November 3, 2011

Week 10 preview in the SEC

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The SEC West regular-season title almost certainly will be decided Saturday. The same goes for the East Division title.

Alabama plays host to LSU in the West Division showdown, but the East title also could be decided on a West Division team's home field. South Carolina plays at Arkansas, and a Gamecocks loss puts Georgia in the East Division driver's seat.

THE SCHEDULE
Vanderbilt at Florida, 12:20 p.m.
New Mexico State at Georgia, 12:30 p.m.
Ole Miss at Kentucky, 3:30 p.m.
Middle Tennessee at Tennessee, 7 p.m.
South Carolina at Arkansas, 7:15 p.m.
UT Martin at Mississippi State, 7:30 p.m.
LSU at Alabama, 8 p.m.
COMING FRIDAY
Alabama-LSU is our national game of the week, and we will have a complete breakdown of that game on Friday.
The Bulldogs and Gamecocks are the only teams still alive for the division title. Both are 5-1, and the Gamecocks own the tiebreaker because they beat the Bulldogs. But South Carolina's remaining two league games are tougher than Georgia's. The Gamecocks are at Arkansas this week and play host to Florida next week. While Florida isn't that good this season, Arkansas looks to be the third-best team in the league, behind only Alabama and LSU. Georgia finishes with Auburn and Kentucky, which very well could go winless in league play.

Arkansas goes into this weekend having narrowly beaten Ole Miss and Vanderbilt in the past two weeks.

"When you look at our team right now, I don't feel like we're playing as well as I want to play," Hogs coach Bobby Petrino said. "But I've had years where you play really well in a game and all of a sudden you look up and you lost the game. So although we haven't played as well as we want to the last two weeks, we have found a way to win the game. And there's a lot to be said for that."

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier agrees.

"They have a knack for winning," he said. "They haven't played extremely well the last couple of games, but found a way to win them. ...

"Obviously, they know something about how to win games at Arkansas. They've beaten us pretty good the last couple of times, especially last year. I remember we took two days off [afterward] just to watch Arkansas play offense and defense; they played that well."

Spurrier also knows what is at stake.

"The biggest goal is trying to win the East," he said. "To do that we probably need to win our last two games. We know that."

[Video: Pat Forde, Eddie George pick their Heisman front-runners]

BEST MATCHUP: Line play in Alabama-LSU. Neither coaching staff will feel all that comfortable if their quarterback is forced to the air. SEC defense is all about stopping the run anyway, but that becomes even more important this week. Thus, who is going to have the advantage: LSU's offensive line or Alabama's defensive line? What about Alabama's offensive line vs. LSU's defensive line? Gouging out some running room right up the middle is going to be vital. Forget the glitzy skill-position guys in this one, and instead focus on the interior linemen.

PLAYER ON THE SPOT: South Carolina QB Connor Shaw. South Carolina won 14-3 at Tennessee last week, thanks to a solid defensive performance and a 137-yard rushing performance by true freshman TB Brandon Wilds. Shaw passed for just 87 yards. South Carolina has scored 24 points or fewer in five of its past six games, and it seems doubtful the Gamecocks can win at Arkansas if their offense can't put up more than 24 points. Shaw threw for 311 yards against Kentucky, but has thrown for just 242 in the past two games.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Florida's run offense. The Gators have rushed for a total of 175 in their past four games - an average of 43.8 yards per game. Given that their pass offense has been anemic this season (186.4 yards per game, with just seven TD passes), it's not hard to figure out why Florida has lost four in a row. The biggest problem? "I would certainly say the competition, number one," coach Will Muschamp said. Florida has played against three of the top eight rush defenses in the nation in that stretch (Alabama, LSU and Georgia), but the Gators also struggled against Auburn (85th in run defense). This week's opponent is Vanderbilt, which is 35th in run defense and has held half of its eight opponents to fewer than 100 rushing yards.

NUMBERS GAME: A lot of streaks are on the line for Florida going into Saturday's homecoming game against Vanderbilt. The Gators have lost four consecutive league games and haven't lost five in a row since 1979. A loss to the Commodores would guarantee that Florida finishes below .500 in SEC play for the first since 1986. The Gators haven't lost a homecoming game since 1988. And the Gators own a 22-game winning streak over Vandy. In addition, a loss would put the Gators in real danger of not going to a bowl for the first time since 1990; Florida's current streak of 21 consecutive bowls is the second-longest in the nation. A loss also would put the Gators in real danger of ending their streak of 20 consecutive winning seasons; that's the second-longest such streak in the nation, behind Florida State's 29.

[Video: Upset watch: Michigan could be in trouble against Iowa]

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

"It's hard to think about birthdays. You know, the players had a little birthday party and they all signed this jersey - No. 60, with my name on the back. I held that thing up and I said, 'Saban and 60?' First of all, I wasn't thinking about age. I was thinking about, 'I'm a skill player. There's no way I can sport this 60. I have got to have a [number] lower than 50.' " - Alabama coach Nick Saban, who turned 60 on Monday

"I want our guys to play with emotion and passion. Frankly, I don't know how high 'too jacked up' is." - LSU coach Les Miles, on whether he is worried that his players might be too jacked up Saturday

"Well, I don't know what the result would have been if I didn't start him. If I knew the result was we would have won the game, then, yeah it was a terrible decision. If the result was going to be the same, I don't know. If we would have gotten blown out [without him], then it was a good call. I don't know what the answer is. But I can't look back now. I guess only time will answer that question." - Tennessee coach Derek Dooley, on whether he made the right decision to start true freshman QB Justin Worley last week

"Nobody wants to be in this position. Coming into the first week in November, we didn't think we would be where we are. We hate that." - Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt, whose team is winless in SEC play

"It's the same thing we've been doing since we arrived on campus and you guys have heard me say it before. We're just going to keep pounding them with the same, consistent, positive message over and over again, and that's not going to change. I think consistency with young men is very, very important." - Vanderbilt coach James Franklin, on how to teach a team how to finish games

"I think the coaches needed a nice weekend. I watched football all weekend minus a soccer game, and here is how it went. Friday night, I went to high school football. I watched three prospects: Kragthorpe, Cooper and Miles. It was the [Baton Rouge] University High Cubs game. I hope this is not an NCAA violation, but I noticed Kragthorpe to Miles, and I feel that this is a good tendency. On Saturday morning, I watched Ben, my 13-year-old, a dominant youth football player by all accounts." - LSU's Miles, joking with reporters when asked what he did last weekend when LSU was off

POLL WATCH: The SEC has six teams in the top 25in the BCS standings, including four in the top nine: LSU at No. 1, Alabama at No. 2, Arkansas at No. 7 and South Carolina at No. 9.

ETC.: Georgia will be without its top four tailbacks Saturday against New Mexico State. No.2 TB Richard Samuel had surgery earlier this week to repair knee damage suffered on his final carry in last week's win over Florida and seems likely to miss the rest of the regular season. Starter Isaiah Crowell and backups Carlton Thomas and Ken Malcome were suspended for the game for a violation of team rules. Sophomore Brandon Harton, a former walk-on who is 5 feet 6 and has played in one game in his career (earlier this season in mop-up duty against Charleston Southern), seems likely to get the start. He is a cousin of former Georgia TB Washaun Ealey, who transferred in May to Jacksonville State. ... Tennessee starting SS Brent Brewer will miss the rest of the season after suffering a torn ACL in last week's loss to South Carolina. True freshman FS Brian Randolph will move to strong safety and CB Prentiss Waggner will move to free safety, opening a starting spot at corner for either junior Marsalis Teague or freshman Justin Coleman. ... Kentucky could be without four starters against Ole Miss because of injuries: TB CoShik Williams, DT Donte Rumph, WR La'Rod King and QB Morgan Newton. True freshman QB Maxwell Smith, who played the majority of last week's loss to Mississippi State, likely will get the start instead of Newton. ... Mississippi State has won nine consecutive non-conference games going into Saturday's matchup with FCS program UT Martin. ... Ole Miss K Bryson Rose has made 15 consecutive field-goal attempts, three shy of the SEC record held by former Tennessee K Fuad Reviez in 1984.

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Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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