The SEC takes the main stage of college football this weekend when four of the top ten teams in the nation square off in great intra-conference matchups. No. 10 South Carolina travels to No. 8 Arkansas and the game of the year takes place in Tuscaloosa when No. 1 LSU plays No. 2 Alabama.
Georgia, Tennessee, and Mississippi State go out of conference to play New Mexico State, Middle Tennessee State, and Tennessee-Martin respectively.
Two of the SEC’s most down trodden teams play each other when Ole Miss travels toKentucky. While Vanderbilt looks to keep their bowl hopes alive inGainesville.
Auburn is on a bye this week.
No. 1 LSU versus No. 2 Alabama
Tagged as the game of the century, top ranked and undefeated LSU looks to take down divisional rival Alabama for the right to claim the top spot in the SEC West.
Not much hype is needed for this game as all college football fans are interested in the outcome of this game. The winner could end up in the BCS National Championship game and give the SEC a chance to extend their national title run to six straight years.
LSU and Alabama are mirror images of each other. Both teams are highlighted by the best defenses in the nation and play a run-first pass as needed offense. Bama is ranked number one in total defense limiting opponents to 180.50 points per game. LSU has the fourth ranked defense allowing 251.38.
The key to the game will be either team’s ability to score on the other team’s defense.
Offensively Alabama holds the edge by producing an average of 457.63 yards per game to LSU’s 372.13. The styles are similar; grind out tough yards with the running game and wear down the opposition’s defense front to control the second half.
Bama quarterback AJ McCarron leads the SEC in pass completion percentage with an average of 67 percent. Tiger’s quarterback Jarrett Lee is not far behind completing 63.2 percent of his passes. Bama averages 228.38 passing yards to LSU’s 183.13.
A methodical running attack sets up late game scoring opportunities for both teams. Either team can go three to four-deep with their rotation in the backfield. The Tide holds an advantage on paper here as well. They average 229.25 rushing yards per game to LSU’s 189.
With two teams so closely matched offensively and defensively the game could come down to special teams play. This is where LSU separates themselves from Alabama.
LSU averages 41.08 net yards per punt. The Tide averages 36.37. The difference of five yards per punt may not seem like much on paper. Over the course of the game five yards here and five yards there can make a major difference in field position and offensive play calling.
Both teams average 23 yards per kickoff return. LSU has a slight edge with one kickoff returned for a touchdown.
If the game comes down to field goals between Jeremy Shelly, Alabama, and Drew Alleman, LSU, the Tigers get the nod here as well.
Alleman has a long of 44 yards to Shelly’s 37. Both kickers have missed two field goals during the season including one missed attempt from 30-39 yards. Alleman’s other miss was an attempt over 50 yards. Miles must feel that Alleman has the range which could be important in a highly contested game like this one.
LSU is battle tested, Alabama not so much. The current BCS rankings show LSU has a strength of schedule rated ninth best in the nation. Bama’s ranking has them tied for 57th best in FBS. Five of the Tiger’s eight games have been against teams ranked at the time of their game.
Three teams onAlabama’s schedule have been ranked at the time of their game; Penn State, Arkansas, and Florida.
LSU has played three ranked teams on the road this season; Oregon, Mississippi State, and West Virginia. Tuscaloosa is an environment at night unlike any other place in college football but LSU should not be easily affected as other teams when visiting Bryant-Denny Stadium.
It is hard to pick against a Nick Saban coached team. Les Miles has a national championship trophy sitting on his mantle too. Saban just has one more than Les.
Last Year’s Outcome
LSU 24, Alabama 21
LSU has found a way to win all of their tough games this season, and win handily. Alabama may have the better coach and the home field advantage but…
Alabama 17, LSU 20
No. 10 South Carolina versus No. 8 Arkansas
Arkansas takes on their fourth ranked team in the past six games when the Gamecocks visit Reynolds Razorback Stadium on Saturday.
Based off preseason predictions both teams have struggled to meet expectations offensively and defensively this season despite their current rankings and matching 7-1 records.
In four of their past five games the Hogs have overcome double digits deficits before rallying to win. Included in those wins were sub-par performances against Ole Miss and Vanderbilt in their past two games.
South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier has had to overcome one difficult situation after another this season. Connor Shaw started the season under center for the Gamecocks only to be replaced by troubled senior Stephen Garcia in the second quarter of their first game. Garcia was dismissed from the team in week seven of the season for violation of team rules.
Shaw replaced Garcia as starting quarterback. Shaw was to count on the production of All-SEC running back Marcus Lattimore only to lose him at the end of that same week to an ACL injury suffered against Mississippi State.
Through shaky offenses, injuries, and poor defensive performances both teams are fighting for an opportunity to remain in contention for a SEC Conference Title Game appearance and a possible BCS bowl berth.
South Carolina had a bye week to prepare true freshman Brandon Wilds (Blythewood, South Carolina) for their first game without Lattimore. Wilds responded with 135 yards rushing on 28 attempts in a sluggish win over the Vols. Wilds also caught three passes for 31 yards.
Before his breakout performance against Tennessee, Wilds highest rushing totals had come against Kentucky when he rushed five times for 45 yards.
Connor Shaw has been inconsistent as the Gamecock starting quarterback. He threw for 311 yards against Kentucky but has regressed since then. Against MSU he only threw for 155 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. On the road against Tennessee he finished with 87 passing yards on 10 of 18 passing attempts.
The Hogs running game made a brief appearance for two games but took a big step back against the Commodores last week. Dennis Johnson was held to 52 yards rushing on nine attempts and was benched after fumbling the ball for the second straight game. Arkansas finished with 72-net rushing yards after quarterback Tyler Wilson was sacked three times for a loss of 21-yards.
South Carolina’s defense will get their first true test of the season against the Razorbacks. The Gamecocks defense has the sixth rated total defense in FBS but the Hogs have the ninth best passing attack in the nation.
Weakness on weakness pits Arkansas’ running game and USC’s rush defense. Can the Hogs take advantage?
The Razorbacks allowed two inferior opponents, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, to rack up 151 rushing yards and 222 yards respectively. The Hogs have to like that a true freshman is handling the ball for the Gamecocks. They have to hate that Wilds ran for 135 in his first game as a starter. They can only hope that the 28 carries last week wore him down some.
Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino has to be excited that he has made it through the most difficult part of his schedule to return home 7-1. Spurrier has to hate that his young team is Arkansas’ homecoming game.
The Razorbacks have been uninspired over their past two games but gain a spring in their step being home.
Hogs 28, South Carolina 17
Vanderbilt versus Florida
Starting the season who would have thought that this game would hold some relevance within the SEC East standings? 4-4 Vanderbilt travels to 4-4Floridawith the winner taking possession of third place in the SEC East.
Both teams have four conference losses and appear to be going in opposite directions. Vanderbilt has played well over their past four games. Florida has lost four in a row.
The winner takes a step closer to earning a bowl bid as the SEC seventh seed. The loser of this game may miss out on a bowl game.
Vanderbilt has a top line defense to go against Florida’s failing offense, ranked 94th in the nation. Georgia was able to hold Florida to 226 total yards last week. Running backs Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps were held to a combined 38 yards rushing in a losing effort to the Bulldogs.
Commodores quarterback Jordan Rodgers has slowly come along as a starting SEC quarterback. In his first two starts of the season he was less than spectacular throwing the ball against Georgia and Army.
Rodgers posted a quarterback rating of 17.7 against the Bulldogs and 43.1 against Army. In a heartbreaking loss to the Razorbacks, Rodgers finished the game with a 97.8 quarterback rating and had his first 200-yard passing game of the season.
James Franklin and Will Muschamp are first year head coaches with a lot at stake. Florida has their pride and reputation on the line. Vanderbilt has a young team with a successful future ahead of them.
Vanderbilt has found a way to keep games close but have not learned how to win yet. Look for Vanderbilt to keep the game close but lose another tight one in a tough environment.
Florida 24, Vanderbilt 21
Mississippi versus Kentucky
This game holds a dubious honor for the winner… they are not the worst team in the SEC.
Ole Miss, 2-6, has shown signs of life over the past two games. Their 2011 recruiting class has started to contribute and the Rebels are getting healthier.
Kentucky, 3-5, has not turned the corner on their season to date. The offense has been one of the worst statistically in FBS, ranked 118th out of 120. The answer to the Wildcat’s woes may have been on Joker Phillips’ bench all season long in true freshman Maxwell Smith (Granada Hills, California).
Smith replaced starting quarterback Morgan Newton in the first quarter after Newton sprained his ankle against Mississippi State last week. Smith responded with a 26 for 33 passing effort for 174 yards.
Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt is on the hot seat and really needs this win. Realistically the Rebels will not make a bowl game this year for the second year in a row. Nutt needs to finish strong winning games against Kentucky, Louisiana Tech, and Mississippi State. Should Nutt stumble against any three of those teams his days in Oxford may be over.
Kentucky has a slight advantage playing at home but Ole Miss is due for a win.
Ole Miss 36, Kentucky 24
New Mexico State versus No. 18 Georgia
If you have not heard Georgia could be in trouble this week. Chances areNew Mexico State does not have much of a chance against the Bulldogs butGeorgiais on upset alert.
Mark Richt suspended three of his top four running backs for violating team rules. Included in the suspensions is true freshman running back Isaiah Crowell. Crowell is fifth in the SEC in total rushing yards with 689 total yards. Top backup running back Richard Samuel suffered an ankle injury against Florida and may be lost for the season.
Georgia will count on two former walk-on running backs to provide the rushing attack for the Bulldogs this weekend.
Sophomore quarterback Aaron Murray should be able to provide enough offense for Georgia against the 3-5 Aggies. Credit is due to the Aggies who have played tough this season even if they have not played SEC caliber teams.
The Aggies have the 65th ranked defense in the nation allowing 228.25 total yards per game.Georgiahas the 56th ranked offense in the nation gaining 404 yards per game.
This game could be closer than people may realize or it could be a blowout if Murray and company choose to play with a decided edge. Either way, Georgia’s defense will need to come ready to play to help bail out the offense if needed.
Georgia 34, New Mexico State 17
Middle Tennessee State versus Tennessee
Tennessee catches a break in their schedule after a rough in-conference season when the Blue Raiders visit Neyland Stadium.
The youth movement is under way in Knoxville with sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray still out with a thumb injury. Senior quarterback Matt Simms started the first two games after Bray’s injury without much success against the two best teams in the nation, LSU and Alabama.
Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley then started true freshman Justin Worely (Rock Hill, South Carolina) against the Gamecocks, also with limited success. Worley finished the game completing 10 passes out of 26 attempts for 105 yards, looking like a true freshman starting for the first time.
Worely was not the only Vols freshman to get a start against the Gamecocks. Offensive guard Marcus Jackson (Vero Beach,Florida), safety Byron Moore (Harbor City,California), and defensive tackle Maurice Couch (Orlando,Florida) all got their first starts last week.
The Blue Raiders have played better in non-conference games this season than within the Sun Belt Conference. MTSU hung tough with Purdue only losing by three and beat lowlyMemphis38-31.
Tennesseecompletes their non-conference schedule against MTSU needing this win for a chance to become bowl eligible.Tennessee’s three remaining games are on the road against No. 8 Arkansas, versus Vanderbilt, and atKentucky. Winning three of their last four games would put the Vols at 6-6 and in their third straight bowl game.
Tennesseehas been worn down come the fourth quarter against SEC defenses. Dooley should be able to win one at home and get continued playing time for next year’s team.
Tennessee17, MTSU 13
Tennessee-Martin versus Mississippi State
A disappointing year for the Bulldogs can take another positive step forward with a non-conference win against Tennessee Martin on Saturday.
MSU is 4-4 on the season with two tough games remaining against Alabama and Arkansas. For the Bulldogs to become bowl eligible they need to beat the Skyhawks and in-state rival Mississippi to ensure their second straight bowl game appearance.
Last week against Kentucky the Bulldogs found balance with their tandem quarterback rotation. Senior Chris Relf has become the running quarterback and sophomore Tyler Russell the passing quarterback. Together the two quarterbacks combined for 264 yards passing with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Relf added two rushing touchdowns.
Tennessee-Martin is a Football Champion Subdivision team.
Look for Mississippi State to run away with this one in a much needed confidence building game.
Mississippi State 38, Tennessee Martin 24
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