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October 25, 2007

Gators, Bulldogs set for showdown

MORE WEEK 9 BREAKDOWNS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten |

HUGUENIN'S SEC PICKS
Week 6 games
Arkansas 56, Florida International 13
Kentucky 27, Mississippi State 17
Vanderbilt 27, Miami University 14
Florida 24, Georgia 17
Auburn 35, Ole Miss 14
South Carolina 17, Tennessee 13

Overview: The SEC East race is a mess, with five of the six teams already having two league losses. Two of this week's games Florida meets Georgia in Jacksonville, Fla., and Tennessee plays host to South Carolina should help make the title picture a little clearer. South Carolina and Tennessee already have beaten the Bulldogs, so a loss to the Gators would put Georgia in desperation mode. In addition, Florida has beaten Tennessee, so a loss to the Gamecocks would greatly deflate the Vols' division hopes. There are two other league games Ole Miss at Auburn and Mississippi State and Kentucky and the home teams should win comfortably in each. Vanderbilt and Arkansas go out of conference this weekend as both try to close in on bowl eligibility.

Best matchup: Tennessee pass offense vs. South Carolina pass defense. South Carolina leads the nation in pass defense (145.9 yards per game), and it'll be interesting to see how Tennessee QB Erik Ainge attacks the Gamecocks. Ainge is throwing for 256.7 yards per game, with 13 TDs and four interceptions. Ainge also is getting all kinds of time to throw: He has attempted 253 consecutive passes without being sacked. South Carolina has been getting excellent play in the secondary from CB Captain Munnerlyn and SS Emanuel Cook. While the Vols don't have a game-breaking receiver, Lucas Taylor, Josh Briscoe and Austin Rogers have proven to be a solid trio. Still, it's hard to see the Vols beating the Gamecocks deep, so expect a lot of aggressive coverage schemes from South Carolina defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix.

The pressure is on: Georgia QB Matthew Stafford. Stafford was expected to put up some big passing numbers this season, but it hasn't happened. His high game to date is 234 yards, which came in the opener against Oklahoma State. He has also had three games with less than 175 passing yards. This week, he goes against a Florida defense allowing a league-high 257.6 passing yards per game.

Who's hot: Kentucky QB Andre' Woodson has thrown for 665 yards and eight TDs in his past two games (LSU and Florida). He has thrown at least three TD passes in three of his past four games, and has thrown at least two in every game this season. In his past three games, Florida DE Jermaine Cunningham has 29 tackles, four tackles for losses and 2.5 sacks. He'll be going against his home-state school when the Gators play Georgia on Saturday. Tennessee K Daniel Lincoln has connected on all five of his field-goal attempts of more than 40 yards. South Carolina WR Kenny McKinley has caught a pass in 29 consecutive games, the 10th-longest streak in the nation and the fourth-longest in school history. Florida QB Tim Tebow has at least one TD run and one TD pass in each of his past eight games. Vanderbilt's Brett Upson has had 42.9 percent of his punts (15-of-35) downed inside the 20.

Who's not: Ole Miss is allowing 232.6 rushing yards in five SEC games. The Rebels are at Auburn this week; you think Auburn running backs have noticed? South Carolina's offense has managed just 564 combined yards the past two games, with 27 points. The Gamecocks haven't scored a touchdown in six consecutive quarters. Mississippi State has passed for more than 170 yards in a game just once in the past six games. The Bulldogs have five TD passes and 11 picks on the season. Ole Miss QB Seth Adams has thrown 10 interceptions in his past three games. He has a league-high 14 on the season.

Keep your eye on: Kentucky. The Wildcats have played three tough ones in a row South Carolina, LSU and Florida and could be ripe for a letdown against Mississippi State. But UK also has 16 upperclass starters, so you have to think experience and talent will win out. UK's defense is going to give up some yards on the ground to Bulldogs TB Anthony Dixon, but it's hard to see the Bulldogs' defense being able to shut down Andre' Woodson and Co.

Numbers game: The Florida-Georgia game features the teams that have committed the fewest turnovers in the league. The Bulldogs have five turnovers, the Gators seven. Interestingly, those teams also have forced the fewest turnovers in the league. The Bulldogs have forced six, the Gators eight. Kentucky leads the SEC with 44 total touchdowns. Florida return man Brandon James is the only player in the nation in the top 10 in kick returns and punt returns. He's fifth in punt returns (18.9 per return) and ninth in kick returns (30.6 per return). Ole Miss DE Greg Hardy is one of the few Rebels defenders playing well. He has eight sacks and 15.5 tackles for losses, ranking in the top 10 nationally in each category. Vanderbilt has allowed the fewest touchdowns in the league, with 14. Ole Miss has allowed the most, with 31.

Freshmen to watch: Georgia coaches hinted this week that the redshirt would come off touted TB Caleb King. The Bulldogs have been hit hard by injuries at tailback, and redshirt freshman Knowshon Moreno will get the start. Behind him, though, there's not really anybody; hence the rumored appearance of King. Also worth keeping an eye on is South Carolina redshirt freshman QB Chris Smelley, who struggled mightily last week in a loss to Vanderbilt. If he struggles again this week against Tennessee, Steve Spurrier won't hesitate to go to senior Blake Mitchell.

SEC STANDINGS
EAST DIVISION
TeamConf.All
South Carolina3-26-2
Florida3-25-2
Georgia3-25-2
Kentucky2-26-2
Tennessee2-24-3
Vanderbilt2-34-3
WEST DIVISION
TeamConf.All
LSU4-17-1
Alabama4-16-2
Auburn3-25-3
Arkansas1-34-3
Mississippi State1-34-4
Mississippi0-52-6
Injury update: Arkansas WR Marcus Monk (knee) will attempt to play against Florida International. He had hoped to play last week against Ole Miss but was unable to go. Auburn FS Aairon Savage (knee) and OT Ryan Pugh (shin) are questionable for the game against Ole Miss. Florida could be without as many as five starters against Georgia. WR Andre Caldwell (back), OT Carlton Medder (heel), DT Clint McMillan (shoulder), CB Wondy Pierre-Louis (arm) and FS Major Wright (thumb) are considered questionable to play. Georgia TB Thomas Brown (collarbone) will not play against Florida, and WR/KR Mikey Henderson (hamstring) is questionable. Kentucky will be without TB Rafael Little (thigh) against Mississippi State. WR Keenan Burton (knee, ankle), TB Tony Dixon (knee), TE Jacob Tamme (foot) and CB Paul Warford (collarbone) are considered questionable. Ole Miss SS Jamarca Sanford (neck) is questionable to play against Auburn. Tennessee WR Josh Briscoe (concussion) is questionable for South Carolina, and WR Lucas Taylor (toe) is probable.

They said it:

"This is my favorite one, by far my favorite game. I've heard about this forever, I watched from afar as a fan. I love the fact that it's at a neutral site. I love the fact that when you walk into that stadium, it's 50/50 (with the fans)."
Florida coach Urban Meyer on the rivalry with Georgia

"We're not quite there yet. We didn't profess to be there, but we thought that we would play a lot better offensively than we have this year. It hasn't happened. Anyway, we're 6-2 and sort of understand what we can do and what we can't do now."
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier on his team

"At times this year, we have played exceptionally good football, and that's what we're working to get back to. It has been a crazy year in college football and in the conference. We're taking the approach that we are playing for a divisional championship this Saturday and each Saturday that follows."
Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer

"We learned a lot of football together, and he is a very good coach. He actually helped me get down to Miami, and we are really good friends. We didn't have any money. All we basically did was coach football and work our way up. We were like sponges down there. We listened to everything Jimmy Johnson said. We listened to everything Dave Wannstedt said. The thing I appreciated most about being down in Miami is that Coach Johnson didn't treat us like graduate assistants."
Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron on his relationship with Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville

Bowl implications: This is a key week for four-win teams Arkansas and Vanderbilt. Given the remaining schedule for both, wins Saturday over beatable nonconference opponents are key. Arkansas has South Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi State and LSU to close out the year, while Vandy has Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee and Wake Forest. Mississippi State also has four victories, but the Bulldogs seem to be facing longer odds than Arkansas and Vandy. State has Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss after this week's game at Kentucky.

Etc.: Vanderbilt junior WR Earl Bennett is one reception away from tying the league mark for career catches of 208 held by Kentucky's Craig Yeast (1995-98). Alabama, which is off this week, is the only league team that hasn't lost a league road game. The Tide is 2-0. For the first time since 1991, Georgia goes into its game with Florida off an open date. Vanderbilt's victory at South Carolina last week was the Commodores' first-ever road win over a top-10 team. Ole Miss is 2-6 and off to its worst start since 1980, when it started 2-7. This season marks the Rebels' first 0-5 start in SEC play since 1984. Kentucky has three married players, and all three start on offense: WR Steve Johnson, C Eric Scott and TE Jacob Tamme.

MORE WEEK 9 BREAKDOWNS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10

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



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