Phillip Marshall's SEC Football Picks

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about the South Florida at Auburn matchup plus the rest of this weeek's SEC football games.

It's difficult to know just what kind of team South Florida really is bringing to Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday night.

There's no doubt the Bulls have some outstanding players. Most believe they have a chance to be a force in the Big East, especially after No. 8 Louisville put what it calls a defense on display for all to see Thursday night.

The Bulls are in a talent-rich area. Though they aren't going to win many recruiting battles against the state of Florida's big three, there are plenty of players available to them who can and do turn out to be better than some who went to more high-profile schools. They can get players into school that SEC programs can't (see tailback Mike Ford). They are a favorite destination for transfers (see wide receiver Courtney Denson, formerly of Auburn).

Do they have as much talent, top to bottom, as Auburn? No. Does that mean they can't win? It means nothing of the sort.

South Florida certainly has a chance to pull of an upset Saturday night. If you go by what the bookies say, it wouldn't even be considered all that much of an upset. Auburn is favored by about a touchdown.

Auburn's offensive performance in last Saturday's 23-13 win over Kansas State has caused much consternation. The Tigers aren't suddenly going to start raining touchdowns on Pat Dye Field, but I would be surprised if there isn't significant improvement against South Florida.

South Florida coach Jim Leavitt will look for his first win vs. an SEC team on Saturday night.

The Tigers were very good on defense against the Wildcats, but they'll face a different kind of challenge in South Florida's spread offense. The Bulls are going to move the football, but the question is will they be able to finish.

You could make a case that South Florida has an edge at running back and at wide receiver. You could make a case that sophomore quarterback Matt Grothe is more dangerous in more ways than Auburn's Brandon Cox.

But I doubt South Florida matches up well with Auburn up front on either side of the line of scrimmage. And that's where the difference will come.

The score?

Auburn 24, South Florida 14.

Your fearless picker got off to a bumpy start last week, swinging and missing on picks of Tennessee to beat California and Memphis to beat Ole Miss. The first week's record was 8-2. Not too bad.

On to the rest of the SEC...

ALABAMA (1-0) AT VANDERBILT (1-0): This is supposedly Vanderbilt's best team in years. Alabama, even in a 52-6 victory over Western Carolina, displayed a shaky defense last Saturday and is favored by only a field goal at Vanderbilt Stadium.

There'll be a lot of excitement over Nick Saban's first SEC game as Alabama coach. They say many Alabama fans bought season tickets to get tickets to the game. As has often been the case when Vanderbilt plays teams that travel well, the visitors might outnumber the home fans.

The Commodores have some weapons, and Alabama's defense is certainly vulnerable. But remember, we're talking about Vanderbilt here. We're talking about a team that has 25 consecutive losing seasons and has lost 19 straight to Alabama.

A lot of Vanderbilt teams have played Alabama close, only to have their hearts broken in the end. This one looks like more of the same. Alabama 28, Vanderbilt 24.

SOUTH CAROLINA (1-0) at GEORGIA (1-0): South Carolina's Steve Spurrier is a terrific coach. Georgia's Mark Richt is a terrific coach. Richt has a lot of terrific players. Spurrier doesn't. Georgia 28, South Carolina 13.

The ole Ball Coach

VIRGINIA TECH (1-0) at LSU (1-0): Virginia Tech's offense mustered one touchdown against East Carolina. LSU is no juggernaut on offense either, but with its mighty defense, it won't need to be. LSU 21, Virginia Tech 3.

MISSISSIPPI STATE (0-1) at TULANE (0-0): Mississippi State quarterback Michael Henig will have to be better against Tulane than he was in a 45-0 home loss to LSU. He couldn't be any worse. Will he be able to lead the Bulldogs to a road victory over the not-so-powerful Green Wave? My guess is...Tulane 23, Mississippi State 21.

SOUTHERN MISS (0-0) at TENNESSEE (1-0): This was supposed to be the season that Tennessee became a championship contender again. That was before a 45-31 loss at California.

Southern Mississippi will give a good account of itself. It usually does against SEC teams. It also usually loses. Tennessee 31, Southern Miss 20.

MISSOURI (1-0) at OLE MISS (1-0): Vaught-Hemingway Stadium isn't exactly the most intimidating of places to play. Of course, Missouri couldn't even handle a trip to Troy a couple of years back.

This Missouri team is better than the one that lost at Troy. And that Troy team might have been better than this Ole Miss team. Missouri 27, Ole Miss 21.

TROY (0-1) at FLORIDA (1-0): The Trojans went to Arkansas last Saturday and lost 46-26. Now they get to go play the defending national champions.

Troy coach Larry Blakeney needs to have a heart-to-heart with his old buddy Steve Dennis, the athletic director. Florida 42, Troy 14.

KENT STATE (1-0) at KENTUCKY (1-0): The Golden Flashes spoiled Gene Chizik's debut as Iowa State head coach last week. They won't have as much fun at Kentucky. Kentucky 38, Kent State 7.


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