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Prevost: Spotlight on SEC East, sort of

POSTED: October 26, 2011 7:27 p.m.

You may have heard that college football's national championship game is on Nov. 5 in Tuscaloosa, when No. 1 LSU faces No. 2 Alabama. That's enough time for two full weeks of nonstop hype surrounding the two best teams in the country.

You're probably sick of the hype already. So, until next week, this writer will not pen another word concerning the colossal SEC West match-up and, instead, will give the SEC East its due. After all, most SEC East teams play football and this week features two division games worthy of attention. Let's leave the LSU/Bama talk to others and focus exclusively on the Georgia/Florida and South Carolina/Tennessee games.

Georgia vs. Florida: The last weekend in October means it's the annual Georgia/Florida rendezvous in Jacksonville, Fla. Historically a pivotal game with meaningful implications, this year it's a more subdued cocktail party. Florida fans aren't looking forward to the festivities on the banks of the St. John's River. (OK, I can't help it. Who do you like on Nov. 5? Bama or LSU?)

The Gators and their anemic offense have dropped three straight. There's not much for Florida to play for except throwing a wrench in Georgia's division title plans which, of course, is plenty of motivation for Will Muschamp's Gators.

Though the Dawgs have their SEC East title hopes on the line, Florida's 18-3 mark against UGA over the past 21 years has scarred the collective psyche of Georgia fans. (The Alabama/LSU game pits Bama's disciplined toughness against LSU's freewheeling athleticism. I can't wait to see how it unfolds.)

From the unranked Gators knocking off David Greene's No. 4-ranked Dawgs in 2002 to last year's unlikely overtime defeat, the Georgia faithful have good reason to be wary of this game. But Todd Grantham's defense should hunt down the endangered Gator offense regardless of who's playing quarterback for Florida.

I'll go with Georgia in Jacksonville to keep the pressure on South Carolina, which will kickoff in Knoxville with knowledge of the Bulldogs' victory. (Regardless of the primetime start for the Alabama/LSU game, smart money says approximately 5,000 Bama fans show up sporting sunglasses and croakies around their necks.)

South Carolina vs. Tennessee: The Gamecocks look to improve their dismal 1-14 all-time record in Knoxville and keep the SEC East driver's seat warm. (Which coach has the edge with two weeks to prepare for the Alabama/LSU game? Saban is the ultimate tactician, but Miles is masterful coming off bye weeks.)

The young Tennessee squad, meanwhile, hopes something good happens in a painful rebuilding year. Both teams must persevere without key playmakers who've gone down with injuries. (There's already talk of the Tide and Tigers meeting again in the BCS title game. Premature? Perhaps. Warranted? Sure.)

Tennessee announced that true freshman Justin Worley will lead the Volunteers at quarterback in his first career start. Worley has taken five collegiate snaps and thrown no passes. He hopes his first completion isn't to the opportunistic Gamecock defense that's snatched 14 interceptions this season. (At press time, the cheapest LSU/Alabama ticket on Stubhub is $400. That's a lot for a regular season game.)

It's tempting to pick the Vols because they're due for a big win. At some point, as does everything in life, that dark cloud of misfortune over Knoxville will pass. But not this Saturday as a strong defense enables South Carolina's departure from Neyland Stadium with its division title hopes intact. (Bama/LSU . . . Bama/LSU . . . Bama/LSU.)

Best of luck to your SEC team and, if you're an SEC East fan, enjoy the spotlight this week. The SEC West title, overall conference title, and national championship is next Saturday in T-town. No more talk of that game until next week. I promise.

Ben Prevost is a contributing columnist for The Times. Contact him at secbanter@hotmail.com.



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