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What to watch in the SEC

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Tommy Tuberville gave the wolves something to gnaw on Thursday night when his Auburn team gave up 31 unanswered points in an ugly 34-17 loss to West Virginia. Now it's Phillip Fulmer's turn to see if he can turn back the growing sentiment against him. A win over No. 2-ranked Alabama on Saturday would be huge for the veteran Tennessee coach, although he's going to be judged on his entire body of work and whether he's truly the guy the Tennessee administration thinks can get the Vols back to a championship level.

The Tuberville and Fulmer situations will be worth watching closely over the next month or so, as two of the longest tenured coaches in this league find themselves fighting for their coaching lives. Here's a rundown of what to watch this week in the SEC:

1. Tide goes Cody-less: Alabama faces its first full game without massive nose tackle Terrence Cody, who will miss the next two weeks after spraining the MCL in his right knee last week against Ole Miss. The 365-pound Cody is one of the main reasons the Crimson Tide have been so good against the run this season, ranking fourth nationally. Alabama is allowing 66.1 yards per game on the ground and has yielded just one rushing touchdown. With Cody in the lineup, 13 of the 37 rushing attempts up the middle this season against the Tide have gone for zero or minus yards. Josh Chapman and Lorenzo Washington, the two guys who will fill in for Cody, clearly have big shoes to fill.

2. No place like home: Actually, Houston Nutt isn't calling Arkansas home anymore. He considers Ole Miss his home. Either way, the scene ought to be a surreal one Saturday at Razorback Stadium when Nutt hits the field for the first time. He's done his best not to give the Razorbacks any added ammunition this week, but there's not a game on the schedule that Nutt wants to win more after the way he and his family were treated toward the end at Arkansas. Likewise, the Arkansas fans would love to see Nutt leave with a resounding loss. They blame him for just about everything that's remotely wrong with Arkansas' program right now. Talk about a bitter divorce. It doesn't get much nastier than the Nutt/Arkansas parting.

3. Moreno to the rescue: All those Georgia fans tired of seeing the Bulldogs moving the ball up and down the field the last few weeks and not scoring a bunch of touchdowns, raise your hands. How many of you with your hand up would like to see Knowshon Moreno get about 30 touches Saturday against LSU? This is a game that Moreno has to be a big factor in early if the Bulldogs are going to win. Feed him the football as much as possible in the first half and see if he can soften up that LSU defense. Otherwise, if Matthew Stafford has to end up throwing 40-plus times, it's going to be a long day for the Bulldogs on the Bayou. Moreno needs at least 12 touches in the first half, and that's counting runs and catches.

4. Fulmer's last stand? This will be the 34th Alabama-Tennessee game that Phillip Fulmer has played or coached in. It could also be his last. The pressure is mounting against the dean of SEC coaches, and there are rumblings out of Knoxville that Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton has all but made up his mind to make a change at season's end. A win over No. 2-ranked Alabama would certainly help Fulmer's cause. He's 11-4 against the Crimson Tide during his career. But it always gets back to what have you done for me lately in the SEC. And this decade, when you take the Vols' three biggest rivals -- Alabama, Florida and Georgia -- Fulmer is just 11-15.

5. Julio vs. Berry: Let's hope we get to see some one-on-one matchups between Alabama freshman receiver Julio Jones and Tennessee sophomore safety Eric Berry. It's a possibility when the Vols go to their nickel and dime packages. You start looking around the country, and there aren't many first- and second-year players as accomplished and dynamic as both Jones and Berry. They're also the kind of players who could play anywhere on the field, and the word coming out of the Vols' camp is that Berry will make his debut on offense this week. And why not? Receiver Gerald Jones is gimpy with a bad ankle, and Berry is a natural with the ball in his hands. Go back and look at some of his interception returns.

6. Looking for that swagger: Several of LSU's defenders walked away from the 24-17 win over South Carolina last week saying they got their swagger back. It's hard to argue with their performance. They held the Gamecocks scoreless in the second half and to 42 yards of total offense. But getting your swagger back against South Carolina and getting it back against Georgia are two entirely different things. The Bulldogs boast one of the most complete offenses in the SEC. This is where LSU can truly get its swagger back, by putting the clamps on the Bulldogs. The Tigers should be at full strength defensively with the return of tackle Ricky Jean-Francois to the lineup after missing the last two games.

7. Manning that line: You know Georgia coach Mark Richt has to be holding his breath every week. All the Bulldogs need is for somebody else in the offensive line to go down. They're on their fourth left tackle since the preseason and are starting two true freshmen and one redshirt freshman. The hardest part has been all the shuffling and moving around. Playing at a high level in the offensive line is all about continuity and knowing what the guy beside you is going to do on every down. No test for Georgia's young line will be any more daunting than what it will face Saturday against an LSU defensive front that's deep and talented. If the Bulldogs can survive this undertaking, they can survive anything.

8. Dores going bowling: One more win is all Vanderbilt needs to become bowl eligible, and it's only fitting that Duke is the opponent this weekend at Vanderbilt Stadium. Two proud academic institutions with improving football programs will be on display, although the Commodores are a little further ahead at this point. It's amazing what they've done when you consider that they're 118th nationally (out of 119 teams) in total offense. They were right there against Georgia last week in the fourth quarter, too, but couldn't come up with a couple of key first downs when they needed them. If anybody deserves a postseason trip, it's the Commodores. They last went to a bowl game in 1982.

9. Smith back for more: He might be 5-foot-7 and 173 pounds, but you just can't keep Arkansas junior running back Michael Smith down. After suffering a concussion in last week's 21-20 loss to Kentucky, Smith was back on the practice field Wednesday and Thursday and is expected to start Saturday against Ole Miss, according to Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino. Smith has carried the ball 70 times in his last two games and rushed for 368 yards. He's seventh nationally with an average of 131.8 rushing yards per game and is one of the best stories going this season in the SEC. After two years of sitting on the bench and watching Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, Smith is well on his way to leading the SEC in rushing.

10. Keeping the momentum: Florida coach Urban Meyer is the first to tell you that he wishes the Gators would have played last week. When you play as well as
they did against LSU, the last thing you want to do is take a week off. It's especially frustrating offensively when everything seems to be clicking for the first time all season the way it was for Florida in the 51-21 rout of LSU. But the time off wasn't a complete waste. Running back Chris Rainey was able to get his injured shoulder back to speed, and the oft-injured Percy Harvin can always use the extra rest. It's an early game again, similar to the Ole Miss contest, the Gators' only loss of the season. It's also the best defense Kentucky has had under Rich Brooks, although the Wildcats are banged up. The Gators want to start fast and finish that way heading into the Georgia showdown next week.