Phillip Marshall Picks the SEC

Columnist Phillip Marshall projects who this week's winners and losers will be with a lot of interesting SEC football games scheduled.

It's been a long and trying week for all those associated with Auburn football.

Last Saturday's 26-23 overtime loss to South Florida was painful and disappointing. It's not that the Tigers lost to a bad team. They didn't. They lost to a decent team, one that is good enough to beat a better team that doesn't play well.

And that's just what happened at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

South Florida celebrated at Jordan-Hare Stadium because Auburn turned the ball over five times and forced no turnovers. Dissect the game all you want, but that's what it came down to. Without Auburn's turnovers, the game wouldn't have been close. But the turnovers happened, South Florida won and it's in the books. It can't be changed.

The question now is where the Auburn football team goes from here.

Despite the best efforts of some to make it sound like the loss to South Florida means Auburn's program has suddenly turned in the wrong direction, one bad game doesn't make a bad season. And one bad season, should this turn out to be one, doesn't mean a program in a nosedive.

But program issues can wait. What matters today is the Mississippi State's visit to Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday morning. It is, for sure, an important game. It's important for the Tigers in light of last Saturday's loss and it's important to the Bulldogs, who are trying to show they are making progress in Sylvester Croom's fourth season as head coach.

To say Auburn has dominated Mississippi State in recent years is an understatement. Since winning 16-14 in 2001 to break a four-year Mississippi State winning streak, Auburn has outscored the Bulldogs 192-41 and has pitched two straight shutouts--34-0 last season and 28-0 in 2005.

But something tells me this one is going to be closer than some Auburn fans would like for it to be.

Mississippi State is good on defense. Had it not been for a flurry of turnovers, LSU might not have scored in the first half of the opener in Starkville. In a 38-17 win on the road, the Bulldogs held Tulane to no first downs and six total yards in the second half.

Auburn's offense can get better and should get better, but it's not going to become a powerful force overnight. Unless one team or the other turns the ball over a lot, points could be hard to come by Saturday.

My guess is this one will be close into the second half, with Auburn wearing down the Bulldogs in the end. Auburn 20, Mississippi State 10.

Your fearless picker is not off to a good start. Last week's record was a most unimpressive 6-3 to make the record for the year 14-5.

To the rest of the SEC...

ARKANSAS (1-0) at ALABAMA (2-0): It's still too early to know just what either of these teams has to offer. Arkansas whipped Troy 46-26 in its opener, then took last Saturday off. Alabama beat Western Carolina 52-6 in a glorified scrimmage and beat Vanderbilt 24-10 in Nashville.

The Razorbacks, led by Heisman Trophy candidate tailback Darren McFadden, should be able to run the ball on Alabama's defense and its soft interior. But Casey Dick is no world-beater at quarterback and star wide receiver Marcus Monk is injured and won't play.

Alabama, led by redshirt freshman Terry Grant, has looked surprisingly good running the ball in the first couple of games. But it has looked surprisingly shaky throwing the ball.

This one could go either way, but a shaky vote for...Arkansas 23, Alabama 20.

TENNESSEE (1-1) at FLORIDA (2-0): Tennessee flunked the only real test it's faced in a 45-31 loss to California. Florida hasn't faced a real test, rolling up huge numbers of points and yards against Western Kentucky and Troy.

If this game was in Knoxville, the Vols might have the edge. But it's not. Florida 35, Tennessee 31.

Kentucky quarterback Andre Woodson is expected to be in a shootout with a Louisville team that features a top QB in Brian Brohm. Woodson and Brohm could be the first two players taken in the 2008 NFL Draft.

LOUISVILLE (2-0) at KENTUCKY (2-0): Neither team has faced a decent opponent, but I can't get the image of Middle Tennessee running through Louisville's defense out of my head. Kentucky 42, Louisville 38.

OLE MISS (1-1) at VANDERBILT (1-1): Both Ole Miss and Vanderbilt had chances to make statements last week. But the statements they made were that not much has changed. Vanderbilt looked like, well, Vanderbilt in losing to Alabama. Ole Miss made Missouri look a world-beater for the second straight season.

It's always risky to pick Vanderbilt, but the Commodores are playing at home. Vanderbilt 27, Ole Miss 20.

MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE (0-2) at LSU (2-0): Name the score, any score. LSU 56, MTSU 0.

SOUTH CAROLINA STATE (1-1) at SOUTH CAROLINA (2-0): At least South Carolina is handing out a little money to an in-state team. South Carolina 42, South Carolina State 7.

WESTERN CAROLINA (0-2) at GEORGIA (1-1): I hope Western Carolina officials spend the money they get from playing SEC teams wisely. It sure can't be any fun for their players. Georgia 63, Western Carolina 0.


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