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Thursday, October 18, 2012
What to watch in the SEC: Week 8

By Chris Low

We've had our first look at the BCS standings, which means it's starting to get serious.

Here's a look at what to watch in the SEC in Week 8:

1. Sorting out the East: The East race starts to clear up some this weekend. South Carolina can take a big step toward winning the division with a win at Florida. The Gamecocks then would own the head-to-head tiebreaker over both Florida and Georgia and could clinch the division with home wins over Tennessee and Arkansas. If Florida wins Saturday in the Swamp, the Gators would need to beat Georgia in Jacksonville the following week and could clinch the East title on Nov. 3 at home against Missouri. Georgia, which already has lost to South Carolina, needs Florida to beat South Carolina this weekend, which would give the Gamecocks two conference losses. The Bulldogs then could take control of the race by beating the Gators in Jacksonville on Oct. 27. Georgia, which plays at Kentucky Saturday, closes its SEC slate with Ole Miss at home and Auburn on the road.

2. Lattimore's status: South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier cast some doubt about Marcus Lattimore's availability for the Florida game after Lattimore missed practice Wednesday with a bruised hip. Spurrier said there's a good chance backup Kenny Miles will start the game at tailback, adding that a lot of it would depend on how Lattimore was feeling by game time. The chances of Lattimore missing the game completely are remote, and running backs coach Everette Sands sounded confident Wednesday that his star would be healthy enough to play. The question is: How effective will Lattimore be? He's one of the best in college football when it comes to getting the tough yards, and those yards will be hard to come by against Florida's defense.

Jeff Driskel
Jeff Driskel has proved to be a dangerous scrambler this season, racking up 326 yards and four TDs on the ground.
3. Driskel vs. Shaw: In a lot of ways, Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel and South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw have mirrored each other. Both are excellent runners who can get outside the pocket and make things happen. They're accurate passers, although they don't throw a lot, and both guys are as tough as nails. The other common denominator is that neither has made a lot of mistakes despite this being their first full seasons as starters. Yards and points figure to be tough to come by Saturday against both of those defenses, so it's a game that may come down to which quarterback can create a few plays and keep from giving the other team anything easy.

4. Mulligan for South Carolina's ‘D': Will the real South Carolina defense stand up? A week ago, the Gamecocks were pushed around by LSU and gave up 258 rushing yards in a 23-21 loss to the Tigers. South Carolina, which entered that game ranked among the top defenses nationally, simply couldn't stop Jeremy Hill and LSU's running game in the second half. That's after completely smothering Georgia and its freshman duo of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall two weeks ago in a 35-7 win over the Bulldogs. South Carolina's defense gets a chance to make amends Saturday, but this will be the Gamecocks' toughest test yet. The Gators are second in the SEC in rushing offense, and senior tailback Mike Gillislee has been a workhorse with 615 rushing yards. Not only that, but the Gamecocks also will have their hands full containing Driskel, who's a faster version of Tim Tebow running the ball.

5. Manziel's march: If Texas A&M redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel is going to make a serious charge for the Heisman Trophy, here's his shot. An LSU defense comes to town Saturday ranked second nationally in total defense and high on making life miserable for opposing quarterbacks. The Tigers kept South Carolina's Shaw on the run all night last week. Manziel already has put up more than 500 yards in total offense in two games this season and is on pace to break Cam Newton's SEC record for total offense in a season. His numbers are staggering, and his name is starting to float out there in the Heisman Trophy conversation. What he needs now are marquee wins against marquee defenses. Florida shut him down in the second half in the Aggies' opener. We'll find out Saturday how much he's grown from that game.

6. King of the Hill: Judging by what happened last week at Tiger Stadium, LSU has found its go-to running back. Hill, a freshman, rushed for 124 yards, including a critical 50-yard touchdown romp late in the fourth quarter of LSU's 23-21 win over South Carolina. Hill had 17 carries in the game. That's after getting a total of 13 in his previous four games. The 6-foot-2, 235-pound Hill has that blend of size, power and speed that make him a natural 20-carry-a-game back. Granted, the Tigers are overflowing with capable backs, but Hill is the most talented of the bunch. As LSU hits the home stretch, look for his workload to increase.

7. Gimpy quarterbacks: It's doubtful that either quarterback will be 100 percent Saturday when Alabama travels to Tennessee. The Crimson Tide's AJ McCarron and the Vols' Tyler Bray both banged up their knees in scary-looking injuries last week. When you go back and watch the replays, it's clear both players are fortunate the injuries weren't any worse. McCarron practiced earlier this week and said he was good to go. Bray was wearing a brace the first part of the week and didn't practice Monday, but was adamant that he would play. McCarron and Bray have combined for 26 touchdown passes this season, but Bray has struggled in the Vols' three losses. On passes of 15 yards or longer in those losses (Florida, Georgia and Mississippi State), Bray has completed just 30 percent of his passes with no touchdowns and three interceptions.

8. More touches for Patterson: It's clear that Tennessee needs to find a way to get Cordarrelle Patterson more touches. He's been one of the SEC's most explosive players to this point and needs at least 10 to 12 touches per game. He got six last week against Mississippi State and scored on two of them -- a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and an 11-yard touchdown catch. He also had a 34-yard run in the game. Coach Derek Dooley said this week the Vols were looking for more ways to get him the ball. Patterson, a receiver, lined up in the backfield against Mississippi State. That could be more of an option going forward, especially with the Vols hurting at running back.

9. Pain on the Plains: The word Auburn coach Gene Chizik used this week in describing his team's state of mind was “urgency.” The Tigers have lost six straight SEC games and seven of their past eight going back to last season, and are staring down the barrel of their first winless SEC record since 1980 if they can't end their drought Saturday against Vanderbilt. It's only natural to wonder how beaten down this Auburn club is at this point. Three of its four league losses this season have been by 17 points or more, and the mood is not the healthiest right now on the Plains. Do the Tigers come out fighting and play with a sense of urgency, or are they so fragile that most of their fight is gone? We'll know by late Saturday afternoon.

10. Going bowling: If Vanderbilt is going to make its second straight bowl trip, the Commodores (2-4, 1-3) have to find four wins in their next six games. That makes Saturday's home game with Auburn as close to a must-win as it gets. The Tigers' only win all season came against Louisiana-Monroe, and they're reeling right now after losing by three touchdowns last week at Ole Miss. The Commodores haven't been very good on offense this season, but the Tigers haven't been very good on defense -- and they've been even worse on offense. Vanderbilt coach James Franklin might not say it publicly, but he knows, and his team knows, that this is a game they need to get if they're going to make the first back-to-back bowl trips in school history.