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September 20, 2006

SEC: Week 4 Breakdown

Megargee's SEC Week 4 picks
Rivals.com national writer Steve Megargee's predictions for Week 4 in the SEC.
Saturday's games:
Georgia 24, Colorado 0
Auburn 49, Buffalo 7
Arkansas 17, Alabama 16
Tennessee 41, Marshall 17
Ole Miss 21, Wake Forest 20
UAB 17, Mississippi State 10
South Carolina 38, Florida Atlantic 7
Florida 41, Kentucky 10
LSU 45, Tulane 7
Last week: 6-2 Season: 25-3

Taking a breather: After all the intensity of the LSU-Auburn and Florida-Tennessee showdowns last week, this weekend allows most teams to take a break from conference play. Alabama-Arkansas and Kentucky-Florida are the lone conference games on the schedule. Mississippi will try to end a two-game skid against unbeaten Wake Forest, while Mississippi State could have its hands full with UAB. All the other SEC teams should have no problem breezing past outmanned non-conference foes.

Best matchup: Alabama-Arkansas. This game could end up determining who finishes third in the Western Division behind Auburn and LSU, though both teams harbor greater ambitions. Three individual matchups should determine the winner. How will Arkansas freshman phenom Mitch Mustain fare against Alabama's solid cornerback duo of Ramzee Robinson and Simeon Castille? Will LB Juwan Simpson and Co. keep Arkansas tailback Darren McFadden from gaining 100 yards? And can Arkansas CB Chris Houston shut down red-hot Alabama WR Keith Brown?

Worst matchup: There are plenty to choose from this week. Georgia could record its third consecutive shutout Saturday when it faces a Colorado team that is ranked 115th in the nation in total offense ahead of only Temple, Louisiana-Lafayette, North Texas and Utah State. Auburn should bury a Buffalo program that has won six of its last 50 games. Vanderbilt ought to pick up its first win against Division I-AA foe Tennessee State, LSU should beat Tulane for the 15th consecutive time, and slumping South Carolina faces a Florida Atlantic team that lost its first three games by a combined score of 147-14.

The pressure is on: Alabama TB Kenneth Darby. This senior entered the season with an excellent chance to set the school's career rushing record. Although it still might happen, the two-time 1,000-yard rusher has gained just 3.3 yards per carry in his first three games while struggling with a hip injury. Darby showed signs of regaining his old form last weekend by rushing for 79 yards on 14 attempts in a 41-7 whipping of Louisiana-Monroe. If he's really back for good, Darby ought to have a big game against an Arkansas defense allowing 4.8 yards per carry. The Tide won't stay unbeaten for long without a productive Darby in the backfield.

Upset alert: I once again sided with all the favorites, which certainly caught me by surprise. Until I looked at this week's odds, I assumed Arkansas and Mississippi were underdogs. It certainly wouldn't be much of an upset if Alabama defensive coordinator Joe Kines frustrated Arkansas freshman quarterback Mitch Mustain into a losing effort. Nor should it shock anyone if unbeaten Wake Forest hands Mississippi its third consecutive loss.

Most to gain: Arkansas QB Mitch Mustain. This freshman phenom entered school amidst an avalanche of hype and gained even more fanfare by throwing three touchdown passes to beat Vanderbilt in his SEC debut. If he leads the Razorbacks to a victory over Alabama, Mustain may as well run for governor.

Most to lose: South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier. Imagine the ribbing this former Gator legend would get back in the Sunshine State if the Gamecocks struggle against Sun Belt lightweight Florida Atlantic. After barely squeaking past Wofford 27-20, the Gamecocks couldn't overlook an overmatched opponent for a second consecutive week. Or could they?

BCS implications: The winner of the Florida-Kentucky game will have sole possession of first place in the Eastern Division for at least a week and would join Georgia as the only East teams unbeaten in conference play. The Alabama-Arkansas winner will be tied with Auburn for first place in the Western Division.

Who's hot: Georgia's defense has delivered back-to-back shutouts for the first time since its 1980 national championship season. Auburn's defense hasn't allowed a touchdown in its last nine quarters. Florida QB Chris Leak replaced Tennessee QB Erik Ainge as the national leader in passing efficiency after directing the Gators to a 21-20 victory over Ainge's Volunteers. Kentucky QB Andre' Woodson has thrown three touchdown passes in each of the Wildcats' first three games. Kentucky WR Dicky Lyons Jr. has caught two touchdown passes each of the last three weeks. Georgia PK Brandon Coutu is a perfect 7-of-7 on field-goal attempts and made a 55-yarder last week. Florida WR Dallas Baker has scored six touchdowns in his last four games.

Who's not: After catching 27 passes for 266 yards in his final two games of 2005, Vanderbilt WR Earl Bennett has just 15 receptions for 134 yards so far this year. The Tennessee offensive line has struggled with run blocking. An ankle injury has limited TB Arian Foster and has caused UT to gain just 3.0 yards per carry as a team this season. Mississippi ranks 104th in the nation in passing offense, 109th in turnover margin and 110th in passing defense. Mississippi State scored seven points in its first 11 quarters of the season before tallying 22 points in the fourth quarter of a 32-29 loss to Tulane last weekend.

Must-see TV: Alabama-Arkansas (CBS). All the other games on the schedule simply don't have much widespread appeal.

Newcomer who could have an impact: Mississippi State RBs Arnil Stallworth and Anthony Dixon. During this year of the freshman quarterback in the SEC, Mississippi State finds itself relying on a pair of freshman running backs to help resuscitate its moribund offense. Stallworth and Dixon combined for 40 yards on 15 carries last week in a 32-29 loss to Tulane. They probably will get the majority of the carries again this weekend as the Bulldogs search for their first win of the season.

Key stat: Georgia has allowed only 12 points in its first three games. The Bulldogs haven't given up a point total that low through their first three games of a season since 1937.

Take the line: After blowing a 10-point lead at home to Florida last week, look for Tennessee to take out its frustrations on Marshall this weekend. As long as QB Erik Ainge regains the form he showed in his first two games of the year, Tennessee ought to cover the 23-point spread.

They said it: "We understand the position we're in. We understand that there's somebody ahead of us in the West. But there's a lot of football left to play. I like our football team. I'll play it right from here, we'll play it hard. We'll get better and we'll look forward to the remainder of our schedule, including Tulane." -LSU coach Les Miles on the team's response to its 7-3 loss to Auburn.

Injury update: Tennessee DT Justin Harrell underwent surgery on his torn biceps this week and will miss the rest of the season. Tennessee RB Arian Foster (ankle) left the Air Force game early, played very sparingly against Florida and didn't practice Tuesday. Alabama WR Tyrone Prothro underwent surgery on his left leg this week and won't play at all this season. Freshman RB Terry Grant (shoulder) also will miss the rest of the season. Alabama S Cory Reamer (knee) is out for several weeks. South Carolina S Emanuel Cook is out for at least two weeks. Florida WR Percy Harvin has a high ankle sprain that makes his status uncertain for the Kentucky game. Georgia WR Mohamed Massaquoi (hamstring) and WR Mario Raley (bursa sac) are questionable. Kentucky RB Rafael Little (knee) and C Matt McCutchan (ankle) also are questionable for this weekend's action. Kentucky FB John Conner (turf toe) won't play Saturday.

Worth noting: The Georgia-Colorado game features arguably the nation's two best kickers: Brandon Coutu for Georgia and Mason Crosby for Colorado. SEC players of the week were Kentucky QB Andre' Woodson (offense), Florida LB Earl Everett (defense), Auburn P Kody Bliss (special teams), Georgia OG Fernando Velasco (offensive lineman), Louisiana State DT Glenn Dorsey (defensive lineman) and Arkansas QB Mitch Mustain (freshman). The SEC has three of the nation's top four teams in scoring defense: Georgia (No. 2), LSU (No. 3) and Auburn (No. 4). LSU also leads the nation in total defense. When Kentucky faces Florida, the Wildcats will be seeking their first win over a top 10 team since they beat No. 4 Penn State 24-20 in 1977. Although Vanderbilt and Tennessee State are both based in Nashville, Tenn., this will mark the first time the two programs have faced each other.

Looking back: Auburn and Florida took major steps toward winning their respective divisions last weekend. QB Chris Leak helped Florida rally from a 10-point deficit to beat Tennessee 21-20 on the road. QB Brandon Cox's 1-yard run accounted for the only touchdown in Auburn's 7-3 triumph over LSU. Georgia pasted UAB 34-0 to collect its second consecutive shutout. Kentucky QB Andre Woodson threw three touchdown passes in a 31-14 whipping of Ole Miss. Sidney Rice caught seven passes for 151 yards as South Carolina withstood a late comeback to edge Wofford 27-20. Omarr Conner threw for 241 yards and rushed for 71 more, but Mississippi State still fell 32-29 to Tulane. Bryant Hahnfeldt barely missed a 48-yard field goal in the final minute of Vanderbilt's 21-19 loss to Arkansas. John Parker Wilson threw two touchdown passes as Alabama trounced Louisiana-Monroe 41-7.

Freshman who impressed: Arkansas QB Mitch Mustain went 13-of-20 for 224 yards with three touchdown passes and one interception in the Razorbacks' 21-19 victory over Vanderbilt. Mustain was the first Arkansas freshman quarterback to win his SEC debut since Barry Lunney in 1992. Mustain was named the Rivals.com national freshman of the week.

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