Phillip Marshall Picks the SEC

Columnist Phillip Marshall is off to a hot start on his SEC football predictions.

It's a play that seemingly has almost been forgotten.

In 2004 at Jordan-Hare Stadium, as Auburn drove toward what would be the winning touchdown against LSU, quarterback Jason Campbell tossed a swing pass toward tailback Carnell Williams. LSU cornerback Corey Webster, charging hard, cut in front of Williams. He had the ball in his hands heading the other way.

But Williams didn't quit on the play. He reached in and snatched the ball away, averting disaster. The gain was just three yards, but there was no bigger play in the game. Eight plays later, Courtney Taylor caught a 16-yard touchdown pass from Campbell and Auburn won the game 10-9.

It was the first big step toward a 13-0 record and perhaps the greatest season in Auburn history. Campbell, often criticized earlier in his career, took his place among the great quarterbacks ever to play at Auburn. Campbell, Williams, Ronnie Brown and Carlos Rogers were chosen in the first round of the NFL draft.

Just think what would have happened had Webster been a half step quicker. There was nothing but green grass in front of him. He probably would have gone the distance with the interception and LSU would have won the game 16-3.

Instead of a memorable victory, it would have been a discouraging loss. Instead of being a hero, Campbell would have been enduring the same criticism he'd endured the previous three seasons. There would have been no perfect record, no Southeastern Conference championship, no claim to the national championship.

LSU returns to Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday for a game dripping with championship implications. Someone will again make a play when it matters most.

Will it be Brandon Cox? Will it be Kenny Irons? David Irons? Taylor? Will Herring? Karibi Dede? Or will it be JaMarcus Russell or Dwayne Bowe or Alley Broussard? It might be someone who seems going into the game to be nothing more than a bit player in the unfolding drama.

The preparation is complete now. The talking is done. At 2:30 p.m. Saturday, it'll finally be time to play.

There are reasons believe Auburn has the edge. There are reasons to believe LSU has the edge. But the truth is, no one knows.

Both teams have played the lack of respect angle to the hilt, but no one has an edge in motivation. Both teams are going to play blood-and-guts football. Neither team is going to "want it more" than the other.

It's the kind of game little boys dream of when they are playing in their back yards. It's the kind of game that makes SEC football special.

Some of the SEC's top performers will be on the field. But they might not hold the key. Both teams will count on numerous players who have never before played important roles in such a game. How they respond could be the difference in winning and losing.

The Auburn-LSU winner has gone on to the SEC Championship Game in five of the past six seasons. And it's been the home team every time.

I'll give my shaky vote to the home team again. Auburn 17, LSU 15.

Last week's record was a perfect 9-0. For the season, it's 15-1, but things are about to get tougher.

Looking at this week's other SEC games:

Florida (2-0) at Tennessee (2-0): This could be an elimination game of sorts in the SEC East. The winner will step up as the main challenger to Georgia. Like Auburn-LSU, this one has plenty of storylines.

Perhaps the most compelling story is that of Tennessee defensive tackle Justin Harrell. After suffering a ruptured left bicep last Saturday, Harrell was said to be out for the season. He'll have surgery next week. But he will play the final game of his Tennessee career against the Gators.

Florida has been impressive in overwhelming Southern Mississippi and Central Florida. Tennessee was impressive in routing vastly overrated California, not so impressive in barely escaping with a 31-30 win over Air Force.

Urban Meyer is in his second season directing the Gators.

Second-year Florida coach Urban Meyer has not had a lot of success on the road in the SEC. Will that change in Knoxville? My guess is it won't. Tennessee 27, Florida 24.

Louisiana-Monroe (0-1) at Alabama (2-0): Alabama might have the most unimpressive 2-0 record in college football. The Tide could just as easily be 0-2, and that's against Hawaii and Vanderbilt. This one might not be as lopsided as one would think, but ULM doesn't have the athletes to seriously threaten an upset. Alabama 31, ULM 10.

Arkansas (1-1) at Vanderbilt (0-2): One day, maybe Arkansas coach Houston Nutt will reveal why he hired a high school coach as his offensive coordinator. And maybe he'll reveal why one touchdown drive against USC's reserves was enough for him to make true freshman Mitch Mustain his starting quarterback.

Something tells me the Razorbacks are going to have their hands full with the Commodores on the road. An upset is certainly possible, but..Arkansas 20, Vanderbilt 14.

UAB (1-1) at Georgia (2-0): UAB is no pushover, as it showed in taking Oklahoma to the wire in Norman. But the Blazers don't have enough to hang with Georgia for four quarters. Georgia 31, UAB 14.

Ole Miss (1-1) at Kentucky (1-1): Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron talks a good game. Unfortunately for the Rebels, his coaching doesn't measure up to his bluster. Kentucky 35, Ole Miss 24.

Tulane (0-1) at Mississippi State (0-2): That Tulane is a 10-point underdog against a team that hasn't scored in two games tells you all you need to know. Mississippi State 20, Tulane 7.

Wofford (1-1) at South Carolina (1-1): South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has suspended quarterback Blake Mitchell for punching a bouncer at a Columbia bar. It won't matter against I-AA Wofford, a 41-38 loser to Coastal Carolina last Saturday. South Carolina 38, Wofford 7.


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