A Look At Week Three In The SEC

Several big games are on the agenda for this week's Southeastern Conference football schedule.

Editor's note: Stephen Atkinson looks at the third week of the SEC football season, which is highlighted by key showdowns in each division as Auburn takes on LSU and Florida and Tennessee tangle in Knoxville.

Vanderbilt (0-1, 0-1) at Ole Miss (0-2, 0-1)

11:30 a.m. JP Sports

Aside from two Top 15 battles, this week's SEC line-up is so unattractive that Vanderbilt and Ole Miss made television. Both of the teams came into the season with fairly high expectations, but they've both looked much worse than predicted or they expected. Together through three games, the Commodores and Rebels have combined to score 23 points.

Vanderbilt opened the season by getting manhandled in a 25-point home loss to South Carolina, but has had two weeks to figure out what went wrong. Ole Miss was unproductive offensively with Michael Spurlock under center against Memphis and Alabama so David Cutcliffe has decided to go with big sophomore Ethan Flatt. Flatt should be able to lead the Rebels' offense to enough points to get into the win column unless Vanderbilt has made major improvement since an awful opening day performance.

Marshall (0-2, 0-0 MAC) at Georgia (2-0, 1-0)

Noon, Pay Per View television

You have to wonder if Marshall has any fight left after a two-point loss to Troy and a three-point loss at the buzzer to Ohio State. For Georgia, last week's 20-16 nail-biter at South Carolina could have provided a much-needed wake-up call after giving up 28 points to Georgia Southern and falling behind 16-0 to the Gamecocks. Georgia comes in ranked third in the country, but hasn't played like a top five team thus far.

Marshall has held its own against the big boys in recent years. Last season Bob Pruett's Thundering Herd gave Tennessee all the Vols could handle, and knocked off the Big 12 Champs Kansas State in Manhattan. If the Dawgs take Marshall seriously, they should be able to win easily. If they don't, Mark Richt might find himself in the same situation Jim Tressel was in a week ago.

Western Carolina (2-0, 0-0 Southern) at Alabama (2-0, 0-0)

6 p.m. Pay Per View television

The Catamounts, led by South Carolina-transfer Bennett Swygert at quarterback, have put together victories of 77-7 and 28-7 to start the 2004 season. But those wins were against West Virginia State and Nicholls State. Even though these teams have similar numbers of scholarship players, the fact remains a I-AA team should not be able to compete with an average SEC team.

This game will be nothing more than a tune-up and confidence-builder before the Crimson Tide heads to Fayetteville next week for their first test of 2004.

Louisiana-Monroe (0-1, 0-0 Sun Belt) at Arkansas (1-1, 0-0)

6 p.m. at Little Rock, No television

Arkansas better not have a hangover from last week's 22-20 heartbreaker to Texas as Charlie Weatherbie's Indians showed in week one's loss to Auburn that they have much more fight than last year's squad that lost 52-6 in Fayetteville.

The Razorbacks come in after a tough, physical game against the Longhorns while the Indians have had an extra week to lick their wounds. Arkansas' strength in 2004 will likely once again be the running game, but Monroe was able to hold Carnell Williams to 103 yards on 23 carries. Even though the Monroe defense is improved from a year ago, the offense was unable to score on Auburn and will likely have difficulty moving the ball on Arkansas as well.

Maine (1-1, 0-0 Atlantic 10) at Mississippi State (1-1, 0-1)

) 6 p.m. No television

Yeah, Maine has a football team. And this will be its first time to play a Division I opponent in 13 years.

The Black Bears aren't playing bad football in 2004, as they lost by seven points at the third-ranked Division I-AA Montana Grizzlies in week one, and shutout then-ranked No. 23 Northern Colorado 38-0. They are led by sophomore quarterback Ron Whitcomb, who threw for 2,428 yards and 21 scores in 2003, and a bruising senior tailback, Marcus Williams, who has rushed for more than 3,000 yards in his career.

Mississippi State is looking to get back on track after getting thumped by Auburn last week. With a trip to Baton Rouge coming up next Saturday, the Bulldogs need to stay focused on this Saturday, or the Black Bears could give them a game.

South Florida (1-0, 0-0 Conference USA) at South Carolina (1-1, 1-1 SEC)

6 p.m. PPV

This could be a dangerous game for Lou Holtz. The Gamecocks are on the rebound after a tough loss to Georgia, and could be overlooking the Bulls. South Carolina starting quarterback Dondrial Pinkins suffered a bruised shoulder against the Bulldogs and is listed as questionable for Saturday. Holtz has already announced that sophomore Syvelle Newton will get his first career college start under center.

The Gamecocks like to run the football, but are expected to be without the services of sophomore tailback Demetris Summers as well. That would be a huge blow to USC offense as South Florida allowed only 16 yards rushing in its opener.

Dondrial Pinks and South Carolina nearly pulled off a big upset vs. Georgia last week.

The South Florida defense is anchored by sixth-year senior defensive tackle Lee Roy Selmon Jr. and sophomore linebacker Stephen Nicholas. If the Bulls' offense can manage to find the end zone a couple of times, they could very well pull off the upset.

Indiana (2-0, 0-0 Big 10) at Kentucky (0-1, 0-0)

6 p.m. No TV

Despite being out-gained by an average of 176 yards per contest, Indiana Coach Gerry DiNardo has the Hoosiers at 2-0 for the first time since 1996. Last week, Indiana marched into Autzen Stadium and knocked off 25th-ranked Oregon.

The Hoosier offense features one of the more unusual names in college football in tailback BenJarvus Green-Ellis. It also features former Notre Dame quarterback Matt LoVecchio, who led the Irish to the Fiesta Bowl during the 2000 season.

Kentucky appears to have a solid defense, but the offense may be the weakest in the league. The first to 14 may win this contest.

Florida (1-0, 0-0) at Tennessee (1-0, 0-0)

7 p.m. CBS

It's that time of year again as the Gators and Volunteers collide in Knoxville for the SEC opener for both schools. With the emergence of Georgia in recent years, the Florida-Tennessee matchup no longer decides the East championship by September, but this annual battle is still just about as good as it gets. These teams don't like each other, and both come in with a lot to prove.

Phil Fulmer's Volunteer troops must prove that they can win against an SEC team with two true freshmen calling the shots. Luckily for Phil, this one's in Knoxville, and Brent Schaeffer and Erik Ainge won't have to play their first SEC games in The Swamp. The bad news is that the road team has won the last four in the series, and the Gators have won four of the last five in Neyland Stadium.

Despite the fact that Coach Ron Zook has led Florida to back-to-back 8-5 seasons since taking over for the Ol' Ball Coach, Florida enters the contest ranked ninth in the coaches' poll and 11th in the AP. Many people question whether the Gators deserve to be ranked that high, but a road win against the 13th-ranked Vols would justify that opinion.

Florida coach Ron Zook will take his Gators to Knoxville for a Saturday night showdown.

Personnel-wise, these two teams are eerily similar. The biggest area of concern for both is in the secondary, so quarterback play could be the deciding factor.

Even though both offenses will be led by young quarterbacks, Gator QB Chris Leak is about as seasoned as you'll find for a true sophomore. Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis was so concerned with the play of his DBs after the season opener that he used the off week to consider personnel changes. The Vols say they will be going with two first-time starters at the corners, freshman Jonathan Hefney and sophomore Jonathan Wade.

Tennessee should have a home-field advantage playing in front of nearly 110,000, but in a too-close-to-call game like this you've got to go with the more experienced quarterback against a team playing true freshmen. Chances are, Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong has been dreaming up all sorts of blitz packages for the last couple of weeks, and Schaeffer and Ainge will become Gator Bait Saturday night.

LSU (2-0, 0-0) at Auburn (2-0, 1-0)

2:30 CBS

This could quite possibly be the biggest game of the year for both teams. With road trips to Georgia and Florida awaiting in early October, LSU may need a win at Auburn if it wants to earn a trip back to Atlanta to defend the SEC title. A win for Auburn could bolt the Tigers into the Top 10 and give them a huge advantage in the SEC West race. A loss for the Tigers could send their heads spinning and shatter their confidence, much like the USC game last season.

After some untimely and unwise remarks this week by interim president Richardson about Tommy Tuberville's job security, this game could make a huge statement not only for the Auburn football team, but for the head coach. A win against a top five team--the defending national champion--should show Richardson that Tuberville has the program headed in the right direction. Maybe "secure" won't be too strong of a word for Tuberville's job status if he has the team back in the Top 10.

The Bayou Bengals come to town with a 10-game winning streak, which is currently the third longest in the nation. However, they nearly lost the season opener against Oregon State, but managed to pull out a one-point win in overtime. LSU followed up last week with a 53-3 win against Arkansas State, but still didn't settle the quarterback controversy involving senior Marcus Randall and redshirt freshman JaMarcus Russell. Nick Saban is expected to start the senior, but won't be afraid to pull him if he performs like he did in his last visit to Jordan-Hare when he threw four picks in a 31-7 loss.

LSU junior receiver/return specialist Skyler Green has been battling an ankle sprain for the last several weeks, and although he has been practicing, he is listed as questionable for Saturday.

Auburn comes in relatively healthy and has the goal to avenge last year's 31-7 loss in Baton Rouge. Neither Carnell Williams (Williams has played just one time vs. LSU) nor Ronnie Brown has a 100-yard rushing game against LSU, a streak that may need to be broken if Auburn plans on winning Saturday. Auburn is averaging 238.5 yards per game on the ground while the LSU defense is allowing only 69 yards. Something has to give.

LSU has a stable of talented backs as well. The receivers are young, but very talented. LSU's quarterbacks have to prove they will be consistent against a good defensive team so they should be something to watch on Saturday.

For Auburn, quarterback Jason Campbell has looked solid running the new AU version of the West Coast offense, but he hasn't faced anything like what LSU's defense brings to the table. The senior has to deal with LSU's aggressive blitz packages and get the offense into the right play, otherwise he could be in for a long day. If he steps up and is productive as a passer and play caller, Auburn will have a chance to knock off the nation's fourth-ranked team.

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