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November 15, 2007

Vols face must-win game against Vandy

MORE CONFERENCE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10

MEGARGEE'S SEC PICKS
Saturday's games
Florida 52, Florida Atlantic 10
Georgia 34, Kentucky 23
Arkansas 27, Mississippi State 17
Alabama 41, Louisiana-Monroe 10
Tennessee 28, Vanderbilt 17
LSU 38, Ole Miss 10

Overview: LSU already has clinched one spot in the SEC Championship Game, but we still don't know who will be representing the Eastern Division in Atlanta. Tennessee controls its destiny. Georgia can capture the division title if it wins out and Tennessee loses at least once. Florida is hoping for losses by Georgia and Tennessee, as the Gators would win a three-way tiebreaker with Georgia and Tennessee because they have a better division record than both teams.

Best matchup: Tennessee pass protection vs. Vanderbilt pass rush. Tennessee is still alive in the East in part because of an underrated offensive line that has allowed the fewest sacks in the nation. Even a season-ending injury to left tackle Eric Young hasn't interfered with the stellar play of Tennessee's line, which has given up just three sacks all season. The Vols will try to keep up that remarkable run Saturday against a Vanderbilt team that ranks second in the SEC with 2.8 sacks per game. The Commodores have recorded 15 sacks in their past four games, including a seven-sack outburst in a 17-6 victory over South Carolina. The tough thing about protecting the passer against Vanderbilt is that the Commodores don't rely on one elite pass rusher. Seven Vanderbilt defenders have at least two sacks.

The pressure is on: Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer. Perhaps no team has more to gain or lose this week than Tennessee. A victory over Vanderbilt would move Tennessee one step closer to winning the East. But if the Vols lose to their in-state rivals for the second time in three years, Fulmer could find himself right back on the hot seat he already has occupied for much of the season.

Who's hot: Alabama FS Rashad Johnson has intercepted a pass in four of his past five games, and Tide DE Wallace Gilberry has eight sacks in his last five games. Florida QB Tim Tebow has seven touchdown runs and five touchdown passes in the Gators' past two games. Georgia TB Knowshon Moreno has rushed for 642 yards and eight touchdowns during the Bulldogs' four-game winning streak. LSU QB Matt Flynn has thrown three touchdown passes in each of his last three games. Mississippi State RB Anthony Dixon has rushed for 11 touchdowns in the Bulldogs' last seven games. He has scored at least once in each of those seven contests. Tennessee TB Arian Foster has rushed for 10 touchdowns in the Vols' past seven games and has reached the end zone at least once in each of those matchups.

Who's not: Alabama QB John Parker Wilson has gone 30 of 74 the past two weeks. Auburn QB Brandon Cox threw four interceptions Saturday in a 45-20 loss to Georgia. Ole Miss QB Seth Adams has gone 27 of 60 with five interceptions and no touchdown passes in his past three games.

Keep your eye on: Florida WR Andre Caldwell has endured an injury-plagued career, but he is only nine catches away from becoming Florida's career leader in receptions. Caldwell got within striking distance of the record last week by catching 11 passes in a 51-31 victory over South Carolina. Percy Harvin's health problems could cause Caldwell to become even more of a focal point in the passing game. That might help Caldwell break the record currently held by Carlos Alvarez, who caught 172 passes from 1969-71.

Numbers game: Florida's Tebow has accounted for an SEC-record 42 touchdowns (23 passing, 19 rushing) this season. He set a school record last week by scoring 30 points (five rushing touchdowns) in a 51-31 victory over South Carolina. Air Force's Chance Harridge owns the NCAA record for single-season rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 22 in 2002. How remarkable is Tebow's total of 19 rushing touchdowns? The other 11 starting quarterbacks in the SEC have combined to rush for 16 this season.

SEC STANDINGS
EAST DIVISION
TeamConf.All
Georgia5-28-2
Tennessee4-27-3
Florida5-37-3
Kentucky3-37-3
South Carolina3-56-5
Vanderbilt2-55-5
WEST DIVISION
TeamConf.All
LSU5-19-1
Auburn4-37-4
Alabama4-36-4
Mississippi State3-36-4
Arkansas2-46-4
Mississippi0-63-7
Freshmen to watch: Tennessee SS Eric Berry picked off two passes Saturday in a 34-13 victory over Arkansas. The true freshman and former five-star prospect has three interceptions in his past three games. Berry also has 207 yards in interception returns, which breaks the school single-season record set of 177 set by Bobby Majors in 1970. Tennessee's secondary also features true freshman and former five-star prospect Brent Vinson as a starting cornerback.

Injury update: South Carolina CB Captain Munnerlyn will probably miss the rest of the season with a microfracture in his left foot. Florida G Maurkice Pouncey suffered a high ankle sprain last week, but he's still expected to play Saturday. The Gators' Harvin missed the South Carolina game with a sinus infection and might not play against Florida Atlantic this weekend. Kentucky TB Rafael Little missed the second half of a 27-20 victory over Vanderbilt last week with a sore lower back. His status remains uncertain for the Georgia game.

They said it:
"I don't feel like they're any better than us. With those top-15 teams, we always play with them. I know we can beat them."
Ole Miss WR Mike Wallace discussing top-ranked LSU to RebelSports.net

"We won't talk anything about the previous 11 ballgames. They understand that. We talk to them all year long about Alabama and the importance of it. That was just another ballgame yesterday. The one coming up is not just another ballgame. This is the one that counts for Auburn, and we know that."
Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville to AuburnSports.com, looking ahead to the Nov. 24 Alabama game the day after a 45-20 loss to Georgia

"That was a Heisman performance. We're near the end of the season. I don't normally say stuff like that, but you have a young guy have 120 yards rushing and five touchdowns and then he threw for 300, a career-high. Seven touchdowns is a pretty good day. I'll buy him a sandwich on the way home."
Florida coach Urban Meyer to GatorBait.net after Tebow ran for five touchdowns and threw for two more scores Saturday in a 51-31 victory over South Carolina

"I've decided to have a 'Redout.' I want everybody to wear red. I think we do that anyway. Maybe we'll wear black jerseys in pregame and run out in red. Whatever it takes to get everybody fired up."
Georgia coach Mark Richt joking to reporters one week after he asked the fans to dress in black and had his team wear black jerseys for the first time since the 1940s

"(Darren) McFadden is in another level. I coached Barry Sanders, and that's the closest I've ever seen to Barry."
Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom to The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Miss. Croom was the Detroit Lions' offensive coordinator from 1997-2000

"No question (Croom's) our guy. He's the brush we're painting this picture with. My intention is to have a conversation with the president to make sure we take care of Sly with his contract."
Mississippi State athletic director Larry Templeton to The Clarion-Ledger after the Bulldogs' 17-12 victory over Alabama last week

Bowl implications.: Mississippi State became bowl-eligible last week and basically can guarantee itself a bowl bid by winning one of its two remaining games. The SEC could end up with more bowl-eligible teams than bowl tie-ins, which could leave South Carolina (6-5) home for the holidays. Vanderbilt (5-5) is one win away from becoming bowl-eligible, but the Commodores might not receive a postseason invitation unless they win both of their remaining games. Georgia's victory over Auburn last week gives the Bulldogs a decent chance of earning a BCS at-large bid even if they fail to win the Eastern Division title.

Etc.: Ole Miss DE Greg Hardy has rejoined the team after serving a two-game suspension for violating team rules. Florida's Markus Manson has moved back to tailback from cornerback. Reserve TB Chevon Walker has asked to transfer. Walker hadn't been on the Gators' active roster for the past three games. Mississippi State CB Anthony Johnson scored on an interception return last week for the second time this season. Johnson now shares the school record for most interception returns for a touchdown in a season with four other players. Four of the past five Ole Miss-LSU games have been decided by three or fewer points. LSU won last season's game 23-20 in overtime.

MORE CONFERENCE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.



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