Professor’s Picks and SEC Report

The SEC Report

Are you good at solving one of those Rubik’s Cubes?

Well, sorting out the SEC East is kind of like trying to get all those colored cubes to line up with one hand while completing a NY Times crossword with the other.

Tennessee is in control of the division after hanging on to beat South Carolina in overtime.

Should the Vols win remaining conference games over Arkansas, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky, they will be on their way to Atlanta.

If Tennessee stumbles, Georgia could win out by beating Auburn and Kentucky.

Should the Dogs lose … well, we better start spinning those cubes.

The West race is a bit clearer.

Alabama and LSU play the Miles-Saban grudge match this week. The winner controls the division.

The Tide would still have improved Mississippi State and Auburn left. LSU would have a road game with Ole Miss and a home finale with Arkansas. Third-place Auburn goes to Georgia before finishing with Bama on the Plains.

Here are our Halloween rankings … does your team get a trick or treat?

1. LSU … Treat: Bengal Tigers had week off to prepare for Bama. Trick: Scary Nick Satan awaits.

2. Alabama … Treat: Tide crushed Big Orange two weeks ago in signature win. Trick: One-eyed Purple People Eaters are heading to T-Town.

3. Auburn … Treat: Tigers still in title chase. Trick: Beware spooky Aggies trying to steal a coach.

4. Tennessee … Treat: Outfoxed the Evil Genius. Trick: Unlike Linus, fans just don’t believe in the Great Pumpkin.

5. Georgia … Treat: Gigged Gator is quite tasty. Trick: Harry High School personal foul antics looked like a silly gimmick.

6. Mississippi State … Treat: One more win for a bowl. Trick: May have to wait until Egg Bowl to get that win.

7. Florida … Treat: Still have Superman for two more years. Trick: Still have secondary for two more months.

8. Vanderbilt … Treat: One more win to dip into the Candy Bowl. Trick: Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, Wake Forest.

9. Kentucky … Treat: Woodson probably gets invited to Heisman ceremony. Trick: Memphis is nice in late December.

10. South Carolina … Treat: Program is now a contender in East. Trick: Lucy pulled the ball away one more time.

11. Arkansas … Treat: There are always weak teams needing a payday. Trick: None of them are in the SEC.

12. Ole Miss … Treat: NWS Demons at the Grove this week. Trick: LSU and Bullies on deck.

Pigskin Picks (2007 Record: 53-15; 5-1 last week … missing Miss State over Kentucky)

LSU at Alabama (5:00 ET CBS)
See SEC Game of the Week

South Carolina at Arkansas (8:00 ET ESPN2)
Arkansas is going to win a conference this season … too bad it’s the Sun Belt. The Razorbacks beat their third SBC foe of the year with an easy 58-10 win over 0-8 Florida International. South Carolina made a terrific comeback from a 21-0 deficit at Tennessee only to lose in overtime. SC handles the run pretty well, but the disappointment from that Rocky Top loss may linger a while.
Game Ball: Arkansas

Tennessee Tech at Auburn (2:30 ET)
Auburn pounded out a close methodical 17-3 win over game Ole Miss on the Plains. The Tigers outgained Ole Miss 420-193 and kept the ball thirteen more minutes, but still had to hold off the Rebels late. Brad Lester rushed for a career-high 96 yards and Ben Tate pounded out 72 more in the victory. The Golden Eagles of Cookeville have lost four in a row and have given up more than 40 points a game in those losses.
Game Ball: Auburn

Vanderbilt at Florida (12:30 ET LFS)

The Commodores are on the verge of breaking a 25 year streak of failing to qualify for a bowl game. One more win gets Bobby Johnson’s crew into the post-season plans. Getting that win will not be easy though. First, the Dores must try to beat Florida at the Swamp … then comes a home game with Kentucky, a trip to Tennessee, and a home finale with Wake Forest. Vanderbilt is winning with a stingy defense that is ranked 19th nationally. The Gators are physically banged up and probably psychologically dinged as well after losing 42-30 to Georgia. Gator QB Tim Tebow struggled noticeably with a sore shoulder, and the Gators rarely called his number on the ground. Should those issues continue this week, expect a low-scoring game.
Game Ball: Florida

Kentucky (Idle)
Next Game: at Vanderbilt 11/10/07

Mississippi State (Idle)
Next game: Alabama 11/10/07

Troy at Georgia (1:00 ET)
Georgia played its best game of the year in whipping Florida 42-30. The Bulldogs ran and passed effectively, and controlled (for the most part) Florida’s explosive offense. TB Knowshon Moreno continued to emerge as a star, gashing the Gators for 188 yards and 3 TDs. QB Matthew Stafford was an efficient 11-17 for 217 yards and 3 TDs, and was very effective downfield. With the win, Georgia moves into a tie for the SEC East lead, but will need help because Tennessee holds the tie-breaker courtesy of the Vol’s victory over Georgia earlier in the season. The Trojans enter the game on a six-game winning streak and should be a stern test. The Trojans run the spread attack with dual threat QB Omar Haugabook and TB Kenny Cattouse.
Game Ball: Georgia

Northwestern State at Ole Miss (2:00 ET)
Thank goodness the Rebels get to play the Demons again. Against Auburn last week, Ole Miss trailed 10-3 late but had the ball deep in Auburn territory before backup QB Brent Schaeffer (in the game because of an injury to Seth Adams) tossed up an INT in the end zone. Auburn put the game away 17-3 with a late TD. The 3-5 Demons should provide a nice tonic on Halloween week, as they are 1-4 in their last five and come into this one off losses to the mighty Texas State Bobcats and the Sam Houston State BearKats. Good nicknames … bad teams.
Game Ball: Ole Miss

LA-Lafayette at Tennessee (4:00 ET)
Wonder if all those disgruntled Big Orange fans were happy or upset with the Vols stirring come-from-ahead OT win against South Carolina. You know all of Rocky Top was happy with beating Steve Spurrier, but a segment of Tennessee boosters has had its fill of Phil. Will be tough for them to run off the coach of the SEC East champs and that’s very likely what Fulmer will be at the end of November. UT is in the driver’s seat of the division, tied with Georgia but holding a tie-breaker advantage. Win out and the Vols go to Atlanta. Ricky Bustle’s 1-7 Ragin Cajuns had a week off to prepare … oh, so what – Vols win.
Game Ball: Tennessee

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Tricks of the Trade

Tricks of the Trade.

No, not costumes and candy tricks and treats … the tricks of the college football scheduling trade are the discussion points this Halloween.

It must be a real treat to be #1 ranked Ohio State.

Play your first challenging opponent in the ninth game of the season. Play a non-conference schedule that includes Youngstown, Akron, and Kent. Win three tough games, do not play a conference title game, and play for the national championship. Sweet.

How about Boston College?

Play consecutive mid-season games with Army, U Mass, and Bowling Green. Play an ACC schedule against a league that may only have one or two other Top 25 teams. Yum.

Those two teams would play for a national title if the season ended this week.

That is a trick, not a treat.

Think Oregon, Arizona State, or LSU might like to trade places with Ohio State and Boston College (the teams ranked just ahead of them in the polls).

The BCS system is inherently unfair to teams from stronger conferences.

By dominating Ohio State in the title game last season, Florida proved what many knew. A one-loss SEC team is often better than an undefeated foe from a weak league. But, keep in mind the Gators only got that chance because USC lost to UCLA.

Let the drumbeat begin … an undefeated team from the ACC does not deserve a title shot over a once-beaten PAC 10 or SEC team.

Also, it is highly questionable as to whether an unbeaten Big Ten team deserves to be taken instead of such a team either.

Here are a few trick or treat ratings for the BCS conferences.

ACC: Trick … Even an undefeated league champ may not get voted into the title game. Treat … those stronger conferences may not yield a one-loss team.

Big East: Trick … U Conn in a BCS game? Treat … West Virginia will take care of that problem.

Big Ten: Trick … Ohio State finally plays decent teams. Treat … The Buckeyes own Michigan, toughest remaining foe.

Big 12: Trick … Kansas gets no respect. Treat: Oklahoma likely to face Jayhawk-Missouri winner in title game.

PAC 10: Trick … national darling USC is out of the race (probably). Treat … Oregon and Arizona State look like real contenders.

SEC: Trick … nation’s toughest conference continues to consume its own. Treat: LSU vs. Bama is a grudge match for the ages.

Around the Nation this Week

In Big Ten country, Top-ranked Ohio State welcomes dangerous Wisconsin to the Horseshoe. Michigan and Michigan State play for the Paul Bunyan trophy at the Big House.

Out West, the PAC 10 features a huge top 5 contest when unbeaten Arizona State travels to Oregon to face the once-beaten Ducks. Winner is very much in the national title picture.

The Big Twelve sees South leader Oklahoma hosting inconsistent Texas A&M, North contender Missouri playing at Colorado, and division leader Kansas welcoming Nebraska.

Florida State travels to Chestnut Hill to play unbeaten and #2 ranked Boston College.

The best game in the Big East is Cincinnati at South Florida.

Around the South this Week

The SEC has LSU playing at Alabama in a game that has more bad blood than the scariest Halloween costume. Les Miles and Nick Saban won’t be exchanging treats.

South Carolina at Arkansas should be worth watching (and has been added to the ESPN schedule).

In addition to the FSU-BC game, the ACC offers up a nice Thursday night game when Virginia Tech visits Georgia Tech. Wake Forest at Virginia is a regional telecast.

See you at kickoff!

Step Back Non Believers

Step Back Non-Believers
Georgia vs. Florida

SEC Game of the Week
October 22, 2007
By Bob Epling

“Step back non-believers or the rain will never come.”

Class is in session Georgia Bulldog backers.

On Saturday, the beloved Bulldogs face the mighty Gators in college football’s classic border battle. The Dogs need a win almost as much as north Georgia needs rain.

Here are some ways to help make that happen (the win … not the rain – although we can hope for both).

First, let’s stop whining about the site of the game (including you Mark Richt).

Jacksonville is a neutral site and a great setting.

Beat the Gators a few times and see how fast the city turns Red and Black again.

Yes, Florida has won fifteen of the last seventeen in the series, but Georgia won fifteen and lost five in the twenty seasons prior to that. Was Jacksonville moved north into Glynn County or something all those years?

No, it’s not the site … it’s that Vince Dooley left and Steve Spurrier arrived.

Georgia had the better coach then Florida gained the upper hand. Urban Meyer has a slight edge over Mark Richt, but that can change. The game belongs in Jacksonville.

Next, let’s hush about the scheduling (this year at least).

Yes, Florida has had a bye week before the big party in fourteen of the past fifteen seasons. Florida won all fourteen of those games. The Gators did not have a bye week in 2004 and … you got it … Georgia won 31-24.

Guess what? Last week Florida played the #7 team in the nation, and Georgia … had a bye week. Enjoy.

Finally, one last gripe (I mean bit of advice).

Exhale.

Georgia will turn things around in the series.

Obsessing about the game does the team no good. Obsessing about the game does the team no good. I said obsessing about the game does the team NO GOOD! (Sorry I may be obsessing about the game).

Now that we have that out of the way, what can the Dogs do on the field to break the drought (short of getting Tanya Tucker to sing)?

Here are five steps to success.

1. Start Fast: Georgia has developed a troubling trend of starting slowly in big games (Peach Bowl vs. Virginia Tech, Sugar Bowl vs. West Virginia, a number of games in this series). The Dogs cannot afford to play catch up with the Gators.

2. Win the Special Teams Contest: Georgia has a decided advantage with PK Brandon Coutu. Florida has an edge with Brandon James in the return game. UGA needs the better Brandon this week.

3. Avoid Self-Inflicted Wounds: Fumbles, dropped passes, questionable coaching calls mark Georgia failures in this series since 1990. The coaching staff and players must show poise.

4. Hit Tim Tebow: Georgia was the first team to be effective against Tebow last year and they did it by tackling him low. Georgia should make the sophomore sensation throw because the Dogs are beat if Superman controls the game on the ground.

5. Believe: The biggest change in this series is that Georgia no longer has confidence against Florida. For Bulldogs of the Dooley years, this attitude seems nearly unthinkable.

Until Georgia (fans, players, and coaches) actually believe the Dogs will win … well, sadly they probably will not.

Step back non-believers.

Or the rain will never come.

“Some may think I’m crazy for making all these claims … I swear before this day is over you folks are gonna see some rain.” (Lizzy and the Rainmaker, Tanya Tucker 1975)

Game Ball: Georgia

(Editor’s Note: Dr. Bob Epling is a Georgia grad who initiated the “Herschel … Walker” chant at the Texas A&M game in 1980 – yes, he did – just ask him! The Dogs were 9-0 against Florida during his undergraduate and graduate years – 1978-83 and 1987-89 – so he and his contemporaries do not accept that Georgia can lose even occasionally to the Gators).

Professor’s Picks and SEC Report

Get ready for another separation Saturday.

In a season that gets wackier every week, teams are constantly trying to separate themselves from the pack and move into bowl contention.

Three more teams got separated from the Top Ten this past weekend.

South Florida’s dream season got whacked in Jersey by Rutgers.

South Carolina could muster only six points against Vanderbilt to tumble from atop the SEC East.

Kentucky lost to resourceful Florida and sophomore sensation Tim Tebow.

A few more teams may be separated from the rankings this week.

The most likely victim? Try #2 rated Boston College. The Eagles fly to Blacksburg for a Thursday showdown with once-beaten Virginia Tech.

Another potential suspect … how about Ohio State? The Buckeyes travel to Happy Valley to play Joe Pa and Penn State in a prime time telecast.

Finally, watch those PAC-10 teams. Oregon hosts Southern Cal, and Arizona State welcomes dangerous Cal to Tempe.

Here is our latest analysis of BCS conferences and teams with the best bowl prospects from each.

ACC: The winner of the BC-Virginia Tech game will be the only conference team with a chance to reach the BCS title game. The loser has an unlikely shot at reaching a BCS bowl.

Big East: West Virginia is the only team that could reach the BCS title game (sorry South Florida). The Mountaineers travel to Soprano land to face Rutgers.

Big Ten: Ohio State is the only team that can get to the title game, but the Buckeyes are just getting to the meat of their schedule. Think they’d be undefeated in the SEC? Me either. OSU or Michigan should earn the BCS (non-title for UM) bowl bid … have we seen that before?

Big 12: Oklahoma has a great shot to reach the title game, but played poorly against 1-7 Iowa State. Kansas keeps rolling along. If the Sooners or Jayhawks win out, they could get to the title game. Texas has a chance at a BCS bowl bid.

PAC 10: This race is a jumble. Oregon is certainly in good shape with the ratings, but I expect USC to beat them this week. Arizona State is undefeated, and the Sun Devils, USC, and Oregon are all in contention.

SEC: LSU would likely get to the title game if the Bayou Bengals win out. Florida has a good chance for a BCS bowl, and a remote shot at returning to the title game.

At this point, I’m sticking with a title game between LSU-Oklahoma, but both are shaky.

The SEC Report

In this zaniest of seasons, the SEC is proving to be the cake taker.

Consider.

Five teams are tied in the loss column for the East Division lead. The other team (Vanderbilt) is one game back and just beat the team (South Carolina) that had been atop the standings.

The top two teams in the West (LSU and Alabama) just posted signature victories, have more bad blood between them than a Halloween horror flick, and now take a precious Saturday off to heal and prepare for their mammoth showdown game in two weeks.

Consider.

LSU avoided a loss to gritty, gutsy Auburn by throwing a last second touchdown pass. Les Miles would have had some explaining to do if the clock had run out with the Bayou Bengals needing only a field goal for the win.

Alabama’s Nick Saban, whose head seemed about one second from exploding when the Tide gave Tennessee a field goal before halftime, has toughened this bunch into a conference title contender in his first season at the Capstone. The future may be now for Bama.

Consider.

Florida’s Tim Tebow could become the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy. He made like Superman against Kentucky, willing his Gators back into SEC title contention.

Vanderbilt beat #6 ranked South Carolina in Columbia and it hardly seemed an upset. Like Steve Spurrier said … Vandy could have played three easy teams instead of Alabama, Auburn, and Georgia, and been right up there with Ohio State in the BCS rankings.

Consider.

In this crazy season, a two-loss team might still be in the running for a BCS title game berth.

The last team to win a title with two losses was Minnesota in 1960. That was also the only year Notre Dame started a season 1-7. Will Urban Meyer get a chance to try a Billy Donovan repeat?

Unlikely, but in this season … something to consider.

Here are our SEC Rankings:

1. LSU … Bengal Tigers escaped Auburn but were a bit lucky to do so.

2. Florida … Gutsy Gators outclassed a game Kentucky squad.

3. Alabama … Let the LSU countdown begin … 14 days, 13 days, 12 days …

4. Auburn … Tigers continued brilliant road play, but fell one second short.

5. Kentucky … Big Blue proving to be thoroughbreds, but MSU Bullies are no nags.

6. Georgia … Bulldogs have lost 15 of 17 to the Gators.

7. Vanderbilt … Commodores beat a Top Ten team and we are not really shocked.

8. South Carolina … Gamecocks can still win East, but trip to Rocky Top is tough.

9. Tennessee … Fulmer’s Vols are like a roller coaster … up and down and scary.

10. Mississippi State … Croom’s Dogs no match for a beast from the Big East.

11. Arkansas … Houston Nutt beat Ole Miss in the coaching carousel game.

12. Ole Miss … Coach O and the Rebels regressed in loss to Hogs.

Pigskin Picks (2007 Record: 48-14; 4-2 last week … missing Alabama and Vanderbilt wins)

Alabama (Idle)
Next game: hosting LSU November 3rd

Florida International at Arkansas (2:00 ET)
Arkansas won for the third time in four games by dominating Ole Miss 44-8. Darren McFadden and Felix Jones both went over the century mark rushing, and QB Casey Dick had a nice game with 3 TD passes, although he only accumulated 96 yards through the air. The Hogs have beaten up on bad teams, so they should feel right at home in the slop of the FIU game. The Golden Panthers are 0-7 after falling 28-14 to Louisiana-Monroe. Hogs make bacon in this one and move closer to being bowl eligible.
Game Ball: Arkansas

Ole Miss at Auburn (6:00 ET)
The Tigers lost a 30-24 heart breaker at LSU even though Auburn controlled the game for more than a half. QB Brandon Cox carried the offensive load for Auburn, passing for 199 yards and two scores. His TD toss to Rod Smith with just over 3 minutes left gave the Plainsmen a chance to win, but the defense could not stop LSU on the last drive. At Ole Miss, things blew up against Arkansas – literally – in a 44-8 loss. A problem with halftime fireworks caused a transformer to blow and knock out power to much of the campus. It didn’t affect the Rebel offense because they had no power to lose. Don’t know what happened to Rebs, but it was not pretty.
Game Ball: Auburn

Florida vs. Georgia at Jacksonville (3:30 ET CBS)
See SEC Game of the Week.

Mississippi State at Kentucky (12:30 ET LFS)
While State could not slow down West Virginia in a 38-13 loss, do not be surprised if the Bulldogs pull off an upset here. Kentucky has had three tough, emotional games in a row (SC, LSU, Florida) and must be mentally and physically taxed at this point. The Starkvillians are physical and scrappy, and this season anything is possible. Wildcats should be a bit too good, but …
Game Ball: Kentucky

LSU (Idle)
Next game: at Alabama November 3rd

South Carolina at Tennessee (7:45 ET ESPN)
Separation Saturday takes center stage on the banks of the Tennessee River. The winner stays alive in the SEC East race while the loser most likely can start planning for a bowl trip to Shreveport, Memphis, or Nashville. The Volunteers got trounced 41-17 by Alabama in a game sure to bring howls from the Tennessee hills, while South Carolina got shut down in a home loss to Vanderbilt. The head ball coach has had good success against Tennessee, but I’ll go with Big Orange in a tight call.
Game Ball: Tennessee

Miami (Ohio) at Vanderbilt (2:00 ET)
The Commodores need two more wins to become bowl eligible, and the 4-4 Red Hawks of the MAC just lost to Temple. Vandy jumped to a 17-0 lead in the big win over South Carolina, then held on the rest of the way for the 17-6 win. The defense was outstanding, and needed to be because the offense managed only 201 yards. Miami fell behind the Owls 24-7 in the fourth quarter but battled back before falling 24-17 in their first conference loss. No game is automatic this season, but Commodores should win.
Game Ball: Vanderbilt

Ringing in Third Saturday

Note: In honor of all the great sports radio call-in shows around the South, here is our annual column featuring fictional (?) calls and comments from some favorite fans and emailers (this week UT and Bama backers) … any semblance to real people and/or offensive comments contained within are purely intentional … wait, unintentional!

“Welcome to the Big Timer call-in show everybody.

For SEC traditionalists, the third Saturday in October provides one of the biggest conference games of the year.

We know Bama and Tennessee fans always have a balanced and informed opinion about the big game so let’s get right to the phones.”

“Hey Big Timer, this is Davis from Cullman calling … Big Timer what do tornadoes and Tennessee graduates have in common?”

“Don’t know Davis, what?”

“They both always end up in trailer parks!”

“That’s funny Davis, but how do you see the game going? You realize historically Alabama and Tennessee are the SEC’s top football programs.”

“Historically, I see Phillip Fulmer looking like the pumpkin that’s on my porch that’s how I see the game going … Saban’s going to stick a candle in that big, cheatin ..”

Click.

“Uh … thanks Davis. Keep it civil now folks. Here is Jeffrey from Halls, Tennessee.

Jeff you do know that Alabama and Tennessee boast what are considered the top two coaches in conference history – Paul “Bear” Bryant and General Bob Neyland of Tennessee.”

“Yeah yeah Big Timer … you do know that Nick Satan is only going to be dressing 20 Alabama players for the game this weekend don’t you?

“Just twenty players … I don’t think so Jeff.”

“Yeah, he’s just dressing out twenty … the rest of em will have to get dressed by themselves!”

“Alright … that’s pretty good Jeff, but what do you think about the game?”

“I think both these coaches will be gone by next year … you know Satan would take $4 million and a penny to coach anywhere, and Fulmer better win because it’s been three years since we got to the SEC title game and 98 since we won it all … and we are sick of the excus …”

Click.

“Thanks for the positive outlook there Jeffrey … let’s go to A-Red in T-Town … what’s up Red … and what’s that A stand for?”

“It stands for Ala-damn-Bama Big Timer, what’d you think it stood for? You’re always wanting to talk about history, here’s some history for you … did you know that the toothbrush was invented in Tennessee?”

“No, I didn’t A-Red … how do you know that?”

“It had to be because if it’d been invented anywhere else, it would have been called the TEETHbrush … heh heh … and it that Fulmer fella keeps lying about our recruiting, I’ll knock his tooth out of …”

Click.

“You guys are too much Red. You know if y’all keep arguing like this it hurts the whole conference.

Let’s talk to Rock on Rocky Top. Hey Rock, both these teams are tied for their division leads in the loss column, what do you think, can one of them win out?”

“Hi Big Timer, of course Tennessee can win out are you crazy? Alabama can’t because they won’t win this one. Now, here’s a question for you radio man … how do you make Crimson Tide cookies?”

“I don’t know Rock, why don’t you tell us?”

“You put them in a big bowl and beat them for sixty minutes! Get it, a big bowl … course Alabama hasn’t been to one since Paul Bryant was a bear cub … why don’t all them people down there realize he is de …”

Click.

“Man oh man. Folks wake up here. This is a showcase game every year.

Sure, Florida and LSU play each other in an NFL talent contest. Near Halloween, Florida and Georgia get together at Jacksonville and host the nation’s best college football party. Finally, around Thanksgiving, Auburn and Alabama fight in an annual family feud, a real knockdown and drag out affair.

But this game is SEC royalty. Bama-UT is kind of like Tiger Woods teeing it up against Jack Nicklaus, Babe Ruth staring down Roger Clemens, Vince Lombari matching wits with Bill Belichick.

This game pits SEC royalty against each other.”

“OK, enough preaching … we’ve got a neutral observer on the line.

Let’s hear from Wingnut in Opelika … hi Nut, talk about this big game for us.”

“Big Timer, how can you leave Auburn out of the discussion when it comes to SEC royalty?”

Click.

Game Ball: Tennessee

Professor’s Picks

One and done.

Make that Number #1 and done.

Continuing a season long trend of upsets involving highly rated teams, top-ranked LSU lost at Kentucky last week. Second-ranked Cal joined the pratfall parade by tripping over the Beavers of Oregon State.

Next up – Ohio State.

Take roll of the upset roster this season … Michigan, USC, LSU, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Florida, Texas … quite a group.

So many teams getting upset actually serves the victims well.

Since it seems more and more unlikely a team will make it through the season unscathed, all those one-loss teams are still in title contention.

It’s difficult to see a TWO-LOSS team making it to the title game, but hey Florida is lurking just outside the Top Ten in the AP poll.

With the initial 2007 BCS rankings out this week, let’s analyze the teams from the BCS conferences with the best chances of reaching the title game in New Orleans.

ACC: Unbeaten Boston College holds the best cards in the conference, but don’t forget Virginia Tech (6-1) just yet. The Gobblers host BC in a huge game on October 25th.

Big East: South Florida is undefeated and #2 in the AP poll, so they have the league’s best opportunity, but Rutgers will be a challenge for them this week. Don’t count out West Virginia (1 loss).

Big Ten: Ohio State is in the driver’s seat, but the Buckeyes have five strong challenges left and have not beaten a really good team yet. No other team appears a title contender.

Big 12: Oklahoma is in perhaps the best shape of any team nationally to reach the title game. With a very manageable schedule, the Sooners should win out. Kansas is undefeated, but I don’t see that happening.

PAC 10: This conference gets a bit more respect than it deserves, but four teams are in the running. If any team wins out from among undefeated Arizona State, and once-beaten Cal, Oregon, and USC they likely get to the big game.

SEC: LSU still gets the nod for best title hopes, with once-beaten South Carolina and Kentucky in the East holding out hope.

If you want an out-on-the-limb prediction … how does another BCS title game between LSU-Oklahoma sound?

Around the Nation

The Thursday night matchup between South Florida and Rutgers has huge implications (strange as that might sound).

Should the Bulls get past the Scarlet Knights an undefeated season looks probable. The question then becomes whether an unbeaten USF team gets the BCS nod over a once beaten team like LSU or Oklahoma.

The Big Ten features top-ranked Ohio State hosting tough Michigan State. The Spartans (5-2) blew out a pretty good Indiana team last week, so this could be a real challenge for the Buckeyes.

USC travels to Notre Dame in a game that has historical significance if not much else this season.

Around the South

The SEC has a host of games with conference championship implications.

Auburn visits LSU for a Saturday night game. Each team has one loss in the conference and the winner is the West favorite. Tennessee is my favorite in the East at this point, but the Volunteers have a tough task in Tuscaloosa against Alabama. Florida travels to Lexington (along with the ESPN Game Day crew) for an East showdown with the Cats. Great weekend.

The ACC has quite a few non-conference games, but Florida State and Miami is always competitive, even when it is just for bragging rights like it is this year.

Professor’s SEC Picks

(2007 Record: 44-12; 3-2 last week … missing Auburn and Kentucky wins)

Tennessee at Alabama (12:30 ET LFS)
See SEC Game of the Week.
Game Ball: Tennessee

Arkansas at Ole Miss (2:00 ET)
Maybe Arkansas should just start with the trick plays at the beginning of the game. Hog-tied by Auburn’s defense for the entire game, the Hogs finally scored a late touchdown to take a 7-6 lead after passes by RB Darren McFadden and WR Robert Johnson helped get them downfield. The lead didn’t last long as Auburn’s Wes Byrum kicked another game-winner in the waning seconds for the 9-7 win. McFadden saw his Heisman hopes take a dent with only 43 yards rushing. Ole Miss is like a baseball team without a closer. The Rebels can take a game into the late innings but cannot get the last out. Ole Miss fell for the third straight time to Alabama by 3 points, with each being decided on the last play of the game.
Game Ball: Arkansas

Auburn at LSU (9:00 ET ESPN)
Suddenly Auburn is the league’s hottest team. The Tigers continued their road warrior success by winning at Arkansas, and now share the SEC West lead with LSU and Alabama. The Tiger offense could do little with the Hogs, but freshman kicker Wes Byrum booted the winning field goal with 21 seconds left. The Auburn defense was outstanding, shutting down the Arkansas duo of McFadden and Jones. LSU lost at Kentucky and the season could go either way for the Bengal Tigers at this point. Combine the inability of the LSU defense to contain Kentucky with the somewhat baffling offensive play-calls in overtime and there might be a confidence crisis in Baton Rouge. Lose this one to Auburn and the SEC’s leading national contender is likely out of the BCS picture. This game should worry LSU fans because Tommy Tuberville has earned more trust than Les Miles in big games. Still, Auburn only scored 9 points against Arkansas, so go with the angrier bunch of Tigers in this one.
Game Ball: LSU

Florida at Kentucky (3:30 ET CBS)
Florida had a week off to prepare for this one and to heal the wounds of two straight losses. Florida fans should hope that Urban Meyer found some offensive rushing help to go with one man gang QB Tim Tebow. Kentucky won one of the year’s best games by upsetting #1 ranked LSU. QB Andre Woodson played himself back into Heisman contention with 250 yards passing and 3 TDs, and the Wildcats are in the thick of the SEC East race with only one conference loss. As impressive as the Cats were in whipping LSU, it’s tough to see Florida losing three straight games. Gators win and it might be by a bigger margin than we expect.
Game Ball: Florida

Georgia (Idle)
Next Game: Florida in Jacksonville 10/27/07

Mississippi State at West Virginia (3:30 ET)
We can’t accuse the Bulldogs of scheduling a cupcake can we? Of course, not sure that playing a Top Ten team and what will end up being the best Big East team will do much for MSU’s bowl hopes either. State lost a competitive 33-21 decision at home to Tennessee in the first game of a brutal schedule stretch (UT, WVU, Kentucky, Alabama). At 3-2, the Bulldogs need three more wins to get bowl eligible. The Mountaineers have bigger goals. At a quiet 5-1, the only loss coming in Tampa to undefeated South Florida, WVU is still in contention for not only a Big East title but also have an outside shot at a national title. The schedule is conducive to winning out, but they must get by MSU first. State could make a tough game of it.
Game Ball: West Virginia

Vanderbilt at South Carolina (12:30 ET)
South Carolina was the Game Day Weekly pre-season choice to win the SEC East, and as of now the Gamecocks are on top of the division at 6-1 overall and 3-1 in the conference. SC won the battle of the Carolinas last week with a hang-on 21-16 victory over North Carolina. In the game, the Roosters jumped on the Tar Heels 21-3, then got conservative and barely held on for the road win. Last season Vanderbilt beat Georgia on a late field goal, but last week saw the tables turned when the Dogs kicked the game-winner at the buzzer. The league is so deep that a Commodore win would only be a mild upset, but expect the Gamecocks to keep their streak going.
Game Ball: South Carolina

Not Even Past

Not Even Past
Alabama at Ole Miss
SEC Game of the Week
October 8, 2007
By Bob Epling

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” (Gavin Stevens in William Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun)

The Bear walked on water.

At least in that picture hanging on the wall in Arab, Alabama, he did.

A clear and dear memory I hold onto is of making many visits as a young boy to see my cousin Ricky and his family in that small northeast Alabama town near the Tennessee River. As we talked and laughed into the nights, from the pallet on the floor of Ricky’s bedroom I could look up and see a framed drawing of legendary Alabama coach Paul Bryant on the wall.

The Bear walked on water.

Actually, it was a cartoon figure of a vigorous and youthful Bryant, wearing an Alabama baseball cap and windbreaker instead of his trademark houndstooth hat and suit coat, smiling confidently as he strode across the water amid dripping caricatures of mascots from the other SEC schools.

A Florida Gator splattered about. Miniature Bulldogs of the Mississippi State and Georgia breeds struggled to stay afloat. A Wildcat floundered here, a Bengal Tiger thrashed there, a Commodore slowly sank beneath the Bear, and old Colonel Rebel helplessly waved his cane against the tide.

The Bear walked on water.

You know the numbers but still they stagger. At Alabama, 232 wins (of 323 total), 46 losses, and 9 ties, that included six national titles (either outright or a share). Winning 107 games and losing only 14 during that magical stretch between 1971 and 1980.

Making the transition from a passing attack led by flamboyant quarterbacks like Joe Namath, Ken Stabler, and Scott Hunter, to a wishbone ground game with stars such as Johnny Musso, Wilbur Jackson, and Major Ogilvie.

The Bear cast a shadow that engulfed all the coaches who followed him until the seismic hiring of Nick Saban (with the notable exception of Gene Stallings), and the jury is still out on St. Nick.

Yes, the Bear walked on water.

Of course that is in the past.

The past once provided a grander time for Ole Miss too.

A time when Colonel Rebel didn’t struggle so mightily against Bama or any foe; a time before the old mascot had been killed off by campus political correctness; a time when another southern coaching giant built such a legacy that a campus stadium also bears his name.

The Golden Age of Ole Miss football lasted from 1947 to 1970, and the coach was John Vaught.

During those years, Johnny Vaught led the Rebels to an era of excitement never duplicated in Oxford. Under Vaught the Rebels won 190 games, lost 61, and tied 12. Six of Vaught’s teams won SEC titles, and three of his squads claimed shares of national championships by at least one rating system (1959, 1960, and 1962).

The Rebs of the Vaught years churned out quarterbacks like the sentences Faulkner churned out on a typewriter … smart, tricky, and hard to keep up with.

Charlie Conerly was the first.

Chuckin Charlie, as much tailback as quarterback at Ole Miss, set a national record for touchdown passes with 18 during Vaught’s first season in 1947, and went on to quarterback the New York Giants for more than a decade, winning NFL MVP honors in 1959.

Archie Manning was the last.

From 1968 to 1970, Manning quarterbacked Ole Miss with enough charisma to become the program’s most storied player and a southern folk hero to many during a tumultuous time. At my house in Georgia, I even kept a newspaper clipping taped to my closet door with the words to the “Ballad of Archie Who” (by the Rebel Rousers!).

Between Chuckin Charlie and Archie Who were other great signal callers like Farley Salmon, Rocky Byrd, Eagle Day, Jake Gibbs, and Perry Lee Dunn.

Yes, the Rebels once were exciting and powerful.

Alabama and Ole Miss meet this Saturday. Bryant and Vaught will be there, but only in the spirit of those who remember.

There was a time when there were no finer southern teams and no better college football coaches leading them.

Of course, that is in the past.

Game Ball: Alabama

bobepling@yahoo.com