SEC teams get a break in tough conference schedule

BY foxsports • November 16, 2011

Even the Southeastern Conference has an occasional slow weekend.

None of the five SEC teams in the national rankings play each other on Saturday, though several are hosting Football Championship Subdivision programs.

It's safe to say when coaches and players talk about the treacherous SEC schedule they weren't talking about hosting Furman, Georgia Southern, The Citadel or Samford.

Still, there always seems to be some intrigue in the SEC. Several teams have things they need to work on in advance of next week's slate, which is filled with rivalry games and BCS implications.

No. 3 Alabama still has an outside chance of playing for a national title. The Crimson Tide host Georgia Southern, but coach Nick Saban isn't taking the game lightly.

It's not like Alabama doesn't have a few things to tweak, including a kicking game that's missed six field goals over the past two weeks. And Georgia Southern is a pretty good, too, with a 9-1 record this season and six national championships at the Football Championship Subdivision level.

''Teams like this beat Division I teams all the time,'' Saban said. ''Appalachian State beat Michigan a couple of years ago. We need to have the proper respect for who we're playing and how they do what they do. We also need to understand that it's not about them; it's really about us and what our goals are in what we're doing.

''It really doesn't matter who we're playing against.''

Saban isn't the only SEC coach guarded against his team becoming the next Michigan.

No. 14 South Carolina is still trying to improve its offense after the mid-season losses of quarterback Stephen Garcia (dismissed from team) and running back Marcus Lattimore (knee). The Gamecocks host The Citadel, and Connor Shaw's performance under center will certainly be a main focus.

But South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said he didn't have specific passing numbers in mind.

''You don't go into a game saying we're going to experiment throwing the ball every down,'' Spurrier said. ''We'd like to throw a little better than we have been, certainly. But we've got to mix it up and try to win us the ball game the best way we can. But we do need to improve our passing game, see if we can do a little bit better.''

Florida and Auburn are having poor years by their standards and are simply looking for wins when they host Furman and Samford, respectively.

The Gators need a victory just to be assured of bowl eligibility - something they haven't had to worry about in more than two decades. Auburn is trying to move on after last week's 45-7 setback to Georgia, which was the program's worst loss since 1996.

''It's another week to go out there and prepare, go against another opponent, and just clean up things that we need to clean up,'' Florida quarterback John Brantley said. ''We've got to treat it like any other kind of game, like an SEC game.''

There are a few meaningful SEC games this week.

No. 13 Georgia hosts Kentucky looking to clinch the Eastern Division title and a spot in the SEC championship game and Vanderbilt will try to become bowl eligible when it plays at Tennessee.

No. 6 Arkansas hosts Mississippi State in a matchup featuring the Razorbacks' league-leading offense and the Bulldogs' talented defense.

No. 1 LSU figures to have an easy game at Mississippi. The Rebels have lost 12 straight conference games and on Tuesday suspended starting quarterback Randall Mackey and leading rusher Jeff Scott.

But like most coaches, those in the SEC are a paranoid bunch - even when the schedule appears to take an easier turn.

''What has to happen for a team that wins a championship is they have to handle these opponents in similar fashion, treat them with their best effort, understand how we play offense, defense and special teams,'' LSU coach Les Miles said. ''It doesn't look any different just because of the opponent that we play.''


AP Sports Writers John Zenor, Jeffrey Collins, Mark Long and Brett Martel contributed to this story.


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