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Week 9: SEC Preview, Part 2

Yesterday's installment previewed Auburn @ West Virginia (and what a game that was!), Kentucky @ Florida, and Duke @ Vandy, while fretting about Raycom picking up the wrong game this week.  Or not even Raycom.  Heck, ESPNU is showing Middle Tennessee State @ Mississippi State.  I fail to believe there is more interest in that game than in Vandy's possible 6th win.  Anyway, let's talk SEC football.

Georgia @ LSU, 2:30pm Central, CBS

We've already had a pretty big write-up on this one, but there is always more to be said.  I think this Tiger team may have really come up with an identity against South Carolina.  I believe we just might have overcome our pass defense problems (remembering that the Gamecocks are actually a pretty good passing team).  We established an effective QB rotation that seemed to take advantage of the strengths of both quarterbacks.  We finally established Keiland Williams as an effective offensive weapon.  We figured out how this group of lumbering defensive linemen can rush the passer (hint: get the most lumbering of the lumberers out of the game in passing downs).

I enter this game with a reasonable degree of optimism, tempered with a healthy dose of caution.  Georgia is a very good team, but they've hardly looked unbeatable, and while we certainly don't look like world-beaters, there is much to be said that's positive about this team.  We both run and pass the ball effectively.  Our line play, outside of the Florida game, is probably significantly better than Georgia's.  And line play seems to be where games are won in the SEC this year.

If we get through the game without a major CF on offense, I think we have a really good chance.  We just can't make things easy on Georgia by giving them bad turnovers and/or defensive touchdowns.  We could afford it against Auburn.  We could afford it against South Carolina.  We can't afford it against Georgia.

It would also be nice not to have embarrassing defensive breakdowns.

Ole Miss @ Arkansas, 6:00pm Central, ESPN360.com

Here's another game that is much more interesting than either Kentucky @ Florida or MTSU @ Mississippi State.  And here's another game that will not be televised.  Both of these teams are 3-4 on the season.  Both are hoping to get to bowl-eligibility.  Both have shown flashes of brilliance on the season.  Both have shown painful vulnerability.

The winner of this one has a real shot to go to a bowl game, particularly if it's Ole Miss, who gets winnable games against Louisiana-Monroe, Auburn, and Mississippi State (plus LSU, who's not exactly nigh-invulnerable to Ole Miss).  If they get to four wins here, they can count on a 5th against ULM, and then they just have to figure out how to beat either Auburn, MSU, or LSU to get to a bowl game.

Arkansas has a tougher road, with games remaining against Tulsa, South Carolina, Mississippi State, and LSU.  They may not be favored in any of those games, and only MSU looks like low-hanging fruit (and that game is in Starkville).  Still, if they get to 4 wins here, I suppose anything is possible.  I didn't think they'd have a prayer of getting this far by this point.

Arkansas's task will be very difficult if Michael Smith is not ready to go.  He suffered a concussion in the heartbreaking loss last week to Kentucky.  Smith has 85% of the Razorbacks' rushing yards on the year, and 16% of their receiving yards.  He has the bulk of their receiving yards among running backs.

Michael Smith is Arkansas's offense.  If he can't play, Arkansas doesn't have an offense.  Casey Dick?  He's averaging 6.7 yards per attempt and has more interceptions than touchdowns passes.  

No Michael, no win.  No win, no bowl.  It's that simple.  Yes Michael, maybe win.  Yes win, maybe bowl.

Middle Tennessee State @ Mississippi State, 6:00pm, ESPNU

In protest of the pitiful television selections among the Raycom and ESPNU games, I am refusing to preview this particular matchup.

Alabama @ Tennessee, 6:45 pm Central, ESPN

This game is huge for Alabama's national championship hopes (though almost meaningless for its SEC championship hopes).  This game is huge for Tennessee's bowl hopes.  

Tennessee sits at 3-4 overall, and you cannot go into your 9th game with only 3 wins and expect to get to a bowl game.  And if Tennessee misses a bowl game for the second time in 4 years, there will be hell to pay.

Alabama sure would like to win out and play for the national championship.  It will not be easy.  After Tennessee, they get a gimme against Arkansas State.  Then comes LSU in Baton Rouge.  Then comes a revenge game against Mississippi State.  Then comes the Iron Bowl against Auburn, who just may have figured out how to play offense by then.

Really, on paper, this game should be all Alabama.  Tennessee has been mediocre at best all year, and Alabama has come out like a rocket in every game that looked semi-competitive on paper.  

However, Tennessee is starting to show signs of life.  I thought they were in desperate trouble earlier this season after they quit against Florida, lost to Auburn, and barely beat Northern Illinois.  But they seemed to have turned the team around, at least psychologically.  They no longer strike me as a team with a lot of locker room cancers.  They're trying hard again, and playing hard.  They came up short against Georgia, but beat Mississippi State badly.  Their QB play is greatly improved since benching Jonathan Crompton.  They seem to have found a way to run the ball with Lennon Creer, after Hardesty and Foster failed to get the job done.  

Despite their record, Tennessee appears to be on a bit of an upswing.  I don't think they're outstanding by any stretch, but getting this game at home is a big help.

And then, there's Bama.  Terrance Cody single-handedly has converted their defensive line from a weakness to a strength by occupying multiple blockers and still making plays while keeping blockers off the linebackers.  He's been Bama's best overall player.  His injury forces Bama to re-design how it runs its defense, and it was no coincidence that last week Ole Miss scored most of their points after Cody went to the locker room, and that Bama rarely stopped the Rebels without him.

I'm really curious to see how this one plays out.  This could be Tennessee's bowl game, and they could come out ready to play.  Or they could lay an egg in this one and Bama could go home with a real shot at the #1 overall ranking.