Marshall: Looking at The SEC Matchups

Columnist Phillip Marshall previews this week's Southeastern Conference football games.

There are plenty of reasons to expect an Auburn blowout Saturday at Kentucky, the best one being that Auburn has a lot better football team than Kentucky.

But in the words of a not-so-beloved television commentator, not so fast my friend.

Giving up 375 yards and beating Mississippi State 13-7 isn't exactly a sign that head coach Rich Brooks has his program turned around, but the Wildcats at least had a pulse last Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium.

In terms of winning and losing, it won't matter. Auburn will beat Kentucky. But the Wildcats have an annoying habit of throwing scares into an upper echelon Southeastern Conference opponent almost every season.

Last season, Tennessee had to score in the final 30 seconds to win 37-31 in Knoxville. In 2003, Florida won 24-21 in Lexington. In 2002, LSU had to have one of the more miraculous plays in SEC history to win 33-30 in Lexington. In 2001, Georgia was in trouble for much of the game before winning 43-29.

Could it happen to Auburn? It could.

Another thing working against a blowout is Auburn's next two opponents. Look for Tommy Tuberville, with an eye on Georgia and Alabama, to get his key players out of the game at the earliest opportunity.

Having said all that, 21 Kentucky players have undergone surgery this season. A true freshman will start Saturday at left tackle. Physically, it's a mismatch. Auburn 34, Kentucky 3.

Last week's record was an unimpressive 3-3, but hey, hope springs eternal. Looking at the rest of the league:

Tennessee (3-4 and 2-4) at Notre Dame (6-2): What a mess there is at Tennessee. Randy Sanders has resigned as offensive coordinator and will be a lame duck quarterbacks coach until the end of the season. In other words, he took the fall for head coach Phillip Fulmer. Others will follow at season's end. The quarterback position as is unsettled as ever. The Vols, ranked No. 3 in the preseason, have not shown nearly as much ability to beat up opposing defenses as to beat up students in Knoxville nightspots.

Brady Quinn is the star quarterback for Notre Dame.

Notre Dame is well-rested after a week off, but I have nagging questions about Notre Dame. What is it that makes the Fighting Irish, with two losses, a Top 10 team?

OK, they almost beat Southern California. UCLA almost beat USC last season and finished 6-5. Stanford almost beat USC and had a losing record.

Notre Dame's most impressive win was over a three-loss Michigan team. It lost to Michigan State, which has proved to not be very good at all, on its home field. So why is Notre Dame ranked No. 8? Because it's Notre Dame.

No doubt, Tennessee players are adopting an "us against the world" attitude going into Saturday's game. The Vols, woeful though they have been since their second-half comeback at LSU, certainly have talent, more talent than Notre Dame.

Call it a hunch. Upset Special…

Tennessee 20, Notre Dame 17.

South Carolina (5-3 and 3-3) at Arkansas (2-5 and 0-4): Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt has done a lot of strange things. Chalk up another one. He has named true freshman Casey Dick, who was headed for a redshirt season, his starting quarterback. Dick will take his first college snap Saturday against the Gamecocks.

South Carolina is on a roll with three straight SEC wins since a 48-7 shellacking at Auburn. Last Saturday's victory at Tennessee was a sweet one for first-year head coach Steve Spurrier, who deserves tremendous credit. But the truth, upon evaluation, that was more about Tennessee than it was about South Carolina.

Arkansas has the leading rushing attack in the SEC. It has maybe the nation's top freshman runner in Darren McFadden. It's homecoming at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

Despite the discrepancy in records, Arkansas could win big in this one, even with a freshman quarterback. McFadden alone may be too much for the Gamecocks. Arkansas 28, South Carolina 17.

Alabama (8-0 and 6-0) at Mississippi State (2-6 and 0-5): Mississippi State head coach Sylvester Croom, in his second season, needs desperately for something good to happen.

The Bulldogs also will have a new quarterback. Redshirt freshman Mike Henig, who took over for Omarr Conner in last Saturday's loss at Kentucky, will get his first start. Henig, who grew up in an Auburn family in Montgomery, didn't get a serious look from either Auburn or Alabama.

Mississippi State has enough defense to make it difficult for Alabama's sputtering offense. It does not have enough offense to seriously threaten the Tide's winning streak. Alabama 20, Mississippi State 3.

Vanderbilt (4-4 and 2-3) at Florida (6-2 and 4-2): It'll be a matchup between quarterbacks who were All-SEC in preseason votes. Vanderbilt's Jay Cutler was the choice of the coaches. Florida's Chris Leak was the choice of the media.

Cutler might be the All-SEC quarterback. Leak, who has floundered in first-year head coach Urban Meyer's offense, won't be. It won't matter Saturday. Florida 23, Vanderbilt 14.

Appalachian State (6-2) at LSU (6-1 and 4-1): LSU's season will turn on what happens next Saturday in Tuscaloosa, a week later at Ole Miss and a week after that at home against Arkansas.

The Bayou Bengals could lose any of those games. They can't lose this one. LSU 49, Appalachian State 7.


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