SEC Insider


Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones may not be getting the full respect he deserves from many across the nation. But don't count Florida coach Ron Zook as one who's not giving Jones plenty of props these days.

The Gators host Arkansas at 11 a.m. on Saturday in a game being nationally televised by CBS. And Zook knows who to look out for when the Hogs come to town.

"Arkansas is a good football team and very impressive," Zook said. "They have arguably the best player in the Southeastern Conference with their quarterback (Jones)."

But Zook doesn't stop at Jones. Arkansas true freshman running back Peyton Hillis has also caught the eye of the Gators' coach as well.

"I think there will be a few special true freshmen that have the impact that he (Hillis) does," Zook said. "He's the kind of guy that could be a feature guy."

Florida (2-1, 1-1) -- ranked No. 16 in the latest AP and USA Today Coaches Polls -- is coming off a 20-3 win against Kentucky in a game that saw junior running back Ciatrick Fason go for 210 yards on the ground on 31 carries.

When No. 3 Georgia plays host to 13th-ranked LSU on Saturday in Athens at 2:30 p.m. on CBS, the Bulldogs won't use last year's two losses against the Tigers -- in the regular season and again in the SEC Championship game -- as motivation.

At least that's what Georgia coach Mark Richt said.

"We have so many big games. Next week is a huge game too," Richt said. "I don't know if there is one team or one game they are circling over another."

The Bulldogs (3-0, 1-0) have had two weeks to prepare for the Bayou Bengals and the extra time off has allowed sophomore tailback Danny Ware time to heal and get ready for Saturday's action.

"We miss (Danny) because he did a very nice job the first two ballgames," Richt said. "He did a good job of breaking tackles and he picked up the blitz well. After that we had a bit of musical chairs.

"The guy we would like to start is Danny Ware. You will probably see any of four guys but Ware will be the starter."

Saturday's game marks only the fourth time in SEC history when two teams who met the year before in the conference championship game faced off the next season.

The Wildcats take a breather from SEC play when they host Ohio on Saturday. And the week off from the rigors of conference action couldn't have come at a better time for Kentucky.

Inside linebacker Dustin Williams is out for the season with an injury suffered in last week's 20-3 loss at Florida and quarterback Shane Boyd is still nursing a bruised shoulder.

Still, the week off from the SEC isn't a week off altogether. Kentucky had to work for a 35-14 win against the Bobcats last year in Lexington and will again be challenged by a veteran Bobcats (2-2) team.

"I think they (Ohio) have 12 takeaways now," said Wildcats coach Rich Brooks. "We run basically the same defense as them. They've run it a little longer, and they run it very well.

"They still incorporate some of the option they ran against us a year ago. This is a game they will be ready to play. I am sure they are looking forward to coming back to the Commonwealth."

Few places in the SEC have been tougher on the Gamecocks than Tuscaloosa, Ala.

In seven trips to the Crimson Tide's backyard, South Carolina (3-1, 1-1) is 0-7 and has been outscored 200-38 in those games. In fact, the Gamecocks had no luck at all against Alabama before the team's last meeting back in 2001 with a 37-36 win in Columbia brought the all-time series to 9-2 in the Tide's favor, with one of those losses being a forfeit.

The Gamecocks get another shot at Alabama in Tuscaloosa Saturday when the two square off at 5 p.m. on ESPN2.

"(Tuesday) was a very physical football preparation day," said South Carolina coach Lou Holtz. "We're excited about the opportunity to play Alabama and just hope to have a good day."

When No. 8 Auburn visits No. 10 Tennessee on Saturday in a game which can be seen at 6:45 p.m. on ESPN, the Vols will be looking for a much stronger performance than the one they showed last year against the Tigers. In a 28-21 loss at Auburn, Tennessee coach Philip Fulmer said his team was pushed around by the Tigers.

And that can't happen again if the Vols hope to stand a chance this week.

"Our whole team is looking at it as a challenge," Fulmer said. "On both sides of the ball last year we got whipped.

"We are better, and we know what our challenges are in this ballgame."

The Vols (3-0, 1-0) are back to running the football with much success and much of the credit goes to the offensive line, according to Fulmer.

"I think the line is more physical and doing better than any point last year," Fulmer said. "The running backs are doing a lot better at getting yards on their own. I think more than anything our receiving corps helps us, because they are guys that if you get one on one they can win those battles. But if you had to pick one thing, I think the line being more physical."

When's the last time Vanderbilt was a 13-point favorite against another conference foe?

Try this week.

Despite being winless through three games, the Commodores have been listed a nearly a two-TD favorite by the Vegas oddsmakers against Mississippi State. But when the Bulldogs visit Nashville on Saturday, you can bet Vanderbilt won't be thinking about point spreads and predictions.

"We don't pay any attention to betting lines, to tell you the truth," said Commodores coach Bobby Johnson. "We don't pay any attention to predictions.

"Believe me, we'll be the last team to be overconfident against anybody."

Vanderbilt suffered its second-straight 3-point loss last week, dropping a 29-26 decision at Navy. And the key now will be keeping those heads high.

"We obviously have a tough challenge," Johnson said. "We've had two disappointing two losses since the South Carolina loss. You have to prepare for them or you won't have a chance to win."


Alabama coach Mike Shula is calling this week's game against South Carolina the Crimson Tide's biggest of the year.

"Well we are getting ready for this week, we are back at home," said Shula. "We realize that this will be one of the toughest challenges we'll have all year. They have a lot of seniors and a lot of leadership on the team. Coach Holtz has done a great job and they have guys that make plays in all three phases."

After the Crimson Tide's 27-10 loss at Arkansas last week, Shula appeared to be quick with his handshake with Arkansas coach Houston Nutt, possibly upset with Nutt for scoring an unnecessary touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Wednesday, the hard feelings could still be felt if you were listening closely. During the SEC coaches conference call, Shula was asked about the job Nutt had done this season and he hardly wanted to give a response without a little prodding.

"He's done a nice job," Shula said, quickly and quietly, before being asked to elaborate.

There isn't much history of Arkansas making trips to the SEC's far east to face Florida at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, better known as "The Swamp." The Razorbacks have only visited Florida's home once and the result was ugly, a 56-7 loss to the then No. 1-ranked Gators back in 1997.

For all current Hogs, including coach Houston Nutt, Saturday's trip to "The Swamp" will be a first. But the big test also brings with it a big air of excitement.

"It's going to be a tremendous challenge," Nutt said. "I haven't been there myself and you hear all the great things about the place.

"Our guys will have to be focused and ready to play."

Nutt continues to receive praise each week on the SEC coaches conference call as his Razorbacks continue to impress. And so far this year, Nutt is having a ball proving folks wrong.

"This has probably been one of our most enjoyable years coaching," Nutt said. "We had 10 starters we lost on offense. But if you wanted one guy to come back, it's Matt Jones. He's just such a leader."

With a 4-0 start, a No. 8 national ranking and a win against a defending national champion already under its belt, Auburn has good reason to feel confident these days. And that's just the attitude the Tigers are carrying into Saturday's showdown with No. 10 Tennessee in Knoxville.

"We are better on the offensive line this year and we are playing more consistent and have more depth," said Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville. "We are prepared for anything they throw at us. We feel like we have a good offense and if we execute, we feel we can move the ball."

The Tigers have already seen a two-quarterback system in their win against LSU. And they'll see it again with Tennessee's Erik Ainge and Brent Schaeffer. But Tuberville doesn't expect much of a difference no matter who's under center come Saturday.

"It's a lot of the same offense," Tuberville said. "Schaeffer is more of a Michael Vick protg.

"We feel like we will get Ainge this week, he's played well. They have the luxury of having two great quarterbacks, and our defense has their hands full."

Fresh off a 51-0 pounding of Mississippi State, No. 13 LSU appears back on track as it heads into Saturday's clash with Georgia in Athens.

"We are pleased with the way our team responded against Mississippi State," said LSU coach Nick Saban. "I think the key in this game is that Georgia has a very good team and this will be a challenge for us. They are good in every area, and have a lot of good players that are playing well right now."

After a close, 17-10 win against the Bulldogs in Baton Rouge during the 2003 regular season, LSU dusted Georgia, 34-13, in last year's SEC Championship game.

Georgia and LSU are the two winningest programs in the SEC since 2000, with Georgia owning a 43-12 mark and LSU a 42-14 record in this decade.

Losing to defending co-national champion LSU, 51-0, at Death Valley in Baton Rouge is not much of a shame for this year's youthful bunch of Bulldogs. But losing to Division I-AA Maine the week before is still unacceptable.


Apparently not.

Sylvester Croom, State's first-year head coach, defended his young team's loss to the Black Bears on Wednesday, saying the playing field between Division I-A and I-AA has evened out.

"Within our division (I-A), there's the LSUs, the USCs and the Oklahomas and then there's the rest of us, trying to get on that level," Croom said. "A lot of Division I-AA schools have gotten competitive and with the lack of scholarships and things like that, it's evened out."

Still, losing to Maine? That's got to sting Bulldogs faithful.

Mississippi State (1-3, 0-2) looks to snap a three-game skid Saturday when it visits Vanderbilt (0-3, 0-2).

Despite his four interceptions in last week's 37-32 loss at Wyoming, Ethan Flatt is still the starting quarterback at Ole Miss.

"Right now it will stay with Ethan starting," said Rebels coach David Cutcliffe. "I am still evaluating practice, we have had a good week and I am anxious to see how they respond today."

Ole Miss looks to avoid a second-straight setback when Arkansas State visits Oxford on Saturday. The Rebels defeated the Indians (1-3) 55-0 last year and lead the all-time series, 19-1-2.

"Our focus has been on Ole Miss this week as well as Arkansas State," Cutcliffe said. "Arkansas State has a good team and we play them every year.

"But our big focus right now is on improving Ole Miss."

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