By: Barrett Sallee
Week number three in the SEC brings one of the most anticipated conference games of the season, an intriguing out-of-conference battle and games that are sure to be four-quarter battles. Here are the three most important things to keep an eye on during week three of the SEC:
Just How Bad Will It Get In Gainesville?
Florida vs. Tennessee has always been a fierce rivalry. This game has given us memories like Jabar Gaffney's "catch," phantom unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and spawned Citrus Bowl jokes. The Gators have owned the Vols of late, winning the last four and equalizing the series record at 19-19. But, this years contest won't be about streaks, conference supremacy or Heisman Trophies. It won't be about missed calls, late-game drama or even fruit. This one's different.
Ever since Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin accused Florida head coach Urban Meyer of cheating in the recruitment of Nu'Keese Richardson on National Signing Day, this game has taken on an entirely different kind of meaning. This is about one team trying to back up the brash words of their new coach, and another looking to inflict as much embarrassment as possible on a bitter rival.
Saying quirky one-liners about signing Rocky Top all the way home from Gainesville, like Kiffin did during the press conference announcing him as Tennessee's new head coach, is fine. But, accusing another coach of cheating when, in fact, what he did was not cheating at all, is WAY over the line. Meyer hasn't forgotten it, and his players haven't either.
Two things will be very interesting to watch in this game.
The first will be the post-game handshake...if there is one. Not since "Spygate" has a post-game handshake been appointment television.
The second will be how Meyer treats this game. He's going to run the score up. But how?
Don't forget, he's been in this position before. Last year, he used every timeout on the board in the final minute of the Gators game vs. Georgia to get back at the Dawgs for emptying the bench on a Knowshon Moreno first quarter touchdown in the 2007 edition of the Worlds Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. I doubt the Gators will do something blatantly vicious this time. My guess is that he will just run his base offense and run the Vols right out of the building. It's far more demoralizing to pound your opponent into submission, rather than embarrassing them with trickery.
There's no chance of Tennessee springing the upset. So Vol fans, if you think you have a chance, get over it. You don't. The Vols weren't going to win this game anyway, even if Kiffin had kept quiet all winter. No matter what happens though, it still only counts as one loss for Tennessee. If Kiffin's smart, he'll take his lumps, treat it as a formality, and move on building his program. One thing he can't do is dwell on it.
In 2008, Auburn traveled to West Virginia on a Thursday night as a team in turmoil. Mid-way through the second quarter, it appeared that they had finally figured it out, jumping out to a 17-3 lead on the home-standing Mountaineers.
Then the wheels fell off. Not only did the wheels fall off, but the entire automobile fell apart.
The Mountaineers ripped off 31 straight points and Noel Devine ran for a mile-and-a-half (actually 207 yards) to send the Auburn Tigers to .500, and the Tuberville regime one step closer to the unemployment line.
That was then. This is now. And, this ain't the 2008 Auburn Tigers.
The new look Auburn Tigers, led by new head coach Gene Chizik and new offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn looks nothing like their predecessors. The Tigers (2-0) have posted back-to-back games with 500 or more yards of total offense. The last time they had 500+ yards of total offense in a game prior to this year was against Georgia in 2005.
While the offense has been the story so far this year, the Auburn D has been good enough under new defensive coordinator Ted Roof. The Tigers are giving up 271 yards per game. Not great, but certainly tolerable. This defensive unit remains largely in tact from the 2008 group that melted down in Morgantown. By that point in the season last year, they were already overworked and undermanned thanks to a hapless offense. That's not the case this year.
With two potent offenses, two teams looking to crack the top 25, a defense out for revenge and a Big East team looking to make another statement vs. the SEC, there are story lines all over the place in this one. If you haven't watched Auburn play in 2009, this is the matchup that you should tune in for. You will be entertained.
Georgia travels to Fayetteville, Ark., Saturday night to face Arkansas in an unfamiliar SEC matchup. Georgia holds the all-time series lead vs. Razorbacks, with an 8-3 record. The Razorbacks are 0-3 all-time vs. the Bulldogs in Fayetteville.
Even though it's mid-September, both these teams are still a bit of a mystery.
Arkansas rolled over Missouri State in week one, and has had two weeks to prepare for this game. The offense is supposed to be solid, with Michigan-transfer Ryan Mallett at the helm at quarterback and the SEC's leading returning rusher Michael Smith toting the rock. Meanwhile, the defense is looking to rebound after finishing last in the league in total defense in 2008. Arkansas received some pub as a possible dark horse to make some noise in the SEC West this year. This game vs. the Georgia is the first real gauge on where second-year coach Bobby Petrino has his Hogs.
Meanwhile, after two tough, and distinctively different tests, Georgia is probably more of a mystery now than they were back in August. The Georgia offense, under first-year starter Joe Cox, couldn't move the ball vs. the porous Oklahoma State defense; and then, with the help of a kickoff return for a touchdown, posted 41 points against South Carolina, one of the best defenses in the nation. Conversely, the Bulldog D held the Cowboys relatively in check in Stillwater, only to give up acres against the Gamecocks, including 313 passing yards from QB Stephen Garcia.
Confused? Me too.
While the West Virginia vs. Auburn game is sure to bring excitement, the Georgia vs. Arkansas match-up is intriguing for different reasons. This game will go a long way in determining the true identity of both the Dawgs and the Hogs.
Barrett Sallee covers the SEC for www.CollegeFootballNews.com. He can be reached at email@example.com, or on Twitter at http://twitter.com/BSallee_CFN
Three & Out Archive:
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes - September 17, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes - September 13, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes - September 10, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes - September 7, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes - September 3, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Media Days, Day 3 – July 24, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Media Days, Day 2 – July 23, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Media Days, Day 1 – July 22, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – April 16, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – April 12, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – April 9, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – April 3, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – March 30, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – March 26, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – March 18, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – March 15, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – March 11, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – March 7, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – March 3, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – February 28, 2009
Click here for the 2009 blog archive