Mike and Jay's College Picks

Mike O'Neill and Jay Williams provide us with their picks for this week's SEC and top national college football games.

JW: There are quite a few quality games this week, which made picking them lots of fun, even though it also means I'm most likely not going to do as well as I've done in the past.  I'm still second-guessing myself about the Vandy/Ole Miss pick, and will be even well after the game is over (no matter what the final outcome is).  I'd like to take this opportunity to point out one of the main reasons why I love college football much more than the NFL (which I also enjoy): the potential every week of upsets.  Let's face it - when a bad NFL team meets up with a good or great NFL team, the only question is how wide the margin of victory will be.  Steve Spurrier might have one day said "there are no Vanderbilts in the NFL," and while I agree with him, I don't think we agree with what he meant.  There are no Vanderbilts in the NFL, because generally, the teams you can count on beating never give you much of a fight.  On any given week in college football, you can see a winless team take an unbeaten team down to the wire, see a team with inferior talent put together a magical bowl run.  What do you see in the NFL?  The Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Titans (sorry, but you know it's true) losing week after week, occasionally winning a game against one of their fellow terrible teams.  For my money, college football will always be the most satisfying sport to follow.  Now, let's make some poorly-reasoned, short on analysis picks!

MO: I have to agree that there isn't anything like college football, but for other reasons, like the pageantry, the traditions and the unbridled and unconditional passion that fans have for their teams. But mostly, it has to be… the bands! And I can still remember the gameday mornings as a Spirit of Gold member. Nothing like slipping on a heavy, non-breathing wool jacket, stank from last week's afternoon game, after hours of pregame rehearsal, then stepping out into the warm Nashville afternoon sun to stand on metal bleachers for four hours. Ah, memories. As bad as it might sound, though, college football wouldn't be the same without the bands. That said, I'm happy making these picks from a nice, comfortable chair in the nice, cool A/C. Let's get to ‘em! 

West Virginia @ Mississippi State

MO:  I'll wager this looked like a much better game to West Virginia when they scheduled it years ago.  This is the SEC's shot to take at West Virginia this year to show what happens when a Big East power plays a team from a real football conference.  Unfortunately for the SEC, their representative is a team that's in the bottom of Div. 1 for most offensive categories.  I think the ‘Dawgs will hang tough for a quarter or two, but ultimately wilt in Starkville, losing to the Mountaineers by 24.

JW:  West Virginia likes to run.  Mississippi State is without its best defensive tackle.  Even if State can stop the run, the Mountaineers have a pretty good quarterback, Patrick White (Daphne High School, represent!), who's starting to catch his stride.  Starkville has been a very accommodating place to opposing teams, where the Bulldogs have been shut out twice and lost to Tulane.  Don't expect any trends to change this weekend.  WVU by 30.  

Duke @ Alabama

JW:  Let's see...Alabama beat Vanderbilt by a touchdown, lost a close one to Arkansas, and lost fairly decisively to Florida.  Obviously, the Crimson Tide hasn't been playing up to fan expectations (at least, not Bama fan expectations).  Duke, however, has played to their expectations, losing to everyone they've played (although, to be fair, they only lost to Wake Forest by a point).  Judging by the past two Duke games, the Blue Devils seem content to have their one close loss, and proceed to be blown out by everyone else.  Bama needs to get back on the winning track, and Duke, probably near the very bottom of all Div-IA teams, won't pose much of a problem.  Tide by 35.  

MO: You'd think that all the bad press has to be getting to the Duke players, right? I mean, these kids can't be dumb – it's Duke. I think Bama's got a good team this year, but I have to think that Duke's coming into the game hungry to show that they're not as bad as everyone says they are. The problem for the Blue Devils, however, is simple – they're just as bad as everyone says that are. I think they'll keep it close in the first quarter, but after that, it's all Tide, eventually winning by 27.

Arkansas @ Auburn

MO:  It's been a crazy year for Arkansas.  They squeak out a win in Nashville riding the shoulders of their freshman QB and a friendly gust of wind.  Then they make up for a bad game by that same QB and win a game in double OT marred by missed kicks galore.  For Auburn, it's been same old, same old – win big against the weaker opponents and do what you have to against the strong ones.  They came back from South Carolina victorious, despite the game being closer than most think.  I think they'll get another close game this week, especially since Arkansas has had a week off to prepare.  Also bear in mind that the Auburn showdown with Florida looms large next week and might me pressing harder on the Plainsmen's minds than the Hogs.  I'll say the Tiger hold off a late push by the Hogs, winning by 9.

JW:  Arkansas has shown it can be very scrappy.  They're not a great team, but they'll give people some headaches.  They've also caught some pretty lucky breaks from time to time (*cough*fumbleruledincompletepass*cough*), but they deserve credit for being 3-1 this year.  Auburn's breathing a sigh of relief after escaping South Carolina with a W and keeping its title hopes intact.  Auburn might be overlooking the Hogs, but I think Tuberville's too mad at the team for their performance against the Gamecocks.  Auburn will be motivated to play, and the crowd at Jordan-Hare Stadium will be loud.  I like Auburn here by 14.

South Carolina @ Kentucky

JW:  This could be a good game.  South Carolina isn't too great, and Kentucky is, by most accounts, playing beyond its expectations.  Sure, Spurrier's squad is the better team, talent-wise, but I think the Wildcats might be able to put a scare into the Gamecocks.  The only game where South Carolina has put up a good amount of points without having a scare on the defensive end of the ball was Florida Atlantic, and let's face it - Mike and I could probably put up a fair amount of points against Florida Atlantic (Mike's got good pocket presence, and I've been known to run a flawless route from time to time).  However, South Carolina sure put the scare into Auburn, and it looks like the Gamecocks have found a good QB in Newton.  Kentucky doesn't have many impressive wins, but the difference this year is that they have wins, including that blowout of Ole Miss.  I like Kentucky to keep this game tight, but I think the Auburn game shows that South Carolina has been improving this season.  I'm picking the Gamecocks by 3.

MO: Money play! This is how it would go against FAU: two wide on each side, Jay goes long down the left sideline, Mike goes back in the seven-step drop, dodges a tackle, throws a bomb, caught in stride by Jay who takes it in for the score. Yep, I think this game's such an easy pick, I've written all of that in lieu of actual analysis!! South Carolina looks like they've started hitting they're stride – they scored 20 on an Auburn team that only allowed LSU to score three points. Spurrier looks like he made the right choice (finally!) at QB, and it's about to start paying off in spades. Look for Newton to outdo himself at Kentucky, possibly raising the bar a bit too high for tougher tests later this season. South Carolina by 17.

Clemson @ Wake Forest 

MO:  Wake Forest has looked fantastic this season and stands as the only undefeated team in the ACC.  While that shows in part how weak the ACC has been so far, it also shows that the Demon Deacons have learned how to win and have earned great karma for signing the long-term game contract with Vanderbilt.  The Clemson Tigers have looked great as well, beating Florida St. in Week 3 then pounding their next two opponents by scoring 50 in each game.  While Wake hasn't really beaten anyone this season (their biggest win is a 24-point victory over an admittedly weak Ole Miss team), I like their chances.  I think the team understands that this is a statement game for them and could propel them to being one of the top t teams in the conference this season.  I think the home fans celebrate the biggest football victory for Wake in years, as their team upsets Clemson by 6.

JW:  You know, I think you're right about the karma thing.  Wake Forest definitely owes Vanderbilt big if they go to a bowl this year.  However, I'm not as bold (read: insane) as you to pick Wake over Clemson.  It'll be a pretty close game, but Wake simply won't be able to overcome the talent of Clemson, even at home.  It's a shame, too, because I really like the Deacons' story.  They're looking for their first 6-0 start in 62 years, one of only 9 unbeaten teams left in Div. I-A, a school not known for its football prowess, and so on.  I'm also aware of Clemson's propensity in the past to play well, be highly ranked, then blow it.  Clemson has steamrolled the competition lately and has some quality wins under its belt.  Wake Forest has beaten some pretty soft teams, with Clemson being their first major test.  I still think Wake's a great story here, but the Tigers pull off the victory by 13.

Oregon @ California

JW:  Oregon looks to continue its unbeaten streak, and Cal hopes to keep headed in the right direction and show that the UT loss was a huge fluke.  People can question Oregon's win against Oklahoma all they want, but they did look like a good team, and were obviously pretty evenly matched with the Sooners.  They then came back and proved themselves to be legit by pounding Arizona State.  California has been chugging along with their offense, and also has a pounding of Arizona State under its belt.  This should be a fun game to watch, with both teams having some potent offensive weapons (wow, what a great sportswriting cliche!).  Both Oregon and Cal are trying to prove they're for real, but I think Oregon pulls off the "upset" thanks to a superior rushing game, complemented well by a good pass attack.  I'll take the Ducks by 7.

MO: I think that Oregon's better than most think, but then again, I think that Cal is WAY better than they showed in Week 1. Yep, Oregon's got a controversial win against Oklahoma and they both have an over-rated stomping of Arizona St. (this is Pac-10 football after all). I honestly think this could go either way, and I could analyze this to a high degree, but I don't think there's any one trait that's going to separate these teams enough to pick a clear winner. Both teams have great offenses, and I'm guessing that we're looking at a shoot-out, with Cal winning (in OT!!) by 6.

Texas @ Oklahoma

MO:  Texas is the highest-ranked one-loss team in the country, while Oklahoma is STILL fuming over an onside kick.  This is a far cry from the Sooner domination that we'd seen prior to last year's undefeated run by the Longhorns.  Even though both teams will keep the ball on the ground, this should be a high-scoring match-up and won't disappoint any who tune in (which I'm sure will include a vast majority of the Big 12 nation).  I'm going to take Texas in this one, mostly because I'm tired of hearing the Oklahoma whining and would hate for them to point to a ref's call as the only reason they didn't have an undefeated season.  The real UT by 11.

JW:  I like your reasoning behind the Texas pick.  Oklahoma's looking good, having played a really good Oregon team close and losing on an (admittedly) bad call or two by the referees.  But I've complained enough about their complaining, so I'll just stick to this matchup.  Both teams have what it takes to finish the season with the loss they already have as their only one for the year.  Texas has plowed through all their (admittedly weak) opponents, with the only loss coming from consensus #1 Ohio State.  But when you're ranked as highly as you are, going into a game of that magnitude, you have to put up more than just 7 points.  And I think that's ultimately why I'm picking Oklahoma here.  Texas is a good team, no doubt, but I think Oklahoma is better.  Adrian Peterson is going to set the tone early and just keep running all over Texas.  The Longhorns will play tough, running and passing, but in the end, I'm going with the Sooners to win it by 6.  

Tennessee @ Georgia

JW:  I'm just not sold on Georgia (and I think more and more people are joining me, here).  They squeaked by both Ole Miss and Colorado, destroyed UAB and WKU, and shut out South Carolina early this season.  I guess they really haven't done much to justify dropping in the polls, but I still think they're overrated.  Then again, UT hasn't done much to impress either, losing to its only SEC opponent, Florida, by one.  I like Georgia's home-field advantage, but we all know the Vols fans travel well.  Tennessee will come ready to play, and I think they have the guns to take out the Bulldogs.  Eric Ainge is throwing like a madman, and Georgia still has its quarterback "controversy," and the offense just hasn't looked that great.  It'll be a fun game to watch, but only as fun as watching Tennessee win can be.  Volunteers by 10.  

MO: Joe T's coming back, and none too soon for the Bulldogs, whose offensive woes have been well-documented and have actually made the Ole Miss defense look good. Tennessee has looked good this season, despite going just 5-6 last year (including a 24-28 loss to Vanderbilt at home, and yes, I absolutely LOVE being able to work that into the column each week). Ainge has looked good throwing the ball, and the offense is clicking under Cutcliffe. Here's the thing though – defenses win games, and Georgia's just plain better on that side of the ball. In addition, they get to the underrated "No respect" card! I have to say that I'm shocked that Georgia is the underdog in this game, despite being undefeated, AT HOME, and playing a team that already has a loss (in their own house, no less) and is ranked lower than they in the polls. I think they're ready to show the nation that the Bulldogs are better than anyone thinks, and will roll over the Vols, winning by 13.

LSU @ Florida

MO:  Three SEC home teams are two-point underdogs (Georgia, Florida, and Ole Miss), and this will be the best game of all of them.  Florida has grown under Urban Meyer and is putting out one of the better Florida teams we've seen in a while.  LSU, on the other hand, is still dominating most of their opponents thanks to their overwhelming talent advantage.  When facing unranked teams (all of which were at home), LSU has scored an average of 47 points while allowing under 8 per game.  The bad news is they've only scored three against ranked opponents on the road this season, even with JaMarcus Russell at QB.  In last year's game in Louisiana, the home time won a tight game the week before a showdown at Auburn.  The planets are aligned for the same scenario to unfold as the Gators, one week before their showdown at Auburn, beat the Bayou Bengals at home by 4.

JW:  I think this is the game where LSU really clicks.  They've learned from the trip to Auburn where they only put up three points, and JaMarcus Russell will be determined to put up some numbers.  Yes, Florida's looking really good this year, and they've played some higher-quality opponents, but I'm going to dispute your astrological claim and say the planets are instead aligned for LSU to pull off the win.  Look for the LSU defense to clamp down on Florida, and LSU to steal one away from the Gators in Gainesville.  It'll be very close because of the talent both these teams have, but I'm going with LSU by 3. 

Vanderbilt @ Ole Miss 

JW:  This game has been eating at me all week.  Vanderbilt, favored to beat Ole Miss in Oxford?  We should be thrilled, right?  I mean, it shows that our team is finally making strides and can obviously play with anyone.  However, we don't need a line to tell us that's true - we know Vanderbilt is a better team than most people think - this year, we have a solid defense, a pretty decent running game, and an athletic quarterback.  But being the traditional Vandy fan I am, I know what happens when I get overly optimistic.  And that's what bothers me about this game.  There's too much going for us.  We're favored.  We have a great defense matching up against an inept Ole Miss offense.  We've played well in Oxford in the past.  We beat Ole Miss last year.  Bobby Johnson is a far superior coach to Ed Orgeron.  The list goes on and on.  That's way too much good stuff for a self-respecting Vandy fan to handle.  Combine that with the fact that our players and coaches undoubtedly know that if we want to go to a bowl game, we have to win this game, and I think we have a recipe for disaster. 

However, I think we just might pull it off.  Despite their showing against Georgia, they could only muster 9 total points.  I'd like to think our defense combined with their offense can keep the Ole Miss score down, and surely our offense can at least run the ball down their throats.  I'm still very hesitant about this game, but Vanderbilt has shown in the past that it doesn't have a problem playing on the road.  Ole Miss, however, has a problem playing anywhere.  I like Vandy here, and I'm probably jinxing us by saying it, but I say the 'Dores win it by 7.

MO: I just don't know where to begin on this one. I could start with the fact that Ole Miss has lost to every team they've face not named "Memphis". I could note that the rushing defense performance last week that some Rebels have called "turning the corner" was actually two and a half times WORSE than that of a Colorado team that hasn't won in nearly a year (that's 133 yards allowed by Ole Miss vs. 54 given up by the Buffs). I could point out that the Ole Miss defensive line will be playing without two starters and could quite possibly play another starter who was recently in the hospital for falling down a flight of stairs. And this against a running attack that has accrued 160 yards per game in SEC play ALONE, and is getting better with each game. 

Normally, that would scare me. I'd think this was jinxing the team and that Ole Miss might surprise us. But here's the thing – despite all the overwhelming facts stated above, Ole Miss actually gained confidence by their performance against Georgia, comparatively subpar to Colorado (again, WINLESS this season) as it might have been. So, while Ole Miss is coming off a loss that is quite possibly building a false sense of confidence, Vanderbilt is coming off of two straight 29-point wins after which they understand that they can still play better and are hungry to do so. Ole Miss is going to be primed to avenge last season's loss, and they'll be playing at home, but those are the only two edges they have in this game. While the quarterback battle is close to a wash (even though VU's Nickson has better stats in most categories), everything else for once leans in Vanderbilt's favor. I don't think this one is close. I think Jackson-Garrison has a career day and Nickson breaks two runs of over 20 yards on the option. Jay's gonna need to anti-jinx this one on the boards BIG TIME, but I'm saying it anyway – Vanderbilt scores early and often, holding off a late Rebel push but still winning by a comfortable 17 points.

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