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September 13, 2006
Showdown Saturday: By the end of the week, we should know the Western Division favorite and the team most likely to challenge Georgia for the Eastern Division title. LSU and Auburn have taken turns winning the Western Division the last three years. The winner of Saturday's game will take a giant step toward a return to Atlanta. Florida or Tennessee won the first 10 Eastern Division championships before Georgia began its reign of three titles in the last four years.
Best matchup: LSU-Auburn. The last two LSU-Auburn games have been decided by a total of four points. This one could prove every bit as close. Auburn boats the SEC's best running back ? Kenny Irons ? and the league's top offensive line, but LSU's defense hasn't allowed a touchdown in its first two games. This showdown of national title contenders also features plenty of outstanding individual matchups: Auburn CB David Irons vs. LSU WR Dwayne Bowe, Auburn's outstanding interior line vs. LSU DT Glenn Dorsey. And will Auburn's John Vaughn ? arguably the hottest kicker in the nation ? earn redemption after missing five field-goal attempts in a 20-17 loss to LSU last year?
Worst matchup: South Carolina certainly wants to get wide receiver Sidney Rice more involved after the defending Rivals.com freshman of the year began his sophomore season with only five catches for 44 yards in his first two games. That could spell trouble for Wofford, a Division I-AA program that allowed three touchdown passes last week in a 41-38 loss to Coastal Carolina.
The pressure is on: Tennessee DE Xavier Mitchell and FS Demetrice Morley. Injuries to DT Justin Harrell and CB Inky Johnson could force Mitchell and Morley to make their first career starts Saturday amid the white-hot intensity of the Tennessee-Florida rivalry. Johnson is out for the season. Harrell hopes to play, but it's uncertain how long he will be able to go. The injuries Harrell and Johnson caused Tennessee to shuffle its defense at the start of the week. Turk McBride moved over from defensive end to take Harrell's place at defensive tackle, while Jonathan Hefney is shifting from safety to cornerback. Mitchell and Morley are filling the voids created by the McBride and Hefney position switches.
Upset alert: We're actually siding with the favorites in every game this week, but the most likely upset scenarios involve the conference's two spotlight games: LSU-Auburn and Florida-Tennessee. Florida and Auburn both were favored by 3? points at the start of the week. Tennessee looks particularly intriguing as an underdog playing at home. After playing Alabama so tough last week, Vanderbilt also looks promising as a six-point underdog in its home opener. But after losing at home to the Commodores last year, Arkansas has a revenge motive that could prevent the upset.
Most to gain: Auburn RB Kenny Irons and LSU DT Glenn Dorsey: Irons rushed for 218 yards in a losing cause against LSU last year. If he has a similar performance in an Auburn victory Saturday, Irons will join Notre Dame QB Brady Quinn and the Ohio State duo of Troy Smith and Ted Ginn Jr. as Heisman Trophy front-runners. Dorsey already has made a major impact as a first-year starter this season. If Dorsey can help LSU hold Irons in check, he could earn All-America consideration at the end of the season.
Most to lose: Arkansas: The Razorbacks entered the season with hopes of earning a bowl berth and contending for the Western Division title. If Arkansas really is serious about those intentions, it can't afford a second consecutive loss to Vanderbilt in its SEC opener.
BCS implications: The Auburn-LSU winner has the inside track on the Western Division title. The loser can't afford to drop another game if it wants any shot at a BCS berth. The winner of the Florida-Tennessee game probably will battle it out with Georgia for the Eastern Division crown.
Who's hot: LSU CB Jonathan Zenon has three interceptions in the Tigers' first two games. He has returned two of those picks for touchdowns. ? Tennessee QB Erik Ainge leads the nation in passing efficiency and has thrown seven touchdown passes, which already exceeds his 2005 season total. ? Tennessee WR Robert Meachem and Kentucky WR Dicky Lyons Jr. have caught two touchdown passes in each of their first two games. ? Alabama WR Keith Brown has 19 catches for 372 yards and two touchdowns in his last three games. Florida WR Dallas Baker has 23 receptions for 351 yards and four touchdowns during the same stretch. ? Auburn K John Vaughn has made a field goal from beyond 50 yards each of the last two weeks. ? Mississippi LB Patrick Willis has recorded at least 10 tackles in nine of his last 10 games.
Who's not: Alabama RB Kenneth Darby has gained only 90 yards on 37 carries this year after rushing for more than 1,000 yards each of the last two seasons. ? South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier suffered just the second shutout loss of his career last week with an 18-0 setback against Georgia. ? Mississippi State has been shut out each of the last two weeks. ? Vanderbilt QB Chris Nickson, Ole Miss QB Brent Schaeffer and Georgia QB Matthew Stafford each threw three interceptions last week.
Must-see TV: LSU-Auburn and Florida-Tennessee. These two games make this the biggest weekend of the year for SEC fans.
Newcomer who could have an impact: Georgia QB Matthew Stafford. The true freshman is the Bulldogs' starting quarterback now that Joe Tereshinski will miss four to six weeks with a high ankle sprain. If Stafford performs well in this audition, he could keep this job until he leaves the program.
Key stat: Auburn has won 18 of its last 19 games against SEC opponents. The only loss during this stretch was last year's 20-17 setback at LSU.
Take the line: Mississippi State is favored by 11 points even though it hasn't scored any points this season. The Bulldogs should beat Tulane, but their offense isn't good enough to cover that spread.
They said it: "That's water under the bridge. I can talk about it. It doesn't bother me at all. It's been a long time since then, and I've played a lot of games. I've made a lot of kicks since then, and I've missed some. I'm kicking the ball well right now." ? Auburn kicker John Vaughn, referring to his five missed field-goal attempts in a 20-17 loss at LSU last year.
Injury update: Georgia quarterback Joe Tereshinski will miss four to six weeks with a high ankle sprain. Tereshinski's injury clears the way for Matthew Stafford, rated by Rivals.com as the nation's top quarterback in the 2006 recruiting class. ? Tennessee defensive tackle Justin Harrell (biceps) will try to play Saturday before undergoing surgery next week, while cornerback Inky Johnson (shoulder) will miss the remainder of the season. ? Arkansas linebacker Freddie Fairchild will miss the rest of the season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament last week in a 20-0 victory over Utah State. Weston Dacus replaces Fairchild in the starting lineup. ? South Carolina defensive tackle Marque Hall also is out for the season with an injured left knee. South Carolina offensive tackle Gurminder Thind will miss the Wofford game because of an injured right foot. Lemuel Jeanpierre, Stanley Doughty and Joel Reaves will see more playing time in Hall's absence. True freshman Hutch Eckerson will start in place of Thind at left tackle. ? Florida offensive guard Ronnie Wilson missed the first two games with a foot injury and is doubtful for the Tennessee matchup.
Worth noting: This marks the first time since 1972 that both teams in an LSU-Auburn game have been ranked in the top 10. ? Florida ranks fourth in the nation and Tennessee is fifth in the nation in passing offense. Texas Tech is the only team from a BCS conference that's ahead of the two Eastern Division rivals. ? ? LSU's defense hasn't allowed a touchdown in 14 quarters. ? Georgia offensive tackle Daniel Inman, cornerback Thomas Flowers and center Ian Smith will make their 2006 debuts Saturday after serving two-game suspensions. ? Florida has gone 17-of-24 to rank second in the nation in third-down conversions. Only West Virginia has a higher percentage. ? Kentucky's Rafael Little had 148 punt return yards ? the second-highest total in school history ? during a 41-7 triumph over Texas State.
Looking back: SEC defenses flexed their muscles during a week that featured four shutouts: Auburn 34-0 over Mississippi State, Georgia 18-0 over South Carolina, Florida 42-0 over Central Florida and Arkansas 20-0 over Utah State. LSU also had a shutout going before allowing a field goal in the final minutes of a 45-3 demolition of Arizona. ? Arkansas RB Darren McFadden showed he had come all the way back from a preseason toe injury by rushing for 184 yards against Utah State. ? Leigh Tiffin ? the son of legendary Alabama kicker Van Tiffin ? kicked a late 47-yard field goal as Alabama squeaked out a 13-10 victory over Vanderbilt. ? After defeating Memphis in its season opener, Mississippi took a giant step backward with a 34-7 loss to Missouri. ? SEC players of the week included Tennessee QB Erik Ainge (offense), Georgia DE Charles Johnson (defense), Tiffin (special teams), Auburn OG Ben Grubbs (offensive lineman), LSU DT Glenn Dorsey (defensive lineman) and Florida WR Percy Harvin (freshman).
Freshman who impressed: Florida WR Percy Harvin has wasted no time demonstrating why Rivals.com rated him as the No. 1 player in the 2006 recruiting class. Harvin caught four passes for 99 yards Saturday in the Gators' 42-0 whipping of Central Florida. Harvin opened the scoring when he turned a short pass into a 58-yard touchdown.