The LSU at Florida game is the main attraction this week in the SEC, but several other important games are on tap that will have a bearing on the conference race. Rece Davis, the studio host of ESPN's College GameDay Final and College Football Live, offers some insights into Saturday's games.
This will be an intense, hard hitting game with national championship implications.
"Can LSU run the ball effectively enough on Florida to take the pressure off of quarterback Jarrett Lee? They've done a great job of that throughout the season. Tiger running back Charles Scott has just been outstanding. If they can run the ball, it puts Florida at a great disadvantage," Davis said.
For Florida, third down conversions and getting the ball around to the various playmakers is going to be important.
"Spreading the ball around and not becoming predictable with quarterback Tim Tebow running and not always trying to get the ball to receiver Percy Harvin will make things a bit tougher on LSU's defense," Davis said.
There is also the intangible storyline of LSU defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois wanting to take a shot on Tebow.
"I don't know if it's good sportsmanship to verbalize that, but at the same time you are being naïve if you don't think teams are not going to take a shot at spread quarterbacks who like to run it a lot. It's part of football trying to punish the quarterback. I'm not talking cheap shots. I'm not talking trying to injure him. I'm talking putting good, clean shots on him. Even guys running pro style offenses sometimes get hit cleanly in the pocket. I'm just saying the way Francois verbalized it was not the best way to go. Remember the old saying that "you don't tug on Superman's cape'. Tebow's had good performances, but I don't know if he's had transcendent ones so far this year. Saturday night will be an opportunity for him to do that," Davis said.
Will the Bulldogs avenge the past two losses in this series?
"The revenge motif is usually overplayed in college football, but I can't imagine that Georgia isn't chomping at the 'bone' to get a shot at Tennessee after the way they took them apart last year. Ultimately, that game ended up keeping Georgia out of the SEC Championship game. I think that Georgia will be very eager to atone for the loss to Alabama and get things going back in a positive direction. I think that with Tennessee's offensive struggles that Georgia will sell out to stop the run. If Tennessee is going to pull the upset they have to have better ball security that they have had and they must get more of a semblance of solid quarterback play. If all else fails for Tennessee offensively, perhaps they can solicit the advice of that University of Tennessee student David Kernell who knows how to hack and hack their way into the end zone," Davis mused.
It's been an amazing performance by Vanderbilt so far.
"Vanderbilt is this years' Mississippi State. They just find ways to win. They take advantage of mistakes. They are tough and relentless on defense. Their schedule has not been easy up to this point, but with Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee looming it's very important that the Commodores stay focused and get that sixth win and bowl eligibility wrapped up this week. That's been the problem in years past when Vanderbilt has gotten off to a great start. It's been games like this that have tripped them up. It hasn't been so much not quite coming through against the big boys. It's been the games that they should win that they haven't been able to win. I think this is a different squad. There is a different mindset. They have confidence. They're very grounded with Coach Bobby Johnson. I think Vanderbilt has the formula to win. Don't make mistakes and take advantage of the other guys' mistakes with a defense that is active and fast. If they can stick with that formula and don't come out flat, I think that they can take care of business," Davis said.
The Gamecocks may have turned their season around with the win over Ole Miss.
"The South Carolina offensive line performed better against the Ole Miss defensive line than I thought they would and they are going to see another good defensive line in Kentucky. The Wildcat defensive line held its own, at least against the passing game, against Alabama last week. Obviously, South Carolina is going to be geared toward the passing game. If they can get pressure on quarterback Chris Smelley and force him into some mistakes, then that's the key to the game," Davis said.
"We keep going back to the line of scrimmage and a lot of these SEC games are won there. I was impressed with the protection that Smelley received for the most part last week. That was the best that I had seen him play in college in the Ole Miss game. South Carolina started making some plays and that looked like a Steve Spurrier coached offense. It looks like the Gamecocks have made some improvements and Saturday is an opportunity for them to turn take a step forward and turn their season around in a positive direction, but at the same time, it's important for Kentucky to prove that they are more than just a middle- of –the- pack SEC team," Davis said.
How does the firing of Tiger offensive coordinator Tony Franklin affect this game?
"People have anticipated a soap opera with former Tiger assistant and current Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino's return to Auburn, but it's stunning that it would be on the backburner by the time the game arrived due to what happened at Auburn. I always think the head coach has the right to make any change that he deems necessary, but the timing here is just bizarre. I talked to Coach Tommy Tuberville last Friday night and he reiterated the commitment to the spread. It seemed like Franklin has assumed even more control even as late as Tuesday on the way they were running their offense according to practice reports and then on Wednesday, he's fired. I think it's a bit of a stretch that it's based solely based on production, but it's a bit unusual that someone would get a show of support and then they're out the next day. It seems there's something else at play there. Tuberville is right when he says that his first responsibility is to his team. If he feels this helps his team then he has a right to do what he did," Davis said.
It will be interesting to see how Auburn responds.
"Are they united? That has been their strength over the years is that Tommy has been very good about uniting them. Is there a divide over who is going to play quarterback? Is there a divide in the type of offense that they are going to run? Is the personnel ill- suited for what they have been trying to do and would they be more comfortable in going back to the old stuff? All of those things create a bit of the unknown in the Arkansas game. The emotional reaction of Auburn to the soap opera this week will determine the outcome of the game. Even with as much as Auburn has struggled on offense, this is a game that they should be looking at to get them headed in the right direction," Davis said.
How have the Rebels done at the halfway point of the season?
"On a positive note, they've proven that they can play with some of the best teams in the country. They beat Florida and had Wake Forest on the ropes. They have also proven they can let games get away from them like South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest. Their record which is, 3-3, sort of goes along the lines of the way they have played this season. There's been some good and some bad. Quarterback Jevan Snead's play sort of encapsulates that also. He's been a dangerous playmaker and he's also made some mistakes," Davis said.
Overall, the Rebels are making progress.
"Coach Houston Nutt is giving them a lot of direction. They are dangerous for any team they play because they have a lot of talent and they can't be overpowered on the line of scrimmage," Davis said.
How has the Tide done at the midway point of the season?
"Alabama's first half of the season has been remarkable for a team to establish an identity after the way they finished last year and garner so much confidence. We have seen a very impressive performance by all the players, especially the ones on the offensive line. Nose guard Terrance Cody and Josh Chapman have transformed that defense by providing a real, physical presence in the middle and has allowed linebacker Rolando McClain to become a superstar. Other guys have emerged on defense to play their roles very well," Davis said.
The offensive line has also been a big part of the unbeaten season.
"The offensive line has played better than lines in a number of years, probably since Coach Dennis Franchione's last year. Freshmen have emerged. The recruiting class has been everything that has been advertised. Receiver Julio Jones has been terrific and I still think there's a big breakout game for him coming," Davis said.
Still there are areas of concern.
"At the halfway mark, they have put themselves in the national championship race, but it only takes one miscue to send that spiraling down in a hurry. Alabama's maturity will be tested in the second half of the season. They are still very thin in some areas. There are some players that they can't afford to lose if they are going to remain in the hunt for an SEC championship," Davis said.
Brent Beaird writes for Rivals, Samsportsline and Gator Bait magazine. He can be heard on 1010XL in Jacksonville, Fla. Brent can be contacted at brentbeaird@comcast