Five burning questions as we head into the weekend:
1. Can South Carolina handle success? Stop me if you’ve seen this movie before: South Carolina wins a big game and puts itself in a serious position to contend for the SEC East title. But the Gamecocks come out sloppy the next week and get beat. That is what faces head coach Steve Spurrier as he takes his 4-1 team on the road to play a 3-3 Kentucky team that really needs a win after losing three straight conference games. The South Carolina players are saying all the right things this week, but after watching Kentucky run up and down the field on Auburn (in a 37-34 loss) Spurrier knows that Kentucky can beat his Gamecocks. Spurrier, as you know, is not big on talk. He is big on results. “We’re going to find out,” said Spurrier, when asked if his team is ready to handle a game like this. “I don’t know how we’re going to react. But we certainly know that Kentucky is capable of beating us.”
2. Is Clemson ready to get this thing turned around? The Tigers went into this season as a favorite to win the ACC’s Atlantic Division. But now Clemson has lost three straight very tough games at Auburn (27-24 OT), at home to Miami (30-21), and on the road at North Carolina (21-16). Clemson held the Tar Heels to only 255 yards of total offense but gave up big plays on defense and couldn’t make enough plays on offense. Clemson has back-to-back games with N.C. State and Florida State in November, but unless the Tigers take care of business on Saturday at home against Maryland (4-1) those games might not mean much in the Atlantic Division race.
3. Does Alabama bounce back or come out flat against Ole Miss? Let’s face it. Alabama played at a very high level for a very long time. The Crimson Tide had won 19 straight games overall and 29 straight in regular season competition when it fell to South Carolina last Saturday. I still think Alabama is a team very capable of running the table and playing in the SEC championship game for the third consecutive year. And if the Crimson Tide gets to Atlanta at 11-1, anything can happen on Championship Saturday. This is where coaches like Nick Saban really earn their money. Alabama has the better team and they are playing at home. But does Saban’s team play sloppy because of an emotional hangover from last Saturday’s loss? Or do they take it all out on Ole Miss, who has had a week off to rest and study how Steve Spurrier attacked the Alabama defense?
4. Is Arkansas-Auburn REALLY going to be a shootout? On paper it sure looks like a high scoring game. Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett leads the SEC (and is No. 3 nationally) in total offense per game (344.8 avg.) while Auburn’s Cameron Newton is second at 301.7. Newton is the SEC’s leading rusher (112.0 ypg) with an average of 6.5 yards per carry. But I see a couple of things that tell me the score won’t be as high as some folks think. No. 1: Auburn will try to control the ball on the ground with Newton and freshman running back Michael Dyer. That’s because in order to beat Arkansas you have to limit Mallett’s possessions. No. 2: Arkansas, which was so bad on defense last season, is now third in the SEC in total defense (302.4 ypg) and second in scoring defense (15.0 ppg). Both teams are going to be conscious about running clock and keeping their defenses rested because the other guy is so good on offense.
5. Is Nebraska THAT good? The Cornhuskers (5-0) have positioned themselves very nicely on the eve of the first BCS Standings, which will be released on Sunday. After blowing the doors (48-13) off previously undefeated Kansas State on the road, Nebraska is No. 4 in the coaches poll and No. 5 in the Harris Interactive poll going into Saturday’s historic date with Texas. Let’s face it, Nebraska has rolled to 5-0 against Western Kentucky (0-4), Idaho (3-2), Washington (2-3), South Dakota State (1-4), and a Kansas State team that beat UCLA in the opener, but then strugged to beat Iowa State (27-20) and UCF (17-13) at home. Freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez wowed everybody in the nationally-televised game against Kansas State last Thursday, but will Will Muschamp at Texas have something to contain him? Nebraska wants to make a statement in an effort to jump over Boise into the No. 3 spot in the coaches poll behind Ohio State and Oregon. Nebraska also wants its last Big 12 game against Texas (before going to the Big Ten) to really be remembered. Texas (3-2) has its backs to the wall after two straight losses.
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Barnhart and Durham: We have a full three hours today featuring Dr. Chris Ault, the head coach at Nevada. North Carolina athletics director Dick Baddour will make his only radio appearance outside of the Tar Heel state to discuss the various problems at his school. We will have Vince Dooley, Josh Kendall (the South Carolina beat writer for The State Newspaper in Columbia), and Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson to talk about the future of conference expansion. Come join us starting at 10 a.m. www.790thezone.com