SEC Preview: Wk 11

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Can South Carolina make it to its first SEC title game?

Can South Carolina make it to its first SEC title game?

Ole Miss (4-5, 1-4) at Tennessee (3-6, 0-5), Noon ET
TV: CBS

How’d CBS get stuck with this one? This is supposedly the fourth-best game of the week? Yowzers.
Tennessee fans have their arms impatiently crossed, tapping their feet. All the Derek Dooley one-liners in the world can’t fill the void of a winless SEC season. Starting 0–5 in the SEC is no bueno, even if Conan is delivering the jokes.

Ole Miss, in Knoxville, presents the best opportunity of the season so far for an SEC win. (At least until Vanderbilt.) It had to feel good for the Vols to beat up on someone, anyone, last week in Memphis. But a 50–14 win against one of the worst teams in the country will not cure the SEC ills.

The Rebels have a little speed on offense that will give UT fits. But watch Vols quarterback Tyler Bray, all 185 pounds of him, as he continues to grow into his role (and body).

Player to Watch: Denarius Moore, Tennessee WR. Scorched South Carolina’s secondary two weeks ago. Ole Miss’ might be worse.

Vanderbilt (2-7, 1-5) at Kentucky (5-5, 1-5), 12:21 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network

Good thing for the non-conference schedule, eh Kentucky? Wins against Louisville, Western Kentucky, Akron and Charleston Southern — plus one late rally against South Carolina — have the Wildcats in position for bowl eligibility, with a victory against either Vanderbilt or Tennessee.

Bet on the former. The Commodores have been coming apart for weeks, unraveled even more by the loss last week of Zac Stacy. He’s the team’s backup running back, playing in the place of Warren Norman, lost for the year after dislocating his wrist.

Getting to six wins should be a breeze for UK. Now, can it get to seven, causing all the demons surrounding the UT series to scurry?

Player to Watch: Randall Cobb, Kentucky WR. Been a while since he had a monster game, hasn’t it? That’s what Vandy’s good for, correct?

Georgia (5-5, 3-4) at No. 2 Auburn (10-0, 6-0), 2:30 p.m., CT
TV: CBS

This Cameron Newton fellow seems to be in the news quite often lately. He already was, but it was pertaining to his play. Now the headlines relate to whether he’s eligible to play. What a captivating character in college football.

The NCAA is about all that can stop Newton this season. He has roughly 400 more yards than Tim Tebow had in his Heisman season, even if the TDs aren’t quite level (42-34) through 10 games. Newton has one definite advantage that Tebow didn’t: Auburn is 10–0 through 10; the Gators were 7–3.

Don’t be at all surprised if this off-field firestorm only works to further inspire an incredibly talented kid. He might have to give it all back one day — might — but that doesn’t stop what’s happening right this second.
It’s a fun thought that Georgia would hang around, but Newton wills the Tigers to be undefeated headed into the Iron Bowl.

Player to Watch: Cam Newton, Auburn QB. Duh.

UTEP (6-4) at No. 14 Arkansas (7-2), 6 p.m. CT
TV: ESPNU

OK, what we know about UTEP: This is where Mike Price wound up. The Miners are bowl-eligible. Donald Buckram was one of college football’s leading rushers a year ago, having run for nearly 1,600 yards. Injuries have derailed Buckram’s senior season. He has just 70 carries and 316 yards, with a single-game high of 81 yards.

Arkansas looked like the best team in the league last week, with one of the top performances this season. The defense, holding South Carolina to 10 points in minutes that mattered, showed it has made steps this season. It was physical and sure in its tackling. Best-kept secret in the South: The Hogs have a lot more than Ryan Mallett. (But he’s good, also.)

Don’t let UTEP’s six wins (Arkansas-Pine Bluff, New Mexico State, Memphis, New Mexico, Rice, SMU) fool you. This team is fully prepared to get dominated.

Player to Watch: Knile Davis, Arkansas RB. Davis has run well lately. Let him go, run the clock. Get to Mississippi State and LSU.

Louisiana-Monroe (4-5) at No. 5 Louisiana State (8-1), 6 p.m. CT
TV: “TigerVision”

After Saturday, Louisiana-Monroe will have played as many SEC West games as the SEC East teams. Isn’t that a bit excessive? Even the East teams don’t want to play the West. ULM would probably be in a bowl game if not for that intense scheduling.

This is the first of three games that could lead to a very interesting scenario for LSU. At 11–1, with only a loss to Auburn, would LSU get national championship game consideration? That’s still a long way off. For now, it’s about continuing offensive success. Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee, and especially Jefferson, played well last week against Alabama. LSU fans would love to see more of that before Ole Miss and Arkansas close out the season.

Player to Watch: Les Miles, LSU coach. Not a player, but gosh he’s fascinating.

No. 17 Mississippi State (7-2, 3-2) at No. 11 Alabama (7-2, 4-2), 6:15 p.m. CT
TV: ESPN2

An ESPN analyst continues to say this is Mississippi State’s “Super Bowl.” No, that was Florida. (And it won.) This is its “Pro Bowl,” we’ll say. (Are we the only ones daydreaming about that game at Auburn next season, by the way? Wow. Lot of power packed into that one, huh?)

Curious to see how Alabama responds to losing its second game. Greg McElroy called it the “end of the world.” So, what happens after that? Guess none of us know, really. The Tide is equipped, in terms of talent. But will the team’s minds stick with it?

Mississippi State is a hungry bunch. Beyond all the Newton news, don’t forget this is the Bulldogs’ first time back on the field since teammate Nick Bell died last week after a brief fight with cancer. Expect that to be MSU’s motivations in what would be yet another signature win for Dan Mullen’s early tenure.

Player to Watch: Vick Ballard, Mississippi State RB. His 12 TDs are actually the most of a running back in the league. Ball control is clearly a key to the Bulldogs’ success.

No. 22 South Carolina (6-3, 4-3) at No. 24 Florida (6-3, 4-3), 7:15 p.m. ET
TV: ESPN

What a strange road to get here for these two teams. Florida’s used to already having the East wrapped up by now, having won a record 10 division titles since the split. South Carolina, meanwhile, isn’t used to having this shot. It happened only one other time, a decade ago, and the Gators had to erase an early deficit to escape the Gamecocks in 2000.

That game was in Gainesville. So is this one. That’s a huge deal, although it bears mentioning that some of the mystique seems to have temporarily vacated the Swamp. Florida has already lost two at home this season, to LSU and Mississippi State. And then there’s Urban Meyer this week, begging fans to be “out of control” and to wear all blue. Since when is Florida a school that has to resort to ridiculous fashion gimmicks? Just play ball.

South Carolina actually might be the more talented team, which feels bizarre to say, but will it behave like the more talented team? A knee injury, in part, caused Marcus Lattimore to have a forgettable night last week against Arkansas (season-low 30 yards), but he’s far from alone. Only receiver Alshon Jeffery (99 yards) could be singled out as having a decent night against the Razorbacks. The 41–20 loss was exceptionally bad.

You’ll know by the end of the first quarter who wins the game. If South Carolina shows up — even if it doesn’t have the lead, meaning, if it’s tied or close — it’ll win. In a season of the unexpected, why not have the Gamecocks become the fourth team to win the East?

Player to Watch: Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina RB. The Gamecocks have to be able to run the ball. Maybe Lattimore makes his impact catching passes out of the backfield, too.

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Athlon previews Week 11 in the SEC. The East title is on the line in Gainesville and the Newton saga continues in Auburn.