Battle of the Tigers bigger than ever

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 17, 2006

Weeks one and two on the college gridiron have gone off without too many surprises but Week three is going to shake things up quite a bit.

The hyped Ohio State-Texas showdown ended with the Buckeyes handling the Longhorns to remain No. 1, while the defending champions moved down to No. 8.

No. 2 Notre Dame takes on No. 11 Michigan in what should be a classic and the battle of the Tigers between No. 3 Auburn and No. 6 LSU takes place this weekend and should be one of the games of the year.

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This one has determined the SEC Western Division champion since the turn of the millennium and games in recent years have come down to the wire.

Last year, LSU prevailed in Baton Rouge in double overtime, 20-17, after Auburn kicker John Vaughn missed five field goals, including kicks as regulation time expired to win the game and a kick to tie the game and send it into triple overtime.

Vaughn's second attempt at an extra point in 2004, after a penalty on an LSU defender negated Vaughn's first missed attempt, was good and secured a 10-9 win over LSU and helped catapult Auburn to a perfect 13-0 season.

Here are my predictions for this week's games (home team listed first):

Alabama vs. Louisiana-Monroe

The Tide has gotten off to a slow and sluggish start with close wins over Hawaii and Vanderbilt, but the tide will turn this weekend as Alabama hosts a nice tune up game with Louisiana-Monroe before dreaded back-to-back trips to Fayetteville and Gainesville.

John Parker Wilson has looked good at times and confused at times, but the starter from Hoover has put up solid numbers in the first two weeks and gotten the Tide off to a 2-0 start.

Running back Ken Darby has looked more like an imposter during the first two games while former Mr. Football in the state of Mississippi, Jimmy Johns, has looked like a hungry bull charging his way through lines and up depth charts.

The Juwan Simpson saga is starting to die down and the Tide should be able to focus and concentrate on the task at hand this week and take care of business.

The only way Louisiana-Monroe has a chance is if Bobby Boucher from &#8220The Waterboy” decides to switch Louisiana schools and play for the IndiansŠ

Alabama 40, Louisiana-Monroe 10.

No. 3 Auburn vs. No. 6 LSU

It doesn't get any bigger than this.

Two teams from the same division, both in the Top 10, on national television with one dream in common: the national championship.

Experts from all over the country have included both of these teams as having a legitimate shot to play in the BCS Championship game, but only one can make it after Saturday.

To start the season, there were three huge match ups, Ohio State vs. Texas, Auburn vs. LSU and Notre Dame vs. USE, that would help sort out the national championship picture, and this is the second one.

LSU is perhaps one of the hottest teams in America following last year's blowout victory over Miami in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl and this year's hot start, while the Auburn Tigers have come out of the gate with something to prove following last season's Capital One Bowl loss to Wisconsin.

Auburn's Kenny Irons had a strong week against Washington State but then he struggled last week against Mississippi State.

Fellow running back Brad Lester has emerged as a huge asset and threat following last season's injury and Auburn offensive coordinator Al Borges can find a way to get both backs on the field at the same time, look out Bayou Bengals.

LSU is, as always, one of the most talented teams in the land and can come at you from the ground or the air. The LSU defense is solid and coach Les Miles has picked up right where Nick Saban left off on the defensive side of the ball.

If history tells us anything, though, it is that this one will come down to special teams.

If John Vaughn can make at least one out of 50 field goals, the Tigers from the Plains should prevail.

Look for Auburn kick returner Tristan Davis to break one longŠ

Auburn 17, LSU 14.

Georgia Tech vs. Troy

If your heart just didn't break last week when Troy, who perhaps has the most brutal opening schedule in the nation, fell just short of Florida State in Tallahassee, 24-17, then you are heartless person, a Florida State fan, or probably both.

The Trojans led for much of the game and the Seminoles had to score two touchdowns late in the fourth quarter to take the win.

Now the Trojans have to turn around, once again on the road, to take on Georgia Tech.

The Yellow Jackets almost pulled the huge upset against Notre Dame in Week 1 but fell just short of the Fighting Irish.

Georgia Tech quarterback Reggie Ball is as dangerous as they come and if he can find wide receiver Calvin Johnson early and often, the Trojans could be in for a long night.

Just like Troy did in Tallahassee, if the Trojans can silence the Atlanta crowd early, Larry Blakeney's men of Troy have a legitimate shot at victory.

However, if the Yellow Jacket faithful get loud early, look outŠ

Georgia Tech 35, Troy 24.

No. 13 Tennessee vs. No. 7 Florida

CBS will cap off perhaps the biggest SEC football weekend of the year with the annual SEC Eastern Division showdown between the Vols and Gators as the nightcap to the Auburn LSU game.

Although Steve Spurrier is now in Columbia, S.C., Phil Fulmer is still in Knoxville and, as long as he is, this one will have major viewer appeal.

The Urban Meyer era got off to a huge start with last season's 16-7 victory over the rival Vols, but that joy was quickly erased when the Gators, still riding high from the victory over Tennessee, were decimated by the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa.

Meyer's promised high-powered offense has not flourished as many experts thought it would, but quarterback Chris Leak is in his second season with Meyer and that could spell doom for the Vols.

David Cutcliffe is back in Knoxville and during the first game of the year versus the favored California Bears, he had quarterback Erik Ainge looking like great Vol quarterbacks of the past.

Last week, however, the Vols continued to put up high numbers but the defense allowed the Air Force offense to stay in the game, putting up huge numbers and almost escaping with the victory.

With the game being in Big Orange country, the Gators will have to step up and play to their maximum potential. If not, then Rocky Top could be sung all night longŠ

Florida 20, Tennessee 13.

No. 2 Notre Dame vs. No. 11 Michigan

Pollsters across America are buying up extra batteries for their remote controls for this one as the Fighting Irish and the Wolverines square off Saturday at the same time as other big games like Auburn-LSU and Oklahoma-Oregon.

The Irish escaped a scare from Georgia Tech in Week 1 and then obliterated Penn State last weekend.

Lloyd Carr's Wolverines have been one of the most dominant programs in the nation since his arrival, but the failure of Michigan to beat Ohio State, along with the Buckeyes' resurgence to dominance, has tainted what would otherwise be known as a stellar career.

Carr has a chance Saturday to put his team back into the national spotlight with a home win over the visiting Irish, but Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis has other ideas.

Heisman-hopeful Brady Quinn looked sharp last week after a less-than-stellar Week 1, and if the Irish can keep his uniform clean and keep him off the ground, the Wolverines could be in for a world of hurt.

This is the type of game the Irish usually brings out the green jerseys, and if they do, it could spell doom.

The green jerseys have not produced wins when the Irish have worn them recently, and Saturday should be no different.

Green jerseys the Irish lose, blue jerseys the Irish win.

With the Big Blue coming to town, look for Irish greenŠ

Michigan 24, Notre Dame 20.

Last week: 1-3

This week: 2-2

Overall: 10-7

Austin Phillips is The Greenville Advocate sports editor. He can be reached at 382-3111 ext. 122, by fax at 382-7104 or by e-mail at