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September 30, 2010

Week 5 preview in the SEC

MORE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | MWC | Pac-10 | Others

Vanderbilt at Connecticut, noon
Alcorn State at Mississippi State, noon Louisiana-Monroe at Auburn, noon
Kentucky at Ole Miss, 12:20 p.m.
Tennessee at LSU, 3:30 p.m.
Georgia at Colorado, 7 p.m.
Florida at Alabama, 8 p.m.

What's likely to be the biggest SEC game of the regular season -- Florida at Alabama - is here.

The showdown is one of our national games of the week, which means we'll have a complete breakdown of the game Friday. Thus, in an effort to avoid redundancy, we'll look at just a few elements of Saturday's big game in this roundup.

We'll use this space, though, to spotlight some things you should look for in the other games involving league teams this week. The schedule-maker was kind in that all but one will be over by the time the big one kicks off in Tuscaloosa.

Vanderbilt at Connecticut: UConn was expected to be a Big East title contender but has played mediocre football thus far. Defense was supposed to be UConn's calling card, but the Huskies have struggled on that side of the ball, especially against the run. That means Vandy has a shot at the win if it can get its running game cranked up. Warren Norman and Zac Stacy have 100-yard potential, and if one of them reaches that plateau, don't be surprised if Vandy wins.

Alcorn State at Mississippi State: The Bulldogs' main goal in this one is to avoid injuries and have some success in the passing game. Other than in the opener against a bad Memphis team, Mississippi State hasn't thrown the ball well; playing a FCS team gives them the opportunity to have a solid day with their passing attack.

Louisiana-Monroe at Auburn: As with Mississippi State, Auburn is looking to avoid turnovers and work on shoring up some weak spots. That means ramping up the passing attack and getting better against the pass. Good news for the Tigers is that ULM has been brutal against the pass, so Cameron Newton -- and, presumably, a backup quarterback -- could have some success throwing the ball.

Kentucky at Ole Miss: It might be the first weekend in October, but this is an important game for these teams when it comes to postseason destinations -- indeed, in determining if there are going to be postseason destinations. Ole Miss is coming off its best performance of the season, a thrashing of a good Fresno State team. Kentucky, meanwhile, is coming off its worst performance, a 34-point loss at Florida. Ole Miss will look to run the ball, and if the UK defense can hold up in that facet of the game, the Wildcats' chances for a road victory increase greatly because Ole Miss' passing attack scares no one. After this one, Kentucky plays four of its next five at home.

Tennessee at LSU: This is the first time that LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis has gone against his former employer. LSU has been excellent on defense. The Tigers' offense? Hmmm -- did we point out how well LSU is playing defensively? LSU RB Stevan Ridley has emerged as a consistent running threat, but the passing attack has been an embarrassment. In the past three games, LSU QB Jordan Jefferson has completed 48 percent of his passes, with no touchdowns and three interceptions. The Tigers have won all three games, though. Tennessee's offense is going to have all sorts of trouble moving the ball, and the Vols' lack of depth on defense means LSU eventually should wear down UT.

Georgia at Colorado: Georgia takes to the road carrying a three-game losing streak, and coach Mark Richt's seat has become quite warm. This week, the Bulldogs play another team that has a coach on the hot seat. Georgia's offense has struggled to move the ball against legit foes, and the Bulldogs are hoping the return of WR A.J. Green from a four-game suspension leads to offensive improvement. Colorado isn't exactly an offensive juggernaut, so the Bulldogs look to be in good shape to snap their losing streak.

Best matchup: Alabama wide receivers vs. Florida defensive backs. Florida leads the nation with 12 interceptions and is sixth in pass efficiency defense, but the Gators' secondary will get its biggest test of the season from Alabama's wide receivers. Julio Jones is the star, but Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks also are dangerous, and the Tide also hurt the Gators with passes to the tight end in the past two SEC championship games. Florida's Janoris Jenkins is playing as well as any cornerback not named Patrick Peterson, and SS Ahmad Black is one of three Gators with three picks. One potential trouble spot for Florida: The Gators' nickel backs are true freshmen, and you have to think Alabama QB Greg McElroy will look to exploit them. McElroy threw for 239 yards against the Gators in the SEC title game last season.

Player on the spot: Florida QB John Brantley. Brantley, a junior who is a first-year starter, basically has been a game manager thus far for the Gators. But he will need to be sharp Saturday in his first real test as the starter. Florida is 90th in the nation in pass offense, but that won't get it done against Alabama. Brantley needs to hit some deep passes against the Tide's inexperienced secondary; if he doesn't, the Tide will put eight in the box in an all-out effort to stymie UF's rushing attack.

Numbers game: Alabama and Florida have combined for just one regular-season loss (UF at home to Ole Miss in '08) since the beginning of the 2008 season.

What they're saying

"I think that you really kind of hope that people can learn lessons and not have to go through horrible experiences to do it. Everybody is sort of willing to change when something bad happens. A lot of people aren't willing to change when good things are happening. Hopefully, we'll have the maturity to be able to learn from the adversity that we had to overcome." -- Alabama coach Nick Saban, on what his team will learn from last week's win at Arkansas

"I think they're over it. I feel like they're over it. Kids get over it quicker than coaches. That's the other thing ... it lasts a little bit longer for coaches, a lot longer, actually, than it does for players. As soon as you touch down in Lexington, the phones are starting to blast, the headsets, they're listening to Nelly and Kanye West. Coaches don't want to hear -- we turn our phones off. We definitely don't want to hear Nelly and those guys." -- Kentucky coach Joker Phillips, on how quickly his team can bounce back from last week's loss at Florida

"We're really excited about the game this week. Anytime you get to play an in-state team, there is a natural rivalry between the two teams. A lot of these players got to go up against each other in high school, or maybe in a youth football league. A lot of players are from the same hometown. Hopefully, we will sell this out so we can continue to play these in-state rivals and continue what we hope to be an every-year tradition of playing one of the in-state teams from the SWAC." -- Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, on this week's game with Alcorn State

"The bigger challenge is it's going to be the first road game for almost half of our travel squad. I think I counted about 30 guys out of the -- we'll probably travel 66 to 68 guys -- 30 of them have never even been on a road trip at Tennessee. So we'll have to talk a lot about that and how we handle it professionally and how we handle the crowd, and a hostile environment. So a lot of challenges this week." -- Tennessee coach Derek Dooley, on this week's game at LSU

"I hope nobody's expectations are greater than our own. I say that to our players all the time. If everybody's expectations are greater than our players, then we have a problem. I believe every week is never about the opponent; it is about Auburn." --Auburn coach Gene Chizik

"Well, you feed 'em good and they stay pretty happy." -- Vanderbilt coach Robbie Caldwell, on trying to build momentum after a win in the last game, on Sept. 18 at Ole Miss

"They were tougher than us when the game was on the line." -- Arkansas offensive coordinator Garrick McGee, after last week's loss to Alabama. The Hogs had 301 yards of offense in the first half but just 120 yards in the second

"It would be crazy for me to say that some people on offense are not frustrated. We're the ones on the field. We have to get better. The offense needs to be contributing more. Once an offense heats up, it's hard to slow down. I hope we heat up this week." -- LSU OT Joe Barksdale, to Tigerbait.com, on LSU's offensive troubles

Etc.: Ole Miss starting DE Kentrell Lockett has been lost for the season with a torn ACL. Starting SS Johnny Brown likely will miss this week's game with a knee injury. Georgia WR A.J. Green, who was suspended for four games by the NCAA for dealings with an agent, told reporters this week that the NCAA asked for his back records dating to February 2009 as part of the probe. Tennessee starting WR Gerald Jones, who has missed the past three weeks, is expected to play Saturday at LSU. Florida has scored 30-plus points in five consecutive games, the longest active streak in the SEC. Georgia is at Colorado this week, and the Bulldogs are 39-4 against non-conference foes under Mark Richt. Vanderbilt has used 21 sophomores, nine redshirt freshmen and 10 true freshmen this season -- and only eight seniors have seen time. For the 10th consecutive season, the SEC led the nation in the number of former players on NFL opening-weekend rosters, with 272. The ACC was second with 228. Georgia and Oregon mutually agreed to cancel plans for a two-game series in 2015 and '16; the contract was signed in 2006. Tennessee is last in the SEC and 112th nationally with four sacks. LSU is 4-0 and has trailed for just 18 seconds all season; in addition, the Tigers haven't allowed a first-quarter touchdown in their past 12 regular-season games. Ole Miss QB Jeremiah Masoli said the Rebels have incorporated more of the zone option -- which he ran at Oregon -- into their offensive package of late. Masoli said the presence of true freshman RB Jeff Scott is a big reason the option works. Auburn QB Cameron Newton told auburnsports.com that offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn's wife, Kristi, helps him stay grounded. Newton said Kristi Malzahn texts him regularly to check up on him. Tennessee coach Derek Dooley decided to cancel practice Monday, and players said it led to an excellent practice Tuesday. Told that some of the players hoped that "no-practice Mondays" would become a trend and had been helpful, Dooley responded, "Them playing well would help me. You ever heard of quid pro quo?" Vandy is at Connecticut on Saturday, and the Commodores will be trying to become the fourth SEC team this season to beat a Big East squad. Kentucky (over Louisville), Florida (USF) and LSU (West Virginia) already have done so. LSU's game against Tennessee will be the first daytime kickoff at Tiger Stadium since the regular-season finale in 2008. Florida true freshman QB/WR Trey Burton scored a school-record six TDs in the Gators' rout of Kentucky last week -- five on runs and one on a reception. His grandfather, Lawrence Burton, finished fourth in the 100 meters at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. Lawrence Burton also played wide receiver at Purdue and was a first-round pick of the New Orleans Saints in 1975. On Wednesday's SEC coaches' teleconference, Alabama coach Nick Saban said that when he was coach at Toledo, he missed a chance to hire Florida's Urban Meyer as an assistant. "I really kind of messed that one up," Saban said. "He called my house and talked to [Saban's wife] Terry. Terry really interviewed him. She told me that night, 'Boy, this really interesting guy called and really sounded top-notch, smart, articulate. ... You really need to talk to this guy.' It was Urban."

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.

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