This weekend in college football, the proverbial anything could happen. And don't be surprised if it does. The early-season is over, and the first weekend of October marks the beginning of the transition period when young teams grow up, freshmen start making an impact and injuries take their toll on once-promising programs. Teams that are down shape up, and teams that are up come tumbling down. Predictability is more out the window than ever, but through it all, the cream will rise to the top. Buckle up. Ante up. And lighten up. Except for LSU and the three who don't play, no SEC team is safe this Saturday.
It seems people are sorta forgetting about preseason SEC West favorite LSU since its season-opening loss in Blacksburg to Virginia Tech. But that would be a mistake. The Bayou Bengals are biding their time until they visit the Gators in Gainesville next weekend. Meanwhile, there's a little neighborhood uprising to take care of this Saturday night in Baton Rouge. Shouldn't be much of a problem, though. Defense at home is hard to beat. LSU 38, Louisiana-LaFayette 7.
This is a revenge game for the Bulldogs, whose season was trashed last September by these same Gamecocks in Starkville shortly after the 9-11disaster. State went spiraling to a 3-8 record while USC went on to a re-match with Ohio State in the Outback Bowl, capping a 9-3 season. This year, neither team is likely to make any late-season headlines, yet the Gamecocks still entertain hopes for an SEC Eastern Division title, provided some young players can step up.
Look for true freshman WR Troy Williamson and fellow frosh RBs Daccus Turman and Kenny Irons to offset the efforts of Bulldog true freshman RBs Jerious Norwood and Nick Turner. State QB Kevin Fant will find friendlier skies in Columbia than he did last week in Baton Rouge, but it still probably won't be enough to win. SOUTH CAROLINA 20, MISSISSIPPI STATE 16.
Ron Zook (pronounced Zuke in Knoxville) takes his talented Gators into Oxford for a Saturday morning shootout with the Ole Miss Rebels and their familiarly famous quarterback Eli Manning. Despite their 3-1 record so far this season, the Rebels have come apart at the seams, losing three key starters to injury in recent weeks and allowing 38 points to Vanderbilt last time out. This puts still-more pressure on young Manning, and despite what should be a gritty and valiant effort, what once might have been major upset conditions have now been downgraded to a tropical depression in middle Mississippi. FLORIDA 44, OLE MISS 31.
Last weekend Arkansas proved that there are some things that even a Pig won't do when the Oinks were faced with the prospect of knocking off Alabama in Fayetteville. The no-fun 30-12 Elephant Walk served to rekindle doubts about the caliber of Houston Nutt's 2002 Razorbacks, a team that had many believing after season-opening thrashings of Boise State and South Florida.
At this point in the season, no one is really sure what kind of team Tennessee has either. UT struggled for three quarters against lowly Rutgers last week in Knoxville. Going into that game, the Vols still had mud on their faces from their embarrassing defeat at the hands of Florida the week before. Still, the Orange did not appear willing to make amends against the normally hapless Scarlet Knights. In fact, among Tennessee's three defeated opponents so far this season, there is only a single win among them--that by Rutgers over pathetic Army three weeks ago.
Believe it or not, the matchups in this game wildly favor the Razorbacks, who have always played the Vols bravely since joining the SEC, apparently not intimidated by polyester, florescent orange or 100,000 assorted Appalachian apparitions clad in Halloween-colored underwear spewing moonshine through green teeth while musically bragging that most of their corn come from a jar anyway. Heck, t'ain't no big deal. Just like in the Ozarks. Theys plenny o'people like that works far Arkansas Power back home in Fayetteville.
The Vols already made one mistake this year by praying for rain against Florida. According to the Weather Channel, it might rain again Saturday night in Knoxville, just like it did last year in Fayetteville, where Arkansas hung on until late in the game. Is there a pattern developing here?
The suddenly-absent Vol running game may press California Casey back into service in the catfish delivery room where, even if he can handle the pigskin, he won't be able to sneak it past Batman and Hamlin. Kelley Washington be hanged. And, one day, Phil Fulmer, too. Bet on it. ARKANSAS 27, TENNESSEE 24.
Former AU coach Pat Dye dropped the bomb on Georgia this past week, accusing them publicly of not being "man enough" to beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa. But manhood, as Coach Fran has known it, is not really the same thing that Coach Dye has in mind. When it comes to an evening at home, pussy cat walks and bedroom talks are Fran's idea of masculine predictability, while Dye's dark, secret, manly love was to be able to run the fullback for a first down on 3rd and one against a ten man front-any time you pleased. In either case, stress is relieved, while dominance is established. But there the similarity ends.
On the field though, Dye may have a point. Georgia is currently ranked in the Top 10, but clearly isn't that good. On offense, UGA is all finesse. RB Musa Smith runs with barely more authority than former Auburn RB Rusty Williams. But Alabama's secondary is anything but solid, and, since Georgia can't run anyway, what particular advantage is the Tide defensive line, which specializes in shutting down the run? And Georgia's defense so far this season has been air-tight, though, admittedly, against inferior offensive competition.
Dawg Coach Mark Richt, who has managed to stay above the fray on the issue of masculinity, finds himself in what amounts to a career-defining game. If he loses, the honeymoon at Georgia is not only over, but, with Tennessee coming up next week in Athens, divorce proceedings may actually be getting underway in the event of an embarrassing showing. Were it not for a vastly superior kicking game, Georgia would be in deep trouble in this contest. Alabama regular punter Lane Bearden was injured unnecessarily against Arkansas on a foolish and failed second quarter fake punt attempt. Placekicker Michael Ziifle (no relation to Arnold the pig) averaged only 28 yards on two punts after Bearden went down last Saturday. He'll have to improve this week. As it is, though, super skill talent Fred Gibson does give the Dawgs a fighting chance on kickoff returns and at wide receiver. But on the other hand, Tide RB Santonio Beard may be enough to give Bama the win. Tough call. ALABAMA 24, GEORGIA 21.