TEBOWS AND MILES AND TIGERS, OH MY!
Florida at LSU, 8 p.m. ET, CBS
Let's forget for a moment that this is the TIMTEBOWWHATWILLHEDOWILLHECOMEBACK game. Let's instead look at LSU's defense, which will have to contend with one of two quarterba-- I mean, consider Florida's offense, which hasn't been quite as prolific as imagined even when the man under center has been Ti--
When you begin to look at Florida and how its immediate past has largely been crafted by one player over the last couple of seasons, it's actually not hard to see why the concussed brain of Tim Tebow has become one of the main sports stories of the week. The Gators are, after all, the defending national champions squaring off with the 2007 national champions in the biggest game of the week. And there's a question about whether the best player on either team will take the field.
That said, this game is more than just Tim Tebow returning or not. Jordan Jefferson has been a solid quarterback in his own right (80-of-128, 920 yards, 7 TDs, 1 INT, ranked 49th nationally in passing efficiency). But even there, the question of how this game could be framed on offense tracks back to Tebow. Will it be one of the great quarterbacks of the last couple of years in the SEC facing one of its upcoming stars? Will it be a showdown between two young signal-callers upon whom their teams' hopes for continuing national prominence rest? All of that ignoring the firepower of Florida's running backs and one of the most underrated offensive players in the game, LSU WR Brandon LaFell.
On the defensive side, LSU is still suspect, having a good game against Vanderbilt but troubling efforts against Mississippi State and Washington. But what do we know about Florida? The gaudy numbers for the Gators defense -- they are ranked first or second in rushing defense, passing defense, passing efficiency defense and total defense -- are less impressive when you consider their opponents have been Charleston Southern, Troy, Tennessee and Kentucky. The first two were clearly outmanned before they took the field; the latter two are hardly among the top-flight offensive teams in the SEC.
All of that means the game is something of a jumble even before we know whether Tebow takes the field. That just adds another level of mystery to what should in any case be a game where the Gators are favored.
Florida 35, LSU 30
OH YEAH. THEM
Alabama at Ole Miss, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
The Tebow situation has also provided an almost total information blackout on the other major SEC game this weekend, the intradivision fight between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Ole Miss Rebels. But consider this fact, one that I know you didn't see coming at the beginning of this season: Alabama is ranked 14th in the country in total offense despite having faced Virginia Tech. And other teams that technically fielded defenses. I think.
Ole Miss, meanwhile, is just 59th in the country in total offense and seventh in the league. The Rebels average 89 fewer yards a game than does the Tide, though their defense is statistically strong (277.8 ypg). The caveat that must be added there? The schedule has been Memphis, Southeastern Louisiana, South Carolina and Vanderbilt. Only two of those teams are even in a BCS conference, and the only one that's expected to even decent this year (South Carolina) is expected to do so without much offensive flash.
The key to this game is Jevan Snead. If he can reverse the slump he's been in most of this season and return to the quarterback we saw in the last half of 2008, the Rebels have a real shot at making this a game. But if he struggles and the defense proves to have built its resume on a weak schedule, Ole Miss could end up watching Greg McElroy and Co. put the game out of reach by the end of the third quarter. If not sooner.
Alabama 34, Ole Miss 21
NOT TO MENTION THIS GAME
Auburn at Arkansas, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN
Yes, as we all predicted in the preseason, one of these teams is having a breakout offensive season. Sure, they've got the suspect defense we also expected one of these two to have. But just like we projected out of one of these contestants, they are showing they could be a contender in the SEC West.
Sure, that preseason darling was Arkansas and the team that seems to have fulfilled the hype is Auburn. But why be picky?
If this game goes according to pattern -- and nothing has this season -- there are going to be many, many points scored. Forget this game being done by the time Alabama and Ole Miss kick off three and a half hours later; it could still be in regulation when
we finally find out if Tim Tebow's going to playLSU and Florida start their contest. Arkansas' scoring offense is 17th and their total offense 18th in the country; their scoring defense is 90th and their total defense 97th. Auburn is fifth in both total and scoring offense, 53rd and 58th in the respective defensive categories.
Neither of these teams has exactly coasted through their early schedule, but both have also had some easy games. The Hogs opened the season against Missouri State and last week eviscerated any talk of a resurgent Texas A&M; Auburn's victories include wins over hapless Ball State and decent midmajor Louisiana Tech.
So it's a shootout, which makes selecting tricky. But I'll go with the team who's lived up to the other side's hype.
Auburn 48, Arkansas 46
OR THIS ONE
Georgia at Tennessee, 12:21 p.m. ET, SEC Network
Are there any bad games this weekend? (Don't answer that; I will in a moment.) The suddenly under-fire Georgia coaching squad -- okay, Willie Martinez has been there for what seems like a decade, but anyway -- faces off against Lane Kiffin and his flying circus of a football program. (In the center ring, we have the Shirt-Ripping Cajun. And over here, we have the Man With the Mouth Large Enough to Swallow a Blimp. Playing football? Who's got time for that?)
After a pair of high-scoring games against South Carolina and Arkansas, the Dawgs have stepped back into the offensive neighborhood we sort of expected -- 86th nationally and 10th in the SEC in total offense. And Georgia fans would never forgive me if I didn't point out that there schizophrenic nature is due entirely to the fact that they're losing the ball an average of 1.8 times a game and aside from that are a great football team.
Tennessee, meanwhile -- oy. They've scored 30 just twice, against Western Kentucky and Ohio. UCLA, which allowed 24 points to Stanford, gave up only 15 to the Vols. The schizophrenic nature of the Vols has really come down to the skill level of their opponents. They do poorly against quality foes and well against those who don't really belong in the FBS. For all its faults, Georgia belongs there.
Georgia 24, Tennessee 12
YOU'VE LOST NINE IN A ROW TO WHO?
Kentucky at South Carolina, 12:30 p.m. ET, FSN South
That's right -- Kentucky hasn't defeated South Carolina in this millennium. Not for a lack of trying; three of the last five games were decided by a touchdown or less, though the other two were fairly lopsided Gamecock victories (44-16 in 2005 and 38-23 in 2007). So when you see a UK fan get worked up over this game, that's why.
South Carolina now gets into the part of its schedule that will determine its fate, starting with the SEC team against which it has been most consistently dominant. After the Wildcats, the Gamecocks go to Alabama, then face Vanderbilt at home before traveling to Tennessee and Arkansas and then heading back to Columbia for showdowns with Florida and Clemson. The win against Ole Miss was nice, but an eight- or nine-win season still requires running that gauntlet while winning four or five more games.
Kentucky is also searching for direction. They need to at least play credibly in this game to reignite their hopes of a fourth consecutive bowl. A bad loss here -- somewhere in the neighborhood of 15-20 points -- and the wheels could come off the season quickly as the 'Cats enter a five-game stretch during which they almost have to win four (at Auburn, Louisiana-Monroe, Mississippi State, Eastern Kentucky and at Vanderbilt). They avoid the worst-case scenario, at least.
South Carolina 24, Kentucky 14
MAYBE A GOOD NONCONFERENCE GAME
Houston at Mississippi State, 12:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU
This looked to be a bigger contest when the Cougars were undefeated and potential BCS busters, but it's still a nice test for both of these teams. Can Houston bounce back from the upset against UTEP? Can Mississippi State prove that its strong showings in the SEC were no fluke?
It's a tough game for the Western Division Bulldogs. If they win, it's because Houston was never all that good to begin with and just got overhyped after a couple of wins against overrated Big XII South opponents. If Mississippi State loses, then it's just another sign that they aren't quite ready for the SEC.
Problem for State is that their passing defense doesn't look very good. Houston's passing offense is extremely good.
Houston 45, Mississippi State 36
HERE'S A GAME YOU CAN PROBABLY SKIP
Vanderbilt at Army, 12 p.m. ET, CBS College Sports
Ah, yes, that game that probably won't be very good that I was telling you about. The 83rd and 109th ranked offenses in the country collide -- can you even use collide in that phrase? -- in New York as the Vanderbilt Commodores -- they call themselves Commies! -- meet up with the brave young fighting men of the United States Army.
Both teams wear black and gold. Both of them are awful on offense. Neither is terrible or terribly good on defense, though the edge probably goes to Vandy on that count.
What do you want me to say about this game? It's going to be very, very boring, and no preview that does it justice can go on very long without falling into the same trap.
Vanderbilt 7, Army 6