VandyMania football expert Howell Peiser takes a look at the SEC matchups for this weekend.
PiRate Ratings for September 10 SEC Games
The Southeastern Conference race begins in earnest this weekend with three conference games on tap. Mississippi State visits Auburn. Will the Tigers rebound from a lackluster performance, or will the Bulldogs continue to gel like they did against an outmanned Murray State team?
South Carolina makes the short jog north to play between the hedges at Georgia. Can Steve Spurrier work his magic and crush the redcoat fans' hearts once again, or will Coach Richt's Dogs fricassee some chicken?
Vanderbilt ventures to Arkansas. When did Vandy last start a season with consecutive road wins? Did you say never? Well, they've only played consecutive road games to start a season three times. How about this one: when is the last time Vandy started a season 2-0 with one of those wins being a conference game on the road? It was 1961, when the Commodores beat West Virginia 16-6 at home then played at Georgia a week later and won 21-0. The season should have ended then, because Vandy dropped their final eight games, being outscored 214 to 58. Vandy would only win 10 of their next 65 games after leaving Athens with that shutout win.
Let's take a look at all the games involving SEC teams.
Idaho State @ Kentucky
Idaho State is a member of the Big Sky Conference in I-AA. I don't officially rank I-AA teams, but I can estimate the strengths of these teams by looking at statistical information and using a set formula to adjust it to a I-A schedule. That said, Idaho State is no pushover opponent. Kentucky better come ready to play, or else it could go down to the wire. If Kentucky plays with the same intensity
as they did in the second half against Louisville, they will win in a breeze. I don't think they will play that way, nor do I think they will underestimate their opponent. The K-Cats will win but not by enough points to please the fans.
PiRate Prediction: Kentucky 38 Idaho State 21
Louisiana Tech @ Florida
Before discussing this game, let me publicly laud Louisiana Tech for their generosity toward the Tulane football team. The Green Wave players begin classes in Ruston when the quarter starts Monday.
That said, the Bulldogs will have as much success against Florida as a real dog would have against a real hungry alligator. It won't be pretty. La. Tech's secondary will find out what happens when you spring a Leak. Look for the Gators to throw the ball for 300 or more yards and run the ball for another 150-200. Urban planning will be a success for two straight weeks.
The line for this game is 29 ½, which is too close to my ratings to recommend as a play. Florida could win by 40 points if the starters stay in long enough. On the other hand, should the starters get the second half off, Tech could stay within four touchdowns. Weather could be a factor in this one as well. The only possible play in my opinion is to take Florida as part of a 10 or 13-point teaser. At -19 ½ or -16 ½, Florida should cover with ease.
Also, taking Louisiana Tech at +42 ½ on that same 13-point teaser could give you half of your 4-game parlay.
PiRate Prediction: Florida 44 Louisiana Tech 14
Southern Mississippi @ Alabama
If you read my earlier piece this week, I mentioned a few system plays. In week two, when one team has a game under their belts, while the other team has yet to play, I like the team with the one-game experience. College teams tend to improve more between game one and game two more than at any other time during the season.
If Alabama's defense improves any more after last Saturday, I feel sorry for the remaining opponents on the Tide's schedule. Joe Kines just may be the Norm Chow of defense. This Tide team reminds me a little of Bear Bryant's teams of the early and mid-1960's.
Southern Mississippi has a stronger defense than offense. The Eagles may find themselves keeping the same number on their side of the scoreboard that was there when they arrived at the stadium. If it moves, it may move only once. The over/under for this game is a low 41 points. ‘Bama is favored by 11 ½ points, and the money line is -450/+350. Here's a game that has four possible plays. The strongest two plays in this game are Bama -1 ½ as part of a 10-point teaser or +1 ½ as part of a 13-point teaser, and under 41. Two other possibilities, albeit not as
"wise", are Bama -450 on the money line; and Bama -11 ½ straight up. Brodie Croyle should have a better outing this week than last week. Look for 250 yards passing, whereas USM will not top 250 yards total.
PiRate Prediction: Alabama 23 Southern Miss. 7
LSU @ Arizona State
How do you account for the intangibles that will affect this game? We are in uncharted water here (bad pun). LSU is at a large disadvantage having to alter their practice schedule; having to miss a game they were prepared to play; having to deal with the fates of their friends and loved ones; losing sleep; and now having to make an impromptu road trek over 1,000 miles west.
Meanwhile, Arizona State breezed to an easy win over Temple in Tempe. When a team wins that easily and stays at home, they almost always continue to play well. Every normal intangible favors the Sun Devils. On top of that, quarterback Sam Keller continued to perform like he did when thrust into action in the bowl game last year.
The one intangible that no point value can be determined is the emotional condition of the LSU players. They could be numb and not show up ready to play. They could be a bunch of caged Tigers thirsty for the blood of the first predator they see. They could be close to normal.
Let us not also forget that this is the first game in a new coaching regime. There are just too many intangibles, and it would be smart to leave this game alone. Let it serve as a case study. The following prediction is unofficial only with no intangible points (other than home field advantage) factored herein.
PiRate Prediction: Arizona State 24 LSU 22
Mississippi State @ Auburn
If Auburn loses again this Saturday, will Bobby Petrino get a phone call Sunday? No way, but a bunch of alumni might begin to forget 2004 and remember 2003 a little more. Coach Croom is slowly rebuilding the Mississippi State team. They aren't ready to win on the road against Auburn, but they should make this an entertaining game at least for a half.
Auburn lost to a legitimate top 20 team last week. They will not lose to the Maroons. The Tiger running game may not perform much better than last week, but the defense should be up to the challenge. The line is 14 ½, and I like this game as part of a 10 or 13-point teaser. Take Auburn at -4 ½ or -1 ½ points.
PiRate Prediction: Auburn 31 Mississippi State 12
South Carolina @ Georgia
Steve Spurrier thinks the only time one of his teams was a double-digit dog was when the Redskins played at Philadelphia. The Gamecocks are 18 point underdogs in Athens. Georgia held Boise State to 123 yards passing. I cannot see USC finding much more success. Against Central Florida, Carolina couldn't get into triple digits with their running game. I don't know what the all-time low total yardage figure for a Spurrier-coached team is, but I'd be willing to guess we will all know that answer by Saturday night.
Georgia has moved to the top of my SEC PiRate ratings. They actually improved to fifth best overall. Beating Boise State in a breeze and playing at home this week makes this game a partial-system pick. 18 points is a little too much for my liking, but eight or even five looks safe. Use Georgia in a 10 or 13-point teaser.
PiRate Prediction: Georgia 35 South Carolina 16
Vanderbilt @ Arkansas
The Commodores have a great deal going against them in this game. When a team wins big on the road, they usually play quite well in the next game only if it is at home. Going on the road a second straight week is draining.
Arkansas rushed for close to 500 yards against Missouri State (formerly Southwest Missouri). Much of those rushing yards came between the tackles, and more than half of that went off the left guard, with huge holes opened by Stephen Parker and Tony Ugoh. Meanwhile, Vandy had a hard time stopping the Wake Forest running game.
All hope is not lost here. A weak passing team threw the ball for 160 yards against the Hog secondary. Jay Cutler should beat that by at least 100 yards. At no point in last week's game was Arkansas quarterback Robert Johnson under any pressure to complete a pass; for the game, Arkansas only tallied 108 yards passing.
I cannot pick Vanderbilt to win this game, but I don't see a monumental blowout loss either. I think Arkansas will methodically grind out enough yardage to wear the Commodore defense down in the last 20-25 minutes of the game.
The line has moved back up to 10 points, which is still quite low for Vanderbilt in a conference road game when the other team doesn't have "Kentucky" on their uniforms. Arkansas at Even or as a 3-point dog looks too inviting. As of Thursday afternoon, 85% of all straight-up wagering on this game in Vegas is on Arkansas.
PiRate Prediction: Arkansas 34 Vanderbilt 20