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November 22, 2007

Spot in SEC title game still up for grabs

MORE CONFERENCE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Pac-10

HUGUENIN'S SEC PICKS
Friday's games
Saturday's games

Overview: The Iron Bowl is being played on Thanksgiving weekend for the first time since 1992, but it's not the SEC's biggest game of the week. Instead, that honor belongs to Kentucky-Tennessee, which is one of the most one-sided rivalries in college football. The Vols have won 22 in a row in the series; No. 23 gives them the SEC East title and a spot in the league championship game Dec. 1 in Atlanta. A UK victory gives the East title to Georgia, which like most other league schools is finishing the regular season with a rivalry game, against Georgia Tech. The other rivalry games: Ole Miss-Mississippi State, the aforementioned Alabama-Auburn Iron Bowl, Florida-Florida State and South Carolina-Clemson. LSU's now-traditional season-ender against Arkansas is important as the Tigers look to remain in the national title hunt. The other game matches Vanderbilt and Wake Forest in a showdown of the smallest schools from the SEC and ACC.

Best matchup: Kentucky QB Andre' Woodson vs. Tennessee's secondary. The Vols haven't allowed more than 162 passing yards in each of their past three games. But that's deceiving because the opponents have been Arkansas, Louisiana-Lafayette and Vanderbilt teams that have trouble throwing the ball. Far more pertinent is that the Vols have been torched through the air by Alabama, California, Florida and South Carolina with three of those games (all but South Carolina) being losses. The Vols allow 227.6 passing yards per game, 11th in the league, and Woodson is the best pure passer they will have seen this season. Woodson can be pressured into mistakes, but the Vols are last in the league in sacks (14). Woodson has nice weapons on the outside in Keenan Burton, Steve Johnson and Dicky Lyons, and TE Jacob Tamme is a nice safety-valve receiver. The best defense for the Vols may be a ball-control offense against UK's mediocre defense.

The pressure is on: Alabama coach Nick Saban. The Tide has dropped three in a row, including an inexplicable loss last week to Louisiana-Monroe. Saban followed up the ULM loss with some inappropriate statements about catastrophes. The Tide has scored just 26 total points in the past two games, and will be going against a good Auburn defense this week. Auburn has won five in a row in the series, and another loss to the Tigers will leave Tide fans miserable for at least one more year.

Who's hot: Auburn has won five in a row over Alabama, matching the Tigers' best winning streak in the series (1954-58). Florida leads the nation in pass efficiency offense; LSU leads the nation in pass efficiency defense. Kentucky's Woodson has thrown for at least 200 yards and one touchdown in 17 consecutive games. Florida WR Andre Caldwell has 24 receptions for 312 yards and one TD in his past two games. Tennessee QB Erik Ainge has seven TD passes and no picks in the past three games. LSU's defense has forced 62 three-and-outs this season, 10 more than any other league team (Arkansas is second).

Who's not: Ole Miss hasn't won an SEC road game since 2004. Vanderbilt hasn't thrown for 200 yards in a game since Sept. 15 against Ole Miss. Florida has allowed 625 passing yards in the past two games. South Carolina has surrendered 126 points in the past three games. Alabama has rushed for one TD in the past three games and just two in the past four. Auburn hasn't broken the 300-yard total-offense barrier in three of its past four SEC games. The only time it did, the opponent was Ole Miss.

Keep your eye on: Florida's offense. Gators QB Tim Tebow has had a great season and may be the Heisman front-runner. He and the Gators will be going against a physical, aggressive Florida State defense this week. The Seminoles have been tough against the run but only so-so against the pass. If the Gators can mount some semblance of a running game with Tebow, WR Percy Harvin and maybe even TB Kestahn Moore, they should be able to put up big numbers overall on the Seminoles. The team that has rushed the most yardage has won 16 of the past 19 in the series.

Numbers game: Florida has scored 64 touchdowns; that's 11 more than any other SEC team. Tebow has accounted for 46 of them; that is more than eight SEC teams. Alabama K Leigh Tiffin leads the league with eight field goals of 40-plus yards. Kentucky's Tim Masthay has 20 touchbacks this season; that's 10 more than any other SEC kicker. Arkansas TB Darren McFadden has scored just one TD in the past three games. Mississippi State leads the league with five defensive touchdowns this season. LSU has outscored foes by 75 points in the fourth quarter. Ole Miss, on the other hand, has been outscored by 73 points in the fourth quarter.

SEC STANDINGS
EAST DIVISION
TeamConf.All
Georgia6-29-2
Tennessee5-28-3
Florida5-38-3
Kentucky3-47-4
South Carolina3-56-5
Vanderbilt2-65-6
WEST DIVISION
TeamConf.All
LSU6-110-1
Auburn4-37-4
Alabama4-36-5
Arkansas3-47-4
Mississippi State3-46-5
Mississippi0-73-8
Freshmen to watch: Georgia redshirt freshman TB Knowshon Moreno has five consecutive 100-yard games and has scored nine TDs in that span. Not so coincidentally, Bulldogs QB Matthew Stafford has made some big plays in the passing game of late because defenses have had to key on Moreno. The Bulldogs play blitz-happy Georgia Tech on Saturday, and the potential exists for some huge plays on both sides because of the blitz. Florida true freshman FS Major Wright is a big hitter but struggles in coverage, so look for Florida State to try to take advantage with some deep balls to De'Cody Fagg, Greg Carr and Preston Parker. In addition, Gators true freshman CB Joe Haden has been bothered by a sprained ankle, which will further strain Florida's struggling secondary.

Injury update: After missing the past two games with migraine headaches, Florida's Harvin is expected to play Saturday against Florida State. Florida's Haden (ankle) is questionable. Arkansas DE Malcolm Sheppard (ankle) and CB Jerell Norton (knee) are questionable for LSU. Auburn OT Ryan Pugh (ankle) and LB Craig Stevens (ankle) are questionable for Alabama. LSU LB Darry Beckwith (knee) is questionable for Arkansas. South Carolina G Kevin Young (ankle) and CB Carlos Thomas (shoulder) are questionable against Clemson.

They said it:
"We talk about playing in this game just about every day during the offseason."
Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville on the Iron Bowl

"I don't know how someone announcing a Tennessee score at halftime would affect us, I don't know if it would make us happy and we would play better or make us mad and we would play better."
Georgia coach Mark Richt whose team wins the SEC East if Kentucky beats Tennessee

"We dreamt, earlier, that we would be in that position. We're not, so hopefully we can at least impact the outcome."
Kentucky coach Rich Brooks on Tennessee winning the SEC East if it beats his team

"It would make a good ride home, I'll tell you that."
Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron on what a victory over Mississippi State would mean for his program

Bowl implications.: If Georgia can get to 10-2 with a win over Georgia Tech, the Bulldogs remain very much in play for a BCS at-large bid. Florida also has slim hopes for a BCS at-large bid; failing that, the Gators look good for the Capital One Bowl assuming they get to nine wins. Kentucky is an Outback Bowl possibility if it can beat Tennessee. Alabama, Auburn, Arkansas and Mississippi State are looking to improve their bowl "positioning" with victories. And while South Carolina is bowl-eligible, the Gamecocks almost certainly will be home for the holidays unless they beat Clemson.

Etc.: Georgia (6-0), LSU (6-0), Tennessee (7-0) and Vanderbilt (4-0) are unbeaten this season when scoring first. The Arkansas-LSU winner receives "The Golden Boot" trophy. At about 175 pounds, it is believed to be the heaviest trophy awarded in a college football rivalry. Kentucky is 3-33-1 all-time against Tennessee when the Vols are ranked, as they are this week. Florida is looking for its fourth consecutive victory over Florida State; that would be the Gators' longest streak in the series since they won six in a row from 1981-86. SEC games, on average, have taken 3 hours, 21 minutes this season. That is an increase of 14 minutes per game from last season.

MORE CONFERENCE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Pac-10

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



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