Overview: The LSU-Alabama showdown is perhaps the most highly anticipated game of the SEC season, so it's only fitting that the rest of the conference schedule is little more than an undercard. South Carolina will try to end a two-game losing streak against Arkansas, which has dropped three of its first four conference games. Vanderbilt can become bowl eligible if it stuns Florida in Gainesville. Georgia will try to avoid the fate that befell Oklahoma State when it faces Troy. Auburn, Tennessee and Ole Miss should feast on overmatched nonconference opponents.
Best matchup: LSU coach Les Miles vs. Alabama coach Nick Saban. Everyone knows the background by now. Saban led LSU to a share of the 2003 national title, left for the NFL's Miami Dolphins after the 2004 season and returned to the college ranks this season to coach one of the Tigers' Western Division rivals. Miles has led LSU to a 29-5 record the past three years amid criticism that he merely is winning with Saban's players. A victory in this game would arguably be the most important of Miles' career. But if LSU's former coach manages to knock the Tigers out of national-title contention, it could haunt Miles for years to come.
The pressure is on: Arkansas coach Houston Nutt. We've already mentioned that the pressure is on LSU coach Les Miles this week, but at least he doesn't have to worry about job security. Nutt is in a much more tenuous situation since Arkansas lost its first three SEC games before burying Ole Miss two weeks ago. The next four games could determine whether Nutt still is coaching the Razorbacks next year. Arkansas plays host to South Carolina this week before beginning a three-game stretch that includes road trips to Tennessee and LSU plus a home game with Mississippi State. Nutt probably needs to split these four games and may have to win three of four.
Who's hot: Alabama WR DJ Hall has caught 24 passes for 325 yards in his past two games. ? Arkansas CB Jerell Norton and Auburn CB Patrick Lee have picked off a pass in four of their past five games. ? Auburn QB Brandon Cox has thrown only one interception in his past six games. ? Auburn DE Antonio Coleman has nine tackles for loss in his past four games. ? Georgia TB Knowshon Moreno has rushed for 345 yards in his past two games. Bulldogs QB Matthew Stafford has thrown seven touchdown passes and only two interceptions in his past five games.
Who's not: South Carolina QB Chris Smelley has been benched after throwing three interceptions with no touchdown passes during the Gamecocks' two-game losing streak. ? Ole Miss QB Seth Adams has gone 58 of 117 with 10 interceptions and four touchdown passes in the Rebels' past four games.
Keep your eye on: Tennessee shouldn't have much trouble beating Louisiana-Lafayette, but it will be interesting to see how the offensive line responds to left tackle Eric Young's season-ending knee injury. Chris Scott moved from right guard to left tackle when Young got hurt last week, while Jacques McClendon took over Scott's old spot. Tennessee has allowed fewer sacks (three) than any team in the country this season.
Numbers game: Vanderbilt WR Earl Bennett became the SEC's career leader in receptions last week with 215. Bennett also ranks 10th in SEC career receiving yards with 2,661. He is 432 yards away from that record, held by Georgia's Terrence Edwards (3,092 yards from 1999-2002).
Freshmen to watch: Mississippi State true freshman QB Wesley Carroll is a major reason the Bulldogs need only one more win to become bowl eligible. He has thrown 137 passes this season without getting picked off. He threw two touchdown passes last week in a 31-14 upset of Kentucky. Georgia redshirt freshman TB Knowshon Moreno was named the Rivals.com national freshman of the week after rushing for 188 yards and three touchdowns in a 42-30 victory over Florida. Auburn true freshman QB Kodi Burns hasn't gotten much playing time lately, but he is expected to get more snaps Saturday in a likely blowout victory over Division I-AA Tennessee Tech. Florida's Michael Pouncey has been working as a backup center this season, but he has been practicing with the Gators' injury-riddled defensive line this week. All the injuries should result in more playing time for true freshman DT Torrey Davis. Georgia redshirt freshman FS Reshad Jones will probably start in place of injured Kelin Johnson this week. Tennessee true freshman CB Eric Berry had the best game of his young career last week with an interception and a 51-yard fumble return.
Injury update: Auburn TB Brad Lester didn't practice early this week because of a groin injury, but he's still expected to play Saturday. Auburn LB Craig Stevens (knee) won't play this week. Auburn FS Aairon Savage is expected to return this week after missing four games with a knee injury. ? Florida DT Javier Estopinan will miss the remainder of the season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. ? Georgia FS Kelin Johnson is doubtful for the Troy game with a knee injury. ? Kentucky SS Marcus McClinton will miss the rest of the regular season with a broken scapula. ? LSU DT Glenn Dorsey has returned to practice and is expected to play Saturday despite injuring his right knee against Auburn two weeks ago. ? Tennessee OT Eric Young and CB Marsalous Johnson probably will miss the rest of the season with knee injuries. ? Vanderbilt QB Mackenzi Adams left last week's game with a sternum injury, but he has practiced this week.
They said it:
"You're going to have losses in everything you do. You have to learn how to deal with them. That's just going to make you stronger, not just in football but in life. If you can't handle adversity, you're not going to be a very good person, and that's something you should learn at a very young age."
? Florida QB Tim Tebow to GatorBait.net
"All the years up until this year, I have been calling plays. When I call plays, and I've said this many times, I need to be peaceful. In my mind I need to be calm so I can think straight. As I'm making a decision every 25 or 30 seconds, I need peace. That's just how I operate. Other people can be gregarious and be sharp mentally, but for me, I need to be a certain way. Now I'm not calling plays anymore. I can get more time to go off-chain once in a while, I guess."
? Georgia coach Mark Richt to UGASports.com about why he's showing more emotion on the sideline this season
"This week's game is no referendum on Coach Miles. It's one game. He's proved to be a winning coach. He's won a lot of big games."
? LSU QB Matt Flynn to TigerBait.com about this weekend's matchup with former Tigers coach Nick Saban at Alabama
"It was the first game where he didn't throw the ball as accurate as he has been. Even some of the balls that were complete were not thrown as well as they had been. Sometimes it just leaves you and you don't know why. You see Tom Glavine get knocked out in the first inning. Why? I don't know if Tom Glavine knows. The ball doesn't move that day for him. It happens to Roger Clemens. It happens to everyone."
? Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe to VolQuest.com on QB Erik Ainge's inaccuracy last week against South Carolina
Etc.: LSU backup QB Ryan Perrilloux won't make the trip to the Alabama game after he reportedly was involved in a fight at a Baton Rouge nightclub last weekend, though he wasn't arrested. ? The status of the five Alabama players suspended for the Tennessee game two weeks ago ? C Antoine Caldwell, OL Marlon Davis, TB Glen Coffee, DB Chris Rogers and DB Marquis Johnson ? also remains unclear. ? Tennessee has dismissed RB LaMarcus Coker from the team for undisclosed reasons. Tennessee DT Demonte Bolden was suspended from Saturday's game for unspecified reasons. ? Auburn DE Quentin Groves has moved to linebacker this week to fill in for Craig Stevens, who has an ankle injury. ? Ole Miss DE Greg Hardy, who had been playing at an All-America level, has been suspended indefinitely. ? The sack that Tennessee gave up in the fourth quarter last week was the first sack the Volunteers had allowed since the second game of the season. The Vols have given up only three sacks all season.