SEC West contender Arkansas cruises into Columbia Saturday for what could be a very important game in the race for Atlanta. The Pigs, after losing team captain DT Jermaine Brooks to drug charges before the game, found a way to beat Troy State in Little Rock last Saturday, despite rushing for only 65 yards. The Trojans were supposed to be tough on defense, but this is the same Hog offense that torched the Auburn rushing defense for more than 400 yards. What gives?
If Houston Nutt can't get more of a rise out of his team against the 'Cocks than he did against the Trojans, Arkansas' hopes of an SEC Championship will be gone with the wind. However, if Charley Strong's South Carolina defense has a perennial weakness, it's against a power running game, and, should they decide to play, the Razorbacks can sho nuff run dat ball. Carolina, on the other hand, can't seem to make a play on offense, and will be competing without as many as three key offensive playmakers. With Lou Holtz, all things are possible, but not necessarily likely. ARKANSAS 27, SOUTH CAROLINA 23.
Believe it or not, Vandy is in a good spot here. Consider the following:
Vandy has a history of giving Florida in trouble in Nashville, almost knocking off Danny Wuerffel and his 1997 Florida National Champions in Nashville that November.
A cold November day has never been football weather to the Gators, which prefer to bask at Florida Field in 98- degree heat while watching September opponents wither like armadillos on I-75 in the Gainesville sun.
Florida is coming off a season-long emotional high following their huge upset of fifth-ranked Georgia last Saturday night in Jacksonville. Two more easy wins over the Commodores and South Carolina combined with a Georgia loss at, say, Auburn, would put UF in Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game. Florida is probably thinking about everything but playing a football game in Nashville right about now.
The fly in the ointment here, however, is a Commodore pass defense, which has given up many a big play, primarily because of an undersized and not-too- athletic defensive line. Vandy simply has not been able to rush the quarterback. So despite the possibilities to the contrary, with Vanderbilt, losing has become state of the art. And by the end of the day on Saturday, even Ron Zook should find the acorn of victory that, at some point in the game, will be tossed down on the field where even the pigs--and Gators--can get it. FLORIDA 32, VANDERBILT 16.
The Rebels' once-promising season has been staggered by three straight poundings at the hands of the league's three top rushing teams in recent weeks. And on offense, Coach David Cutcliffe's passing attack, starring resourceful quarterback Eli Manning, has had to go it alone without any help at all from the Reb running game.
Georgia, meanwhile, is still trying to figure out what happened to its perfect season, which went up in smoke against Florida last week. The Dawgs are still in the title hunt, however, and a game this Saturday Between-the-Hedges with Ole Miss is looming as a mere distraction between now and a huge game next Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium against Auburn. There is an opinion that Mississippi will pay for the crimes perpetrated by the Gators in Jacksonville against the Dawgs. But there is also the distinct possibility that Georgia's mind might be somewhere else this weekend. Considering UGA's lack of a power running game, I'm of that opinion. GEORGIA 31, OLE MISS 30.
Minus steady QB Matt Mauck, the Bengal offensive mediocrity was exposed two weeks ago in Auburn, and LSU had a week off to try to figure out what, if anything, can be done about it. New QB Marcus Randall was good at home against South Carolina three weeks ago, but he's clearly unsteady as a passer, and looked like the rookie he is against Auburn.
Now, LSU must travel to Lexington to face the SEC's most surprising team, the Kentucky Wildcats. Led by a better-than-expected defense, and the nation's best kick returner, Derek Abney, UK is poised to give their old Cajun friends a cold slap in the face this weekend. The Wildcats failed to compete at home against highly- ranked Georgia two Saturdays ago, but something tells me that, since the Bengals aren't nearly the passing team that UGA is, the upstart Cats just might make amends this week. KENTUCKY 24, LSU 20.
Rocky Top has fallen on hard times this season as the Vols have lost all three of their biggest games to date. This one is the fourth and final big name opponent, and could administer the most severe punishment yet to the hard-breathing Great Pumpkin.
UT QB Casey Clausen has been staggered with a collarbone injury and who knows what's happened to all-world WR Kelley Washington? His haunting visage on the Vol sidelines in recent weeks has cast a pall of doubt and dissension over the team, he looking more like the proverbial skeleton in the closet than a player capable of--or even willing to--rescue his team from its mortal illness.
Miami is not the Miami of old, clearly, but the Hurricanes are not all hot air as their unblemished record indicates. Veteran QB Ken Dorsey is the odds-on favorite to win the Heisman Trophy and his backfield mate, Willis McGahee is no Rusty Williams either. No question, the talent is there for the 'Canes, but so is it for Tennessee. The defense has been solid for the Big Orange all season. The Vol offensive line has underachieved so far, but has the makings of a great unit. TE Jason Witten is one of the nation's best, and now that Cedric Houston has finally returned from injury, UT again has a reliable running back. If the Vols can conjure up a go-to wide receiver Saturday, they stand a chance to pull off the big one. Either UT wins it, or Dorsey cinches the Heisman. Should be interesting. MIAMI 30, TENNESSEE 27.
Jackie goes home Saturday as his Bulldogs take on Sherill's beloved Tide back at the Capstone. The game will be played at what could have been Sherrill-Bryant-Denny Stadium if everything had gone according to plan. As it is, however, Sherill will just have to be satisfied in his road-kill role as he tries to help Bama rebuild for its New Age head coach.
The Bulldogs out-gained Kentucky by nearly 130 yards last week, yet still State got clobbered by the Wildcat kicking game, and the resulting carnage should provide little if any resistance to the Bama Blitzkrieg Saturday afternoon. ALABAMA 38, MISSISSIPPI STATE 10.