By: Barrett Sallee
Week number four in the SEC features a slew of intriguing conference games, including the premiere game of the SEC slate taking place on Thursday night. Here are the three most important things to keep an eye on during week four:
Rebs On The Road
One of the arguments I made for picking Ole Miss to win the SEC West in the pre-season was the beneficial way their schedule shapes up. The Rebels get LSU, Arkansas and Alabama all at home in 2009. October's trip to Auburn notwithstanding, Thursday night's game against South Carolina in Columbia might be their toughest road test of the year. Las Vegas agrees, installing the No. 4 Rebels as a three-point favorite over the unranked Gamecocks. Just three points? Where's the love?
Well, they haven't earned it yet.
Detractors don't believe in Ole Miss due in large part to the fact that they've never been in this situation before, and nobody knows how they will react to being the hunted. After playing only two games this season, they haven't answered that question.
The Rebels looked less-than-stellar for three quarters on national TV in their opener vs. Memphis. Granted, they were dealing with a massive flu problem in the locker room, which definitely was a factor. Following a bye week and a glorified scrimmage against a directional Louisiana school, the Rebs hope to establish themselves as a team worthy of that top five ranking.
That won't happen this week.
In the link above, I picked the Rebs to win the west prior to the season, but I also picked them to lose this game. The South Carolina defense, led by All-SEC LB Eric Norwood and DE Cliff Matthews, is extremely stout. The track meet that they got in two weeks ago vs. Georgia is the aberration, not the rule. This game will be an old-fashioned slug-fest, which will probably come down to the final few minutes.
If the Rebs do lose, don't count them out. The goal for their season should be to win the SEC West. With the SEC West heavy-hitters coming to Oxford, a loss Thursday doesn't hinder that quest. This game is a true test of character for the Rebels. They will get punched in the mouth. We'll see if they punch back.
Will The Flu Affect The Gators?
The flu pandemic has made the rounds throughout the SEC; and this week, it appears that it's in Gainesville.
The Gators first were hit with the flu bug a little bit last week, when RB Jeff Demps and TE Aaron Hernandez both played sick vs. Tennessee. This week, it's spreading. Six Florida Gators missed practice with flu-like symptoms on Tuesday.
Florida travels to Lexington this week to face Kentucky, which has the makings to possibly be a classic trap game. The Gators are coming off an emotional win over Tennessee (which, for some reason, is being treated like a loss by some people), before going on the road to take on LSU following next week's bye.
Critics of the 2009 Gators have said that, with Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy gone, they have become too Tebow-reliant. The senior either passed or rushed on 43 of the Gators 63 offensive plays in last week's win over Tennessee, including 24 carries. Kentucky boasts the SEC's fourth best rushing defense, allowing only 98 yards per game on the ground. If they can contain Tebow the same way that the Vols did, the Wildcat offense will give them a punchers chance.
Kentucky's offense has clicked in its first two games behind third-team All-SEC QB Mike Hartline and QB-turned-WR Randall Cobb. Hartline has completed 70 percent of his passes this season and Cobb has hauled in 13 passes for 167 yards in two games.
The Wildcats are heavy underdogs; but the combination of the flu, the disappointing performance over Tennessee and the looming bye week and trip to Baton Rouge could make the Gators ripe for the picking. If Florida comes out sluggish again, Kentucky's offense is capable of taking advantage. At least, more capable than Tennessee.
Showdown In T-Town
The defending SEC West Champion Alabama Crimson Tide kick off their SEC season on Saturday, when the Arkansas Razorbacks make a visit to Tuscaloosa in a game that pits strength-on-strength.
Alabama rolled through the SEC schedule last season winning with a stout defense anchored by DL Terrence Cody, LB Rolando McClain and CB Javier Arenas. This season is no different. The Crimson Tide are giving up only 185 yards per game, which includes a win over nationally-ranked Virginia Tech, when the Tide held the Hokies to just 155 yards. Granted, Virginia Tech's offense leaves a lot to be desired, but the number is still impressive nonetheless.
It's unlikely that they will repeat a performance like that this week.
The book on Arkansas this season so far has been written with all offense, and very little defense. The Razorbacks lead the SEC in total offense, averaging 538 yards per game. In just two games, Michigan-transfer Ryan Mallett has already thrown for 717 yards and six touchdowns; and Michael Smith, who topped the 1,000-yard mark last season, is averaging 8.5 yards per carry.
It's hard to say how Mallett will handle his first road test in SEC Country. The chess match between the Arkansas offense and the Alabama defense will be very interesting to watch during this game. The old axiom is that "defense wins championships." Well, that will be put to the test this weekend in Tuscaloosa.
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 23, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes - September 21, 2009
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
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