JW: I'm trying to be an optimist at this point. I tell myself, "well, usually by this point in the season we've eliminated ourselves from bowl contention already, so you should be happy that we're still within striking distance of a winning season and bowl game with two games to go!" Sure, had the ball bounced our way a couple extra times in just one or two games, I wouldn't have to be finding a silver lining to where we stand right now - I'd be busy coming up with how I'm going to explain to my family and friends why I'm going to Shreveport or Nashville or some other city right around Christmas/New Year. But let's not grovel in the past, shall we? It's Tennessee week, and that means we can channel all our negative energy to the hated Vols! Without further ado, let's get to the picks!
Florida Atlantic @ Florida
JW: Well, Florida's done all it can in the SEC regular season - now they can take a bit of a break with Florida Atlantic and Florida State as their remaining games before the (possible) SEC Championship game. Yeah, I know they're probably not planning on sleepwalking through these games, but even if they did, it's hard to believe that the lowly Owls would still be able to stop them. Besides, I suspect FAU will be looking past the Florida game to their matchup with FIU next weekend. Have I written enough by now? Come on, we all know what's going to happen here. I'll go with Florida by, oh, let's say....30.
MO: Yep, it looks like the exciting time to be a Florida fan has ended. Until next season, anyway. This game won’t do anything to make Florida any better aside from giving them another win over a hapless Florida school. Ho-hum. Gators by 24.
Louisiana-Monroe @ Alabama
MO: Here’s what we all know about Louisiana-Monroe: . Well, that was educational. I can tell you that they’ve lost to Tulsa , Troy , (North) Texas , and (Middle) Tennessee State . Can we add a loss in Tuscaloosa to that loss after this weekend? Yes, we can! Alabama needs this game after losing to LSU two weeks ago, followed by losing in Starkville last week. The Tide gets to take their frustration on the Warhawks, winning by 34.
JW: I'm not one to really brag about my accomplishments, especially since they're usually few and far between. But since there really isn't much to say about this game, I would like to point out my Mississippi State / Bama pick was about as dead on as one can get (I missed it by one point). So yeah, go me. As for this game, well, Mike's said all you really need to know. Alabama , like Florida , has a nice, comfortable cupcake game here near the end of the season as it tries to regroup for the Iron Bowl. As we can all agree, the Tide wins this one in a cakewalk. Bama by 27.
LSU @ Mississippi
JW: So can LSU hold onto their #1 ranking this time? You would think that it shouldn't be a problem, since their headed to Oxford to face an Ole Miss team that's currently winless in the SEC. But I don't think this game's going to be that easy for the Tigers. Regardless of how bad they are, the Rebels have given some good teams pretty big scares. These are two teams that have traditionally despised one another, and the games are usually exciting. Is it much of a rivalry right now? Well, that's hard to say, but you'd better believe that Ole Miss will be ready for this game, despite the fact that their season is essentially over. They're playing for pride now, with two big rivals left on their schedule ( Mississippi State , of course, being the other). And hey, Ole Miss currently has a two-game winning streak against the state of Louisiana . If you ignore the fact that those two wins were against Louisiana Tech and Northwestern State , you'd be pretty impressed. I can't pick Ole Miss to win this game, because even the times they've played well against superior teams, they've still lost. But I am willing to say that LSU will come out of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium relieved that they were able to survive a major scare. Tigers by 6.
MO: Ole Miss has no shot in this game. I know it’s a rivalry game, and the teams just plain don’t like each other, but you have to imagine that LSU was paying attention to Arizona’s upset win over Oregon Thursday night and will be doubly sure that they don’t follow suit as well. You have to give credit to Coach O for coming up big in big games, including a close game against Florida in September. But LSU has too much on the line and has seen too many examples of top teams being upset on the road this season, including themselves at Kentucky earlier in October. I’ll take LSU to get up early and stay there, winning by 26.
Mississippi St. @ Arkansas
MO: So, Mississippi State is bowl-eligible. Sigh. Now what are we going to do with all of these “ Mississippi State sucks” jokes? First they ruin our fun before the should-have-been suck-fest that was Gardner-Webb in Starkville by winning at Auburn , and now they get their sixth win, and could get eight before the season’s over? Credit where it’s due – Croom has brought football success back to State, and he’s got a shot at getting them to one of the better bowls this season. Arkansas has been maddeningly inconsistent this season, going from over 500 rushing yards against South Carolina two weeks ago to just 151 last week against Tennessee . Gotta go with State, because, as much as I can’t believe I’m saying this so late in the season, they’re simply playing better against good competition. Dawgs keep rolling, winning by 11.
JW: Don't worry, Mike – we might have lost a Mississippi State, but Ole Miss certainly looks ready, willing, and able to fill the void left by the Bulldogs. Sure, I can't make as many Oxford jokes as I did Starkville jokes, but at least the ineptitude on the football field is just as satisfying. As for this game, it's a tough call, but I think I've found a formula for the Bulldogs' recent success: stop the running game. In the past five games, if State held an opponent to under 200 rushing yards, they won. If they didn't, they lost. Ok, maybe this rule can apply to most any team, but work with me here. The Bulldog defense appears to be pretty tough nowadays, but their strength appears to be in the pass defense. So, if you're a running team and can rack up some yards, you should be in good shape. I think you all see where I'm going now. Arkansas likes to run. They have a stable of good running backs, and I think they'll be able to wear down the Bulldogs, eclipse 200 yards, and come out with the win. It'll be one of those ugly, grinding games, but Arkansas pulls this one off, winning by 10.
Kentucky @ Georgia
JW: In what The Media is calling "The Battle Between Two SEC Teams That Only Beat Vanderbilt by One Score," Kentucky heads down to Athens to take on the Bulldogs. Ok, I made that "The Media" part up, unless you consider me part of The Media. And if I'm part of The Media, well, The Media's in pretty bad shape. Anyway, with Mark Richt and his players deciding they want to play with more emotion (I guess "more emotion" means stomping on an opposing team's logo and emptying the bench after a touchdown, i.e. "kind of being a jerk"), the Bulldogs are on quite an impressive roll. Kentucky, on the other hand, was happy to get its 27-20 win over Vandy after a very rough SEC stretch. These are both fairly talented teams, but I think Georgia is pretty clearly the more superior squad. Kentucky has some talent, but I think they're still being overrated by much of the nation. Yes, they have that impressive win over LSU, but aside from that there really isn't much to show. Are they really a top 25 team? I don't think so. Are they a legitimate bowl team? Sure. Who in the SEC isn't, aside from Ole Miss and maybe (sigh) Vanderbilt? Georgia , on the other hand, is clicking at the right time, with solid wins over Alabama , Auburn , and Florida on their resume. They might give up a bunch of points to most teams, but they keep finding ways to win those games, and I don't see this week being any different. Andre Woodson has fallen off his pedestal a bit, and I think the Bulldog defense will frustrate him. Knowshon Moreno will keep racking up the yards, and Matthew Stafford will guide the offense efficiently enough for the Georgia win. Bulldogs by 13.
MO: You know what, I totally acknowledge the new “kind of being a jerk” strategy that Georgia ’s been using, but it works for them – they’re essentially saying “We’re better than you” then going out and proving it on the field. The funny thing is that the Bulldogs are by far the less reprehensible of the two teams in this game as anyone who was at last week’s VU-UK game can tell you. The way the Kentucky players and fans acted after the vicious out-of-bounds cheap shot to Jared Hawkins still bothers me, so I’m throwing actual analysis out the window (not that you come here for actual analysis, anyhow!). My brain says pick Georgia – they’re on a serious roll, and Kentucky hasn’t done much of anything over the past few weeks. My heart says Georgia , for obvious reasons. However, I’m making this pick with my fist. Kentucky fans do not deserve our support, the team does not deserve our respect, and they sure as heck don’t deserve my pick. Georgia by 35.
Vanderbilt @ Tennessee
MO: I’m not even sure where to start here. I could mention the fact that Vanderbilt hasn’t lost in Knoxville in four years, or muster up a bunch of other false bravado, but really, I’m not all that confident about our chances this weekend. They’ve won three in a row since losing to Alabama , and have something to play for this late in the season for the first time in years. I’d love to think that the cheap shot on Hawkins last week would fire up the team and push them towards the upset here, but if that were the case, you’d think they’d have come back to win last week’s game. I think that Vanderbilt will play well, and certainly won’t embarrass themselves, but the planets simply aren’t aligned this season as they were in ’05. Loathe as I am to say it, Vanderbilt will have just one chance left to become bowl-eligible, because they’re not leaving Knoxville that way. Tennessee by 6.
JW: I'd like to say that this pick is to get us back on track with the strategy of Mike and Jay picking Vanderbilt to lose = a Vanderbilt win, but I have to admit that this is what I really think will happen. Is it what I want to happen? Of course not. But here's the deal – Tennessee , even considering the lucky breaks they've gotten, is on a hot streak to close out the season. They're looking to close the deal and make it to the SEC Championship game. They're hoping to go undefeated at home for the first time in quite a while. In other words, they're motivated. And as much as it pains me to say this, they're very talented. I think Vanderbilt does have some source of motivation coming into this game, what with the possibility of becoming bowl eligible against a hated rival and knowing that we probably need both remaining games to actually be invited to a bowl. And I have some hope after seeing our offense work relatively well against Kentucky (save for the special teams issues). But ultimately I just don't think we can pull it off in Knoxville . Both teams have something to play for in this game, and since both teams are motivated, I have to look at the talent level and how they've been playing lately. Looking at that, I'm sure you can understand why I think Tennessee will win this game. I doubt it will be as embarrassing as last season's loss in Nashville , but the end result will still be the same. Tennessee by 7.