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October 4, 2006
Divisional showdowns: The LSU-Florida interdivisional matchup figures to draw most of the national attention, but this weekend also features two critical games between divisional rivals. Auburn and Arkansas square off for the Western Division lead, while Georgia must beat Tennessee to maintain its perfect record. The rest of the schedule features two potential nail-biters (South Carolina-Kentucky and Vanderbilt-Ole Miss) and a pair of likely blowouts (West Virginia-Mississippi State and Duke-Alabama).
Best matchup: It's only fitting that the best game of the week also features plenty of outstanding individual matchups. An LSU team ranked first in the nation in total defense and second in pass defense must try to stop Chris Leak. Florida wide receiver Dallas Baker will try to score his sixth touchdown of the year while possibly lining up against Jonathan Zenon, who already has returned two picks for scores. The winning quarterback ? JaMarcus Russell or Leak ? becomes the favorite to earn first-team all-SEC honors.
In other SEC action, the best matchup to watch is on the Sanford Stadium sidelines, where Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe will match wits with Georgia defensive coordinator Willie Martinez. Georgia leads the nation in scoring defense, while Tennessee averages 32 points per game.
Worst matchup: Duke has avoided a shutout in only one of its four games this season. It's tough to believe the Blue Devils will reverse that trend against an Alabama defense that consistently ranks among the nation's best.
The pressure is on: Georgia's offense. The Bulldogs have been held scoreless in the first half the last two weeks against winless Colorado and an Ole Miss team that has one of the SEC's worst defenses. Both times, Georgia managed to rally in the second half. The Bulldogs can't afford a similar slow start against Tennessee because they might fall too far behind.
Upset alert: There are plenty of opportunities for upsets. How often do you see Florida and Georgia open a week as underdogs at home? Better yet, how often do you see Vanderbilt favored on the road? I'm picking the Commodores to eke out a victory at Ole Miss, but you can't blame someone for picking the Rebels to win at home.
Most to gain: Arkansas. The Razorbacks have nothing to lose as they head to Auburn this weekend. If they don't win, nobody really expected the Razorbacks to beat out Auburn or LSU for the Western Division title anyway. But if they somehow pull the upset, the Hogs take over sole possession of first place in the West and have a legitimate shot to become one of the most surprising division winners in SEC history.
Most to lose: LSU. The Tigers just might be the best team in the SEC this year, but a loss to Florida would virtually eliminate them from the Western Division race and any sort of BCS consideration.
BCS implications: As we mentioned earlier, LSU needs to beat Florida to have any hopes of earning a BCS invitation. Undefeated but unimpressive Georgia can boost its BCS profile with a big victory over Tennessee. Florida and Auburn can stay undefeated by winning this weekend. That also would raise the stakes for next week's Florida-Auburn showdown.
Who's hot: LSU QB JaMarcus Russell set a school record with 14 consecutive completions last weekend and now ranks second in the nation in passing efficiency. ? LSU S Craig Steltz has intercepted a pass in four consecutive games. ? Florida WR Dallas Baker has caught a touchdown pass in six of his last seven games. ? Alabama's DJ Hall has collected at least 100 receiving yards in two consecutive games. ? Kentucky QB Andre' Woodson has thrown 14 touchdown passes and only two interceptions this season. ? Arkansas DE Antwain Robinson and LSU DE Tyson Jackson have recorded three sacks apiece in their last two games. ? Georgia LB Tony Taylor has collected 24 tackles in his last two games. ? Tennessee PK James Wilhoit has made 14 of his last 15 field-goal attempts. ? Vanderbilt RB Cassen Jackson-Garrison has rushed for 303 yards while averaging 6.3 yards per carry his last three games.
Who's not: Georgia QBs Matthew Stafford and Joe Cox have gone a combined 29-of-57 the last two games. ? Ole Miss QB Brent Schaeffer has completed just 46 percent of his passes with six interceptions and four touchdowns. ? Alabama QB John Parker Wilson threw three interceptions in a loss to Florida last week. ? Mississippi State is averaging just 2.7 yards per carry. ? Georgia WR Mohamed Massaquoi has just five catches through five games after collecting 38 receptions last year. ? Kentucky ranks 118th among all Division I-A teams ? ahead of only Ball State ? in total defense.
Must-see TV: LSU at Florida (CBS): This game ranks alongside last month's LSU-Auburn classic and next month's Michigan-Ohio State showdown as the most talent-laden matchups of the season.
Newcomer who could have an impact: Florida WR Percy Harvin. Rated by Rivals.com as the top player in the 2006 recruiting class, Harvin led the Gators in rushing in his debut and turned a short pass into a 58-yard touchdown in his second game. A high ankle sprain has limited him the last couple of games, but Harvin is expected to return to full strength this weekend. In a game that figures to go down to the wire, Harvin's big-play ability could make the difference.
Key stat: JaMarcus Russell went 18-of-20 last weekend to deliver the highest completion percentage ever by an LSU quarterback in an SEC game.
Take the line: Duke has been outscored 73-0 in its last two games, including a 37-0 whitewash at home against Virginia on Saturday. Now the Blue Devils hit the road to face an Alabama team eager to end a two-game losing streak. Look for the Crimson Tide to hand Duke its fourth shutout and cover the 29-point spread. Season record: 4-2.
They said it: Georgia linebacker Danny Verdun Wheeler: "We have not played to our potential yet this season. We are in a little slump, and we are trying to find our way out of it. Tennessee is not the type of team that you want to play when you are trying to get out of a slump."
Injury update: Auburn C Joe Cope will miss four to six weeks with a knee injury. Sophomore Jason Bosley will replace Cope in the starting lineup. ? Auburn TE Cole Bennett continues to be out with a broken ankle that could sideline him for most of the season. ? Knee injuries have left Arkansas DT Marcus Harrison and WR Robert Johnson doubtful for this weekend. ? Florida TB DeShawn Wynn has a sprained right knee that has left his status uncertain for the LSU game. ? Florida WR Percy Harvin should play Saturday after missing most of the Kentucky game and all of the Alabama game with a high ankle sprain. ? Kentucky C Matt McCutchan has an ankle injury that could sideline him this week. ? Kentucky DT Ricky Abren should play despite having an injured wrist. ? LSU G Will Arnold is doubtful for the Florida game with an ankle injury. ? Mississippi State DT Deljuan Robinson underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee this week and probably will miss the next three games.
Worth noting: Georgia QB Joe Tereshinski is expected to regain his starting job Saturday after missing the last three games with a sprained ankle. Georgia coach Mark Richt said freshman Matthew Stafford would be the second-team quarterback. ? Florida has won 12 consecutive games at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. ? Georgia has allowed 34 points, which represents its lowest total through five games since 1981. ? Although Kentucky is ranked 118th in the nation in total defense, the Wildcats have forced 11 turnovers in their last three games. ? South Carolina has won its last three SEC road games. ? Vanderbilt is seeking its fifth three-game winning streak in the last 20 years. The Commodores won three in a row in 1987, 1991, 1999 and 2005. ? Duke and Alabama are facing each other on the 20th anniversary of the death of Wallace Wade, who coached at both schools. ? SEC players of the week from Week Five are LSU QB JaMarcus Russell (offense), Florida DB Reggie Nelson (defense), Tennessee PK James Wilhoit (special teams), Auburn G Tim Duckworth (offensive line), Georgia DE Charles Johnson (defensive line) and Tennessee TB LaMarcus Coker (freshman).
Looking back: Kenny Irons rushed for 117 yards and two touchdowns against his former team as Auburn outlasted South Carolina 24-17. ? JaMarcus Russell had a school-record 14 consecutive completions in LSU's 48-17 whipping of Mississippi State. ? Erik Ainge threw four touchdown passes in Tennessee's 41-7 demolition of Memphis. ? Chris Leak tossed a pair of touchdown passes in Florida's 28-13 victory over Alabama. ? Keenan Burton caught two of Andre' Woodson's four touchdown passes as Kentucky defeated Central Michigan 45-36. ? Cassen Jackson-Garrison rushed for 142 yards and two touchdowns in Vanderbilt's 41-13 triumph over Temple. ? Kregg Lumpkin rushed for 101 yards as Georgia came from behind to beat Ole Miss 14-9.
Freshman who impressed: Tennessee RB LaMarcus Coker rushed for 125 yards on 26 carries in his first career start. Coker has gained 271 yards and has averaged 8 yards per carry in the Volunteers' last two games.