Overview: This week might provide the best indication of how balanced the SEC is this season. LSU is favored by 36 points in a nonconference game with Louisiana Tech, but the five conference games on the schedule all feature point spreads of 6.5 or fewer. Tennessee controls its destiny in the Eastern Division, but the Volunteers will have their hands full trying to stop Arkansas TBs Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. Auburn and Georgia will try to keep their respective BCS hopes alive, South Carolina attempts to end a three-game losing streak and Kentucky tries to snap a two-game skid.
Best matchup: Georgia TB Knowshon Moreno vs. Auburn run defense: Moreno has rushed for 541 yards in his past three games and ranks second among all freshmen in the nation with 111.4 yards per game. Moreno faces his toughest challenge of the season Saturday against an Auburn run defense that held McFadden to 43 yards on 17 carries last month.
The pressure is on: South Carolina: The Gamecocks were ranked sixth in the BCS standings just a few weeks ago. Now they face the possibility of not appearing in a bowl at all. South Carolina has lost three consecutive games and could finish the regular season 6-6 if it falls to Florida and Clemson in the next two weeks. The SEC probably will have more bowl-eligible teams than bowl tie-ins. The bowls with the last picks of SEC teams might want to reward Mississippi State or Vanderbilt, teams that would be ending long bowl droughts, instead of inviting a .500 South Carolina team on a five-game losing streak.
Who's hot: Alabama DE Wallace Gilberry has seven sacks in his last four games. ? McFadden tied an SEC single-game record Saturday by rushing for 321 yards in a 48-36 victory over South Carolina. ? Auburn QB Brandon Cox has thrown only one interception in his past seven games. ? Florida QB Tim Tebow has rushed for at least one touchdown in each of his nine games this season. ? Moreno has rushed for three touchdowns in each of his past two games. He has gained 390 yards during that stretch. ? Mississippi State QB Wesley Carroll has thrown 137 passes without getting picked off this season. ? South Carolina DE Eric Norwood has recorded at least one tackle for loss in each of his 10 games this season. ? Tennessee TB Arian Foster has rushed for nine touchdowns in his past six games.
Who's not: Ole Miss QB Seth Adams has gone 27-of-60 for 281 yards with no touchdown passes and five interceptions in his past three games. ? Mississippi State TB Anthony Dixon has scored 11 touchdowns over his past six games, but he also has fumbled four times (losing two of them) in the Bulldogs' past two games.
Keep your eye on: Arkansas WR Marcus Monk has caught a touchdown pass in each of the past two games after missing the Razorbacks' first six contests with a knee injury. Monk averaged 19.2 yards per catch last season as one of the nation's top deep threats, so his return should provide some sorely needed balance to Arkansas' offense. Arkansas still has a chance to spoil Tennessee's hopes of winning the SEC East and LSU's dreams of playing for the national title. Monk's return gives the Razorbacks a much better shot of winning each of those games. Monk had eight catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-14 victory over Tennessee last season.
Numbers game: LSU continues to win despite facing a serious disadvantage when it comes to penalties. LSU has committed 83 penalties, which is 14 more than any other SEC team. LSU foes have been flagged only 37 times all season, 17 fewer than the opponent total for any other SEC team.
Freshmen to watch: The Auburn-Georgia game could come down to which freshman-laden offensive line performs better. Auburn's offensive line has frequently included as many as three true freshman starters: Ryan Pugh at left tackle, Chaz Ramsey at right guard and Lee Ziemba at right tackle. Georgia's starting offensive line features true freshman Trindon Sturdivant at left tackle, redshirt freshman Chris Davis at left guard and true freshman Clint Boling at right guard. South Carolina WR Dion Lecorn is a true freshman and former four-star prospect who caught eight passes for 109 yards and a touchdown against Arkansas last week. Tennessee TB Lennon Creer made the most of an opportunity created by the dismissal of former teammate LaMarcus Coker. The true freshman gained 109 yards on only seven carries last week.
Injury update: Auburn LB Craig Stevens is doubtful for the Georgia game with an ankle injury. Auburn's Pugh (knee) and TE Gabe McKenzie (ankle) are probable, but TB Tristan Davis (toe) won't play. ? Florida WR Riley Cooper (finger) has missed two consecutive games and is questionable for this week. TE Cornelius Ingram (ankle) is feeling better after playing hurt last week and being held without a catch. FS Major Wright has played with a club on his right hand after breaking his thumb against Kentucky. Wright will have three of his fingers exposed this week, though his thumb and index finger will be taped. ? Georgia TB Thomas Brown might return to action this week after missing three games with a broken left clavicle. Georgia backup SS Quintin Banks (knee) will miss the Auburn game, and starting SS Kelin Johnson (knee) is questionable. ? Kentucky TB Rafael Little is expected to play against Vanderbilt after missing three games with a thigh injury. WR Keenan Burton also should play after missing one game with an ankle injury. DT Corey Peters (knee), TB Tony Dixon (ankle) and CB Paul Warford (collarbone) are questionable. ? LSU LB Darry Beckwith (knee) will miss the Louisiana Tech game. ? South Carolina CB Captain Munnerlyn (foot) and SS Emanuel Cook (ankle) are questionable for the Florida game.
They said it:
"Every year, for some reason, my name gets thrown in for a lot of them. That's just part of it. I've got friends out there, obviously, and coached there. They've probably got 15 other people on the list. That's the way it is. It's good talk, that's all it is." ? Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville about rumors linking him to a potential job opening at Texas A&M. Tuberville was A&M's defensive coordinator in 1994
"I can stand here and say it's just another game, but it's not. (The Meyer vs. Spurrier aspect is) certainly there, but in the last three years it's come down to something far greater than all that ? the fact you're playing for the SEC East championship in November." ? Florida coach Urban Meyer on the rivalry that has developed with South Carolina since Steve Spurrier started coaching the Gamecocks
"Coach (Les) Miles was pretty vocal in our team meeting Monday. He wants us to make smarter decisions on the field, especially with the personal fouls. We have to clean the penalties up. We can win or lose because of them."
? LSU G Herman Johnson to TigerBait.com. The Tigers were flagged 14 times for 130 yards last week in a 41-34 victory over Alabama
"Everybody on the team knows how important it is. We've got three more games left. We could win all three of them, or we could lose all three of them. But we look at it that we need all three of them to go to a bowl game." ? Mississippi State LB Jamar Chaney to BulldogBlitz.com about the Bulldogs' bowl hopes. The Bulldogs, who need one more win to become bowl-eligible, haven't been to a bowl since 2000
"We're hoping we regroup and play a lot better. We've played some good teams. We're staying positive around here. Somebody asked me the other day if I was discouraged. I said, 'No, I'm not discouraged. Our big recruiting class was last year, not three years ago.' We've got a lot of players here that we believe are going to be outstanding players. As I've said many times, our best team was not going to be this year. We didn't think it would be. When we were 6-1, I wasn't sitting on the table here saying how great we are. It sort of all caught up to us here against some good teams." ? Spurrier on the team's attitude in the midst of a three-game losing streak
Bowl implications.: Ole Miss is the only SEC team that doesn't have a chance of becoming bowl eligible, so conference teams probably will need at least seven wins to feel secure about earning a bid. Vanderbilt and Mississippi State need one more win to be come bowl eligible. LSU, Georgia, Tennessee, Auburn, Florida, South Carolina, Alabama and Arkansas already are there. Tennessee still controls its destiny in the East, and LSU is one conference win away from clinching the West title. Georgia and Auburn have outside chances of earning an at-large BCS invitation, but neither team can afford another loss.
Etc.: Georgia fans are planning a "blackout" this weekend in the style of Penn State's traditional "whiteouts" for big games. Georgia coach Mark Richt said this week the Bulldogs' seniors have asked him to encourage Georgia fans to wear black for Saturday's game. ? Junior Blake Field has moved ahead of true freshman Kodi Burns and is Auburn's new second-string quarterback. ? Alabama has dropped six consecutive November games since beating Mississippi State 17-0 on Nov. 5, 2005. ? Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron hasn't ruled out the possibility of star DE Greg Hardy playing against LSU next week. Hardy was suspended indefinitely last week and sat out the 38-31 victory over Northwestern State. Ole Miss is off this week. ? Alabama CB Javier Arenas scored on a punt return last week for the third time in his career, which matches the school record set by Harry Gilmer, who played for the Tide from 1944-46. ? Tebow has rushed for 14 touchdowns this season, which represents an SEC single-season record for a quarterback. Tebow now shares Florida's single-season record for rushing touchdowns with Emmitt Smith (1989) and Buford Long (1952).