Marshall Picks the SEC

Week four of the season could separate the contenders from the pretenders of the SEC.

If you'd asked me before the season to pick the score of Auburn's Saturday night game against New Mexico State, I'd have probably said something like 42-14.

That was then. And things have changed.

It's hard to see at the moment how Auburn could score 42 points on anyone. And after reading up on the Aggies, they might be a good bit better than I thought, particularly on offense. In other words, this game is no gimme.

Auburn is riddled by injuries and has yet to show it can reverse the trend of turning the ball over often and at the most inopportune times. Five turnovers did the Tigers in against South Florida. Five more did them in against Mississippi State. And five more would probably do them in against New Mexico State.

You know what they say about doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?

What was supposed to be a breather before a brutal four-game stretch that includes road games at Florida, Arkansas and LSU and a home game against Vanderbilt suddenly looms as a very important game.

Winning it wouldn't turn the season around, though it will make a lot of people feel better. But losing it would be an unmitigated disaster.

Auburn goes into the game without two starting linebackers, at least one starting offensive lineman and uncertainty at quarterback. New Mexico State coach Hal Mumme will bring a passing attack to town like none of the Tigers have ever seen.

Despite all that, Auburn has better players and more of them than New Mexico State. Of course, it also had better players and more of them than South Florida or Mississippi State. On the premise that the Tigers will cut down on their turnovers and force a few of their own, I think this one goes the way of the home team.

Auburn 31, New Mexico State 17.

Last week brought another spotty performance by your fearless picker. I brilliantly picked Kentucky to beat Louisville, but I also picked Arkansas to win at Alabama and, of course, picked Auburn to beat Mississippi State. For the week, I was 5-2. For the year, the record is 19-7.

To the rest of the SEC...

GEORGIA (2-1) at ALABAMA (3-0): Alabama was impressive early and impressive at the end against Arkansas. It wasn't so impressive in giving up 28 unanswered points to blow a 31-10 lead.

Matthew Stafford and the Bulldogs may have to score a lot of points to get a win in Tuscaloosa.

I'm still not sold on the Crimson Tide. Giving up 38 points at home to Arkansas could be an ominous sign. And Georgia will bring a significantly better defense to Bryant-Denny Stadium than Arkansas did last week.

On the other hand, Georgia hasn't done anything overly impressive. A 35-14 win over Oklahoma State looked good at the time, but that was before Troy beat the Cowboys like a rented mule. Georgia couldn't manage a single touchdown against South Carolina.

It'll be close, but look for Saban mania to reach new levels for at least another week.

Alabama 24, Georgia 22.

SOUTH CAROLINA (3-0) at LSU (3-0): The ole ball coach might be an offensive genius, but his offense is nothing special. LSU's defense is very special. At least the Gamecocks won't have to deal with Tiger Stadium at night.

It won't matter.

LSU 35, South Carolina 7.

FLORIDA (3-0) at OLE MISS (1-2): The Gators go on the road for the first time this season. They couldn't have picked a better place to visit. Ole Miss has a bad team. Florida may have a great one.

Florida 42, Ole Miss 10.

KENTUCKY (3-0) at ARKANSAS (2-1): Even as he almost lost his job, Rich Brooks insisted things were getting better at Kentucky. Turns out he was right.

Kentucky's offense against Arkansas' defense is not a good matchup for Arkansas. Arkansas tailback Darren McFadden isn't a good matchup for anybody.

Arkansas 34, Kentucky 28.

McFadden and Andre Woodson could be in for a shootout.

GARDNER-WEBB (2-1) at MISSISSIPPI STATE (2-1): Despite somehow finding a way to win at Auburn last Saturday, Mississippi State isn't going to win a lot of games. But the Bulldogs will do something this Saturday against I-AA Gardner-Webb they haven't done in Sylvester Croom's four seasons. They'll win their third straight.

Mississippi State 28, Gardner-Webb 3.

ARKANSAS STATE (1-1) at TENNESSEE (1-2): Tennessee is in much the same situation as Auburn. What was supposed to be a laugher might not be so funny. Arkansas State took Texas to the wire before falling 21-13. The Vols haven't really done anything to speak of.

Tennessee 30, Arkansas State 20.

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