Mark Green Picks The SEC

Columnist Mark Green gives his opinions on this week's Southeastern Conference football matchups.

Mark Green


Editor's Note: Mark Green's record for the season is 67-21 (.761).


SOUTH CAROLINA at CLEMSON

The offense of great magician Lou Holtz has managed only 47 points in its last five games, and the Gamecocks have won only one of those games, a 16-12 squeaker over Kentucky in Lexington in October. Things have gotten so bad for Holtz that he moved starting quarterback Corey Jenkins to free safety after a home shutout loss to Arkansas two weeks ago. Redshirt sophomore Dondrial Pinkins took over the reins in Gainesville last week, leading the Cocks to a lone touchdown in a 28-7 defeat.

The game in Clemson this Saturday night will determine USC's bowl eligibility and a loss would secure SC's first losing season since 1999. A lot is at stake for Clemson Coach Tommy Bowden as well, as his Tigers try to win their seventh game of the season and, more importantly, their first against their cross-state rival in three years.

Former Auburn Coach John Lovett coordinates the Clemson defense and his charges should control the anemic Gamecock offense. The only real question is how effective a mediocre Clemson offense can be against the always-tough Charley Strong defense of USC. CLEMSON 20,SOUTH CAROLINA 13.


TENNESSEE at VANDERBILT

The rival games continue in Nashville Saturday morning when Tennessee and Vandy collide at the downtown Coliseum. This has been a bad year in Big Orange Country, and the folks on Rocky Top want somebody's head to roll for the Vols' four-loss season. UT Offensive Coordinator Randy Sanders is taking most of the blame for Tennessee's ground and air woes, though it could be argued that injuries to key performers such as All-American wide receiver Kelley Washington and quarterback Casey Clausen have had more to do with it than anything else. Also missing for much of the season for UT were several key defensive starters. In all, the Vols have been without the services of 16 different starters for at least one game each. As Auburn found out in 1998, injuries and a tough schedule can take any team down.

Meanwhile Vanderbilt, under the direction of first-year Head Coach Bobby Johnson, has had some serious injury problems of its own in 2002. The 'Dores are down to their fourth string tailback this week and are starting walk-on Jason Bourque at the position. Another possibility at running back is reserve cornerback Lorenzo Parker, who himself has missed time this year due to injury. It's a tough game, and some depth is essential, though injury luck, it seems, is even more important. The Commodores have had neither.

Expect to see Vanderbilt freshman QB Jay Cutler put it up early and often in the direction of veteran Vandy receivers Dan Stricker and M.J. Garrett. The Vols could counter with a semi-healthy Clausen at quarterback and a now-ready-to-run Cedric Houston at tailback. Injuries to both players have plagued UT much of the season. Tennessee fans in Nashville could get a glimpse at what might have been as the Vols return to the scene of their opening game against Wyoming. TENNESSEE 34, VANDY 23.


OLE MISS at LSU

Last year the Ole Miss Rebels derailed what looked to be a Bengal Tiger romp to the SEC title by ambushing the Tigers in Baton Rouge in mid-season. Returning this Saturday to the scene of that crime, Eli Manning and company will have their work cut out for them following LSU's blowout home loss to Alabama last Saturday.

The Rebels need to win one of their remaining games against LSU or Mississippi State to become bowl eligible and avoid a losing season. A poor running game and a porous defense have made life hard on Ole Miss this year, and the fans are not happy with the current four-game losing streak.

The larger question to be answered Saturday in Red Stick, though, may be whether LSU really has a championship caliber football team. Looking backwards, the Bengals' only impressive victory this season was a 36-7 humbling of Florida in Gainesville in October. That might not be such a big deal though, in light of Ole Miss's win over the Gators the week before in Oxford. Who knows, the Rebs may just do it again in Baton Rouge. LSU 30, OLE MISS 28.


ARKANSAS at MISSISSIPPI STATE

Incredibly, this game once again will have significant impact on the SEC Championship Game. With a win, the Razorbacks could guarantee themselves a winner-take-all title shot in Little Rock against LSU the day after Thanksgiving. Lose, and the Western Division door remains open for LSU and Auburn.

This game has had a surprise winner on many occasions, including 2000, when favored State fell at home to Arkansas to hand over the SEC West title to Auburn which had beaten Alabama in Tuscaloosa the same day. The underdog tends to play tough in this one, so keep your eyes and ears peeled for celestial sounds from the South this Saturday if you happen to be sitting in a stadium somewhere in Northwest Alabama. Mississippi State 20, Arkansas 17.


AUBURN at ALABAMA

"in the annals of history are the Spartan Warriors of Ancient Greece. Fearless defenders of liberty and justice, they followed a strict military way of life. In 480 B.C. three hundred of them under King Leonidas stood alone against over five thousand Persians under the tyrannical King Xerxes who was sweeping southward into Greece. The 300 Spartans fought to the death against these impossible odds in the mountain pass at Thermopylae. The Persians took shocking casualties. It was only after a betrayal did they finally overcome them. Without the Spartans, Democracy and Freedom would have been wiped out in their infancy...‘Return with your shield or on it' was every Spartan Mother's wartime farewell to her son"

--Howard David Johnson, Legends of History


"when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging Tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even there will still be one more sound: that of (man's) puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance."

--William Faulkner, Dec 10, 1950


Auburn has never lost to Alabama in Tuscaloosa. With that history lesson in mind, why should the 21st century be any different from those which preceeded it? Are any odds imposed more recently by men so impossible that the human heart cannot, with a great rising up of the spirit, conquer them? Whatever happens Saturday afternoon on the fields of Tuscaloosa, by that graveyard up there, Auburn is not going there to lie down and die at the hands of its mortal enemy. Alabama may well win this game. They may well not win it. But you can be certain of this one thing: Auburn will not lose it.

Considering the opponent, this game was won at the beginning of time, in the hearts of the men and women who long ago chose the side of fairness, freedom and self-sufficiency over the worldly forces of corruption, cowardice and slavery. Like victory, defeat too is a state of mind. It's great to be an Auburn Tiger. And it always will be.

Maybe I stand alone in this forecast. But I don't think I do. AUBURN 17, ALABAMA 16.


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