Larry Blakeney's down-home Cuzins are the guests of honor at shell-shocked Mississippi State this Saturday afternoon as the Bulldogs return to Starkville to celebrate homecoming at Scott Field. Burning from a three-game losing streak, the Dogs will have to find a way to get their mind off the SEC race by taking it out on the Trojans, who themselves have developed quite a losing streak lately against such teams as Nebraska, Middle Tennessee and Miami.
Trojan QB Brock Nutter will team with former Auburn running back Demontray Carter to throw a little scare into State, but that'' about all. MISSISSIPPI STATE, 38 Troy State 24.
This game may be the first true test for LSU this season. What? Yes, Tulane, Utah State, Tennessee and Florida have absolutely nothing in common with the Bengals, as we have discovered, but the Wildcats have a great history against LSU on the gridiron in Lexington. And after the pounding LSU absorbed at home against Florida last week, it will not be surprising if the Cajuns look doped and disinterested at UK this Saturday night.
Add to the malaise the fact that LSU is a trifle beat up with QB Rohan Davey likely having to give way to backup Matt Mauck, and this could be one of those wild upsets. Indeed it might happen except for the fact that Bengal Coach Nick Saban would kill or at least excommunicate some of his players if they failed to answer the bell. And they know it. Look for Bayou RB LaBrandon Toefield to have a huge night. LSU 33, KENTUCKY 20.
Speaking of upsets, how must Arkansas Coach Houston Nutt feel right about now? For all his little Piggies, life is getting worse. His star tailback won't speak to him, and thus doesn't get to play much. The quarterback situation has been on life-support since the season-opening win over UNLV. And to make matters worse, the lack of depth on the Pig defensive line has begun to show itself like a broken shell on the beach.
At this point it seems fairly obvious that life without Danny Ford recruits can be tough. And not just against an SEC schedule, but even against the likes of I-AA Weber State. So what's a Pig in a poke to do when faced with a Top 10 team on a five-game winning streak? Squeal, that's what. SOUTH CAROLINA, 23 ARKANSAS 22.
My how quickly things can change when poor coaching gets out of the way of tradition. How many times have we seen that before in the SEC? Bad coach drags down good program. Last Saturday in Knoxville, things got back to normal when Georgia came from behind to beat UT in the waning moments of this year's most exciting SEC game. It was 21 years in the making but it won't take that long for it to happen again. Georgia is back--and so is Tennessee.
Vanderbilt, meanwhile, has been playing some of its best football in recent memory. The Dores narrowly lost to Alabama and Auburn, and perhaps should have won both games, except for the fact that they are Vanderbilt, and they know deep down that they don't really deserve to win games like that.
What has been getting better for VU in 2001 is the offense, which, behind the steady field generalship of senior QB Greg Zolman and the brilliant running of senior TB Lew Thomas, has looked like it belongs in the SEC. The defense may not be up to recent standards, but it has been playing better since the season opener against explosive Middle Tennessee State.
Georgia will still be on cloud nine when it rolls into Nashville, and could be primed for the upset. However, Georgia traditionally plays very well at Vandy, and Coach Mark Richt's new passing attack should be sufficient to foil the Commodores' best efforts, especially with star cornerback Rushen Jones on the sidelines in a cast. GEORGIA 34, VANDERBILT 23.
Just when you thought it was safe to be an Alabama fan, the Tide must travel the treacherous road to Oxford, MS, to take on the hottest young quarterback in the NCAA, sophomore Eli Manning of Ole Miss. Manning is as good as he needs to be, and nobody knows yet how good that is, so this game could go either way. It's a given that the Tide should move the football at will against the Rebs' leaky dee.
Remember the shootout in 1969 between Alabama's Scott Hunter and the infamous Rebel QB Archie (father of Eli) Manning? Wildest thing you ever saw. This could be too. OLE MISS 44, ALABAMA 43.
Having narrowly avoided upset losses to Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Mississippi State, the 2001 Tigers will now dig themselves into the floor of the Jungle and prepare for the high-tech air raid from the nation's number one college football team. The invasion will be led by young sophomore commander Rex Grossman, who is on fire, pacing himself like a Heisman Trophy candidate at every stop. Florida's offense is so good that second-string quarterback Brock Berlin, also a sophomore, has thrown a touchdown pass in each of the five Florida victories thus far. The Gators' offense leads second place in the SEC by 150 yards per game.
Interestingly, Auburn has scored five of its 12 touchdowns on big running plays of 36 yards or more, at least one in each game. That total was accomplished by four different players. Two other scores were big play-passes from redshirt freshman QB Jason Campbell to tight end Robert Johnson, who will likely miss the game this Saturday. Nine of Auburn's 12 touchdowns this year have been on the ground. The AU offense is clearly in the developmental stage, but it has shown flashes of excellence. It will need more than flashes against the Gators.
To further complicate matters for Coach Tommy Tuberville and his team this week, the defense will be playing without as many as four injured starters, including linebackers Tavarreus Pounds and Mark Brown, defensive tackle DeMarco McNeil and true freshman Carlos Rogers will likely get the start at right corner in place of injured Travaris Robinson.
Perhaps the Tigers are still a year or two away from competing with a team this good, but don't be surprised to see Auburn go for broke on both sides of the ball come Saturday night. If it weren't for Gator cornerback Lito Sheppard, I might even be entertaining a notion of an upset. Still, if the defense plays hard before a steaming, screaming home crowd, the Tigers just might give UF a thing or two to think about. FLORIDA, 34 AUBURN 21.