Mike and Jay's College Picks
JW: Wow, what a week of college football. Sure, you can say that most weeks, but even more so this time around. Ranked teams were dropping left and right, and all of a sudden Commodore fans aren't as confident about our chances down in Auburn this week. But hey, if last week can teach us anything, it's that with college football (and in particular the SEC), anything can happen. At least there's one constant over these last two seasons: the in-depth analysis and insightful commentary of Mike and Jay's College Picks! (hold for laughter) So, let's see what damage we can do this week!
MO: I completely agree – I'm not sure if you can ask for much better football than what we saw last week, but this week's schedule is lined up to provide just that! Twelve ranked teams will be facing each other, including all four of the highest-ranked teams in the SEC, starting with a Thursday night match-up between Spurrier's Gamecocks and the suddenly high-flying Wildcats. As good as last week was, is it possible that this week could be even better? Read on and see…
Louisiana Tech @ Ole Miss
JW: Welcome back to earth, Ole Miss. After hanging with Florida for an entire game, Ole Miss gave Georgia a game for about a half or so, then retreated back to old form, ending the game with a blow-out loss. Maybe it wasn't as bad as the score indicates, but it's hard to sugar-coat a 45-17 loss, even if it was in Athens. Luckily for Ole Miss, it's that time of the season again, where a lower-tier Louisiana school ventures into Oxford for the annual beat-down. The sad thing is, of course, that this isn't a sure-fire win for the Rebels. Tech can score, as evidenced by their 45-44 loss to Hawaii (of course, they then scored 12 and 6 against California and Fresno State, respectively), and the Rebel defense isn't exactly known for putting the clamps down. The fewest points Ole Miss has given up so far is 21, in their season-opening victory over Memphis. Since then they've allowed 38, 31, 30, and 45 points, all to superior competition than Louisiana Tech, but it's still worth noting. Now, with all that in mind, should Ole Miss actually be worried about this game? Most definitely. This is Louisiana Tech's Super Bowl, while it's Ole Miss's traditional cupcake homecoming foe. At the end of the day, however, Ole Miss is still the stronger team, just not by as much as they'd hope. Tech will make it interesting, but Colonel Reb won't be crying that much. Rebs win it by 9.
MO: There's the Coach O I know and love to see (on anyone's sideline other than mine, anyway). I'll just say that it's difficult to sugar-coat a 28-point loss because you CANNOT sugar-coat losing by four touchdowns. As far as the game goes, here's a fun fact – Ole Miss' only win this season was against Memphis, and even that win was in doubt throughout the final quarter. If there was any time for a directional Louisiana school to pick up a win against an SEC team, it's this weekend, especially after the Rebels were demoralized in the second half of last week's game – you just can't walk out of a game with your head held high after allowing any team to score four unanswered touchdowns in the final 19 minutes of a game. I like the Bulldogs to put a scare into the Rebs and possibly even lead at some point in the second half. Ultimately, though, the Rebs pull this one out and provide a brief bright spot in their 2007 Season of Woe, winning by 4.
Houston @ Alabama
MO: Uh-oh. Is the honeymoon over already between Nick Saban and the fans? The Tide followed up their overtime loss to Georgia a couple weeks ago with their second loss of the season, this time to an under-achieving Florida St. team. The worst part about the loss was the fact that Florida State was using their back-up quarterback, who was able to throw two touchdowns against the Bama defense in the second half – when Alabama usually dominates. The Tide better not sleep on Houston this week, who is averaging 33.5 points per game, including 34 against Tulane. While that may not sound all that impressive, remember that 34 points is exactly how many LSU put up against the Green Wave last season. That said, I still like Alabama here, but it will be closer than most think. Tide rolls, winning by 9.
JW: I'd be a little more concerned about Houston if they didn't just lose to East Carolina. But Mike's right - they can definitely put up some points (in addition to the Tulane game, they hung 27 on Oregon....but gave up 48). While Nick Saban isn't exactly on any hot seat, I think Bama fans' expectations have come back down to earth somewhat, thanks to two tough losses. I think that's all the motivation Saban and the Tide need to notch a solid win over Houston. I see Bama putting up a lot of points, and while Houston will do the same, Bama will score more than enough to overcome it. Crimson Tide by 17.
Alabama Birmingham @ Mississippi State
JW: It's hard to gauge Mississippi State based on their schedule. They knocked off Auburn, who went on to beat Florida last week, but they got trounced by LSU and beaten by South Carolina. They could be a lower-tier SEC school that got lucky, or a mid-range SEC school facing a brutal schedule. Luckily for me, I don't have to worry about that right now, because 1-3 UAB is coming to Starkville, fresh off a 38-30 loss to Tulsa. Sure, the Blazers are no pushover, but they certainly aren't a huge threat to the Bulldogs either. State suffered from some poor decisions, terrible penalties, and special teams breakdowns to squander a lead over South Carolina. With injuries to two quarterbacks, Sylvester Croom has to be happy to have a slight break, before facing UT, West Virginia, and a suddenly resurgent Kentucky in the next three games. I expect State to win this one, but it won't be a blowout, as Croom wants to use the game to make adjustments to his offense and figure out what might work against some very tough upcoming teams. Bulldogs by 14.
MO: You know, you've got to feel bad for the Bulldogs. Over the past few years, their quarterback situation has been in flux thanks mostly to the fact that starter Michael Henig seems to have bones made out of peanut brittle and spends more time in a cast than he does on the field. Then there's the whole "can't throw to my own team" issue, but I digress. How scary is this, though – with a win against the Blazers, Mississippi State would move to 4-2, a scant 2 wins away from bowl eligibility. That's not something I would've expected at the start of the season, but there it is. I like them to do just that, in fact – as much as I think they're prime for an upset, this isn't the season for UAB to pull it off. Bulldogs win by 9.
Chattanooga @ Arkansas
MO: Mitch who? After losing two straight SEC games, the Razorbacks regained their pride by putting up a ridiculous 66 points against North Texas. I know that North Texas is pretty sad, but there are still just 60 minutes in the game, and if you can average better than one point per minute, you're doing a lot of things right. Of course, North Texas is a Sun Belt team – Chattanooga, the sacrificial lamb heading into Fayetteville this week, is in the 1-AA Southern Conference (I, too, refuse to use the ‘Sub-division' nomenclature crap). Can the Razorbacks make themselves feel better by scoring 80? How much respect can they lose from the general public by running up the score for a second straight week? Those are the important questions here, as the winner of this game isn't in any doubt whatsoever. It'll be Pig Sooey all day, as Arkansas stomps the Mocs, winning by 45.
JW: Arkansas has been a victim of their schedule this season - their first two conference games were against surprising SEC teams Alabama and Kentucky. Alabama might not be as good as we thought a week or two ago, but Kentucky is still surprising the heck out of everyone. The Razorbacks are now primed to roll into their next part of the schedule, with winnable games against Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and South Carolina, with a couple of cupcakes (Chattanooga and Florida International) thrown in just in case. I think by season's end, Arkansas will be in pretty good shape and should be looking at a bowl. First step, of course, is to vent some more frustrations against the Mocs, which they most certainly will do. I expect Arkansas to name their score, and judging by last week, they'll aim high. Razorbacks by 38.
Cincinnati @ Rutgers
JW: Is it time to take Cincinnati seriously? Have we been taking Rutgers too seriously? Do any of you SEC fans reading this really care? Well, I can probably answer one of those three questions. As for the other two, I think I'll just wing it. Both Rutgers and Cincy have been pounding away at inferior opponents, but Rutgers finally found an inferior team (Maryland) it wasn't so inferior to. The Bearcats, however, have enjoyed beating the likes of Southeast Missouri State (59-3), Miami (Ohio) (47-10), and Marshall (40-14). Sure, those scores are very impressive, but the I-A teams they've played are a combined 5-13 on the season. Not exactly national powerhouses. But, like it or not, both teams are ranked, and barring some very bizarre outcome where both teams manage to lose, at least one will remain ranked after this game. Now, I kid, but both teams definitely have some talent. Cincinnati has QB Ben Mauk, who has played impressively so far, and I know I wouldn't want to be trying to stop RB Greg Moore. And let's not forget Ray Rice. But let's face it, folks. Neither of these teams would be able to beat the top half of the SEC, and the bottom half of the league would probably take them to the wire, if not win a few games. Both these teams are where they are because of who they play. Cincy hasn't been tested yet, and Rutgers failed its first test. So who wins this week? I'm going with the Bearcats. Maryland showed that Rutgers isn't nearly all they're cracked up to be, and I think the Bearcats take full advantage and continue the Scarlet Knights' downward spiral. We've all heard how classy Rutgers fans have been this season - let's see just how classy they can be when Cincinnati wins by 13.
MO: I can't tell you why, but I absolutely love watching over-ranked Big East teams play each other. I think it's the fact that the winner of the game will still be over-rated until they play a top-tier team from an actual football conference, at which point reality will set in before our very eyes as they lose convincingly. Both teams do have talent, but I'm taking the contrary position here and taking Rutgers – they've been in this type of over-hyped team v. over-hyped team scenario and won in recent history, so I think they're better prepared not only for the game, but also for the "upset" that will seem more unlikely than it truly is later in the season. Ray Rice runs all over the Bearcats, and Rutgers wins by 20.
Virginia Tech @ Clemson
MO: The season hasn't played out as well as Virginia Tech would've liked. All the emotion that many thought would propel them to be the top team in the ACC might've acted against them at the start of the season, what with the less-than-stellar win against Eastern Carolina, then a 40-point loss at the hands of LSU. They've rebound since, winning their last three games and holding steady in the Top 15, but still trail Boston College for top spot in the conference. Clemson, on the other hand has outdone their expectations, winning their first four before getting upset in Atlanta last week. They're still ranked, and stand just a game behind the aforementioned Golden Eagles for top spot in the ACC's Atlantic Division. As much as I like what Clemson coach Tommy Bowden has been able to do this season, I like the Hokies in this one, even though they're on the road. The Tigers simply haven't faced a defense this strong, and the Hokies have held every opponent not named ‘LSU' to just under 7 points per game. It may be close, but I'll take Virginia Tech to win by 6.
JW: I'm not so sure Virginia Tech deserves to be where they are, and I think it's more a product of pre-season rankings than anything else. Sure, their only loss is to LSU, but let's look at their wins: ECU, Ohio, William and Mary, and North Carolina. The ECU game wasn't that impressive, and while the Hokies easily took care of Ohio and William and Mary, they had some trouble with North Carolina. Clemson has played at least some "big name" teams, such as Florida State, and Georgia Tech, but went 1-1 against those teams. The Georgia Tech game wasn't pretty, but the Clemson defense put up a respectable show by holding the Jackets to only 13 points. I think that, combined with the fact that Virginia Tech's weakness lies in their offense, makes for a Clemson victory down in South Carolina. Tigers win this one by 10.
Oklahoma @ Texas
JW: If there was one drawback to the amazing week of college football we all just witnessed, it's that the Red River Rivalry/Shootout lost a little bit of its intrigue. Before Oklahoma lost to Colorado and Texas got pounded by Kansas State, this game could have had national title implications. Now it's more of a must-win for teams that want to stay in the BCS bowl hunt. Sure, neither team is totally eliminated from the national championship, but it's much more of an uphill battle now. Oklahoma's high-powered offense hit a brick wall against a Colorado team that gave up 28 points to Colorado State and 33 points to Arizona State, before clamping down defensively against Florida State and Miami (Ohio). The Longhorns racked up some serious points against their first four opponents, before forgetting that defense sometimes helps win games as well. Of course, with a rivalry like this, you have to throw a lot of the season out the window, because it's hard to imagine either team not throwing everything they have at their opponent. If Colt McCoy can limit his interceptions and Sam Bradford gets back the talent that he must have left back in Oklahoma against Colorado, we will definitely see a shootout. Either way, though, I like Oklahoma's chances to bring the Golden Hat back home. Both teams are good, but Oklahoma has shown more this season, and I think they'll rebound from a disappointing (close) loss. Texas, on the other hand, will be reeling from a blowout loss and won't be able to recover enough to defend their home turf. I expect a high-scoring game, with the Sooners coming out on top, winning by 14.
MO: The fact that the Sooners haven't won this game in a couple years has to be sticking in their craw, and I think that's going to be what pushes them over the top in this one. To me, the teams are pretty even otherwise – talent levels are just about the same, and as Jay mentioned both are coming off upset losses. I think Stoops will prepare his boys a little better, using the revenge factor and guiding Oklahoma to the win, beating the Longhorns in a classic battle by 3.
Ohio State @ Purdue
MO: It's the Established against the Upstart here. Purdue's resurgence in the Big 10 has been impressive, as they've been able to handle all of their opponents thus far this season (though, truth be told, they haven't really faced any strong teams yet). Ohio State is rebounding nicely from its Championship Game shellacking last season, despite losing what amounted to the entirety of their passing game after the Buckeye QB and top two receivers left for the draft. I like the Purdue story (honestly, who doesn't love a team in Black and Gold?), but on paper it doesn't look like a win is in the cards this week. You know what, though? I'm still going to pick the Boilermakers. This just looks like the classic "No one believes in us even though we're undefeated and playing at home" scenario that could carry them to the upset win. Besides, Ohio St. hasn't really shown that it could beat any top teams this season either. I'll take Purdue to Boiler Up here, upsetting the Buckeyes as they continue their comeback season, winning by 10.
JW: Those "nobody respects us" story lines really are fun to watch develop, but there's also some weird satisfaction in watching that story unravel at the hands of a big, uncaring giant. Sure, we all love it when the underdog wins (especially us Vanderbilt fans), but there's also some sort of satisfaction that's less discussed that comes from seeing a traditional force show the little guy who's boss. Sure, it's hard to be better than undefeated, but none of those wins are against particularly strong teams. Currently, the award for best record by a team beaten by Purdue goes to Central Michigan, who is currently 2-3, and 2-0 in the MAC! Every other team Purdue has played has only one victory. The same argument can be made for Ohio State, but at least they have a victory against a scrappy Washington team. Also, it's worth noting that both teams have played Minnesota. Purdue allowed 31 points and won by 14. OSU allowed 7 points and won by 23. I see a good game here, because even though they have inferior, untested talent, Purdue should be fired up. But ultimately, I see the Buckeyes working their way past another team in their quest to show that everything's ok, even without Troy Smith. I'll take the Buckeyes by 9.
Georgia @ Tennessee
JW: Tennessee is 2-2, without a notable win on their schedule. Georgia is 4-1, with one good SEC victory and only one close loss to an SEC rival. And yet Tennessee is favored by most to win? Come on, I know it's in Knoxville, but let's be honest - Tennessee just isn't that good. While Georgia may not be as good as their ranking, at least they're winning games, and doing so decisively. I'm trying to not let my Vanderbilt heart do all the talking, but I just don't think Tennessee is good enough to beat Mark Richt and the Bulldogs, even at Neyland Stadium. Of course, last week I all but said Auburn had no chance of beating Florida, and we saw what happened there. I'm not really one from learning lessons, so here goes...Georgia will beat Tennessee. We all saw Georgia's running game last week, and we'll see more of it this week. Mark Richt is a better coach than Phil Fulmer, and the Bulldogs are much more talented. It might not be a blowout thanks to Neyland Stadium, but it will be a 10-point Georgia victory.
MO: I just love this quote from Philip Fulmer, commenting on all the upsets last week. "It is new ball game in the SEC race right now. We need to take advantage of that and do our part." As the other eleven teams in the SEC fully realize, as poorly as Tennessee has been playing, the only thing Fulmer will be taking advantage of anytime soon is a box of doughnuts. Jay's right in singling out Georgia's run game – while not spectacular in its own right, Tennessee's run defense has been pathetic allowing 188 yards per game en route to allowing more points per game than any other team in the conference. Aside from the homefield advantage, the only other thing that Tennessee has going for them is the fact that they're coming off their bye week. In the end, it won't be enough, and Tennessee will finish the game remaining in the cellar of the SEC East, still looking for its first SEC victory of the year. Dawgs by 18.
Kentucky @ South Carolina
MO: Hang onto your hats in this game – it promises to be a bevy of offensive firepower. On one end you've got Steve Spurrier, who while not having his typical 40-points per game type of season, is still winning games; his only loss was to LSU, and even then the Gamecocks gave them a better game than anyone else has this season. Kentucky has emerged on fire this season, undefeated through five games behind quarterback Andre Woodson, who has stamped his name at the top of the Heisman candidates list with 1309 yards and 16 touchdowns in just five games. Right now, the only other quarterback in the country that has had that kind of success this season is Tom Brady. While Kentucky hasn't played any top-notch defenses yet, it's worth pointing out that they have yet to score fewer than 40 points in any game this season, though South Carolina has yet to allow more than 28 points in any game, allowing only two touchdowns through the air all season. While those are impressive defensive stats, I just don't see them stopping Woodson this week. Spurrier gets a bit of his own medicine as the Wildcats go to the air early and often, staying unbeaten in what promises to be a high-scoring affair. Kentucky by 13.
JW: I still can't get over the fact that Kentucky is a top-ten team, and they might actually deserve it. It's also kind of heartening to know that a perennial doormat can turn itself around in roughly a season and a half, and find itself ranked among the elite powerhouses. It'd be more heartening, of course, if Vanderbilt didn't have to play the Wildcats later this season. Andre Woodson and Kentucky are still playing the "no respect" card, even while they're ranked in the top ten, and it actually makes sense - a lot of people (yours truly included) did a double-take when this week's polls were released. This game sounds a lot like the "unstoppable force / immovable object" riddle, since Woodson is a ridiculously good quarterback, but the Gamecocks have the best passing defense in the country. This is a tough pick, but I see the South Carolina home-field advantage pulling Spurrier and Co. past Kentucky, but it should be a fun, hard-fought game. Gamecocks by 5.
Florida @ LSU
JW: Another game that loses some of its intrigue thanks to last week's festivities. Had they not lost to Auburn last week, Florida could have been sneaking into the bayou looking for a win over a team that the media has essentially declared the winner of the SEC. Now, Florida looks like just another good SEC team that can't hold a candle to the Tigers. Now, LSU has that #1 ranking (at least in one poll) that yours truly believes it so richly deserves, and Florida is in danger of falling out of the top ten. However, it is worth noting that Tulane did something right against LSU, at least early on, and all the SEC coaches have to be studying exactly what that something was. Can Florida recreate that success and stretch it out over 4 quarters? Can Tim Tebow open things up against a formidable LSU defense? These are the things that need to happen for the Gators to pull of the upset win in Baton Rouge. However, I (still) think LSU has just too much for Florida to overcome and get the win. I think the LSU defense sets the tone early by going after Tebow. Once he's taken out of his game, it's all but over for Florida. It won't be a blowout, and this will definitely be LSU's biggest test of the season, but I think they'll pass with flying colors. Tigers by 14.
MO: I'm not sure if it loses intrigue as much as it loses hype. Remember, after losing to Auburn last season, Florida tore through the rest of its schedule en route to a national title. This season, though, they've got LSU standing in their way, and they do indeed deserve their top spot in the polls, and Auburn gave them a blueprint for beating the Gators. I have no idea what it is, but I'm sure it's out there, and I'm sure that LSU can decipher it. As much as it may seem like I'm reverting to my doubting-LSU ways, though, I can't shake the feeling that the loss against Auburn may have given Florida a little more motivation to win this game. A loss on Saturday means that Florida is essentially done in the East, while LSU has a little more wiggle room being in the West and against somewhat weaker competition. As good as the Tigers are, we've seen that they can come out flat, and while I expect them to be amped up for this game, especially in front of their home fans, I think that Florida will play with enough controlled emotion to come out of the Bayou on top. Upsets continue this season, but this time a Top Ten teams comes out on top, as the Gators win by 4.
Vanderbilt @ Auburn
MO: Let's get this out of the way– Auburn didn't look bad last week in their win against Florida. The defense held Florida to just 17 points and the offense was able to mount a drive in three minutes to kick a game-winning field goal. But let's a closer look at that offense. The 20 points the Tigers scored was actually the second-fewest put up against the Gators all season, behind 24 points from Ole Miss and 31 points from Troy (!!!). On the season, they've scored more than 23 points just once, and even that was in a losing effort. Their passing game has been stagnant all season, even with the switch to back-up Kodi Burns last week. The running game may get a push with the addition of Brad Lester, but he'll be returning only as the third string tailback according to head coach Tommy Tuberville. Vanderbilt is coming off of a good defensive game in their own right, allowing only seven points and grabbing 5 interceptions. Statistically, the Commodore offense is better, both in points scored and yards gained. Statistically, the Commodore defense is better, both in points against and yards against. Vanderbilt's turnover margin is +4; Auburn's is -2. This is a huge game for Vanderbilt, one that they've had starred since the season began – for Auburn, this is a classic "sandwich game" scenario, with Florida last week and a revenge game against Arkansas looming next week. Auburn's win last week was a product of playing the best football they had played all season, while Vanderbilt's win was far from their best performance, giving them something to work for in practice. Finally, you have to think that a win against Auburn, especially a win *at* Auburn, would mean much more to Vanderbilt than a win against the Commodores would mean to Auburn. Surprisingly enough, everything on paper validates the pick I'm admittedly making based on heart alone. Even without all those statistics, I love the Commodores here, still with something to prove despite a good win last week, against an Auburn team that has to be a little over-confident after their close win against Florida (and deservedly so). Chris Nickson has to produce, or at the very least not turn the ball over as badly as he did last week, in order for the this to happen – and I think he will. The Commodores come out early, surprising Auburn with quick scores and holding off a late surge to shock yet another SEC team on the road. First Tennessee, then Georgia, and now Auburn as the ‘Dores make some noise on their way back to Nashville, winning by 11.
JW: I'm going to play devil's advocate for a moment. Sure, a win against Vanderbilt wouldn't mean much for Auburn, but let's not forget what a loss to the Commodores would mean for Auburn. I'd say that's some pretty good motivation for the Tigers. I know the statistics are in our favor, but I just can't forget how ugly our offense looked last week (yes, even with the 30 points scored). I know I should be more confident when the Commodores have a rough offensive performance and still win by 23, but it's still hard to ignore the fact that Chris Nickson made a lot of mistakes against a truly inferior defense. All that pessimism aside, I really like what the Vanderbilt defense has done this season, and I especially like the match-up against Brandon Cox. Can the Commodores get it together on offense and hang enough points on Auburn to give the defense room to work (and, more importantly, time to rest)? My heart says yes, but my mind is still doubtful, even with the slew of analysis Mike just threw at it. If this game was in Nashville this year, I'd pick Vandy to win, but I'm torn since the game is in Jordan-Hare Stadium, where we haven't fared too well in the past. I think it will be a close game, no matter what the outcome, but with my heart solidly on the Vanderbilt side, and my mind somewhere in the middle, I have to go with the Commodores here, with the full disclosure that this is pretty much totally a homer pick. When they replay this game on ESPN Classic (or Lincoln Financial), it could be titled "How Chris Got His Groove Back." The defense will hold, Chris will click, Earl will set the record, and Vanderbilt will score the stunning upset. 'Dores by 7.
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