MO: What a weird season – despite its being a mighty blow to our bowl chances for '05, I wasn't really all the disappointed about the USC game. I'm disappointed in the way the team played, sure, but even though I picked Vanderbilt to win, I knew it was a good we had a good possibility of losing. That's much different from the Ole Miss or the Arkansas game, where I was very confident in our chances, but didn't get the results I know we should've had, esp. in the fact that both games were close. This week, we're walking into a land mine – favored by 10 on the road against a winless Duke team. That pick comes at the bottom of the page, but first, here's what's going on around the rest of the league!
JW: Is the SEC the only conference that has more than one meaningful game this week? Is there really any doubt it's the best conference in college football, from top to bottom? Any non-SEC fanboys/fangirls can kindly send their flames to [Mike's e-mail address removed for security reasons]. As per usual, this week brings some quality SEC matchups, but also games such as Louisiana-Monroe at Arkansas. Well, they can't all be good. Vanderbilt continues to drive me nuts, and while it's certainly not healthy, there's a certain comfort that comes along with it. Sure, I'd love to see some consistency, but I remember last year when we were undefeated and discussing the possibilities of the Cotton Bowl, I almost felt lost - I had no clue what to do with myself. While I was inconsolable after the MTSU loss, I have to admit that I was much more comfortable in that role...kind of like things were as they should be again. Look at what you've done, Vanderbilt...you've made me certifiably insane! Speaking of insanity, let's check out our picks...
Auburn @ Ole Miss
JW: Auburn rolls into Oxford to face an already struggling Ole Miss team that is now dealing with some major dismissals and suspensions. Sure, Auburn might be a little banged-up itself, with some key players still recovering from injuries, but as the Tulane game showed us, that's not enough to slow down the Tigers. Arkansas rolled all over Ole Miss last week at home, only allowing a field goal, and I imagine Auburn will be able to do close to the same this weekend, albeit in Oxford. Every time I look at how badly Ole Miss is doing this year, I can't help but be really disappointed at how Vandy managed to find some way to lose to the Rebels, despite being the better team (yes, Vanderbilt has better players) and dominating almost every statistical category. I'm really looking forward to the point where the 'Dores can consistently beat up on inferior teams, even in the SEC. Hopefully that day will come soon. Anyway, I like Auburn here by a solid 24 points.
MO: The last time the Rebels hosted a top 10 team, they put up a good show against Georgia, losing 14-9. Don't look anything like that to happen here – Bama's just too good of a team and has to keep pace with Arkansas if they want any chance of going to Atlanta in December. The Tigers have done well since their only loss, beating Florida and just plain pasting Tulane. Look for another stomp job this week, as it's War Eagle to the tune of a 32 point victory.
Florida International @ Alabama
MO: If FIU wasn't a bad team before the fight, think about how bad it must be with 18 players absent from today's game after the brawl with Miami (that's 2 kicked from the team, the rest suspended indefinitely)? Odds are, it wouldn't have made much difference in today's game, especially with Alabama coming off a tough loss in Knoxville where they had the win in hand late into the fourth quarter. In the end, I think everything clicks for the Tide here and they go on to win by 42.
JW: Yeah, an angry Alabama team at home + a bad team decimated by suspensions/dismissals = blowout. If I were FIU, I might consider a forfeit, because, honestly, there isn't much to do in Tuscaloosa, particularly if you're on the visiting team. Alabama can easily name its own score here, and after pulling a number out of an old Bear Bryant hat, they'll decide to win by 38.
Kentucky @ Mississippi State
JW: So, either beating Georgia isn't nearly the big deal that people thought it was, or Mississippi State is finally figuring out how to play football. It's hard to say, but I imagine the Bulldogs are actually finding a little bit of spark - maybe motivated by the fact that the their rival to the north is ripe for an Egg Bowl loss in November. Georgia fans must have been ridiculously relieved when Charles Johnson came up with that fumble at the end of the game, while State fans had to have been sorely disappointed. Kentucky's only SEC win came against Ole Miss, but they put a bit of a scare into South Carolina. WIll they be taking the Bulldogs seriously enough, with a Georgia team ripe for the picking just around the corner? They're also probably still smarting from the beating they took from LSU last week in Baton Rouge. Conventional wisdom and probably a good deal of logic says that the Wildcats are the better team and will pull out the win, but I'm in a feisty mood, and I think the Bulldogs are slowly improving. They're no SEC powerhouse by any means, but I think they are showing some small sign of life. The game will be close from start to finish, but I'm going to say that Mississsippi State pulls off the upset, finally giving the fans that still bring themselves to show up to Davis Wade Stadium something to cheer about. Bulldogs by 3.
MO: It's hard for me to think of this game without getting a look of disgust on my face. I just can't find any redeeming qualities in the matchup other than someone could finally get a win over a non-directional school. Both teams' fans I'm sure expected this to be an easy victory before the season, but now it's in doubt for both teams. I was impressed with how well the Bulldogs did at Georgia (remember, this is a Bulldog team that lost to Tulane), but I don't last week as a "turn the corner" moment. For college football's sake, I hope it's a short game, and I'll take Kentucky to win by 3.
Georgia @ Florida
MO: Here's a toast to the Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in the World – it has easily sport's longest name that is completely unassociated with a football game. Well done, boys. With a bye week standing between them and a tight loss to Auburn, the Gators need a convincing win to show the pollsters that they're not out of the title race just yet. Georgia is hurting coming into this game, having barely beaten Ole Miss, given up 51 to Tennessee, being upset 24-22 on their Homecoming by Vanderbilt, and narrowly avoiding defeat at the hands of woeful Mississippi St. Their offense just isn't clicking, and it's not going to find its tempo anytime this season. This is Florida's game to win, and they can pretty much name the score. I won't go that far, but I will say they win by 21.
JW: I'd like to also recognize the Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in the World, if for no other reason than that Georgia's president doesn't want me to. Regardless of how badly Georgia has been playing lately (and believe me, they've been playing pretty badly), this game is usually a good one. I think Georgia might be able to put up some offense, much like they did against Tennessee, but I still believe that Florida is just too good a team for the Bulldogs to overcome. Florida still has a lot to prove, and what better way to do it than at a marquee game like (ahem) The Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in the World? Gator fans, if they can remember it at all, will come out of this one happy, as the Gators roll to a 24-point victory.
LA-Monroe @ Arkansas
JW: LA-Monroe continues its semi-annual "SEC Punching Bag Tour," this year with stops in Tuscaloosa, Fayetteville, and Lexington. Do we really expect the results here to be much different than when Bama beat them 41-7 back in September? Sure, they have some gut-wrenching close losses on their 1-6 record, but seriously, those close losses came to teams like Troy, Arkansas State, and Florida Atlantic. Arkansas can sleepwalk through this one, and I refuse to give this game any more space on the page. The Razorbacks run away with this one seven minutes into the ballgame, and win by a comfortable 30-point margin, held in check only because the starters came out early in the third quarter.
MO: You know, with Arkansas starting a freshman quarterback, anything can happen. Louisiana Monroe is actually an unrated team, and, um…. BWAHAHAHAHA!! Man, I just can't picture Arkansas having any trouble in this game and still hold a straight face. Since beating Auburn, the Razorbacks have outscored their two opponents 101-10. I can't see anything stopping that momentum, so I'll take the average and say it's a 46-point win (51-5) for the Razorbacks.
Miami @ Georgia Tech
MO: We're hitting the non-conference games early thanks to a couple intriguing games in the SEC. The ACC slate is headlined this week by an interesting matchup featuring a Miami team that for once is looking up to a Georgia Tech team that has surpassed most everyone's expectations for the season. With losses only to Notre Dame and Clemson (both one-loss teams with BCS bowl game aspirations (edit: Clemson can now scratch those hopes thanks to Virginia Tech)), the Yellow Jackets have shown that they have what it takes to win big games this season. Miami, on the other hand, hasn't beaten a single ranked team this season and has struggled on the road, losing to Louisville by 24 and nearly coughing up their last game to, of all teams, Duke. I like Tech here to win and win big, Ramblin' to a 24-point Wreck of a win.
JW: Miami was underperforming before the FIU fight, and while they're probably getting most of the suspended players back (yeah, suspending players for one game against Duke is a real harsh punishment), you have to imagine that there are still some problems on that team. The team might get even classier with the return of Ryan Moore, who was suspended indefinitely back in August for kicking a woman's car door, grabbing her by the neck, and pushing her down. They sure know how to recruit 'em down in Miami. Tech, on the other hand, is motivated by their chances of actually winning the ACC this year, and I imagine they won't let Miami stay in their way. The Jackets are a very good team, and they'll prove it once again this weekend in Atlanta, coming away with the 14-point victory. Now we can start taking wagers on how much longer Larry Coker has in Miami!
Penn State @ Purdue
JW: The lack of meaningful games not in the SEC leads to a tough job of picking some national games that would be worth looking at. This game caught my eye, simply because the teams appear to be pretty evenly matched and could put up a good game. After all, it's more fun to read about a toss-up game than it is to read about who Ohio State or Michigan are going to destroy this week. Purdue looked pretty good to start the season, going on a 4-0 tear, but then it hit some legitimate teams and has since gone 1-3 in the last four games. Penn State, on the other hand, has been pretty evenly distributing its wins and losses, with its longest winning streak at two, beating Northwestern and Minnesota back-to-back. Since the Nittany Lions beat Illinois last week, this pattern would suggest that Purdue gets the win. But you expect more analysis than that, right? Maybe I shouldn't actually ask that question. Both teams have comparable wins against the same teams, but I have to say that it looks like Purdue is headed down, while Penn State is holding steady. This should actually be a pretty good game, but I'm going to go with JoePa and company once again, and say they pull this one off by 7.
MO: Purdue fans are really hungry for a meaningful win, something that's been in short supply since Drew Brees left a few years back. At least, that's what I've been hearing on my local talk radio this week. A win Saturday would give the Boilermakers a bowl-eligible season, but that won't cut it in West Lafayette. Unfortunately, neither will their play against the Nittany Lions. Too much talent and too god a coach in JoePa prevent Purdue for winning this one, as Penn State returns home victorious, winning by 21.
Oklahoma @ Missouri
MO: It's a familiar scene for this game, really. The one-loss, nationally ranked team is favored at home against a team that has struggled to live up to the expectations set by its fans. Here's the twist in the story – Missouri is the favored team this year. What's crazy is that despite having a better record, (7-1 rather than OU's 5-2), Missouri is ranked below Oklahoma in the standings. Aside from a close loss at home, Missouri has steamrolled over most of its opponents – of their seven wins, all have been by double-digits, and four have been by at least 20 points. Oklahoma's had a good season, but isn't where they want to be, thanks in part to the preseason dismissal of a starting QB, and I don't think the season gets any better this week. Missouri keeps rolling through their magical season, lighting up the scoreboard early and holding off a late OU charge, winning by 6.
JW: Oklahoma's defense was able to respond well to the loss of some serious offensive power in Adrian Peterson last week, holding Iowa State to just 9 points. But MIssouri has an offense that can score some serious points. I honestly think Oklahoma is ranked so high more out of tradition than anything else, particularly with the loss of Peterson, and I believe Missouri is solidly the better team. Mizzou's defense might be lacking one of its best players, but I still think the Tigers can pull off the victory in the friendly confines of Faurot field. Missouri by 10.
Tennessee @ South Carolina
JW: Maybe if I stopped reveling in UT's miscues, such as their almost-loss to Air Force, or their actual loss to Florida, the Football Gods would return the good karma by letting the Volunteers lose more. Look, it sounds good in my head, ok? I still don't know what to make of this year's UT team. I mean, that big game against Georgia is looking less and less big, now that "lowly" Vanderbilt beat the Bulldogs, and MSU took them down to the wire. Sure, they beat a mediocre Alabama team by a field goal, and they have that big win against California to start the season, but I'm still not a complete believer (probably because of my black-and-gold colored glasses). Of course, the fact of the matter remains that they're 6-1 and ranked in the top ten. Playing in Columbia will probably give them a good test, as I'm sure Spurrier is planning to pull out all the stops and keep his team's momentum going. Spurrier's always been a thorn in Tennessee's side, so as much as don't like the guy, at least I can appreciate him for that. South Carolina has a good record on paper and is a pretty good team, but they still don't have any impressive SEC wins this season. As much as I hate to admit it, the Volunteers are just too good compared to the Gamecocks this year, and you know they really want to avenge last year's loss in Knoxville. Look for Syvelle Newton to finally meet a defense that can shut him down, and for Ainge to lead UT to victory by 13 points.
MO: I'm not sure – I've learned to never count out a Spurrier team against UT. If he can beat UT when he coached at Duke, there's nothing in my mind that says he can't when this one either, especially with a revitalized Gamecock team. Even though Tennessee has rebounded nicely from last year's disappointing 5-6 season (including a 28-24 loss to Vanderbilt in Knoxville), they're ripe for an upset, and I know that Steve's itching to oblige them. Part of me says that there's something about Tennessee that Steve can exploit (a somewhat weak Georgia team scored over 30 on them, after all), while the other part says that we have yet to see the best of the South Carolina team. I think that Newton runs wild on the Tennessee offense, and Steve wins another shootout against Fulmer, say by 10.
Vanderbilt @ Duke
MO: This Commodore team is an enigma. After fumbling away a 400-yard performance at Ole Miss, they fight for a historic win at Georgia. They then followed that victory by getting blown out at home against a rising South Carolina team. They've played better on the road than they have at home, and, though a young team, have options at both QB and running back that a lot of people (though not necessarily the coaches) think need to be explored. They're heading to Durham to face a winless Duke team that is better than advertised – they narrowly lost to a Wake Forest team that only has one loss on the season, and just missed beating a depleted Miami team last week. That said, it's Duke. DUKE!! A frustrated Commodore team should come out to play this week and hold down the Devils' offense while the offense has an easier time finding a rhythm, with a few stars rising above the competitors in their position. The only problem VU may have is looking ahead to next week's revenge game against Florida, but I think the whuppin' that South Carolina put on the team last week will eliminate any possibility of that happening. While Duke is primed to pull off an upset, I think the ‘Dores will head home victorious, winning by 13.
JW: I wish I could give up on picking the Vanderbilt games, but I know our tens of readers would be sorely disappointed if I did so, if for no other reason than the satisfaction they get in watching me pick incorrectly almost every time. I pick the Commodores to beat Ole Miss - they lose. I think Georgia's just too good to win against - not only does Vandy win, but Georgia decides it's not really that good in the first place. I get all excited and figure the 'Dores finally break that streak against Spurrier - Newton and Rice say otherwise. If I was a more superstitious person (I actually am), I'd pick Duke, just so Vanderbilt can win. But I'm not going to - the team's just going to have to win without my assistance! Vanderbilt goes into Durham to take on maybe the best zero-win team in the country, and while the Commodores traditionally underperform as the favorite, they also have done pretty well against Duke as of late. I've generally stayed out of the quarterback/running back debate down in Nashville, but I think Nickson and Jackson-Garrison can get this offense moving against Duke, and the defense can certainly shut them down. After all, this is the same defense that held Arkansas to 21 and Bama to 13, and even put up a respectable showing against Michigan. It's hard to say a game against Duke can be considered a statement game, but I think Vanderbilt can (and will) win this one decisively, giving at least one alum some irrational hope for the Florida game. Commodores by 17.