Q&A With Phillip Marshall

It's been a strange football season already, one that has raised some questions that don't have easy answers.

For what it's worth, here are some of the questions and my attempt at answering them:

Q: Why is Auburn's 24-17 loss at Southern California a reason for despair and Alabama's 34-24 loss at Oklahoma a reason for celebration?

A: It always looks better when you come from behind, like Alabama did, than if you don't seem to finish strong. Alabama rallied from a 23-3 deficit but couldn't hold on in the end. Tide coach Dennis Franchione must be getting a bit concerned about that. It was the fourth time in his 14 games that the Crimson Tide has led in the fourth quarter and lost.

Q: Is LSU as bad as it looked in being blown out by Virginia Tech and huffing and puffing to beat The Citadel?

A: There is a tendency to give coaches too much credit in college football. After LSU won the SEC championship last season, Nick Saban was hailed as a hero and a genuius. LSU lost senior quarterback Rohan Davey and it lost Josh Reed, maybe the best receiver in the country. The result is that LSU isn't as good and Saban doesn't look nearly as brilliant.

Q: Would Florida have been bludgeoned by Miami at the Swamp if Steve Spurrier had been the coach instead of Ron Zook?

A: No way. Miami, which certainly appears to have the nation's best team, might well have beaten a Spurrier-coached Florida team in the Swamp. But 41-16? That wouldn't have happened.

Q: What could athletic director Jeremy Foley have been thinking when he hired the relatively unknown Zook from the New Orleans Saints for one of the more attractive college coaching jobs in the country?

A: My guess is he was thinking he'd been turned down by Bob Stoops and Mike Shanahan and he was going to make sure he didn't get turned down again. If it doesn't work for Zook, Foley might be held accountable.

Q: What in the world is Penn State, which has had two straight losing seasons and barely beat a weak Central Florida team at home, doing ranked No. 25 in the coaches' poll?

A: Joe Paterno is an icon, and rightly so. He's the only reason the Nittany Lions are anywhere near the top 25. Like Bear Bryant in the early 1980s, Paterno and Florida State's Bobby Bowden are finding it more difficult to recruit as they near the end of their careers. Players don't want to go through coaching changes if they can help it.

Q: Who will win the SEC West?

A: It's more wide-open than it's ever been. It won't be Alabama because of NCAA sanctions. Other than that, it could be anybody. I'd still make LSU the favorite, but not by much. Auburn and Arkansas would be next. Ole Miss has Eli Manning but not enough defense. Mississippi State doesn't have enough offense.

Q: What about the East?

A: If Tennessee beats Florida in Knoxville next Saturday, that race will be just about over. It's not going to happen for Georgia, in my opinion.

Q: Is Kentucky for real?

A: It depends on what you mean by "for real." Certainly, Guy Morriss has done a masterful job of convincing his players they can win. Jared Lorenzen is becoming a successful quarterback instead of a curiosity. But a win over an overrated Louisville team and UTEP, perhaps the worst team in Division I-A, doesn't prove much. We'll see when the conference season starts.

RAINY DAY FOOTBALL

If weather forecasts are on target, Auburn and Vanderbilt could be playing in some heavy rain Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Who does that help? It's hard to say. It should be good for Auburn because the Tigers have the stronger running game. On the other hand, rain is always good for the underdog because it causes unusual things to happen. It also takes away a large part of the homefield advantage. With the game on TV, a lot of fans will probably stay home.

Rain or not, it would be very surprising if the Tigers had any real trouble with the Commodores today. They are bigger, stronger, faster, more talented and deeper at virtually every position.

PREDICTIONS

Here are today's SEC predictions:

Auburn 38, Vanderbilt 6;
Alabama 27, North Texas 10;
Arkansas 24, South Florida 23;
South Carolina 24, Georgia 20;
Florida 63, Ohio 20;
Ole Miss 38, Texas Tech 28;
Mississippi State 31, Jacksonville State 10;
Kentucky 30, Indiana 28;
LSU 27, Miami-Ohio 17.


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