MO: Forgive me for hopping up on my soapbox before we get to this week's games, but I'm taking a few sentences to be one of the few in the media to defend Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy. While I understand why fellow writers are standing up for the Oklahoman columnist, Gundy was absolutely right to do what he did. There are far too many people who make peace with the fact that the Fourth Estate will make asinine statements about amateur athletes in order to sell papers or to garner attention, which this specific columnist achieved. However, it's up to coaches and fans to hold them accountable, and he has every right to making a spectacle of himself in a public forum as she did by writing such foolish words in her column. I, for one, applaud Gundy's taking a stand against an attack on one of his players and irresponsible journalism. Speaking of which, let's get to this week's picks!
JW: I'm more a fan of making generalized asinine comments about whole teams and/or conferences. Apparently, I just feel more secure in making fun of large groups of 18-to-24 year-olds instead of individual 18-to-24 year-olds. See, that's what separates me from the pack. I won't overly pick on a particular player, but if you give me an opening to belittle a team that's not in the SEC (or a certain team in the SEC), I will take full advantage. Whenever I want to make personal comments about a particular player outside of his general ability to play football, I take a moment to think about it: This is just some kid trying to make it in a demanding, unforgiving sport......who could easily beat me up if we ever met in person. Now, let's do some picking!
LSU @ Tulane
MO: As good as they are, writing about LSU is starting to get a little uninteresting. I started out doubting their position in the polls, then ate my humble pie, and all through the season, they keep putting up impressive wins, including last week's win over South Carolina. Now they're going up against a Tulane team whose only win has come against SE Louisana (and even that was just by a touchdown)? Yes, this is a classic "sandwich" game for LSU with a HUGE match-up against Florida next week, and this is Tulane's Super Bowl, but I don't see any hope here for the Wave. LSU socres early and often, hoping to put a scare into the Gators and win back the confidence of the pollsters, winning by 38.
JW: I feel bad for Tulane - not only are they about to get trounced, but this is a "home" game for them in the Superdome in which LSU fans will undoubtedly outnumber Green Wave fans by a ridiculous amount. As a Vanderbilt fan, I can certainly feel their pain. Luckily for me, as a Vanderbilt fan, I don't also have to feel the pain of being crushed by LSU this year (although we've certainly had our fair share in the past). Despite giving up 16 points to South Carolina, the LSU defense is still ridiculously strong. How can anyone expect Tulane to score anything if Virginia Tech could only muster a touchdown? If the Green Wave gets two touchdowns in this game, it's only because Les Miles decided to put the band in on defense for the last five minutes of the game. Then again, I hear they have some pretty beefy trombone players. LSU by 40.
Florida Atlantic @ Kentucky
JW: Could Florida Atlantic catch Kentucky being overly complacent after its impressive start to the season? After all, the Wildcats have a huge slate of big SEC games just around the corner. Who really has the time to prepare for a Sun Belt team, anyway? Well, when it's a Sun Belt team that's already beaten one BCS conference team this season, you might want to pay a little attention. Luckily for UK, even the smallest amount of attention should be enough to get by the Owls. Let's keep in mind, here - FAU might have beaten Minnesota, but they got pounded by Oklahoma State. Kentucky is no Oklahoma State. Look for the Wildcats to cruise, winning by 30.
MO: FAU is one of this season's great stories – from the bottom of the league to threatening to finish over .500 by the end of the year. That success, though, will have to wait for next week to continue. Kentucky's on far too much of a roll, especially after last week's comeback win at Arkansas. Big ups to the Wildcat defense, who stopped then-Heisman frontrunner Darren McFaddon from converting a key third down early in the fourth quarter, allowing them to get the ball back and take the lead on their ensuing possession. Kentucky gets back on their dominating streak, knocking the Owls around all day, winning by 24.
North Texas @ Arkansas
MO: Maybe Mitch Mustain was a little more valuable than we all thought. Arkansas sits at (1-2) on the season, thanks in part to giving up that fourth quarter lead to Kentucky. The offense didn't score at all in the second half (the nine points scored came from a safety and the return of the ensuing kickoff), despite having McFaddon in the backfield. As I mentioned, this either speaks well of the Kentucky defense or poorly of the Hogs' offense. We won't find out this week which it is, though, as they play a North Texas team that the Vanderbilt trumpet and trombone lines could score regularly against. Arkansas goes Nutts (sorry…) against the Mean Green, winning by 27.
JW: This is just the type of game the Razorbacks need to get their act together. They're not as bad as their record, having lost some heartbreakers. But then again, giving up 21 points in the fourth quarter is pretty bad. That won't be a problem with North Texas, of course, as the Mean Green were only able to hang 20 on SMU last week. With this game, and a game against UT-Chattanooga around the corner, at least Arkansas will be over .500 headed into their game with Auburn. Look for McFadden to run at will, and the Razorbacks to win by 30.
Mississippi St. @ South Carolina
JW: Why hello, Bulldogs, welcome to the SEC. It's so nice of you to finally join us. Who honestly would have believed, back before the season started, that Mississippi State would have been 3-1 at this point? Heck, who would have believed that after their opener with LSU? Ahh, the beauty of college football. But, of course, it might be time for reality to set in for Sylvester Croom and company. After beating two bad teams and surprising an SEC foe who might also be bad, MSU faces South Carolina this week, and later comes up against UT, WVU, Kentucky, Bama, and Arkansas. That's a pretty tough stretch, even with UAB and Ole Miss thrown in for good measure. What this all means, of course, is that the Bulldogs still have a long way to go before a bowl game. South Carolina got its first loss at the hands of LSU, but hey, at least they scored 16 points. That has to amount to something, right? MSU would love for this to be a statement game, while Spurrier would love to take his frustrations out on a hapless SEC opponent (remember when that opponent used to be Vanderbilt?). I don't think either will happen exactly as planned, as State is no pushover, but South Carolina is just plain better. I see a close game for about three and a half quarters, before the Gamecocks manage to pull away. USC by 14.
MO: Yeah, you've definitely got to lean towards South Carolina here, but let's take a moment to congratulate the Bulldogs on being elevated from "joke" status to "Man, I hope we don't overlook these guys this season" status. I guess telling Michael Henig to throw to his own receivers works wonders, doesn't it? All joking aside, this should be a good game – last year, these teams opened up against each other, with South Carolina shutting out MSU, but only scoring 15 points themselves. I like the Dawg defense to make a statement this week, but I just don't see the MSU offense getting up enough production to outscore the Gamecocks. Gotta go with South Carolina (and the under) here, as they win by 8.
Ole Miss @ Georgia
MO: Ok, so would the real Ole Miss Rebels please stand up? They certainly put one of their fingers on each hand up to their critics last week, putting a scare into Florida and gaining a little respect back after being dominated by Vanderbilt in the previous week (which will look better after Vanderbilt makes it to a bowl this season). The only problem? While the game might have driven Rebel fans outta their minds and outta control with optimism, it still counts as a loss. Georgia, on the other hand, got a big road win at Alabama last week, winning on the first play of their half of overtime. Credit the defense there for holding the Tide to a mere 20% on 3rd down conversion, something that we could see again this week. Thanks to the Rebels impressive performance last week and Tennessee's lackluster season, there's no chance the Bulldogs look past Ole Miss this week, which unfortunately would've been the only way for Coach O to keep it close. Bulldogs win by 24.
JW: Why do I suddenly crave candy-coated milk chocolate? Anyway...I'm not one to brag about my picks (usually because there's nothing to brag about), but I would like to humbly point out my prediction last week, where I said that Ole Miss would put a scare into Florida. So, now that I've used up my ability to correctly forecast a game, you can safely expect none of my picks to be correct for the rest of the year (except when I pick Vanderbilt wins, of course). I also think that the Rebels used up all of their mojo last week against Florida. I don't know what possessed them last week (or if it was the Gators not taking them seriously), but this is still a pretty unimpressive football team. Georgia, on the other hand, regained some respect after the USC loss by going into Tuscaloosa and emerging with a win. Just like CJG and Chris Nickson ran well against the Rebel defense, look for Knowshon Moreno to have a career day against Ole Miss. Georgia will safely defend their home field and come away with the 13-point victory.
Alabama @ Florida State
JW: You know, if Alabama could re-learn how to play consistent football in the first three quarters of games, I'd be more convinced of their ability to make some noise this year in the SEC. But, it seems that after playing Vanderbilt, they left all their first-through-third quarter ability behind on Dudley Field, needing dramatic comebacks in the fourth quarter to beat Arkansas and take Georgia to overtime. Maybe this is why they head to Tallahassee as an underdog, even though FSU isn't anywhere close to being ranked, while Bama is still hanging on in the top 25. While Alabama has been having some consistency issues lately, the Seminoles haven't exactly been asserting their football prowess, beating Colorado 16-6, a game that wasn't decided until well into the fourth quarter. Ok, so maybe Colorado isn't as awful as they've been in the past, but they still aren't exactly good. I think we all know that Bobby Bowden just isn't who he used to be, while Nick Saban might actually be a decent coach. I think the Tide rolls into Tallahassee and "steals" a decisive win. Bama by 10.
MO: Yeah, I'm not sure how Bama's an underdog here – Tallahassee hasn't really been all that fearsome a place to play in a few years, so I can't think the homefield advantage would mean THAT much, especially as well as Bama travels. I could chalk this one up to the "It's a Bowden! They *have* to be good!" factor, but I won't, because there are some legit factors, including the fact that Florida St. had a bye last week, while Alabama had a night game go into overtime last week. I want to pull for the upset, but really, I'm not sure if there is an upset here. This should be one of the best games of the season, and I like Bama squeaking out yet another last-minute victory, winning by 4.
Auburn @ Florida
MO: The wind coming out of the south last Saturday was the sigh of relief coming from Gator fans after their close call with Ole Miss. True, a win is a win, and road wins are especially valuable, but you have to think that no one near the Swamp is all that thrilled right now. Auburn comes into the game on the heels of a dominating win over New Mexico St., though the highlight of the night for the team was after the game, when Auburnnose tackle Josh Thompson proposed to his girlfriend. It's a good thing she said yes, as it might be the only good news Auburn sees for a while thanks to a brutal schedule that won't let up until they host Ole Miss in late October. I like Florida to bounce back in a big way here, welcoming the Tigers to Gainesville and sending them back under .500 once again, winning by 17.
JW: After a tough win in Oxford, Florida dropped a couple of spots in the polls. And for good reason, too - it wasn't the prettiest of victories. However, it probably served as a perfect wake-up call for Florida that they can't cruise along relying on just talent. They have to actually, you know, play football. And that's just what they'll do against Auburn, as Urban Meyer knows that the home crowd would love some reassurance. The Tigers are still looking to salvage a season derailed by losses to South Florida and Mississippi State. Sure, a win over Florida in Gainesville would erase any heat Tommy Tuberville is currently feeling. While we're in wishful thinking mode, I'll also note that a win in the lottery would erase any heat I'm currently feeling from my student loans. Gators by 24.
California @ Oregon
JW: Wow, a solid PAC-10 matchup. Ok, I know, I'm pretty hard on the teams out west, but we're all SEC homers around here, so I doubt anyone's going to complain too much. However, it is nice to see some talented teams in the PAC-10, if for no other reason than to not give USC a free pass to the national championship each year. These are two high-scoring teams where defense is pretty much an afterthought. Oregon did, of course, hold Michigan to a single touchdown, but we're still a long ways from finding out exactly how impressive that was. Cal had a great start to the season against Tennessee and then has beaten up on some weaker opponents. I feel for both defenses here, as they're going to be giving up a LOT of points. Oregon is looking to avenge last year's 45-24 embarrassment, but I'm not so sure they can pull this off, even with the home field advantage. While they ultimately rolled over Stanford, they were trailing for a good portion of the game, and the Ducks seem to have a problem with turnovers. That will be the difference here - while both teams seem to be able to score at will, Cal will win because of fewer mistakes. Bears by 10.
MO: "…where defense is a pretty much an afterthought." PAC-10 Football, ladies and gentlemen!! I love the rub that Oregon is getting here – it's the typical "Hey, look – these guys are playing one of the top two teams in the PAC-10! They *have* to be good" over-estimation we've seen from the voters for the past few seasons. We saw this when Tennessee was ranked in the Top 20 before playing Cal – they're now in the bottom of the SEC East (and holy cow is that fun to write!). We saw this when Nebraska was ranked in the top 15 before playing USC – then nearly lost to Ball State the next week. Seriously, who have the Ducks played? Stanford? Michigan? Of course the Ducks are unbeaten! That won't remain true after Saturday. The hype around Oregon goes up in flames as Cal runs them right off their own field, ready to face they're next opponent, who assuredly will be over-hyped in order to make the game (and the PAC-10) seem more important that it really is. Bears by 23.
West Virginia @ South Florida
MO: The Friday night game could essentially be for the Big East title as a suddenly powerful South Florida looks to take Louisville's spot as one of the top three teams in the Big East. A win over West Virginia would be a big step in achieving that, but they'll have to get through Pat White and Steve Slaton, along with all the speed they bring to the table. The Mountaineers have a deceptively unique offense that takes advatange of their stars' speed, using both the spread and the option effectively. The game will be the Bulls' first true test of the season (as Auburn was wilted from their normal seat of promience this season), and I don't think they're going to fare well in it. Look for White and Slaton to take advantage of the national spotlight and further pad their Heisman credentials, this time against a quality opponent. Mountaineers by 13.
JW: Sure, Slaton and White are an impressive duo, but let's not forget that USF was able to stop them cold last year, winning 24-19 in Morgantown, West Virginia, giving USF their one yearly marquee win. Unfortunately for the Bulls, that marquee win quota for 2007 might have already been used up at Auburn. This is USF's big chance to make a statement, and they'll try to do it in front of 45,000 supportive, rabid fans down in Tampa. It has all the makings of a feel-good story, and it's certainly possible given the history of these two teams. However, I don't see it happening this time around, as Pat White and Steve Slaton will be focused on proving that last year's game was an anomaly. It should be a close, exciting game between two pretty talented teams, but West Virginia has the overall talent edge. While USF might have plenty of intangibles going for it, that can only take you so far. Mountaineers by 7.
Eastern Michigan @ Vanderbilt
JW: Vanderbilt should be rested and ready thanks to a week off after beating Ole Miss. It might seem silly to need a bye week between a game like that and a game against Eastern Michigan, but it probably came at just the right time, as many key players needed an extra weak to heal some minor injuries. Let's hope Chris Nickson is healed up, gets some quality time, then comes out with a big lead and lets Mackenzi Adams get some much-needed playing time. As with the Richmond game, this should be an easy victory for the 'Dores so long as they show up. Sure, it's easy to look past Eastern Michigan to a very winnable game in Auburn, but this team should be disciplined enough to focus on the game at hand and take care of business. Look for Cassen Jackson-Garrison to run wild against a defense even weaker than Ole Miss's. Like with the Richmond game, I don't see Coach Johnson allowing the score to get too out of hand, but I still see another decisive win. Vandy by 20.
MO: I don't want to call this a ho-hum game or anything, but I think you're right – we'll see some big plays, but for the most part, I wouldn't be surprised to see Vandy keep it conservative throughout the night. Not only will this help keep the pressure off of Nickson and his shoulder, but it will also help boost the confidence of an offensive line that has shown improvement in each of the past two games. I really think that this is the game where the defense makes its statement. Dare I say shutout? I don't, but I also don't think Eastern Michigan hits double-digits unless it's in the fourth quarter with the second stringers in. I really don't mean to sleep on this team, especially since they're from the always-dangerous MAC, but I think the extra week of rest will really put a charge into Vanderbilt, and I don't see much hope for the Eagles. ‘Dores score early and often, keeping things slow in the second half and winning by 27.