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September 9, 2010

Week 2 preview in the SEC

MORE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | MWC | Pac-10 | Others

Auburn at Mississippi State, 7:30 p.m.
Georgia at South Carolina, noon
USF at Florida, 12:20 p.m.
Penn State at Alabama, 7 p.m.
Oregon at Tennessee, 7 p.m.
LSU at Vanderbilt, 7 p.m.
Arkansas vs. La.-Monroe in Little Rock, 7 p.m.
Western Kentucky at Kentucky, 7:30 p.m.
Ole Miss at Tulane, 9 p.m.

While most of the national notice in the SEC this week is on the Alabama-Penn State game, hard-core fans of the league will be paying even more attention to an early season SEC East showdown.

Georgia travels to South Carolina for a shakeout game of sorts. Few observers think Kentucky, Tennessee or Vanderbilt have the necessary talent to win the division, so the winner of Saturday's game in Columbia becomes -- at least early in the season -- the main challenger to Florida.

Seven of the past nine games in the series have been decided by seven or fewer points, and this season's game also looks as if it will be close.

Both opened the season with easy wins: South Carolina 41-13 over expected C-USA contender Southern Miss and Georgia 55-7 over Louisiana-Lafayette.

The Gamecocks received solid performances from oft-criticized QB Stephen Garcia, who scored on two runs and didn't throw an interception, and highly touted true freshman RB Marcus Lattimore, who also scored on two runs. Georgia was without two key starters -- tailback Washaun Ealey (suspended) and wide receiver A.J. Green (held out because of an NCAA investigation) -- but the offense didn't miss a beat. New starting quarterback Aaron Murray, a redshirt freshman, threw three TD passes and also scored on a 16-yard run.

Like Garcia, Murray is from Tampa, Fla., and both were all-state players -- Garcia at Jefferson High and Murray at Plant High, where he followed Purdue's Robert Marve at quarterback.

The defenses will be in the spotlight Saturday. Gamecocks coordinator Ellis Johnson is one of the more underrated coaches around, and he oversees a unit that is strong up front and in the secondary but has some concerns at linebacker. New Georgia coordinator Todd Grantham, hired away from the NFL's Dallas Cowboys, has installed a 3-4 scheme, and his revamped unit did a great job against ULL. But his secondary is shaky, and the Gamecocks will look to take advantage with sophomore WR Alshon Jeffery.

While Ealey will be back this week, Green won't be in uniform; the NCAA has suspended him for four games for violations of NCAA agent benefits rules. While Green wasn't missed against ULL, he will be against the Gamecocks and their solid corners, sophomore Stephon Gilmore and senior Chris Culliver.

An interesting subplot: Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier, who owned the Bulldogs when he was coach at Florida but has struggled against them at South Carolina, can move into a tie for second place on the SEC's list of coaching victories. Spurrier has 105 SEC wins, which ties him for third with former Georgia coach Vince Dooley. In second with 106 is former Ole Miss coach John Vaught. Former Alabama coach Bear Bryant leads with 159 SEC wins.

Best matchup: Auburn OT Lee Ziemba vs. Mississippi State DE Pernell McPhee. Ziemba is one of the best offensive linemen in the SEC; McPhee is one of the best defensive linemen in the SEC. That means this is a battle to watch. Mississippi State will have to walk a delicate line in trying to pressure Auburn QB Cam Newton. The Bulldogs obviously want to get to Newton and keep him from getting too comfortable. But it's also important that when they do pressure him, they keep him in the pocket. Newton can make plays with his legs, and if he breaks containment, he will hurt the Bulldogs. If McPhee gets in the backfield five or six times, it means good news for Mississippi State. Conversely, if he doesn't, that's good for Auburn.

Player on the spot: Florida C Mike Pouncey. Pouncey was a preseason All-America, but he was horrible in his first game at his new position. Florida ran just 56 plays last week against Miami (Ohio) and an incredible 15 snaps were botched by Pouncey. It didn't cost the Gators against the RedHawks, who won one game last season. But another atrocious performance by the center this week could mean a move back to guard, his position last season -- and it could lead to a loss against USF.

Numbers game: Junior CB Patrick Peterson set an LSU record with a combined 257 yards on kickoff and punt returns in the Tigers' 30-24 win against North Carolina. The 257 yards ranks as the second-highest total in SEC history and came in Peterson's first game as the Tigers' primary return man.

What they're saying

"It's going to be a day-to-day basis as to whether he can take the next step and the next step and the next step. You can ask me, but I don't know if he'll be able to play in this game. It depends on how he reacts every day. Nobody really knows how that's going to be. It would probably be a little bit of a stretch for everything to go perfectly, but that's where it is. That's all anybody really knows right now, so that's all anybody can say. I'm not making any predictions or any hypothetical situations or whatever. That's just the way it is." -- Alabama coach Nick Saban, on when RB Mark Ingram will return from his knee injury

"It doesn't matter. When you can't hear, you can't hear." -- Auburn coach Gene Chizik, on the difference on the noise at Mississippi State because of the cowbells and the noise at other SEC stadiums

"It sounded good at the time, so I said it. I was on TV and had to say something positive." -- Florida coach Urban Meyer, on saying on his TV show that his wife reminded him the most improvement comes between the first and second games

"We underestimated the athletic ability of Georgia's quarterback [Aaron Murray]. He's a better athlete than anybody knew." -- Louisiana-Lafayette coach Rickey Bustle, after last week's Bulldogs victory

"It's been disbelief. It's one of the top worst feelings I've ever felt in my life." -- Ole Miss LB Jonathan Cornell, to RebelGrove.com, on last week's loss to Jacksonville State

"I would say that's the best college football team I've ever been on the field against in all my years of college coaching, talent-wise, top to bottom. Now, I don't know if they'll win every game or not, but talent-wise and size and speed and athleticism, they're pretty phenomenal." -- San Jose State coach Mike MacIntyre, on Alabama, which routed his Spartans last week. MacIntyre, 45, has spent 21 years in coaching -- 16 in college and five in the NFL

"They're probably our biggest rival, especially in the SEC East. Either them or Tennessee. We haven't beaten Tennessee or Florida enough, or Georgia enough, to call them a big rival. Anyway, it's a crucial game because it's within our division. If you have hopes of winning the division, you have to beat divisional teams. This is one of those games." -- South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, on Georgia

"Those were the nicest people I had met in all my years of doing this. I've been doing this since 1974. They were very nice. Some of them were from up north and they had a hard time understanding me and I had a hard time understanding them, but it was a beautiful language, I can tell you that. I did not get any explanation other than it was a high hit. But I don't know what that means. We try to teach them to tackle up high. You're not supposed to grab at their feet." -- Vanderbilt coach Robbie Caldwell, on the officials in last week's game with Northwestern. A controversial personal foul was called on Vandy late in the game, and Northwestern was able to keep the ball and run out the clock with a two-point lead

Etc.: Cam Newton rushed for 171 yards in Auburn's win over Arkansas State. That is a school single-game rushing record by a quarterback, breaking the previous mark of 160 set by Phil Gargis in 1974. Alabama is trying to become the first Penn State opponent to rush for 100 yards in 18 games. Penn State was one of three teams in the nation that didn't allow a 100-yard rusher in 2009. Arkansas plays Louisiana-Monroe this week and is 26-0 all-time against current members of the Sun Belt Conference. Tennessee has four consecutive home games to open the season. This is the fifth season in a row the Vols have played a Pac-10 team; they played California in 2006 and '07 and UCLA in 2008 and '09. Florida coach Urban Meyer is friends with USF coach Skip Holtz. Early this week, Meyer told reporters that Holtz was instrumental in him getting hired as an assistant at Notre Dame in 1995: "We were at a convention somewhere and Skip saw me and said, 'Come on with me.' I sat down and had breakfast with Lou Holtz, who did not want to have breakfast with Urban Meyer. We hit it off pretty good." Auburn has totaled at least 500 yards of offense in five of Gus Malzahn's 14 games as offensive coordinator after not reaching that mark in the last 40 games before his arrival. Mississippi State has not thrown for 200 yards against Auburn since 2002. ... Ole Miss QBs Nathan Stanley and Jeremiah Masoli split time in Saturday's shocking loss to Jacksonville State and that likely is the plan for this week's game at Tulane. Senior Anthony Leon, playing linebacker for the first time in his career after being moved from safety, led Arkansas with eight tackles in its opening win over Tennessee Tech; he also had two sacks and four tackles for loss. Florida played 15 true freshmen last week, the most of any team in the nation.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.

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