After two weeks of warm up games with local high schools teams and directional state schools, SEC fans finally have some true excitement as rivalries heat up in the deep South.
This weekend will features the first test for the No. 1 team in the nation in their SEC opening game as well as two more in-conference battles.
Tennessee @ (1) Florida
We all are aware of the hype Lane Kiffin has put on this game and the implications his mouth has had in motivating the Gators.
Truth is, the hatred in this game didn’t need any more fuel for the fire, and Florida already has all the tools they need for a win, even without Kiffin’s bulletin-board material.
What we’ve seen from Florida so far has been nothing short of a National Championship caliber team. They have outscored their opponents 118-9 while posting 1,287 yards of offense in just two games.
Tennessee played well in their opener but struggled on offense against UCLA, gaining only 208 yards of total offense. The worst part for the Vols was the sudden plethora of turnovers from senior quarterback Jonathan Crompton.
The man threw for five touchdowns in their first game, but two interceptions that day and three this past weekend raise a lot of concerns. Nevertheless, Kiffin has committed to starting Crompton in the Swamp, a decision that could be costly for him.
While we all want to see a close battle on Saturday, the reality is that the Vols will have to wait at least one more year to break their current losing streak against Florida. Tennessee has not won since 2004, and this game doesn’t look promising for Orange nation.
Mississippi State @ Vanderbilt
This game has all the signs of being a classic SEC matchup; two teams that will not score much, will be punting a lot, and could go to overtime.
Leaving it at that would imply a great defensive rivalry game, but in reality, all those punts are because of bad offense and if overtime comes it will most likely be a 3-3 tie after regulation. These two teams ranked No. 10 and No. 12 on the SEC Power Rankings: Week 2.
Mississippi State is probably the worst team in the SEC, and they have the defense to prove it. They gave up 390 yards on the ground to Auburn a week ago along with a 6.6 yards per carry ratio.
The offense is very one-sided, but running back Anthony Dixon will have a big year and could be the deciding factor in this game.
Vanderbilt is a hard team to judge at this point, but they deserve credit for a hard-fought game in Death Valley last Saturday night. The Commodores may have the most underrated defense in the SEC, but they make up for this strength with a pretty mediocre offense.
On a bright note, Zac Stacy has amassed 222 yards already this season and is the most crucial part of their offense.
While this game will not make many highlight reels, the two running backs, Dixon and Stacy, will be fun to watch as they battle it out on the ground in Vanderbilt.
(23) Georgia @ Arkansas
This game will be the best SEC contest of the weekend in terms of excitement and how much it means to both teams. Arkansas has only played once and has yet to show any measurable attributes while Georgia has two relatively sound tests already.
Bulldog fans are curious which units will show up this weekend. In Stillwater, the defense was impressive, holding Oklahoma State to just 24 points, yet the offense could only put up 10.
This past weekend against the Gamecocks, the offense rolled for 41 points while the defense gave up 37 points by way of 313 passing yards. The Dawgs need to establish some form of consistency this week in order to get a win.
Arkansas features a great tandem of offensive threats in quarterback Ryan Mallett and running back Michael Smith. Their pass-happy system could cause big problems for Georgia as they struggled with the same game plan from South Carolina.
If Georgia can get pressure on the quarterback, that will go a long way to slowing down the Hogs. Arkansas will look to strike early and disrupt the Georgia game plan, forcing them to rely on quarterback Joe Cox.
Finally, if this game comes down to special teams, look out for Georgia in the return game. Last week. they posted a school record 252 kick return yards.
Georgia special teams have always been solid under Mark Richt, and that could be the difference maker this week.
While it isn’t exactly ‘Rivalry Weekend’ ahead of us, enjoy the show as three games within the conference start to shape the SEC picture in 2009.
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