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October 28, 2010

Week 9 preview in the SEC

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

Tennessee at South Carolina, 12:20 p.m.
Florida vs. Georgia in Jacksonville, 3:30 p.m.
Auburn at Ole Miss, 6 p.m.
Kentucky at Mississippi State, 7 p.m.
Vanderbilt at Arkansas, 7 p.m.

As mediocre as Florida has been this season, the Gators know that if they win their remaining three conference games, they win the SEC East.

The process begins Saturday in Jacksonville, when the Gators meet Georgia in "The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party." The Gators have won 17 of the past 20 in the rivalry; the most recent Georgia win was in 2007.

"We've got a good team," Florida senior G Carl Johnson told GatorBait.net. "We've got to stick together and try to win. Get to Atlanta. It's still in our reach. No point in giving up now."

An anemic offense has been Florida's problem. The Gators have scored just 44 points during their current three-game losing streak, and 29 of those came against LSU. Florida was off last week, and coach Urban Meyer said coaches have tweaked the offense.

"I'm not going to share much with you, but we have modified quite a bit," he said on the SEC coaches' teleconference. "I'm obviously not going to say, 'Here's what we're going to do,' but things are modified."

One positive is that Florida expects starting RB Jeff Demps to be close to full strength. He has been bothered by a sore ankle and has had just 24 carries in the past four games.

In addition, junior WR Chris Rainey is expected to play. He has been suspended for the past five games after he was arrested and charged with aggravated stalking on Sept. 14. He agreed to deferred prosecution on a misdemeanor charge of stalking on Sept. 27. Rainey has good speed, but his move to wide receiver had not been all that productive before he was suspended; he had 16 yards of total offense on four touches in Florida's first two games.

The Gators will be going against a revitalized Georgia defense. While the Gators enter on a three-game losing streak, the Bulldogs have won three in a row, blasting Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Kentucky by a combined 128-45. The Bulldogs are 12th nationally in run defense (99.3 ypg) and 19th in total defense (306.8 ypg).

"We'll just see how we do against them, but they are not putting the numbers up that they've put up in the past," Georgia coach Mark Richt said this week.

One defensive aspect that is bothering Richt is that the Bulldogs are allowing foes to convert 42.2 percent of their third-down opportunities, which is last in the SEC. Coincidentally, Florida is converting on 42.2 percent of its third-down chances.

While Florida knows what it has to do to win the division, the Bulldogs remain alive, too. Unlike the Gators, they don't control their own destiny. Both teams know that a loss Saturday ends any hope for the title. Georgia also would have to beat Auburn on Nov. 13 and have South Carolina lose two of its final three SEC games (Tennessee, Arkansas and Florida). Still, the Bulldogs remain alive.

"We keep up with it," linebacker Christian Robinson told UGAsports.com. "Once we're done playing, we're checking out who else is playing, scores and everything. We're cheering for people we normally wouldn't cheer for. It's exciting that we're having some success and those opportunities are still out there."

The opportunities are there because the Bulldogs followed a four-game losing streak with the current three-game winning streak.

"We pretty much dug out of a hole, and now we're just trying to climb the mountain a little bit," Richt said. "... If we could get this victory, it opens the door for us to get to Atlanta. Just knowing that going into the ballgame is an exciting thing for our players and coaches --- and I'm sure our fan base, too."

Best matchup: Georgia WR A.J. Green vs. Florida CB Janoris Jenkins. Green missed the first four games because of an NCAA-mandated suspension for illegal benefits, but he has become the most important cog in the Bulldogs' offense since his return. He has 22 catches for 365 yards and four TDs in the four games he has played. Georgia did not have an adequate replacement as a go-to receiver when he was gone, but while Tavarres King and Kris Durham failed in that role, they are solid complementary receivers. TEs Orson Charles and Aron White also can be dangerous. Still, Florida -- like most SEC opponents -- fears Green. Expect Florida coaches to have Jenkins match up on Green as often as possible. While Jenkins will give away about 5 inches in height, he is a physical corner with good speed; he is Florida's only corner who has the consistency to stay with Green. The Gators are 13th in pass defense and have 13 interceptions; Jenkins has two of them and also five pass breakups. "I want to see where he lines up and see if he is cheating to A.J.'s side of the field or not," Richt said. "We'll keep an eye on that."

Players on the spot: Ole Miss QB Jeremiah Masoli. Can Ole Miss beat Auburn, which is No. 1 in the BCS this week? That seems extremely doubtful, but a big game from Masoli certainly would help. Masoli is one of just four quarterbacks in the nation to average at least 50 rushing yards (57.1) and 180 passing yards (180.0) per game this season. (The others are Nevada's Colin Kaepernick, Michigan's Denard Robinson and Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor.) Forget his running ability for a minute; it's Masoli's passing arm that is the key. LSU was not able to take advantage of Auburn's secondary last week, but if Masoli wants to lead the Rebels to the huge upset, he needs to be extremely sharp in the air. And if Masoli has any feelings for his old school, he certainly has to know that an Auburn loss would be a huge help for Oregon.

Numbers game: The road team has won the past four games in the Kentucky-Mississippi State series, with UK beating the Bulldogs in 2006 and '08 and MSU claiming wins in 2007 and '09 in Lexington. Kentucky is looking for its first road victory over a ranked league team since Oct. 17, 1998, when UK beat LSU.

What they're saying

"I don't think I have gone against a guy like Cam Newton in my career. Vince Young had great speed and was very elusive, but Cam Newton runs through some tackles and Vince Young wasn't as physical." - LSU coach Les Miles

"As I say every week, we can be happy with the result but we shouldn't at all be satisfied with where we're at. We're still in search of trying to play a game of four quarters, which we haven't done yet." -- Auburn coach Gene Chizik, on his BCS top-ranked Tigers

"I think we all are [surprised]. You don't train in the summer to miss tackles. You don't say, 'Let's go miss tackles today.' You don't practice that, but it happens. That's the thing that's killing our defense right now." -- Ole Miss LB D.T. Shackelford, to RebelGrove.com, on the Rebels' penchant for giving up big plays

"We are in the toughest conference in college football and we're in the toughest division of that conference. I didn't do a count, but I don't think there is another conference with five teams ranked and we have five just in our division. It just shows you better bring your 'A' game every week." -- Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen

"It's easy to play hard when you're 7-0 or 8-0. Obviously, where we're at [2-5], it's hard." -- Tennessee LB Nick Reveiz, to VolQuest.com

"It always factors into the game. History always factors into everything a little bit." -- South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, when asked if the history of a series factors into a game. The Gamecocks play host to Tennessee on Saturday, and the Vols have won 14 of 17 in the series

"I just got to meet him for a second. It was pretty neat. He's a legend in the music industry, and it was pretty cool to meet him." -- Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett, to HawgSports.com, on meeting rapper Snoop Dogg at his on-campus concert on Sunday

"I thought early on, our team was a little too satisfied with winning instead of playing to a standard, so you end up losing a game to learn your lessons." -- Alabama coach Nick Saban

Etc.: Auburn is the fifth SEC team, joining Alabama, Florida, LSU and Tennessee, to hold the top spot in the BCS standings since its inception in 1998. That's the most different No. 1s of any league. ... Running backs coach Des Kitchings has replaced Jimmy Kiser as Vanderbilt's offensive coordinator. Kiser will remain as quarterback coach. ... Mississippi State backup LB Chris Hughes has been suspended for one game by the SEC for a helmet-to-helmet hit on UAB WR Frantrell Forrest late in the second quarter of the Bulldogs' win last week. ... Twenty-five percent of conference games (seven of 28) have been decided by five or fewer points this season. ... Kentucky has scored at least 30 points in four consecutive SEC games, the first time that has happened since 1999. ... A Houston Nutt-coached team has pulled an upset against a top-five team in three of the past four seasons. ... Mississippi State has rushed for 200 yards in four consecutive games for the first time since 2000 and only the third time since 1990. Tennessee CB Marsalis Teague has a toe injury, leaving just two healthy cornerbacks in Art Evans and Eric Gordon. S Prentiss Waggner likely will see time at corner and as the nickel back this week against South Carolina. ... SEC commissioner Mike Slive said the league likely would fine Mississippi State for a violation of the league's artificial noise policy; the violation deals with the cowbells rung by Bulldogs fans. Alabama's streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher was snapped at 41 games last week when Tennessee's Tauren Poole ran for 117 yards. Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett was forced to leave Saturday's win over Ole Miss with a bruised throwing shoulder, but he is expected to start against Vanderbilt. WRs Greg Childs and Joe Adams also were sidelined with sprained ankles. HawgSports.com reported that Childs is more likely to play than Adams this week but that neither is a guarantee. Tennessee is the SEC's least-penalized team, at 36.4 yards per game. "I think it shows we're not playing aggressive enough, probably," coach Derek Dooley said. Ole Miss defensive line coach Terry Price coached at Auburn from 1999-2008, while Auburn defensive line coach Tracy Rocker -- who happens to be Price's cousin -- coached at Ole Miss in 2008. Rocker also coached at Arkansas for Rebels coach Houston Nutt from 2003-07. Vanderbilt WR Tray Herndon and his younger brother, Javontee Herndon, will be on opposite sidelines Saturday. Javontee is a wide receiver at Arkansas.

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

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