Marshall: Matching Up Tigers and Bulldogs

Columnist Phillip Marshall compares the Auburn and Georgia football teams and takes a look at the other matchups in the SEC this week.

It's a fact of life in the fastest lane of college football that the difference between a good season and a great one is so small as to be almost invisible.

Take away a bogus holding penalty on a touchdown pass against Georgia Tech and add a made field goal against LSU, and Auburn would be riding a 24-game winning streak today.

With a different bounce against Stanford, Cal or UCLA last season, there would be no talk of a Southern California dynasty.

Without a knee injury to D.J. Shockley against Arkansas, Georgia would probably be undefeated, ranked No. 3 and pushing No. 2 Texas today.

Any great season is a mixture of talent, coaching, injury luck, schedule luck and just the bounce of an oblong ball.

For Auburn, greatness could still await at the end of this season. It depends on what happens the next two games, starting with Saturday's visit to Georgia. There are reasons to believe Auburn could win and reasons to believe Auburn could lose between the hedges. I believe Auburn will win.

Why? Because I believe Auburn has a better football team than Georgia, maybe significantly better.

I'd take Auburn's receivers over Georgia's. I believe Auburn's running backs are the equal of Georgia's. I believe Auburn's offensive line is better than the more-hyped Georgia offensive line. I believe Brandon Cox, though different, is at least the equal of D.J. Shockley.

D.J. Shockley

I'd take Auburn's defensive line over Georgia's defensive line. Even without Kevin Sears, I'd take Auburn's linebackers over Georgia's linebackers.

I would give Georgia the edge at tight end because Leonard Pope might be the nation's best and in the secondary based on nothing more than All-America safety Greg Blue.

Normally, I would say Georgia has the benefit of playing at home, but when Auburn and Georgia play, the home field is frequently not an advantage. It's especially not an advantage for Georgia. Auburn has won on five of its last six trips to Sanford Stadium and nine of its last 11.

The stakes have seldom been higher between these two ancient rivals. If Georgia wins, it will need only to beat Kentucky to make it to the SEC Championship Game. If Auburn wins, it can get there for the second straight season with a win over Alabama and a loss by LSU to Alabama, Ole Miss or Arkansas.

Auburn doesn't have to beat Georgia to have a good season, but it has to beat Georgia to have a great one.

Look for the Tigers to run successfully on Georgia's defense and to make life difficult for Shockley. Auburn 27, Georgia 17.

On to the rest of the SEC…

Last week's record was a mediocre 4-2, made worse by my boneheaded pick of Tennessee to beat Notre Dame. I am now convinced. Tennessee isn't any good.

LSU (7-1 and 6-1) at Alabama (9-0 and 6-0): Alabama deserves tremendous credit for being 9-0, but the team that will play LSU isn't the same as the one that dismantled Florida a few weeks back.

The loss of Tyrone Prothro was devastating for Alabama's offense. The loss of center J.B. Closner might be even worse. Alabama's offensive line is so overmatched by LSU's defensive line that it is difficult to see how the Crimson Tide can score.

But the Alabama defense has been remarkable in its own right. If LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell reverts to early-season form and the Bayou Bengals are hit by a rash of turnovers, Alabama's defense could be enough to get the job done.

No doubt, Auburn coaches and players hope fervently that will happen. I can't see it. LSU 20, Alabama 7.

Florida (7-2 and 5-2) at South Carolina (6-3 and 4-3): Maybe Steve Spurrier is doing it with smoke and mirrors at South Carolina. Maybe he has a lucky horseshoe stashed somewhere.

The Gamecocks have won four consecutive SEC games since being crushed 48-7 at Auburn. Mathematically, they are even still in the race for the East Division championship. And Spurrier's old team is coming to town.

Spurrier clearly enjoyed beating Tennessee and Phillip Fulmer. You'd have to believe he'd enjoy beating the Gators and Urban Meyer even more.

Florida must surely be the most fortunate SEC team this season. The Gators beat Georgia 14-10 when Shockley couldn't play. The dodged a major bullet at home against Vanderbilt, winning in double overtime after an official made the worst call of the season in flagging Vanderbilt for excessive celebration.

But the truth is Florida has more talent than South Carolina, a lot more talent. Florida 31, South Carolina 17.

Arkansas (2-6 and 0-5) at Ole Miss (3-5 and 1-4): Can anyone tell me why Houston Nutt would take the redshirt off true freshman quarterback Casey Dick seven games into a lost season? Can anyone tell me why Ethan Flatt would not play a down until the fourth quarter of the eighth game and then become Ole Miss' starting quarterback?

The Rebels are still clinging to the unrealistic hope of qualifying for a bowl game, and they are playing at home. Their new quarterback has a lot more experience than Arkansas' new quarterback, who will play on the road for the first time. Ole Miss 21, Arkansas 13.

Memphis (4-4) at Tennessee (3-5 and 2-4): Tennessee's pride has taken a beating this season. If the Vols were to lose at home to Memphis, that might just be too much.

Surely, even the SEC's most dysfunctional team can find a way to keep that from happening. Tennessee 23, Memphis 16.

Kentucky (2-6 and 1-4) at Vanderbilt (4-5 and 2-4): Has a team with five consecutive losses ever received as much love as Vanderbilt?

The Commodores, who won their first four games, are still dreaming of getting into a bowl game. If they beat Kentucky, they have every reason to believe they have an opportunity to end 22 years of frustration against Tennessee. Beating Kentucky will be the easy part. Vanderbilt 35, Kentucky 20.

Until next time…

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