Looking At The Tigers In the SEC Race

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about the Auburn football Tigers and other SEC football teams in his column.

It is no coincidence that the two remaining unbeaten Southeastern Conference teams have some common traits.

They both have fifth-year senior quarterbacks who have been in pretty much every situation college football has to offer. Auburn's Jason Campbell and Georgia's David Greene made plays to win close games and they've come up short. They've been on the road in stadiums so loud they couldn't hear a teammate standing next to them.

David Greene and the Bulldogs will look to remain unbeaten as they face Tennessee.

Both teams are strong and experienced on both sides of the line of scrimmage. If you can't win the line of scrimmage, you can't win. It's as simple as that.

Both teams can run the ball. Auburn always could run the ball, and its passing game has improved dramatically. Georgia always could throw the ball, and its running game has improved dramatically.

Neither team has an obvious weakness. Both have great athletes at some positions and good athletes willing to play their roles at other positions. That is a mix that is critical to contending for a championship. Both teams are dominant on defense.

Which one is the best? That's hard to say.

Georgia certainly looked overpowering in dismantling LSU 45-16 last Saturday, but it did not look so overpowering in earlier games. A few hours after Georgia sent LSU home, Auburn was just as overpowering in crushing Tennessee on the road.

Sure, Georgia's 45-16 win over LSU was more impressive than Auburn's 10-9 victory over LSU. But it is always a mistake to compare scores in college football. Just like every season is different, every game is different. Don't be surprised if Tennessee gives Georgia a much tougher fight on the road than it gave Auburn at home.

It all points to a memorable Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Nov. 13. Ironically, if both teams take care of business between now and then, that game will almost certainly be the first of two meetings.

If Auburn beats Arkansas, Kentucky and Ole Miss and Alabama loses one more game, Auburn will have already clinched a spot in the SEC Championship Game before Georgia comes to town. Georgia must beat Tennessee and Florida. It also has a potentially testy visit to Fayetteville to play Arkansas and games against Vanderbilt and Kentucky.

If both Auburn and Georgia are unbeaten, the preliminary round will be huge in terms of the national championship picture, but it won't mean a thing in the SEC race.

But Nov. 13 is still five weeks away. A lot can happen to change things between now and then. If Auburn or Georgia should get the wrong people hurt, either one could suddenly be several notches below where it is now.

TAKING OVER?

The talk is starting again, and it's as silly now as it always is. The popular question: "Is this Auburn's opportunity to ‘take over' in the state of Alabama."

The answer: No.

Neither Auburn nor Alabama is going to take over the state. I've said it before, but it bears repeating. Only one coach has ever been able to dominate the state for a long period of time, and that was Bear Bryant. Bryant was 19-6 against Auburn. From the time the two schools resumed playing in 1948 until Bryant broke through in 1959, Auburn had a 6-5 advantage. Since Auburn broke through against Bryant in 1982, breaking a nine-game losing streak, the Tigers have a 12-10 advantage.

Outside of the Bryant years, each team has been able to dominate for periods of time, but not long periods. The idea that Auburn has "blown it" every time it has had a chance to assume a dominant role in the series is just wrong. If Auburn has blown it, so has Alabama under every coach other than Bryant,

Unless another Bryant comes along, nothing is likely to change.

THIS WEEK IN THE SEC

Here is a look at this week's SEC games:

LOUISIANA TECH AT AUBURN: It's a classic sandwich game for Auburn, a week after an emotional win at Tennessee and a week before a big SEC game at home against Arkansas. Louisiana Tech has the nation's second leading rusher in Ryan Moats.

Would you take Moats over Carnell Williams and/or Ronnie Brown? Didn't think so. Louisiana Tech is certainly better than Louisiana-Monroe and The Citadel, but it doesn't have the weapons to compete with upper-level teams. The only thing that will keep this one from getting out of hand is that Tommy Tuberville will sit his starters down at the first opportunity. Auburn 35, Louisiana Tech 13.

ALABAMA AT KENTUCKY: If ever a team faced a must win situation, it's Alabama. If the Tide can beat the hapless Mildcats on Saturday, it can lock up a bowl bid with wins over Southern Mississippi and Mississippi State.

All the matchups seem to favor the Tide. Kentucky is bad on defense and worse on offense. It struggles to stop the run. It lost a lopsided 28-16 decision to Ohio University at home last Saturday. But something tells me it won't be so easy for the Tide. Alabama 23, Kentucky 20.

LSU AT FLORIDA: This could be the most interesting game of the day. Florida should be and would be unbeaten had the officials not gone braindead in Knoxville. LSU is reeling from the reality that it isn't God's gift to college football and, in fact, is little more than an ordinary football team right now.

The fact is, though, that LSU doesn't have ordinary talent. If head coach Nick Saban and offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher can bring some sort of order to the quarterback position, the Bayou Bengals will be a force to be reckoned with.

Florida is very good on offense, not so good on defense. Call it a hunch. LSU 27, Florida 24.

TENNESSEE AT GEORGIA: Is Tennessee as bad as it looked in losing 34-10 at home to Auburn? Probably not. Is Georgia as good as it looked in routing LSU 45-16 at home. Probably not.

That being said, it's difficult to come up with a scenario in which Tennessee wins this game.

It is the first road game for quarterbacks Erik Ainge and Brent Schaeffer, who were exposed as the freshmen they are in the loss to Auburn. Sanford Stadium is not a good place for a baptism. It's difficult to see how Tennessee's cornerbacks will cover Fred Gibson and Reggie Brown.

Tennessee will probably put up a fight, but barring a slew of turnovers, Georgia is just too strong at home. Georgia 31, Tennessee 21.

OLE MISS AT SOUTH CAROLINA: South Carolina is really good on defense and really average on offense. Ole Miss is really bad on offense and defense. Not a good combination for the Rebels. South Carolina 21, Ole Miss 10.

UAB AT MISSISSIPPI STATE: Last week, Mississippi State suffered the indignity of being the first SEC team anyone can remember being a double-digit underdog against Vanderbilt. The Bulldogs showed why, losing 31-13. This week, they are certainly the first SEC team ever to be a double-digit underdog against UAB.

Something tells me this one might be different. In the upset special of the week. Mississippi State 19, UAB 17.

RUTGERS AT VANDERBILT: The Scarlet Knights are no pushovers, but Vanderbilt has some momentum after beating Mississippi State. Vanderbilt 28, Rutgers 24.

Your fearless picker's record was 6-1 last week. The record for the year is 29-9. Until next time…


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