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September 6, 2006
Best matchup: South Carolina nearly beat Georgia on the road last year, which only built up the anticipation for this year's rematch. Now that the Bulldogs have to go to Columbia, will Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier continue his career-long mastery of Georgia? And after shutting out Mississippi State last week, how will Tyrone Nix's defense fare against a much more potent offense?
The non-conference game between Mississippi and Missouri is an interesting matchup that should get even more intriguing when the Tigers have the ball. Chase Daniel threw five touchdown passes against Murray State last week and is mobile enough to avoid pressure. But Ole Miss Butkus Award candidate Patrick Willis could make things much more difficult for him.
Worst matchups: If Mississippi State couldn't score against a South Carolina team that ranked 10th in the SEC in total defense last year, it's tough to imagine the Bulldogs faring any better against Auburn. ? South Carolina sophomore left tackle Gurminder Thind struggled last week in his first career start and will spend much of the game Saturday lining up against All-America candidate Quentin Moses. ? If Arkansas tailback Darren McFadden is at full strength, he should put up robust numbers against a Utah State defense that allowed 460 total yards ? 221 on the ground ? in a 38-7 loss to Wyoming last week.
The pressure is on: Georgia QB Joe Tereshinski.
Upset alert: South Carolina is a three-point underdog that definitely could pull an upset. Georgia is better and more experienced, but the home-field advantage and the Spurrier factor (he owns an 11-2 career record against the Bulldogs) could make a difference. ... Mississippi won only once away from home all last year - a 10-6 victory over Memphis in the season opener - but the Rebels might have enough firepower to leave Missouri with a victory.
BCS implications: South Carolina learned last year the importance of this early season game with Georgia. A South Carolina victory over Georgia last year would have sent the Gamecocks ? not the Bulldogs ? into the SEC Championship game.
Most to gain: Florida WR Percy Harvin.
Most to lose: Kentucky coach Rich Brooks.
Who's hot: Tennessee wideout Robert Meachem is the nation's leading receiver after catching five passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns in a 35-18 victory over California. ? Mississippi linebacker Patrick Willis has recorded at least 10 tackles in three consecutive games. ? Florida wide receiver Dallas Baker has 19 catches for 270 yards and three touchdowns in his last two games. ? Auburn tailback Kenny Irons has rushed for at least 100 yards in seven of his last eight games. He has averaged 144.6 yards per game during that stretch.
Who's not: Alabama tailback Kenneth Darby rushed for 25 yards on 16 carries against Hawaii last week. ? South Carolina wide receiver Sidney Rice ? the Rivals.com freshman of the year last season ? caught just two passes for 13 yards against Mississippi State.
Must-see TV: Georgia at South Carolina (ESPN) and Arizona at LSU (ESPN2).
Newcomer who could have an impact: The time is now for Arkansas true freshman quarterback Mitch Mustain, who will make his first start Saturday against Utah State. The former five-star prospect drew the heartiest applause of the night when he engineered a touchdown drive late in the Razorbacks' 50-14 loss to Southern California. The cheers will be even louder if the home state product leads the Hogs to victory Saturday.
Key stat: Games involving SEC teams a week ago lasted three hours, eight minutes. That's 10 minutes shorter than last year's season average. ? Three of the last four Georgia-South Carolina games have been decided by six or fewer points. Georgia has won all four of those games. ? After throwing four touchdown passes last week, Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge already is one away from matching his 2005 season total. ? LSU has won its last eight games against Pac-10 teams since falling 17-12 to Southern California in 1979.
Take the line: South Carolina won by 15 points at Mississippi State. Auburn probably is at least a touchdown better than South Carolina. Using that logic, we believe the Tigers won't have much trouble covering the 21-point spread at Starkville
Missouri is favored by as much as 10 points against Mississippi. The Rebels will probably lose, but they should stay at least within a touchdown.
They said it: "Our players know this game is crucial. The last four years we've won the game, we've had successful seasons, gone to some major bowls and won a couple of SEC championships. I would like to think the losing team would have a great season after a loss, but history hasn't proven so."
Injury update: Mississippi State quarterback Mike Henig remains out after breaking his collarbone in the South Carolina game. Redshirt freshman Tray Rutland is starting in Henig's absence. ? The status of Alabama kicker Jamie Christensen remains uncertain as he recovers from a hip injury. Leigh Tiffin replaced Christensen against Hawaii and went 3-of-4 on field-goal attempts. ? Florida reserve tailback Brandon James underwent arthroscopic knee surgery just two weeks ago, but he has begun practicing again and could return kicks this weekend. ? Tennessee wide receiver Bret Smith is expected to play this weekend despite sustaining a concussion against California.
Worth noting: The wide receiver-quarterback shuffle is taking place at a couple SEC schools. After starting at quarterback for Arkansas in the season opener, Robert Johnson has moved to wide receiver. Johnson made the switch after Mitch Mustain was named the Razorbacks' starting quarterback. ... Mississippi State's Omarr Conner moved to wide receiver last year after opening the season as the starting quarterback, but an injury to Mike Henig has left Conner as the Bulldogs' backup quarterback. ? This marks the first time Tennessee and Air Force have faced each other since the Volunteers beat the Falcons 34-13 in the 1970 Sugar Bowl. Vols coach Phillip Fulmer was a member of that Tennessee Sugar Bowl team. ... SEC players of the week last week included Auburn running back Kenny Irons, Tennessee linebacker Jerod Mayo, South Carolina punter/kicker Ryan Succop, Alabama center Antoine Caldwell, Georgia defensive end Quentin Moses and Ole Miss freshman wide receiver Dexter McCluster - who was also named the Rivals.com National Freshman of the Week. Tennessee assistant coach David Cutcliffe was named our Coordinator of the Week.
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