MO: Another week and another set of picks, only this time we get the added obstacle of trying to avoid mentioning last week's game. There are a lot of decent games on the schedule this week, including everyone's favorite early-season SEC clash between Tennessee and Florida. Will Florida keeps its dominance over UT for yet another season? Will Vanderbilt bounce back and beat the Rebels? Which over-rated Midwest team will get its first win this week – Notre Dame or Michigan? The answers lie within.
JW: I've spent the week consulting the NCAA rule book to see if there is any possible way that both Michigan and Notre Dame can lose their game this week. My findings don't look good for those of us enjoying the schaddenfreude of these two "historic powers" falling on their face. While I do trust my research, if there is some way for two teams to play and both to get a loss, I'm sure Michigan and Notre Dame will find a way. We have quite a few good matchups this week, so it's time for Mike and me to really ratchet up our analysis and predicting skills (pause for laughter). Now, on to the picks!
Mississippi St. at Auburn (-13)
MO: The Bulldogs had an impressive win against Tulane last week – well, as impressive as a win against Tulane can be, I suppose. Auburn, on the other hand, lost to South Florida in the popular upset pick of the week, which begs the question – if everyone picks an upset, is it truly an upset? The good news for State is that they've got the same record as Auburn does right now. The bad news is Auburn will be focused on improving that record in order to put themselves in the SEC Championship, while Mississippi State will be focused on making it back to Starkville in one piece. War Eagle all day long, as the Tigers win by 23.
JW: What better way to show that a big upset in your own stadium was just a fluke than to pound away at another football team and get an SEC victory out of the deal? I'm sure that's what the Tigers are thinking, and like it or not, State is sure to oblige. South Florida played its roll of spoiler again, taking the winds out of the sails of another highly-ranked team, so you have to give them a lot of credit. It wasn't just luck that pushed them to an overtime win in Auburn, although that certainly helped. Auburn is still a stronger team than USF, but they certainly have their weaknesses. It's a shame Mississippi State has even more weaknesses and no real way to exploit Auburn's. Tigers by 17.
West Carolina @ Georgia
JW: Well, Georgia couldn't get it done against Spurrier in Athens, and all of a sudden the talks of vying for the SEC East crown have quieted down significantly. But who better to get your confidence back up than a lowly I-AA team? And I do mean lowly. Last year, the Catamounts lost to the likes of Liberty, Wofford, and Elon. They look to continue the ineptitude this year, having already lost to Alabama and Eastern Kentucky. While Georgia may not be as good as some had believed (or maybe it's just that pesky Steve Spurrier), this game should be a cakewalk for them. They'll pretty much pick their score, so I'm going to do the same. (throws dart) Bulldogs by 38.
MO: You know, I think that it could indeed just be pesky Steve Spurrier – and I'm not just saying that because I called the upset last week (because then I'd have to point out all the games I picked WAY wrong). This is a classic bounceback game for Georgia – you know that WCU winced when they saw the final score last week, knowing that the ‘Dawgs would be hungry for a win and would be ready to show the country what they can really do. Georgia scores early and often, running up the score and winning by 42.
South Carolina St. @ South Carolina
MO: The Gamecocks come off a big win in Athens and welcome home an in-state rival and a team that has given them trouble in the past. Oh, wait – this isn't Clemson? It's South Carolina State? Pfffffft. While the Bulldogs may put an early scare into South Carolina (this is their Super Bowl after all), Spurrier will eventually run up the score, letting Blake Mitchell get the padded stats that he missed out on by not being a part of the season opener against Louisiana-LaFayette. ‘Cocks by 47.
JW: The downside to having all these cupcake games that are easy to pick is having to write something substantive about them. I seriously doubt anyone, aside from a few Bulldog fans, really thinks SC State has a fighting chance in this game. I agree with Mike – not only will the Gamecocks win, but Spurrier will keep most his starters in well into the fourth quarter. South Carolina by 30.
Arkansas @ Alabama
JW: Last year's battle of the UAs was a turning point in both teams' seasons, as Arkansas went on to complete one of their most successful seasons in quite some time, while Alabama never seemed the same after losing by one in overtime, leading to the eventual hiring (and soon to be sainthood) of Nick Saban. I don't think I need to remind anyone here of exactly what Alabama did last week, but suffice to say I'm not convinced whether the Tide is already a solid team, or whether Vanderbilt simply underperformed (with some serious help from the gentlemen clad in stripes). Maybe it's a little of both. This game will definitely tell us whether Arkansas can sustain the hype from last year, and whether all the hype surrounding Bama is legit. What should concern Arkansas most is a defense that gave up 26 points to Troy, especially considering that Alabama's defense isn't likely to be as generous as a Troy defense that gave up 46 points. Sure, the Razorback offense can be explosive, particularly on the ground, but Bama seems to love to stop the run. I find it interesting that Arkansas is ranked, but Alabama is favored to win. I guess you blame that on the home-field advantage and the magical powers of Nick Saban. However, I'm just not convinced yet. Alabama's offense didn't show me all that much in the Vandy game, and if Arkansas can tighten up a little bit, they can pull out the win. I see another close game, this time in Tuscaloosa, but the result will still be somewhat the same. Hogs by 3.
MO: I'll agree about the Bama offense – had they been even moderately effective last week, that two-touchdown margin of victory would've been a LOT worse. I don't see Arkansas' offense stalling as ours did, especially with two proven running weapons to fire against the Tide. I'm not as concerned about Arkansas' performance against Troy as an indicator of their defense – after all, the Trojans were able to put up 31 against Florida as well. I underestimated Bama's defense last week, something that I'll not do again, but as good as they are, I don't think that they'll be able to hold off the Hogs' running attack enough to get the win. With so little passing, it'll be a quick game, but I don't expect it to be all that close. I'll take Arkansas by 13.
Middle Tennessee St. @ LSU (-40) (Yes, that's FORTY)
MO: In the theme of teams I underestimated last week, we have the LSU Tigers. Man, did I get them wrong. They looked fantastic against a Virginia Tech team, and even though I think LSU didn't get the Hokies' best game, it was still evident that they should be considered one of the top two teams in the country. We don't normally talk about the spread number itself in this column, but I just want to point out that the spread here is 40 (that's *forty*) points, and as ludicrous as it might be, giving that many points here doesn't seem all that crazy. MTSU put up a lot of points against Louisville, but the Cardinals defense isn't anywhere near the level of LSU's. I'll bite pick LSU to cover, as the geaux to victory, winning by 45.
JW: If that was the Hokies' best game, either the pollsters are way off (wouldn't be the first time!), or we might as well end the season now and declare LSU the national champion. I watched most of the first half of that game, and man, it was ugly. Virginia Tech was just outclassed in basically every category of the game. I also love how the LSU defense was really disappointed that they gave up that one touchdown. Of course, the way they've played in the last two games, maybe that's not as ludicrous-sounding a sentiment as I think it is. MTSU's no pushover, but they're also no Virginia Tech. If the Tigers can dominate a top-ten team (at the time..it remains to be seen if they are actually a top-ten team), imagine what they can do with Little Middle? It'll get ugly quick, but I don't think as ugly as the Virginia Tech game, simply because LSU doesn't have as much to prove. Although I think the Tigers could easily beat the spread if they wanted to, I think they'll win by a "measly" 35 points.
Louisville @ Kentucky
JW: The battle for the Governor's Cup has lately been dominated by Louisville for the past five years or so, and rightfully so. While Kentucky has been at or near the bottom of the SEC for some time, Louisville has built an impressive program that is a consistent top-15 team. Kentucky is hoping to change all that this year and show that the optimism in Lexington is for real. This is both teams' first real test, although MTSU put up a heck of a fight against the Cardinals last week, ultimately falling 58-42. This should be a fun game to watch, and I expect Kentucky to hang some points on Louisville. With Brian Brohm and Andre Woodson on the field, you expect some fireworks. Kentucky's motivated, has the home field advantage, and has some talent, while Louisville might be a little too comfortable with their current dominance of the state. I'll head out on that limb (it worked so well for me last week...cough cough) and say the Wildcats pull off the upset. Kentucky wins this one by 4.
MO: Hang on a sec there – you're right that Louisville's defense will let a team put a lot of points on the board, but I'm not so sure that Kentucky's won't do the same. Plus, while Kentucky has averaged 53.0 points per game this season, Louisville has averaged 65.5 each game. This is going to be a high-scoring match-up for sure, but I think that Louisville has the edge here, not just because their offense is a smidge more potent, but because they've been in a close game this season (albeit against MTSU), while Kentucky has cruised in its two wins so far. I'll take Louisville in a high-scoring game, adding a late score to seal the game and win by 9.
Notre Dame @ Michigan (-7.5)
MO: Someone. Has. To. Win. Who would've thought we'd be here at the third week of the season with both Notre Dame and Michigan winless? Who would've thought either of those teams would go 0-3? Admittedly, Notre Dame's lack of success isn't all that surprising with the transition to the new quarterback among other changes. But Michigan's struggles, especially with Chad Henne and Mike Hart returning for their senior seasons, are mind-boggling. After the Oregon loss, Hart guaranteed a win against the Irish, and in a subsequent press conference, Irish coach Charlie Weis agreed with him, saying that if he had only seen Notre Dame's past couple of games, he'd be assured of a Wolverine victory as well. I can't say I blame either of them, especially with Notre Dame's minus-8 yards in rushing last week. Then again, Michigan didn't look all that great on the run either, with the Wolverine offensive line letting Oregon into the backfield almost at will. That said, I think that the Irish should be able to figure out how to beat Michigan – spread the field. Weis catches on to that and lets Clausen manage the game, as the Irish finally get over the Michigan hump (hey, if not this year, then when?), winning by 6.
JW: This is a tough call to make – Michigan has no defense, but Notre Dame hasn't scored an offensive touchdown yet this season. Both teams are demoralized, but the Notre Dame losses are a little less surprising. Both are motivated to prove that they're not as bad as they've looked so far, but Notre Dame has the bulletin board material of Mike Hart's guarantee. However, when it comes down to it, I've seen more out of Michigan than I have out of Notre Dame. Sure, this is all relatively speaking, as both teams have looked pretty bad, but at least Michigan's offense can move the ball every now and then. I think that with players such as Henne, Hart, and Manningham, this team is going to start clicking sooner or later and at least making games competitive (notice I didn't say winning just yet). Notre Dame, on the other hand, still can't quite figure out what it's doing offense-wise, and has only mustered two field goals in two games. While I think they'll be given plenty of opportunities by a Michigan team that plays worse defense than I played in grade school YMCA soccer, I still don't trust them to be that potent. I see Michigan scoring with relative ease, and while the Wolverine defense might not have much of a hand in it, Notre Dame won't produce too much. I'm going with Michigan by 10, and may the game be actually as ugly as it looks to be.
Southern Cal @ Nebraska
JW: I think pretty much everyone is in agreement that if the voters weren't so glued to preseason rankings, USC would not be number one right now. The Trojans have only played Idaho and a feisty Bye Week team, both of which they handled with relative ease. Now they finally get a legitimate test (probably more legitimate than the vast majority of their PAC-10 schedule) when they roll into Memorial Stadium for a matchup against the Cornhuskers. This game pits a powerhouse of the 2000s vs. a powerhouse of the 1990s who's trying to scratch its way back to national prominence. However, if Nebraska wants to achieve that, they're going to have to do better than a 20-17 victory over Wake Forest. Sam Keller showed his youth, but was bailed out by his defense. Don't look for USC to repeat the Deacons' failure to capitalize on Nebraska mistakes. Pete Carroll has a well-oiled machine out there, and despite the usual "weak conference" arguments, the Trojans look like they have the pieces to make another run in the regular season (we'll talk about bowls later). I see Nebraska putting up a fight, but the Trojans' talent winning out. SoCal by 7.
MO: Nebraska did indeed look good against the defending ACC Champion Demon Deacons (whose title everyone seems to be forgetting), though they were indeed lucky that Wake didn't take advantage of the miscues. I want to like the Trojans, but right now they're simply a great team that returns a lot of the same personnel from last year's squad that lost at Oregon St and at UCLA last season. If this game were in California, I'd feel more comfortable about a Trojan victory, but it's in Nebraska which almost makes me want to pull the trigger on the upset call. Nebraska's had the tougher competition so far this season, and can play the "no one thinks we can win this game" card perfectly here. That said, USC has played its best against better competition, and in such a weak conference, Nebraska figures to be its toughest test until they face the Big 10 representative in the Rose Bowl yet again this season. I'll take the Trojans by 13, though they'll need a late score to bring it to that margin.
BC @ Georgia Tech (-4)
MO: Boston College has impressed this season, notching wins against conference foes Wake Forest and NC State in dominating fashion. The Yellow Jackets have had the same success, though against weaker competition in Notre Dame and Samford. Though the wins are less impressive, Georgia Tech's schedule gives them an edge here, especially being able to rest their starters at the end of last week's dominating win. The fact that the game is in Atlanta and so far away from Boston helps the Yellow Jackets as well. I'd like to think this game is close, but I can see Tech jumping out to an early lead and holding it throughout the game, winning in front of the home crowd by 17.
JW: Georgia Tech does have quite a bit going for it, especially looking at the amount of offense that team racked up in its first two wins, but the Jackets will be facing a much more formidable defense in Boston College. The Eagles have a stifling run defense, which should make for an interesting matchup against a Georgia Tech team that has scored every single touchdown this season on the ground. If BC can be successful in taking Tech's running game away, they'll be primed for the win, as I suspect QB Matt Ryan can make things happen for the Eagles. I definitely see this as a tight game, and look for BC to add to its already hefty takeaways statistic and win the game in front of a hostile crowd in Atlanta. Boston College by 3.
Ohio State @ Washington
JW: Sure, tOSU looked sloppy against Akron in last week's 20-2 victory. The turnovers were ugly, and Todd Boeckman didn't exactly look like his predecessor, but all those miscues on offense were made up for with a defensive shut-out. You could just view it as the Buckeyes defense is well ahead of the offense, but the offense will eventually come around. The Huskies, on the other hand, are most likely realizing that if they can pull this out, they'll climb into the national polls, where they're currently right on the edges, thanks to a 24-10 victory over Boise State. The Husky defense has to be more potent than the Akron defense, so whatever problems the Buckeyes had last week had better be solved this time around. I'm impressed by what Tyron Willingham has done with Washington so far, and it'll be reflected in a close game at Husky Stadium. However, look for the OSU defense to stifle the Huskies, and the Buckeye offense to get it together for just enough to pull out the win. OSU by 3.
MO: How bout that 3-2 Buckeye lead at halftime last week? I really think that this is the game where Ty Willingham makes his statement. Taking a Washington team from the bottom of the Pac-10 to an undefeated start, including wins over Boise State and Ohio State in just three short years? That might make Notre Dame fans wring their hands in frustration a bit, especially if they end up falling to 0-3. I expect the Buckeyes to come out on fire after a disappointing game against Akron, but in the end it'll be Willingham with his fist raised, welcoming Ohio State to the great Northwest then sending them home with their first regular season loss in what seems like years. Huskies by 14.
Tennessee @ Florida (-7.5)
MO: Of all the yearly clashes between powerhouse teams, this game seems to satisfy the most. It's either a hotly-contested battle with the lead changing hands multiple times or a sound thrashing of the Vols at the hands of the Gators, something nearly every SEC fan loves to see. Tennessee lost their only match against a ranked team this season, but I have a hunch they'll come out strong this week and might even be able to put a scare into Florida. That's all they'll be able to do though – Urban Meyer has too many weapons for Tennessee's defense to contain and Erik Ainge has too few weapons to answer back. It'll be business as usual (that's always fun to say about a Tennessee loss) as Florida rolls, continuing Phil Fulmer's streak of ineffectiveness against the Gators (also something that's fun to say). Florida by 18.
JW: I don't know, as much as I'd like to predict a Florida blowout, history isn't on our side. Last year, the Gators were able to win 21-20 in Knoxville en route to a national championship, and the year before, squeaked by in Gainesville 16-7. But then again, a win is a win, and Florida does enjoy racking them up against Tennessee. Like Mike says, it usually ends up being a close game or a game dominated by Florida. Maybe we're due for the latter. I just don't see Tennessee matching up well against Florida, particularly with the issues they've been having on defense. While Florida might be without one of their best receivers (Andre Caldwell), they still have plenty of options. Tennessee, on the other hand, has Arian Foster, and, uh, that's about it. Sure, Ainge is better than last year, but he's going up against a much more formidable defense than those he saw against Cal and Southern Miss. Will this game be a blowout? Well, it all depends on what your definition of the word "blowout" is. Gators by 13.
Ole Miss @ Vanderbilt
JW: Last week was a travesty on several levels, from the injuries to the questionable play-calling to the referees, it just wasn't a very good day to be a Vanderbilt fan. However, let's give a little credit to Bama. They came in, wore the defense down, and walked away with a pretty decisive victory. Sure, there were some momentum-killing questionable calls by the zebras, but we're Vanderbilt. We have to expect those calls and simply find a way to overcome them, as unfair as that sounds. But enough of the wailing and gnashing of teeth, people, Ed Orgeron is coming to town! And really, what better to get us out of our funk than an Ole Miss team that barely beat Memphis and then spotted Missouri a 28-point lead en route to a 13-point loss? The Commodore defense was respectable last week, and just got worn down by the end thanks to Bama's ability to just keep pounding the ball at them. While BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a talented back, the Rebels don't have much passing power to keep the defense honest (Seth Adams' stats from last week are, in my humble opinion, inflated by the desperation of being down 28 and the Mizzou defense playing not to lose). I like Vandy's defense here, and when I look at how Ole Miss's defense has performed, I have to expect that Chris Nickson OR Mackenzi Adams will have a good game. I really hope it's Nickson, because Ole Miss had problems with Mizzou's athletic QB, Chase Daniels, who used a combination of passing and running to practically embarrass the Rebel D. Look for Vandy to establish the running game then let Earl run loose in the secondary. Maybe it's just my gold-colored glasses again, but I see the 'Dores pulling this game off with relative ease. VU by 12.
MO: It was indeed a foul day to be a Vanderbilt fan last Saturday, especially with the daunting number of Bama fans that invaded Nashville. Both teams are coming off losses and poor performances last week, though the Rebels' pseudo-comeback against Missouri might give them a little confidence. I also worry about Green-Ellis in the backfield – if we can't stop him (and there's a chance we won't), it's going to be a long night for Commodore faithful. That said, I agree that we'll be able to stack the box and let our secondary grab a few interceptions with Ole Miss tries to throw the ball. I like Vanderbilt's chances, as we have the better team going into the game, and a team that remembers absolutely their absolutely dominating performance in Oxford last season that still resulted in a loss. I have a hunch that the coaches are running a few extra ball-handling drills this week to prevent that from happening again this season. As the Nashville night creeps into the late hours Saturday, it'll be Commodore fans cheering while Col. Reb keeps crying, as Vanderbilt sends Ole Miss and the Clown Prince of Coaching home with yet another loss. ‘Dores by 8.