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November 8, 2006
Spurrier's homecoming: Steve Spurrier's first game at the Swamp as a visiting coach will steal most of the headlines, though that game lost a little meaning last week. LSU's 28-24 victory over Tennessee allowed Florida to clinch the Eastern Division title. Although the Gators still must win Saturday to keep their national title hopes alive, a loss won't hurt them in the SEC standings. The game with the most SEC implications is the Tennessee-Arkansas showdown. A victory would put Arkansas one win away from clinching the Western Division championship.
Best matchups: Florida coach Urban Meyer vs. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier. Meyer has done plenty of things right since he took over as Florida's coach, but a second consecutive loss to the Ol' Ball Coach could put him on the defensive. Both coaches are known as offensive gurus, but their teams actually are playing better on defense than offense this season. Spurrier has come up just short in upset attempts against Auburn, Tennessee and Arkansas this season. Will this be the week that he finally pulls off a stunner?
Worst matchup: Vanderbilt receiver Earl Bennett vs. the Kentucky defense. Bennett has caught 22 passes the last two weeks and 44 passes in his last five games. He now faces a Kentucky team that is ranked 117th out of 119 Division I-A programs in pass defense. Bennett scored five touchdowns in a 48-43 loss to Kentucky last season. Bennett will have trouble matching that total Saturday, but don't be surprised if he reaches the end zone at least twice.
The pressure is on: Alabama coach Mike Shula. The Crimson Tide is one year removed from a Cotton Bowl victory, but it only takes one poor season to put an Alabama coach on the hot seat. Shula didn't help his cause last week by losing to Mississippi State, especially since Bulldogs coach Sylvester Croom interviewed for the job Shula holds. Alabama (6-4) closes the regular season with LSU and Auburn before playing a bowl game. A 6-7 record just might seal Shula's fate.
Upset alert: Kentucky is feeling pretty good about itself after knocking off Georgia last week, but teams that aren't used to winning often have trouble handling prosperity. That makes the Wildcats ripe for the picking against a Vanderbilt team that plays just as well on the road as it does at home. Kentucky needs just one more win to become bowl eligible, but the Wildcats won't get that victory until they face Louisiana-Monroe next week. Look for Vanderbilt to win outright as a 2?-point underdog.
Most to gain: Kentucky. A victory over Vanderbilt this weekend would make the Wildcats eligible to play in a bowl game for the first time since they fell 20-13 in the 1999 Music City Bowl. Even if the Wildcats lose Saturday, they still can earn that magic sixth victory next weekend against Louisiana-Monroe.
Most to lose: Arkansas coach Houston Nutt. Frankly, you also could put Arkansas in the "most to gain" category since a victory would move the Razorbacks a giant step closer toward clinching the Western Division title. We're putting Nutt here because his decision to switch quarterbacks in the midst of a Cinderella season represents a huge gamble. If Casey Dick plays great this weekend and the Razorbacks go on to win the West, Nutt will look like a genius. But if Dick struggles down the stretch and the Razorbacks don't reach the SEC championship game, Arkansas fans may wonder all winter what might have happened if Nutt had stuck with Mitch Mustain.
BCS implications: Florida already has clinched the Eastern Division title, but the Gators must keep winning to keep their national championship hopes alive. A victory over Tennessee would leave Arkansas one win away from clinching the Western Division championship. Auburn must keep winning as it continues to pursue an SEC title or a BCS at-large bid. Tennessee must win Saturday to preserve its fading hopes of earning a BCS at-large berth.
Who's hot: Vanderbilt receiver Earl Bennett has 22 catches for 341 yards in his last two games. ? Ole Miss LB Patrick Willis has recorded at least 10 tackles in nine of the Rebels' 10 games. ? Georgia LB Tony Taylor has intercepted a pass in four consecutive games. ? Auburn PK John Vaughn is tied for first in the nation with 19 field goals this season. ? Kentucky WR Keenan Burton has caught a pair of touchdown passes in each of his last two games. ? Arkansas RB Darren McFadden has rushed for 348 yards and three touchdowns in his last two games. ? Arkansas WR Marcus Monk has three touchdown catches and 243 receiving yards in his last two games. ? Alabama WR DJ Hall has at least 100 receiving yards in six of his last seven games. ? Florida CB Ryan Smith has six interceptions in his last five games. ? LSU QB JaMarcus Russell has completed 74 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns in his last three games.
Who's not: Georgia QB Matthew Stafford has thrown eight interceptions in his last three games. ? Florida QB Chris Leak has six interceptions and three touchdowns passes in his last four games. ? South Carolina QB Syvelle Newton and Arkansas QB Mitch Mustain were replaced last weekend and apparently have lost their starting jobs. ? Georgia PK Andy Bailey also has lost his job after missing two field goals and an extra-point attempt last week.
Must-see TV: South Carolina at Florida (CBS): The Tennessee-Arkansas matchup might actually be a better game, but Spurrier's return to Gainesville offers more intrigue.
Newcomer who could have an impact: Tennessee QB Jonathan Crompton. The redshirt freshman threw two touchdown passes against LSU last weekend after starter Erik Ainge aggravated an ankle injury. The ankle could prevent Ainge from playing at Arkansas this week, which would allow Crompton to make his first career start.
Key stat: Louisiana State has outscored teams 101-7 in the first quarter this season.
Take the line: Auburn doesn't lead its division, but the Tigers still have plenty of incentive as they chase a conference and national title. The Tigers haven't exactly been a scoring machine this year, but they should move the ball well enough to cover a 13-point spread against slumping Georgia. Season record: 7-4.
They said it: "I thought there was a new challenge I needed to take on. After two years in the NFL, that was not what I was looking for, and it wasn't working. Then I felt like I wanted to coach again, and this opportunity at South Carolina came up. I'm very happy here. I love a challenge, and we do have a challenge. That's the fun part though. It's a challenge, but we're making progress."
Injury update: Alabama safety Rashad Johnson injured his ankle last weekend, which leaves his status uncertain for the LSU game. ? Arkansas FS Michael Grant is out for the season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament last weekend. ... Auburn TE Cole Bennett played the last two games after recovering from a broken ankle, but he still isn't at 100 percent and probably won't play against Georgia. Auburn S Eric Brock also has an ankle injury that will sideline him this weekend. Lorenzo Ferguson will replace Brock in the starting lineup. ? Florida OG Jim Tartt missed the Vanderbilt game with a sprained ankle. Florida OG Drew Miller suffered a knee injury and C Steve Rissler sprained his ankle last weekend. All three are hoping to play this weekend. Florida WR Jemalle Cornelius is questionable for the South Carolina game with a sprained shoulder. ?Georgia WR Demiko Goodman is out for the season after tearing an ACL last weekend. Mohamed Massaquoi will return to the starting lineup to replace Goodman. Georgia FB Brannan Southerland expects to play Saturday despite injuring his neck last week. ? Ole Miss WR Dexter McCluster was injured in the Oct. 7 victory over Vanderbilt with an apparent concussion, but he is hoping to return for the LSU game on Nov. 18. The Rebels have this week off. ? Tennessee LB Jerod Mayo injured his ankle and LB Marvin Mitchell hurt his shoulder last weekend. The status of both players for this weekend is uncertain. Tennessee QB Erik Ainge left last weekend's game in the first quarter with an ankle injury. He also might not be able to play at Arkansas this week.
Worth noting: Georgia P Gordon Ely-Kelso has taken over as the Bulldogs' main kicker. Ely-Kelso replaces Andy Bailey, who missed two field goals and an extra-point attempt last week in a 24-20 loss to Kentucky. ? Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer has suspended RB Arian Foster, FB David Holbert and S Antonio Wardlow after the three players were arrested in connection with an off-campus fight that occurred last weekend. Foster will miss the first half of the Arkansas game. Holbert will sit out the entire Arkansas game. Wardlow will miss each of the next two games. ? In Mississippi State's 24-16 victory over Alabama last weekend, Anthony Dixon became the first player to rush for at least 100 yards against the Crimson Tide this season. ? Auburn WR Courtney Taylor needs five more receptions to become the school's all-time leading pass catcher. ? LSU has recorded at least one sack in 15 consecutive games. ? This weekend will mark the first time Arkansas has ever hosted the ESPN "College GameDay" crew. ? LSU has beaten Alabama three consecutive times, which marks the Tigers' longest winning streak in the series. ? SEC players of the week for last weekend's games include LSU QB JaMarcus Russell (offense), Mississippi State LB Quinton Culberson (defense) Arkansas DE Anthony Brown (special teams), Auburn OG Ben Grubbs (offensive line), Florida DE Jarvis Moss (defensive line) and Kentucky CB Trevard Lindley (freshman).
Looking back: JaMarcus Russell threw a four-yard touchdown pass to Early Doucet with nine seconds remaining as LSU rallied to beat Tennessee 28-24. ? Chris Leak had a hand in three touchdowns as Florida outlasted Vanderbilt 25-19. ? Anthony Dixon rushed for 121 yards in Mississippi State's 24-16 victory over Alabama. ? BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for 116 yards and a touchdown as Mississippi whipped Northwestern State 27-7. ? Courtney Taylor caught four passes for 116 yards and a touchdown in Auburn's 27-0 shutout of Arkansas State. ? Darren McFadden rushed for 219 yards and two touchdowns as Arkansas defeated South Carolina 26-20.
Freshman who impressed: Kentucky CB Trevard Lindley recorded seven tackles and made the game-clinching interception with 45 seconds remaining in Kentucky's 24-20 victory over Georgia. The true freshman also deflected a pass that teammate Roger Williams intercepted in the end zone to end a Georgia scoring threat.
Bowl watch: Alabama (6-4), Arkansas (8-1), Auburn (9-1), Florida (8-1), Georgia (6-4), LSU (7-2) and Tennessee (7-2) are already bowl eligible. Kentucky (5-4) and South Carolina (5-4) can become bowl eligible by winning one of their three remaining regular-season games. Vanderbilt (4-6) must win its last two games to become bowl eligible. Ole Miss (3-7) and Mississippi State (3-7) are out of bowl contention.