A nationally televised audience will witness Sylvester Croom's return to Tuscaloosa as MSU looks to earn a road win in the series for the first time since 1997. The 3-5 Bulldogs will look to make the 5-3 Tide wait another week to become bowl eligible, but the task will be difficult despite the sub-plots.
Alabama has a visit to LSU and the Iron Bowl with BCS contender Auburn remaining on the regular season slate, so this week may be the Tide's best shot at getting to that all important sixth win. The Tide is coming off an off week, so they should be well rested and focused on the Dogs despite the media hoopla.
One of the keys in this contest will be who can throw the football. The Tide starts former MSU commitment Spencer Pennington at QB after losing starter Brodie Croyle for the season with a torn ACL and seeing Marc Guillon go down to a back injury. Guillon is available if needed, but Pennington will get the starting nod as he has the past few weeks.
Pennington is averaging just over 54 yards per game passing and has thrown just one touchdown and a team leading four interceptions. The Tide should expect eight or nine defenders in the box, which should force Pennington to make some plays.
The Tide passing attack has been abysmal, but thankfully for them the ground game has been good enough to keep the chains moving. Alabama ranks first in the SEC in time of possession in large part to the hard running of Kenneth Darby.
Darby was used early, but mostly as a stand-in for Ray Hudson who was lost for the season. Not shying away from the spotlight or the workload, Darby has steadily piled up some impressive numbers, 733 yards on the season, which is 4th best in the conference. It will be interesting to see how the loss of fullback Tim Castille affects the running game. It may not change the play calling, but the execution may see a drop off.
MSU will face their toughest defense to date, at least statistically. Alabama is the SEC's top defense, but they have avoided the likes of Georgia and Florida. Despite the schedule, the Tide lead the SEC in nearly every defensive category. The Tide pass defense is one of the stingiest in the country, so the passing game must be efficient. Based on the way the MSU wide outs preformed last week, Bama's pass defense stats may get a boost this week.
Jerious Norwood continues to be the spark plug for the Bulldog offense. Norwood and stable mate Fred Reid have benefited as of late from some improved play from their offensive line. In the second halves of the last two ball games, the Bulldog O-line has steam rolled opposing defenses. It will be a much taller task this week.
In what should be a low scoring affair special teams will play an important part. The Tide is tops in the country in kickoff returns and that could be crucial late in the game. On the Bulldog side of things, punter Jared Cook has been All-SEC caliber the past two weeks and J-Lowe has steadily improved as the Bulldogs are now second in the SEC in punt returns.
This one is extremely tough to call. If the Bulldogs can stop the run - which has been difficult most of the season - they should win. If Omarr Conner can make some plays and keep the Alabama defense on the field instead of hugging the Gatorade cooler, it could get real, real interesting.
Who knows how the young Bulldogs will handle an emotional game like this. Everyone knows this is a game that both coaches and fan bases want badly. The pressure is squarely on Alabama for several reasons. How they respond will determine the outcome. If MSU can avoid the early mistake they have a great chance of winning this game and perhaps winning more before the last horn sounds.
I think the ghost of Bear Bryant will play a part in this one, but as you all know, he only haunts the folks on the visitors side of the field.
Alabama 17 MSU 10
Georgia vs. Kentucky
A match-up between two teams on opposite ends of the spectrum if there ever was one. Georgia still has a shot at a BCS bowl even if they fail to make it to Atlanta. If Tennessee and Georgia both win out, no matter who wins the SEC Championship, Georgia has a great shot at a BCS at large bid.
It's tough to blame all of the season's failures on probation for Kentucky, but there will be better days. The Kentucky offense seems to have very little imagination and it seems as if the coaches in the booth are just calling plays. Boyd is the only playmaker and he has been forced to make so many plays that he is wearing down. Maybe if this one gets out of hand they'll play some of the backups and continue building for next year.
Georgia 38 Kentucky 10
Florida vs. Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt gave LSU all they wanted last week, which seems to be a recurring theme in Baton Rouge after back to back close wins over Troy and Vandy. Vanderbilt is scrappy, despite being out talented in nearly every contest.
Florida may have thrown their last rod after an emotional week last week. The narrow loss to Georgia only cemented the decision to fire Ron Zook. The Gators are now just 4-4 with three to play. The Gators should pull to 5-4 this week, but it may be an embarrassing win as the Dores may keep it close for a while. Now that Spurrier has pulled out of the coaching search, the pain won't subside in Gainesville.
Florida 27 Vandy 17
Notre Dame vs. Tennessee
If there was anyone left trying to keep a QB controversy stirred up in Knoxville, they can finally give it a rest. QB Brent Schaeffer has been playing in spots, but was KO'd last week on a run that saw him play his last play at least for the regular season.
It will be interesting to see how Erik Ainge plays now that no one is chasing him. Ainge is the top freshman QB in the nation and seems to be a lock at starter for at least two more years. Ainge has done everything asked of him and not under the best of circumstances. The Vol coaching staff finally gave Ainge the nod and he hasn't looked back, but you have to know those series on the sidelines watching Schaeffer only made him hungrier. Now that the job's all his will he force Schaeffer to transfer?
Tennessee 28 Notre Dame 20
Arkansas vs. South Carolina
This is a must win for both teams. Both could still become bowl eligible later in the season, but time is running out. This may be the last best chance USC has of winning a game. Arkansas must win three of the last four to have a winning season and a bowl berth. Could Houston Nutt's bowl streak come to an end this year?
South Carolina needs to find some offense and quickly. The Hogs have been vulnerable as of late, but got pretty sting in a 20-14 loss to Georgia. The Gamecock defense has been formidable most of the season, but they got shelled last week against Tennessee.
Matt Jones always seems to come alive this time of year, and the Hogs will need him to be at his best down the stretch. The lack of depth and experience may have caught up to the Hogs who have now lost three in a row after starting 3-1. The Hogs are coming off an off week, so they have had a chance to get some folks healthy as well as do a little soul searching. Arkansas will be going for their fourth straight in the series, and based on the improvements we saw against Georgia as well as the off week, the Hogs should get it done.
Arkansas 24 South Carolina 20
Well, that's the week. We've got some great games this week despite the odds makers' opinions. It will be a very interesting night in Tuscaloosa, but who knows how our pups will handle the pressure and emotion of Bryant Denny. I for one can't wait.
Until next week,
Steve Robertson writes The Robertson Report for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website. Steve's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.