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Friday, October 10, 2008
What to watch in the SEC, Week 7

Posted by's Chris Low

It's a battle of the last two BCS national champions on Saturday night in the Swamp. And if you're into trends, the Gators should be in good shape. The home team is 7-0-1 when the last two national champions meet. The last time it happened was 18 years ago when Notre Dame (the 1988 champ) beat Miami (the 1989 champ) 29-20 in South Bend. LSU's 28-24 win over Florida last season was one of the more exciting, hard-hitting games in the league. But, then, what LSU game a year ago wasn't heart-pounding? The winner of this game can make a pretty convincing statement in its divisional race that it's the team to beat. And especially if Florida wins, there's a decent chance the two teams could meet in a rematch in the SEC championship game. Here's a look at what to watch for in Week 7 in the SEC:

1. The Mad Hatter: Yes, LSU coach Les Miles is a bit unorthodox in how he goes about answering the simplest of questions in such a way that leaves you more confused than you were before you asked the question. And, yes, the way he wears his hat squarely on top of his head is a bit comical. But Miles could wear a lampshade on his head if he keeps winning the way he has. He's 8-3 against top 10 teams at LSU and has won six in a row. He's 4-2 on the road against top-10 competition. In his last 16 games against SEC opponents, the only two games he lost were in triple-overtime. It's high time the Mad Hatter gets his due. The guy can coach.

2. Auburn's offense: What's it going to look like now that Tony Franklin is gone? Steve Ensminger will call the plays, and Tommy Tuberville insists that the Tigers aren't going away from the no-huddle, spread offense that Franklin implemented. That may be, but surely Auburn is going to make more of an effort to run the ball Saturday against an Arkansas defense that hasn't stopped anybody on the ground this season.

3. Tuberville crossing over: Tommy Tuberville has a distinguished background as a top defensive coordinator and linebackers coach when he was at Miami and then Texas A&M for a year before getting the Ole Miss top job. But calling offensive plays? It will be interesting to see how involved he really is the rest of the way in coordinating Auburn's offense and making the play calls on game day. Tuberville says it will be a team effort and that he will be a big part of that team.

4. Spikes vs. Scott: Florida's Brandon Spikes is one of the best middle linebackers in the country. He's fast, physical and always around the ball. He dares you to run at him. But that's what LSU likes to do with bruising 233-pound tailback Charles Scott, who's rushed for 100 or more yards in each of his four games this season. There's not a whole lot fancy about Scott other than his penchant for running over people. That first collision between Spikes and Scott ought to be one to remember.

5. The beast within: Brandon Spikes has already warned everybody that talking trash to Tim Tebow before a big game is akin to making the beast that much angrier. Look for Tebow to be a beast in this game and not hold back. It's obvious he hasn't looked to run quite as much this season. That all changes Saturday night in the Swamp. Not only will he look to run, but he'll look to run over somebody early to set the tone. The Tim Tebow that won the 2007 Heisman Trophy isn't a pocket passer. He's a modern-day, 240-pound single-wing tailback.

6. Solving Spurrier: Rich Brooks has yet to beat South Carolina since taking the Kentucky job in 2003. South Carolina's Steve Spurrier has never lost to Kentucky. He's 15-0 all-time against the Wildcats, who have lost eight straight to the Gamecocks. In short, something has to give if the Wildcats are going to break through and have a big season. They get the Gamecocks at home in a game that should provide the most definitive answer yet as to whether Kentucky is a contender or a pretender.

7. Adams on call: It sounds like Vanderbilt quarterback Chris Nickson's right throwing shoulder is healthy enough for him to start Saturday against Mississippi State. Of course, Nickson has failed to finish the last two games after taking hits on that shoulder. The comforting thing for the Commodores is that they don't miss a beat when backup quarterback Mackenzi Adams is in the game. In fact, they really didn't start moving the ball consistently against Auburn until he entered the game in the second quarter.

8. Southerland's impact: Rumor has it that Georgia fullback Brannan Southerland, who missed the first five games after recovering from foot surgery, will arrive at Sanford Stadium on Saturday in a limousine provided by sophomore tailback Knowshon Moreno. Nobody has missed Southerland's crushing lead blocks more than Moreno, who was a nonfactor in the Alabama loss two weeks ago. Southerland's leadership and all-around toughness will also be key for the Bulldogs as they enter the teeth of their schedule beginning this weekend against Tennessee.

9. Getting to Smelley: The problem South Carolina had earlier this season was protecting the quarterback. But Chris Smelley has had more time to throw these last few games. He faces a Kentucky front four that ranks up there with the best in the league. The Wildcats sacked Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson three times last week, and the Crimson Tide offensive line was whistled twice for holding on pass plays. Rich Brooks says it's easily the best pass rush he's had at Kentucky, and the numbers back him up. The Wildcats are second nationally in pass efficiency defense.

10. Stephens' SEC debut: Not only does Tennessee have to go on the road Saturday against a Georgia team eager to get revenge for last season's shellacking in Knoxville, but the Vols do so with a quarterback (Nick Stephens) who's never taken a snap in an SEC game. Stephens was serviceable last week in the narrow win over Northern Illinois, but you know the Vols have to be kicking themselves now for not giving him a chance against Auburn or Florida earlier this season and for not giving him a chance to at least compete with Jonathan Crompton for the starting job back in the spring and preseason.