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Week 8 SEC Preview: Auburn, LSU Clash While Tennessee Plays Alabama and Nutt Faces Arkansas

He might not be the craziest thing in his game today.
He might not be the craziest thing in his game today.

Weekend Open Thread posts at 11 a.m. ET

7 LSU at 4 Auburn / 3:30 p.m. ET / CBS

Les Miles. LSU. And Auburn.

Those words alone should be enough to get you to watch this game. This game has featured it all at some point in time -- kickers that couldn't find the uprights to save their lives, the incineration of nearby university facilities, a game in 1999 decided by a steel-cage death match between Tommy Tuberville and Gerry DiNardo. (Tuberville won, leading to the hiring of Nick Saban by LSU. This is actually not that far from the truth.) Bizarre things are going to happen on the Plains.

Or, really, you could figure that out just by looking at who leads the Bayou Bengals onto the field. Les Miles has increased his reputation as a riverboat gambler this year, with his only disappointment apparently being that the fake field goal he called against Florida did not immediately go for a touchdown. And Auburn, of all teams, knows about Miles' unique theory of clock management.

To more actual football analysis, though I'm not sure it truly matters in this game: This is one of those match-ups that announcers like to call an example of "strength-on-strength." Or weakness-on-weakness, take your pick. LSU is an epically bad offense for an undefeated team, ranked 10th in the conference -- ahead of only Tennessee and Vanderbilt. But LSU's offense might have finally met something almost as bad as itself; Auburn comes into this game ranked ninth in total defense, at nearly 370 yards per game.

Then, we have the Auburn offense, or Newtoffense. Gus Malzahn's latest blueprint is churning out more than 480 yards a game, moving the ball at an astonishing clip of 7.2 yards per play. (Arkansas is at 7.3 ypp, Alabama is 6.9, and no one else in the SEC is higher than 6.4.) Meet LSU's offense, allowing just 4.0 yards per play, better than anyone else in the league by nearly a full yard. The Bayou Bengals are holding to teams to little more than 240 yards a game.

In the end, it's still going to be decided when part of the stadium collapses and pushes field goal wide right. Or when the sight of a nearby fire causes a receiver to miss a critical catch.

But we'll pretend for a while that this is about football.

Auburn 24, LSU 21

Tennessee at 8 Alabama / 7 p.m. ET / ESPN

Despite the teams' differing fortunes last season, the 12-10 Tide win on the Third/Fourth Saturday in October last year was more in line with recent years than when Alabama waxed the Vols 29-9 in 2008 or when the Tide shellacked Tennesee 41-17 the year before. The four meetings before that had been decided by eight, four, three and three points. Put another way, famous coaches' sons have a history of keeping this one close.

Can Derek Dooley follow that perhaps meaningless pattern? I'm not sure. After all, there's a case that can be made that Tennessee isn't all that bad this year, that the Vols should have at least one more win and don't really fade against good teams until the second half.

And there's a case that something is just wrong with the Alabama offense. Blame it on problems with the run game, blame it on Greg McElroy's newfound affinity for being picking grass out of his facemask, blame it on something else -- but this has not been the Alabama offense that we expected to see. In fact, this has not been the Alabama offense that we saw last year.

On the other hand, the Tennessee defense might be the best antidote for those problems. The Vols rank ninth in the SEC in both run and pass defense, "good" for 12th in total defense -- which probably goes a long way toward explaining the 2-4 record.

This is a rivalry game, though, and I doubt that someone raised in the SEC needs anyone to tell him how important those are. Besides, Tennessee did have a bye last week.

Alabama 19, Tennessee 14

Ole Miss at 21 Arkansas / 12:21 p.m. ET / SEC Network

With any other fan base -- even LSU -- you would probably be safe to assume that things have calmed down between the former coach and the fans. But this is Arkansas we're talking about, so it's best to wait and see. After all, neither Houston Nutt nor some of his most stringent critics were ever thought to be playing with a full deck of cards. (Note that I said some of his most stringent critics. This is not the same as all Arkansas fans.)

Ole Miss has actually been doing a pretty good job of defending the pass this year if you limit it to conference games and take things like the Jacksonville State game out of the mix. (Sorry, it's true.) Then again, the offense has actually lost ground in relation to the rest of the conference as September has moved to October.

Meanwhile, RYAN MALLETT CONCUSSION WATCH WEEK ha-- What? You mean, ESPN hasn't devoted 18 hours of every day to tracking the brain health of an SEC quarterback? Well, um, good for them. I guess. In all seriousness, we all hope that Mallett is healthy and ready to play in this game. But it's fair to ask if we're going to see the same Ryan Mallett that we've seen in the past. Because if he's not making the right decisions, it could be a long day for the Arkansas offense.

On the other side is Jeremiah Masoli, who has had a truly extraordinary introduction to the SEC. He met Nutt; lost to an FCS team in his first game as a Rebel; and saw his school adopt a Black Bear as a mascot for no real reason other than they didn't have a mascot and couldn't use the last oney they had. He's also generated 1,235 yards of total offense, which isn't bad for a first-year graduate student.

Yes, this game is almost guaranteed to be a bucket of crazy that will only be surpassed by the Ole Miss-LSU game later this year. That's why we love it.

Arkansas 40, Ole Miss 24

19 South Carolina at Vanderbilt / 7 p.m. ET / FSN

One of the statistical oddities for South Carolina this year is that the Gamecocks aren't particularly good at anything -- save run defense, passing and punting -- at least in statistical terms. The only category in which South Carolina leads the league is sacks, which is more than offset by the fact that the Gamecocks are dead last in passing and passing efficiency defense.

Part of that, of course, is that teams have actually been forced to throw the ball against South Carolina's once-vaunted secondary this year. The defensive line has been doing its job stopping the run, while the Gamecocks held halftime leads against each of their opponents this year. Still, it's hard to win in the SEC when you're allowing more than 270 yards a game through the air.

Enter Vanderbilt. The Commodores are 11th in the conference in passing offense and passing efficiency. (Who can guess No. 12? Yes, it's LSU. How'd you know?) And Vanderbilt does not have the excuse of needing to run down the clock in the waning minutes of a game. If anything, you would expect a team like Vanderbilt to have more yards passing than they would otherwise have.

But there's also recent history when it comes to this game, and it's not good for South Carolina. The Gamecocks have lost two of the last three in this series. That includes the last trip to Nashville, a game so wrapped in mystery and bizarre bounces that some South Carolina are still trying to figure out how. we. lost. that. GAME.

Numbers, though, are what you pick games on -- not an attempt to avoid bad luck for your team, or based on a belief that Nashville is a place where dreams go to die.

South Carolina 21, Vanderbilt 7

Georgia at Kentucky / 7:30 p.m. ET / CSS

This is actually the only SEC game this weekend that doesn't involve at least one ranked team. In a week that includes games with South Carolina playing Vanderbilt and Mississippi State facing a two-win Conference USA team. How odd is that one?

In any case, this is a hard game to figure out. After all, Kentucky gave Auburn a run for its money and then defeated South Carolina last week, but had looked relatively unimpressive before that. Georgia looked absolutely terrible for the first five weeks of the season, then shelled Tennessee and Vanderbilt in consecutive games. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it's come down to this. A 3-4 team and a 4-3 team are meeting this week as the two hottest teams in the SEC East.

Georgia is not quite in desperation mode any more, having quieted calls for Mark Richt's job with the convincing wins over their opponents from the Volunteer State. But a Kentucky loss would probably bring some of the bloodhounds bounding back into the streets -- not as many as there were three weeks ago, but a few nonetheless. You have to wonder if the urgency has left Georgia's season, and what effect that might have on the team.

Kentucky, meanwhile, has all the momentum but also that whole letdown effect. (Kentucky fans, I have absolutely no pity for you.) Then again, Joker Phillips has created the letdown effect by having built a very good team.

These teams are 2-2 against each other over the last four years, with one of the Kentucky losses being by four points (2008). If it's a down or rebuilding year in Athens, Kentucky seems to have the upper hand. It's definitely a rebuilding year.

Kentucky 27, Georgia 24

UAB at 23 Mississippi State / 7 p.m. ET / ESPNU

It's always interesting to see how a perpetual also-ran reacts after defeating a conference championship contenders. After all, we all know that a win like that can go to a teams head and produce a letdown effect. If you don't believe that such a thing exists, ask South Carolina.

Oh, you thought I was talking about Mississippi State? UAB actually defeated UTEP this past week, which is not quite Florida even in Conference USA terms, but was looking very much like a potential contender in the country's least-recognized conference. (Really -- name five C-USA teams without having to look it up.)

None of which changes the fact that UAB isn't very good and Mississippi State is beginning to look like it is.

Mississippi State 43, UAB 10