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September 27, 2006
East meets West: The fifth week of the season features three games pitting Eastern Division teams against Western Division programs: Auburn-South Carolina, Alabama-Florida and Georgia-Ole Miss. Mississippi State travels to LSU in the only divisional matchup. Vanderbilt and Tennessee shouldn't have much of a problem in their non-conference games, though Tennessee must go on the road. Kentucky could have its hands full in its non-conference meeting with Central Michigan.
Best matchup: Alabama-Florida. Gators quarterback Chris Leak had one of the worst games of his career last year in a 31-3 loss at Alabama. Leak now is playing better than ever and could earn some Heisman consideration with a big performance against the team that shut him down a year ago. This game features a couple of intriguing matchups. Dallas Baker and Andre Caldwell lead a productive Florida receiving corps that will line up against talented Alabama cornerbacks Ramzee Robinson and Simeon Castille. But the Tide probably won't win unless Kenneth Darby ends his season-long slump against a tough Florida run defense.
There also is at least one individual matchup in another game worth watching. Although Auburn shouldn't have too much trouble winning at South Carolina, it will be interesting to see how South Carolina WR Sidney Rice fares against Auburn CB David Irons in a duel of All-America candidates.
Worst matchup: Mississippi State finally showed some signs of life in a 16-10 overtime victory over Alabama-Birmingham last weekend, but the Bulldogs still are ranked 111th in the nation in scoring offense and total offense. They could struggle to avoid a shutout against LSU's top-ranked scoring defense.
The pressure is on: Auburn RB Kenny Irons. The All-America candidate figures to get a rude reception when he returns to South Carolina, where he began his college career. Irons has downplayed the personal aspects of this game, but he certainly wants to play at least one solid game against his former team before he leaves Auburn. Irons gained just 27 yards on 11 carries against the Gamecocks last year.
Upset alert: I continued my weekly tradition of picking every favorite, but Central Michigan has perhaps the best chance of pulling off an upset this week. The Chippewas gave Boston College everything it could handle in its season opener.
Most to gain: Tennessee RB LaMarcus Coker. His 89-yard touchdown run against Marshall boosted the Volunteers' slumping ground attack and helped Coker earn a starting job this weekend. If Coker has a big game against Memphis, he could continue to receive ample playing time even when injured starter Arian Foster returns.
Most to lose: Kentucky. The Wildcats entered the season with bowl aspirations and have shown improvement by splitting their first four games this fall. But those postseason dreams would crumble if Kentucky slips up against Central Michigan this week. It's difficult to imagine the Wildcats collecting six victories if they don't put this one in the win column.
BCS implications: Florida needs to win this game to remain undefeated in conference play and to stay atop the Eastern Division. Although a loss wouldn't knock the Gators out of the SEC race, it probably would just about eliminate them from consideration for the national title. The same goes for Auburn, which can take a half-game lead over idle Arkansas in the Western Division with a victory Thursday.
Who's hot: South Carolina WR Sidney Rice has 16 catches for 312 yards and five touchdowns in his last two games. ? Kentucky QB Andre' Woodson has thrown 10 touchdown passes with only one interception. ? Tennessee K James Wilhoit has made 14 of his last 15 field-goal attempts, including the last 11 in a row. ? Florida QB Chris Leak is tied for first in the nation with 12 touchdown passes. ? Ole Miss LB Patrick Willis has recorded at least 10 tackles in six consecutive games and 11 of his last 12.
Who's not: Alabama RB Kenneth Darby has averaged just 3.0 yards per carry this season. The two-time 1,000-yard rusher had a career average of 5.1 yards per attempt before this season. ? Ole Miss QB Brent Schaeffer has completed 47 percent of his passes with six interceptions and only three touchdown passes during the Rebels' three-game losing streak. ? Florida K Chris Hetland missed two field goals against Tennessee two weeks ago and had two extra-point attempts blocked by Kentucky last week.
Must-see TV: Alabama-Florida (CBS) and Auburn-South Carolina (ESPN). These are the only SEC games of the week matching teams with winning records.
Newcomer who could have an impact: Louisiana State RB Charles Scott. This true freshman rushed for 101 yards and two touchdowns last weekend in a 49-7 victory over Tulane. He figures to have an expanded role Saturday when the Tigers play host to Mississippi State.
Key stat: Arkansas' victory over Alabama last weekend gave the Razorbacks an all-time record of 6-1 in overtime games. Alabama is 2-5 in overtime contests.
Take the line: Alabama has allowed only 14? points per game this season, so you have to like the Crimson Tide's chances of covering a 13-point spread. Florida should beat Alabama at home, but look for the Tide to keep it close. Season record: 4-1.
They said it: "It will be a weird feeling, seeing the guys, seeing the tunnel that I used to come out of to warm up in pregame and knowing that my locker used to be right back in there. It's going to be kind of weird, but all in all I'm not a Gamecock anymore. I'm a Tiger." ? Auburn running back and South Carolina transfer Kenny Irons about his impending return to Williams-Brice Stadium
Injury update: Tennessee RB Arian Foster could return to action Saturday after an ankle injury sidelined him for most of the last two weeks. ? Alabama WR Aaron McDaniel underwent surgery on his left knee Monday and will miss the rest of the season. ? Auburn RB Kenny Irons, LB Karibi Dede and CB Jonathan Wilhite should play Thursday after missing last weekend's game with minor injuries. ? Georgia LB Jarvis Jackson might not play Saturday because of plantar fasciitis in his left foot. Georgia OT Michael Turner is doubtful for the Ole Miss game. ? LSU S Curtis Taylor should be able to play this week after missing the Tulane game with a hamstring injury. ? Mississippi State RB Arnil Stallworth is questionable for the LSU game with an ankle injury. ? Ole Miss OT Darryl Harris, NT Jeremy Garrett and DL Peria Jerry missed the Wake Forest game and are expected to sit out the Georgia game with leg injuries. ? South Carolina RB Cory Boyd missed last weekend's game with Florida Atlantic and is questionable for the Auburn game.
Worth noting: Kregg Lumpkin has replaced Thomas Brown as Georgia's starting tailback. ? Georgia coach Mark Richt has said he expects both of his freshman quarterbacks ? Joe Cox and Matthew Stafford ? to play this weekend. Cox replaced Stafford in the second half last week and rallied the Bulldogs to a 14-13 victory over Colorado. ? Five of the 10 conference games so far this season have been decided by five or fewer points. ? Arkansas is 2-0 in the SEC for the first time since 1998. ? Florida's 11-game home winning streak is its longest since 2000-01. ? Mississippi State carries a 21-game SEC road losing streak into this weekend's meeting with LSU. ? Saturday's game at Memphis marks Tennessee's first road trip of the season. The Volunteers leave the state of Tennessee for the first time next week when they head to Georgia.
Looking back: Martrez Milner caught a 20-yard touchdown pass with 46 seconds remaining as Georgia rallied from a 13-point deficit to beat Colorado 14-13. ? Ben Tate and Brad Lester combined for 197 rushing yards in Auburn's 38-7 triumph over Buffalo. ? Leigh Tiffin missed three field goals and an extra-point attempt as Alabama fell 24-23 to Arkansas in double overtime. ?LaMarcus Coker rushed for 146 yards on just eight carries in Tennessee's 33-7 whipping of Marshall. ? Ole Miss gained less than 1 yard per carry in a 27-3 loss to Wake Forest. ? Omarr Conner raced for a 21-yard touchdown in overtime to give Mississippi State a 16-10 victory over Alabama-Birmingham. ? Chris Nickson threw a pair of touchdown passes as Vanderbilt defeated Tennessee State 38-9. ? DeShawn Wynn rushed for 104 yards and a touchdown in Florida's 26-7 victory over Kentucky. ? JaMarcus Russell threw a pair of touchdown passes as LSU trounced Tulane 49-7.
Freshman who impressed: Georgia QB Joe Cox entered the game in the second half and led two fourth-quarter touchdown drives as the Bulldogs came back from a 13-point deficit to beat Colorado 14-13. Cox went 10-of-13 for 154 yards and threw two touchdown passes in the game's final 9? minutes.