Mike and Jay's College Picks

Mike O'Neill: Note to Lloyd Carr – the housing market is notoriously slow, so I'd put your house in Ann Arbor on the market now. You won't be needing it soon. After a week that featured a Div. 1-AA team beat a national Top Five team, this week's schedule features some better games, including two – count ‘em, two! – games that feature two ranked teams.

Notably to fans of the column, Alabama brings its thundering horde of fans to Nashville, bringing with it a much-ballyhooed head coach and overwhelming expectations. We'll get to that game in a bit, but first, we'll tackle the other SEC games and a few extra that should garner some national attention as well.

Jay Williams:  It was certainly an interesting week of college football to kick off the season:  We saw Georgia Tech completely manhandle a Notre Dame team that thought keeping its starting quarterback a secret until gameday would give them a leg up.  Memo to Charlie Weis:  That strategy doesn't work if all your QBs are terrible.  Auburn fought back and pulled off a close win over Kansas State, thanks to a ferocious defense.  The Georgia Bulldogs made a win over Oklahoma State look easy, and in the process made me look like an idiot with last week's pick.  In what was a bittersweet moment for some Commodore fans, Cal took care of Tennessee and avenged last year's dismantling in Knoxville.  I say bittersweet because it just gives PAC-10 fans "evidence" that their conference is superior to the SEC.  But then again, the Vols lost.  It's a tough call, I know.  So, aside from those notable games, there wasn't really any other major game worth discussing.  Now, I did take a nap around noon on Saturday and didn't wake up until about 4pm, and being the good journalist that I am, I opted not to watch any highlights of games or read any stories.  Besides, that set of games looked like a bunch of big boys vs. cupcakes, so I'm sure I didn't miss anything. 

South Carolina @ Georgia

JW:  Last week, Georgia showed that it just might deserve that lofty ranking, as quarterback Matthew Stafford played an impressive game and the Bulldog defense did a great job of containing a supposedly explosive Oklahoma State offense.  The Gamecocks, on the other hand, struggled somewhat against Louisiana-Lafayette.  How much of that is attributable to quarterback Blake Mitchell's suspension remains to be seen, but South Carolina's sloppiness on the field stands in stark contrast to a lot of the pre-season hype built up by many, including Steve Spurrier himself.  Georgia has traditionally dominated this yearly matchup, going 11-4, and the Bulldogs currently hold a five-game winning streak, including an ugly 18-0 victory just a year ago.  This game should be closer than recent memory, as the Gamecocks are improving talent-wise, but I just haven't seen much evidence to back up The Visor's predictions of competing for an SEC-East crown this year.  I know, first games of the season are always a difficult gauge, but I see Georgia pulling this off with relative ease between the hedges.  Bulldogs by 10.

MO: This is an interesting game, especially with the inclusion of Blake Mitchell. I don't see South Carolina contesting for the SEC East crown either, but I do think they've got a good chance to sneak away from Athens with an upset victory. Georgia hasn't seen what Mitchell can do this season, and you can trust Spurrier to come up with something that will catch the Bulldog defense on their toes all day. I'll take the upset here, with Mitchell having a breakout game in Athens. Gamecocks by 15.

Troy @ Florida

MO: All right, let's give Troy a little credit – they played Arkansas close through the first half of last week's game, trailing 23-17 at halftime before the Hogs poured it on in the third quarter. That said, don't expect to see the same "success" against Florida. The Gator looked great against Western Kentucky, though really, who doesn't look good against the Hilltoppers? That said, Florida should still cruise going into their yearly showdown with Tennessee next week. Gators by 27.

JW:  I think we're all disappointed that Tim Tebow didn't exclusively run the QB draw.  Then again, I'm not sure Western Kentucky would have been able to stop that, either, but the game would have been a little more respectable.  Apparently, Urban Meyer was disappointed in his defense's play last week, where they gave up only 3 points, so he's doing a little re-tooling.  This guy is obviously taking the idea that there's always room for improvement to heart.  Sure, Western Kentucky isn't exactly LSU, but allowing only 3 points against most any team is pretty impressive.  Troy, of course, is looking for the upset, after almost upsetting Arkansas in a half of football last week.  Now that we know Tim Tebow can pass, and Urban Meyer has assured us that the Gator defense will be retooled and improved from last weeks 3-points-allowed debacle, poor Troy doesn't stand much of a chance.  Unless Florida is seriously looking past Troy to the Tennessee game, there shouldn't be much of a game here.  Florida by 30.

Kent St. @ Kentucky

JW:  This game was obviously scheduled as another tune-up game before the SEC slate for the Wildcats, but Kentucky would be well served to pay a little more attention to the Golden Flashes, after they knocked off Iowa State last week.  Sure, Iowa State has a whole host of problems and is dealing with a new coach, but it was still a surprising (albeit ugly) win for Kent State.  Now, I'm not saying that Kentucky is going to have a lot of problems with Kent State - I just know that when a team from a smaller, weaker conference is overlooked by a bigger, more talented team in a power conference, upsets are possible.  I really wish I had a good example to give here, but I don't.  You'll just have to use your imagination.  Anyway, Andre Woodson looked sharp last week, and I expect the Wildcat offense to keep chugging along.  It won't be the 40-point blowout they had last week, but it'll still be a solid win for the wildcats, as they prepare for next week's game with Louisville.  UK by 20.

MO: Yawn. Wake me when the Wildcats schedule a real opponent. ‘Cats by 27.

Missouri @ Ole Miss

MO: It's the battle of the Misses!! Ole Miss looked awful in their win against Memphis, nearly blowing the 23-point they had late in the third quarter. Mizzou didn't look much better, letting Illinois whittle away a 24-point lead to just 3 points in a scant 6 minutes. That said, Illinois is coached by Ron Zook, while Memphis might as well be coached by Jon Calipari's tailor. Coach O won't make it out of this game if his players quit in the second half like they did last week. The only problem? Even if they don't quite in the second half, they'll still have to start it down by two touchdowns. Mizzou by 20.

JW:  Hey, a win is a win, right?  That's what they're saying in Oxford, at least.  According to the most avid Ole Miss fan I know, the Rebels are getting quite good at staking a solid halftime lead, then watching it quickly slip away as the third and fourth quarters tick by.  They were fortunate to win as the "visiting" team in Memphis, a scant 85 miles from Oxford.  It's worth noting that in spite of the overall sorry state of Ole Miss football under his reign, Ed Orgeron has never lost to the Tigers.  I'm not sure if that speaks to the rivalry or the fact that Memphis just isn't that good.  A team Orgeron isn't undefeated against, however, is Mizzou, who thrashed the Rebs last year, 34-7, the second game of another season of woe for the Ole Miss faithful.  Missouri is one of those teams that seems to always be on the cusp of putting together a solid Big 12 season, before blowing it to a lesser team.  This year, they look primed to do much of the same again, after Coach Gary Pinkel made a questionable decision or two that could have led to a defeat at the hands of Illinois.  Despite his best efforts, they pulled off the victory, but now they face another tough road test in Oxford.  Both teams, to put it diplomatically, have a lot to improve on from their first games, so it's once again hard to pick a favorite.  Ultimately, I think Mizzou has more talent, despite the obvious efforts of their coach to sabotage their season.  Ole Miss just plain isn't very good, and it will show this week in front of a partisan crowd.  I don't see Mizzou ever holding onto a very solid lead like they did last year, but ultimately they'll pull out the win.  Tigers by 4.  

Southern Miss @ Tennessee

JW:  I feel for Southern Miss.  They're headed into Neyland to face a Tennessee fan base that needs some serious reassurances that the Volunteers are still a powerhouse, and the Cal loss was just a small speed bump on the road back to glory.  A lesser team than the Golden Eagles would be thrashed up and down the field for 60 minutes, much to the delight of the orange-clad audience.  However, Southern Miss is no pushover.  Tailback Damion Fletcher is a very quick runner who amassed over 1,300 yards last season as a true freshman.  He hung 156 yards on I-AA UT-Martin last week, and regardless of the opponent, that's pretty impressive.  Of course, the passing attack for USM leaves much to be desired, and UT definitely has the talent to force the Eagles to go to the air.  USM isn't the perfect post-Cal game, but the Volunteers should be plenty motivated, and they're plenty talented to notch the win.  Tennessee by 17.

MO: You have to give Tennessee credit – their non-conference schedule this season has featured two good teams, and when they probably scheduled Southern Miss, the Eagles were ranked. That said, things have slid lately at Southern Miss, and they are indeed walking into a hornet's nest of bad signs. Tennessee makes up for a disappointing loss, winning by 26.

Mississippi State @ Tulane

MO: Mississippi State is a favorite? Against a Division I opponent? Wha…?? Are they starting to allow points for interceptions? Are we playing Bizarro football, where the most points loses? While we have yet to see anything out of Tulane (they didn't play last week), we haven't really seen anything out of the Bulldogs either, and they've had 60 minutes of chances to show us! The dismal season drags on, and the men in maroon might want to think about not coming home after this one. Wave by 10.

JW:  Not so fast, my friend (did I seriously just say that?).  Mississippi State does have some things going for it.  After all, this is Tulane's first game of the season, so they might have some jitters to work out of their system, and State was able to gauge just what needs to be improved on from its loss to LSU (pretty much everything).  Tulane won this game last year in a close one in Starkville, but I'd like to believe the Bulldogs are at least somewhat improved from last year.  But then again, I look at the LSU game and ponder the six interceptions thrown by Michael Henig, and I wonder if I'm just kidding myself.  This is one of those games where I'm ultimately going to have to go with my SEC bias and say that State has some strength - at least enough to top a low-level C-USA team.  Bulldogs by 3.

South Florida @ Auburn

JW:  Well, we all know Auburn has a defense.  But what of their offense?  It certainly didn't look very effective against Kansas State, who sent Brandon Cox to the ground many, many times (five sacks!), and never really clicked until about 3:00 remained on the clock.  However, that could have been more attributable to Kansas State's fatigue than Auburn's offense finally getting it together.  South Florida is one of those teams that always gets hyped as a potential giant-killer, and they follow through every now and then (remember West Virginia?).  But let's face it, they're in the Big East, and they're not even tops in the Big East.  They're good, but they're not SEC good, and they're coming up against an Auburn team that still has a lot to prove.  Look for USF to try to mimic Kansas State's success in going after Brandon Cox, but look for Tuberville to be ready for it this time.  I expect the Bulls to put up a fight, but in the end, a hungry Auburn team will be just too much for them.  Tigers by 10.

MO: The heat in Auburn hasn't been from the weather this week – it's been the fire under the offensive line's collective hind end. South Florida has indeed been pegged as this year's "sleeper pick" by a lot of college football fans and pundits, Then again, if everyone picks you as a sleeper, can you really be a sleeper? The only thing sleeping after this game will be the South Florida faithful who will give up on the game after the Tigers get a three-touchdown lead. The Bulls make it respectable in the last few minutes, but it's War Eagle to the tune of a 17-point win.

Notre Dame @ Penn State

MO: You know, Jimmy Clausen could surprise a lot of folks. After all, the last time a Clausen started a football game, his team played valiantly against an opponent that simply overwhelmed them. Commodore fans remember that November day in 2005 well, don't we? Kidding aside, I expect Notre Dame to bounce back well – Georgia Tech has a good team this season, and a lot of last week's slaughter was due to their talent rather than the Irish's lack thereof. That said, Penn State is too good of a team to lose this game. It'll be tighter than most think – tight enough for those who jumped off the Notre Dame bandwagon to hop right back on. Nittany Lions by 13.

JW:  Thanks for that little slice of history, Mike.  It's good to work that game in as much as humanly possible.  That aside, your point is well-taken - the quarterback situation in Notre Dame is a complete disaster.  As Tennessee fans can attest to, not having a definite starter for most of the season is a recipe for many, many losses.  Granted, there are plenty of other problems in South Bend, but the quarterback situation is conveniently taking center stage.  Last year, the Nittany Lions were embarrassed at Notre Dame, dropping the game 41-17, and also providing my first absolutely horrible "upset pick" in the history of Mike and Jay's SEC/College Picks.  Sure, I've gone on to make many terrible picks, but that one was the one that really laid the foundation for where I am today, and I remember it fondly.  I thought Notre Dame was overrated last year, and they ended up proving me right - just not exactly when I wanted them to, or to the degree I had expected.  This year, I again predict Notre Dame to lose, but I think my chances are much better this time around.  Penn State is looking for revenge, they have a quarterback who can, you know, throw the ball, and an impressive defense that should give any and all Irish quarterbacks a serious headache.  I'm taking the Nittany Lions by 24, which would be perfect revenge for last year's loss.

Miami @ Oklahoma (-10.5)

JW:  Both teams dominated in their season openers - Miami coach Randy Shannon had a brawl-free debut against Marshall, cruising 31-3, and Oklahoma probably could have put in the band for the second half and still beaten North Texas.  Unfortunately for North Texas (but fortunately for the band), they didn't, and Oklahoma ended up winning 79-10.  Miami's looking to rebound after a very disappointing 7-6 season most notable for the ridiculous brawl with Florida International.  Shannon is attempting to reform the Hurricanes' image as well as make them a contender again.  Oklahoma, on the other hand, is building on a solid season last year, and looking to put the finishing touches on a team that's extremely close to vying for a national title.  While these teams are both expected to make some noise this year, Oklahoma is still quite a bit more talented than the Hurricanes.  Look for Oklahoma to come out swinging and build a strong lead early on, and then let the defense finish the job.  Sooners by 17.

MO: I wouldn't count out this Miami team, though (and this is Grade A journalism here, folks) I'm not sure why. Two games stick out in my mind about Oklahoma's season last year – Oregon and Boise State. Both teams come from lesser football conferences (and yes, I know I'm including the Pac-10 by saying that) and both teams beat the Sooners late. I see Miami doing that this week, not because of exploited match-ups or tactics advantages, but because in recent past, teams have been making a name for themselves off Oklahoma. Miami follows suit this season, winning by 9.

TCU @ Texas

MO: I'm going to resist the urge to make a "Horny-toad" joke here, if only because TCU kicked our butts up and down the field the last time we played them. TCU is looking for their second win against a Big 12 team from the Lone Star State in as many weeks. The only problem is that this week they're up against the Longhorns rather than Baylor. Texas had a scare against Arkansas State last week, but I think that they'll bounce back from a disappointing performance and put the hurt on the Frogs early. TCU comes up fast towards the end of the game, but Texas should be able to ice this one halfway through the fourth quarter. ‘Horns by 13.

JW:  See, since Mike made his pick first on this one and took the high road, I'm forced to avoid the "Horny-toad" jokes as well and actually try to write about two teams that I have little to no interest in, and sound like I know what I'm talking about.  It's much easier when I can rely on a cheap joke or two to hide the fact that I don't know what I'm doing.  This should actually be a pretty decent game, since TCU is certainly no pushover.  In fact, they hold a five game winning streak against Big 12 teams.  Of course, this should be balanced with the fact that TCU hasn't played the Longhorns since 1995, when the Horned Frogs won 27-19.  Of course, they haven't exactly beaten pushovers, either, as their streak includes wins over Oklahoma, Texas Tech, and Iowa State.  Texas QB Colt McCoy, who looks a little like Frankie Muniz, wasn't exactly impressive against the powerhouse known as Arkansas State.  He had some good yardage and a decent completion percentage, but he also tossed two interceptions against their vaunted defense.  The problem is, TCU's defense is actually good, which could cause some issues for the Longhorns, unless they've made some serious adjustments this week.  It's time for me to go out on a limb and make a bold upset prediction.  Texas fans, you can thank me later, because I'm pretty much guaranteeing your team a win.  TCU by 6.

VA Tech @ LSU (-12)

JW:  Virginia Tech had a very emotional start to their season, as that campus is still trying to cope with the tragedy that struck last spring.  This is why it's hard to read anything, positive or negative, into their 17-7 victory over East Carolina.  LSU, on the other hand, pretty much dominated Mississippi State from start to finish, in particular showcasing their defensive prowess.  This has the makings of a great game, as both teams are ranked in the top ten and both have a considerable amount of talent.  The key to this game is whether or not Tech can figure out how to get past the Tiger defense, because Mississippi State certainly couldn't.  What I'm starting to believe, however, is that very few (if any) teams will be able to pull this off.  I expect a closer game than the one played in Starkville last week, but ultimately we're going to see the same result: another Bayou Bengal win, this time in front of a rabid home crowd.  The Hokies are a good team, and they have a lot to play for this season, but ultimately LSU is just too good.  Tigers by 14.

MO: You know, while I can appreciate what the LSU defense did in shutting out an SEC team, let's face it – they did against a Mississippi State offense who couldn't get out of their own way. The Tiger interceptions were caused mostly by Bulldog mistakes rather than defensive backs stepping in front of passes, etc. On the other hand, Virginia Tech didn't look all that great in their season opener, but they can be a lot better. I really think that this game is where the Hokies make their mark. Last week they had the weight of the Hokie Nation on their shoulders added to the national spotlight and other distractions. The best thing for this team, I think, will be getting away from Blacksburg and focusing on football. While the tragedy will never fully leave them, letting the players focus on being just that – players – rather than counselors will free this team. I think they play inspired football, shocking those read too much into LSU's opening shutout as well as those who saw too little in Virginia Tech's tight win. Hokies by 10.

Alabama @ Vanderbilt

MO: Everything seems to favor Bama going into the game – they had a bigger win last week, they grabbed the jewel of off-season acquisitions in Nick Saban, an energized fan base that is threatening to outnumber Commodores fans at Dudley, and they've had our number for years. Here's their only problem: the don't have the better team. Vandy has the chip on their shoulder from the tight game at Alabama last year, and most of the key players in that return. With the spotlight on Nashville to showcase Saban, I see Vandy coming out firing, using the option to keep defenses honest and get Heisman candidate Earl Bennett open early and often. Saban has to play catch-up, something that he's not used to doing, and probably shouldn't be comfortable doing with John Parker Wilson, who hasn't thrown a touchdown pass this season and has only beaten Western Carolina and Florida International in his last seven starts. Again, while a lot of things point to Alabama, this is my "Screw it, I'm going with Vanderbilt" pick that worked so well for last years Georgia game. The Tide pull close in the closing minutes, but Vanderbilt ices it late in the game, and as the final gun sounds, it'll be Dores by 10.

JW:  You know what's sad?  I've stayed up a couple of nights this past week pondering this game, worrying about how the Commodores match up against Bama.  I know, our bowl hopes don't hinge on this game, and there's no shame in losing to Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide, but I really want Vandy to pull this off.  I even mentioned a while back that it wouldn't be the huge upset some people think it would be, and I was derided for my opinion.  But I really do think that's the case - I know the history - Bama has won roughly a gajillion times in a row against Vanderbilt, and the Tide is certainly one of the more historically successful programs in the SEC and in the country, while Vanderbilt is, well, Vanderbilt.  But look at what's happened lately - nobody can deny that the Commodores are stronger than they have been in quite a while, and Alabama is still in a "rebuilding" phase.  I personally think these two teams are more evenly-matched than people expect, which is why I don't see a Vanderbilt victory as a huge upset.  Now, whether I actually think we're going to pull it off is another story.  I actually see this as a back and forth game, with Alabama having the lead at halftime, by about ten or so.  But I see the Commodores pulling it together in front of a hometown crowd (please don't let it be more than 50% Bama fans), and scraping back into the game, taking the lead in the fourth quarter.  By this time I'll either be on my 10th beer or my second bottle of Tums (or both), but certainly on my way to my first heart attack.  I think the 'Dores win this one in an instant classic, stuffing the final Alabama drive as the final seconds tick off the clock.  Also, just to make it that much sweeter, this will be the game that will put more of the media on notice that Earl Bennett is a legitimate Heisman candidate.  Am I over-influenced by my gold-colored glasses?  I guess we'll see on Saturday.  Vanderbilt by 4.  


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