Three & Out: SEC Rivalry Week Preview

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 Iron Bowl, the Battle for the Golden Boot and Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate.

ONE OF THE BIGGEST EVER
If Cam Newton has proven one thing this year, it's that he can adjust to whatever the opposing defense throws at him and still be successful. Things get ratcheted up to a whole new level this week, when Alabama gets its shot at Auburn in one of the biggest Iron Bowl's in recent memory. With a national championship on the line for Auburn and a BCS at-large bid hanging in the balance for Alabama, this one should exceed the hype.

So what's the key for Alabama to stop Newton? It all starts up front, and that doesn't bode well for the Crimson Tide.

Don't get me wrong, Alabama's defense has been good this year – especially at home; but its defensive line has been one of the biggest disappointments in the SEC. The land once occupied by Mount Cody has become a valley of despair, ranking last in the SEC in tackles for loss (5.0 per game) and sacks (1.64 per game).

That's good news for Auburn. Its senior-laden offensive line is a big reason why Auburn averages 87 rushing yards per game more than the next-best rushing team in the SEC (Ole Miss – 220.5 ypg). When offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn chooses to rely more on the pass, it's no problem either. The Tigers have given up the third-fewest sacks (17) in the SEC this season.

The knock against Auburn all season is that it's a "one-man show," and nothing can be further from the truth. Auburn's offense clicked last year with Chris Todd at quarterback, and it's gone into overdrive this year with Newton – the likely Heisman Trophy winner – taking the snaps. The common denominator is the offensive line, which is a big reason why the Tigers are in national championship contention. Just as it has all season, the matchup in the trenches in the Iron Bowl favors the Tigers – and that might make the difference in the final outcome.

BATTLE FOR BOURBON STREET?
Is any team in the SEC other than Auburn playing as well as the Arkansas Razorbacks? If there is, I haven't seen it. After suffering mid-season setbacks to Alabama and Auburn, the Hogs have ripped off five straight wins and have positioned themselves for a BCS spot if they can get past LSU, and have Auburn win out.

During the last six games, the Razorbacks have averaged a mind-blowing 44.5 points per game. Yeah, quarterback Ryan Mallett is a big factor in that production, but the consistency this offense has developed can be traced back to the emergence of Knile Davis as the No. 1 running back. The sophomore from Missouri City, Texas, has averaged 138 yards per game and scored 12 touchdowns (11 rush, 1 receiving) during that six-game stretch. That's not so bad…for a "passing team."

Arkansas may grab the offensive headlines, but LSU has been decent in that department lately too. Quarterback Jordan Jefferson (yes, THAT Jordan Jefferson) is the reigning SEC Offensive Player of the Week, following his near flawless performance last week in LSU's thrilling win over Ole Miss. After LSU's opening night win over North Carolina, Jefferson went eight games without throwing a touchdown pass. He's thrown two in his last three games, which included a win over Alabama. Baby steps…

Weird things happen in this game, especially when it's played in Little Rock – as is the case Saturday. From the famed "Miracle on Markham" in 2002 to the Casey Dick's fourth quarter comeback in 2008, this game never disappoints. Since 2005, LSU leads Arkansas in total points by only a touchdown, 161-154. With a possible spot in the Sugar Bowl at stake, I don't expect anything to change this season. Get your popcorn ready.

CLEAN, OLD-FASHIONED HATE
At 5-6, Georgia's season has been nothing short of a massive disappointment. It's even more concerning when you consider what teams those five wins are against. Louisiana-Lafayette, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Idaho State aren't exactly world-beaters.

The Bulldogs get a chance to salvage a little bit of dignity from their season this weekend, when they host Georgia Tech in the rivalry game known as "Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate." Luckily for the boys from Athens, the Yellow Jackets are coming into the game losers of three of their last four and have fallen out of major bowl contention.

The stakes aren't as high in this game as they have been in the previous two seasons, but that doesn't make it irrelevant.

I said before the season started that a sub-.500 record would put Mark Richt's job in jeopardy. I was wrong. No matter what happens on Saturday against intra-state rival Georgia Tech, Richt will be back in 2011. But a win over Georgia Tech would be huge for the Bulldogs, not just for bragging rights, but for the extra bowl practices. This team has been wildly inconsistent on both sides of the ball this season, and December full of practices would go a long way towards building the depth needed to compete in the SEC East next season – which is what it might take for Richt to stay employed at Georgia beyond 2011.

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 24, 2010
Three & Out – November 21, 2010
Three & Out – November 17, 2010
Three & Out – November 14, 2010
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

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