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SEC ’11 Week Five Previews and Predictions: East vs. West

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It’s all about East vs. West as four inter-divisional conference games highlight the schedule of week five of the 2011 SEC season. Throw in one decent out-of-conference game and it’s a pretty solid schedule for this group of games. Let’s dive in, shall we?

Conference Games

Alabama (4-0) @ Florida (4-0)
How many times has this game been the most important game in the SEC since the divisional split in 1992? They might as well rename the SEC Championship Game the Alabama-Florida Invitational. These two have produced some big games for the regular season too.

Florida has adjusted quite well to Charlie Weis’s offense. He’s not an idiot. He knows the Gators’ best plan is to get the ball in the hands of all-purpose guys like Jeffrey Demps and Chris Rainey. The problem is Alabama’s defense is fast enough to negate the damage those guys can do in “space” which puts a lot of pressure on Florida QB John Brantley. Alabama’s defensive plan will be similar to what it deployed against Arkansas – get in the backfield and disrupt the flow. It can cover one-on-one, so blitzes will be early and often. Until John Brantley proves otherwise, I can’t have a lot of faith in his ability to withstand pressure and carry a game.

Florida’s defense, while young, is quite talented as well. Alabama’s offense isn’t going to be special this year but it may not have to be. RB Trent Richardson found inside running lanes last week and if those open again, watch out! Crimson Tide QB AJ McCarron needs to remain calm and collected, as Florida will throw a lot of looks his way. But if the game plan is anything like we’ve seen so far, he won’t have to make a ton of decisions.

This has the makings of a good game and even though the team is on the road, Alabama has the more experienced, and more polished defense. And that should be enough to get the win in The Swamp.
Pick: Alabama 23, Florida 14

Auburn (3-1) @ South Carolina (4-0)
The worst 3-1 team vs. the worst 4-0 team in the country for the midday game on CBS. Wow. What a showcase of dreck!

I’m not trying to be cute here but neither of these teams is all that exciting. I wrote two weeks ago that the immediate future was bright on the Plains. I’d like to retract that here and now. Auburn’s defense couldn’t close an umbrella on third down and the offense is not exactly getting better based on their last two lackluster performances. South Carolina has a dynamic player (RB Marcus Lattimore) and a bunch of other dudes who can’t get out of their own way.

The key here is which team will do the most with what should be plenty of mistakes. South Carolina’s ability to run the ball and control the clock favors them as Auburn probably won’t figure out third-down defense in six days. Even if they do, it still won’t be enough.
Pick: South Carolina 34, Auburn 21

Mississippi State (2-2) @ Georgia (2-2)

Georgia has righted the ship after stumbling out of the blocks (again!) while Mississippi State is apparently in a funk. Georgia’s defense isn’t special and they will need a solid performance against the running attack they’ll see this week. However, Georgia has a decided advantage in the passing game and QB Aaron Murray should be able to carve up the MSU defense if he has time. Georgia is getting better and MSU is stuck in the mud. I’m not seeing that change this weekend.
Pick: Georgia 28, Mississippi State 20

Kentucky (2-2) @ LSU (4-0)
Kentucky’s uniforms won’t be the only thing blue when LSU gets finished pounding on them. There’s no reason to believe the Wildcats have anything to counter the Tigers even if LSU only halfway cares in this game.
Pick: LSU 31, Kentucky 10

Out of Conference Games

Texas A&M (2-1) vs. Arkansas (3-1) (in Dallas Cowboys Stadium)
Both of these teams limp into this game after tough losses. Arkansas got physically battered against Alabama and Texas A&M experienced a total meltdown against Oklahoma State. The injuries sustained by Arkansas don’t bode well for them against an Aggies team trying to right its own ship. A&M has a better defense and plenty of offense to go with it so look for them to score a win against a seemingly future SEC West foe.
Pick: Texas A&M 33, Arkansas 24

Ole Miss (1-3) @ Fresno State (2-2)
Ole Miss scored a ton of points and notched a big win over Fresno State last year. Well, Ole Miss this year is nowhere nearly as explosive as last year (not that they were terribly explosive in 2010) and Fresno isn’t going to let them come to their backyard and dance. The Houston Nutt farewell tour hits a rough spot on the West Coast.
Pick: Fresno State 36, Ole Miss 16

Buffalo (1-3) @ Tennessee (2-1)
Derek Dooley’s Volunteers get a tune up game before four straight conference games. QB Tyler Bray will continue to rack up big yards.
Pick: Tennessee 45, Buffalo 13

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