Bama over Tigers

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 19, 2002

One half the Dec. 7 dance card in Atlanta is complete, with Auburn holding on to a slight chance of filling in the other half, just like the Tigers tried to hold to a slight lead against Georgia instead of putting away the Bulldogs.

Auburn cannot make it to the Southeastern Conference title game, however, without overcoming the odds and defeating Alabama in Tuscaloosa this Saturday, and also hoping other pieces fall into place.

While it appeared that in the second half of Auburn’s game with Georgia the Tigers were playing not to lose instead of to win, down on the bayou Alabama warmed up on a chilly night and ran Louisiana State off the field, offensively and defensively, in its 31-0 victory.

Georgia’s late catch of a desperation, fourth-down pass resulted in the 24-21 victory over an Auburn team that dominated the first half but couldn’t kick well or get a first down when needed in the second half. More aggressive play, it seems, would not have brought the game down to Michael Jackson’s winning catch over Auburn’s Horace Willis.

So, Georgia won the East and will play in its first SEC title game against either defending champion LSU, Arkansas or, in a re-match, Auburn. The best of the West, Alabama, is blocked out from the Atlanta game due to NCAA penalties.

The scenario involving LSU, Arkansas and Auburn is a little complicated, so we’ll wait and see.

Georgia’s appearance in the Atlanta game is good news for Gator-haters, since Florida won’t be there this time.

Last Saturday I was 4-2 on my picks, making the season record 68-18. I went against the grain by picking Auburn, and Mississippi State over Tennessee. Here are the predictions on the five games this Saturday involving conference teams:

Auburn at Alabama &045; The Crimson Tide is looking plenty good and has easily won five games since losing to Georgia by a missed field goal, while Auburn is hurting physically and, probably, psychologically from the gut-wrenching loss to Georgia. Alabama also has shown that it has the weapons to mount whatever type offense is demanded, and the defense to challenge anyone. The Tide will win and start packing its floral shirts for Hawaii, while Auburn will have to wait to find out which bowl wants the Tigers.

Arkansas at Mississippi State &045; While the Razorbacks won by only seven points over Louisiana-Lafayette, be assured that Arkansas was pointing toward its games with the Maroons and LSU. Mississippi State still hasn’t won an SEC game, and probably won’t &045; not this week, anyway. Arkansas has had a strange season but there will nothing strange at Starkville.

Mississippi at Louisiana State &045; Despite its ineptness against Alabama, LSU still wants to return to Atlanta while Ole Miss wants one more victory to be bowl-eligible. The Tigers have more to scratch for, while the Rebels provide Exhibit A that a one-dimensional team has problems, even if that dimension is as good a passer as Eli Manning. LSU will win and the stands won’t empty as quickly this time.

Vanderbilt at Tennessee &045; Vandy, like Mississippi State, has not won any SEC game, and Tennessee, after losing to No. 1 Miami, came back strong at Starkville. The Vols will win and complete the Commodores’ &uot;perfect&uot; conference record. This ends Vandy’s season, allowing the players to concentrate on their studies, where Vandy does excel. Wouldn’t a Vandy-Mississippi State booby prize game be fun?

South Carolina at Clemson &045; This internecine battle will send the disappointing 5-6 Gamecocks against 6-5 Clemson, not much to brag about either way. Clemson will leave Tiger paw marks on South Carolina, and gain bragging rights in the Palmetto state, but the swaggering will be rather hollow.

(Hoyt Harwell is a retired Associated Press Correspondent who covered major sports in Alabama for 26 years. Harwell lives in Hoover. (e-mail: