Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NCF Nation [Print without images]

Thursday, October 1, 2009
What to watch in the SEC: Week 5



Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


Is LSU overrated? Is Auburn for real? Can Ole Miss get back on track before Alabama comes to Oxford next week?

As top-ranked Florida takes the week off and Tim Tebow recovers from his concussion, the rest of the league will try to sort out a few matters.

Here’s a look at what to watch in the SEC in Week 5:

1. Green vs. Peterson: Individual matchups can be over-hyped, but watching Georgia receiver A.J. Green and LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson go at it is a treat for any football fan. Green has asserted himself as the best receiver in the league and is one of those guys few defensive coordinators would dare single cover for most of the game. But Peterson has the size, strength and speed to match up with anybody, and he’ll get his chance to show the college football world Saturday in Sanford Stadium that he is indeed one of the premier cornerbacks out there. These guys are going to be around for a while longer, too. They’re only sophomores.

2. Georgia’s generosity: At some point, Georgia’s carelessness is going to catch up with it. Really, it’s a wonder the Bulldogs are 3-1 right now when you consider that they’ve turned it over three times in every game this season, lead the SEC with 12 turnovers and have committed more penalties (41) than every other major college team in the country with the exception of Texas Tech. It’s called sloppy football, and the Bulldogs have to cut it out starting Saturday against LSU if they want to be a player in the Eastern Division race.

3. Something to prove: No one who’s watched LSU play this season, at least no one with a conscience, can say that the Tigers are genuinely the fourth-best team in the country right now. But this is a team with a lot of talent. We’re talking numerous players that will be playing in the NFL some day, so it stands to reason that the Tigers are going to put it all together sooner rather than later. The players may still be adjusting some to John Chavis’ defensive system, and the offense also seems to be searching for its identity. Either way, this is a team that will likely play its best football in the second half of the season. If you’re going to get the Tigers, you might want to get them now.

4. Replacing Hightower: Losing a player the caliber of Alabama sophomore linebacker Dont’a Hightower was difficult enough. He was a true difference-maker on defense. But then you stop and look at all the roles he filled for the Crimson Tide, and his loss becomes even more daunting. He was as good against the run from his weakside linebacker spot as he was rushing the passer when the Tide moved him outside to jack linebacker. Alabama coach Nick Saban isn’t sure one player will be able to fill his shoes. Against Kentucky, Saban is leaning toward bringing sophomore Courtney Upshaw off the bench to play jack linebacker, moving Cory Reamer to Hightower’s weakside spot and Eryk Anders to strongside.

5. Tennessee’s health: The Vols were already thin in several spots, but they enter Saturday’s home game against Auburn without several key performers. Middle linebacker Nick Reveiz is out for the season after tearing up his knee. Reveiz called all of the signals on defense, made the checks and got everybody lined up. He’s also been one of the Vols’ surest tacklers. Their best pass-rusher, sophomore defensive end Chris Walker, has a back problem and may not play. Coach Lane Kiffin also doesn’t anticipate starting guard Vladimir Richard being able to play. Richard sat out last week with a knee injury. The Vols are hopeful that receiver Quintin Hancock will be able return this week from a broken jaw.

6. Unfamiliar territory: Not only will Auburn be playing away from home for the first time this season, but Tennessee’s defense will pose the stiffest test for what’s been a well-balanced Auburn offense. Operating any offense efficiently on the road is always more difficult, but running a hurry-up, no-huddle attack with the crowd working against you can really get hairy. The only close game Auburn has been in this season was West Virginia, and the home crowd was a huge factor in that game. It remains to be seen how Auburn will react if the Tennessee game goes down to the fourth quarter and Neyland Stadium is rocking.

7. A year later: When Jonathan Crompton and Chris Todd were last seen on the same football field, it wasn’t pretty. Auburn slopped its way to a 14-12 victory over Tennessee last season at Jordan-Hare Stadium in a game that set offensive football back for decades. Crompton completed eight passes and threw for 67 yards that day, while Todd completed 14 passes for 93 yards. They meet again Saturday night, and while Crompton continues to struggle, Todd has been a different quarterback since offseason shoulder surgery. He leads the SEC with 1,012 passing yards and 11 touchdowns and is third in passing efficiency. And while Todd has thrown just one interception, Crompton has thrown eight.

8. Home sweet home: So much for a few breathers out of conference, huh? Mississippi State, on the heels of an emotional 30-26 loss to No. 4-ranked LSU last week, stays home to face No. 25-ranked Georgia Tech this week. After that comes another home game the next week against No. 12-ranked Houston. The rest of the Bulldogs’ home schedule includes No. 1-ranked Florida, No. 3-ranked Alabama and No. 21-ranked Ole Miss. That’s a sweet lineup if you happen to have Mississippi State season tickets this year, but it’s not so sweet if you’re lining up against those folks every week.

9. Third down anyone? The toughest two teams in the SEC to convert against on third down this season have been Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, who square off Saturday night in Vanderbilt Stadium. The Rebels lead the SEC, allowing opponents to convert just 21.7 percent of the time. The Commodores are right behind at 22.1 percent. Despite their troubles elsewhere, both teams are off to solid starts defensively, and a big reason why is that they’ve been able to get off the field on third down.

10. Hog Heaven: For all the gnashing of the teeth about Arkansas’ defense, the Hogs actually held in there pretty well against the run in the 35-7 loss to Alabama last week. The big plays have been killing the Hogs on defense, and it’s what they will be looking to stop against Texas A&M this Saturday. Alabama had three scoring plays of 50 yards or longer against Arkansas, which was also victimized by the big play in its 52-41 loss to Georgia. They say they do everything bigger in Texas. The Hogs better hope that doesn’t go for the Aggies’ offense, or they’ll be leaving Jerry Jones’ new palace with their third straight defeat.