SEC Game of the Week 9/29/07

Bowling Anyone?
Mississippi State at South Carolina

September 24, 2007
By Bob Epling

Legend says it once was practiced as a symbolic casting out of demons.

No, not Jackie Sherrill castrating a bull in Starkville; Martin Luther bowling in Germany.

That’s right, Martin Luther, the father of Protestantism, inspirer of the Reformation, liked bowling.

Seems the aisle separating church pews made a nice lane. Church members would roll a ball down the aisle and knock down wooden pins. An accurate toss smashed and scattered the pins, symbolically casting devilish spirits from the sanctuary.

Kind of similar to SEC fans hurling whiskey bottles at a visiting Steve Spurrier as he leaves the stadium.

Oh, just kidding. Save the emails. I know Jackie Sherrill and Steve Spurrier should never be mentioned in the same article with Martin Luther.

Anyway, we are talking about modern bowling – college football style – and both the teams in our SEC game of the week need to cast out some demons on that subject.

South Carolina won the whopping total of one bowl game in the 20th century (the famous Carquest Bowl victory over West Virginia in 1995 – you remember don’t you?).

The Gamecocks have won three since 2000, in locations as exotic as Jacksonville, Memphis, and Shreveport. Hey, I love those cities, but you must admit it’s not quite the same as Bourbon Street, Pasadena, or South Beach.

In sum, South Carolina is 4-9 in bowl games, highlighted by Outback-to-Outback bowl victories over Ohio State in 2001 and 2002 with Lou Holtz at the helm.

Mississippi State has fared slightly better.

The Bulldogs went 5-6 in bowls in the 20th century, but boast a couple of Orange Bowl appearances. Remember the tough 13-12 loss to Dusquesne in 1937? No … well, certainly the 1941 14-7 win over Georgetown still rings a cowbell for you.

Altogether, State is 6-6 in bowls.

MSU’s last bowl appearance, a 43-41 Independence Bowl thriller over Texas A&M in 2000, was probably the school’s most memorable. That game was played in snow up to Jackie Sherrill’s Newberry knife, and the white State uniforms blended in so well with the blizzard that Jackie should have pulled the hidden ball trick.

Oh, maybe that’s what he was trying with the bull.

The 2007 bowling aspirations of these teams is – to quote one of my favorite college professors – exactly the same only a little bit different.

Steve Spurrier hopes to win the SEC East and play for a BCS bid.

Sylvester Croom hopes to win three more games and be bowl bid eligible.

For Spurrier, the Gamecocks probably need to win out against a schedule that includes road games at Tennessee and Arkansas, and home games with State, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and Florida. Unlikely, though not impossible.

For Croom, home games with UAB and arch-rival Ole Miss represent the two most likely victory opportunities. That leaves State needing one more from a list that includes trips to Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Arkansas, and other home dates with Tennessee and Alabama. Tough to see many wins on that schedule, but finding three total is not impossible.

This game features two of the stouter defenses in the league, so expect points to be at a premium.

State’s rushing game has come on with Anthony Dixon and Christian Ducre carrying the load. Based on his first name, Duchre particularly would seem to be in line for a nice game in a contest with bowling implications.

Get it?

Carolina could not run the ball at all against LSU last week, but who has? Spurrier has anointed Chris Smelley to start at QB over Blake Mitchell and we’ll see if the head ball coach decides to air it out.

Both coaches are the sons of preachers, so neither should have an advantage with the man upstairs.

Wonder if either bowls?

Enjoy the game.

Game Ball: South Carolina

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Quote: “Our guys hung in there and kept playing … regardless of (how) hopeless it looked there for a while.” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier after losing to LSU.

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Professor’s Picks for September 29

The SEC Report
By Bob Epling

Only Larry Munson could have made it more exciting.

In a finish sure that surely would have evoked a memorable moment from Larry legend, the Georgia Bulldogs (for whom Munson has been a beloved announcer since 1966) stemmed the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa with a thrilling 26-23 win in overtime.

Munson’s health is limiting his work almost exclusively to home games this season, and he missed a doozy.

Bama overcame a 10 point fourth-quarter deficit for the second week in a row then settled for a field goal on the first overtime possession. Georgia wasted no time in the OT; on the Dogs’ first play QB Matthew Stafford lofted a perfect 25 yard TD rainbow to Mikey Henderson for the win.

Georgia was one of four SEC East teams taking on Western foes, and for the most part the East was a beast, winning three of the four inter-division showdowns. The travel reverses this week with three Western teams trekking East across the mighty Mississippi for conference games, and Alabama doing the same for a matchup with Florida State in Jacksonville.

Let’s look at our latest GDW power ratings.

See you at kickoff!

1. LSU … Bengal Tigers chewed up the head ball coach with speed and trick plays … Tulane in the Big Easy is next.

2. Florida … Tim Tebow may be Heisman material and Gators seek revenge against Auburn.

3. Kentucky … Comeback Cats did it again at Arkansas. That’s 10 wins in past 11 games as UK hosts Florida Atlantic.

4. Georgia … Dawgs emerged from SabaNation with overtime win and take on Ole Miss.

5. South Carolina … not good enough to beat LSU, but Gamecocks still in race.

6. Alabama … Crimson Tide must recover from UGA loss when they face FSU and Bobby Bowden, the man who should have been (and wanted to be) Tide coach twenty years ago.

7. Mississippi State … We like the running game, but can young quarterbacks hold up in Columbia?

8. Arkansas … second straight fourth-quarter failure damages Hogs ratings.

9. Tennessee … Vols get week off to prepare for Georgia; offense is fine, but defense needs work.

10. Ole Miss … Rebs gave Gators a battle, now travel between the hedges.

11. Auburn … Tigers cannot afford another slow start against a team like Florida.

12. Vandy … A week off costs the Commodores in our poll, beating E. Michigan this week won’t help much.

Pigskin Picks (2007 Record: 28-7; 5-2 last week)

Alabama vs. Florida State (5:00 CBS)
A rare SEC-ACC battle in the middle of the season. Alabama nearly pulled off another come from behind win, but fell to Georgia in OT. The offense played well late after a sporadic first three quarters. FSU had a week off to prepare for the Tide and this is one Bobby Bowden would love to win. He wanted (and thought he would get) the Bama job when Bill Curry was hired in 1986. A nice game between two upper tier conference teams struggling to reach the top. Slight edge to Bama.
Game Ball: Alabama

North Texas at Arkansas (7:00)
Arkansas let another SEC game slip away, losing at home 42-29 to Kentucky. The Hogs dominated the first half of the game (outgaining UK 373-171) but led only 20-14 at intermission after third-string TB Michael Smith fumbled in Kentucky territory and Wildcat DB Trevard Lindley returned 66 yards for a TD with just 26 seconds left. The Razorbacks’ dynamic duo of Darren McFadden (173) and Felix Jones (123) both went over the century mark rushing again (and Jones added an 82 yard kickoff return for a TD), but both also missed stretches of the second half with injuries. The Mean Green should be a fairly easy mark with a 0-3 record that includes a blowout loss to Oklahoma (79-10).
Game Ball: Arkansas

Auburn at Florida (8:00 ESPN)
Tim Tebow does everything for Florida but play in the marching band, and I thought he was carrying a tuba at practice last week. He certainly carried the Gators over Ole Miss, running for a school-record 166 yards and accounting for over 400 yards of total offense. With the game on the line, Tebow made several time-consuming bull rushes to keep the clock moving and the ball away from the resolute Rebels. It was a Heisman-worthy performance. Auburn lacks any such magic right now. The Tigers beat an average New Mexico State team 55-20 by pounding them on the ground, but the score is misleading. Running backs Ben Tate (112) and Mario Fannin (103) each gained over 100 yards rushing, and QB Brandon Cox came off the bench for starter Kodi Burns to pass for 125 yards and one TD to help break open what had been a 21-20 halftime lead. Expect Florida to play much better, and to avenge last season’s lone loss in convincing fashion.
Game Ball: Florida

Ole Miss at Georgia (1:00)
An old-fashioned afternoon kickoff with no TV timeouts (the game will not be carried). This should be a good one. The Dogs got themselves back into SEC East contention with a big OT win at Alabama. Sophomore QB Matthew Stafford has the league’s best arm, but is sometimes erratic. He passed for 224 yards and 2 TDs to go along with 2 INTs. Georgia has a young offensive line (3 freshmen started against Bama), so inconsistency plagues them, but running backs Knowshon Moreno and Thomas Brown are excellent. The Rebels have lost three straight, but they are gritty and I like them. QB Seth Adams passed for 301 yards against Florida, and the Rebs consistently moved the ball before sputtering in the red zone and settling for field goals. They will need touchdowns to beat Georgia between the hedges, but it would not be a shock if they do. A little too much momentum for Dogs right now though.
Game Ball: Georgia

Florida Atlantic at Kentucky (1:00)
Kentucky is the league’s hottest team after the Big 2 of Florida and LSU. The Cats won another come-from-behind thriller, this time ripping the Razorbacks of Arkansas 42-29. QB Andre Woodson overshadowed another Heisman rival for the second straight week by leading his team to victory (last week it was Brian Brohm of Louisville this time Darren McFadden of Arkansas). Woodson started slowly, but finished with 265 yards and he broke the NCAA record for consecutive passes without an interception (his streak is now at 296). The Cats face a tough non-conference opponent in the red-hot Owls of FAU. Howard Schnellenberger’s birds beat North Texas one week after a huge win over Minnesota of the Big Ten. FAU is 3-1 and led by QB Rusty Smith who passed for 322 yards in the win at North Texas. Could be close, but Cats are on a roll.
Game Ball: Kentucky

LSU at Tulane (12:00 ESPN2)
The Bengal Tigers may take it easy on their Bayou brethren. That might be the only way the game stays competitive. Cats tune up for Florida showdown by washing away the Green Wave.
Game Ball: LSU

Mississippi State at South Carolina (12:30 LFS)
See SEC Game of the Week article.
Game Ball: South Carolina

Eastern Michigan at Vanderbilt (7:00)
The Commodores are 2-1 coming off a bye week. Vandy beat Ole Miss 31-17 two weeks ago in a game many expected them to lose (including yours truly). Bobby Johnson’s boys have plenty of offensive firepower, including All-American WR Earl Bennett, and need this win for future bowl opportunities because the schedule is about to get brutal (Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina are next three games). The Eagles from Ypsilanti evened their season record at 2-2 with a 38-15 win over Howard. QB Andy Schmitt passed for 4 TDs. Expect the Commodores to ground the Eagles in Nashville.
Game Ball: Vanderbilt

SEC Game of the Week Four

A Rising Tide
Georgia at Alabama
September 17, 2007
By Bob Epling

A rising tide lifts all boats?

Tell it to the folks clinging to a dinghy in Auburn.

Sell it to football followers holding on to rafts in Oxford, Starkville, and Fayetteville.

No, rather than lifting anybody up, the Tide rising from Tuscaloosa seems more likely to wash over the rest of the SEC West, leaving nothing but Crimson and Cream in its wake.

Only a big, surly pack of Bengal Tigers way down in Louisiana appears on safe ground right now, and LSU will venture north to try and stem the Tide soon enough.

In the first tangible returns from a $32 million investment in new coach Nick Saban, Alabama fans gleefully celebrated a come-from-ahead then come-from-behind 41-38 victory over defending division champ Arkansas Saturday night at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.

As we went to press, there was no word on whether Alabama trustees had yet decided to add Saint Nick’s name to the gridiron edifice.

The Tide rolled to 21-0 and 31-10 leads, lagged as Arkansas scored touchdowns on four straight possessions to claim a late 38-31 lead, then recovered to score 10 points in the last five minutes for the win. QB John Parker Wilson hit WR Matt Caddell with the game-winner from 4 yards out with eight seconds on the clock.

More than just a win, the game suggests an eventual turning of the tide in the SEC.

The league’s flagship program for many of the SEC’s 75 years, Alabama football has been more ripple than riptide for the past decade and a half. Florida has won two national titles since Alabama last won one in 1992. Tennessee has one. LSU added another (with Saban at the helm).

Even the school Bama fans consider the cow college from the Plains was robbed of a chance at a title, and Auburn has not been hesitant to crow about the five straight Tiger wins in the rivalry.

Saban’s arrival figured to reestablish Alabama as a league power in time, and the transition looks to be happening sooner than later.

Auburn has been fortunate to lose only two of three games. The flop against Mississippi State last weekend was particularly ugly. Arkansas essentially trails the Tide by two games after the tough loss in Tuscaloosa. Ole Miss and Mississippi State could be spoilers but not contenders.

That leaves only LSU in the division. Mark November 3rd as the day the west will be won.

First things first. This week Georgia comes to the Capstone.

The young Dogs, more Bullpups than Bulldogs along the offensive front, opened the season with what seemed a solid win over Oklahoma State (the subsequent collapse of the Cowboys has lessened the significance of the victory).

They followed with a disappointing 16-12 loss at home to South Carolina. In that game, Georgia failed to score a touchdown for the first time since 2001. A 45-16 win over Western Carolina last week looks impressive, but the Dogs were inconsistent before pulling away in the second half.

Offensively, Georgia struggles on the offensive line with two, and sometimes three, freshmen playing. In time they will grow up, but envisioning true freshman Trinton Sturdivant facing off with senior Tide DE Wallace Gilberry brings no comfort to Dog fans.

Defensively, lackluster linebacker play sometimes causes outstanding overall team speed to be discounted, and a complete failure to stop the South Carolina running game late in the fourth quarter doomed the Dogs in their SEC opener.

While Alabama is the SEC’s all-time winningest program, Georgia has the conference’s best record the past ten years (98-31), with three trips to the SEC title game in the last five seasons.

Mark Richt is a cool counterpart to the combustible Saban, and his teams reflect that demeanor on the field, sporting a stellar 23-4 record in opponent’s home stadiums since he arrived in 2001.

Another factor favoring the Dogs might be the forecast … it could certainly be cloudy and overconfident in T-Town.

Georgia will not be rolled over. But, the Tide should continue to rise.

Better grab a life jacket.

Game Ball: Alabama

bobepling@yahoo.com

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Quote: “If you are going to have great wins, you are going to have great adversity.” Alabama coach Nick Saban after his team’s thrilling 41-38 comeback victory over Arkansas.

Professor’s Picks for SEC Week 4

The SEC Report
By Bob Epling

The ground may still be shaking in Tuscaloosa.

Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide lost a 31-10 lead against Arkansas, then rolled back for a last-second 41-38 win. Saban was last seen being carried toward Montgomery to be installed as Governor.

The only person in the SEC matching Saban for popularity among his fans is Florida coach Urban Meyer. The Gators crushed Tennessee in the year’s most impressive outing.

It was a great week for LSU fans.

The Tigers won again (a shutout of course), and Michigan also won, meaning the “Les Miles to Michigan” stories may slow a bit. For a week.

Let’s look at our power ratings after 3 weeks of conference play as published in Game Day Weekly … and remember our poll changes based on results, not just when somebody loses.

See you at kickoff!

1A. LSU … Just three weeks until mammoth showdown with Florida, but don’t overlook the Roosters.

1B. Florida … After that dismantling of Tennessee, you cannot rank the Gators less than Number 1.

3. Alabama … If Tide gets past Dogs, an 8-0 record for late-season showdown with LSU is realistic.

4. South Carolina … defense will have to carry Gamecocks down on the bayou.

5. Kentucky … Big Blue whipped Louisville and now has to handle Hogs.

6. Arkansas … The Hogs made a great comeback in a hostile environment in loss to Tide. They must regroup against UK.

7. Georgia … Dogs need to grow up quick because Capstone will be electric this week.

8. Mississippi State … Croom’s Bullies should move to be 3-1. Who would’ve thunk it?

9. Vanderbilt … Plenty of offensive weapons for Dores. WR Earl Bennett is one of the best.

10. Tennessee … Vols have given up 52.5 points per game in losses to Cal and Florida.

11. Auburn … Tigers are 1-2 with difficult part of schedule still ahead.

12. Ole Miss … Didn’t you expect more from Rebs against Vanderbilt?

Pigskin Picks (2007 Record: 23-5; 6-2 last week)

Georgia at Alabama (7:45 ESPN)
See SEC Game of the Week.
Game Ball: Alabama

Kentucky at Arkansas (6:00 ESPN2)
These two come off emotional games, a win for Kentucky and loss for Arkansas. UK beat in-state rival and Top 10 Louisville 40-34 in the Battle of the Bluegrass. QB Andre Woodson finished 30 of 44 for 275 yards and 3 TDs, and has now thrown an SEC-record 257 passes without an interception, just 14 short of the NCAA record held by Trent Dilfer. Arkansas must recover after a devastating loss at Alabama. The Hogs rushed for 301 yards and overcame a 31-10 third-quarter deficit to take a late lead, before allowing a Tide TD with 8 seconds left. Ouch. This could be another scoreboard scorcher. Let’s go with Hogs rushing attack to outscore Wildcats’ passing game.
Game Ball: Arkansas

New Mexico State at Auburn (7:00)
Auburn’s had as bad a month as Britney Spears. The Tigers lost to Miss State 19-14 and sowed the seeds of a quarterback controversy by benching struggling QB Brandon Cox after two early interceptions. Freshman Kodi Burns provided a small boost running an option-style attack, but when State adjusted after halftime, Cox finished the game. He got the Tigers inside the 10 in the last minute but his fourth-down pass fell incomplete. The pass-happy Aggies from the land of enchantment are 2-1 and led by former Kentucky coach Hal Mumme. QB Chase Holbrook is top-notch, averaging over 300 yards passing per game with 11 TD passes on the year. No gimme for Tub’s Tigers.
Game Ball: Auburn

Florida at Ole Miss (12:30 LFS)
Can anybody slow down the mighty Gators? Florida crushed Tennessee last week by a 59-20 rout. QB Tim Tebow passed for 299 yards, rushed for 61 more, and accounted for 4 TDs as the defending national champs showed few weaknesses. Big plays were the norm, and included Brandon James’ 83 yard punt return for a TD and a big fumble recovery return for a TD by LB Dustin Doe. Ole Miss disappointed in a 31-17 loss to Vandy. The Rebels could not block the Commodores up front, allowing 6 sacks and grinding out just 54 yards on the ground. Ole Miss fans better enjoy the scenery at the Grove because not much else figures to be pretty about this one.
Game Ball: Florida

South Carolina at LSU (3:30 CBS)
This battle on the bayou should be fun. LSU’s defense is stingier than Jack Benny, allowing only seven points through three games. The Tigers pounded Middle Tennessee 44-0; this is the same Blue Raider team that gashed Louisville for 42 points. Starting QB Matt Flynn was held out of the game to rest a sprained ankle, but backup Ryan Perrilloux was more than adequate, passing for 298 yards and rushing for 37 more. The Gamecocks come into the game undefeated, but less impressive. Carolina struggled throwing the ball against SC State, but both Cory Boyd (132) and Mike Davis (102) went over the century mark rushing. SC’s defense will have to hold up against all those LSU weapons for the Roosters to have a chance. Might be closer than you expect.
Game Ball: LSU

Gardner Webb at Mississippi State (7:00)
Keep Michael Vick out of Starkville because there is going to be a dog fight. Sylvester Croom won a second straight game in his home state of Alabama when the MSU Bulldogs handled Auburn 19-14 to move to 2-1 on the season. State jumped out to an early 13-0 lead then held on as the Tigers last-second drive ended in the shadow of the Bulldog goal line. The State rushing attack was impressive as Anthony Dixon gained 103 yards and Christian Ducre added 63 more. Starting QB Michael Henig broke his throwing hand in the game. State will have to handle the battling Bulldogs from Boiling Springs, NC, as Gardner Webb arrives at the Junction with a 1-1 mark. GW held Jacksonville to only 12 yards rushing last week, while Bulldog RB David Montgomery gobbled up 145 yards on the ground. MSU should win, but Croom’s canines are not good enough to overlook anybody.
Game Ball: Miss State

Arkansas State at Tennessee (7:00)
The Big Orange is seeing blue after getting thrashed 59-20 on the road by Florida. The Vols better recover quickly however, because a roving band of Indians from Jonesboro is on the way to Rocky Top. UT battled Florida into the third-quarter but big plays by the Gators squashed any chance of victory. QB Erik Ainge passed for 249 yards with one TD and one INT, but the no-huddle attack never controlled the game as planned. ASU will be no cupcake for UT. They lost 21-13 at Texas to open the season, and jumped all over SMU on the way to a 45-28 win this past weekend. A pair of sophomores leads the balanced Indian attack; QB Corey Leonard passed for 266 yards and 2 TDs against SMU, while TB Reggie Arnold added 156 yards on the ground. May be a struggle.
Game Ball: Tennessee

SEC Game of the Week

Nobody’s Perfect
Tennessee at Florida

September 10, 2007
By Bob Epling

Urban Meyer is a perfect fit for Florida.

Sharp looking fellow, youthful enough to attract prep football stars wanting in on the ground floor of a dynasty, but experienced enough to make sure all those high school heroes know who is in charge.

Perfectly confident, too.

Just enough swagger to remind alums of that fellow who used to coach Florida … what’s him name – Steve somebody? But, enough humility to pay homage to the great Spurrier and avoid acting as if Florida football was invented about the time Meyer brought the spread option to the Sunshine state.

Results? You guessed it, another perfect fit at Championship U.

By leading the Gators to a BCS title in his second year, Meyer capped a never-been-done run of major sport perfection at Florida, the football Gators wedging their title between back to back basketball championships.

So, a glamour coach at a glamour school in a state saturated with glamour players. Perfect.

Now, can the football Gators make it two titles in row?

Surely, nobody’s that perfect.

The defending national champions face their first test of 2007 when the Gators welcome Tennessee to the Swamp, and the teams opened the season with vastly different schedules.

Florida is 2-0 after beating Western Carolina and Troy. The Gators had been almost perfect until halftime of last week.

Florida walloped the WCU Catamounts 49-3 to open the season, and led the Trojans by the same score this past Saturday. At halftime.

Then, like a wrinkle line suddenly appearing on Heather Locklear’s face, perfection changed to simply very good. Troy outscored the young Gators 28-10 in the second half to make a decent game out of what had been just one more scrimmage to tune up for SEC play.

Still, this offense is easy on the eyes.

Sophomore QB Tim Tebow runs like a bull, and has passed for more than 500 yards in two games. Receivers, particularly Percy Harvin, regularly produce dazzling runs and catches. The Gators operate the spread option attack, the great equalizer across the nation this season (see Appalachian State-Michigan), better than anybody outside Morgantown.

So far, they have been able to outscore overmatched opponents and let a young defense try to grow up.

Traveling down from Rocky Top, Tennessee is 1-1 against much more difficult opposition.

The Volunteers went west to open the season and got ambushed 45-31 by the Cal Golden Bears. The offense played well, but the defense could not slow Cal’s speedy wide receivers, an ominous omen for a matchup with Florida.

UT followed up the loss up with a solid victory over Conference-USA stalwart Southern Miss, winning 39-19. Senior QB Erik Ainge came up big with 276 yards passing, and running back Arian Foster added 125 yards on the ground.

The Big Orange employs an innovative offense too.

Coordinator David Cutcliffe installed the no-huddle attack used so well by the Indianapolis Colts and former Cutcliffe pupil Peyton Manning. The results have been positive.

The no-huddle is not a hurry-up offense, Ainge typically runs the play clock down to zero as he does his best Manning impersonation complete with finger pointing, foot stomping, and all sorts of traffic directing. The offense does limit defensive substitutions however, a factor that might confuse the young Gator defense.

The winner of this game joins South Carolina in the driver’s seat for the SEC East division crown.

There should be plenty of offensive fireworks because neither defense has shown an ability to slow down anybody, let alone shut them down.

Florida must be considered the safe pick because the Gators are at home, but don’t be surprised if Tennessee’s offense plays keep away and controls the game.

Remember nobody’s perfect.

Game Ball: Florida

bobepling@yahoo.com

Professor’s Picks for SEC Week 3

Looks like LSU and Florida are on a collision course.

The teams most everyone picked as conference favorites have opened the season impressively, while a couple of darkhorses may be emerging in Alabama and South Carolina.

Here are our first SEC power ratings of the year.

See you at kickoff!

1. LSU … Bengal Tigers defense is stronger than a spicy bowl of gumbo. A national title contender at this point.

2. Florida … Defending champs are clicking on offense, but face first real challenge with Tennessee coming to the swamp.

3. Alabama … the only thing Nick Saban is missing for Bama fans is a houndstooth hat. Like those fans, Nick wants to win – now.

4. Arkansas … Hogs get this position by default after playing only one game. Can’t wait to see D-Mac and Felix Jones challenge Tide D this week.

5. South Carolina … Gamecocks are winning with defense. If Spurrier gets the offense playing, watch out.

6. Kentucky … can the Wildcats stop anybody? Who cares … the offense is as pretty as a Kentucky thoroughbred.

7. Tennessee … Vols can heal wounds from early Cal loss by gigging the Gators this week.

8. Georgia … young offensive line haunted Dogs against SC, but still plenty of bite left in Athens.

9. Ole Miss … Rebs offense has moved the ball, and defense has potential. Ole Miss may contend for a bowl.

10. Auburn … Tigers faced tough two non-conference games to open the season … they rarely play well in those.

11. Vanderbilt … Commodores must get offense untracked fast because they have some tough road games coming up.

12. Mississippi State … Sly Croom’s Bulldogs needed the win over Tulane because look at the schedule, there may only be one or two more wins there.

Pigskin Picks (2007 Record: 17-3; 7-2 last week)

Arkansas at Alabama (6:45 ET ESPN)
The magic carpet ride continued last week for Alabama and Nick Saban as they rolled over Vanderbilt 24-10. For the second straight week, Tide running back Terry Grant scored on the team’s first offensive play, this time a one yard touchdown plunge after a long Javier Arenas punt return. Grant finished with 173 yards rushing. Arkansas poses the first big threat to the Saban regime. The Razorbacks were off last week, but played sluggishly on defense against the spread attack of Troy in the opener. This will be a return to traditional smash-mouth SEC football. Until they lose, stick with Saban and the Red Elephants.
Game Ball: Alabama

Mississippi State at Auburn (12:30 ET LFS)
Auburn survived one upset bid in the opener with Kansas State, but could not overcome five turnovers against South Florida and lost 26-23 to the Bulls in overtime. QB Brandon Cox struggled mightily, going 16-35 for 165 yards and two interceptions. Tiger tailback Mario Fannin added some excitement, but also fumbled a couple of times. In New Orleans, State outscored Tulane 21-0 in the second half and pulled away for a 38-17 win in the Superdome. Anthony Dixon rushed for 131 yards and 2 TDs. Expect a low scoring game, but it’s hard to see Auburn losing two in a row.
Game Ball: Auburn

Tennessee at Florida (3:30 ET CBS)
See SEC Game of the Week.
Game Ball: Florida

Western Carolina at Georgia (1:00 ET)
Georgia fans are seeing red after losing to arch nemesis Steve Spurrier and South Carolina by a 16-12 score. The Dogs failed to cross the goal line for a touchdown for the first time since 2001 (also against Carolina), and QB Matthew Stafford suffered a poor game going just 19-44 for 213 yards. He was sacked three times as the young offensive line for UGA could not blunt the Gamecock pressure. Georgia should get well this week against the Catamounts. Western Carolina gave up 326 yards rushing in a 45-21 loss to Eastern Kentucky.
Game Ball: Georgia

Louisville at Kentucky (7:30 ET ESPN Classic)
Make sure the bulbs are all changed in the scoreboard for this battle of the Bluegrass. Kentucky and Louisville are averaging over 50 points each, and their defenses play butter to any offense’s hot knife. The Wildcats were shaky on pass protection in a 56-20 win over Kent, so Big Blue ran for six touchdowns. They were sliced for 324 yards rushing by the Golden Flashes. Louisville also couldn’t contain a spread option attack and won a Thursday night shootout over Middle Tennessee by a 58-42 count. Cardinal QB Brian Brohm passed for 401 yards and 5 TDs. Both are glad they will see no option this week. Instead the sky will be raining passes. Let’s go with an upset.
Game Ball: Kentucky

Middle Tennessee at LSU (8:00 ET)
Everybody seems to be struggling against the spread option attack, so let’s see how the nation’s best defense plays it. LSU looked terrific in dismantling Virginia Tech 48-7. Normally hostile LSU fans gave a cordial welcome to the Hokies, but on the field the Tigers showed no interest in any more southern hospitality, pounding their way to a 327-40 advantage in total yardage in the first half alone. RB Keiland Williams was one star among many with 126 yards and 2 TDs. The Blue Raiders gave Louisville fits in a Thursday night game. MTSU rang up 555 yards of offense and 42 points, but still fell short by a 58-42 margin. LSU’s defense is just a bit better than that of Louisville.
Game Ball: LSU

Ole Miss at Vanderbilt (6:00 ET)
Ole Miss spotted Missouri a 21 point lead and despite a nice effort, the Rebels could not overcome that deficit and lost 38-25. Reb QB Seth Adams passed for 305 yards and 3 TDs, and RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis rambled for 226 yards rushing. The Ole Miss defense was gentle as an early autumn breeze, allowing Mizzou QB Chase Daniel to pick them apart with 5 TD passes. Vanderbilt struggled on offense in a 24-10 loss to Alabama. Banged up QB Chris Nickson was only 5 of 18 for 67 yards before leaving the game in the third quarter. This is a tough call because Vandy should be able to pass against Ole Miss, but the Rebels may control the game on the ground.
Game Ball: Ole Miss

SC State at South Carolina (7:00 ET)
The old ball coach is at it again. After claiming his team was ready to compete for a division title, Steve Spurrier backed it up by taking his SC Gamecocks between the hedges and handling Georgia 16-12. The Gamecock defense shut down Georgia and shut them out of the end zone, holding the Bulldogs to four FGs. SC gets another bunch of Bulldogs this week, and the Gamecocks should avoid looking ahead to a showdown with LSU on September 22 because this will be an emotional game for SC State. The state’s historically black college has never met the state university on the football field. SC State prepared by beating Bethune-Cookman 24-13.
Game Ball: South Carolina

SEC Game of the Week

A Humbled Giant
South Carolina at Georgia

by Bob Epling

Beware a humbled giant.

Steve Spurrier, a true giant in SEC coaching circles, limps into Sanford Stadium with his South Carolina Gamecocks for a showdown with impressive Georgia.

Spurrier limps literally.

The limp comes from too many scrambling runs on his way to a Heisman trophy winning season at Florida in 1966. From too many years spent as a tackling dummy while backing up John Brodie for the San Francisco 49ers, after the team made him the 3rd overall choice in the 1967 NFL draft. From too many sacks and smacks as the starting quarterback of the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the only team to go winless in an NFL season (0-14).

Spurrier limps figuratively too.

The limp comes from seeing his South Carolina squad hit with the suspensions or ineligibility of at least a half-dozen players before the start of the season, including senior quarterback Blake Mitchell. From watching his beloved Fun n’ Gun offense of days gone by turn to a strain n’ struggle unit that rarely strikes fear into opponents. From failing (so far) to lead his Gamecocks through the minefield that is the SEC East division to the conference title game.

Beware a humbled giant.

And Steve Spurrier is truly a giant in the SEC.

Remember the Heisman Trophy winning playing career. Remember the dazzling dozen years as Florida head coach that included a record of 122-27-1, a national championship in 1996, and a winning percentage (.817) that ranks in the top three in conference history. Remember the swagger that was far more glitz than gimp as rival fans reviled him and Gator fans revered him.

Should the SEC ever build a Mt. Rushmore of coaches, you’d find Spurrier up there with Bryant, Dooley, and Neyland.

The humbled giant visits one of his favorite rivals this Saturday.

During his Florida tenure, Spurrier enjoyed humiliating one foe more than all the others – Georgia. He compiled an 11-1 record against the Dogs while at Florida, with a 23 point average margin of victory in the eleven wins. Like a cruel dog-owner, he also went out of his way to rub the Dogs’ noses in the mess that was the rivalry, often tweaking them with a sarcastic wit. In 1995, he tacked on a late touchdown in a 52-17 blowout at Athens just to brag about leading the first squad to post 50 points against the Dogs in Sanford Stadium.

Since Spurrier took the Carolina job, Georgia has forced the giant to taste a bit of humble pie.

In 2005, the Dogs handed Spurrier his first loss as Gamecock coach, a close 17-15 victory a long decade after that 1995 rout. In 2006, Georgia took it a step further by shutting out the old ball coach and his SC squad by an 18-0 count (becoming only the second team to blank a Spurrier-coached offense). That game was particularly sweet for Georgia faithful, coming a day after the death of legendary Erk Russell, famed defensive coordinator of the Junkyard Dogs from 1964 to 1980.

The 2007 game may provide a bit more humility for the man Georgia fans refer to as the Evil Genius.

Georgia boasts the hot-shot quarterback, sophomore Matthew Stafford, arm strong enough to throw the ball through a door, but accurate enough to put it through the key hole. Georgia boasts the youthful coach with the fancy resume, Mark Richt, smooth enough to do a backflip from a 10 meter board during a “practice” and smart enough to win an SEC title his second year (something Spurrier could not do at SC).

Georgia opened the season by growling past Oklahoma State with a convincing 35-14 victory. South Carolina limped past Louisiana-Lafayette with a lackluster 28-14 win that Spurrier claimed proved his team to be “just a bunch of average stiffs.”

The giant is humbled.

Georgia should win.

But, beware a humbled giant.

Game Ball: Georgia

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