SEC Previews and Predictions

Jess Nicholas' SEC previews and predictions – Week eight

Last week's record: 5-1 (83.3%)
Season record: 50-8 (86.2%) ALABAMA at TENNESSEE
Matchup to watch: Alabama pass rush vs. Tennessee QB Erik Ainge

Alabama ranks 113th nationally in sacks and dead last in the SEC. Tennessee leads the conference in protecting the quarterback, and ranks 8th nationally. In a nutshell, there's your game. The Volunteers have the potential to have a good rushing attack, even if the stats don't immediately show it. The Vols rank 68th in rushing offense, but 8th in passing offense. If Alabama wants to entertain any notion of pulling the upset in this game, the Crimson Tide must figure some way to flip these odds. Ainge isn't a complete quarterback, yet; he can get flustered, does have off days from time to time and isn't known as a particularly intuitive passer, but he has the great luxury of playing behind a solid offensive line and Tennessee's playcalling has been spot-on almost every week. Alabama is getting better on the ground, but defensively, the Tide seems to have regressed over the last month. Coupled with the issue of not getting a consistent pass rush, Alabama's linebackers have struggled with coverage. Tackling overall has been suspect. If Alabama isn't careful, Tennessee will eat this up. In the final analysis, this game looks much like the Florida game, where Alabama kept it close throughout only to get worn down late by a deeper, more physical team. Alabama being banged up at key positions after the Ole Miss game doesn't help anything. Tennessee 31, Alabama 10 MISSISSIPPI STATE at GEORGIA
Matchup to watch: Georgia secondary vs. MSU QB Michael Henig

Georgia's offense isn't going to win this one outright, not just because of its quarterback crisis but also because Georgia hasn't committed to utilizing its deep stable of running backs to the best of the team's abilities. It falls instead to the Georgia defense, which got embarrassed against Tennessee and wasn't exactly superb against Vanderbilt last week, to step up. Fortunately for Georgia, State has been awful all year and even struggled against Division-IAA Jacksonville State last week. QB Michael Henig was a sad 11-for-25 (44.0%) for 183 yards and an interception, and there's little chance that Brandon Thornton is going to come close to repeating his rushing output (16 carries, 88 yards) against a defense like Georgia's. Two of MSU's touchdowns last week were scored by Derek Pegues – who doesn't play offense. Unless Henig goes bonkers, Georgia will win this one easily. Georgia 20, Mississippi State 7 SOUTH CAROLINA at VANDERBILT
Matchup to watch: Vanderbilt running game vs. South Carolina front seven

Vanderbilt has quietly become a decent team running the football, even against top opponents. The Commodores are just now starting to come around at quarterback, where Chris Nickson is finally getting a feel for running an offense. The biggest thing at stake in this game is bowl eligibility; the winner has a fairly clear path to six wins (South Carolina would need only to beat MTSU; Vanderbilt would have to take down Kentucky) while the loser is probably out of the picture. This one probably comes down to how well South Carolina stops Vandy RB Cassen Jackson-Garrison. If Jackson-Garrison rushes for around 80 yards in this game, it will allow Nickson to get loose and Vanderbilt's receivers are good enough to make South Carolina pay. But if the Gamecocks can shut down the Commodore rushing game, Vandy has little chance whatsoever. South Carolina 23, Vanderbilt 14 MISSISSIPPI at ARKANSAS
Matchup to watch: Ole Miss DL vs. Arkansas OL

If Ole Miss has any intention of atoning for last week's loss to Alabama, its defensive line will have to show up. Ole Miss' DL failed to produce against an Alabama OL that has had problems all year. Ole Miss recorded two "mini-sacks" for a total loss of 4 yards, never really pressured QB John Parker Wilson otherwise, and allowed RB Kenneth Darby to run virtually unfettered most of the day. Against Arkansas, that will be the recipe for death warmed over. The Razorbacks bring the nation's fifth-best rushing attack to this game, and the Rebels have little hope of slowing Arkansas down if they can't have a much better showing than a game ago. For Arkansas, it's all about limiting mistakes. It doesn't hurt that the game is in Fayetteville. The Hogs should roll. Arkansas 27, Ole Miss 17 TULANE at AUBURN
Matchup to watch: Tulane passing offense vs. Auburn secondary

I would say there's no chance in heck that Tulane could get close to Auburn, but the Green Wave has already upset one SEC team this year – even if it was Mississippi State – and it can move the football, at least through the air. Unfortunately, Tulane can't stop anyone from running the ball on them, and that's Auburn's greatest offensive strength. Tulane's only shot at winning is if Auburn comes out still suffering from a Florida-induced hangover and lets the Green Wave score three or four touchdowns before the half. Under those circumstances, this game could be interesting. Otherwise, it will be just another opportunity for Auburn to play fourth-stringers late in the game. Auburn 45, Tulane 17 FRESNO STATE at LOUISIANA STATE
Matchup to watch: LSU QB JaMarcus Russell vs. Fresno State secondary

Alabama played Hawaii and beat the Warriors 25-17. Fresno State played Hawaii last week and lost 68-37. Fresno State's defense has been awful all year, and LSU is flat-out murdering lesser teams right now. Fresno State has played the spoiler several times in recent years, but doesn't look equipped to do so this year, especially not against a LSU team that is far better in every facet. LSU's JaMarcus Russell must be salivating at the thought of facing this group, which is ranked a nice, round 100th in pass defense and 113th in pass efficiency defense. This one figures to be ugly anyway and could get uglier depending on which version of the LSU team shows up. LSU 47, Fresno State 10

IDLE: Florida, Kentucky


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