SEC previews and predictions: week nine

Read SEC expert Jess Nicholas' predictions on Auburn-Mississippi, Florida-Georgia in the world's largest outdoor cocktail party, Kentucky-Mississippi State and the rest of this week's games in the SEC.

Last week: 5-1 (83.3%)

Season: 47-12 (79.7%)

AUBURN at OLE MISS

Game within a game: Auburn QB Jason Campbell vs. Ole Miss secondary

Even considering that Rebels won last year and that game has morphed into an annual revenge game against Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville, it's hard to think of a way Ole Miss can win this game. Ever since Tuberville left Ole Miss in a less-than-manly fashion, Ole Miss has had it in for the Tigers – but most of that emotion has gone for naught, which appears to be the case this year, too. Despite Ole Miss scaring Tennessee two weeks ago, the Vols' narrow margin of victory was due more to freshman mistakes from UT quarterback Erik Ainge than anything Ole Miss was doing. Auburn is not Tennessee; the Tigers have offensive balance and aren't making many mistakes. Ole Miss's only hope is to reduce Auburn to a one-dimensional team on offense and get a couple of cheap scores. The Ole Miss pass defense is ranked 85th in the country, and the Rebels are ranked 67th in pass efficiency defense. Both numbers need significant improvement this week. Ole Miss has had two weeks to prepare for this game. Still, it's unlikely that coach David Cutcliffe has designed a defensive scheme to stop Auburn's balanced offense. Auburn 33, Ole Miss 14

FLORIDA vs. GEORGIA (Jacksonville, Fla)

Game within a game: Florida QB Chris Leak vs. Georgia cornerbacks

This game already was going to be a whopper before Monday, and then Florida put extra spice into the soup by firing coach Ron Zook. Although Zook is cooked, he and his assistants will finish the season. Unless Florida's players have some sort of undying loyalty to their lame-duck coach that no one knows about, the distractions this week probably will be too much to overcome. In X's and O's, Florida has to worry about attacking a tough Georgia defense. The key will be how Leak attacks Georgia's iffy cornerbacks. The Bulldogs are ranked ninth in pass defense, but a worrisome 70th in pass efficiency defense, giving up too many big plays through the air. If Leak can't make plays downfield, Georgia can stack the line and this game is over. Georgia 30, Florida 16

KENTUCKY at MISSISSIPPI STATE

Game within a game: Kentucky offensive speed vs. MSU linebackers

Following Mississippi State's upset of Florida last week, a lot of predictions for this game probably got swapped around. Kentucky is bad, but State had been terrible until last week. Is MSU turning a corner, or did they just get lucky against a floundering program? The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but if the Bulldogs think the Florida win signals an immediate turnaround, it's time to adjust the reality meter. Kentucky has decent speed on offense and some good individual playmakers. More importantly for Kentucky, the Mississippi State defensive line is something the Wildcat offensive line can handle if it plays well. The biggest concern for the Bulldogs is finding some linebackers who can play the Kentucky running game, while at the same time having enough speed to contain Kentucky's mobile quarterbacks. Call it an upset if you like, but look for Kentucky to take this one. Kentucky 23, Mississippi St. 20

VANDERBILT at LSU

Game within a game: Vanderbilt defense vs. LSU quarterbacks

Troy almost beat LSU last week with this game plan: Sell out to stop the run, and make quarterback Marcus Randall beat you. Randall responded by going 24-of-37 for 328 yards and a touchdown. But he also threw three interceptions and the game's outcome was in doubt until the final seconds. Vanderbilt's task is simple in premise, but difficult in execution – the Commodores must shut down Randall (or JaMarcus Russell, or Matt Flynn, or anyone who can move this offense) or the game is over. Unfortunately for the Commodores, the talent disparity between the two schools is too much to overcome. Vanderbilt is coming off an unimpressive 19-7 win over I-AA Eastern Kentucky, and unfortunately for the Dores, they did a poor job of stopping EKU quarterback Josh Greco (20-of-29, 262 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT), who is not as good as Randall. LSU 37, Vanderbilt 13

TENNESSEE at SOUTH CAROLINA

Game within a game: UT running back Gerald Riggs vs. South Carolina front seven

Tennessee has seen this game before – a team down to its second and third quarterbacks, a tough run defense and good running backs. But this isn't a rematch with Alabama, it's a game against South Carolina in Columbia. South Carolina quarterback Dondrial Pinkins has a torn rotator cuff, which forced Mike Rathe and Blake Mitchell into the game two weeks ago at Kentucky, along with regular contributor Syvelle Newton. Mitchell had a rough outing, but Rathe was 5-of-7 with a touchdown pass. It's hard to say whether the three- (or four-)headed monster that USC will start under center is any better than Alabama's Spencer Pennington, but the fact is that the South Carolina defense is a lot like Alabama's. The onus is on UT's Riggs to have success running the football. He didn't against Alabama, and it put the game on the shoulders of Ainge, who threw two interceptions. Tennessee should expect South Carolina's offense to be more potent. South Carolina usually plays Tennessee tough, but unfortunately, the Gamecocks also find ways to lose this game. Expect the same this year, as Tennessee can see a trip to Atlanta on the horizon. Tennessee 23, South Carolina 17

IDLE: Alabama, Arkansas


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