Marshall: More Questions Than Answers In SEC

Phillip Marshall takes a look at the races for the SEC East and West titles and this week's slate of games.

There are questions, so many questions, as the Southeastern Conference season enters its fifth week.

If you are looking for championship contenders, how do you choose among Florida, Georgia and Tennessee in the East? How do you choose among Alabama, LSU and Auburn in the West?

Florida has a big win over Tennessee, but Urban Meyer left the option part of his spread option offense back in Utah. Some who understand far more than I say, without it, Florida's offense is little different than any other four-wideout attack. The Gators, of course, have what they have had plenty of for many years. Talent.

Surprisingly, defense has been the key to the Gators beating Wyoming, Louisiana Tech, Tennessee and Kentucky.

Urban Meyer and his new look Gators will face a tough test in Tuscaloosa this weekend.

Georgia is 4-0, but the best team it has beaten is Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have more running backs than anybody in the league, but coach Mark Richt loves to throw it around. Quarterback D.J. Shockley has been the same as a senior as he was as a freshman, sophomore and junior--spectacular at times and erratic at times.

Tennessee looked helpless on offense against UAB and Florida and for a half Monday night against LSU. That all changed when Rick Clausen took over and led a rally from a 21-0 halftime deficit at LSU. The Vols' defense is terrific, but they can't even think about winning the East unless they win out and Florida loses twice. Clausen sparked the offense against LSU, but it might be a mistake to assume that all the problems are solved.

I know, I know. I left out Vanderbilt and its 4-0 record. Could the Commodores actually be contenders? It's not likely, but it's not impossible either.

In the West, Alabama, LSU and Auburn are the only viable contenders.

Alabama is 4-0 and can assume the favorite's role if it can beat Florida in Tuscaloosa on Saturday. Yet the Tide's offense has been inconsistent and its defense hasn't faced a big test. None of the Tide's opponents – Middle Tennessee State, Southern Mississippi, South Carolina and Arkansas – are even receiving votes in the polls.

Auburn is 3-1, having won three straight since a shocking 23-14 loss to Georgia Tech in the season-opener. The Tigers have clearly gotten better. They deserved more credit than they got for beating Mississippi State 28-0, but the last two weekends have been yawners against overmatched teams. Saturday's game against South Carolina will tell us more, but we probably won't really know where the Tigers stand for a few more weeks.

LSU players deserve sympathy after having their lives disrupted by two hurricanes, but on the field, they have other problems. The Bayou Bengals are 1-1 and have all sorts of holes on pass defense. If they don't get something resolved, Monday night's loss to Tennessee will be the first of several.

Les Miles and LSU have some work to do if they are planning on making it to Atlanta in December.

Moving on to this week's games:

South Carolina at Auburn: A lot of folks are assuming Auburn is going to win this one in a runaway. Troy coach Larry Blakeney, who played the Gamecocks last Saturday, said in Huntsville earlier this week that Auburn would win and it wouldn't be close.

To be sure, a lot of signs point to a rout. Redshirt freshman Antonio Heffner will replace injured Blake Mitchell at quarterback. It's not the kind of situation Steve Spurrier would have chosen for him to get his first start. The Gamecocks have not been able to run or stop the run, a deadly combination.

But I keep remembering their game at Georgia. The Gamecocks lost 17-15. Had it not been for a couple of missed kicks, they would have won. A week later, they were demolished 37-14 at home by Alabama.

What does it all mean? It means that, in college football, every week is different. Auburn 28, South Carolina 13.

Florida at Alabama: Early in the week, I thought Florida would win. In the middle of the week, I thought Alabama would win. And now I think Florida will win again.

Alabama's offensive line, with three redshirt freshmen in the starting lineup, hasn't played a strong defensive front yet. It's about to, and that could make it a long day for Brodie Croyle, Ken Darby and friends.

I have believed all along that Alabama's cornerbacks are overrated and vulnerable. If Florida's offensive line gives Chris Leak time to throw, he'll have a big day. And if he does, Florida will win. Florida 23, Alabama 16.

LSU at Mississippi State: It's tempting, oh so tempting, to pick an upset here. LSU has had to make a quick turnaround from playing a physical and emotional game Monday night. Mississippi State is tough on defense. Could it happen? Could Mississippi State knock off LSU?

It could happen. It might happen. But it's hard to look at LSU's players, look at Mississippi State's players and believe Mississippi State will win. I'm not sure Mississippi State has the wherewithal to attack LSU's weak pass defense. LSU 20, Mississippi State 10.

Ole Miss at Tennessee: Tennessee will play on short rest, too. Emotionally, the Vols are coming from a far different place than is LSU. And they are playing at home.

Ole Miss is 1-2 and would be 0-3 had Memphis' quarterback not been injured in the first quarter of the opener. The Rebels lost 24-14 to Wyoming last Saturday, and it wasn't as close as the score. That's not a good thing.

Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron might throw a chair or two before the game. He might even rip his shirt off. It won't matter. Tennessee 35, Ole Miss 7.

Middle Tennessee at Vanderbilt: At 4-0, the Commodores are in uncharted territory. They actually have to worry about looking ahead to next Saturday's game against LSU in Nashville.

Even if they are looking ahead, it won't matter. MTSU isn't good enough to do anything about it. Vanderbilt 31, MTSU 14.

Last week's record was 7-1, a considerable improvement from the previous week's break-even effort.

Until next time...


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