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Ten Games That Will Shape the SEC: No. 1 -- Alabama at Ole Miss

The Game: Alabama Crimson Tide at Mississippi Rebels, Oct. 10

What's at Stake: The lead in the SEC West. Whoever wins this game will be the best bet to play in Atlanta. Only a loss to LSU could possibly derail the winner, since the head-to-head win will allow for a mistake against Arkansas or Auburn. (Alabama will have already played the Hogs at this point.) No game in October is an elimination game for anything -- but the victor will probably control its own fate.

Where It Falls on Alabama's Schedule: Almost squarely in the middle. While tilts against Virginia Tech and Arkansas could be difficult, the Tide also has three relatively easy games against Florida International and North Texas and at Kentucky. Afterwards come home contests against South Carolina and Tennessee before a bye.

Where It Falls on Ole Miss's Schedule: After a stretch that could easily see the Rebels go 4-0, with games at Memphis, against Southeastern Louisiana, at South Carolina and at Vanderbilt. The only question is whether the possible land mines in Columbia and Nashville will leave Ole Miss banged up enough to lose to the Tide, or even with a disappointing loss that could deflate the season's promise.

What Happened This Past Season: Alabama strolled to a 24-3 lead at halftime and then seemed to sleepwalk through the second half, as Ole Miss scored 17 in the second half and saw its chance at victory end only when Jevan Snead's pass to Dexter McCluster fell incomplete with a minute to play and the Rebels on the Alabama 43. Ole Miss gained 265 of its 359 yards of offense in the second half.

What Will Decide the Game This Year: Maybe a single, game-swinging play. These two teams are, at least in the mind of your humble correspondent, thisclose to one another. A turnover, long TD or special-teams disaster could be difference.

Alabama Will Probably Win If ... The Tide defense can shut down the Ole Miss offense. The Rebels won only two of the six games in which they scored fewer than 30 points last year, and while the defense is good, Ole Miss' chances will still come down to Snead, McCluster and the rest of the offense.

Ole Miss Will Probably Win If ... The offensive line can hold back the Tide. Give Jevan Snead time and Cordera Eason some room, and it will be far easier to score enough points to come out of Tuscaloosa in control of the West.

Conclusion: I'm one of those who really likes Ole Miss this year, and I go back and forth on this game. But I have to stay with my initial pick: A narrow win for Alabama. Their defense is good enough to minimize the damage by the Ole Miss offense and should allow the Tide to score just enough to come out ahead.


No. 2 -- LSU at Alabama (Earlier Today)
No. 3 -- Georgia vs. Florida (Jacksonvile)
No. 4 -- LSU at Ole Miss
No. 5 -- Florida at LSU
No. 6 -- LSU at Georgia
No. 7 -- South Carolina at Georgia
No. 8 -- Tennessee at Florida
No. 9 -- Auburn at Tennesee
No. 10 -- Kentucky at Vanderbilt