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Mitchell: SEC Week 4 Preview
Vanderbilt's James Franklin
Vanderbilt's James Franklin
Posted Sep 21, 2012

For the second consecutive Saturday, the preseason Game of the Week (LSU vs. Auburn) appears to be a bit of a dud. Still, there are several important match-ups and intriguing individual storylines within the games themselves.

By Russ Mitchell
Follow me @russmitchellcfb

All week long on radio shows across America, college football fans of all conferences have asked me what has become of Auburn football? If Vegas is a harbinger of things to come, Saturday night on the Plains will be a nightmare for Auburn head coach Gene Chizik and Co. A three touchdown point spread makes it difficult to argue "that's why we play the games". Still, there are many aspects of this Tigers two step which are compelling, and there are more than a few intriguing SEC storylines to Week 4. All times Eastern.

Ole Miss vs. Tulane | 12:00; FCS Central. If we had told you before the Texas game that Ole Miss would score 31 points in Oxford, would you have thought they’d win the game? Size clearly matters…you need look no further than the Rebels’ defensive line for proof. Fortunately for Ole Miss, Tulane is smaller; literally and figuratively. Ole Miss 38, Tulane 21

Kentucky vs. Florida | 12:00; SEC/ESPN3. On Saturday against the Hilltoppers, Kentucky could muster only 41 rushing yards on 19 carries. For the non-Vanderbilt grads among us, that’s 2.2 ypc. Or not very good. The Wildcats have been relying almost exclusively on the arm of sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith, who threw all four of his 2012 interceptions to Western Kentucky. UK now heads down to the Swamp to play the Gators, currently the fifth best team in the SEC in both turnover margin and passing efficiency defense. Florida ran for 336 yards last week in Knoxville; Kentucky is nearly dead last in the SEC in run defense. If that’s not enough…in the last four years Florida is 4-0 against Kentucky by the combined score of 200-to-37. Florida 41, Kentucky 9

Missouri vs. South Carolina | 3:30; CBS. SEC football is won in the trenches, and even though Carolina has one of the worst pass defenses in the conference and Missouri quarterback James Franklin will start, the Tigers will not be able to get past their inferiority on both offensive and defensive lines. Franklin will take a few chances with the deep ball in the first half, and will likely be successful on some. But in the second half this Gamecocks defensive line, ranked second in the conference in sacks and tackles for loss, will get to Franklin…again…and again…and again. Old Man Football 31, Missouri 17

Florida Atlantic vs. Alabama | 5:00; ESPN3. Nothing about this game matters…other than perhaps the fact that Bama hasn’t had three consecutive shutouts since 1966. However, 1966 has some negative memories for the Tide faithful – even at 11-0, Alabama and the Bear split the national title with Ara Parseghian’s 9-0-1 Notre Dame team (not to mention Michigan State). In fact, the Domers garnered the AP, UPI and FWAA titles for themselves. Let's just focus on 2012. Alabama 63, Florida Atlantic 0

LSU vs. Auburn | 7:00; ESPN. Sigh. OK, this game will be tighter in the first half than people think. Auburn will try to get Ontario McCalebb and his 7 ypc going, and the Auburn faithful will all but will the Plainsmen on…then reality will sink in after halftime. Even without starting tailback Alfred Blue, who I hear will likely not return until the Bama game on November 3, LSU will put on a running display in the second half worthy of the Smithsonian. New starter Kenny Hilliard will pick up where he left off last season against Auburn. Michael Ford will fill in for Blue’s speed where needed. Last year’s starter Spencer Ware will come on as a battering ram in the last 30 minutes. And then there’s “freshman” Jeremy Hill, who will not be redshirted given the injury to Blue, and with a chance to prove himself just might be the best of all the LSU tailbacks. Auburn fans will remember longingly the days of Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown. Then there’s LSU’s defense… LSU 41, Auburn 10

Rutgers vs. Arkansas | 7:00; ESPNU. Ten of Rutgers defensive starters are upperclassmen, and they rank ninth in the country in run defense. So it’s a good thing Arkansas gunslinger Tyler Wilson is coming back…13 days removed from a Stage III Mild Traumatic Brain Injury. Isn’t it? While we’re on the subject of brain injuries…I’ve been hard on John L since his hiring – although this was more AD Jeff Long’s fault for putting Smith in that position in the first place. But grow a pair and stop mocking Smith for his bankruptcy – a man’s financial misfortune is nothing to make light of, and none of your business, or mine. Arkansas 31, Rutgers 27

South Carolina State vs. Texas A&M | 7:00; ESPN3. SC State lost last week to Arizona, 56-0. Just stay healthy until Arkansas next week. TAMU 45, SC State 0

South Alabama vs. Mississippi State | 7:00; ESPN3. Outside of LSU, State always gives Alabama its most physical games of the season, and 2012 should prove to be no different… What? Oh, SOUTH Alabama. State surrendered nearly 600 yards of offense last week to Troy. Sure they were playing some simple schemes, but we’d like to see some improvement here versus last week. State 45, South Alabama 9

Akron vs. Tennessee | 7:30; SEC/ESPN3. Terry Bowden returns again to the SEC, but this is hardly a great Zips team. Akron’s injured quarterback Dalton Williams should play, and his passing offense currently ranks fifth in the nation. Meanwhile the Vols’ defensive line hasn’t done a particularly good job of putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks – Tennessee currently ranks twelfth in the SEC in sacks. Akron doesn’t run the ball, so we won’t be able to track the Vols run defense. However, after controlling the clock, the game, the score and the momentum (24 running plays to 26 passing) in the first 40 minutes of Saturday’s game vs. Florida, Tennessee only ran the ball four more times in the game’s final and disastrous 20 minutes. On Wednesday, head coach Derek Dooley told me he realizes Tennessee's not going to beat the top SEC teams throwing the ball 45 times, and that he’d like to have some of those final series back. Keep an eye on how Tennessee rushes the ball Saturday Tennessee 41, Akron 21

Vanderbilt vs. Georgia | 7:45; ESPN2. Georgia’s saying all the right things, including defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who had some harsh words in Nashville last year with Vandy head coach James Franklin. But the conversations we’ve had this week with those in and around the Georgia football program seemed to drift as much to next week’s match-up versus Tennessee than their western state cousins. That distraction could be a mistake. Vandy’s two losses have come to decent teams in South Carolina and Northwestern (in Chicago), and the Dores should have won them both, surrendering fourth quarter leads in each. Vanderbilt’s total defense is ranked 11th best in the nation and third best in the SEC – behind only LSU and Alabama. Most importantly for this game, its passing efficiency defense ranks fourth best in the nation and tops in the conference. But will that make a difference between the hedges, particularly if Vandy’s offense continues to struggle finding a heartbeat? Georgia 27, Vanderbilt 13

Russ Mitchell is CFN's lead SEC Columnist. Follow Russ for SEC and CFB analysis @russmitchellcfb

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