SEC Preview, Week 3: Hogs and Dogs face off in pivotal SEC game

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 54 views 

story by Chris Rushing, College Sports Matchups (CSM is a content partner with The City Wire)
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The Southeastern Conference will stick to a Saturday lineup this weekend, passing the Thursday night spotlight to the Atlantic Coast Conference and Big East. That leaves Saturday as a day full of drama and high-octane matchups to line the SEC’s docket.

Mississippi State (1-1) will look to avoid an 0-2 start in league play when it travels to Baton Rouge to take on LSU (2-0, 1-0 SEC). Auburn (2-0, 1-0) will host ESPN’s GameDay traveling crew as well as the Clemson Tigers (2-0) in a renewal of an old rivalry. Alabama (2-0) takes its No. 1 ranking on the road for the first time this season when the Tide tangles with Duke (1-1) in Durham.

However, none of those matchups are as important to the SEC championship race as the matchup between No. 13 Arkansas (2-0) and unranked Georgia (1-1, 0-1) Between the Hedges at 12 p.m. EST. The Hogs are looking to prove their mettle as a top-15 (and possibly top-10) squad while the Bulldogs look to avoid their first 0-2 start to SEC play under beleaguered coach Mark Richt.

Last year, these two teams matched score-for-score throughout the first three quarters before Georgia finally eked out a 52-41 victory in Fayetteville. Many Razorback players feel as though this was the turning point in the 2009 season that prevented UA from reaching its championship goals in year 2 of the Bobby Petrino era.

A much more confident group of Arkansas players will take the field this weekend than the group Georgia faced off against in Fayetteville last September. Meanwhile, the vultures are beginning to circle in Athens as Georgia looked dismal at most points during last week’s 17-6 loss at South Carolina.

Every league outing is a must-win in this highly-competitive league, but it will be difficult to find another matchup that means more to the two participants than this one. Can the Hog defense keep up its stellar showing through the first two contests (5 points per game allowed), or will UGA’s freshman quarterback Aaron Murray be able to put up big numbers against a secondary that was porous in 2009?

If Ryan Mallett wants to win the Heisman, he will need to exploit a Georgia defense still very much in transition much like Marcus Lattimore a week ago.

The gut says Arkansas, but the one stat that keeps coming up is Mallett’s winless record as a starting signal caller in SEC road games.

Call it now: Arkansas 31, Georgia 24

• Vanderbilt at Ole Miss (Oxford, Miss., 11:21 a.m. CT, SEC-Network)
In the conference opener for both schools, there’s several questions and doubts circling both teams’ confidence levels coming into this weekend’s showdown. Ole Miss has not appeared solid in either contest so far, but the Rebels have one win more than their counterpart in the Commodores.

As a intra-divisional permanent opponent pairing, UM and VU have faced off annually and had some highly-competitive meetings in the recent past. In Vandy’s last trip to Oxford, the ‘Dores forced six turnovers and escaped Vaught-Hemingway with a 1-0 mark in SEC play. For Robbie Caldwell and Co. to pull off a similar feat, it may take another six turnover performance from the Mississippi offense.

Then again, Ole Miss hasn’t won a league opener since 2003. Something tells me, with Jeremiah Masoli running the Rebel offense, that streak ends this weekend.

Call it now: Ole Miss 27, Vanderbilt 10

• No. 7 Florida at Tennessee (Knoxville, Tenn., 3:30 p.m. EST, CBS)
The Gators and Vols will once again face off in September’s third weekend with Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson making their 2010 college football debuts in CBS’ first SEC telecast of the season.

Florida has slipped in the national rankings each of the past two weekends due to underwhelming (by UF standards) showings against Miami (OH) and South Florida. When you’re scoring in the 30s every outing and limiting every opponent to the teens, it’s hard to believe that your performances are full of outside criticism. No wonder Urban Meyer looks sicker than he lets on.

The Vols have their biggest critic in first-year head coach Derek Dooley, but UT did have an opportunity to win its game against No. 6 Oregon before imploding in the third quarter. Everyone knew that the road back to the top would be rocky for Tennessee, but that hasn’t kept Dooley from expecting more out of his injury-riddled and numbers-limited depth charts.

Matt Simms cannot make any mistakes such as his back-breaking pick-six last week in the Oregon loss to keep his team in the game. Florida hasn’t shown an ability to put opponents away early, and a road game may not afford Meyer’s team many opportunities to gain an easy win.

Call it now: Florida 27, Tennessee 9

• No. 1 Alabama at Duke (Durham, N.C., 3:30 p.m. EST, ABC)
They’ve added nearly 4,000 seats to Wallace Wade Stadium in anticipation of Alabama’s first true non-conference road trip since 2003, and a record crowd is expecting a fun afternoon and atmosphere in David Cutcliffe’s first shot at a No. 1-ranked opponent as the Duke head coach.

You wouldn’t expect these two schools to have much in common concerning their respective football programs, but the Blue Devils and Crimson Tide do share Wallace Wade in their histories, as evidenced by the Duke stadium’s namesake.

Alabama has yet to give up a touchdown this season, and I don’t think Saturday will put an end to that streak.

Call it now: Alabama 30, Duke 3

• Clemson at No. 15 Auburn (Auburn, Ala., 6 p.m. CT, ESPN)
ESPN’s College GameDay program will originate from the Loveliest Village on the Plains this weekend, prompting Clemson coach Dabo Swinney to proclaim the Worldwide Network must have “had slim pickings out there” when asked about the network’s decision to profile the AU-CU meeting.

I can’t say I disagree with Swinney, but Auburn will do its best to make ESPN feel at home as the SEC Tigers are in the middle of (at-least) a three-game streak of appearing on Mickey Mouse’s sports leader. With last week’s Thursday night victory at MSU and next week’s showdown with South Carolina already announced as night games for ESPN, this weekend’s renewed rivalry tilt will be simulcast on ESPN3D – the SEC’s first 3D telecast.

Is Auburn worthy of its No. 15 ranking? The jury is still out in my book, but I’m not sure there are any other teams behind it in the rankings that are any more deserving of such a high rating, either. If AU can receive more performances from the defense as it did in Starkville, the 10-win plateau is not unreachable (if not surpass able) for Gene Chizik’s squad in 2010.

Cam Newton will present a major challenge to a largely untested Clemson defense, but the game likely rests on Kyle Parker’s ability to direct the CU offense to more scoring drives than the host Tigers. Both defenses pride themselves on their ability to stop the run, so the signal callers should determine the outcome in what could be a very entertaining night of football in Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Auburn has won 11-straight in the series dating back to the early years of last century. The last meeting was the only overtime game in Chick-fil-A Bowl History following the 2007 season. Will AU make it 12-straight in this first game of a home-and-home agreement?

Call it now: Auburn 38, Clemson 28

• Furman at No. 16 South Carolina (Columbia, S.C., 7 p.m., PPV)
Want to avoid a major let-down after a huge win? South Carolina has just the remedy in scheduling a lower-level Football Championship Subdivision school to fine-tune as well as avoid a Georgia win hangover when the Gamecocks take on the Paladins of Furman Saturday night.

I’m sure USC will look sloppy at times, and it’s possible that the margin of victory may not appease all Gamecock fans. However, all that matters is improving to 3-0 before going on the road for the first time next week at Auburn.

Call it now: South Carolina 33, Furman 3

• Akron at Kentucky (Lexington, Ky., 6 p.m. CT, FoxSportsSouth)
Things have gone very well for Joker Phillips in his debut season, and there’s nothing to think that they won’t continue on a positive path following Saturday’s meeting with Akron.

The Wildcats’ goals this week are to avoid injuries, to get a third W and to wrap up all other preparations for the SEC opener at Florida next weekend.

Call it now: Kentucky 28, Akron 13

• Mississippi State at No. 12 LSU (Baton Rouge, La., 6 p.m. CT, ESPNU)
Many Mississippi State fans are quick to point out that last year’s contest between these two teams came down to MSU’s failure to gain a foot on multiple tries to reach paydirt and secure a 32-30 victory over the Bayou Bengals in Davis-Wade Stadium.

As Nick Saban pointed out to us during SEC Media Days, you can take all the same ingredients from a season ago, but that doesn’t mean that you will get the same end result when you try to apply the previous recipe to this year. If a team has a hard time getting a foot at home against LSU, I can ensure that this feat becomes infinitely more difficult at night in Tiger Stadium.

Nothing about LSU’s first two victories screams that the Tigers are world-beaters by any stretch. If the Bulldogs get at least serviceable performances out of Chris Relf and Tyler Russell, an MSU victory is likely. However, there is a reason that Mississippi State has only beat LSU once since 1994 and that was 11 seasons ago.

Jordan Jefferson is a much different player in front of an purple and gold-clad crowd than when performing as the visiting quarterback. Look for Patrick Peterson to return a kick for a score as well as wreak havoc in the Bulldogs’ passing game.

Call it now: LSU 24, Mississippi State 10

Rushing’s predictions
Last week: 8-1
Season: 19-2