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October 25, 2006

SEC: Week 9 Breakdown

Megargee's SEC picks
Rivals.com national writer Steve Megargee's predictions for Week 8 in the SEC.
Auburn 31, Ole Miss 10
Vanderbilt 20, Duke 7
Kentucky 28, Mississippi State 20
Alabama 24, Fla. International 3
Florida 24, Georgia 7
Arkansas 34, Louisiana-Monroe 7
Tennessee 27 South Carolina 23
Last week: 6-0. Season: 53-9.

Sorting out the East: A couple of Eastern Division showdowns should go a long way toward determining which team represents the East in the SEC championship game. Florida continues to control its destiny and can just about eliminate Georgia from contention with a victory Saturday. A Florida loss and a Tennessee win would allow the Vols to take over sole possession of first place in the division. A South Carolina victory could help the Gamecocks make a second consecutive late-season run toward the top of the standings.

Best matchup: South Carolina WR Sidney Rice may have ended his sophomore slump last week when he caught a touchdown pass in an SEC game for the first time all year. Rice will spend much of this week lining up against Tennessee CB Jonathan Wade, who is tied for the SEC lead in passes defended. An equally intriguing matchup will take place between Tennessee WR Robert Meachem and South Carolina CB Fred Bennett when the Vols have the ball. You can make a pretty convincing case that these are the top two receivers and top two cornerbacks in the conference, though Florida WR Dallas Baker, Alabama WR DJ Hall, Auburn CB David Irons and Arkansas CB Chris Houston might argue with that.

Worst matchup: This week features a couple of terrible matchups. After holding Tennessee's potent attack in check for most of the day last week, Alabama's defense should be licking its chops to face a Florida International team that is ranked 114th out of 119 Division I-A programs in total offense. The Golden Panthers have scored just 22 points in regulation time in their last three games. … Arkansas RBs Darren McFadden and Felix Jones should run wild against Louisiana-Monroe, which allowed nearly five yards per carry in a 35-21 loss to Middle Tennessee last week.

The pressure is on:Kentucky coach Rich Brooks. If you buy into the notion that Brooks must send Kentucky to a bowl this year to keep his job, he faces a must-win situation this week at Mississippi State. Kentucky (3-4) needs three more wins to become eligible for a bowl. Nobody expects the Wildcats to win their regular-season finale at Tennessee. That means Kentucky probably needs to go 3-1 in this upcoming four-game stretch that starts Saturday and also includes home games with Georgia, Vanderbilt and Louisiana-Monroe.

Upset alert: After winning in Knoxville last year, South Carolina will try to stun Tennessee again this week. South Carolina has looked like a much different team since Syvelle Newton took over as the Gamecocks' starting quarterback last month. The Gamecocks nearly knocked off Auburn at home earlier this season. They might not beat Tennessee this weekend, but they should give the visiting Vols quite a scare.

Most to gain: South Carolina OTs Jamon Meredith and Justin Sorensen. The Gamecocks gained nearly 6 yards per carry in the second half of a 31-13 victory over Vanderbilt last week after South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier shuffled his offensive line at halftime. Spurrier moved Meredith from right tackle to left tackle while having Sorensen fill Meredith's old position. If these two tackles can deliver a similar performance Saturday against Tennessee, this change could be permanent.

Most to lose: Florida. Two weeks ago, the Gators were dreaming of a potential national championship. If the Gators fall to Georgia, they may not even play for the conference championship.

BCS implications: Florida must win to continue controlling its destiny in the Eastern Division race. Florida, Auburn, Tennessee and Arkansas are one-loss teams that still have hopes of earning BCS at-large berths even if they don't win the conference title.

Who's hot: Alabama CB Simeon Castille picked off two passes last week and now leads the SEC with five interceptions. … Ole Miss LB Patrick Willis has recorded double-digit tackles in all but one game this year. … Ole Miss LB Rory Johnson has 41 tackles in his last three games. … Alabama WR DJ Hall has collected at least 100 receiving yards each of his last five games. … Auburn QB Brandon Cox has thrown five touchdown passes and no interceptions in his last four games. Cox has thrown 102 consecutive passes without an interception… LSU QB JaMarcus Russell has gone 30-of-37 for 436 yards with four touchdown passes and no interceptions his last two weeks. … Auburn DE Quentin Groves has four sacks in his last two games. … South Carolina K/P Ryan Succop has gone 9-of-10 on field-goal attempts this year and made a 55-yarder against Vanderbilt last week. … Mississippi State DB Jeramie Johnson forced two fumbles last week and leads the SEC with five forced fumbles this season.

Who's not: Georgia QB Matthew Stafford has thrown seven interceptions and only three touchdown passes. … Kentucky is giving up 462.4 yards per game and is ranked last among all 119 Division I-A teams in total defense. … Kentucky QB Andre' Woodson has gone 32-of-68 in his last two games. … Ole Miss QB Brent Schaeffer has completed just 46 percent of his passes this season.

Must see TV: Tennessee at South Carolina (ESPN): The Florida-Georgia game will get more attention this week, but the Tennessee-South Carolina clash should be much more competitive.

Newcomer/Backup that could have an impact: Ole Miss LB Jonathan Cornell. Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron dismissed starting LB Garry Pack from the team Monday for a violation of team rules. Cornell is the most likely candidate to fill Pack's spot in the lineup. The true freshman and former four-star prospect received more playing time than usual against Arkansas, and should see his role expand in a big way this weekend.

Key stat: Arkansas QB Mitch Mustain owns a 60-2 record as a starting quarterback since the eighth grade.

Take the line: Kentucky has lost its three road contests this season by an average margin of 33 points per game. Then again, those road games came against Louisville, Florida and LSU. Nobody will ever confuse Mississippi State with any of those teams. The matchup between Mississippi State's lackluster offense and Kentucky's woeful defense could get ugly, but we think Kentucky has enough offensive firepower to cover the spread as a two-point favorite. Season record: 5-4.

They said it: "We have to hope that these good teams don't play exceptionally well, and they didn't last year. Arkansas didn't, Tennessee didn't and Florida didn't. That helped us. Our guys played without mistakes, without error. We scored about every time we had a chance in those three games. You never know if it is going to happen that way, but if it did, then certainly we would have a chance." - South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier on the possibility of making another late-season surge.

Injury update: Auburn C Jason Bosley has a knee injury that could prevent him from playing Saturday. Auburn would move Jonathan Palmer from right tackle to center if Bosley can't play. Leon Hart or Antwoin Daniels would start at right tackle. Auburn OG Tim Duckworth is expected to return this week after being sidelined for the Tulane game. … Georgia OG Chester Adams is hoping to return to action this week after missing the Mississippi State game with a high ankle sprain. Georgia CB Ramarcus Brown expects to play Saturday despite having a strained hamstring. Georgia LB Darius Dewberry also has a hamstring injury and is doubtful. … Kentucky LB Joe Schuler has ended his career because of repeated concussions. Kentucky RB Rafael Little continues to be out with a knee injury. … Tennessee RB LaMarcus Coker will miss at least three weeks with a sprained left knee. Tennessee WR Jayson Swain aggravated an ankle injury last week, leaving his status uncertain for the South Carolina game. … Vanderbilt H-back Steven Bright fractured his right fibula last week and will miss the remainder of the season.

Worth noting: WR Demiko Goodman is replacing Mohamed Massaquoi in Georgia's starting lineup this weekend. Massaquoi dropped a few passes against Mississippi State last week. … Arkansas' defense has allowed only one touchdown in its last 10 quarters. … Although Kentucky ranks last in the nation in total defense, the Wildcats also are 14th in the nation with a plus-7 turnover margin. … LSU has outscored opponents 160-9 in the first half of home games. … Felix Jones' 100-yard return of the opening kickoff in Arkansas' 38-3 victory over Ole Miss marked the first time the Rebels had allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown since 1988. … Mississippi State hasn't used the same starting offensive lineup twice all season. … SEC teams have scored the exact same number of rushing touchdowns (131) and passing touchdowns this season. … SEC players of the week for last weekend's games included LSU WR Dwayne Bowe (offense), Tennessee LB Jerod Mayo (defense), Arkansas KR Felix Jones (special teams), Auburn OT King Dunlap (offensive line), South Carolina DE Casper Brinkley (defensive line) and Georgia QB Matthew Stafford (freshman).

Looking back: Darren McFadden had one touchdown run and one touchdown catch in Arkansas' 38-3 thrashing of Ole Miss. … Charles Johnson forced and recovered a fumble with three seconds remaining to preserve Georgia's 27-24 victory over Mississippi State. … Brandon Cox threw three touchdown passes as Auburn trounced Tulane 38-13. … Syvelle Newton threw two touchdown passes and rushed for a third score in South Carolina's 31-13 triumph over Vanderbilt. … Arian Foster's 1-yard touchdown run with 3:28 remaining put Tennessee ahead for good in a 16-13 victory over Alabama. … Dwayne Bowe tied a school record with his 21st career touchdown pass as LSU whipped Fresno State 38-6.

Freshman who impressed: Injuries to Kenny Irons and Brad Lester left Auburn relying on true freshman Ben Tate to carry the Tigers' rushing attack last week. The former four-star prospect responded by running 26 times for 156 yards and a touchdown against Tulane. Tate had entered the game with only 11 carries for 119 yards.

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