Three & Out: SEC Week 11 Preview

Auburn quarterback Cam Newton

CFN SEC columnist Barrett Sallee shares three thoughts, comments or observations on what's going on this fall in the SEC.

Reach me via e-mail at barrettsallee@gmail.com or on Twitter @BarrettSallee



Three & Out appears every Sunday and Wednesday in 2010 to give you three SEC thoughts, news and notes. In today's edition, we take a look at the Cam Newton fiasco, the SEC East Championship Game and the Mississippi State/Alabama game.

THIS HAS BECOME RIDICULOUS
Ever since Cam Newton became the subject of an apparent smear campaign late last week, rumors have swirled around the junior quarterback, his family and his career. To Newton's credit, the innuendo and unsubstantiated rumors haven't changed the way he plays or acts in front of the media. Sure, last week his Tigers got a virtual bye week vs. Chattanooga, so that certainly helped. This week though, things get ratcheted up a bit with the rival Georgia Bulldogs headed to the Plains.

Can Newton handle the pressure with an even stronger microscope on him? I wouldn't bet against him.

Since Newton torched LSU's defense for 217 rushing yards in Auburn's 24-17 win on October 23, offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn has employed a more balanced game plan in the hopes of keeping Newton fresh for the stretch run. Now that Auburn's stretch run is here, expect Newton to rely more on the option game that was responsible for thrusting him into the spotlight to begin with.

That plays into the strength of the Georgia defense though. The Bulldogs rank second in the SEC, giving up 106 rushing yards per game. In its previous five games, Georgia has given up more than 70 rushing yards only once, when it surrendered 231 rushing yards in a 34-31 loss to Georgia.

Will Todd Grantham's defense be able to handle the onslaught of Newton, Mike Dyer and Onterio McCallebb? I don't think so. After all, LSU couldn't do it.

Newton has shown the ability to handle on-the-field and off-the-field pressure all season long, and I don't expect that to change this week. One of his more famous quotes this year is that he's "too blessed to be stressed." That seems to be even more apparent when he's on the football field. After having to deal with 10 days of rumors masquerading as facts, he'll be even more relieved to hit the field this weekend.

SAY WHAT?
A month ago, if you would have told me that Florida would be a touchdown favorite over South Carolina with the SEC East on the line, I would have called you every name in the book. But what do you know? With both teams wrapping up conference play on Saturday night, they've found themselves in a de facto SEC East Championship Game in Gainesville, Fla.

This game has Florida written all over it. The Gators have found somewhat of an offensive identity, using the three different styles of quarterbacks John Brantley, Trey Burton and Jordan Reed to kick-start their once-stagnant offense. The Gators averaged only 14 points per game during their three-game losing streak in the middle of the season. Since the bye week, they've put up 34 points and 55 points in wins over Georgia and Vanderbilt, respectively.

Meanwhile – and stop me if you've heard this before – South Carolina is experiencing another late-season swoon. Since upsetting then-No. 1 Alabama on October 9, the Gamecocks have lost to Kentucky, looked less-than-average in a win over Vanderbilt, had to battle against lowly Tennessee and been blown out at home by Arkansas. Yeah, two of those games are wins, but it's not like the Gamecocks have capitalized on the momentum that could have been generated following their upset of the Crimson Tide.

Is there anything to suggest that South Carolina can get out of this mini-funk and pull off its first SEC East Championship since the divisional split in 1992? If there is, I don't see it. Both teams are trending in opposite directions, and with South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore still nursing a knee injury, another SEC Championship Game may pass the Gamecocks by without their presence.

DOOR OPEN?
Since starting the season 1-2, Mississippi State has gone a tear, ripping off a six-game winning streak to get back into New Year Day bowl contention. However, the Bulldogs' opponents during that streak have only posted a 29-27 record.

So, can the Bulldogs capitalize on their recent momentum and spring the upset against Alabama this weekend in Tuscaloosa, or will the Tide relegate them to their usual place in the SEC pecking order?

Call me crazy, but Mississippi State may hang around in this one.

LSU rolled up 225 yards on the ground last weekend against the Tide, with Stevan Ridley accounting for 88 of those yards on 24 carries. That bodes well for Mississippi State, which is the SEC's third-best rushing team this season, averaging 219 yards per game on the ground.

On the other side, Mississippi State has been able to stop the run this season (115 ypg), which has been the recipe for success against Alabama this season. Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram have been held in check in losses at South Carolina and at LSU, and Dan Mullen's game plan undoubtedly mirror the game plan that the Gamecocks and Tigers employed in their victories over Alabama.

Don't be surprised to see this game go well into the fourth quarter with the final outcome still in doubt. If the Bulldogs can get a few breaks, they are absolutely capable of toppling the Tide.

Barrett Sallee covers the SEC for www.CollegeFootballNews.com. He can be reached at barrettsallee@gmail.com, or on Twitter at @BarrettSallee


Don't forget to check out "Y'all Play Nice" from CFN's Russ Mitchell and Brian Harbach every Thursday during the season.

2010 Three & Out Archive
Three & Out – November 11, 2010
Three & Out – November 7, 2010
Three & Out – November 3, 2010
Three & Out – October 31, 2010
Three & Out – October 27, 2010
Three & Out – October 24, 2010
Three & Out – October 20, 2010
Three & Out – October 17, 2010
Three & Out – October 13, 2010
Three & Out – October 10, 2010
Three & Out – October 6, 2010
Three & Out – October 3, 2010
Three & Out – September 29, 2010
Three & Out – September 26, 2010
Three & Out – September 22, 2010
Three & Out – September 19, 2010
Three & Out – September 15, 2010
Three & Out – September 12, 2010
Three & Out – September 8, 2010
Three & Out – September 5, 2010
Three & Out – September 1, 2010
Three & Out – August 25, 2010
Three & Out – August 18, 2010
Three & Out – August 11, 2010
Three & Out – August 4, 2010
Three & Out – July 28, 2010
Three & Out – July 21, 2010
Three & Out – July 14, 2010
Three & Out – July 7, 2010
Three & Out – June 30, 2010
Three & Out – April 21, 2010
Three & Out – April 14, 2010
Three & Out – April 11, 2010
Three & Out – April 8, 2010
Three & Out – April 5, 2010
Three & Out – March 31, 2010
Three & Out – March 28, 2010
Three & Out – March 24, 2010
Three & Out – March 21, 2010
Three & Out – March 18, 2010
Three & Out – March 15, 2010
Three & Out – March 11, 2010
Three & Out – March 5, 2010
Three & Out – March 2, 2010

Click Here for the 2010 blog archive

Click here for the 2009 regular season Three & Out archive

InsideTennessee.com Recommended Stories