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.

MO: The picks are hard to make this week. It's not really the games so much as how down I feel after a rough weekend last week. I had Wake picked, but a blocked punt ripped momentum away from them and Clemson ran away with it in the end. I thought Georgia would raise to the disrespect that everyone was giving them (I mean, really, an undefeated defending SEC Champ is a 2-point underdog to a one-loss, lower-ranked team AT HOME??), but in the end, it turns out they deserved every ounce of disrespect headed their way. Then there was the Oxford game, but I think we all know about that. But every Saturday starts with a clean slate (followed quickly by the oh-so-early Lincoln Financial game), and this week is no exception. Great games are happening later down the list – let's get to it!

JW: It'd be hard for me to do an intro that doesn't go into much complaining and "what ifs" about the Ole Miss game last week, so I'll try to keep this short.  If anything, last week's games justified my statement about college football being much more enjoyable than the NFL because of its unpredictability.  It might not be so much fun when your team is a victim of that unpredictability (although, Vanderbilt losing isn't really THAT unpredictable, no matter who the opponent is), but you have to admit, it makes things more exciting.  You're right about the quality games this week...lots of implications for both SEC and national championship races.  Let's do this! 

SE Missouri St. @ Arkansas

JW:  Arkansas is turning heads, thanks to their big upset victory against Auburn.  There are now two ways to view the 2-point loss to Arkansas earlier this season: 1) promising that we could come really close to beating a team that's making some serious noise in the SEC; or 2) infuriating that we came SO CLOSE to beating a team that's making some serious noise in the SEC, but couldn't because of botched calls and missed opportunities.  I think I know which way most Vandy fans are leaning!  The Hogs are rolling, having made a solid appearance in the top 25, and look to keep rolling into November, while SEMO is, well, a I-AA team.  Could there be a let-down after the biggest win in Houston Nutt's career at Arkansas?  I sincerely doubt it.  Razorbacks by 30.

MO: I think their could be let-down here, actually, especially since Nutt's teams have been known to play down to the level of their opponent. That said, it's got to be a fun time to be in Fayetteville – headed to a bowl with a win on Saturday, beating one of the top teams in the country and two games ahead of every team in the SEC West (technically one in front of Auburn, but they have the tiebreaker). It's not really a trap game, either, since Arkansas will host Ole Miss next week. Look for SEMO to come out firing at the start, aided by a few mistakes by Mustain, but the Hogs will pull it together in the end, winning by 17.

Jacksonville State @ Mississippi State

MO: Two Div. 1-AA opponents for SEC teams in one week – can you handle the excitement? Well, as back-handed as this may be, this one might actually provide a little excitement. I think that Jacksonville St. understands this may be the best chance they have to beat an SEC for decades, so you know they're going to come out hot. You know, the home crowd should be loving this type of game, but some may have a Vandy-type dread that a weaker team might be coming into town to steal a demoralizing win. I'm really, really leaning towards choosing the upset, just to be showered with praise for picking it win it occurs, but I just can't. The Bulldogs man up and bring an unsatisfying 13-point victory to their fans.

JW:  I think there should be a new SEC rule that keeps teams from playing I-AA opponents after a certain week.  We're well into the season now - let's see more action, and less tuning up!  Of course, MSU is kind of exempted from this, because they're beyond the "tuning up" point, and they're certainly not giving us much action.  I imagine Starkville is an even more depressing place than it normally is (post your hate mail in the messageboards) thanks to some very disappointing seasons, and while I'm sure they'll be clanging their cowbells like there's no tomorrow, there's probably a little bit of emptiness in that metallic clatter.  What's that, you say?  I should be picking the winner of the JAX St. / MSU game?  Oh yeah..sorry 'bout that.  I got a little carried away.  I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Mississippi State wins this one...and they do so by 23 points.

Kentucky @ LSU

JW:  LSU has to be disappointed after losing in the Swamp last week (and I am too, after picking the Tigers to win), in part to an ugly array of turnovers, which led to 16 points for Florida.  Their SEC and BCS hopes have faded considerably, but they're hoping to bounce back with a visit from the Wildcats.  UK's coming off a home loss to South Carolina.  They need three more wins to get to that elusive bowl game...luckily for them, they still have MSU, La.-Monroe, and Vandy on their schedule, so LSU isn't a must-win for a bowl.  However, you have to imagine that Kentucky is looking to prove that it can ambush a good SEC team.  LSU might be demoralized after the Florida loss, but I think they end up taking it out on Kentucky.  LSU by 18.

MO: There's no shame in losing in the Swamp, especially when Florida could be headed for the title game at the end of the season (yep, I'm tipping my hat about the Auburn game!). That said, the Bengals are hurting right now. They're two games behind Arkansas (Arkansas!!) and Auburn (one game in the standings plus tiebreaker) in the SEC West, and a long shot to be in Atlanta for the SEC Championship game. That's just how strong the SEC is this year – the #14/#16 team in the country is placed third in the WEAKER division of the conference! Crazy stuff. As a side note, there's a game this weekend, and I wouldn't want to be the Wildcats. Kentucky's a decent team and all (have to hand it to ‘em, they got it done v. Ole Miss), but they're walking into a bad, bad situation. I think LSU QB JaMarcus Russell gets back on track and finds the end zone early and often, and it's Geaux Tigers to the tune of a 32 point whuppin'.

Ole Miss @ Alabama (

MO: After last week, I don't even want to start analyzing this game, but I'll say this – in both their wins, the Rebels did what they had to do to win the game. They took advantage of key Commodore mistakes and left victorious, despite the fact that they only gained a THIRD of the yards we did. They won't be so lucky this week, though, as John Parker Wilson throws for a bajillion yards and the Bama running backs find the end zone 48 times and run through the tunnel a la Forrest Gump and Brent Schaeffer runs into the wrong end zone and Ed Orgeron gets tossed after challenging two referees to a two-on-one handicap steel cage match and… and… and…. Ok, maybe I'm still a little bitter, and it just might be getting in the way of serious analysis, but there you have it. Bama by 20.

JW:  Hey, you've earned the right to be bitter, sir.  You personally watched our bowl chances get fumbled away in 1999, saw Florida take us to the woodshed in the Swamp to the tune of 71-13, and you probably even watched a few episodes of The Real World with MJ Garrett.  This means you have the right to go off the well-worn sportswriter's path and throw in some good, ol' fashioned hyperbole here and there.  Besides, it was worth it just to imagine Ed Orgeron challenging the refs to a steel cage match.  I'm pretty sure the term "WILD BOYS!!!" would be heard many, many times.  I also wonder how many safeties Ole Miss would have to get to negate Bama's 48+ touchdowns and only lose by 20.  That'd be a game worth watching.  Unfortunately, in reality, this is just a mediocre Bama team playing a bad Ole Miss team coming off an unlikely victory.  Alabama will be celebrating the career of some guy named Bear (you ever heard of him?), so I'm sure Bryant-Denny will be full of some loud Bama fans.  Bama's a better team, and Ole Miss has to know it got lucky to beat Vanderbilt.  Crimson Tide by 28.

Michigan @ Penn State

JW:  The Wolverines come into Happy Valley without Super Mario Manningham.  Will that be a tipping point, giving the Nittany Lions the edge here?  Regardless of how they've done recently, you always have to respect a Penn State team playing at home, and I'm sure Michigan is well aware of that.  Penn State has got to be looking to defend home turf and avenge the stunning loss to UM last year, at the hands of Chad Henne and Mario Manningham.  However, after seeing what really good teams can do to JoePa and company (see Notre Dame, Ohio State), I don't think any amount of home-field advantage and the loss of one star receiver can overcome the advantage Michigan has here.  I think the Wolverines win relatively easily here, pulling off the win by 14.

MO: Michigan has two tests before what could be a "Winner Plays Florida for the Title" game at Ohio St. (look, more foreshadowing!). Penn St. is not a friendly environment, and rarely sports a defense that will drive coach's absolutely bonkers. However, we know firsthand how good this Michigan team is, and the whole country saw just that after they pasted Notre Dame on the road. I think it's gonna be Michigan big here, and we'll use the time-honored "Same Opponent" formula – Michigan beat ND by 26 who beat Penn St. by 24, ergo, the Wolverines win by 50.

Baylor @ Texas 

MO: Ah, the age-old saga of the academic university that struggles in football amongst the big boys of a power confidence, its futility exemplified by years upon years of losing to UT. After last year's 28-24 victory in Knoxville (with UT off, you didn't think I'd get it in this week, did ya?) Vanderbilt is no longer the subject of this sad tale, instead thrusting it upon poor Baylor. The Bears are no slouch this season, though, at 3-3 and riding a two-game winning streak fresh off a win at Colorado. Granted, Colorado has lost their last TEN games dating back to last season, but road Big 12 wins are hard to come by at Baylor. I think they'd have a shot at upsetting Texas this week if weren't for one small fact – they simply have no shot at upsetting Texas this week. ‘Horns by 24.

JW:  I love picking these non-SEC games, because it becomes painfully obvious that I have no idea what's going on.  Luckily, there aren't too many non-SEC games of importance this week, so I get to talk about Baylor/Texas!  I'll make this one short and sweet.  If Baylor can't beat Texas Christian, Washington State, or Army, how can it expect to beat Texas?  Seriously.  They also beat Colorado by a field goal (does that mean Baylor is better than Georgia?).  UT gets to pick its score this week, and I don't think they'll go too high.  I try to keep my picks different from Mike's, but I like the 24-point difference as well.  Book it.

California @ Washington State

JW: California has climbed back into the top ten after demolishing Oregon last week (as well as crushing one of my upset picks), and looks to continue airing it out against the Cougars.  On paper, this doesn't look too intriguing, but we're all aware of how WSU can surprise people, and it certainly helps that Cal hasn't won in Pullman since 1979.  Also, if you ignore the 40-14 loss to Auburn (yeah, I know, can you really ignore a 26 point loss?), the Cougars have made a pretty good showing this year, mostly thanks to their defense.  They sure gave USC a scare a couple of weeks ago.  I think California gets a scare, here, but ultimately pulls out the victory.  Look for the Golden Bears to trail early on, and maybe even at halftime, but ultimately win this one by 10.

MO: You wanna complain about Florida's rough stretch? Here's one for ya – Wazoo hosted USC two weeks ago, then played @Oregon St. (which is always a tough place to place to play), will play Cal today, which is followed by Oregon next week, and then @ UCLA the following week. Five brutal games with NO BYE – I don't care how weak the Pac-10 is, that's rough. I think they get rewarded this week (look what karma's done for Wake, and yes, I'm STILLED ticked about that blocked punt!!), but not with a win. The program gets great exposure for being a head most of the game, but a late drive gives Cal a 2-point win in the closing minutes.

Rutgers @ Navy 

MO: In what is easily the least heralded game featuring two teams who are a combined 10-1, the Midshipmen are favored here despite the fact that Rutgers is ranked (read those last three words again, cause I swear it's true). In almost any other year, this would be a trap game for Navy with Notre Dame on the schedule this week, but this year they have to pay close attention to the Scarlet Knights. Even with a strong performance by Navy QB Brian Hampton, I just can't pick the team whose only loss has come to Tulsa to beat a ranked team. I'll take Rutgers, begrudgingly though it might be, by 17.

JW:  I have this irrational dislike of Rutgers, simply because of what they did to Vandy back in 2004.  Maybe one day I'll get over that and learn to appreciate their scrappiness and constant role as underdog, much like us.  This should be a pretty good game, surprisingly enough, and I think Navy's getting the nod as the favorite due to its home-field advantage and ability to run the ball.  However, I think Rutgers might be the real deal...they have several lopsided victories to their name, and you know they're enjoying being nationally ranked.  Look for the Scarlet Knights to lock up a bowl bid, thanks in no small part to an extra week to prepare.  Rutgers by 10.

Florida @ Auburn

JW:  Well, well, well.  Last week, it looked like these roles would be reversed, with Auburn ranked second nationally and Florida out of the top ten after a tough home loss.  Now, we have Florida with national title aspirations, and Auburn looking to stay in the SEC championship mix.  This is shaping up to be a great game.  Was the Arkansas game a fluke?  Auburn's defense surely hopes so, because that was easily their worst performance this year.  Florida's chugging along through a rough schedule and hopes to keep it up at Jordan-Hare Stadium.  Conventional wisdom says that Auburn probably has the edge here, since they're motivated by a surprising loss and an ability to re-assert themselves over a very good team in the confines of their home stadium.  I'm not so sure, though - I think Arkansas exposed some weaknesses in Auburn's defense AND offense, and you know Florida's talented enough to pick up on them.  It should be a very fun, back-and-forth game, with the Gators coming out on top by 7.

MO: I've had this picked since the start of the year, and Auburn's loss to Arkansas changes nothing in my mind. Urban Meyer's done everything right this season, right down to managing two quarterbacks flawlessly and seemingly without any bad blood between them. Of course, when you have would-be Heisman candidate Chris Leak and Freshman Extraordinaire Tim Tebow behind center, it's hard not to succeed. The problem Florida faces? Auburn's not only going to be enormously ticked about last week, but they're in a must-win situation, as the last thing they need is to fall further behind Arkansas in the race for the West. Ultimately, though, they will – Florida is just too good of a team to lose this week and prove wrong all the naysayers that thought they wouldn't make it out of this brutal stretch with a perfect record intact. Meyer will take the Arkansas game tape and run with it, leading the Gators into the bye week on the heels of a 13-point win.

 

Vanderbilt @ Georgia 

MO: Well, now what? Though a good many folks have been pleasantly surprised by how well Vanderbilt has played this season, it's hard not to be discouraged with a 2-4 record despite matching or simply outplaying its last 5 opponents (not to mention putting a small scare into Michigan). Vanderbilt is no stranger to disappointing losses, but the following week's results have been a mixed bag. Sometimes they come out firing, but other times they've laid an egg. The special teams to a blow to their confidence after missing a couple field goals last week, and Athens is no place to try and get a kicker's confidence back. That said, both the offense and the defense showed us something last week, and as young as the team, could easily build off of it. And here's the other thing – if Georgia can't get up for last week's game, in which they were picked to lose to a lower-ranked team even though they were at home, undefeated, etc., how are they going to be able to get up for this one? You know, I thought better of it at the start of this article, but I've just talked myself into believing my own hype. Karma's done well for Wake this season, and I think that it's about to start working against Georgia after the stinker they pulled last week. I think that Georgia sleepwalks into this one, looking a couple weeks ahead to their game against Florida (I'm counting the MSU game as a bye here), and gets shocked, SHOCKED I say, by a young Commodore team filled with righteous rage storming into Athens and leaving as a 10-point victor. And for those who are wondering, yes, there is indeed enough Kool-Aid to pass around.

JW:  Wow.  Bold words, my friend.  Bold words.  I really, really, really hope you're right.  It also makes sense to a degree - we can all agree now that Georgia's pretty overrated, and they might not be viewing two games with Vanderbilt and Mississippi State as much to be worried about.  Let's face it - their defense can be beaten.  But can it be beaten by Vanderbilt's offense?  That remains to be seen.  In my opinion, the Ole Miss game gives me some hope, but also a lot of pessimism.  But maybe if Chris Nickson had been able to play the entire game, we would have seen a different outcome (and yes, I mean a win, not a worse loss).  I'm so close to drinking the Kool-Aid on this one, but I can't quite bring myself to do it.  I'm letting my mind top my heart this time around.  Georgia can put up points, and they will, even against our pretty good defense.  We will be able to answer and score some of our own, but not enough.  In the end, Georgia will be happy to come out alive with a 10-point victory.  Prove me wrong, Commodores....please prove me wrong.


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