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November 15, 2006
Clinching time?: Florida already has guaranteed itself one of the spots in the SEC championship game. Arkansas can earn the other invitation by winning one of its two remaining games. The Razorbacks would be well-advised to take care of business at Mississippi State this week, because they don't want to enter the LSU game next week in a must-win situation. The annual Auburn-Alabama showdown and Tennessee's quest for revenge against Vanderbilt are the other top games in a week that features quite a few mismatches.
Best matchups: Tennessee CB Jonathan Wade vs. Vanderbilt WR Earl Bennett. Wade is an excellent defensive back who had a tough night trying to cover 6-foot-6 wideout Marcus Monk in a 31-14 loss to Arkansas. Wade will try to redeem himself this week by containing Vanderbilt's Bennett, who enters this game as the hottest receiver in the nation. Bennett has caught 33 passes for 561 yards in his last three games. The sophomore already assured himself a special place in Vanderbilt history by catching the winning touchdown pass with 1:11 remaining in the Commodores' 28-24 victory over the Volunteers last year. Bennett finished that game with 14 catches for 167 yards. Wade will try to make sure the super sophomore doesn't deliver a repeat performance. At least this time Wade gets to pick on someone his own size. The 6-1 Bennett is only an inch taller than Wade.
Worst matchup: Western Carolina running game vs. Florida run defense. Western Carolina is a Division I-AA team that has averaged just 2.8 yards per carry over its last three games. The Catamounts have scored a total of 16 points in their last three games. Now they face a Florida team that ranks sixth in the nation in run defense and allows only 2.9 yards per rush. Florida's run defense might not be quite as stingy now that the Gators have thrown defensive tackle Marcus Thomas off the team, but they still have more than enough firepower to extend Western Carolina's losing streak to nine games.
The pressure is on: Alabama coach Mike Shula and Auburn QB Brandon Cox. Shula has become a regular visitor to this spot this season, but the pressure on him grows with every Tide loss. Even if the Tide hadn't dropped their last two games, Shula still would face plenty of pressure this week because Alabama has lost to Auburn each of the last four years. Cox isn't facing quite as much criticism as Shula, but the junior quarterback also needs to have a big game after throwing as many interceptions (four) as completions in a stunning 37-15 loss to Georgia last week.
Upset alert: There aren't too many potential upsets this week, but Alabama offers the best chance for a surprise. The Tide can salvage their season and take the heat off their coach with a big performance Saturday against an Auburn team that might still be brooding over the way its SEC and national title hopes ended last week.
Most to gain: Arkansas. A victory over Mississippi State clinches the SEC Western Division title, keeps the Razorbacks' national title hopes alive and could build the momentum for Darren McFadden's late-season push into Heisman Trophy contention.
Most to lose: South Carolina. The Gamecocks have endured plenty of heartbreak this season after suffering close losses to Auburn, Tennessee, Arkansas and Florida. But they can't afford to look back now. South Carolina plays host to Sun Belt leader Middle Tennessee this week in a game that doesn't look nearly as easy as it did at the beginning of the season. A win over Middle Tennessee makes South Carolina bowl eligible. But if the Gamecocks lose this game, they won't play in a bowl unless they beat Clemson for the first time since 2001. Prior to coming to Middle Tennessee, Blue Raiders coach Rick Stockstill was an assistant at South Carolina under Steve Spurrier.
BCS implications: Florida is ranked fourth in the Bowl Championship Series standings and can keep its national title hopes alive with a victory this weekend. The Gators already have clinched the Eastern Division title. Arkansas is ranked seventh in the BCS standings and can clinch the Western Division title by beating Mississippi State. The Razorbacks also still have an outside shot of playing for the national championship. LSU and Auburn are still holding out hope for BCS at-large bids if they don't beat out Arkansas for the Western Division title.
Who's hot: Vanderbilt WR Earl Bennett has 33 catches for 561 yards in his last three games. ? LSU QB JaMarcus Russell has completed 77 percent of his passes for 10 touchdowns in his last four games. ? Arkansas RB Darren McFadden has rushed for 400 yards the last two weeks. ? Arkansas WR Marcus Monk has caught 16 passes for 329 yards in his last two games. ? Kentucky WR Keenan Burton has two touchdown catches in each of his last three games. ? Kentucky QB Andre' Woodson has thrown for 938 yards and nine touchdowns the last three weeks. ? Alabama WR DJ Hall has at least 100 receiving yards in seven of his last eight games. ? Ole Miss LB Patrick Willis has recorded at least 10 tackles in nine of the Rebels' 10 games. ? Georgia DB Tra Battle has picked off six passes in his last five games, including a three-interception performance in a victory over Auburn last week. ? The Arkansas offensive line hasn't allowed a sack in its last three games.
Who's not: Auburn QB Brandon Cox threw four interceptions in a loss to Georgia and has been picked off six times in his last two games. ? South Carolina PK Ryan Succop had two field goals and an extra-point attempt blocked last week. ? Vanderbilt's defense has allowed 122 points in its last four games. ? Kentucky is ranked 118th out of 119 Division I-A teams ? ahead of only Louisiana Tech ? in total defense.
Must-see TV: Auburn at Alabama (CBS): Although neither team has lived up to expectations, the bitterness of this rivalry always makes it a game worth watching.
Newcomer who could have an impact: LSU LB Jacob Cutrera. When Darry Beckwith injured his knee against Alabama last weekend, Cutrera entered the game and performed well. The true freshman and former three-star prospect ranked second on the team with eight total tackles in the Tigers' 28-14 victory. Beckwith is considered doubtful for the Ole Miss game this weekend, so Cutrera could find himself in the starting lineup.
Key stat: Arkansas, which has played 10 games, has allowed only six sacks this season. The Razorbacks lead the nation in fewest sacks allowed.
Take the line: I know I'm contradicting myself after declaring the Alabama-Auburn game the most likely chance for an upset, but I still believe the Tigers are more than a field goal better than the Tide. This game will probably be decided by less than a touchdown, but Auburn still ought to cover the spread as a three-point favorite. Season record: 7-5.
They said it: "This is it. This is championship week. This is where you take it. You are the sole owner of the Western Division championship (if you win). That's what these seniors deserve. All emphasis will be put on this. This is Super Bowl week. It's this week, and it's in Starkville. It's not one of the easier trips to take. It's a tough place." - Arkansas coach Houston Nutt.
Injury update: Alabama WR Keith Brown hurt his knee and ankle against LSU last week. Alabama OT Chris Capps sprained a knee last week. The status of both players for this weekend remains uncertain.. ? Arkansas RB Peyton Hillis will probably miss the Mississippi State game because of a bruised thigh. Arkansas OG Stephen Parker also is doubtful with an injured right knee. ? Auburn S Eric Brock is questionable for this weekend after missing the Georgia game with a high ankle sprain. ? Florida LB Earl Everett sprained his ankle against South Carolina, but he still should play this weekend. Florida LB Brandon Siler probably will sit out the Western Carolina game after playing a limited amount last week with an injured left knee. ? Kentucky P Tim Masthay is questionable for this weekend's game with a bruised ankle. Also questionable are Kentucky DT Ventrell Jenkins with a shoulder injury and TE Jacob Tamme with a pulled abdominal muscle. Kentucky TB Tony Dixon probably will miss the Louisiana-Monroe game because of a hamstring injury. ? LSU LB Darry Beckwith is doubtful for the Ole Miss game after suffering a knee injury last weekend. LSU WR Craig Davis and SS Jessie Daniels probably will play this week after missing the Alabama game. Davis has a leg injury and Daniels has a hamstring problem. ? Mississippi State WR Jamayel Smith will try to play this week despite having a torn ligament in his thumb. Mississippi State CB Derek Pegues has a shoulder injury that could affect him this week. Mississippi State RB Brandon Thornton has a knee injury that will prevent him from playing against Arkansas. ? Ole Miss DE Chris Bowers will probably miss the rest of the season with a shoulder injury. ? Tennessee QB Erik Ainge is hoping to play this weekend after missing the Arkansas game with an ankle injury. Tennessee DE Antonio Reynolds is doubtful for the Vanderbilt game with a neck injury.
Worth noting: Auburn CB Jonathan Wilhite was benched in favor of Patrick Lee after struggling early in the Georgia game. Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville hasn't indicated which player will start against Alabama. ? The SEC has a 35-7 record in non-conference games for an .833 winning percentage that leads the nation. ? The SEC likely will surpass the six million mark in attendance this week. The SEC also drew at least six million fans in 2002 and 2003. ? South Carolina's Syvelle Newton has added one more item to his r?m?After playing quarterback and wide receiver earlier this season, Newton started at free safety against Florida last week and collected eight tackles. ? SEC players of the week for last weekend's games included Kentucky QB Andre' Woodson (offense), Georgia DB Tra Battle (defense), Florida DE Jarvis Moss (special teams), Arkansas OT Tony Ugoh (offensive line), LSU DE Tyson Jackson (defensive line) and Georgia QB Matthew Stafford (freshman). Rivals.com also named Stafford the national freshman of the week.
Looking back: Jarvis Moss blocked Ryan Succop's 48-yard field goal on the final play of Florida's 17-16 victory over South Carolina. ? Darren McFadden rushed for two touchdowns and passed for a third score as Arkansas whipped Tennessee 31-14. ? Tra Battle picked off three passes as Georgia stunned Auburn 37-15. ? Andre' Woodson threw for 450 yards and four touchdowns in Kentucky's 38-26 triumph over Vanderbilt. ? JaMarcus Russell went 18-of-21 and threw three touchdown passes in LSU's 28-14 victory over Alabama.
Freshman who impressed: Georgia QB Matthew Stafford played the best game of his young career last week by going 14-of-20 for 219 yards with a touchdown pass and no interceptions in Georgia's 37-15 victory at Auburn. Stafford also ran seven times for 83 yards and a touchdown.
Bowl watch: Alabama (6-5), Arkansas (9-1), Auburn (9-2), Florida (9-1), Georgia (7-4), Kentucky (6-4), LSU (8-2) and Tennessee (7-3) are already bowl eligible. South Carolina (5-5) can become bowl eligible by winning one of its two remaining regular-season games against Middle Tennessee and Clemson. Ole Miss (3-7), Mississippi State (3-7) and Vanderbilt (4-7) are out of bowl contention.