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Ryan Brown

Pressure continues to build in another crucial week of the 2012 SAC season

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It's cooling down outside in the south but the South Atlantic Conference season is really heating up as we hit the beginning of the final stretch. Four massive weeks of games remain beginning on Saturday. Believe it or not, we could end up with FIVE teams as SAC Champions. Just humor me a minute and imagine this crazy scenario:

LR beats Mars Hill and Wingate, loses at Newberry, beats Catawba
Wingate beats Catawba, loses to LR, beats Tusculum
Newberry beats Tusculum, LR, and Brevard
C-N beats Brevard, Tusculum, Mars Hill
Mars Hill loses at LR, beats Tusculum, and loses at CN.

Five teams at 5-2. Seems very unlikely, but you never know what can happen in this league.

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(In order of time)
Newberry (4-3, 2-2 SAC) @ Tusculum (2-5, 1-2 SAC)
1:30 p.m. - Greenville, Tenn.
SAC Members Picks = NC (10) over TC (4)
Spread = NEW (-4.5)
Last meeting (@NEW 2011) = Newberry 42, Tusculum 41

Newberry begins a brutal stretch during the final four weeks, with three coming on the road starting with the Pioneers. The Wolves took advantage of four straight home games to start season but have stumbled three weeks in a row. The 'Neers were blown out Saturday in Hickory and are one loss away from clinching their third losing season in the last four. A loss is a loss, no matter how you look at it but it can never be fun taking one 51-6.

Tusculum has produced as good of an offense in the past three years as anyone in the country but something is out of sorts. Just 16 points during their last two games puts even more pressure on the defense. Newberry is equally frustrated to be 2-2 in the SAC and to have the North Greenville loss on their resume. This game will tell us a lot about the mindset and mentality of both teams.

The key for the Wolves will to get the running game going again. They have battled injuries at the RB spot and are a much different team when they can keep it on the ground more. WT Murden is a great running quarterback and really adds a different element to their game. They got down in the second to Wingate, forcing him to throw too much. In wins he is attempting 28, losses 42. Tusuclum has given up over 200 yards rushing in every game but one and look for the Wolves to get the ground game going again. The Pioneers have struggled to begin the game as well, losing their last three when the opponent scores first. To have a chance they need a couple of early scores to get their swagger back. I've been back and forth on this game all week but I think Newberry emerges and feels that they still have so much to play for and gets back on track.

Prediction: Newberry 31, Tusculum 21


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Catawba (3-4, 1-3 SAC) @ Wingate (4-3, 3-1 SAC)
1:30 p.m. - Wingate, N.C.
SAC Members Picks = WU (12) over CC (2)
Spread = WIN (-6.5)
Last meeting (@CAT, 2011) = Wingate 51, Catawba 41

Wingate returns home after finishing the SAC road portion of their season at 3-0. Three home games in conference play remain for the Bulldogs along with a road trip to NGU. And yes they played three straight on road last year to finish season. Catawba has been heading the opposite direction at 1-3 in the league. This has been a really interesting series over the past decade or so. From the debacle at the end of the 2005 game, to Bunn catching 4 TDs in 2010 and then of course the 51-41 shootout last season.

Catawba and Wingate have both been inconsistent this season at times but the Bulldogs have found ways 3 out of 4 while Catawba has not. Catawba will need a huge day on special teams. They lead the SAC and rank 7th in the nation in kick returns and giving BJ Sherrill and the Indian offense a shorter field to work with will be huge against the tough Wingate defense. The Bulldogs will look to continue their 1st ranked passing attack against the league's worst pass defense. Wingate threw for 568 against Mars Hill when they were number one in pass D, so who knows what Nallenweg and company can do against the Indians.

This game comes down to which offense can be more consistent throughout the 60 minutes. Catawba, like WU, made a good run at Mars Hill in the fourth but came up short. Wingate is undefeated when leading at the half and the Indians can't afford to get down early again.

Prediction: None (calling game)


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Carson-Newman (4-2, 2-2 SAC) @ UNC Pembroke (5-2, IND)
2 p.m. - Pembroke, N.C.
SAC Members Picks = CN (13) over UNCP (1)
Spread = C-N (+3.5)
Last meeting (@CN 2011) = UNC Pembroke 42, Carson-Newman 14

The Eagles have quietly moved to 4-2 overall and have an opportunity to make a run at a championship and even playoffs. They clearly need help but a win this week could help weed out another possible playoff contender. UNCP is coming off a 12 point loss in a game which they gave up a kickoff return for a TD and a blocked punt return for a TD. Pretty big difference in a 12 point game for a Brave team that was looking to go to 6-1.

The Eagles have not fared well in the last two years against the Braves. 42-12 in 2011, and 30-7 in 2010 have made this a game Carson-Newman undoubtedly circled on the calendar. The Eagles have enjoyed great balance on offense with Haywood, Baker, and Douglas all having solid seasons. They have been playing much better defense as well, which they will need down the stretch to make a run.

Charleston was able to go for 228 rushing against the Braves and that has to be some concern for UNCP with the veer coming in. The 2012 Eagle veer is much better than in 2010 and 2011 and should help C-N get back an edge in this series. The Eagle secondary has been the problem in the past two meetings and will be the key Saturday. Brave QB Luke Charles threw for 394 last year in Mossy Creek. Both teams have a lot on the line and the Braves are looking to keep their perfect 2012 record against the SAC but none of them have been convincing. Eagles get the SAC on the board.

Prediction: Carson-Newman 34, UNC Pembroke 31

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Mars Hill (5-2, 4-0 SAC) @ Lenoir-Rhyne (4-2, 2-1 SAC)
2 p.m. - Hickory, N.C.
SAC Members Picks = LR (8) over MH (6)
Spread = LRU (-4.5)
Last meeting (@MHC 2011) = Lenoir-Rhyne 51, Mars Hill 21

Without a doubt, the game of the year in the SAC. More than likely another game will take that spot in the coming weeks but this is the one so far. This game can send us into a free-for-all over the final three weeks or put the Lions one win away from clinching, at worst a share of the title. What a scene it will be at Moretz.

I hear coaches many times say they usually don't base much off last years game just because of different locations, personnel and situations but this game is almost identical. Mars Hill was 4-0 last year with Lenoir-Rhyne 2-1. Substitute Shaikel Davis for Randolph for MHC and Ruben Haynes for Herron for LR and you have the same game. And the difference makers become those two players in 2012. Herron carved up the Lion defense with the Bears rushing for over 400 yards, while Randolph managed just 48 yards rushing. Pretty amazing he still managed to win Harlon Hill with a 48 yard game. Shows how great he was rest of way.

The Lions must establish a running game with Davis to open things up for Richt. They can not afford to be one dimensional. Richt has been outstanding the past two weeks and we will see if they Lions will have to rely on his arm again. If Davis can get going, then the Lions will be in this game. As mentioned, the LR bear-bone offense is clicking on all cylinders at the perfect time. Haynes has plenty of weapons and gets to play the Lions in front of his home crowd. How much can Mars Hill learn from the film in 2011 when they were beaten by 30 at home? Will Lenoir-Rhyne be able to move the ball on offense against a Lion defense that is much better than the 2011 version. Any time you can get an option team early in the year, it's a benefit because they haven't hit their groove yet. Unfortunately for the Lions, its late October and it appears the Bears are in that groove. Couple that with the home field advantage and it's enough to push the Bears into a share for first.

Prediction: Lenoir-Rhyne 42, Mars Hill 28

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Brevard (1-6, 0-4 SAC) @ North Greenville (1-6, NO CONFERENCE)
2:30 p.m. - Tigerville, S.C.
SAC Members Picks = BC (8) over NGU (6)
Spread = Pick 'em
Last meeting (@BC 2011) = North Greenville 36, Brevard 6

Brevard looks to win their second game in a row, traveling down to play a fellow 1 win team in North Greenville. It is all about playing spoiler and playing for pride the rest of the way for both of these teams. The win over Southern Virginia was impressive but SVU is a NAIA school and nothing to base a season on. The Tornados need this game against a struggling North Greenville team to head in the right direction for the end of this season and into next year.

The Tornados benefit from the Crusaders playing the other two SAC option teams during the past three weeks. That should be all the film they are watching this week. How were the Eagles and Bears able to exploit them for 52 points each? The personnel is different but the Tornados have talent and speed with it coming down to flat out execution. The successful Brevard teams in the past were able to execute much better than this years version. The SVU game obviously will give Brevard the confidence to build off of it.

Having said that, the Brevard defense will ultimately win this game for Brevard. The offense can score against the Crusaders but the BC defense must force a few turnovers and give the offense short fields. If this game had been earlier in the season before the SVU win, then I may have taken the Crusaders. But the Tornados tasted victory, have the blueprint and win their second straight.

Prediction: Brevard 28, North Greenville 21

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Updated 10-19-2012 at 05:36 PM by Ryan Brown

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