SEC Previews and Predictions

Jess Nicholas predicts the Alabama-Auburn game and runs down the rest of the league contests...

Last week's record: 3-2 (60.0%)
Season record: 71-12 (85.5%) AUBURN at ALABAMA
Matchup to watch: Auburn defensive ends vs. Alabama offensive tackles
If Alabama wants to avoid the same fate that has befallen it since the 2002 game, the Crimson Tide must protect QB John Parker Wilson. That leaves the game almost solely in the hands of Andre Smith, Kyle Tatum and Chris Capps. There can't be a repeat of last year's embarrassing display in Auburn, when Auburn defensive ends put Brodie Croyle on the ground 11 times for sacks and several other times after the pass had been thrown. If Wilson gets time to throw, Alabama can win this game, as Auburn is actually coming into this game off a worse performance than is Alabama. It's up to the offensive tackles, who were responsible for the bulk of the sacks last year. The other matchup that matters is Alabama's pass rush against Auburn's tackles, which haven't been very good in 2006. Auburn has simply done a better job of hiding that weakness behind a strong running game whereas Alabama hasn't. The biggest issue may be whether Alabama believes it can win against a physically superior opponent, though, and prior examples suggest not. Auburn 24, Alabama 13

MISSISSIPPI at LOUISIANA STATE
Matchup to watch: LSU DL vs. Ole Miss OL
Here's another game that's going to hinge on whether one team's beleaguered offensive line can hold off the opposition's physically superior defensive line. With potential losses in the next two games staring Ed Orgeron in the face, one has to wonder how long it will be before Orgeron joins other coaches on the hot seat. LSU is coming off a comfortable win over Alabama, and will now get a team that has been barely competitive against top competition this year. Only a close loss to Auburn, perhaps aided a bit by old feelings of hatred against Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, has given Rebel fans any reason for hope in this game. Look for LSU to win comfortably. LSU 37, Ole Miss 10

ARKANSAS at MISSISSIPPI STATE
Matchup to watch: Arkansas outside running game vs. MSU LBs
This one is likely to come down to Mississippi State's ability to stay disciplined in its defensive assignments against a team that is much bigger, stronger and faster. A win here by Arkansas ends any screwball scenarios of three-way ties at the top of the SEC West. Mississippi State's last game was a 24-16 victory over Alabama that wasn't as close as the score indicated, but for the Bulldogs to knock off the Razorbacks, it would take an even greater effort than the one MSU mustered for Alabama. As such, don't look for Arkansas to give away a trip to Atlanta very easily. Arkansas 30, Mississippi State 10

WESTERN CAROLINA at FLORIDA
No matchup to watch here, just carnage. Florida 60, Western Carolina 0

TENNESSEE at VANDERBILT
Matchup to watch: Tennessee secondary vs. Vanderbilt WRs
This could turn out to be the SEC's best matchup of the week. Vanderbilt is coming off a disappointing loss to Kentucky that once again knocked the Commodores out of any bowl consideration. But once again, Vandy has a chance to spoil Tennessee's offseason. The Volunteers lost last year at home to the Commodores in a game that proved to be the difference between a bowl trip and sitting home for UT. There's a thirst-for-revenge element in play here, and while Tennessee is a better team in 2006 than 2005, Vanderbilt isn't a slouch of an opponent. There won't be any home-field advantage, since UT fans regularly overpopulate Dudley Field in this matchup anyway. If Tennessee loses this one, look for Fulmer's job to be on the line in 2007. For Vanderbilt to win this game, the Commodore receivers will need to stretch the Volunteer secondary and allow Vandy's running backs some free running room at the line of scrimmage. Tennessee 31, Vanderbilt 25

MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE at SOUTH CAROLINA
MTSU head coach Rick Stockstill was Steve Spurrier's recruiting coordinator prior to this year; now the student returns to take on his teacher. MTSU is undefeated in Sun Belt play in Stockstill's first year, quite a feat for a team that was awful under Andy McCollum in 2005. But MTSU isn't yet in the ballpark with SEC schools, and South Carolina figures to run the Blue Raiders right back to Murfreesboro easily. South Carolina 38, MTSU 7

LOUISIANA-MONROE at KENTUCKY
Kentucky could collect its seventh win of the season and make a push for a better bowl – particularly if Alabama loses – but it's been games like this in the past that have given the Wildcats trouble. Louisiana-Monroe already has experience against stronger SEC foes in 2006, so it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility to see an upset here, but don't bet anything on that scenario that you don't want to lose. Kentucky 40, Louisiana-Monroe 14

IDLE: Georgia


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