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SEC Game Previews – 10/4/13

mrsec game preview (2)Ready for Week Six of the college football season?  Or are you like us and still baffled by how quickly we’ve arrived at Week Six?

Ready or not, our weekly game previews are below, complete with opinions and stats on every contest involving an SEC squad.

Good luck to your favorite team this weekend…

 

Georgia State (0-4) at #1 Alabama (4-0)

TV:  12:21pm ET on SEC Network

Opening Line:  UA -56

Current Line:  UA -55

One To Watch:  The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  If the first-year-in-the-FBS Panthers spring an upset in this one, it’ll be a clear sign that the end is near.

This and That:

1.  For Alabama, the month of October kicks off with a pair of major goals: Stay healthy and improve.  You don’t want to go losing key starters to injury against cupcakes like GSU, but that’s usually just about the only thing these types of games are good for.  Bama also needs to find a consistency on both offense and defense that’s been lacking so far in 2013.  Of course, Georgia State is so outmanned that no one will know if UA has improved or not.  Kudos to Alabama for playing a neutral site, non-conference game with Virginia Tech earlier in the year, but scheduling Georgia State is ridiculous.

2.  Alabama is allowing 14.5 points per game.  Georgia State is allowing 36.5.  To date the Panthers have played Samford (21-31 loss), Chattanooga (14-42 loss), West Virginia (7-41 loss), and Jacksonville State (26-32 loss in overtime).  Nuff said.

3.  The biggest challenge facing the Crimson Tide this week comes from off the gridiron.  With the news that an assistant strength and conditioning coach loaned money to safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix comes a major distraction.  Clinton-Dix, a key starter, is suspended indefinitely.  The strength coach in question is on administrative leave.  With this coming on the heels of the Yahoo! Sports report that ex-Bama player DJ Fluker was given impermissible benefits during his playing career by a runner (another ex-Bama player) on behalf of an agent (who happens to be a Bama fan), Tide fans can feel free to fret a bit.

Prediction:  Alabama 50, Georgia State 3

 

#6 Georgia (3-1) at Tennessee (3-2)

TV:  3:30pm ET on CBS

Opening Line:  UGA -10.5

Current Line:  UGA -10.5

One To Watch:  Georgia RB Keith Marshall.  With Todd Gurley nursing a bum ankle, his backup figures to take center stage in Knoxville tomorrow.  Vol fans should remember him.  His career-best game came against Tennessee last season (10 rushes, 164 yards, two touchdowns).

This and That:

1.  The Volunteers have to hope that UGA — on the road after an emotional win over LSU — sleepwalks into tomorrow’s ballgame.  It’s happened before.  Mark Richt’s program got smacked around by a combined 47 points in Neyland Stadium in 2007 and 2009.  Having said that, with ex-Georgia coaches John Jancek and Willie Martinez now on UT’s staff, some Bulldog veterans will likely have a little added motivation tomorrow.  And Vol quarterback Justin Worley might’ve given UGA some bulletin board material when he said of the Dawg defense: “There are holes there, but you’ve got to find ‘em and execute when opportunities are presented.”  Here’s guessing Todd Grantham has shared only the first part of that quote with his defenders.

2.  The Bulldogs could be without starting safety Tray Matthews tomorrow.  The freshman “tweaked” a hamstring in practice this week and Georgia’s defense hasn’t exactly been a impenetrable wall with him.  Take a key cog away and there might be one or two more “holes” in the Dawgs’ spotty D.

3.  Georgia has scored 35 or more points in every game this season.  Three of those games were against top 10 teams.  In case you haven’t been keeping up, Tennessee is not a top 10 team.  The Volunteers lack of depth has been exposed and Butch Jones referenced that fact this week.  Against South Alabama last week, for example, UT had two cornerbacks play every… single… snap.  The guys in the new “Smokey” gray uniforms figure to be worn down by an offense that’s just a few hundred times better than South Alabama.

Prediction:  Georgia 51, Tennessee 24

 

#24 Ole Miss (3-1) at Auburn (3-1)

TV:  7:00pm ET on ESPNU

Opening Line:  UM -1

Current Line:  UM -3

One To Watch:  The coaching matchup.  One was coaching high school ball earlier this decade.  His no-huddle spread attack has brought hope to his team’s fanbase.  The other was coaching high school ball earlier this decade.  And his no-huddle spread attack has brought hope to his team’s fanbase.  Well, you get the picture.  There also happens to be a pretty good friendship between Gus Malzahn and Hugh Freeze to boot.

This and That:

1.  Want an interesting stat?  Here’s one: Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace has thrown for 807 yards on the season while Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall has thrown for 809.  Both starters have tossed four TD passes, too.  But there is a difference between the Rebels’ second-year starter and the Tigers’ juco transfer.  Wallace hasn’t been picked off in 2013; Marshall has thrown four INTs.  Auburn is minus-two in turnover margin on the season.  AU’s got the homefield advantage, but turning the ball over could negate that in a hurry.

2.  While the focus will be on the two similar offenses, the real difference in this one — if it isn’t turnovers — will likely be defense.  The Tigers and Rebels are within 20 yards of one another in terms of total offense per game.  But UM holds a sizable advantage in total defense allowing 358 yards per game to Auburn’s 439.5.  Both teams can move the football, but Ole Miss has been able to stop the other team on occasion, too.

3.  The Rebels need to get the focus back onto their gridiron work.  Last week, Bo Wallace flapped his gums in the run-up to the Alabama game (only to have it glued shut in a 25-zip loss).  Late this week, UM players were accused of hate speech while attending a play based on the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a homosexual.  When the Rebs stick to football, they shine a good light on their school.  When they start boasting or making news off the field — sorta/kinda like an Ole Miss hoops player we all know — they make it tougher to root for them.

Prediction:  Ole Miss 31, Auburn 30

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The 50 Best SEC Games To Watch In 2012: 40-31

Over the course of the week, we at MrSEC.com are unveiling the 50 SEC games this writer is most interested in watching in 2012.  For a description of how the games were chosen, scroll down the homepage and read Part One of our countdown.

For now, just know that we’re going through the schedule week-by-week with the least-interesting games listed sooner and the most-interesting games listed later.  Now, on with the list:

 

Week Three (weekend of September 15th) — There are some real dud nonconference foes on the docket: Louisiana-Monroe, Florida Atlantic, Western Kentucky, Idaho, Troy, UAB, and even tiny Presbyterian.

40.  Florida at Tennessee — Two Nick Saban acolytes meet in Knoxville and the winner’s team could be a surprise contender in the East Division.  The loser will hear increasing howls outside his office door.

39.  Alabama at Arkansas — Battle #1 in the three-team round-robin fight for the West Division title.  If John L. Smith can topple the Tide, he’ll have a few more people back him as the Razorbacks’ permanent head coach.

 

Week Four (weekend of September 22nd)

38.  Rutgers at Arkansas — First, this is another one of those nonconference matchups you never see.  Second, Greg Schiano has left New Jersey for the NFL, but his old team couldn’t catch the Hogs in a trap game could they?

37.  LSU at Auburn — LSU’s first SEC contest of the year.  Could Gene Chizik’s youthful team be ready to pull an upset?

36.  Missouri at South Carolina — The inaugural Battle of the Columbias.  The Cocks’ failure to protect their home turf against underdog Auburn cost them the East title last season.

35.  Vanderbilt at Georgia — Think these teams will remember the cheap shots, taunts and postgame hullabaloo that made national headlines after their game last year?  James Franklin versus Todd Granthem, Round Two.

 

Week Five (weekend of September 29th)

34.  Tennessee at Georgia — Who knows what to expect from the Volunteers by this point of the season, but the East favorite Bulldogs can’t afford a slip-up.  Either an important division clash or possibly Derek Dooley’s last visit to the stadium where his father became a legend.

33.  South Carolina at Kentucky — Joker Phillips upset Carolina at Commonwealth Stadium back in 2010 and a win this year could help save his scalp.  Like UGA against Tennessee, USC can’t afford to drop one to Kentucky if it wants to win the East.

32.  Arkansas at Texas A&M — The old SWC conference foes will do battle in their first official meeting at SEC foes.  A&M fought to move this game from Cowboys Stadium to College Station… will that pay off for them?

 

Week Six (weekend of October 6th)

31.  Arkansas at Auburn — Depending on how things play out, this one could be a battle between surprise teams in the SEC West.  Either way, if Smith wants to remove the word “interim” from his title he needs to beat the Tigers on the road.

 

We’ll pick up with Week Six tomorrow and count down from 30 through 21.

For a complete look at the SEC’s grid schedule, click right here.

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Grant’s Stand Could Cost Tide, But Kudos To Him For Taking It

Anthony Grant may not be the SEC’s Coach of the Year in 2011-12, but he’s got this writer’s vote for Man of the Year.  Why?  Because he could be scuttling this season for the greater good of building a disciplined program at Alabama.

Every sports fan knows that the more talent a player has, the more second- and third-chances he will get following poor off-court behavior.  Just as true: Coaches needing wins are averse to disciplining players for key games.

We’ve all seen it.  The third-string linebacker gets the boot while the starting quarterback gets a one-half suspension.  Key players are disciplined not for a Week Five matchup with LSU, but for a Week Six contest against Appalachian State.

That’s not the case with Grant.  At least it doesn’t appear to be.

After Alabama dropped a fourth game in a row back on January 25th, Grant said his team was “playing an entitled brand of basketball, and it’s very frustrating as a coach.”  His team responded with two consecutive wins.

Then last week, Grant suspended forward Tony Mitchell for “conduct detrimental to the team.”  His Tide won the next night at Auburn.  But then came the real bombshell — facing LSU on Saturday, Grant suspended JaMychal Green, Trevor Releford and Andrew Steele for violations of team rules.  The trio was sent home from Baton Rouge before the game… which resulted in an Alabama loss.

These aren’t scrubs.  These are key figures.  Benched in the middle of an NCAA Tournament push.  Mitchell, Green, Releford and Steele account for 45.4 points and 20.4 rebounds per game.

For the moment — and it may be to the chagrin of Tide fans who expected a Top 20 team and a deep NCAA tourney run this year — it appears that Grant is willing to sacrifice the present for the future.  That’s not an easy call to make.  But if he had allowed important veterans to break rules and get away with it because of their value to the team, his younger players would have seen it.  Instead, he’s sent a message that he hopes will resonate as he continues to build his program.

Question is: When will he allow the suspended quartet to return?  If he waits too long, the Tide could play itself right out of March Madness.  That might eventually land Grant on a warming seat in Tuscaloosa and that could ultimately impact just how long he actually gets to build his program.

The simple way out would have been for Grant to allow all four players to keep hitting the court, regardless of their actions.  It’s been done before at many, many programs.  Grant instead chose the more controversial approach.  It may work, it may not.

But we applaud him for showing some gumption and making the less popular decision.

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