Marshall: Picking the SEC Winners and Losers

Columnist Phillip Marshall analyzes Auburn's season opener vs. Washington State and picks the winners and losers in other SEC football games.

It was obvious from the start of preseason camp that Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville's attitude was different than in years past.

He was harder to please, quicker to criticize and did his share of good, old-fashioned poor-mouthing. Meanwhile, he and his assistants were putting players through the most physical camp I've seen at Auburn since Tuberville's first season. That came on the heels of a physical spring practice.

It was all part of Tuberville's plan to get his team ready for a grueling 12-game stretch with no open date. It was part of preparing for what could be a challenging opener against Washington State.

As game week arrived, Tuberville's mood was more upbeat.

Tommy Tuberville

"This is a pretty talented group of guys," Tuberville said. "Sometimes the thing coaches need to find out is how far guys will push themselves and how far you can push them. We've asked them to do things that maybe they didn't think they could do. Most of them have responded."

The 2006 Tigers are not a team without questions. On both sides of the ball, inexperienced players will be called on to make major contributions. There will be new starters at wide receiver, tight end, offensive tackle, fullback, linebacker, defensive tackle and safety.

"I like the prospects of this team," Tuberville said. "They've worked hard. I think we are going to be a physical football team. I think we have a chance to play well on both sides of the ball with an exceptional kicking game. Is that going to happen? We'll have to wait and see."

Tuberville won't say his clearly different approach to preseason camp was about recent struggles in season openers. He won't say it was about a 24-10 whipping at the hands of Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl.

But he made it clear early that the 2006 Tigers would be more about force than finesse, more physical than the team that was battered in the bowl game.

"It really didn't have anything to do with last season," Tuberville said. "It had to do with what we thought we needed. There were several players, especially the younger guys, we didn't feel were physical enough. We wanted them to understand what it's going to take to win at this level."

Throughout Auburn's summer camp, I believed Saturday's opener against Washington State would be a dangerous game, one that could go either way.

That could still be the case, but now I'm not so sure.

Washington State was flat out awful on defense last season. Word from Pullman is that the defense has improved, but going from bad to outstanding on defense in one season doesn't often happen.

On top of that, injuries have decimated the Cougars' defensive line, leaving them with little if any depth.

The Cougars' history says they'll score some points, though I doubt they have seen anything like the defense first-year Auburn coordinator Will Muschamp is going to throw at them on Saturday night.

Brandon Cox is shown in action last season.

Can they score enough to win? I don't believe they can. I don't believe their defense can contain Auburn's running game. And I don't believe their secondary can stop quarterback Brandon Cox from having a big night.

Of course, a rash of turnovers or mistakes can change everything (see Georgia Tech last season). Barring that, I would be surprised if this one isn't in hand by the fourth quarter.

The score?

Auburn 35, Washington State 14.

In other games involving SEC teams...

Hawaii at Alabama: The Warriors could present a pretty serious test for Alabama's rebuilt defense. But, much like Washington State, I don't believe their defense can keep them in the game. Alabama 38, Hawaii 24.

Southern Miss at Florida: I'm not sold on Urban Meyer. I'm not even close to sold on Urban Meyer. Can the Golden Eagles win? Probably not. But since I feel compelled to pick at least one shocker... Southern Miss 21, Florida 20.

Southern Cal at Arkansas: Razorback offensive coordinator Gus Malzhan has never coached a college football game. He'll learn quickly that calling plays against USC is far different from calling plays against some overmatched Arkansas high school team.

Because Reggie Herring's defense will be stout, the Razorbacks will give a better account of themselves than they did in last season's humiliation in Los Angeles. Maybe they can take some solace in that. USC 28, Arkansas 10.

California at Tennessee: The Vols don't have the kind of talent they had in their glory days of the late 1990s, but they have enough. They are still smarting from last season's collapse.

Neyland Stadium will surely be a shock to Cal players accustomed to the laid-back ways of the Pac-10. Tennessee 23, California 17.

Vanderbilt at Michigan: I'd like to believe the Commodores have a chance in this game. I'd also like to believe I'm going to win the lottery. Michigan 35, Vanderbilt 7.

Kentucky at Louisville: Rich Brooks is probably in his final season as Kentucky coach. Another loss to the Cardinals will hasten his departure. Louisville 34, Kentucky 20.

Kentucky coach Rich Brooks faces a tough opening game challenge.

Western Kentucky at Georgia: Name the score, any score. Georgia 49, Western Kentucky 3.

Louisiana-Lafayette at LSU: The Ragin' Cajuns finished last season on a five-game winning streak. What will that mean on Saturday night at Tiger Stadium?

Not a thing. LSU 42, Louisiana-Lafayette 14.

Until next time...


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