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Croom returns to Tuscaloosa

Sylvester Croom returns to Tuscaloosa today and he's bringing with him his Mississippi State Bulldogs as the maroon will try to roll over the Crimson Tide.

The Bulldogs have played like puppies this season, giving ‘Bama fans at least one reason to be happy to have Mike Shula as head coach instead of Croom.

The Tide is coming off a home win over Florida International and, the good news is, no one went to jail.

Alabama only led 10-3 at the half and trailed 3-0 at the end of the first quarter to continue their offensive woes while Auburn also struggled offensively, barely escaping Oxford with a 6-point win over Ole Miss.

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

No. 6 Auburn vs. Arkansas State

The Tigers ran into a bigger than anticipated challenge against Ole Miss Saturday and Auburn kicker and SEC-leading scorer John Vaughn proved to be the difference in the game with three field goals.

Although Auburn has continued to win following the Arkansas loss, the BCS standings have shown little love in recent weeks.

Auburn's non-conference schedule has been a thorn in the BCS rankings and this week's opponent, Arkansas State, does nothing to help.

Tigers' head coach Tommy Tuberville began his collegiate coaching career at Arkansas State, making for an interesting subplot to this less than interesting game.

If the Tigers expect to be in the middle of the national title hunt come December, a win today must be extremely decisiveŠ

Auburn 30, Arkansas State 10.

Alabama vs. Mississippi State

Sylvester Croom's Mississippi State Bulldogs have two wins this season and both are over teams from the state of Alabama.

Unfortunately for the ‘Dogs, those wins are not over Auburn or Alabama, but over the likes of UAB and Jacksonville State.

The Tide has struggled lately with red zone production, especially in the touchdown category, and an injured John Parker Wilson and Keith Brown has not helped.

Backup quarterback Jimmy Barnes worked into the rotation during Saturday's win after Wilson's reinjured his ankle, but former Mr. Football in the state of Mississippi Jimmy Johns also looks to line up at quarterback more often.

Croom heavily recruited Johns and told the Mississippi native that he would never play quarterback at Alabama, something Johns still remembers to this day.

Don't be surprised if Shula runs many formations with Johns under center, including letting the sophomore air it out a bitŠ

Alabama 35, Mississippi State 14.

No. 11 Tennessee vs. No. 17 LSU

Raise your hand if you thought before the season that Tennessee would be the higher ranked team going into this game.

Phil Fulmer, put your hand down.

Although the LSU Tigers are all but out of the SEC Western Division race, the Tigers still have arguably one of the best teams, talent wise, in the country and have only fallen to two Top 5 teams.

Tennessee is cruising right along and has only suffered one one-point loss to Florida, something that may continue to haunt the Vols come December.

Last year's game between the Tigers and the Vols in Death Valley was a Monday-night classic, but the Tigers found more than one way to give the game to Tennessee.

Erik Ainge had one of the worst performances of his career and made perhaps one of the dumbest plays in college football history when he unsuccessfully tried to fling an underhanded pass from the back in the end zone.

The Tennessee junior has regrouped this season, although the Vol offense has struggled recently.

The Tigers are good and are hungry to get back into the Top 10, and a win today would be a great way to startŠ

LSU 17, Tennessee 14.

South Carolina vs. No. 13 Arkansas

The SEC's best coach will take on the SEC Coach of the Year (so far) Saturday as the SEC Western Division leading Arkansas Razorbacks travel to Columbia to take on The Ol' Ball Coach's South Carolina Gamecocks.

Steve Spurrier has done a great job with Carolina quarterback Syvelle Newton while Houston Nutt has directed the best turnaround in the nation with freshman quarterback Mitch Mustain under center.

Unlike Newton, Mustain is not a flashy quarterback, but he has done enough to get the Razorbacks to the top of the SEC West.

Arkansas running back Darren McFadden is as good as it gets and if the sophomore decides to stay in college four years, he should be a Heisman contender for the next two years.

Columbia is not one of the easiest places to play but the Razorbacks have been on top of their game.

The Auburn Tigers will be the Gamecocks' biggest fans Saturday, but South Carolina is going to need much more than fan supportŠ

Arkansas 28, South Carolina 20.

No. 21 Texas A&M vs. No. 18 Oklahoma

Perhaps no other coach in America is under as much pressure as Texas A&M's Dennis Franchione and a win today would go a long way in calming the fans in College Station.

The Aggies have one of the easiest schedules in the nation and a win over the Sooners could start A&M down the road to Big 12 Championship Game.

It's been a while since the Sooners have lost to the Texas Longhorns and the Aggies in the same season, and to start this year would not be a good thing for head coach Bob Stoops.

With the loss of running back Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma has lost a lot of offensive punch.

The Sooners are going to need that offensive help because the Aggies are going to be helped by the Texas A&M 12th ManŠ

Texas A&M 24, Oklahoma 17.

Last week: 8-1

This week: 3-1

Overall: 54-26

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 austin.phillips@greenvilleadvcate.com.