Mark Green Picks The SEC

Columnist Mark Green analyzes this week's Southeastern Conference football showdowns.

Mark Green

Editor's Note: Mark Green posted a 3-2 mark last week and his record for the season is 53-14 (.791).


Troy State at ARKANSAS

Larry Blakeney's Down Home Cousins continue their safari through Division I this Saturday when they travel to Fayetteville for a tussle with the Hogs of Houston Nutt. Arkansas has become college football's answer to the Hole in the Wall Gang with multiple player arrests and little if any in-house supervision. These wart-covered Hogs still have a good shot at the SEC West title, however, but first they must see how they stack up against the team that once beat Mississippi State. ARKANSAS 27, Troy State 20.


KENTUCKY at MISSISSIPPI STATE

The Wildcats have worn a Royal Blue in the media most of this year thanks,in large part, to a season-opening upset of Louisville. KY continued its winning ways until flopping in The Swamp to Florida and losing last week to Georgia in Lexington. In between, the 'Cats stunned Arkansas in Fayetteville to keep faint hopes alive for producing the best record in the SEC East. A winning season is still well within reach, though, even if the SEC Title is not, and UK fans for once are putting basketball season on hold until later in the month.

Mississippi State, meanwhile, has been in a downward spiral since a season-opening embarrassment at Oregon. Recent wins over puny Troy State and sick Memphis have done nothing to impress, but an upset of over-achieving Kentucky in Starkville this weekend might bring back some long lost hope. It's a good situation for the Bulldogs, who can play reasonably good pass defense and can throw it reasonably well themselves. MISS STATE 24, KENTUCKY 20.


TENNESSEE at SOUTH CAROLINA
Speaking of sick teams, what has happened to the Hillbillies? Once again, a last-second decision not to play a star player shocked teammates, fans and sports prognosticators alike as UT anti-hero Kelley Washington was held out of action last week against Alabama. Why? The official excuse was that Washington was still suffering side effects of a concussion. Earlier in the year, the big receiver had proclaimed that he would play only when he decided he was ready. He came back part- speed against Florida, and UT lost badly.

Against Georgia, Fulmer kept the secret that starting QB Casey Clausen would not play. Sure enough, he didn't, and UT's punchless offense was unable to get anything done against the Bulldogs. If Fulmer learned this hidden player trick from Coach Fran at Alabama, he needs to re-think the method. It's not working. This is the first year in history that UT has lost to Florida, Georgia and Alabama all in the same year. The natives in Knoxville are getting mighty restless.

The Vols now stand 4-3 on the season and only 1-3 in the conference and must travel to Columbia to take on giant-killer Coach Lou Holtz and his South Carolina Gamecocks. SC has had a week off, and Holtz is still fuming over a referee-induced narrow defeat in Knoxville last season. You can bet the 'Cocks will be on red-alert for the invasion of the Great Pumpkin, fresh off his own harrowing encounter with Alabama.

Things change like the seasons in college football, and the once-proud Tennessee Volunteers suddenly appear to be teetering on the brink of extinction, with little apparent discipline or leadership coming from anywhere to save them. When will it end? What a football season this may turn out to be in K-town. SOUTH CAROLINA 20, TENNESSEE 17.


GEORGIA vs. FLORIDA

The Cocktail Bowl gets a late start this Saturday night with an ESPN-dictated 6:45 Eastern kick-off time. The fans should be plenty pumped by then, and the players should be ready for a little prime-timing of their own in front of the national television audience. Georgia brings its dizzy Top-Five ranking to the table while the Gators will be led into battle by their dizzy new head coach, Ron Zook, so sobriety will not be a serious issue anywhere in Jacksonville after the sun goes down on All-Souls Day.

The Bulldogs have now reeled off eight wins in a row against somewhat suspect competition while the Gators have somehow fashioned five victories of their own to go along with two stinging and decisive defeats at the hands of Miami and LSU and a closer road loss at Ole Miss. Thus there is the opinion that Florida might lose this game. But Georgia, already without the services of star players Jon Stinchcomb, Fred Gibson and Musa Smith last week, will now go without perhaps the league's top punt returner, WR Damien Gary. How many injuries is too many? So far for Georgia, the depth has filled in any and all blanks, but there may come a time when talent matters, and Saturday could be that time.

The wildest card of all in this game is Zook, whose wacko personality has had a disturbing effect on his team's performance and has Gator fans still grieving over the loss of their beloved ball coach Steve Spurrier, who jilted his alma mater last winter for the NFL. Zook will never turn into Spurrier, and consistent play will obviously not be a Gator forte for at least another season to come so the only advice for Gator fans would be to "get used to it."

What the Gators do have going for them this weekend, though, is QB Rex Grossman who has quietly compiled 1,942 yards of offense on the season, behind only Eli Manning of Ole Miss in the conference. Even without the benefit of the Fun 'N Gun, Grossman has connected on 13 touchdown passes and is capable of teaming with All-SEC WR Taylor Jacobs for as many big plays as Florida needs to knock off the fifth-ranked Bulldogs.

The Gator weakness on defense so far has been against the run, and the Georgia offense is no juggernaut in that department, averaging a mere 127.9 yards per game on the ground, most of which came before the Smith injury. Florida All-SEC safety Todd Johnson should regain his health for this game after sitting out the Auburn win with an injury, and that could be good news for Gator fans looking for another reason to drink and drive in Gainesville on Saturday night. FLORIDA 30, GEORGIA 27.


ALABAMA at VANDERBILT


Proud Alabama travels west on I-40 from Knoxville for a stopover in Nashville this weekend where the Tide will dust off its cleats for a little clean-up duty against Bobby Johnson's 2-6 Vanderbilt Commodores. A cameo appearance or a no-show could get Bama into trouble in this game, but Vanderbilt has a long-standing tradition of extending courtesy to its would-be victims, no matter who the coach is. VU QB Jay Cutler has already proved his manhood this season by vandalizing a campus public telephone and leading the Dores to wins over Furman and UCONN. What more can you ask from a Vanderbilt freshman?

Look for Bama's Santonio to leave the driving to the chauffeur on his return to the hood this fall and do most of his local traveling on foot against the porous Commodore defense. ALABAMA 31, VANDY 27.


AUBURN at OLE MISS

Five turnovers can make any team look bad, as Auburn found out last year in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Not that Saturday's 31-7 score against LSU wasn't an indication of how the game went for LSU, but great field position, caused by the turnovers, made life easy for the Real Tigers, who seem to have achieved a new level of intensity without the services of the Cadillac, who went down against the Florida Gators in Gainesville. Bobby Petrino's offense, under the direction of sophomore QB Jason Campbell, showed flashes of its extraordinary potential against LSU and could continue the trend this Saturday morning against a mediocre Mississippi defense in Oxford.

Ole Miss is coming off back-to-back blowout losses to Alabama and Arkansas, and will undoubtedly play its best football game of the season Saturday so the Tigers could well be facing one of their toughest tests yet. A disappointing Rebel running game has transformed Eli Manning into a one-man show lately. He has responded admirably, throwing for more than 400 yards against Arkansas in leading the Rebs to 28 points. Unfortunately, kicking game errors and a strong Pig running game more than made up for Manning's heroics.

Some game plans are not as simple as this one. But if Auburn can control Manning's constant aerial assault and press an improving Ronnie Brown-led running game into service once again, this one will be in the win column for Auburn. Look for Mississippi native Jason Campbell to lead the AU attack with skill and determination in front of the home fans. AUBURN 34, OLE MISS 24.


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