mississippi State, Wofford and Florida Atlantic, must get incredibly stiff Thursday if they are planning to take down Auburn. Otherwise, this is going to be a romp from the start. South Carolina is still trying to plug Syvelle Newton into the hole that has developed at quarterback, so don't expect miracles from the Gamecocks in the passing game. This game will boil down to both a physical (South Carolina DL/LB vs. Auburn running backs) and a mental (USC's Steve Spurrier vs. the Auburn staff) matchup, but Auburn has too many horses for South Carolina to expect to pull the upset. Auburn 41, South Carolina 21

TENNESSEE at MEMPHIS
Matchup to watch: Memphis passing game vs. Tennessee secondary
There's really only one way for Memphis to win this game: Exploit the Tennessee secondary and hope like heck Tennessee can't do the same thing in return. Memphis has put up very good pass defense numbers this season and is ranked 11th in passing offense, while Tennessee is ranked 13th in passing offense but hasn't been as good in stopping the opposition. More likely, though, Tennessee will simply pound the ball at Memphis, which is ranked 104th in rushing defense and has only beaten one team, Division-IAA UT-Chattanooga so far. Barring some kind of unforeseen miracle, Tennessee is going to have this one wrapped up by halftime and will start auditioning backup quarterbacks by the middle of the third quarter. Tennessee 47, Memphis 10

TEMPLE at VANDERBILT
There's really no matchup to watch here, because Temple is terrible in everything. There are 17 major statistical categories tracked and ranked by the NCAA, and teams are ranked 1 through 119. Temple is 100th or worse in 13 of those 17 categories. The highest ranking the Owls have in any category is 85th in pass defense. Therefore, there really isn't anything Vanderbilt needs to fear, other than the Owls either paying the Philadelphia Eagles get on the bus in their stead and playing the game for them, or going so completely to sleep at the wheel (this is Vandy we're talking about, however) that the Commodores simply give the game away. For Vanderbilt to lose this game would almost require them to purposefully execute the event. Vanderbilt 31, Temple 3

MISSISSIPPI STATE at LOUISIANA STATE
Matchup to watch: LSU RBs vs. MSU rushing defense
There's little to suggest Mississippi State has a chance in this game, but the Bulldogs are 37th in rushing defense and LSU is struggling a bit in that department (49th in rushing offense, not what the Tigers are accustomed to), so therein lies the Bulldogs' one true chance to keep this game close. Otherwise, this is about as much of a mismatch as you can have in the SEC right now. Mississippi State has a terrible offense, and they're facing the best defense in the SEC and the second-best defense nationally. If MSU scores, it will be a near-miracle. The only hope State has is to pitch a shutout and hope special teams or the Bulldog defense scores. More likely, this will be yet another painful blowout. LSU 52, Mississippi State 3

IDLE: Arkansas


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