JW: Well, last week was a pretty fun (and successful) week for me. I was 12-1 outright, and 8-4 against the spread. This is all pretty impressive until you realize the number of unbalanced match-ups there were, and that my biggest statement, that PSU/ND was going to be a tight game that PSU wins, was a huge bust. Thanks, Brady Quinn. I'd also like to briefly lament the Air Force loss - while I would've been 11-2 had Air Force won, it would've been a small price to pay to see to Vols lose at home. Oh well...hopefully I'll get to see that this week. Here's to another great weekend!
MO: Oh, what might have been. After being called out for giving Air Force a shot against UT, I emerged from a great week with an 11-2 outright record (9-3 v. the spread). It was a fun week of football, what with VU playing well and the NFL getting underway after months and months of hype. The spotlight turns back to the college gridiron this week, though, with great games and conference match-ups with title implications aplenty. Enough banter – let's get to the football!
JW: I guess my trade-off for getting first crack at the best SEC match-up of the week (see LSU/Aub below) is that I also have to deal with the least intriguing games as well. Fair enough. First, let's get one thing out of the way – MSU will finally score, so we don't have to read another week of "Mississippi State hasn't scored a point in 2006." Really, couldn't we have waited for at least three shutout games to start rubbing salt in the wound? Anyway, the Bulldogs are bad. Real bad. But is Tulane worse? I think so….but not by much. Remember those intangibles Mike talked about last week for the Ohio State / Texas game? I'm going to make even more a mockery of that term and use it for what is easily the exact opposite of last week's #1/#2 match-up. State wins by 10, thanks to the cozy confines (and clanging cowbells) of Starkville – assuming any fans bother to show up.
MO: Losing 45-7 at Houston isn't going to build Tulane's confidence before going on the road to face an SEC opponent. While MSU hasn't done all that much, you know they've been waiting for the chance to show that they actually can indeed put points on the board. Being at Starkville (where the cure is always more… cowbell) won't hurt their cause either. Let's say MSU by 24.
Louisiana-Monroe @ Alabama (-24.5)
MO: After a tough win against VU, Bama gets to host yet another game, this time against a true cupcake. I have a feeling the Tide players are going to get a fire under their feet, and we should see the comfortable margin that most Bama were expecting last week about seven days late. Bama by 27.
JW: Oh, how I feel for the UL-dashes. Many an SEC team has had a great time thrashing them for four quarters, usually to take out their aggression on having sub-par games before. Bama got a scare with Vandy that they (hopefully) won't soon forget, but will probably channel that into a big win here. Tide by 30.
Wofford @ South Carolina
JW: I seem to have some vague memory of Steve Spurrier rebounding after a disappointing loss by beating a really bad team at home the next week. Something about 71-13…but it's almost like that memory is blocked from my mind. But I digress. South Carolina can't be happy after being shut out by Georgia. The Gamecocks' offense finally gets into a rhythm (that it will continue at least through the FAU game next week) and destroys the Terriers (seriously, Terriers?) by, oh, let's say….38.
MO: Who-fford? I might have thought this would a decent squash type of game, but then the Gamecocks had to let Spurrier (and my pick!) down by not scoring any points against Georgia last week. The strongest heat in the SEC will be on a presumably re-tooled South Carolina offense, and I pity the opponents he gets to show off against. When's the last time a Div. 1A team scored 100 in football? I'm going to use a painfully recognizable spread, but I think Spurrier might actually shoot for said century mark on Saturday. Darth Visor by 58.
Ole Miss @ Kentucky (-3.5)
MO: Interesting game, even if it's pitting two lower-echelon SEC teams against each other. Ole Miss comes off being stomped by Missouri, while UK comes off a stomping of Texas State. The game is at UK, which is probably the only reason the Wildcats are favored, but I think Ole Miss has a slightly better team. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt, and will pick the Rebels in a back-and-forth battle, say by 6.
JW: I agree that Ole Miss probably has the slightly better team, but I'm not sure if they'll show it this early on. They squeaked by Memphis and got destroyed by Mizzou. Honestly, this is anyone's game, but I have a suspicion that the Rebels are going to be demoralized from last week, and UK will be looking to steal an elusive non-Vanderbilt (you know it's true) SEC win. It'll be close, but in the end, my mom (an Ole Miss grad) will be calling for Coach O's head. Wildcats by 7.
UAB @ Georgia (-18)
JW: Georgia, particularly their defense, looked impressive last week, handing everyone's favorite visor-wearer a shutout. The Bulldogs seem to be on track to be 6-0 heading into a home match-up with Tennessee. UAB might be scrappy (ask Oklahoma), but Georgia handles this one with relative ease. Ho-hum. Georgia by 24.
MO: I can't really get excited about this one, even though UAB did look good against Oklahoma. UAB had a ho-hum win hosting E. Carolina last week, but UGa put the screws to South Carolina, shutting out what was supposed to be a high-powered offense. I'm even boring myself just writing about the game – let's say Georgia by 17 before I put everyone (myself included) to sleep.
MO: We all know that Michigan has great run defense – we saw that in Week 1. The problem is that the Irish are pass-heavy and have the QB and receivers to be able to handle such an unbalanced slate of play-calling. I really like ND here, not because of their performance against Penn State last week (though that didn't hurt), but because they've still got something to prove in this game, and they know that Michigan is gunning for them. Another great game, but ND pulls away late and wins by 10.
JW: This is always a fun game, and the rivalry between these two teams has gotten pretty intense. However, after last week's game, I'm wary to ever pick against Notre Dame again. Michigan's a tough team, but I just don't see them on the same level as Notre Dame. It might be a good game for a while, but it won't be that close in the end. Look for Brady Quinn to have another impressive game, and the Irish win by 14.
JW: I'm glad USC got a bye week last week – beating Arkansas 50-14 must have been exhausting on their players. I mean, I'd get pretty sore too if I had to celebrate six touchdowns in one game! Nebraska might as well have had a bye week last week, beating Nicholls State 56-7. Needless to say, this game should give us a better feel of how good both these teams really are. Nebraska's good – but they're not in the same tier as USC. Trojans by 21.
MO: I'm gonna give Nebraska a little benefit of the doubt here. Granted both of their wins have been against poor teams, but they've had an extra week of game experience that USC hasn't had, which could be important for such a young Trojan team. Don't forget that the Husker head coach has led an Oakland Raider team to the Super Bowl (and look where they are without him). I'm still expecting Carroll to lead his team to victory, but wouldn't be surprised if the game ended up to be a nail-biter. I'll say the Men of Troy pull away late, winning by 10.
MO: After easy wins over UK and Temple (a feat Commodore fans hope to enjoy this season as well), Louisville gets their first test of the season when Miami rolls into town. The Hurricanes are coming off of a blowout of their own, beating FAMU by 41 points. I like Louisville's offense to pull them through in this one, but I'm not expecting anything north of 32 points – we can't forget that Miami has a rather respectable defense of their own. Let's say Louisville by 13.
JW: Miami has never lost to Louisville. Louisville hasn't lost in their home stadium for 13 straight games. Something's gotta give, and I think it's going to be the Miami defense. They won't be able to keep up with the Louisville attack, and their offense won't be able to make up the difference. It'll be close, but Louisville ends the winless streak, beating the 'Canes by 10.
Oklahoma @ Oregon (-4)
JW: Honestly, I think both these teams are overrated. Oregon needed a fake field goal and a botched field goal block to beat constant upset threat Fresno State by a touchdown last week, and Oklahoma got a pretty bad scare out of UAB and then went on to beat Washington by 17. Oregon seems to have an edge thanks to being at home (they're 4-0 against ranked non-conference opponents there), but their run defense is uglier than their uniforms. However, if they key in on Adrian Peterson, can Paul Thompson do enough to win it for the Sooners? I think so. I go with Oklahoma in a tight one, winning by 6.
MO: Oregon has given up 119.5 rushing yards per game against Stanford and Fresno St. While I know better than to sleep on Fresno, those numbers have to excite Adrian Peterson who still has to live up to LAST year's expectations. However, Oregon knows this and should key in on the run, and if they can do that, I think they've got a great shot (remember, Paul Thompson was the second string before Rhett Bomar had his DUI and was rightfully kicked from the team). This is Oregon's game to lose, but I think they'll hang on for a 3-point win.
Florida @ Tennessee (+3.5)
MO: So many interesting factors going into this one. Both teams are 2-0, but neither team has played anyone strong. The Vols came into the season with tempered expectations after a disappointing '05, but were excited after a win v. Cal. That all changed after narrowly beating Air Force at home last week. This week they announced the loss of two key defensive players for the season, something that could very well hurt them against pass-wacky Florida.
Florida has cruised to two easy victories and haven't been scored upon since 2:23 into the first quarter of Week 1's game v. So. Miss. This is their first road game of the season, but I'm not sure if their offense can be stopped by a defense that's two men down.
Here's the thing. Florida's coming into town at precisely the wrong week. You know that Fulmer has a fire under the feet of his team after the Air Force near-debacle, and losing those starters is just going to push the remaining players to play that much harder. Eric Ainge has surprised me with a great opening to the season, and could continue that this week. Take the over for sure, but I think that Florida is going to pull this out in a squeaker, and probably on the last drive of the game. I'll say Gators by 3 in what will be hands-down the game of the week.
JW: I think you're right about Florida coming into town at precisely the wrong week, but I think it's more the wrong week for UT than for Florida, mostly due to the defensive losses and close win last week. Vanderbilt and Air Force have shown that Neyland Stadium isn't as massive a home-field advantage as people might think, particularly when the Vols aren't playing at their best. Sure, they looked good against California, but they sure didn't look that great against Air Force. Of course, you expect the occasional scare, even when you're a really good team. So, did UT over-perform in week 1 and reveal its mediocrity in week 2, or are they an SEC contender who just had a brief slip-up after a big win? Yeah, I know, it could be somewhere in the middle, but that doesn't make for good sportswriting!
I think Florida has the guns to pull this one off. They have a stingy defense, and their offense is coming up against a depleted UT defense. UT might be motivated after last week, but with the way this rivalry is, I'm sure Florida's ready to play as well. This game should be a lot of fun to watch. I'm going with the Gators as well, but they'll cover. Florida by 13.
LSU @ Auburn (-3)
JW: Oh man, this game's gonna be fun. Yeah, I know what I said about hype last week (and don't remind me about the Penn State pick), but I think this game will live up to its billing. Auburn fans are no doubt hoping that maybe this year the stars are aligned for a BCS championship. Funny, that's probably what LSU fans are thinking as well. This is the first real test for either team, who steamrolled their first two opponents. Auburn appears to be worried about its defense coming together, which I can totally understand, considering they gave up two touchdowns to Washington State in a rout. See, if I was speaking that last sentence, it would've been with a sarcastic voice. Don't worry, Auburn fans, you probably won't have to rely on John Vaughn's foot this time around. Your defense is fine, and your Tigers (not the geaux kind) win by 13.
MO: There's a smattering of upset talk with LSU putting the hurt on ‘Zona last week, but let's face it – Arizona isn't all that great of a team this year. It's really hard to analyze the game since neither team has played anyone, but you have to look at the mindset of both teams as they come into it. LSU can easily play the "no respect" card since they're going against a much more bally-hooed Tiger team. Auburn can counteract that with the "Man, we really hate LSU" card, which in the SEC usually trumps everything. LSU charges a comeback late, but Auburn still wins with a nice 10-point cushion.
Arkansas @ Vanderbilt (+5.5)
MO: We'll end with the Commodores making their home opener against an interesting Arkansas team. The Hogs have not lived up to most expectations, losing to USC in Fayetteville by 36 followed by a win over Utah St., but only by 20. Vanderbilt is coming off of easily the hardest opening two games in the SEC: at Michigan and at Alabama, beating expectations in both, and actually having a shot (albeit a long one) to pull out a win in Tuscaloosa. Both teams should be highly motivated as Vandy looks for its first win and Arkansas looks to avenge last year's home loss to the ‘Dores.
Arkansas may look to put the game in the hands of the running backs, but a strong Commodore defense could very well hold them back this week. Vanderbilt needs to generate some offense this week, and a home crowd could very well will them to do so. A lot of things point to an Arkansas victory, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that VU wins this one with a breakout performance by Chris Nickson. I would imagine they're going give Steven Bright a much larger role in the offensive scheme that will net him a couple TD's. I think Arkansas' running backs keep this a close game, but I'm giving the game to VU outright, winning by 7.
JW: If Arkansas is favored in this game by more than a field goal and I were a betting man, I'd put the money on Vandy every time. It's going to be a tight game, and I'm going to have ulcers by the end of it, much like last year's game. Will Arkansas find a way to practically run circles around the 'Dores like they did last year, or will the much-improved Vanderbilt defense find a way to stop 'em? Arkansas hasn't looked pretty so far this season, but let's be honest - Vanderbilt has shown it still has a lot of work to do as well. I think the difference here is that Vanderbilt WILL improve over the course of the season, while Arkansas might stay stagnant. Will we have improved enough to start a winning streak against the Razorbacks? I think so. We have the defense, our offense is getting there (and will be helped by the Arkansas defense), and I don't stay up late nights worrying about the special teams anymore. I'm going with the 6-point Commodore win. Maybe I'll put my name in the running for the Arkansas coaching search.