This is the week where about half the Southeastern Conference has a so-called cupcake for an opponent. The reason for that is the SEC doesn’t allow a team to have an open date before its last game, which is usually against a rival, such as Alabama vs. Auburn.
Thus, Alabama will be playing Charleston Southern at 3 p.m. CST Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium. And some other teams will have games against teams that should be easily defeated.
One person who is steadfast against FBS teams such as Alabama playing against FCS teams (the former Division II in NCAA play) such as Charleston Southern is Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban. Playing games against other FBS teams, Saban said, “is better for the fans. There would be more games of interest and people would be more excited about coming to the games. The competition would be better for the players. And I think it would give you a little better idea of who the best teams are, at least to some degree.
“There's not really parity between [scheduling in] conferences in college football. It's not like the NFL. In the NFL you play all kinds of NFL teams and you rotate the schedule around.
“You probably lose more games that way but then maybe you could lose two games and still get in the playoffs. I just think it would really be better for the fans and the players.”
Saban understands why Alabama is playing Charleston Southern. “We don’t have a lot of choices,” he said. “It's not like going into a restaurant and getting a menu and saying 'Okay, we can play these 24 different teams. Which one do you want to play?' Most of the time, we're bargaining and begging to get anybody to play us. So we don't always have a lot of choice, especially lately, since we went to 14 teams in the league. It's sort of put the SEC schedule back a little bit in terms of when we got it so we knew when to fill in. Those things have been challenges for us in scheduling. We're going to continue to do the best we can to try to get the best opponents, but we don't always have a lot of choice."
Lest anyone think that Charleston Southern is way beneath Alabama, Saban didn’t even wait for a question that might suggest that when he met with sportswriters this week. As is his wont, he erected a straw man to tear down. He went back to a 2011 game in which Alabama defeated Georgia Southern, 45-21, en route to the national championship.
He said (WARNING: INAPPROPRIATE LANGUAGE), “"You all may be taking the week off this week, but I'm not. A lot of people take a lot of things for granted, and I get asked questions like 'Well, how important is it for the young guys to get to play this week?'. Well how in the hell do you know they're gonna get to play? What makes you think that you can just assume that they're gonna get to play? Because you're assuming that the other team isn't very good? They do have a Division I quarterback, he plays like Division I quarterback. They're very, very productive on offense and they do a great job of executing what they, and if we don't play good against them -- y'all don't remember the Georgia Southern game, do you?
"I don't think we had a guy on that field that didn't play in the NFL and about 4-5 of them were first-round draft picks, and I think that team won a national championship but I'm not sure. And they run through our ass like shit through a tin horn, man, and we could not stop them. We could not stop them. Could not stop them. Because we couldn't get a look in practice, we didn't practice it right, and everybody said the same thing in that game. Y'all took a week off. This wasn't important, so it's not important to anybody else.
“It's gotta be important to the players and it's gotta be important to us.
"Did anybody see (the Georgia Southern) game? You saw that game? I think we'd given up like 300 yards rushing the whole season in 10 games. That's like 30 yards a game. And all anybody wanted to talk about was how dominant the front was and how nobody could run against us. They got 300 yards rushing in one game."
In addition to Alabama hosting Charleston Southern, there are other SEC teams with very difficult assignments.
LSU is on a two-game losing streak and headed to Ole Miss. Mississippi State will try to rebound from its pounding at the hands of Bama while going to one of the hot teams in the league, Arkansas.
Our Almost Perfect Picks Department should do pretty well on some of these games, but others will have them sweating into their pocket protectors.
For the year, the APP now is 70-22 in picking SEC winners and 52-29 against the over/under (predicted number of points to be scored by both teams), but only 37-45 vs. the spread, or the line, which is the number of points by which a team is favored.
This Week’s Picks (based on newspaper accounts of the line and the over/under):
Florida Atlantic (2-8) at Florida (9-1, 7-1 in SEC games), Noon EST (11 a.m. central time) on SEC Network (Florida favored by 31 1/2, over/under 46 1/2) – Alabama hopes to meet an 11-1 Florida in this year’s SEC Championship Game, but before that both teams have work to do. The Gators might be looking ahead to rival Florida State, but it won’t matter this week. Florida 35, Florida Atlantic 10.
The Citadel (7-3) at South Carolina (3-7, 1-7), Noon EST (11 a.m. central time) on SEC Alternate (no line) – So who is the cupcake here? South Carolina was so disappointing that the self-proclaimed Ball Coach quit on his team midway through the season. No one can tell if it helped or hurt as the Gamecocks have been limp for months. South Carolina 24, The Citadel 7.
LSU (7-2, 4-2) at Ole Miss (7-2, 4-2), 2:30 p.m. CST on CBS (Ole Miss favored by 4, o/u 56) – It is not unusual for teams that play Alabama (and particularly teams that get unexpectedly romped by the Tide) to have a hangover and lose the next week. LSU has now lost two in a row and has its back against the wall to not make it a three-game losing streak. A few weeks ago Alabama fans were counting on LSU to beat Ole Miss. LSU 31, Ole Miss 24.
Idaho (3-7) at Auburn (5-5, 2-5), 3 p.m. CST on SEC Network Alternate (Auburn favored by 33 1/2, o/u 63) – Although this has been a disappointing season from the Auburn perspective (delightful for some others), the Tigers have a bowl bid on the line against Idaho. It will be interesting to see which quarterback, Heisman Trophy candidate Jeremy Johnson or the other one, delivers the goods. Auburn 49, Idaho 10.
Mississippi State (7-3, 3-3) at Arkansas (6-4, 4-2), 6 p.m. CST on ESPN (Arkansas favored by 4, o/u 58 – See LSU. Mississippi State Coach Dan Mullen brought in 10 of his old high school teammates to see the Bulldogs against Alabama. They saw a good football team. Mullen will see another good one this week. Arkansas 27, Mississippi State 21.
Georgia Southern (7-2) at Georgia (7-3, 5-3), 7 p.m. EST (6 p.m. central) on ESPNU (Georgia favored by 13 1/2, o/u 50 1/2) – Georgia Coach Mark Richt could borrow Saban’s speech as he prepares for Georgia Southern. Richt is probably off the hot seat after last week’s win over Auburn in Auburn, but he still doesn’t want to be comparing his defense to a tin horn after this game. Georgia 34, Georgia Southern 17.
Tennessee (6-4, 3-3) at Missouri (5-5, 1-5), 6:15 p.m. CST on ESPN2 (Tennessee favored by 8, o/u 42 1/2) – Tennessee had high hopes of being competitive in the SEC, perhaps in the nation, this year, but the Vols are probably a year away. Tennessee is bowl eligible, and Missouri needs a win to get there. The Tigers showed a lot of spunk against BYU last week as Mizzou plays its final home game for Coach Gary Pinkel. Missouri 21, Tennessee 17.
Texas A&M (7-3, 3-3) at Vanderbilt (4-6, 2-4), 6:30 p.m. CST on SEC Network (Texas A&M favored by 6 1/2, o/u 43) – Some look at it as the unstoppable force (Aggies offense) vs. immoveable object (Vandy defense), but switch it around and it’s the stoppable force (Vandy O) vs. moveable object (A&M D). Texas A&M 31, Vanderbilt 21.
UNC Charlotte (2-8) at Kentucky (4-6, 2-6), 7:30 p.m. EST (6:30 central time) on SEC Network Alternate (Kentucky favored by 24, o/u 55 1/2) – Kentucky needs to win this game and the final game against Louisville to be bowl eligible, and the Wildcats should be able to do it. Of course, Kentucky should have been able to beat Vanderbilt last week to sew that up. Kentucky 42, UNC Charlotte 10.
Charleston Southern (9-1) at Alabama (9-1, 6-1), 3 p.m. CST on SEC Network (no line) – The guy in the Million Dollar Band who plays the tin horn will be particularly interested in how the Crimson Tide’s defense holds up against the option game of the Buccaneers. Assuming the Bama starters all fight and scratch and claw to the final horn (not the tin one), the Tide should be able to escape. Alabama 49, Charleston Southern 0.