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October 18, 2006

SEC: Week 8 Breakdown

Megargee's SEC picks
Rivals.com national writer Steve Megargee's predictions for Week 8 in the SEC.
Saturday's games:
Arkansas 27, Ole Miss14
Georgia 24, Mississippi State 7
Auburn 38, Tulane 3
South Carolina 23, Vanderbilt 20
Tennessee 24, Alabama 13
LSU 41, Fresno State 14

Last week: 5-1 Season: 47-9

Are they for real? : Arkansas leads the Western Division. Vanderbilt still has bowl aspirations. Both teams better win this week if they want to keep feeling good about themselves. Although Arkansas has a commanding lead in the West, the Razorbacks need to beat Ole Miss because they still have difficult upcoming conference games with South Carolina, Tennessee and LSU. Vanderbilt has an outside chance to earn the six wins necessary for bowl eligibility, but the Commodores can only afford two more losses. Eastern Division heavyweights Florida and Tennessee remain on Vanderbilt's schedule, so the Commodores probably need to win their other three games - including this weekend's tilt with South Carolina.

Best matchups: The battle of the Bennetts ought to provide plenty of intrigue. Vanderbilt WR Earl Bennett is responsible for 47.5 percent of the Commodores' receiving yards. South Carolina CB Fred Bennett, no relation, is tied for the SEC lead in passes defended. Saturday's South Carolina-Vanderbilt game could come down to which Bennett wins that one-on-one matchup. The Tennessee-Alabama game also features an interesting matchup with ball-hawking Tide cornerbacks Ramzee Robinson and Simeon Castille facing the talented Tennessee receiving tandem of Robert Meachem and Jayson Swain. Ole Miss has two outstanding linebackers in Patrick Willis and Rory Johnson, but they could have a tough time slowing down Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and that potent Arkansas rushing attack.

Worst matchup: Auburn's offense has struggled at times this year particularly with pass protection but Tulane's defense should provide the perfect tonic. Tulane is ranked 115th in the nation in scoring defense and has allowed 35.7 points per game.

The pressure is on: Georgia coach Mark Richt. After losing at home to Vanderbilt last week, the Bulldogs can pretty much forget about winning a second consecutive conference title. Another stunning loss this week could make the Bulldogs start worrying about whether they can finish above .500. Georgia still has Florida, Kentucky, Auburn and Georgia Tech remaining on its schedule. The Bulldogs might be favored in only one of those four games.

Upset alert: Can Vanderbilt pull off two upsets in a row? Fresh off their victory at Georgia, the Commodores began the week as three-point underdogs in their homecoming game with South Carolina. That game seems like the only realistic hope for an upset. Tennessee should handle Alabama at home, and the other four games involving SEC teams all have spreads of at least 17 points.

Most to gain: Georgia QB Matthew Stafford. This true freshman has regained the starting job and will try to help the Bulldogs end their two-game losing streak. If he plays well Saturday, Stafford may keep the job until he leaves Athens, Ga.

Most to lose: South Carolina and Vanderbilt. Both teams have demanding schedules the rest of the season, so the loser of this game could have a tough time earning a bowl invitation. South Carolina (4-2) still must face Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida and Clemson. Vanderbilt (3-4) follows this weekend's game with a probable win at Duke, but the Commodores close the regular season against Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee.

BCS implications: Auburn was ranked fourth overall and first among one-loss teams in the initial BCS standings, but that could change after Saturday's date with Tulane drops the Tigers' strength-of-schedule ratings. Arkansas must win Saturday to remain in sole possession of first place in the Western Division. Tennessee must beat Alabama to keep the pressure on Eastern Division leader Florida.

Who's hot: Ole Miss LB Rory Johnson has collected 30 tackles the last two weeks. Alabama RB Kenneth Darby has rushed for 277 yards his last two games. Alabama WR DJ Hall has collected at least 117 receiving yards each of his last four games. Arkansas RB Felix Jones has rushed for at least 100 yards two consecutive weeks. He leads the nation with an average of 9.6 yards per carry. Tennessee WRs Robert Meachem and Jayson Swain are the NCAA's second-leading receiving duo in average yards per game this season. Georgia LB Tony Taylor has recorded 41 tackles in his last four games. Tennessee PK James Wilhoit has made 15 of his last 16 field-goal attempts.

Who's not: Kentucky QB Andre Woodson has completed just 47 percent of his passes the last two weeks. Georgia DE Quentin Moses has just one sack all year none in the last six games after collecting 11 of them last year. After catching five touchdown passes in a victory over Florida Atlantic, South Carolina WR Sidney Rice has caught five total passes in the two games since. Kentucky is giving up 462.4 yards per game and is ranked last among all 119 Division I-A teams in total defense.

Must-see TV: Alabama at Tennessee (CBS): Although Tennessee is favored by 11 points, recent history indicates this game could go down to the wire. The last two Alabama-Tennessee games have been decided by a total of seven points. The one before that wasn't decided until the fifth overtime period.

Newcomer who could have an impact: The easy answer is to go with Georgia QB Matthew Stafford, but we already mentioned that true freshman as the player with the most to gain. We instead will give this honor to Vanderbilt's freshman cornerback duo of D.J. Moore and Joel Caldwell. Moore made a team-high nine tackles and a fumble recovery in the victory over Georgia last week, while Caldwell broke up a pass. The two first-year players now must try to slow down South Carolina star WR Sidney Rice.

Key stat: SEC teams have given up an average of 18.0 points and 306.4 total yards per game. That represents the lowest figures in both categories since the conference expanded in 1992.

Take the line: Although Arkansas trounced Auburn 27-10 in its last SEC game, the Razorbacks' three conference victories have only been decided by a grand total of 20 points (they also beat Alabama by one point and Vanderbilt by two points). Arkansas' run-oriented approach doesn't usually result in high point totals, which explains why 17-point underdog Ole Miss ought to cover the spread Saturday. Season record: 5-3.

They said it: "I don't think, personally, that there's a better or more historical series in the South, and maybe in the country, than this game."
-Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer on the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry.

Injury update: Alabama RB Roy Upchurch will miss the rest of the season with an injured left ankle. Alabama WR Keith Brown (sprained knee ligament) and RB Jimmy Johns (twisted ankle) are questionable for the Tennessee game. Auburn TE Cole Bennett (broken ankle) and C Joe Cope (knee sprain) could return Nov. 4 against Arkansas State. Georgia RB Thomas Brown will miss the rest of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Georgia TE Martrez Milner (toe) and OG Chester Adams (ankle) are doubtful for the Mississippi State game. Mississippi State OT J.D. Hamilton will miss Saturday's game with a strained medial collateral ligament. Mississippi State FB Bryson Davis is out for the season with a knee injury. Vanderbilt OT Brian Stamper underwent back surgery this week and probably will miss the rest of the season. Vanderbilt OG Josh Eames also could be out for the season.

Worth noting: Although every SEC team has lost at least once this year, four conference representatives still were ranked among the top 13 schools in the initial Bowl Championship Series standings. SEC teams in the BCS Top 25 included No. 4 Auburn, No. 6 Florida, No. 11 Tennessee, No. 13 Arkansas and No. 18 LSU. Alabama had lost five consecutive overtime games before defeating Ole Miss 26-23 last week. For the first time in school history, Arkansas has had a pair of 100-yard rushers in two straight games. Auburn's 27-17 triumph over Florida marked the Tigers' eighth win in their last nine games against teams ranked in the top 10 by the Associated Press. Mississippi State heads into Georgia this weekend with a 22-game SEC road losing streak. The Bulldogs haven't beaten an SEC foe on the road since winning 35-17 at Kentucky on Nov. 4, 2000. Vanderbilt's 24-22 victory over Georgia ended a 49-game losing streak against ranked opponents. The Commodores hadn't beaten a ranked foe on the road since a 27-22 triumph over No. 12 Alabama on Oct. 7, 1950. SEC players of the week are LSU QB JaMarcus Russell (offense), Auburn DE Quentin Groves (defense), Mississippi Sate DB/KR Derek Pegues (special teams), Vanderbilt OT Chris Williams (offensive line), Arkansas DT Keith Jackson Jr. (defensive line) and Alabama LB Prince Hall (freshman).

Looking back: Tre Smith returned a blocked punt 15 yards in the third quarter to put Auburn ahead for good in a 27-17 victory over Florida. Bryant Hahnfeldt kicked a 33-yard field goal with two seconds remaining as Vanderbilt stunned Georgia 24-22. Michael Smith rushed for 116 yards and Felix Jones ran for 106 yards in Arkansas' 63-7 thrashing of Southeast Missouri State. Brandon Thornton rushed for two touchdowns as Mississippi State trounced Jacksonville State 35-3. Le'Ron McClain caught a 2-yard touchdown pass in overtime as Alabama rallied for a 26-23 victory over Ole Miss. Dwayne Bowe caught three touchdown passes as LSU throttled Kentucky 49-0.

Freshman who impressed: Alabama LB Prince Hall collected a career-high eight tackles two for loss in Alabama's 26-23 overtime victory over Ole Miss. His eight-tackle effort included seven solo stops.

Week 8 conference previews: ACC | Big East | Big Ten | Big 12 | Pac-10

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