GAMEDAY: Around the SEC

We go around the SEC this week on Game Day Saturday and give you a round-up of who's playing where and what to expect in football this weekend. It pays to keep up with the mightiest football conference in the nation!

Ole Miss at Alabama

The boys from 'Bama are gearing up for their first taste of 2004 SEC action. Coach Mike Shula got a fair preview of what his Crimson Tide can bring to the table in last week's 48-17 thumping of Utah State. Junior Brodie Croyle finished 16 of 22 for 205 yards and 2 TD's. The Tide running game showed off a two-back attack consisting of Florida native Ray Hudson gaining 111 yards on 16 carries, while senior Kenneth Darby got 111 yards on 11 carries. Both scored Touchdowns.

Shula was not too excited with Alabama's practice Wednesday. The Tide worked for just under two hours concentrating on short-yardage, goal line, and two-minute drills. "I thought practice was okay," Mike Shula said. "We were just too inconsistent overall. We put in more situations today and we will finish up tomorrow with a few more things. Hopefully, we will have a better practice's as the game nears."

The area of focus for this game will be keeping Ole Miss QB Micheal Spurlock in check. "They still have everything they had last year, plus now they have another runner [Spurlock]. He runs the option, the quarterback draw, sprints out. They do a lot of things."

Losing a heisman candidate and one of the best players to dress in a Rebel's uniform is tough. Losing an opener…to Memphis…at home…is much tougher. Dwelling on the past is no longer an option for a Rebel team reeling from a 20-13 loss last week.

Lone bright spot Eric Oliver, a returning starter at free safety who has led team in tackles last two seasons, will have his hand full with a balanced Alabama attack. Junior QB Micheal Spurlock may be nifty on his feet, but was dismal in the air going 11 for 31 for 182 yards.

"Micheal got 64 game reps against Memphis," QB Coach Kurt Roper said Wednesday. "What we are counting on is that he's 64 reps better, 64 reps wiser, 64 reps more settled. We will find out Saturday."

Coach David Cutliffe had positive things to say about practice this week.

"We were pretty good today. Our offensive focus was good yesterday and it was even better today. I think we have some players who are anxious to prove themselves after last Saturday and they are working hard to do so in practice. We were really crisp at the end of practice on both sides of the ball in team work."

On the injury front, OL James Campbell suffered a neck injury on Wednesday- extent not known at this time, but all the early signs are positive for a full recovery. WR Kerry Johnson believes there is an outside chance he could play against Alabama with a broken hand, even though he has not practiced this week after having hand surgery Monday morning. OL Maurice Miller (chest congestion/asthma) was still out Wednesday as was TB Jamul Pittman (hamstring).

Alabama will play host to Ole Miss in Tuscaloosa at 9 p.m. The game, which will air on ESPN2, will be the first taste of SEC action for both teams. Dating back to the 2000 season, the home team has won. Alabama is an 11.5-point favorite and has no reported injuries.

Texas (8) at Arkansas

Fayetteville will be bumping when Mack Brown's Hooker Horns stroll into town on Saturday to continue the longest running rivalry in Razorback history. Arkansas has won the last three meetings in the series, including last year's 38-28 win in Austin and a 27-6 win in the 2000 Cotton Bowl. However, the No. 8 Longhorns will be prepared to represent the Lone Star State.

The 'Backs, who lit up New Mexico State in their opener 63-13, will be led by senior QB Matt Jones. Jones will be wearing the appropriate colors of red and white because arguably the best defensive player in the nation, 6-4 235 lb. Senior LB Derrick Johnson, will be targeting him.

"He is very fast and reminds you of Caleb Miller," Coach Houston Nutt said. "He's fast like Caleb, maybe a step faster. He gets to the ball and runs sideline to sideline. He forced a lot of fumbles last year when he got to the ball. He's a very talented player. I don't think anyone blocks Derrick Johnson."

The game is scheduled for a 7:45 kick-off time on ESPN. The Longhorns are favored by 11 points. Arkansas major injury of the week to tight end Jared Hicks, will force true-freshmen Marc Winston to shed his red shirt.

Auburn (19) at Mississippi State

The Tigers are rolling into Starkville, Mississippi in style. Cadillac style. Auburn trounced University of Louisiana-Monroe 31-0 in their opener behind Carnell Williams' 103-yard performance.

Auburn is making sure in this week of practice to point out the new-look Bulldogs.

"Thankfully they played the type of game they can against Tulane and we have that on film," senior DE Bret Eddins said. "You can go back and point out games in the past and me and Jay and some of the older guys can tell them that last year is not the Mississippi State team you're going to play. That was a different team. You just try to tell them as much as you can and get them ready and hopefully they'll go out there and react to it well."

Auburn, who has won the last three meetings, is a 13-point favorite. RB Tre Smith (shoulder) and WR James Swinton (knee) are day-to-day. DB David Irons is out for the year.

Media darling Sylvester Croom defeated Tulane 28-7 last week. In order to stop the Cadillac, Croom is going to need clutch performances from senior NT Ronald Fields and junior LB Marvin Byrdsong, both of which have started every game since setting foot in Starkville.

Georgia (3) at South Carolina* Game of the Week

The Dogs and the Cocks. This has all the makings of an upset game, but could also be a bust if South Carolina doesn't show up to play. For all the media hype Georgia has received, one would think they would slaughter Georgia Southern. David Pollack, otherwise known as "the most incredible athlete to ever play a sport", and his defense surrendered 28 points to a I-AA team, at home none the less.

South Carolina rolled over Vanderbilt 31-6 with a power running attack, one that could tip the scales in the Gamecocks favor come Saturday.

With LB Tony Taylor out for the year, Odell Thurman on his 2nd of a 3 game suspension, and fill-in starting MLB Derrick White likely out with a high ankle sprain, it could be a national coming out party for sophomore RB Demetrius Summers.

"Jarvis Jackson would get a look there," Georgia Coach Mike Richt said. "But I don't know who would start. I don't know if Jamario Smith would start or not. You would have to cross train Jarvis and I don't know who would win the job. The guy who understands the position best, I am sure, would be the starter."

Summers, who had 11 carries for 87 yards against Vandy, could be even more problematic when coupled with how Georgia struggled to defend the Georgia Southern option. Factor in scrambling junior QB Dondrial Pinkins and it spells trouble for Georgia.

On Gamecock defense, it will be key to watch how freshman RB Danny Ware can perform against an actual I-A SEC team. Senior safety Jamacia Jackson was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week as well. The two teams will square off on ESPN at 5:30 live from Columbia with the Dogs an eight-point favorite.

Arkansas State at LSU (4)

The hot topic coming out of Death Valley this week is the QB controversy. Saban threw a bon-a-fide hissy fit Wednesday when told of polls regarding who should start.

"Both guys have been working at quarterback. Both guys have made good plays and bad plays, regardless of what kind of opinion polls we have out there, that are really kind of heartless," Saban said while talking with the media.

LSU should have no problem beating an Arkansas State team that gave up 52 points to Missouri. Xavier Carter is listed day-to-day with a foot injury.

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