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Three & Out appears every Sunday and Wednesday in 2010 to give you three SEC thoughts, news and notes. In today's edition, we take a look at the NCAA situation that is marring Georgia/South Carolina game week, Penn State coming down south and the Auburn defense.
THE WAITING IS THE HARDEST PART
We are now well into the second week of the college football season, and NCAA investigations into the eligibility of several players are still ongoing. Only this week, they could seriously impact a key SEC game.
Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green has not yet been cleared to play this week vs. South Carolina. The All-SEC wide receiver is being investigated in relation to an agent-related party that took place this spring. Unconfirmed reports say that Green, who has repeatedly denied being present at the party and even offered photographic evidence as proof, could be cleared to play as early as Wednesday. That would be big news for Georgia. While quarterback Aaron Murray did look good in the Bulldogs' opener vs. UL-Lafayette, it was UL-Lafayette. Something tells me that South Carolina defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson will draw up something a little more complicated this week than what Murray saw last week vs. the Rajun Cajuns.
Green may be lining up in front of another player that has eligibility questions. Gamecocks' cornerback Chris Culliver is also awaiting clearance from the NCAA. Culliver did not play in the opener vs. Southern Miss, as the NCAA looked into an insurance policy that he took out over the offseason to protect his draft status. Spurrier said on Tuesday that the South Carolina defense expects to have Culliver back, and has been practicing this week as if he will be available.
The timing of these investigations couldn't be worse, and the NCAA has shown no sense of urgency. We are well into Week 2 of the season, and teams are still being forced to develop game plans with personnel question marks. Is it the same as going through game week with players who have nagging injuries? Maybe. But if Green and/or Culliver are held out this week and are subsequently found to have done nothing wrong, they essentially will have served the punishment of players who are guilty. That's injustice, plain and simple.
WALKING INTO A HORNET'S NEST
Defensive end Marcell Dareus is out serving the final game of his two-game suspension. Heisman Trophy winning running back Mark Ingram is also likely out as he recovers from knee surgery. Yet, the talk in Tuscaloosa this week isn't whether Alabama can withstand the absence of Dareus and Ingram – it's whether Penn State can hang with Alabama. Says a lot about the talent pool that Nick Saban has assembled in T-Town.
Penn State will walk into newly-renovated Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday night in front of 101,000+ fans, and trot out true freshman quarterback Robert Bolden. Bolden was impressive in his Nittany Lion debut, completing 20-of-29 passes for 239 yards and two touchdowns. But that was against Youngstown State, and Alabama plays a little bit better defense than the mighty Penguins.
"We've got a tough football game coming up and we have to have a great week of practice," said Penn State head coach Joe Paterno. "We have to go down there and play against a team that may be as good a football team as we've played since we played Miami in the (1987) Fiesta Bowl."
Penn State won that Fiesta Bowl 14-10, and subsequently took home the national championship.
I don't think that happens this go-round, but don't be surprised to see this game hang in the balance into the fourth quarter. The Big Ten takes a lot of grief in SEC circles after Ohio State wet the bed in back-to-back BCS National Championship Games, but this year's Big Ten is better than it's been in years past. Penn State can compete for the Big Ten title, which makes them anything but a pushover.
AN EARLY TEST
Auburn's offense looked like it was clicking on all cylinders Saturday night, as the Tigers rolled up 52 points and 602 total yards in a win over the Arkansas State Red Wolves. While the offensive showing was impressive, the biggest questing mark facing the 2010 Tigers – inconsistency on defense – remains unanswered.
Auburn's defense allowed only 43 rushing yards last week, but gave up an alarming 323 passing yards to the Red Wolves and quarterback Ryan Aplin. Depth was a big problem for the Auburn defense last year, and that problem was supposed to be alleviated with the return of safeties Aairon Savage and Zac Etheridge, both of whom returned from serious injuries. The two safeties were a bit rusty in their return, as they missed a few tackles and got caught peeking in the backfield at times. But the Auburn defense settled down in the second half vs. Arkansas State, holding Aplin to only 73 passing yards before he was pulled when the game got out-of-reach.
The Tigers better have gotten the kinks worked out last week, considering the Tigers face a suddenly potent Mississippi State offense Thursday night in Starkville.
Mississippi State quarterbacks Chris Relf and Tyler Russell combined to complete 20-of-25 passes for 372 yards and five touchdowns in their season-opening win over Memphis. Russell's 13-for-16, four touchdown performance earned him SEC Freshman of the Week honors.
"It seems they can throw the ball down the field much better than they could last year," said Auburn head coach Gene Chizik. "They look more comfortable in the offense. When you have 570 yards of offense and five touchdown passes in a ballgame, you obviously have a very comfortable feel out there."
This is a big test for both teams early in the season. This isn't the Mississippi State team from a few years ago. Mullen has transformed this offense into a strong point, which was unimaginable when he took the helm. How Savage and Etheridge handle this Bulldog offense will be one of the major factors in determining the outcome of this game. One thing is for sure, there's no chance that this one ends 3-2, as it did the last time these two teams squared off in Starkvegas.
Barrett Sallee covers the SEC for www.CollegeFootballNews.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @BarrettSallee
Don't forget to check out "Y'all Play Nice" from CFN's Russ Mitchell and Brian Harbach every Thursday during the season.
2010 Three & Out Archive
Three & Out – September 8, 2010
Three & Out – September 5, 2010
Three & Out – September 1, 2010
Three & Out – August 25, 2010
Three & Out – August 18, 2010
Three & Out – August 11, 2010
Three & Out – August 4, 2010
Three & Out – July 28, 2010
Three & Out – July 21, 2010
Three & Out – July 14, 2010
Three & Out – July 7, 2010
Three & Out – June 30, 2010
Three & Out – April 21, 2010
Three & Out – April 14, 2010
Three & Out – April 11, 2010
Three & Out – April 8, 2010
Three & Out – April 5, 2010
Three & Out – March 31, 2010
Three & Out – March 28, 2010
Three & Out – March 24, 2010
Three & Out – March 21, 2010
Three & Out – March 18, 2010
Three & Out – March 15, 2010
Three & Out – March 11, 2010
Three & Out – March 5, 2010
Three & Out – March 2, 2010
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