SEC Previews and Predictions

Southeastern Conference weekend preview from Jess Nicholas...

Last week's record: 5-2 (71.4%)
Season record: 68-10 (87.2%)
Matchup to watch: LSU's physical play vs. Alabama's mental anguish
In a test of actual, on-field matchups between these two teams, the most important will probably be how well Alabama's secondary contains LSU QB JaMarcus Russell. Russell can be very hot or very cold depending on the week, and against a secondary as good as Alabama's, it's anyone's guess how well he'll respond. The problem for Alabama is that several Tiders are missing due to injury, including starting free safety Rashad Johnson. Overall, though, the biggest thing to watch for here is how well Alabama's team bounces back from an embarrassing loss to Mississippi State and an extreme fan backlash against head coach Mike Shula and his staff. LSU is an aggressive team that sometimes brain-freezes, much a function of head coach Les Miles. If Alabama plays tentatively, LSU will whip Alabama and the game will be over at halftime. But if Alabama uses the controversy and adversity of the week to get better, LSU has been known to lay some serious eggs against Alabama in Baton Rouge over the years. LSU 24, Alabama 7

Matchup to watch: South Carolina QBs vs. Florida secondary
Whoever starts at quarterback for the Gamecocks must be licking his lips at Florida's ranking of 71st nationally in pass defense. But given how hard it's been for South Carolina to stop opposing rushing attacks, the euphoria will be short-lived. South Carolina is coming off close losses to Tennessee and Arkansas that must surely be driving Steve Spurrier crazy by now. His reward? He gets to travel to his old stomping grounds of Gainesville to take on a Florida Gator team that is rolling along steadily. South Carolina is definitely getting better, but Florida is the SEC East's top team and this game will likely prove too much for the Gamecocks to overcome. Rushing defense numbers (82nd nationally) certainly won't help. South Carolina's best chance for an upset will come if the Gator secondary really can be exposed to the degree the statistics suggest. Florida 30, South Carolina 20

Matchup: Auburn running game vs. Georgia's ability to force turnovers
Three weeks ago, this one looked like a potential barnburner that could decide the SEC's best contender for the national championship. But after losses to Florida and, to all people, Kentucky, Georgia is simply looking for a soft place to land. Instead, the Bulldogs head over to Auburn to face a Tiger team that needs to get its offense back on track. Auburn is running the ball well again, but not scoring at the pace the Tigers would like. Georgia, meanwhile, has a conundrum at quarterback, and the Bulldog defense has developed holes. Most disturbingly, the Bulldogs are 101st nationally in turnover ratio. Auburn is a team that capitalizes on mistakes and doesn't beat itself often; Georgia will need a near-miracle to pull this one out. Auburn 27, Georgia 10

Matchup to watch: Kentucky rush defense vs. Vanderbilt RB Cassen Jackson-Garrison
Defense, defense, defense. Kentucky is now bowl-eligible, but Vanderbilt needs to win here and then upset Tennessee next week in order to qualify for the postseason. The Wildcats are still without much on defense, but the offense is turning into a showcase. But it will be the Wildcat defense that will likely determine Kentucky's fate. Vandy is better balanced, but the Commodores can't get out of the habit of choking when the chips are down. The home-field advantage probably doesn't mean very much in this game. Both teams are capable of playing very well or very shoddily on any given day. But Kentucky is on a roll, and at seven wins could move up the bowl ladder. That by itself is probably enough to invite the Wildcats to throw this one away. Kentucky 34, Vanderbilt 31

Matchup to watch: Arkansas secondary vs. Tennessee WRs
The Razorbacks have to avoid the distractions: Arkansas could clinch the SEC West with a win here and another next week against Mississippi State. Tennessee, meanwhile, still has injury issues at quarterback and is coming off a disappointing loss at the hands of LSU at home. With the SEC East slowly slipping away, this will be a significant test for the Volunteers, to see if they can bounce back here or whether they'll simply fold away. The key for Arkansas will be how the Razorbacks deal with Tennessee's large, physical receivers. The Hog defense is aggressive, and likes to play bump-and-run coverage and by physical. But Arkansas is due for a disappointment soon, it would seem, given the out-of-nowhere trip the Razorbacks are on in 2006. Look for it to come here against a Tennessee team that has something to prove. Tennessee 24, Arkansas 20

IDLE: Mississippi State, Ole Miss

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