SEC Previews and Predictions

Southeastern Conference games previews and predictions from columnist Jess Nicholas.

Last week's record: 7-0 (100.0%)
Season record: 40-5 (88.9%)

DUKE at ALABAMA
Matchup to watch: Alabama RBs vs. Duke DL There's not really a matchup to watch in this game; Alabama is going to smoke Duke unless the wheels completely fall off, Martians land at midfield during halftime and abduct half the team, and Kansas' Mark Mangino arrives immediately afterwards to eat the survivors. But if Alabama thinks it's going to have an easy time with the Duke defense, think again. Largely on the strength of DT Vince Oghobasse and MLB Michael Tauiliili, Duke has a stout rush defense. Oghobasse, in particular, could transfer from Duke tomorrow and have a scholarship offer waiting at any of the other 118 Division-IA schools. That means Alabama is probably in for another game that is close at the half before getting out of hand in the second half on the strength of the Crimson Tide's superior depth. If anything, Oghobasse and friends will make for a good test vehicle for RB Kenneth Darby to see if he's really regained his mojo from the 2004 and 2005 seasons. Offensively, Duke is terrible. The Blue Devils will start a true freshman quarterback, and there isn't a competent offensive lineman or running back to be found. The receivers are barely adequate. And given how badly Duke punts the football, Alabama could turn this one into a rout by winning the old field-position-and-kicking-game battle. Alabama 34, Duke 7

LOUISIANA STATE at FLORIDA
Matchup to watch: LSU QB JaMarcus Russell vs. Florida DBs
Florida got LSU Lite last week in the form of Alabama. This week, Florida replaces a team with a good quarterback and struggling running game with a team that has a great quarterback and a running game that's on the verge of breaking out. But given the strength of the Florida rushing defense, this one will probably fall to LSU QB JaMarcus Russell to win. The difference between Russell and Alabama's John Parker Wilson is about five inches, 50 pounds and an immeasurable increase in arm strength. LSU's wide receiver corps also has more depth than Alabama. Defensively, Florida goes from facing a tough front seven and a tougher secondary to a tough front seven and the best secondary in college football. The test gets tougher all the way around, and it will be interesting to see if Florida can gear up for two revenge games in back-to-back weeks. Here's betting they don't. LSU 24, Florida 14

TENNESSEE at GEORGIA
Matchup to watch: Georgia QBs vs. Tennessee DC John Chavis
This is a no-brainer; it's going to come down to whether Joe Tereshinski III – or whoever Mark Richt starts under center for Georgia – can handle what Tennessee is going to throw at him, both in terms of athletes and in schemes. Colorado and Ole Miss, a pair of teams grossly inferior to the Bulldogs, had Georgia pegged the last two weeks. Freshmen QBs Joe Cox and Matthew Stafford just aren't ready for prime time, and there are questions about both Tereshinski's health and his competence. Tennessee, on the other hand, is developing quickly into a team no defense wants to face; the Volunteers are ranked 9th in passing offense and 17th in total offense nationally. Georgia's one chance is going to be to establish the run early, something they've been loathe to do at any point so far this year, and hope the QB-of-the-week can keep the UT secondary honest. Defensively, Georgia has to play a phenomenal game, but it may not be enough. Tennessee 23, Georgia 13

SOUTH CAROLINA at KENTUCKY
Matchup to watch: South Carolina WRs vs. Kentucky secondary
Both these teams are 3-2 at the moment, which holds some sort of cosmic significance in the SEC, I'm sure. Kentucky is turning into a media darling team, mostly on the strength of the fact the Wildcats have finally developed a passing attack. Unfortunately, Kentucky has also developed an aversion to defense; the Wildcats are ranked 118th in total defense in Division-IA. Give South Carolina's Steve Spurrier those odds and you'll need an umbrella to fend off all the drool. South Carolina may have lost to Auburn last Thursday, but the Gamecocks learned they can play with anyone, and this week they'll get a great opportunity to test their newfound confidence. If USC's Sidney Rice and friends can keep the Kentucky safeties back in coverage and away from the line of scrimmage, South Carolina can put forth a balanced attack and sink UK. South Carolina 27, Kentucky 20

VANDERBILT at MISSISSIPPI
Matchup to watch: Ole Miss RBs vs. Vanderbilt rush defense
Believe it or not, this is not a good matchup for Vanderbilt, despite the fact Ole Miss has been completely incompetent so far in 2006. The reason is that Ole Miss has begun to ratchet up its ground attack and now finds itself ranked somewhere in the middle in Division-IA, which unfortunately for Vanderbilt, is much better than the Commodores' corresponding ranking for stopping the run. Although Vanderbilt dispatched Temple 43-14 last week, Vandy allowed Temple RB Tim Brown to pick up 147 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries. It's a disturbing trend, and if Temple's Brown can get to Vanderbilt, Ole Miss' BenJarvus Green-Ellis certainly can. Ole Miss nearly upset Georgia at home last week and may finally be showing some signs of life. Look for the Rebels to get their first SEC victory of 2006. Ole Miss 14, Vanderbilt 10

ARKANSAS at AUBURN
Matchup to watch: Arkansas DL vs. Auburn OL
The loss of C Joe Cope has the potential to do some nasty things to the Auburn rushing attack, but the question becomes whether Arkansas is good enough to do anything about it. Arkansas' defensive line is below average in the SEC, and it's unlikely Arkansas will sneak up on Auburn the way South Carolina did last Thursday. Offensively, Arkansas provides substantially more punch on the ground, and Auburn's front seven is smallish. If Arkansas doesn't get too cutesy, Auburn could have some trouble there. But defensively, Arkansas could have trouble stopping the Auburn rushing attack, which has been the death of every Auburn opponent so far in 2006. The game being in Auburn instead of on the road is the final nail in the coffin of Arkansas' upset hopes. Auburn 31, Arkansas 17

WEST VIRGINIA at MISSISSIPPI STATE
There would be a matchup to watch here if Mississippi State was good enough to test the as-yet-untested West Virginia secondary. The Bulldogs aren't. As it is, State will probably spend this game just watching West Virginia running backs and QB Patrick White hurry back and forth between the end zones. West Virginia 55, Mississippi State 7


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