SEC West to take shape on the Plains

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 14, 2006

After failing to score one touchdown in last week's 28-13 loss to the Florida Gators in Gainesville, the Alabama Crimson Tide comes into this week's game as a 29-point favorite.

With a point spread like that, one would think that the Tide either has a week off or will be holding an offensive walk through, but that is not the case as Alabama actually has an opponent in the ACC's Duke Blue Devils.

During last week's game, Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson was seemingly thrown to the wolves, or Gators, with more than 40 pass plays called by the Tide offensive coaching staff in such a hostile environment.

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Wilson, who appears to have a bright future ahead of him, was forced into several key mistakes that ultimately kept the ballgame out of reach for the Tide.

Although the Tide played with the Gators for nearly three quarters, Alabama was eventually out coached and out played by virtually the same team they destroyed last season, 31-3.

On top of Alabama's offensive woes, running back Jimmy Johns was caught on camera head butting a Florida player after the whistle.

We all know Shula's forte' is not discipline, but if things continue on the same path for the rest of the season, Shula might be in need of a good real estate agent.

Here are my picks for this week's game (home team listed first):

Alabama vs. Duke

If the Tide can get Ronald Steele, Jermario Davidson and Richard Hendrix the ball early and often, Alabama has a legitimate shot at upending Mike Krzyzewski's Blue DevilsŠ

Sorry, wrong sport.

Although Tide fans are probably counting down the days until basketball starts, which is a first in University of Alabama athletics, football season is just at the midway point and this week's opponent, Duke, is the perfect team for the Tide at the perfect time.

After back-to-back losses to Arkansas and Florida, the Tide needs a tune-up game before the SEC schedule kicks back up with Ole Miss and rival Tennessee.

The winless Blue Devils are reeling from last week's 37-0 loss to Virginia and with the nation's 74th pass defense, Wilson should have a field day with receivers Keith Brown and D.J. Hall.

Even though Alabama has had trouble finding the end zone during Mike Shula's tenure, this week it shouldn't be a problemŠ

Alabama 42, Duke 7.

No. 2 Auburn vs. Arkansas

When the Tigers and the Hogs square off before noon in Auburn, Ala., it usually spells doom for the second-ranked Tigers and this week's game is a rare 11 a.m., game on CBS.

Auburn is coming off an emotion-filled Thursday night victory over Steve Spurrier's gamecocks and Arkansas is well rested from a week off.

The Razorbacks and Tigers have the first and second ranked rushing offenses in the SEC and that comes as no surprise as Auburn's Kenny Irons and Arkansas' Darren McFadden are as good as any two backs in the country.

Auburn quarterback Brandon Cox is nearing 100 percent health wise following a beating at the hands of LSU and the junior from Hewitt-Trussville is a playmaker when he is forced to throw.

Arkansas quarterback Mitch Mustain came highly touted out of high school, but has struggled to find his game in college ball.

Houtson Nutt has been a thorn in Tommy Tuberville's side and a win Saturday would go a long way in securing Nutt's job, while also placing the Hogs atop the SEC Western Division.

The Tigers proved a point with the 38-20 win over Hogs in 2004 and Auburn needs another big win Saturday in order to have a championship seasonŠ

Auburn 30, Arkansas 20.

No. 9 LSU vs. No. 5 Florida

Urban Meyer is adjusting to life in the SEC as his Gators crossed a huge hurdle last week by defeating Alabama and this week's opponent, LSU, is just phase two of a brutal four-game stretch.

In consecutive weeks, the Gators had Alabama at home, LSU at home this weekend, at Auburn next week and &#8220The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” with Georgia the last weekend of October.

It doesn't get any tougher than that.

LSU is coming off a dominating win over Mississippi State and quarterback Jamarcus Russell had a field day and a career day.

The Bayou Bengals are playing as good as anybody in the country, although the loss at Auburn will always haunt them.

If there is one team no one is wanting to face, LSU is it.

The Gators have found offensive success with Chris Leak and Tim Tebow and the Florida defense is ranked third in the conference.

Who's No. 1? LSU.

The Tigers surrendered only one touchdown in the loss to Auburn and, even though The Swamp is one of the most difficult places to play, LSU is one of the toughest teams in the nationŠ

LSU 33, Florida 17.

No. 13 Tennessee vs. No. 10 Georgia

Newsflash: The Georgia Bulldogs have quarterback problems.

Newsflash: Eric Ainge is a quarterback problem.

After successful stints with David Greene and D.J. Shockley, Georgia head coach Mark Richt finds himself in a quarterback bind, having played three players under center already in this young season.

Richt has decided to start senior Joe Tereshinski, who was hurt during the South Carolina, in place of Matthew Stafford of the hero of the Colorado game, Joe Cox.

Tennessee's is not without a quarterback controversy as Ainge is controversy all by himself.

The embattled junior has had an up and down career, mainly down, but has picked up his play this season under the tutelage of offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe.

The Volunteer defense has picked up its play since almost collapsing against Air Force, but this week's opponent has not proved itself as an offensive threat.

If the Vols want to stay in the heart of the SEC Eastern Division battle, they must win this one.

With the Gators looming ahead, the Dawgs must have this home victory before the schedule gets even more brutal with Auburn and Georgia TechŠ

Georgia 20, Tennessee 13.

No. 7 Texas vs. No. 14 Oklahoma

The Red River Shootout pits two one-loss teams in what should be a classic.

The defending national champion Longhorns finally got the best of the Sooners last season, but an early loss to No. 1 Ohio State has put Texas and head coach Mack Brown in must-win mode for the rest of the season.

Oklahoma also suffered an early season loss at Oregon and head coach Bob Stoops is still crying like a baby over the officiating during that game.

Out of all the teams in America, Oklahoma has the least reason to complain about anything after being included in the national championship game two of the last three years and then, once in the game, being embarrassed and destroyed by the opposing team.

Texas quarterback Colt McCoy is coming into his own after following in Vince Young's footsteps and Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson is quite possibly the best running back in the nation.

Oklahoma has held the upper hand in this series in recent years, but I have a feeling, for the second year in a row, the Longhorns will roll.

Look for Colt McCoy to shoot the lights outŠ

Texas 35, Oklahoma 20.

Last week: 7-2

This week: 2-2

Overall: 28-12

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