Overview: Everybody was supposed to be focusing on Florida vs. LSU in Baton Rouge, La., this week. LSU was supposed to play host to Florida in possibly the biggest regular-season game of the year. Well, something happened on the way to two titans meeting in Death Valley - the Gators lost to Auburn last week. This week's Florida-LSU showdown has lost some luster, but it's still going to go a long way toward determining titlists in both divisions. The Georgia-Tennessee game looked to have lost some luster when both teams lost in early September, but Florida's loss adds some significance to that contest in Knoxville. Georgia has won in its past three trips to Neyland Stadium. There's another huge SEC East matchup Thursday night, when division leader Kentucky (the only East team without a loss) travels to South Carolina. Steve Spurrier never has lost to UK as a coach (14-0). Auburn-Vanderbilt is the other conference game, and the assumption is Auburn has righted itself after last week's shocker in Gainesville, Fla. Alabama, Arkansas, Ole Miss and Mississippi State have what look to be eminently winnable non-conference contests.
Best matchup: Florida QB Tim Tebow vs. LSU's front seven. It's hard to imagine Florida having much success running the ball unless Tebow contributes greatly to the cause. What LSU wants to do is slow Tebow without having to bring an extra defender into the box. If LSU's defensive tackles, in particular, are winning their individual battles, LSU won't have to creep its safeties up. In that scenario, it'll be harder for a UF receiver to find an open spot - and harder for Tebow to make a big play with either his arm or his legs. Conversely, if Tebow can rip off some big runs early, LSU's safeties will have to respect the run. That could enable UF's speedy receivers to make some big plays downfield.
The pressure is on: Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen. Mullen's offense was rolling along nicely - six consecutive games of at least 30 points, with numerous big plays along the way - until Auburn shut down Florida's offense last week. Coach Urban Meyer said his offense was too reliant on Tebow in the running game last week. That means the onus is on Mullen to devise some ways for UF to move the ball. One problem: LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini is considered one of the best in the business. It should make for an interesting chess match.
Who's hot: Kentucky K Tim Masthay leads the conference with 11 touchbacks on kickoffs. ? Arkansas TB Darren McFadden has three 100-yard games in a row and should get his fourth Saturday against I-AA Chattanooga. ? Florida WR Percy Harvin has four consecutive 100-yard receiving games. ? WR Mike Wallace is the first Ole Miss player since 1994 to catch a TD pass in four consecutive games. ? LSU's run defense is No. 1 in the nation (39.0 ypg). Florida's is No. 5 (63.4 ypg). ? Mississippi State DE Titus Brown leads the league with six sacks.
Who's not: Ole Miss is last in the league rush defense, pass defense and total defense and 11th in scoring defense; only Tennessee is worse in scoring defense. ? While LSU leads the league in sacks (18), the Tigers are tied for last in the league (with Auburn) in sacks allowed (14). ? Florida has been penalized 49 times already, the most in the league. ? Mississippi State's passing attack ranks 116th in the nation (136.,8 ypg). The Bulldogs have thrown three TD passes and nine interceptions.
Keep your eye on: South Carolina's secondary. The Gamecocks have been excellent against the pass this season, allowing a national-low 106.4 yards per game (with two TDs and six interceptions). But the Gamecocks will get their biggest test thus far when Kentucky's Andre' Woodson starts firing away Thursday night. UK has nice offensive balance (223.6 rushing yards per game, 268.6 passing yards per game), but if the Gamecocks can slow Woodson, they will win. Woodson has been extremely sharp (261.8 ypg, 67.1 completion percentage, 16 TDs, one pick), so South Carolina CBs Captain Munnerlyn and Carlos Thomas better be on their game.
Numbers game: Kentucky is 5-0 for the first time since 1984. In addition, the Wildcats have scored at least 40 points in all five games. ? Arkansas' Felix Jones already has two kickoff returns for TDs this season. No other player in the SEC has one. ? Nine league teams (all but Alabama, Georgia and LSU) have scored defensive touchdowns this season. ? The league office says the average game involving an SEC team this season is taking 3 hours, 22 minutes.
Freshmen to watch: Maurkice Pouncey, a true freshman, and Maurice Hurt, a redshirt freshman, have been the right guards for Florida this season. They will be going up against a tremendous LSU defensive front this week. The Gators can't allow Tigers DTs Glenn Dorsey and Marlon Favorite to control the middle. ? Tennessee FS Eric Berry, a true freshman, has earned a starting spot in what has been one of the league's most porous secondaries. He must play well Saturday, or Georgia QB Matthew Stafford is going to have a big day. ? Alabama LB Rolando McClain, a true freshman, will be tested by a diversified Houston offense Saturday. The Cougars' multiple sets will put pressure on McClain to be in the right place at the right time.
Injury update: Auburn DE Quentin Groves (foot) will miss the game against Vanderbilt. ? Florida CB Markihe Anderson (knee) is questionable to play against LSU. ? Georgia LB Marcus Washington (shoulder) is expected to miss the game at Tennessee. ? LSU WR Early Doucet (groin) and GWill Arnold (viral infection) are questionable for the Florida game. ? Mississippi State QB Josh Riddell (torn ACL) is going to miss the rest of the season. ? Ole Miss C Corey Actis (undisclosed) may miss the game against Louisiana Tech. ? Vanderbilt TB Jeff Jennings (ankle) is said to be questionable to play against Auburn.
They said it: "The only thing I got on my mind is when they put 51 points on our defense and that was here (in Athens). That's the last thing I remember of Tennessee." ? Georgia SS Kelin Johnson, on whether the Bulldogs winning the last time they played in Knoxville will help them this week
"We're complimented by the votes. It also tells you the voters didn't get up early in the morning to watch our game. They kind of slept in and got kind of caught up on the score later in the day." ? LSU coach Les Miles, on his team being the new No. 1 in The Associated Press poll after a 34-9 victory over Tulane
"The phrase I was taught as a young person is 'the soul of a man is exposed when you get hit in the face.' I don't want to over-dramatize a loss in football with other things in life. ? How are we going to respond? I don't have that answer." ? Florida's Meyer, when asked how his team would play this week against LSU after suffering its first loss
"I remember it was one of my better games. That and a quarter will get you a cup of coffee this Saturday." ? Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron, when asked about his play against Louisiana Tech - whom his Rebels play this week - while he was in college at Northwestern State (La.)
Etc.: Thirty-eight years ago this weekend, Alabama defeated Ole Miss 33-32 on ABC; it was the first prime-time telecast of an SEC football game. ? Ole Miss has been outscored by 42 points (55-13) in the fourth quarter this season, the widest disparity in the league. The widest disparity on the plus side belongs to Florida, which has outscored foes by 55 in the fourth period (65-10). ? Arkansas plays Chattanooga on Saturday in Little Rock. It's the first of two Hogs games in Little Rock this season; the other is Mississippi State on Nov. 17. ? Vanderbilt goes on the road for the first time this season when it plays at Auburn on Saturday. ? Ole Miss plays host to Louisiana Tech on Saturday. The Bulldogs' coach is Derek Dooley, the son of former longtime Georgia coach Vince Dooley. ? It's homecoming for Alabama, Ole Miss and Mississippi State this weekend.