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:  You'll forgive me just this once if I've got one eye looking ahead to next week's columns.  While I can't wait for our game against Florida, the schedule is STACKED for the SEC next week.  Just consider this week's slate of games as a fantastic setup for next week – storylines in the SEC West expanding, and SEC East teams preparing for monumental games before them.  Even our big non-conference game (West Virginia at Louisville) happened last night, so by the time you'll be reading our picks, it will have been old news.  That said, I swear on my honor as a quasi-relevant pseudo-journalist that our picks were made well in advance of the game itself.  Enough banter – let's get to this week's games!!

JW:  I only swear that the picks for the WVU/Louisville game were made in advance if I'm right and Mike is wrong.  There are a lot of tough picks to make this week, both because the teams are so closely-matched, and because when we get outside the SEC, it's obvious I don't know what I'm talking about.  It's a shame that school stuff will be keeping me from seeing some of the best games this weekend, and the Professional Ethics exam will be keeping me from at least part of Vanderbilt/Florida (who knew lawyers had to know ethics?).  Luckily, last time school-related stuff kept me from watching a Vanderbilt game from start to finish, we beat Georgia.  Here's hoping for a continuation of that phenomenon.  While picking this week's games is fun as always, I'm already looking forward to next week.  Now, onto the games!

Arkansas State @ Auburn

MO:  Can't say that Auburn's doing much for their BCS case here.  This game is just another example of how their non-conference scheduling weakens their case to be in the BCS title (of course, that's a assuming that they can overcome a 2-game deficit to Arkansas in the West).  In addition to this game, Auburn has hosted Washington St., Tulane and Buffalo.  Not exactly a Murderer's Row there.  I'd love to pick the Indians in a huge upset here just for karma's sake, but I can't see a team that only scored 10 points in a win of Louisiana Monroe doing much against the Auburn defense.  Arkansas St. will be lucky to get 3 points this week, while the Tigers tune up for their annual rivalry game against Georgia next week, winning by 27.

JW:  Let's not forget the last time a team from Arkansas went into Auburn as an underdog!  Ok, nevermind.  Feel free to ignore that little fact, since it has absolutely no bearing on what Auburn's going to do to Arkansas State this weekend.  I can't even use my normal filler stuff about Auburn having something to prove, being on a roll, or looking past the Indians to next week's Georgia game, because seriously, there's no way this is even close.  Ten minutes in, Auburn will have scored enough points to win this.  But just for good measure, they'll play the other 50, and end up winning by 35.

Northwestern State @ Ole Miss

JW:  I guess it's not really nice for me to state that I was completely unaware that Northwest State had a football team, but it's true.  Currently sitting at 2-2 in the Southland Conference, the Demons might be looking past Ole Miss to its upcoming conference games with the Lumberjacks of Stephen F. Austin and the McNeese State Cowboys.  Of course, even if they see this as their national championship game, Ole Miss still has a fun time with this one.  Ole Miss had another game that showed they can actually play good teams close, no doubt scaring the bejeezus out of Auburn in a 23-17 loss.  With a bowl game already out of reach for the Rebels, they're now looking to lay the foundation for next year.  Northwest State will undoubtedly give them a chance to try out some of the young guys who haven't played this season.  Another team with Demon in its name might have fared well against Ole Miss in Oxford, but let's not kid ourselves here.  Ole Miss wins this one easily.  Coach O's Wild Boyz by 27.

MO: I'd like to thank Jay for doing all the necessary research for this game. This leaves the next few lines for me to completely rip on Coach O and the Ole Miss football team. Nah, not really, though I would have had we been able to beat them this season. Ole Miss has had close games against big-time opponents this season, and might even be better than their record shows. Then again, we're all too well aware of how they got one of their two wins on the season. They shouldn't have any problems against NW St., but just for yucks, I'll say they get a scare and end up pulling out a 13-point victory thanks to a few late drives.

Georgia @ Kentucky

MO:  This is a sneaky game.  After a 5-0 start, Georgia's gone 1-3 in their last three games, including a 24-22 loss to Vanderbilt on Homecoming.  The sad part?  Not one of those games was on the road (though last week's loss to Florida was at a neutral site).  Kentucky's been fairly middle-of-the-road this season, with wins over the teams they're supposed to beat (Texas St., Ole Miss, etc.), but getting shelled by teams that are obviously superior to them (Florida, LSU, etc.).  The Wildcats just need one more win to make an unexpected bowl game, and while most fans have their sixth win penciled in next week when they host the Commodores, they've got a chance against Georgia, especially with the game being in Lexington.  I don't see it happening though – the Bulldogs looked better against Florida than they had since giving up 50 to Tennessee, and look for the offense to come alive against a Kentucky defense giving up nearly 31 points a game (including 34 to Central Michigan and 31 to Mississippi St).  Nature runs its course as the Dawgs beat the Cats, heading back to Athens on the heels of 17-point win.

JW:  If it wasn't for the Kentucky defense and its ability to give up lots of points to just about anyone, I would say Kentucky gets the surprise win here, claiming the elusive bowl bid a week earlier than their fans expected.  Georgia has managed this season to disappoint just about everyone, and even during that 5-0 start, they weren't looking so hot.  UK might be a little more motivated and has the home-field advantage, but Georgia has the weapons to overcome that.  It's just a matter of whether they'll use them or not.  They kept it somewhat close with florida, after three straight disappointing games (yes, beating Mississippi State by a field goal is disappointing).  In fact, I'm starting to wonder if, much like Vanderbilt, Georgia is simply better as a road team.  This game could certainly go either way, but I like the Bulldogs to win it, but only by 6.

Mississippi State @ Alabama

JW:  Well, the Bulldogs are finally putting up points in games.  While they're 1-2 in the last three games, they've managed to put up 35, 24, and 31 points respectively.  Sure, the toughest team they played in that span was Georgia, but Croom and company have to be happy to see some semblance of consistent production, particularly after being shut out twice to begin the season.  Alabama is coming off a bye week against FIU, and the Crimson Tide is looking for some sort of solid offense after several games where they just couldn't produce effectively.  This is a dangerous game for Bama, as State seems to be gradually improving, and the Tide seems to be gradually declining.  If this game wasn't played in the state of Alabama, I would be inclined to call the stunning upset, but with the advantage of Bryant-Denny Stadium, I say the Crimson Tide pulls off the win, but it won't be pretty.  Bama by 10.

MO: I could easily say that MSU is a team on the rise, but let's be honest, that's not saying all that much. They've improved as the season has gone along, but Bama's simply the better team here. While the Bulldogs kept it close against Georgia and Kentucky, I don't see them making much noise in Alabama. The Tide's got the homefield advantage of an extra week's of worth, which could be enough to overcome a team with better talent who had just lost the past to games by a combined six points. Too bad Mississippi only has the losses and not the talent. Bama scored early and often here, running away with a 23-point win.

Arkansas @ South Carolina 

MO:  Arkansas beats VU by 2, while South Carolina stomped us by 18, and yet the Gamecocks are the underdogs, and at home no less?  Let's face it – after losing in somewhat precedented fashion to USC (they gave up 50 points as opposed to last year's 70), the Hogs have tallied seven straight wins, including a huge road upset over then #2 Auburn.  Since that win, Arkansas has dominated their opposition, winning their last three games by the combined score of 145-20.  Of course, they were playing SE Missouri St., Ole Miss, and Louisiana Monroe, but that's still an impressive figure.  South Carolina needs just one more win to become bowl-eligible, but a loss here snaps the last few threads of any hope of the Gamecocks reaching Atlanta next month.  Arkansas, meanwhile, has a huge edge in the SEC West, leading LSU by two games and Auburn by one PLUS the head-to-head tiebreaker.  I think they keep rolling towards Atlanta, handing Spurrier another SEC loss as the Razorbacks win by 10.

JW:  You're right. I just can't see the Gamecocks pulling off the victory here.  I don't even think it's going to be as close as many are predicting.  Regardless of who they've played, Arkansas has been very impressive this year, and they only seem to be getting better.  South Carolina will be a good test to determine if they can dominate SEC foes as well as they've dominated the cupcakes, or if the early weeks of close games to Vandy and Bama are still a possibility.  Spurrier and Company put up a decent fight to Tennessee, but ended up letting it get away late.  They're still a pretty good team, but I think Arkansas has all the momentum and keeps on going here.  I like the Razorbacks by 17.

Maryland @ Clemson

JW:  For a game pitting two teams near the top of the Atlantic division of the ACC, it seems weird that Clemson is so heavily favored, but it's easier to understand when you look at who they've played so far.  Maryland has yet to play Wake Forest, BC, or Miami, the three teams remaining after Clemson.  Talk about a rough stretch.  The Terps have so far exceeded expectations, but this four-game stretch looks to cause reality to come crashing back down.  I'll give them credit for the win over Florida State, but they don't have any real solid victories over good teams.  Clemson, on the other hand, handled the Demon Deacons, pounded Georgia Tech, and played BC tough.  There's a reason the Tigers are favored here - they're clearly the better team.  I think UMD has some momentum coming in, and the game will be closer than some predict, but ultimately Clemson comes out with the victory, winning by 13.  Maryland fans, just be happy you're already bowl-eligible, because the rest of the season may not be too pretty.  

MO: I was going to point out that Maryland was able to pull off an upset against Florida State last week, but let's face it – EVERYONE has upset Florida St. this season. Clemson is the better team here, but don't count the Terps out. Remember, Clemson lost to a disappointing Virginia Tech team last week, and were a blocked punt away from losing to Wake Forest. Both of those are good teams, but Clemson has more talent than both. I'd be more apt to pick the upset here if they hadn't lost last week, but I think the Tigers will be focused enough to pick up a tight victory. Fear the Turtle, as they'll get an early lead, but the Tigers will storm back, winning by 8.

Boston College @ Wake Forest

MO:  The weekly love-fest for Wake Forest continues, but this time with huge BCS implications.  Wake has had a great year, going 7-1, with their only loss coming to Clemson, who needed a big comeback to get the win.  Most folks expected Boston College to have a good season, but to be atop the ACC Atlantic?  And tied with, of all teams, Wake Forest and Maryland?  Find someone who says they knew that was going to happen this season, and I'll show you a liar.  While this seems to be Wake's year, they're starting a rough stretch this week, with pivotal games against Florida St., Virginia Tech, and Maryland to come.  Meanwhile, Boston College gets to take its shot at Duke next week before clashes against Maryland and Miami finish their season.  Before this turns into an ACC season-end preview, let me say I'll stick with Wake's good karma following their scheduling a seven-year series with Vanderbilt and pick them to keep rolling, beating the Eagles by 13.

JW:  This game and the WVA/Louisville game are the types of close games that are so ridiculously hard to pick.  Both these teams are a huge surprise this year, and the ACC has gone completely bizarro.  I like the feel-good Wake Forest story, but I think reality sets in this week, and we see the beginning of the Deacons' fall from grace.  I still think they have it in them to at least beat FSU, but November has not been a kind month in the past (they've lost 8 straight in November), and their strength of schedule isn't exactly something to write home about.  Aside from a close loss at NC State, BC has a solid resume with some pretty good wins.  Wake's karma for signing the Vanderbilt deal can only last so long, and I think the Eagles pull off the win en route to an Atlantic division title, beating Wake by 7.

West Virginia @ Louisville

JW:  Thank goodness for Tivo...I'm too busy to watch this game live, but considering it's easily one of the biggest games of the season, I can't miss it.  This game has been a barnburner in past years, and those games didn't have the major BCS implications that this one does.  So much is on the line that you know both teams have to be ready to play their best ball of the year.  Regardless of their inferior opponents, these two teams have put up monster offensive numbers this year, and their defenses have been relatively stingy.  I still think this will be a fun, high-scoring game.  Ultimately, I think this will come down to how the quarterbacks match up against the respective defenses, and because of that, I like WVU's Pat White to exploit the Louisville defense, who hasn't faced a QB remotely as good as White all season.  The Mountaineer defense will certainly have problems with the Louisville rushing attack, but I still think the advantage rests slightly with WVU.  I could go on here, but it'll just become more and more obvious that I have no clue when it comes to the Big East.  WVU by 6.

MO: Again, I swear that these picks were submitted before the game was over. That said, I can predict with certainty that _______________ will win this game. ______________'s offense is just too much for _________________ to over come, and ______________________, the QB/RB for __________________ is going to have a field day throwing/running all over the ________________ defense. I'll say right now that both of these team will lose to Rutgers later in the season, but tonight _________________ will come away with the big victory, getting one step closer to Arizona, winning by ___. (Don, thanks a bunch for filling these in and picking the right options – I'm not sure how I was going to defend my actual pick of Louisville by 10. I'll get the check in the mail tomorrow!)

LSU @ Tennessee 

MO:  To borrow a professional wrestling term (which I'm sure most LSU and UT fans would appreciate), this one promises to be a real slobber-knocker.  In one corner, you've got an LSU team that has dominated most of its opponents – they've outscored unranked teams by a combined 274-36.  Of course, they were home for all of those games, while they've been on the road for their only game against ranked opponents (Auburn and Florida), both of which they've lost.  Tennessee's disappointing 2005 season, which saw them go 5-6, including a 28-24 loss to Vanderbilt at home to knock them from bowl consideration, had one bright spot – a win at LSU which featured a 17-point 4th quarter comeback.  JaMarcus Russell and Erik Ainge should both light up the scoreboard this week, but look for LSU's running game to control the flow and keep UT's offense off the field.  Despite the fact that UT can play the "disrespect card" (after all, they are the underdog despite having a better SEC record, overall record, and ranking while playing AT HOME), I think LSU is going to pull the game out here.  They won't need a comeback, but they'll have to fight a late home-team drive to secure a 4-point victory.

JW: LSU is coming off a bye week (and, essentially, another bye week in its win over Fresno State), while UT had a tough game against South Carolina, and their starting QB is a little banged up.  Eric Ainge is confident he'll play Saturday, and I don't doubt that, but I wonder how much his sore ankle has hindered his preparation for this weekend, and if it will affect his game time performance.  Combine that with the general ridiculousness of LSU's defense, and I think we have the makings of an LSU victory.  Tennessee's defense has been giving up quite a few points to teams that are inferior to LSU lately, so JaMarcus Russell has to like his chances.  Disrespect or not, I think LSU is the better team here, and while Neyland will be loud throughout the entire game, which will be very close, the only noise when the 4th quarter expires will be coming from the visitor's bench and the purple-and-gold fans in the stands.  Tigers by 9.

Florida @ Vanderbilt

JW:  Both teams should be extremely motivated by this game.  Florida knows it needs the win to keep rolling in the SEC and BCS, and thanks to last year's game, they know they need to take the Commodores seriously.  Vanderbilt, of course, has the revenge factor, thanks to Rick Loumiet's Worst Call Ever.  Florida has a 15-game winning streak in the series, and we all know that streak is bound to end sooner or later.  We finally saw how great Chris Nickson can be last week against Duke, and I think he'll continue showing fans that he is the best choice at QB this year.  Sure, he won't put up the same monster numbers, but I think he'll do a good job against a tough Florida defense.  I'm the most worried about fatigue and injuries, which seem to always be a problem with Commodore teams, but more so this year, since the 'Dores don't get a bye week.  I'm optimistic for a good, close game, but I think Florida's on too much of a roll and is too talented to let Vandy steal this one away (and it doesn't help that Dudley Field isn't exactly a solid home-field advantage).  The Commodores might give them a scare, but I think the Gators come away with the win, clinching an SEC East championship with the UT loss.  Florida by 10.

MO: Everything is rolling Florida's way – they've beaten all of their rivals and their only loss was a tight game against one of the best teams in the country. They're still in the BCS title hunt and they've got one of the most talented teams in the country. That said, Vanderbilt's got a lot on the line. There is the revenge factor, yes, but there's another key point to be made. This is their tough stretch of the season – Florida, at UK, and Tennessee to wrap up the season.   Florida has just wrapped up their rough stretch – LSU, Auburn, and Georgia, and the media thinks that this could be a breather for the Gators. We know better, and if the Gators don't come out focused to beat a Vanderbilt team that will show up to play, they'll just be another 2-loss team in the SEC. Don't forget that they could also be looking ahead to Spurrier's homecoming next week. 

We saw a lot from Chris Nickson last week, but look for the running game to be the stars this week. As odd as it sounds, I think that the intangibles line up in Vanderbilt's favor, and if we can get a big enough crowd, we'll have one more advantage. We've seen a lot of streaks broken recently, and I think that this game will be the first against Florida that we've won in 18 years. Pass the Kool-Aid (hey, it worked when I used it against Georgia!), as I'm saying the Dores will win on a late drive, winning by one thanks to a two-point conversion. It'll be a year too late, but we'll finally get the win we deserve and be that much closer to getting to a bowl game.

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