The Robertson Report

Well folks, here we go into a weekend filled with rivalry games and make or break contests. The Gamecocks of South Carolina play arch-rival Clemson for annual bragging rights. Tennessee looks to win their 21st in a row over in-state neighbor Vanderbilt and don't forget the Iron Bowl. All those games are important, but all eyes in the SEC will turn their gaze to Oxford, MS as SEC West favorite LSU comes to town.

Kentucky at Georgia

The 4-6 Wildcats are smarting after an "upset" loss to Vanderbilt. I guess any loss to Vanderbilt would be an upset loss, but these Cats are more than a little upset after earning the dubious distinction of being the team that Vandy ended their long-standing SEC losing streak against.

Georgia got some great news this week, when All-SEC Quarterback David Greene announced that he would return for his senior season. The jury is still out on David Pollack, but early indications are that he will stay with bosom buddy Greene.

Kentucky needs two more wins to get bowl eligible. New head man Rich Brooks is reportedly unhappy in Lexington and you can rest assured the UK fan base aren't overjoyed at the possibility of being 6th in the SEC East thanks to Vandy owning the tie breaker.

Last season UK held a 24-21 lead before getting demolished in the 2nd half. This game is big for Georgia as it concludes SEC play. Kentucky will need a huge effort to pull the upset. They obviously overlooked Vanderbilt and in the end may cost all the SEC members some bowl revenue.

With so many bowls, a winning season nearly guarantees a bowl berth. With Alabama ineligible and MSU and Vanderbilt already clearly out of the bowl picture, the SEC needs some people to step up. A UK loss and a USC loss and the conference will only have seven bowl eligible teams. This game will eliminate UK as Georgia is far too strong.

Georgia 38 UK 17

Clemson at South Carolina

Any speculation that Lou Holtz was stepping aside at the end of the season was put to rest this week after the university signed Holtz to a nice extension. Holtz's counterpart in this contest has not received the same type of support from his employer.

Tommy Bowden in an emotional press conference discussed his future earlier this week. Choking back tears, Bowden went on to say that he cannot answer any questions regarding his situation at Clemson. Rumors have surfaced that suggest that Bowden must beat USC in order to retain his position as head coach. Despite moderate success and a win over FSU this season, the detractors have been after Bowden most of the season.

Clemson is 7-4 and 5-3 in conference with a quality win over ACC champion Florida State. They have a nice ball team, but apparently the expectations are much higher at Clemson. Bowden has returned the pride back to a team that was downright pitiful under Tommy West, who has his Memphis team bowl eligible. One must wonder if Clemson has an identity crisis or is just too worried about keeping up with the Jones's. Sometimes something else is not something better.

This game is already charged with emotion, but look for an inspired effort from Clemson. USC needs this game to break even at 6-6 and a possible bowl bid. There is a lot to play for in this one and the talent seems about even. When you have two equal teams, the motivation factor generally makes the difference. I look for Clemson to show up and support their highly criticized coach.

Clemson 24 South Carolina 20

Vanderbilt at Tennessee

Strike up the band folks. The Robertson Report's only miss of the week last week was the Vanderbilt win over UK. To be honest, I wasn't too terribly upset about missing that one. Vanderbilt has struggled to compete in SEC football for years, but this season's futility was a low point in a series of low points. Now the young Commodores have something to build on and these type wins can be turning points.

I was wrong about one other thing last week as well. I reported last week that Phil Fulmer was a gentleman and that he wouldn't run up the score. Apparently I was wrong. With the back-up QB in and the game well in hand ,Fulmer, facing a 4th and 4, elected to go for it and converted on a counter toss sweep. A play later UT had scored another TD. Only a play action pass for a touchdown would have been more inappropriate. What is most ironic was that Fulmer criticized MSU's decision to onsides kick late in the game.

When you're out of it, all you can do is take the game as a live practice. That was the perfect time to onsides kick and teach your team. I think the bigger issue is the message it sends to our players, it says we aren't going to quit regardless of the circumstances.

Vanderbilt's joy will only last so long and this game will probably get out of hand early. The Vols need a win and some help if they hope to reach Atlanta, but with a little luck an at-large BCS bowl is not out of the question. Look for Clausen to throw long early and Davis and Houston to grind it out late.

Tennessee 35 Vanderbilt 13

Alabama at Auburn

Rumors have run rampant all week about the health and future of Auburn head coach Tommy Tubberville. If the rumors turn out to be untrue you can probably blame a Bama fan for starting them. This is one of the most heated rivalries in college football and anything one team can do to gain an advantage you can rest assured they'll try it.

Alabama was physically dominated last week against LSU. They'll look to bounce back against an Auburn team playing out the string in some respects. Auburn hoped to be in the thick of the BCS race when the season began. Now they won't even finish with a winning record in conference. If Arkansas can win one of their last two, then Auburn will be your 4th place SEC West team. Certainly a far cry from where the Sporting News picked them.

The Tigers of Auburn will look to slow down Doak Walker semi-finalist Shaud Williams. Williams is having a spectacular season in what has been very melodramatic for the Tide. Alabama will finish with a losing record in what is only par for the course after the carnival type atmosphere that surrounded the Tide this off-season.

This contest will feature two teams that are anxious for the nightmare to end. Alabama still has their scheduled bowl game at Hawaii and Auburn will either land in the Independence or Music City Bowl depending on how things shake out.

I like Auburn in this one for a few reasons. They're playing at home and their players understand how important beating Alabama is. The Tigers can extract some satisfaction out of winning the Iron Bowl. The mental consequences of dropping this game could hang around well into next season. Auburn has the better team, but in this one you never know until the final whistle blows.

Auburn 23 Alabama 17

LSU at Mississippi

Well the folks in Oxford say they're ready. The purple and gold contingent say it's just another game on the schedule. Despite the pomp and circumstance this game is not as good on paper as many would have you believe. Yes, these are the two teams with the two best records in the SEC West. And yes whomever loses will more than likely be the odd man out come the first week in December, but this game is more like a great team against a great player.

Eli Manning will lead the home standing Rebels in what is being called the most important game in Oxford since the 70s. Manning will face the stingiest defense he has seen this season and maybe in his career. LSU has only given up 11 touchdowns all season. They allowed 19 points to Florida, which is a season high and Florida is the only team to score more than twice.

LSU will look to slow down a Rebel offense that put points on the board almost every other time they get the ball. The Tigers held Alabama to 3 points and Georgia to 10 points, which are both season lows. Only four times all season has an opposing offense generated more than one score.

Mississippi has scored 43 or more points 6 times this year. The task will be a little more daunting this week as LSU brings their "50 state" blitz package to Oxford. The LSU blitz scheme is called the 50 states because each blitz is named after a state. LSU must put pressure on Manning or he will have a 40 something type day. In a lot of ways the match-up between Eli and the Tiger defense is a stalemate.

The game will be won or lost on Mississippi's ability to stop the LSU offense. Michael Clayton leads a crop of wideouts that should all find a spot somewhere on the All-SEC lists. The Tiger offensive line has had their way with opponents the last half of the season. The stable of running backs is led by Vincent and Broussard. What's funny is those two were 3 and 4th on the depth chart at the start of the season. Due to injuries to Addai and Carey they were forced into action. Now that Addai and Carey are healthy they have been relegated to special teams and 3rd downs.

The Rebels have been plagued by off the field distractions again this week as RB Ronald McClendon has been suspended for the rest of the regular season. Despite reports to the contrary McClendon has not been at practice and has reportedly retained an attorney. This is a developing story and worth watching.

In McClendon's absence Tremaine Turner has blossomed. He will need an effort of all efforts if he is to be successful behind a beat up offensive line against the likes of Chad Lavalais.

LSU and Mississippi share 5 common opponents. Um is 5-0 against them and LSU is 4-1. Against those teams Um's average score was 37.8 points and LSU's average score was 29.4 points. Defensively Um gave up 23.8 points while LSU only gave up 8.6 points, as a result LSU's margin of victory was 20.8 points while Um's was only 14.

Mississippi can score some points, but in conference games all game have been one score games except Alabama. This game won't be that close as the Red and Blue balloon bursts into purple and gold confetti. The party won't end in Oxford until after Thanksgiving, but the Rebs will need to find a way to get some air back in the balloon before the Egg Bowl.

LSU 31 Mississippi 17

Mississippi State at Arkansas

Like most Mississippi State fans I almost wish Arkansas hadn't joined the SEC. Our sports teams just don't win at Arkansas. MSU will look for win #1 at Arkansas under Jackie Sherrill this weekend.

This series has been one of the more entertaining in the past few years. In 1998, MSU won on a Bryan Hazelwood FG to propel the Dogs on to Atlanta. In 1999, the Dogs were facing a must win to keep their Atlanta hopes alive only to have a late comeback fall short. In 2000, with the SEC West on the line, a Scott Westerfield FG never got airborne and the Dogs lost in OT. In 2001, Kevin Fant appeared to be the hero before a late Matt Jones run set up the go ahead score for the Hogs. In 2002, a heroic comeback led by Kyle York came up just short.

Arkansas will more than likely stick with the run. They have the 2nd most productive offense in the conference and that is primarily because of a solid ground game. Matt Jones will play, but may come off the bench.

What was encouraging last week for the MSU Bulldogs was the play of Nick Turner and Jerious Norwood, Turner set a school record for all-purpose yards and Norwood had several big runs. Fred Reid continued to play hard well after the outcome had been decided. These are the moments that make a team.

A moment that stood out to me was right after Brent Smith missed the 54 yard field goal attempt the first player to come up to encourage him was Chris Swain. I know much has been made of the juco players that have and have not worked out at MSU, but Swain appears to be a 1st unit type person. I expect Chris to be a leader on this team for the rest of the time he is in Starkville.

The MSU secondary continued to struggle last week, but there were some great plays made by opposing receivers despite good coverage. The secondary will get a week off or sorts this week, as Arkansas will look to pound it out on the ground. They shouldn't get too comfortable though as Matt Jones has been effective with play action.

I expect a better game, but sadly another loss this week. It pains me to keep picking us on the short end of the stick, but I have to go with my head not my heart.

Arkansas 27 Mississippi State 17

Well folks, that's how I see them. Next week we'll see the end of the regular season and know for certain who's going to Atlanta. We round out the rest of the rivalries including the Egg Bowl.

Until next week,

Steve Robertson
1 John 4:7-8

Steve Robertson is a free-lance correspondent who writes The Robertson Report for the premium site portion of Gene's Page. Steve's email address is

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