MO: What a week for the SEC – while fans get a break from the Mississippi teams this week as they prepare for what promises to be an uninspiring Egg Bowl, five key match-ups arise between the remaining ten teams. That's right, you're getting five additional non-SEC games this week that we promise to mangle, mis-analyze, and totally botch!! But that's what keeps you coming, right? While this week looks to be great, next week-end could be even better – I keep hearing that there's some big game in the Midwest, featuring some team from Ohio and a former opponent of ours that I just can't recall the name of…. Anyway, enough about last week, let's get to the games at hand!
JW: There are some pretty good games left on the SEC schedule, and this week offers up quite a few with some good storylines - bowl eligibility, SEC championship game chances, and BCS bowls are all in the mix this week. Also, my record of futility in picking non-SEC games looks to chug right along this week, as we look outside the conference for a few big games to balance both Mississippi teams putting up solid fights against the bye. I've enjoyed the feel-good Rutgers, Wake Forest, and Maryland stories (among others), and it'll be interesting to see if they can keep surprising everyone this week. I think I'm going to go ahead and claim my seat at my local sports bar for the Michigan/Ohio State game. That's a game I don't look forward to picking. Now, on to the picks!
JW: Auburn still technically has a shot at playing for the BCS championship, but it's going to take a lot. They'll need to win out, take the SEC crown, and get some help from some other teams. Stranger things have happened, but it's definitely an uphill battle for the Tigers, who are still praying for an Arkansas slip-up or two. In the meantime, they still need to get things done against Georgia and Alabama. That's not too hard a challenge, as Auburn has already gotten its toughest SEC foes out of the way. Georgia, on the other hand, is still struggling, and the 4-point loss to Kentucky didn't give them much to be happy about. The Bulldogs might have enough wins for bowl eligibility, but there's probably not a single fan or player who thinks this is anything but a very disappointing season. Sure, some hope can be salvage if they pull the upset here, but Auburn's not going to let that happen. Their defense is too much for the Bulldogs, whose offense hasn't been showing too many signs of life as of late. They're giving up a ridiculous number of turnovers, and you know the stingy Auburn defense smells the blood in the water. Look for the Tigers to maul the Bulldogs (I'm sure I'm the first sportswriter to ever use that phrase...*cough cough*), by at least 17 points.
MO: It's supposed to be the oldest rivalry in Southern college football, but this year's match-up lacks its normal muster thanks to Georgia having already lost to 80% of its SEC East opponents (that's Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt at home in a 24-22 Homecoming stunner). After losing to Arkansas, Auburn has won all of its games to stay in the hunt for the SEC title, though they'll need to help mentioned above. Unfortunately for the Bulldog faithful, Uga's leaving this game as one sad puppy. The Tigers should assert themselves early in the contest, and as bad as Georgia's offense has been, the Dawgs won't be able to catch up. It's War Eagle all day, as the Tigers win by 27.
South Carolina @ Florida
MO: The Prodigal Coach returns to the fold. Steve Spurrier essentially made the Gator program what it is today, taking the Fun'n'Gun offense and racking up titles as the years went by. Florida faithful have had this date circled ever since Spurrier announced that he'd be returning to the SEC as the Gamecock coach rather than replacing Ron Zook nearly two years ago. The fans will be loud and the media will pay attention, but it's not really going to affect the players. While there may be a few seniors that he visited on the recruiting trail, few (if any) of the boys in blue were ever coached by Spurrier, removing them emotionally from that subplot. Players will instead be focused on the Gamecock players and the opportunity before them. This week's game serves as one more shot to prove that they belong in the title game, and a big win in a national spotlight after what some feel was a disappointing showing in Nashville. Spurrier beat Florida last year, but when he returns to the place he named "The Swamp", he won't leave with a victory. Look for a close game, but with Florida pulling away in the end, winning by 12.
JW: As I'm sure Mike would agree, the Florida win in Nashville shouldn't be seen by Florida fans (or anyone, for that matter) as a disappointment, aside from maybe the amount of interceptions thrown by Chris Leak. The SEC and the rest of the nation needs to realize that a victory against Vanderbilt is not a foregone conclusion, and more often than not, the Commodores are going to play you tough, no matter how good a team you are. A six-point win in Nashville should not be seen as a "bad victory" for the Gators, as I'm sure many people think it is. Either way, the Florida offense got a wake-up call that it wasn't the unstoppable force it might have believed itself to be at one point. The tough Vandy defense kept them in check throughout most of the game, but the Gamecock defense, particularly playing in Gainesville, should be a much friendlier opponent. I'm sure Spurrier has some special plans for his return to the Swamp, and this game could be interesting for a while. I think Florida ultimately has more guns and is far too focused to let this game slip away from them. Look for the Gators to devour the Gamecocks by about 16 points.
Alabama @ LSU
JW: Well, last year I picked the Bama victory almost solely on the home-field advantage, observing that MSU was actually getting better over the season, while Alabama was going in the opposite direction. As we all know now, the Bulldogs pulled off the upset. I can imagine what Bryant-Denny was like last Saturday. And now the Tide recedes into Baton Rouge (yeah, I'm in metaphor mode this week), not exactly the best place to try and have a rebound game after a terrible loss. Regardless of whether the Mississippi State game was a demoralizing loss or a wake-up call for this Alabama team, LSU is going to take this game seriously as they keep their chances alive for an SEC championship game berth. Of course, they still need Auburn to lose out and Arkansas to lose one as well, so it's definitely a long-shot. The Alabama offense is obviously struggling, not even able to score a touchdown against the "vaunted" Mississippi State defense, so you can imagine what the Tiger defense is hoping to do. Look for JaMarcus Russell to strike early, and LSU to put this game away midway through the third quarter. Bayou Bengals by 20.
MO: I dunno – there's nothing like losing to MSU at home that lights a fire under an SEC team. Granted, we haven't seen it in 5 years, so my memory might be a little fuzzy on that. The Crimson Tide should come out strong this week, in hopes of wiping out what happened last week. That said, they're doing it against an LSU team with all the momentum. After getting their revenge on Tennessee last week, the Tigers are looking to keep the winning streak alive, and should do so easily at home, where they have just flat-out dominated. They'll be crowin' in Louisiana this week as LSU just keep on keepin' on, winning by 17.
Miami @ Maryland
MO: While Maryland turns out to be the surprising team in line for the ACC title game, this contest is getting attention for a tragic reason. After the death of one of their starting defensive lineman, Miami is playing in Bryan Pata's honor. While the game itself may be trivial, the events of this week will do one of two things for the Hurricanes. They can come out like gangbusters, riding the emotion to a big win, or they can come out flat after a long week and lose even bigger. Maryland was the better team going into this, and they still are and should have been able to handle an uninspired Hurricanes team. The Terps have held their own in close games, including a 13-12 nail biter last week at Clemson. As much as I hate to say, I don't think this one's close, as Maryland takes another step towards the unlikely Terps-Deacons match-up to decide the ACC Atlantic Division. The Terps hold off a late ‘Canes rally in the closing minutes, winning by 13.
JW: It's hard to imagine being able to play a football game less than a week after one of your teammates has been killed, but the 'Canes are seeing this as a game to be played for Bryan Pata. It's a hard call to make here, as Maryland has been on a roll, but Miami obviously has a lot to play for this week. The Hurricanes have had their fair share of problems, disappointments, and tragedy this year, while the Terps have been one of the big surprise teams of the season, and are still in the hunt for an ACC title. There will obviously be a lot of emotion here, but I think Miami will rally around the loss of Bryan Pata and play their first truly inspired game of the season. Hurricanes by 7.
Oregon @ Southern California
JW: Oregon started off their season solidly enough, rolling to 4-0, but ever since then they've been somewhat inconsistent. They're coming off of back-to-back wins to Washington and Portland State, which, sure, back-to-back wins is great and all, but seriously, Washington and Portland State. USC appeared to have shaken off their loss to Washington State, as they stomped Stanford to the tune of 42-0. USC has a brutal schedule ahead, with Oregon, Cal, and Notre Dame remaining on the schedule, and I get the feeling they'll lose at least one of these. However, they won't lose this one against the Ducks. Oregon has been the model of inconsistency this year, without very many impressive wins on their schedule. They're just not in the same league as USC, who, while they might not be the juggernaut they were last year, are still pretty darn good. The Trojans pull off the win (no metaphors here, for obvious reasons), topping the Ducks by 10.
MO: Yeah, it's a 42-point win, but seriously, Stanford. USC is indeed starting a rough stretch to end the season, and I'm not all that convinced that they'll start on the right foot. With a win this week, Oregon can pull into second in the Pac-10 standings, so there's a lot on the line. Remember, tainted though some may have thought it, they won against a tough Oklahoma team early in the season. I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that USC is looking ahead to next week's big match-up against Cal. It won't be so big when the Trojans have two losses, and I'm sure the Ducks would be happy to oblige them just that. It's "Quack, quack, quack" all day long as the Ducks jump to an early lead and hold off yet another ill-fated last minute USC run, winning by 3.
Wake Forest @ Florida State
MO: Talk about teams defying expectations. Wake Forest sits atop the ACC Atlantic Division, controlling its destiny to appear in December's ACC Championship game. Florida St., last year's champion, sits near the bottom, ahead of only a NC State team that beat them earlier in the season. And yet, Florida St. is favored to win by Vegas and most "expert". Well, let this amateur weigh in on the subject. Even though Wake hasn't won in Florida St. since 1959, this isn't your typical Demon Deacon team. They beaten every team they've faced save for a Clemson team that needed a furious fourth-quarter rally to top them. Wake scores early and scores often against an underachieving Seminole team, riding their own personal karma wave through to next week's match-up against Virginia Tech as they win by 7.
JW: I'm completely baffled by Florida State being favored in this game, particularly with the margin expected to be as high as it is. Talk about bulletin board material for the Deacons. This is a match-up of a team that's exceeded pretty much all expectations with a team that has pretty much not met a single expectation this season, and yet the underachieving Seminoles are supposed to easily win this game? By all means, I'm no expert, but something ain't right here. All streaks have to end sometime, and this is a prime year for Wake to finally win in Tallahassee. Quite frankly, Wake Forest is a much better team than Florida State this year, and it's not something that home-field advantage can cancel out. I fully expect the Demon Deacons to win this one, and while it might seem close, they'll control the game from start to finish. Wake by 10.
Nebraska @ Texas A&M
JW: This is one of those games where the teams are essentially equal, and it's hard to list any advantages on either side. Add to that the fact that it's a non-SEC game, and this pick might as well be a coin toss. Both teams have a lot to play for, as Nebraska is looking for a berth in the Big 12 title game - all they have to do is win here - and the Aggies have to win to even have a chance to get into the title game (but that requires Texas and Oklahoma to completely collapse). The Aggies have a pretty potent offense, clashing with the stingy Nebraska defense that's pretty solid against the run. One might say that A&M has the advantage here, especially since they're playing at home, but the Huskers have much more to play for at this point. It'll be a close game, but the Aggies will ultimately be husked to the tune of 6 points.
MO: Texas A&M suffered a close loss last week at the hands of Oklahoma, and needs to win here if they're to have any chance of winning the Big 12 South (they have to have Kansas St. beat Texas in order for that to happen, but let's suspend disbelief for a few minutes here). The Aggies have played well all season, losing only to Texas Teach and Oklahoma by a combined 5 points. Nebraska's had a nice resurgence this season, but I don't see them winning this game. The Aggies can leave everything on the field before a nice long rest heading into a Thanksgiving match-up at Texas, which gives them a big edge here. They'll be ready to cut Varsity's horns off after taking care of business against the Huskers, winning by 9.
Louisville @ Rutgers
MO: Again, though this is a Thursday night game, I promise that we've written the picks for the game before the game has started (even though after I nailed Louisville by 10, I'm sure you might have your doubts). As Wake is in the ACC, Rutgers has been the shocker of the Big East, running through their opponents each and every week. The Cardinals are coming off the big win in last Thursday's game, beating an undefeated West Virginia team that some had picked to go the BCS Championship. This has the making for a great game, pitting a fantastic Louisville offense (scoring 39.3 point per game) and the impressive Rutgers defense (allowing just 9.1 ppg). In big games like this, defense wins, and this game will prove to be no exception. This won't be a pretty shoot-out that we saw last week, but the Scarlet Knights defense will hold the Cardinal offense in check, and the offense, behind RB Ray Rice, will do just enough to remain undefeated, winning by 4.
JW: To clarify last week's Thursday night pick - Yes, Mike picked Louisville to win by ten, and I give him full credit for that. However, I'm still waiting for him to provide proof that he didn't pay off the Mountaineers to throw the game. I know the implications of what I'm saying, and I'm prepared for the national consequences it could have. But the truth has to be known! I'm sure VandyMania is proud to be the original source of the upcoming O'Neillgate. Anyway, now on to our next tainted Thursday night pick! I'm all about making another Big East pick about which I know absolutely nothing (as evidenced by last week), and once again I'm going to disagree with Mike. I'm taking the safer pick with Louisville, on the reasoning that the Rutgers defense hasn't seen anything like the Louisville offensive attack. The Louisville defense might not be the most intimidating squad on the planet, but they'll be able to keep Rice and company in check through most of the game. I like the Cardinals here to win by 3 - the game won't be decided until the final play, when a hail mary pass falls incomplete. And yes, I am aware that I have now doomed Louisville to a loss.
Tennessee @ Arkansas
JW: All Arkansas has to do is win two of its last three to get into the SEC championship game, and maybe less depending on what others do. The Razorbacks' remaining games are Tennessee, Mississippi State, and LSU. Because of the lack of press and the relatively low rankings, Arkansas is definitely playing up the "no respect" angle, and can you really blame them? They're undefeated in the toughest conference in the SEC, and aside from an embarrassing loss to USC early on, there really isn't anything on their record to make anyone question their talent. Both teams are dealing with some quarterback issues, but Arkansas will obviously rely heavily on Darren McFadden. The Tennessee defense is still allowing a good amount of points to teams with any semblance of a good offense, and even teams without much of an offense (read: Georgia). Ultimately, both squads are pretty evenly matched, but Arkansas has motivation from the lack of national respect and the knowledge that they control their own SEC championship destiny. It should be a good game, but UT's quarterback problems (if Ainge plays, you have to think he won't be as mobile as usual, and if Crompton plays, he'll have the normal issues any freshman QB would have in a hostile environment) will prevent them from scoring the points necessary to win. Ultimately, Smokey is nothing but pig slop for the Razorbacks (of all my metaphors, this is the one I'm most ashamed of), and Arkansas comes out with a 13-point win.
MO: The Hogs are coming to play this week. From the moment they step on that field, they're going to be focused on what they have to get done. The game could go either way, but one thing's for sure -- the Hogs will be ready. But enough about the Tennessee cheerleaders, let's talk football. Tennessee stumbled in this year's turnaround as LSU took revenge for being one of the few victims to Tennessee last year. Remember, after all, that Tennessee went just 5-6 last year, including a 28-24 loss at home to Vanderbilt. Arkansas is on an unbelievable run and has two tests remaining before claiming the SEC West outright. The Razorbacks can take a lot of pressure from their 11/19 meeting against LSU if they can beat Tennessee this week and Mississippi St. on the 12th. I'm surprised that Mustain was pulled against South Carolina – it'll be interesting to see if Coach Nutt's decision to with Casey Dick at QB pays off against Tennessee. Eric Ainge has been benched as well, and Jonathon Crompton will step in, depriving us all of a much anticipated Jim Bob Cooter appearance, as well as a Jim Bob Cooter / Casey Dick match-up. Overall, this game will be won on the ground, especially thanks to the oh-so-harsh one half suspension of Arian Foster after being caught in a late night bar fight after drinking underage. Arkansas rolls, taking what should be a marquee match-up and turning it into a steamroll, winning by 24.
Vanderbilt @ Kentucky
MO: Despite having the lowest profile of the SEC games, this promises to be one of the best ones out there. Kentucky needs just one more win in its next three games to finish .500 for the season, while Vanderbilt needs to win its final two. There's a huge revenge factor for the Commodores, as a high-scoring UK loss was one that prevented a VU winning season last year. As is usually the case, Vanderbilt has a good shot to move the ball well in Lexington. Kentucky has given up almost 448 yards per game on offense in its last three contests, including 297 yards passing. If Vanderbilt can come in with the mindset knowing that they can win the game as long as they take care of the football, it could be a long day for the Wildcats. I think they will, and the bowl-planning in Lexington will have to wait one more week as the Commodores will give themselves one last shot at a bowl by stifling Kentucky's offense and scoring at will, winning by 17.
JW: Last year, Vanderbilt moved the ball at will against Kentucky. It's a shame they only did so for the second half, or I'd still be thinking back to my trip to the bustling tourist Mecca of Shreveport, Louisiana, or a triumphant return to Nashville for the Music City Bowl. But, alas, the Commodores spotted the Wildcats a ridiculous amount of points to start the game off (what, was it like 38? My intern is out for the day, and I never do my own research), and yet another losing season hit the record books. I'm still not sure why Vandy played so flat last year, and Kentucky played so inspired, but I get the feeling this year both teams will be ready to play, and it should be a good game. I was inspired by (most of) the game against Florida last week, and I think the Commodores can build on that game. The defense will be revved up, and Chris Nickson and Earl Bennett will move the ball at will against the Wildcats. I like the Vanderbilt victory here, but I don't quite buy into us being able to "score at will" against anyone just yet. Commodores, uh, command the Wildcats, winning by 6.