MO: After going through the drudgery that was making last week's picks following the Ole Miss loss, I have to say that I'm looking at the picks in a whole new light. The Kool-Aid seems to be going around at a good clip, and a lot of the posters are excited about this week's game. Since we've never beaten Spurrier, why not get one more long, embarrassing streak out of the way? I, for one, would especially love to see a win on Saturday, as it will be the only chance the Mrs. Dr. MO and I have a chance to see the team live (we'll be the obnoxiously cute couple in the alumni band). With that said, there are a good number of interesting games this week, both in and out of conference, and we'll have plenty of time to dissect the Commodore game at the end of them. Onward!
JW: The Georgia win was the first game this year I was unable to watch/listen to/view updated stats for at least a half. The same thing happened last year for the UT game. I turned on my computer at the first chance I had during BOTH the UT and Georgia games to see that we had won. I'm sure many of you are hoping that from here on out, I simply won't be witnessing any more Vandy games, but I simply can't bring myself to do that, even for the good of the team. They're just going to have to overcome my jinx themselves and win their own games...there's only so much I can do! Alas, I won't be seeing the game in person, marking the first homecoming I've missed since 2000 (stupid law school + lack of money), but I certainly hope there'll be a big crowd in black and gold (and can someone snag a Jay Cutler bobblehead for me, please?). For everyone going to homecoming, drive/fly safely, and have a great time! Now, let's do some picks!
Mississippi State @ Georgia
MO: This ought to be fun – a team fresh off their second win of the season faces off against another team that just suffered their second loss of the season. Mississippi St. got enjoy a smattering of success after pasting Jacksonville St. at home last week. The only problem? They're heading into a lions' den in Athens. After losing to Vanderbilt 24-22 last week (yep, I'll be milking that one for the rest of the season, too!), the ‘Dawgs have to be motivated to get back into the win column. Of course, that's what we said last week since they were coming off of a loss to UT, but this time it's different. This time, it's VANDERBILT that's sticking in their craw, and I don't care how good we are, I'm not sure there's anything that bugs an SEC team more than losing to Vanderbilt. We're going to see the Bulldog offense start to click this week after what I'm sure have been the most intense practices in Georgia history, and they defend their home field, winning by 27.
JW: I walked by a car parked a block away from my house here in DC, and noticed it had a prominently-displayed Georgia sticker and a UGA license plate. Anyone watching me would've thought I was crazy because I started grinning ear to ear and even chuckling a little bit to myself. I was really tempted to hang out for a while and see if I could have a few words with the owner of the Bulldog-mobile, but I figured he/she might be on the verge of suicide as it is, and a gloating (but friendly) Vandy fan might just put them over the edge. I think you're right about the Bulldogs - they can't be happy with the past couple of games, and what better way to get back to your winning ways than to beat up on a pathetic Mississippi State team? I think next time I'm depressed after a particularly rough week of classes, I'm firing up NCAA Football '07, setting it to "very easy," and demolishing State myself. Nickson to Bennett all day, baby! Anyway, Georgia's going to get back on track, albeit briefly, against the other Bulldogs. UGA by 24.
Ole Miss @ Arkansas
JW: Ah, to play the "what if" game. What if a certain gust of wind hadn't caught a certain field goal attempt? What if Houston Nutt hadn't called timeout? Would Arkansas be anywhere near first place in the SEC West, or would a loss to Vandy in Nashville have demoralized them so much that they couldn't bounce back? And to continue the trend - what if Chris Nickson played all four quarters against Ole Miss? What if Vanderbilt actually decided to find the end zone once or twice instead of coughing up crucial turnovers? Would Ole Miss have even smaller hopes of winning this game than they do in reality? The Vanderbilt win notwithstanding, these two teams are going in completely opposite directions. It is, of course, worth noting that the last time Arkansas was in the Top 25, it was none other than Ole Miss who knocked them right back out, with a 19-7 win in 2003. Of course, back then, the Rebels had Eli Manning and David Cutcliffe. Now, they have Brent Schaeffer and Ed Orgeron. Ole Miss might catch Arkansas napping, but luckily the Hogs can win this one in their sleep. Arkansas by 14.
MO: Ok, so my dire predictions from the Ole Miss/Alabama game didn't come to fruition, but at least the Rebels lost last week and the Dores picked up a huge win, so all is well in the world. Arkansas comes into the game fresh off a stomping of SEMO, which was immediately preceded by upsetting Auburn. As it stands right now, the Razorbacks have a stranglehold on the SEC West, and it's all thanks to the offense. As much as we mocked moving a high school directly to offensive coordinator, it's worked as Arkansas is averaging nearly 400 yards of offense each game. While there's a chance they could be caught napping, their next game is against Louisiana Monroe, so the chance is minimal. The Hogs get the lead early and never look back, winning by 25.
Fresno State @ LSU
MO: Man, oh, man. After beating Nevada in their season opener, Fresno St. has lost every single game it has played, including falling to Hawaii last week by the oh-so-tight score of 68-37. They even lost to Utah St., regularly mentioned as one of the worst teams in the country (needless to say, it is the Aggies' only win so far this season). Things don't get much better as they head to Baton Rouge, where LSU has been tough all season. LSU has won every home game they've played, outscoring their opponents by a whopping 236-30 margin in only five games. Of course, they have yet to really play anyone at home, and unfortunately for the Bulldogs, that scenario plays out again this week. This might have a been a good match-up when David Carr was around, but now it's just a stomping. I'll play the averages and say that LSU wins by 41 (score: 47-6).
JW: There's nothing quite like a mid-season break from a tough SEC schedule. LSU can essentially pick its score here, and I'm finding it difficult to write anything of much substance here, so I'll just mention that I find it hilarious that this is ESPN2's Saturday night game. Seriously? You couldn't get better than Fresno State/LSU? Sure, I know, Fresno State was supposed to be better than this at the beginning of the season, but I'm sure they could've found a better game than this as the season progressed. Yes, I'm a little bitter about Vanderbilt's lack of national coverage (GamePlan doesn't count). Anyway, the only way Fresno State wins this one is if the NCAA announces some huge, super-secret investigation that ends up giving LSU the death penalty, effective immediately. Even then, I wouldn't be surprised if the LSU Lambda Chi intramural team puts up a good fight. Bayou Bengals by 35.
Tulane @ Auburn
JW: It's a good thing Auburn has a tune-up game like this before they face...wait, let me check...Ole Miss? Ok, well, it's good that Auburn has two tune-up games before they face...Arkansas State? Well, it's good to have three tune-ups for...Georgia. Ok, that's it. Looking at Auburn's remaining schedule, they're basically tuning up for what they hope will be the SEC championship game. Sure, maybe some of these remaining teams will put up a fight, but I certainly can't say that about Tulane. A team that can't get by UTEP or Houston (or anyone from Texas, for that matter) must be an awfully tempting victim for the Tigers. Auburn by 38.
MO: Tulane is actually 1-1 vs. SEC teams this year – unfortunately for them, the one win is against MS St. Auburn is coming off an emotionally charged, tight win over Florida, and could be in for somewhat of a letdown, but I don't think enough of one to lose to this Tulane team. They've still got to win every game this season and hope that Arkansas goes into a tailspin to end the season, so they'll be focused here, taking an early lead and winning going away by 27.
Indiana @ Ohio State
MO: Two great stories out of the Big Ten – Ohio St., the undisputed #1 team in the country, faces a team that just upset Iowa and whose coach underwent brain surgery just under a month ago. Indiana is better than its record indicates (though they did lose a couple to inferior teams earlier in the season). That said, this is Ohio St. I'd love to say that if the game weren't at the Horseshoe, the Hoosiers would have a shot, but even though I don't think it's close. Ohio St. just has too much firepower to overcome for Indiana to win this won. I think the first half could be close, but in the end it'll be Ohio St. pulling away, finally winning by 24.
JW: I really do like the Indiana story this year...for once, using the term "heroic" when it comes to something sports-related is actually justified. Inspiring coaches and upset victories aside, we're all painfully aware that OSU is going to be doing what it normally does, and will likely send the Hoosiers packing with a loss. Much like Auburn, OSU has a pretty light schedule for a while, but then it has the Michigan game to look forward to (as I'm pretty sure we're ALL looking forward to). We can't really say that the Buckeyes will be overlooking Indiana, since their next two games are Minnesota and Illinois. OSU by 35.
Georgia Tech @ Clemson
JW: It's interesting that one team is so favored in a game where the two teams are so closely ranked. When you look at the stats and schedule, it sort of makes sense, though. Clemson looks like the better team, and they're playing at home. However, I don't buy how good they are, based on the competition they've come up against. Sure, they beat Wake Forest and Florida State, but what's left? A bunch of cupcake wins and a loss to BC. Tech's results don't look much better, but they played Notre Dame close, and had that great upset victory over Virginia Tech. Sure, they struggled against a pretty bad Maryland team, but I can excuse that because of an emotional letdown after such a big victory. The Jackets are well-rested off a bye week and are probably enjoying the underdog label - you know they're playing up the "disrespect" angle. Well, here's some respect for Georgia Tech - I say they win by 10.
MO: You've gotta remember that Clemson was nearly beaten by Wake Forest (they were trailing big in the waning moments of the third quarter before a blocked punt changed everything). I really, really like Georgia Tech, even if they are on the road. They've one their only road game this season, a shocker against Virginia Tech. Both teams are leading their respective divisions in the ACC, but Georgia Tech has yet to lose in conference, and I don't think they start here. Reggie Ball comes out like gangbusters and leads the Jackets to yet another road victory, winning by 6.
Boston College @ Florida State
MO: Nothing makes a team feel better than beating Duke, right? That's just what Florida St. did last week, and looked good doing so (then again, aside from Wake Forest, who doesn't look good against Duke?). The Seminoles are hosting a ranked Boston College team coming off a win of their own, this one over a stumbling Virginia Tech team. Boston College has not looked good on the road this season – in their two road games they've lost to NC St. and eeked out a 7-point victory against Central Michigan. On paper, this game should be tight, but I don't think it will be. Florida State should grab an early lead and hold off a charge by the Eagles in the last few minutes, finally winning by 6.
JW: I would say BC would take this one, were it not for the big possibility that their starting quarterback, Matt Ryan, will be out with an ankle injury. If Ryan plays, I say BC wins the game against a Florida State team that has yet to impress me, and wins relatively easily. However, without Ryan, the Eagles have to rely on a sophomore who has seen very little playing time. Considering how close these two teams are in terms of talent, this makes all the difference, particularly playing in a hostile environment in Tallahassee. I'm going with the odds and saying that Ryan is out, and Florida State wins this one by 13.
Texas @ Nebraska
JW: Let me get this out of the way first: my favorite place to watch Vanderbilt games in DC is Union Pub, which also happens to be the home of the Nebraska Alumni Association. They come out in droves for Nebraska games, making it next to impossible to watch anything else when the Huskers are on. The UT/Nebraska game starts three hours before the Vanderbilt game, so I have to admit I'm hoping for a Nebraska loss, because if they win, there will be wall-to-wall celebrating Nebraska fans while I'm trying to get the bartender to just put ONE TV on the Vandy game! So, I might be a little biased with this pick. This should be a fun game, since each team's biggest strength is basically countered by the opposing team's opposing strength (did that make sense?). Texas has a powerful run defense, and Nebraska has the best running game in the conference. I think ultimately Texas's talent wins out, though Nebraska can use this game as preparation for when the two teams might possibly meet later down the road in the Big 12 championship. Longhorns by 10.
MO: Football Rule #47: Never, ever trust Bill Callahan in big games. In what could be a Big 12 Championship preview, the Huskers come into this game with high hopes to knock off Texas. The only problem? Their record's not quite as nice as it looks. They're unbeaten in conference but their wins are over LA Tech, Nicholls St., Troy, Kansas, Iowa St. and Kansas St. Those teams are averaging just over two wins this season – not a real Murderer's Row there. Look for Texas to come out of the game as the only remaining unbeaten (in conference, anyway) team in the Big 12. Jay, your Husker friends will be gone by the third quarter and the Longhorns should have any easy time with this one, winning by 23.
Alabama @ Tennessee
MO: Ah, the third Sunday in October. The leaves are turning, the air is getting crisp, and all the rednecks in maroon and orange are at each others throats a touch more than normal. That's right, it's the annual My State's Better than Your State in an Inconsequential Sporting Event Bowl, featuring UT and Bama fighting for state pride and supremacy. Last year, the Bama defense (aided by the complete ineptitude of the Tennessee offense) was responsible for the low-scoring Bama victory. However, it looks like UT has gotten over a disappointing 2005, where they went 5-6, including a 28-24 loss at home to VU. The offense is clicking, including a 50-point explosion against Georgia. The problem? They also gave up 33 points, the most scored by Georgia in any game against teams not named UAB (34 points) or Western Kentucky (48 points). Even with Bama coming off a near loss to Ole Miss, I like their chance here. I think their defense will surprise some people by going back to last years dominance, and the Tide offense goes nuts against the Tennessee defense. In the end, we'll get to see the best type of UT fans (disappointed ones!) after Bama heads home a victor by 13.
JW: I think you just described exactly what I hope will happen (aside from finding a way for both teams to lose), but it's not necessarily what I *think* will happen. You have to imagine Alabama's pretty relieved after the almost-debacle against Ole Miss. My Mom (the Ole Miss grad) insists that this means the Rebels are finally getting it together, and are showing potential of what they could be next season. I tend to think it's more that Alabama's not that great. Tennessee's had a bye week to let the defense figure out how to not put up 30-plus points to a mediocre offense, and Alabama is hoping for the return of two of their top receivers, Hall and Brown, who were injured against Ole Miss. This certainly won't be the defensive struggle we witnessed last year. I think both teams will put up some points, but Alabama's defense will be no match for a UT offense that is really clicking. Although I can think of MANY preferable ways for this game to turn out, I think Tennessee wins this one by 17.
South Carolina @ Vanderbilt
JW: Spurrier's undefeated streak against Vanderbilt has to come to an end sometime, doesn't it? Will this be the year? I drank the Kool-Aid for the Ole Miss game and then said "none for me, thanks... I'm driving" for the Georgia game, going with my mind and what little football analytical skills I have. We all see how that turned out. So, although the anti-jinx in me says I should pick South Carolina to guarantee us the win, this week, I'm picking partly from the heart. I think this Vanderbilt team is legitimately headed in the right direction, and a win against the Gamecocks could make some serious national noise. It wasn't so long ago that we were the feel-good team of 2005, but everyone jumped ship after that horrible streak of losses. The team this year looks better and more focused, and I think we have it in us to string together some solid wins. It all started last week, and hopefully we can keep it going. South Carolina's going to be tough, but I think our defense is ready to shut down Newton. I expect Nickson to clean up his turnovers a little more and throw it deep more often. I really think we can pull this off...and it's not just the Kool-Aid talking. Commodores by 6.
MO: These days in Columbia, it's more about Steve Spurrier than it is about South Carolina. While Vanderbilt holds back-to-back wins against South Carolina in '98-'99, they've never beaten Spurrier, be it at Duke, Florida, or now at USC. While famous for his teams' offense, a recent road winning streak has brought notice to a strong defense which preaches when you go on the road, you pack your defense. Their run defense was on display in last year's game against Vandy, holding the Commodores rushing attack to a meager 41 yards, despite over 300 yards passing by Jay Cutler.
But now, it's all about balance. This year, behind a vaunted and experience offensive line, Vanderbilt has found a running game, averaging right at 150 yards per game, balanced with a decent and improving passing game. South Carolina's defense averages giving up nearly that much each game, including a whopping 290 yards to a lowly Wofford team. I think that the Commodores will find much greater success running the ball on Saturday than in ‘05, the main benefit to the rush will lie in setting up the pass. Look for Chris Nickson to have a great day, delighting the Homecoming crowd to the tune of 200 yards or more with a couple long distance touchdowns. In the end, instead of packing their defense, the Gamecocks will just be plain sent packing, as the Commodores prevail at last on Homecoming, winning by 14.