Nutt Amusing, Troubling and Dangerous to AU

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about Arkansas coach Houston Nutt, this weekend's SEC West showdown matching Auburn and Arkansas and other SEC football topics.

Auburn, Ala.--I find it amusing when Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt weeps after his team loses.

I find it troubling that apparently the only way to be kicked off the Arkansas football team is to be held in jail without bond.

Houston Nutt

I find it disgusting that Auburn players said they were being taunted, not by players on the Arkansas sideline, but by coaches during last season's 10-3 victory in Fayetteville.

I wondered after last season why in the world a storied program like Nebraska would want Nutt as its head coach, though I'll admit he probably wouldn't have lost 70-10 to Texas Tech.

But I'll give Nutt credit for one thing: He certainly gets his team revved up to play Auburn. Maybe it's because he knows the truth, that Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville turned down the Arkansas job before it was offered to him. Maybe it's just a state rivalry thing, since both are from Arkansas.

Whatever it is, the Razorbacks seem to play at another level when they play Auburn. The Tigers sometimes seem to play at another level, too, a lower level. There have been few more dismal Auburn performances than in 2002, when Arkansas rushed for 426 yards in a 38-17 victory at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

The Tigers got a measure of revenge last season, beating the Razorbacks 10-3 in Fayetteville when they were unbeaten and ranked No. 7 in the nation.

Auburn is a significantly better team this season than last. Arkansas lost almost all its starters and seemingly couldn't be as good as it was last season. Never have the Tigers had more on the line against the Razorbacks than this season. With a win, they would all but end the race for the West Division championship. They would extend their winning streak to nine games and remain very much in the national championship picture.

Though a loss wouldn't be a season-killer, it would certainly change the landscape as the Tigers head for the home stretch.

Auburn is on a roll and playing with great confidence. It has more depth and talent than Arkansas has. The game is at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Seems like an easy pick. The bookies thought so, establishing Auburn as a two-touchdown favorite.

But in the words of a sportscaster a lot of people love to hate, "Not so fast my friend."

The Razorbacks have one player who makes them dangerous against any team, anywhere on any Saturday. You know who he is. Matt Jones might not be the best quarterback in the SEC, but he surely is the most dangerous. Jones is often at his best when the game has broken down. Once Florida had a 38-7 lead in Gainesville, Jones started playing like he was in a backyard game. He brought his team to within 38-30 before throwing an interception that killed the comeback.

Arkansas doesn't have a good enough defense to beat Auburn. In fact, its defense has been only a little better than awful. It doesn't have a good enough offensive line or good enough running backs to beat Auburn. But it has Jones, and with him comes a chance to win.

But Jones has never faced an Auburn team like this one. There is no way to say for sure how well the Tigers will play, but it's easy to predict this: They will be ready to play and they will play with all the heart and energy they can muster. It is their way.

A lot of teams talk the talk of putting the team ahead of individuals. This Auburn team walks the walk more than any I have seen since the 1972 Amazin's. Add a lot of talent to that equation, and it adds up to a 6-0 record and No. 4 national ranking.

Auburn has beaten defending national champion LSU and routed Tennessee. Arkansas' main accomplishments are making an ill-fated comeback against Florida and playing Texas close.

Arkansas will come to play with enthusiasm and confidence. Jones is going to make some plays, but that shouldn't be enough, not against this Auburn team.

Over the course of the game, Auburn offensive coordinator Al Borges will take advantage of some glaring Arkansas defensive deficiencies. The guess here is that, in the end, it won't be all that close.

Auburn 34, Arkansas 17.

Your fearless picker had a rough go of it last week, despite predicting LSU's win at Florida. The record was 3-4, pretty abysmal. Anyone who would pick Mississippi State and Vanderbilt to win on the same day deserves to have a bad record. For the season, the record is 32-13.

SOUTHERN MISS AT ALABAMA: Seldom has a game against the Golden Eagles meant more to Alabama. Win this one and beat Mississippi State, and the Tide will go to a minor bowl. Lose this one, and bowl hopes probably go out the window.

Southern Mississippi is ranked No. 25 in the AP poll, but it will be without its starting quarterback. Alabama will, of course, be without quarterback Brodie Croyle and tailback Ray Hudson, its two main offensive weapons. Southern Mississippi probably should win, but it almost always finds a way to lose against Alabama. Alabama 13, Southern Miss 10.

TENNESSEE AT OLE MISS: It's going to be quite the reunion at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. It'll be the first meeting between Phillip Fulmer and his former offensive coordinator, Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe. Peyton Manning and Eli Manning are going to be on hand to watch.

The Rebels actually showed some signs of life last Saturday in beating South Carolina 31-28 on the road, but they also gave up almost 500 yards to one of the weaker offenses in the SEC. If I was really brave, I'd pick an upset in this one. But I'm still smarting from last week. Tennessee 30, Ole Miss 21.

Florida coach Ron Zook.

MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE AT FLORIDA: Lost in the controversy surrounding Florida coach Ron Zook standing up to some fierce frat boys is the fact that several of his players were out at 2 a.m. on Thursday two days before the biggest game of the season against Tennessee. Something is amiss in Gator country, but the Blue Raiders certainly won't be good enough to do anything about it. Florida 42, MTSU 14.

VANDERBILT AT GEORGIA: Georgia is fuming over last Saturday's 19-14 loss at home to Tennessee. Vanderbilt is, well, Vanderbilt. Georgia 38, Vanderbilt 13.

SOUTH CAROLINA AT KENTUCKY: The Gamecocks want to wash away the taste of last Saturday's 31-28 loss to Ole Miss. The Wildcats will be in a good mood. Basketball practice starts Saturday and the horses are running. South Carolina 31, Kentucky 7.

Until next time…


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