Rivalry Week

SEC Rivalry Week
November 25, 2008

On this most American of all holidays, here’s hoping you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Since all the traditional SEC rivalries are played this weekend – making it too difficult to single out one game above the others – here is a special combined version of Professor’s Picks and the SEC Game of the Week.

Make sure to visit next week as we assign final grades for the regular season, and bestow special honors in several categories.

Professor’s Picks
Last Week’s Record 1-3
2008 Season Record 63-25

The old pigskin professor suffered a first losing week of the season, but expects to get back in the gravy this week (hopefully the game picks will go well too : -).

* All times Eastern

Egg Bowl
Mississippi State at Ole Miss

(12:30 Friday on Raycom)
First off, why is this game not being played on Thanksgiving night? Nothing better than finishing up the holiday evening with a third turkey sandwich, an iced-cold Coca Cola, and a heaping helping of Egg Bowl. Houston Nutt’s Rebels are one of the league’s hottest teams, thanks in large part to the big-time play of QB Jevan Snead. Ole Miss has plenty of other offensive weapons too and could be in line for a Cotton Bowl berth if they leash the Bulldogs. Sly Croom’s Bullies held off Arkansas last week, and have shown a knack for winning big games. Expect the Ole Miss Rebels to make a statement in this rivalry and to take home the Golden Egg.
Drumstick: Ole Miss

Battle for the Boot
LSU at Arkansas
(2:30 Friday on CBS)
The LSU Bengal Tigers probably feel like somebody already took a boot to them after the 31-13 beating administered by the Ole Miss Rebels last week … at Baton Rouge no less. Recurring themes cost the Tigers in that game: poor quarterback play and ragged defensive effort. Redshirt freshman QB Jarrett Lee has thrown 17 interceptions (and it seems like all of them have been returned for touchdowns) and will likely lose his job this week – partly because of injury and partly because of ineffectiveness. Freshman Jordan Jefferson should get the nod. The Tiger defense has not played well either. Ole Miss gashed them on the ground and through the air. Arkansas will not pose nearly the same offensive threat however. The Hogs jumped to a 14-0 lead against Miss State, but still lost 31-28. RB Michael Smith is one of the league’s best but State held him to 60 yards rushing (with only 1 yard in the second half). Redshirt freshman QB Nathan Dick (younger brother of regular starter Casey) played well (333 yards and 3 TDs) in the loss. Last season Arkansas won a triple-overtime thriller … this time the Razorbacks get booted.
Drumstick: LSU

Clean Old-Fashioned Hate
Georgia Tech at Georgia

(Noon Saturday on CBS)
This game should be a dandy. Paul Johnson brings the Yellow Jackets to Athens bearing a high-powered option offense. At 8-3, the Wreck could still win the ACC (needing only a Virginia win over Virginia Tech to reach the title game). B-Back (or fullback) Jonathan Dwyer makes the Jackets sting. At about 230 pounds, with good speed, the ACC’s leading rusher is a load. QB Josh Nesbitt is not always smooth running the triple-option, but he is a running and throwing threat. His favorite target is big wideout Demaryius “Bay-Bay” Thomas, who could be a key against Georgia’s smallish corners and over-eager safeties. Defensively, Tech is strong up front with a foursome that includes Michael Johnson, a 6’7 beast and certain NFL first rounder. Georgia will not come into the game with an empty offensive tank either. The Dogs boast four terrific play-makers in QB Matthew Stafford, RB Knowshon Moreno, and WRs A.J. Green and Mohamed Massaquoi. The line is still young and battered, but has shown some scrappiness. The UGA defense will depend on LB Rennie Curran to contain Dwyer, and better hope the secondary and line plays better than in previous games. Here are a few keys for each side: Georgia must score because it is doubtful the Dog defense can hold Tech to less than thirty points … the Dogs better also try to take their time in scoring because the Tech offense cannot score from the sideline … balance is a beautiful word for Georgia because being able to move the ball on the ground and through the air will alleviate the Tech pass rush … for Georgia Tech: The Jackets need to hold onto the ball as they’ve lost 18 fumbles on the season and Georgia has some ball hawks on D … the Jackets should also be physical up front because Georgia got physically whipped in losses to Florida and Alabama and didn’t seem to like that type game … Tech needs a win to break a seven-game losing streak in the series but also because, contrary to what most think, option attacks do not improve so greatly after the system is ingrained in a program; actually regular opponents typically learn how to defend the attack more effectively upon seeing it season after season. This one is too close to call with any confidence although I think Tech is just a bit better right now; however, I’ll stick with the hometowners.
Drumstick: Georgia

Battle of the Palmetto State
South Carolina at Clemson
(Noon Saturday on ESPN2)
Clemson has won nine of the past eleven in this rivalry, but comes into this one with an interim coach (Dabo Swinney) and as part of a league where every team is 6-5 (or maybe it just seems that way). The Tigers have a dynamic duo of tailbacks with C.J. Spiller and James Davis (who needs 203 yards to become the school’s all-time leading rusher). SC will counter with a duo of quarterbacks. Coach Steve Spurrier plays musical chairs with Stephen Garcia and Chris Smelley, only the two never get to sit down … they simply get the play from the head ball coach and run right back in every other play. Clemson always seems to play looser in this game and I expect the Tigers to win.
Drumstick: Clemson

The Iron Bowl
Auburn at Alabama
3:30 Saturday on CBS
Have you heard the news? Tommy Tuberville and Auburn have beaten Alabama six straight times. Perhaps Tiger fans should repeat that taunt and hold as many fingers as they can in the air as many times as they can by Saturday afternoon. I have a sneaking suspicion that the top-ranked Crimson Tide, which has been rolling along without the publicity of Florida and all those Big 12 contenders, is ready to make a statement this week, against this team and this coach. There might be some drama if Tom Thumb pulled a “win one for the Tub” retirement speech before the game but I don’t expect that to happen. I do expect Nick Saban and the Red Elephants to rumble over the Tigers.
Drumstick: Alabama

Sunshine State Showdown
Florida at Florida State
(3:30 Saturday ABC)
The battle for the Charlie Crist’s cup (well, it’s actually the Governor’s Cup sorry) takes place in the panhandle and as Urban Meyer describes the rivalry … this one is nasty. Both teams lead their conferences in offense; FSU is second in the ACC in defense and Florida is third in the SEC. Both squads come into the game on a roll. Florida is widely regarded as the nation’s hottest (and perhaps best) team. Since losing to Ole Miss the last Saturday of September, the Gators have crushed everybody … only Vanderbilt has played them inside of thirty points. Offensively, Florida sends an array of speed at you and dials long-distance running and throwing. If there is a flaw, it’s that the Gators have only one power back and that’s QB Tim Tebow. FSU has come together behind QB Christian Ponder, but also boasts threats in RB Antone Smith (15 TDs) and WR Greg Carr (28 career TDs). FSU advances to the ACC title game if Boston College loses to Maryland. Florida is already in the SEC championship against Alabama, and that game will be a play-in to the BCS National Championship Game if both teams take care of business this weekend. It will not be a picnic for the Gators but they should pull out a close win.
Drumstick: Florida

Kentucky at Tennessee
(6:30 Saturday on ESPN 2)
No flashy nickname in this game, but it does have important implications. For Tennessee, the game marks the last time Phillip Fulmer will lead the Vols through the T at Neyland Stadium as head coach. While many UT fans are glad to see the Fulmer era end, historically he’ll be ranked as perhaps the second greatest Tennessee coach, trailing only Robert Reese Neyland himself. For Kentucky, the stakes are less emotional but more practical. At 6-5, the Wildcats are trying to get themselves into as nice a bowl as possible. As the saying goes, the more you win the warmer it gets for the bowl. I’ll go with emotion over bowl positioning this time.
Drumstick: Tennessee

The Academic Bowl
Vanderbilt at Wake Forest
(7:00 Saturday on ESPNU)
OK, I made that moniker up, but like it nonetheless. Both teams come into the game at 6-5 and awaiting a bowl destination. The Commodores are going bowling for the first time since 1982, but the post-season may be getting old hat for the Demon Deacons under Jim Grobe. Many expected the Deacs to vie for a conference crown but they fell a bit short. For Vandy, a hometown bowl in Nashville might be in store.
Drumstick: Wake Forest

Around the Nation Week 14

Two of America’s greatest traditions come together once again on the final Thursday of November.

Football and Thanksgiving go together like turkey and dressing.

From the playgrounds to the professionals, we love to pass around the pigskin and work up an appetite to pour on the giblet gravy. Playing football on Thanksgiving revives images straight from a Norman Rockwell painting.

Another tradition seems to be developing too … but this one conjures up thoughts of a different Norman. Try Bates.

Every year around Thanksgiving, the BCS bowl selection process for choosing the two teams that will play in the National Championship Game (NCG) gets tougher to swallow than a third plate of holiday leftovers.

The Texas Tech-Oklahoma game is a culprit for a second consecutive season.

Last year, the #4 Sooners lost to Tech on the same weekend that #2 Oregon fell to Arizona. Those losses sent the BCS careening into a selection process that would see the eventual national champion (LSU) lose on the last weekend of the regular season.

This year, #5 Oklahoma may have triggered more tumult by thrashing the #2-rated Red Raiders 65-21. The game was not as close as the score indicates.

The outcome means there is a three-way log jam atop the Big 12 South between Oklahoma, Texas, and Texas Tech. If all those teams win out, the one with the highest BCS rating at the end of the regular season will play in the Big 12 Championship game and – with a win there – probably advance to the BCS NCG.

Texas coach Mack Brown argues that since Texas beat Oklahoma head-to-head, the Longhorns deserve to be ranked highest. Bob Stoops of Oklahoma responds that by using similar logic, Texas cannot be ranked higher than Texas Tech since the Red Raiders handled the Horns.

And on it goes.

So, what now in the national title race?

#1 Alabama is now the only team to truly control its destiny.

The Crimson Tide plays Auburn in the fabled old Iron Bowl rivalry this week, then Florida in the SEC Championship game the following Saturday. Win both and Bama is in the NCG.

Florida should also be in good shape. The Gators must beat Florida State on the road and Alabama in the SEC title. Win those two and the Gators ought to earn the NCG berth.

Who would face the SEC champ in the title game?

Probably the survivor of the Texas-Oklahoma political battle, but who could argue against USC or Penn State being just as deserving as any of the other one-loss teams?

Here is a rundown of the BCS conferences with bowl projections following.

ACC: The Atlantic Division winner will be either Boston College or FSU. If Boston College beats Maryland, the Eagles are going to Tampa. Should BC lose, the Seminoles advance. In the Coastal, Virginia Tech can take the division with a win at home over visiting Virginia. If the Hokies lose, Georgia Tech wins the crown. Projected champ: Virginia Tech (but watch Georgia Tech)

Big East: Cincinnati controls the conference and can secure a BCS berth by beating Syracuse. If the Bearcats stumble, West Virginia could slip in by taking the backyard brawl with Pitt. Projected champ: Cincinnati

Big 12: Missouri has won the North and will play the South champ. Just a hunch, but Texas coach Mack Brown is a master politician and will milk the UT win over OU … while conveniently brushing aside the Longhorn loss to T-Tech. Bob Stoops is no smooth operator like Mack the Knife, but if his Sooners pound OK State this week, that could be a sufficient answer. Projected champ: Oklahoma by (this much —) over Texas

Big Ten: Joe Paterno adds to his legacy with a Big Ten title and trip to Pasadena. Champ: Penn State

Pac-10: Oregon State won a great game with Arizona to maintain the conference lead. The Beavers can make their first trip to Pasadena in more than forty years by beating in-state rival Oregon next week. If State loses, USC will take the crown by beating UCLA in two weeks. The PAC-10 is pulling for OSU so a second BCS slot could go to USC. Projected champ: Oregon State

SEC: Alabama and Florida must get by in-state rivals to keep national championship hopes alive. Projected champ: Florida

BCS Bowl Projections heading into Thanksgiving:

NCG: Florida vs. Oklahoma/Texas Runoff Winner
Fiesta: Texas/Oklahoma Runoff Loser vs. USC
Sugar: Alabama vs. Utah
Orange: Virginia Tech vs. Cincinnati
Rose: Penn State vs. Oregon State

A big loser right now?

The Big Ten’s Ohio State. The Buckeyes will not get to a BCS bowl if Oregon State and USC win out.

A big winner?

Georgia fans might get to see the Dogs play those Buckeyes in the Capital One Bowl (they much prefer that matchup to one with Michigan State).

Enjoy the games and our wonderful Thanksgiving Day tradition!

Around the Nation

The Big 12 Network … I mean ABC … will televise the Bedlam game between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State Saturday night. The stakes will be huge for the Sooners.

On Thanksgiving night, Mack Brown and his Texas Longhorns have an opportunity to get the jump on OU in the politicking when they face the Aggies of Texas A&M.

Out West, Notre Dame visits USC, and Hollywood may be the final script in the Charlie Weis saga with the Irish. The Civil War between Oregon and Oregon State will decide the Granddaddy.

Around the South

The Iron Bowl between Auburn and Alabama is the nation’s toughest game.

The #1 ranked Tide will be trying to break a six-game losing streak to the Tigers.

Georgia hosts Georgia Tech in the Good Old-Fashioned Hate rivalry. Tech can still win the ACC and advance to the Orange Bowl.

For the Yellow Jackets to have a chance, visiting Virginia must travel to Blacksburg and beat the Hokies of Virginia Tech. It’s never easy to handle a live gobbler around Thanksgiving.

In C-USA, congratulations to Skip Holtz and East Carolina for winning the East. Houston wins the West with a victory over Rice. If Rice wins, Tulsa takes the crown by whipping Marshall. If Rice wins and Tulsa loses, the Owls are heading to the title game. Got that?

See you at kickoff!

Professor’s Picks and Around the SEC Week 13

Is there one more bowl eligible team out there?

The SEC has nine bowl affiliations. A team has to have at least a .500 won-loss record to qualify for the post-season. With Vanderbilt’s victory over Kentucky lifting the Commodores to the magic six-win mark, the league can now fill eight of the bowl slots. Will one more team complete the dance card?

That seems unlikely.

Auburn and Arkansas are the two teams yet to win six games that can still qualify for a bowl. It will be a tall order for either.

Auburn has a week off to prepare for the Iron Bowl in Tuscaloosa against undefeated and top-ranked Alabama. The Tigers have won six straight in the series (just in case anybody hadn’t heard), but will be a decided underdog against the 11-0 Tide.

Arkansas does not play the nation’s top team, but for Bobby Petrino to take the Razorbacks bowling in his first year, his squad would need to beat Mississippi State on the road this week, then best LSU at home the Friday after Thanksgiving.

Neither of those is an impossible scenario, but it’s tough to see either playing out.

As we wind toward the season’s end, the main topics of conversation in the league are the national title, coaching changes, and bowl scenarios.

Here is a tidbit of info on each.

Assume Alabama and Florida win their remaining regular-season games (Alabama has Auburn at home; Florida has the Citadel at home and Florida State on the road). The SEC championship in Atlanta then becomes a play-in game for the BCS title game in Miami. Loser would go to the Sugar.

The coaching carousel is cranking up once more around college football with a new twist.

This season teams are getting rid of coaches early so they’ll be able to snatch up the next hot coaching prospect. Clemson and Tennessee are prime examples. With Phillip Fulmer out on Rocky Top, the new hottest seat belongs to Tommy Tuberville at Auburn. Things may get warm for Sylvester Croom at Miss State too.

Finally, here are the latest bowl projections.

BCS Title: Alabama-Florida Winner vs. Big 12 Team

Sugar: Alabama-Florida Loser vs. Big 12 Team, Big Ten Team, or USC

Capital: Georgia vs. Big Ten

Cotton: LSU-Ole Miss winner vs. Big 12

Outback: South Carolina vs. Big Ten

Chick-fil-A: Vanderbilt vs. ACC

Music City: LSU-Ole Miss loser vs. ACC

Liberty: Kentucky vs. C-USA

Enjoy the games!

Game Day Weekly Ratings

1. Florida: Gators dominated a decent South Carolina team

2. Alabama: Do not underestimate Tide against Florida in SEC title game.

3. Georgia … Dogs never make it look easy, but beat Auburn for a third straight year.

4. Ole Miss … Rebels peaking at the right time.

5. LSU … Bengal Tigers should never trail Troy by 28, but what a comeback.

6. Vanderbilt … Congratulations to the Commodores. Let’s go bowling.

7. Kentucky … If Wildcats could wake up before halftime each week, they’d win more.

8. South Carolina … Gamecocks got crushed by Florida … but who hasn’t lately?

9. Auburn … Tigers looked more confident running traditional offense against Georgia.

10. Arkansas … Rested Hogs must win next two to earn post-season bid.

11. Miss State … nothing to be embarrassed about in loss to Tide … well, the offense is pretty bad.

12. Tennessee … will the Volunteers show up against Vandy and Kentucky or simply mail it in?

Professor’s Picks
Last Week’s Record 5-1
2008 Record 62-22

* All times Eastern

Arkansas at Mississippi State (2:30)
The Bulldogs played well defensively in a physical and emotional loss to Alabama. Arkansas sat home and munched popcorn and watched. Statistically, these teams are about even with the exception of scoring defense where Arkansas ranks dead last in the league. State just struggles so much to score that I believe the rested Hogs can pull the mild upset.
Game Ball: Arkansas

The Citadel at Florida (1:30)

The only issue for the Gators is whether they are peaking too early. No team in the FBS is playing better right now. That’s not good news for the FCS Bulldogs from The Citadel. This one may not be a fifty-point blowout simply because the Gators will be resting up and looking ahead.
Game Ball: Florida

Ole Miss at LSU (3:30 CBS)
See SEC Game of the Week.
Game Ball: LSU

Tennessee at Vanderbilt (12:30 Raycom)
The Commodores finally won that elusive sixth victory to become bowl eligible by beating Kentucky. The Volunteers played pathetically two weeks ago against Wyoming then had an off week to listen to rumors about who the next UT coach might be. A bad season gets worse for the Vols and a good season gets better for the Dores.
Game Ball: Vanderbilt

Open: Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina

Crossing Paths

Ole Miss at LSU
SEC Game of the Week
November 22nd at 3:30 ET CBS
(originally published in Game Day Weekly 11.17.08)

The last time teams coached by Les Miles and Houston Nutt crossed paths, the results were dynamic.

On and off the field.

On the field, Nutt coached his Arkansas Razorbacks to a triple-overtime 50-48 stunner over Miles and the No. 1 ranked Bengal Tigers on the day after Thanksgiving. The loss appeared to knock LSU out of the national championship race, but a West Virginia loss to Pitt the next week reopened that door and LSU took advantage by whipping Ohio State for the title.

Off the field, even more drama took place.

That game turned out to be Houston Nutt’s last as head Hog. He was shown the door at Arkansas after ten seasons and three SEC West division crowns, resigning amidst a swelling unrest among Razorback backers (or at least a vocal and influential group of them).

For a week, the game looked like it might be the last for Les Miles in Baton Rouge too.

Hours prior to the SEC Championship game, ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit reported that Miles would take the Michigan job (Miles’ alma mater), replacing the retiring Lloyd Carr. Miles called a hasty, brief (and strange) press conference the day of the title game to dispute the claim and announce he was staying at LSU.

Had that rumor not broken that day?

Who knows, but it seems there was substantial interest from Michigan and Miles about him returning home to Ann Arbor. At any rate, he stayed and his team won a national title a few weeks later, a game probably made even sweeter to Miles because it was against Ohio State … Michigan’s arch-rival.

Whether Nutt was forced to leave or Miles was forced to stay, things worked out well for everyone.

Miles got the national championship within weeks of staying at LSU and Nutt got the Ole Miss position within minutes of leaving Arkansas (he probably had it before he even resigned).

When their paths cross again this week, nothing as dramatic as jobs or championships will be at stake, but the game is significant.

After starting the season inconsistently (the Rebels first six games read W-L-W-L-W-L), Ole Miss comes to LSU at 6-4 and on a three-game winning streak. The Rebels throw the ball more than was typical for Nutt during his Arkansas days, mainly because QB Jevan Snead is a big-time player, but Ole Miss can move the ball on the ground too. Defensively, the Rebels struggle statistically (next-to-last in the SEC in total defense heading into last Saturday’s game), but they play the run tough – which is LSU’s strength.

As Nutt promised the seniors during his first team meeting, Ole Miss will be going bowling this year for the first time since 2003. A win over LSU might mean the difference between a Music City or Liberty Bowl berth and a potential Cotton Bowl appearance.

For LSU, the comedown from a national championship high has been eventful.

Blowout losses to Florida and Georgia ended any talk of repeating as national champs, and a bitter overtime loss to Alabama (and former LSU coach Nick Saban) two weeks ago closed the door on the conference race as well.

The Tigers must have been feeling the effects of that Bama loss Saturday night because they fell behind Troy 31-3 midway through the third quarter before roaring back with 37 unanswered points on the way to a 40-31 victory. The win was the biggest comeback in LSU history.

Expect plenty of offensive fireworks in this game.

LSU will try to run the ball right at the Rebels with outstanding tailback Charles Scott hoping to take the pressure off inconsistent QB Jarrett Lee.

Ole Miss will try to keep the ball in the hands of Snead and playmakers Dexter McCluster, Shay Hodge, Cordera Eason, and Mike Wallace.

The scoreboard will be moving when these two teams cross paths, but the coaches are not going anywhere.

Game Ball: LSU

Around the Nation Week 13

It’s time for the yearly yakking about a playoff to commence.

No less a national figure than President-Elect Barack Obama calls for the creation of a college football playoff system.

Barack’s bailout plan for college football?

The Big O calls for an eight-team, three-round playoff that, according to Renegade (that’s his cool new Secret Service code name), would be simple to implement.

Obama told 60 Minutes, “It would add three weeks to the season. You could trim back on the regular season. I don’t know any serious college football fan who has disagreed with me on this. So, I’m going to throw my weight around a little bit.”

Depending on your point of view, it’s either too bad – or a good thing – that (with regard to college football) Obama is a lightweight.

Don’t get me wrong. I call Obama a lightweight not as a politician or leader (he’s terrific as the first and may be great as the second) … however, he definitely is a lightweight with regard to his understanding of the current structure of big-time college football. Mr. President, count me as a serious fan who disagrees with you about the playoff plan.

First problem … follow the money.

Any credible playoff plan would need to include those personal college ATMS called the bowls. An eight-team tourney outside the bowl system would never pass muster. The bowls are the reason the plus-one proposal (an additional title game after the bowls) is the only one to ever gain any real momentum (and it’s not a good idea either).

Second problem … follow the money.

In the bowl system, the colleges (read: College Presidents) rake in the revenue from those post-season appearances and – more importantly – control that money. In a playoff system, the NCAA bureaucracy would gain leverage over those bucks. College presidents are about as likely to let go of power as are U.S. Presidents.

Third problem … follow the money.

When Barack-O says, “You could trim back on the regular season,” he shows how truly naïve he is on the topic.

Home football games generate hundreds of thousands of dollars (in some cases millions of dollars) through ticket sales, concessions, parking, memorabilia sales, and television deals. That sum does not even count the indirect money made by local merchants (hotels, restaurants, etc).

Think half of the 120 or so FBS teams would be willing to give up a home game so eight schools can have a little playoff during the holidays. Think Obama is going to give back Florida, Michigan, Ohio, and Virginia to John McCain?

So, is any realistic playoff scenario possible?

The earliest a true playoff system could even be considered would be 2014 when existing television contracts expire. By the way, the purchase by ESPN of television rights to BCS bowls is probably a positive step for playoff proponents in the long run.

Still, until college presidents come aboard (and they are now firmly opposed to a playoff), college football fans should get used to the current format.

And that current format, for all its flaws, has made college football the most talked about and popular sport in America.

Enjoy the games … and stick to politics Mr. President.

Around the Nation

The biggest game of the weekend takes place in Norman on Saturday night when #2 Texas Tech visits #5 Oklahoma.

If Texas Tech wins, the Red Raiders have a clear path to the BCS title game. If Oklahoma wins, expect a great debate about the merits of the Sooners as compared to the Texas Longhorns. Texas beat Oklahoma earlier in the season, but the Sooners have played a much tougher schedule.

The Big Ten championship will be decided when Michigan State visits Penn State. With a victory Penn State goes to the Rose Bowl. If MSU wins, the Spartans would need an Ohio State loss to Michigan earlier in the day to claim the crown.

Out West, Oregon State can move a step closer to Pasadena with a win at Arizona.

The Big East champ will likely be the winner of the Cincinnati-Pitt game.

Around the South

Ole Miss and LSU meet in Baton Rouge in the SEC Game of the Week. Tennessee will try to salvage some pride at Vanderbilt.

The ACC race is crazy. Nine teams are still in the running for the title, so flip a coin to pick a winner. The Georgia Tech-Miami Thursday night game is big and could start to narrow the field.

In C-USA, Houston looked awesome in blasting Tulsa 70-30. The Cougars host West rival UTEP in the league’s biggest game of the week.

See you at kickoff!

Professor’s Picks and Around the SEC Week 12

With road victories Saturday, Alabama and Florida clinched Southeastern Conference championship game berths.

The Crimson Tide needed overtime to subdue LSU at Baton Rouge.

In an exciting back and forth game, Alabama defensive back Rashad Johnson picked off this third interception of the game on LSU’s first OT possession (one of the four oskies tossed by Tiger QB Jarrett Lee). The Tide then quickly drove in for the winning score and a 27-21 victory.

Florida had a much easier time at Vanderbilt.

The Gators jumped all over the Commodores on the way to a 35-0 halftime lead. QB Tim Tebow passed for three touchdowns and ran for two more before taking the rest of the evening off about six minutes into the third quarter. The final of 42-14 does not indicate how lopsided the score could have been.

With the clinching wins, the SEC championship game participants are set at the earliest time in recent memory.

Of course, both teams have their eyes on a larger prize … the BCS title in Miami.

Should both teams win out in remaining regular season games, the winner of that SEC showdown stands a very strong chance of playing for the national title.

With an undefeated record and #1 ranking, Alabama is assured of reaching the BCS title game if the Tide keeps winning.

Bama faces a rested Mississippi State team in Tuscaloosa this Saturday, takes a week off, and finishes up with the Iron Bowl at home against rival Auburn. The Tide will be trying to break a six-game losing streak in that series.

For Florida, the case is not so clear cut, but the Gators should feel good about their position.

Florida faces South Carolina and the Citadel at home the next two weeks before traveling to play in-state rival and ACC front-runner Florida State on November 29th.

If Florida wins out and handles Alabama in Atlanta, the Gators would have a strong case among potential one-loss teams.

The biggest threats to the Gators in that scenario?

Try any of a trio of Big 12 teams … Oklahoma, Texas, and currently unbeaten Texas Tech (assuming the Red Raiders lose one) … along with Southern Cal.

The BCS will shake out soon enough, for now Crimson Tide and Gator fans can get ready for Atlanta … and hope for an even bigger prize.

Enjoy the games!

Game Day Weekly SEC Ratings

1. Florida: Yes, Alabama is #1 nationally, but the Gators look like the hottest team in America right now.

2. Alabama: Tide showed the steely nerves of a champion in defeating LSU on the road.

3. South Carolina … Gamecocks boast league’s top D, but the old ball coach is alternating QBs again.

4. Georgia … Dogs offense has good pedigree … the defense may be looking for a new master soon.

5. Ole Miss … Rebs go for three in a row – and bowl eligibility – this week.

6. LSU … Bengal Tigers quarterback play is feast or famine … hello Cotton Bowl?

7. Kentucky … Wildcats had Georgia on ropes, but defense has faltered of late.

8. Vanderbilt … Commodores must beat UK, UT, or Wake to go bowling.

9. Arkansas … Turnovers butchered the Hogs at Columbia, but the SC defense played its role in them.

10. Auburn … Tigers struggled against FBS UT-Martin, but any win is sweet on the Plains right now.

11. Miss State … the Bulldogs needed the off week because Alabama on the road will be a chore.

12. Tennessee … AD Mike Hamilton probably should have waited until after the Wyoming game to fire Fulmer.

Professor’s Picks
Last Week’s Record 4-2
2008 Record 57-21

* all times Eastern

Mississippi State at Alabama (7:45 ESPN)
The last time MSU played a top-ranked Tide team was 1980, and the Bullies stunned Bama and the Bear 6-3. My guess is that the Bulldogs will match that offensive output this week … and lose about 28-6. The Crimson Tide looks solid in all aspects (except place-kicking perhaps) and moves to 11-0 on the season. Florida is getting all the publicity right now … and that’s probably about what the Tide team and staff prefer.
Game Ball: Alabama

Georgia at Auburn (12:30 Raycom)

See SEC Game of the Week.
Game Ball: Georgia

South Carolina at Florida (3:30 CBS)
The Gamecocks come into the contest at 7-3 and looking to land a New Year’s Day bowl (likely the Outback in Tampa, but possibly the Cap One in Orlando). In last week’s win over Arkansas, head ball coach Steve Spurrier reinstituted what he calls the “quarterback shuffle” with Chris Smelley and Stephen Garcia alternating every play. SC will need to throw everything plus the visor at the mighty Gators. “Experts” around the nation would probably rank Florida as the favorite to win the national title right now. The Gamecock defense will compete with Florida, but I don’t see enough offense to pull the stunner.
Game Ball: Florida

Vanderbilt at Kentucky (8:00 ESPN2)
We haven’t often been able to call the Vandy-UK game an intriguing one, but this time it qualifies. Kentucky nearly knocked off Georgia and could get to eight wins by beating Vandy and Tennessee. That might mean a New Year’s Day bowl for the Cats. On the other sideline, post-season options are dwindling for the Commodores. After starting 5-0, VU has dropped four straight and still needs another win to go bowling. Not this week.
Game Ball: Kentucky

Louisiana-Monroe at Ole Miss (2:00)
Ole Miss had a week off to prepare for the final three games of the season, still needing one win to become bowl eligible. They should reach that milestone against the 3-7 Warhawks.
Game Ball: Ole Miss

Troy at LSU (8:00)
Troy moved to 6-3 (and bowl eligibility) with a win over Western Kentucky, while LSU lost an emotional struggle in OT to #1 ranked Alabama. The Bengal Tigers may be sluggish after that disappointing loss, but if the QB play is at least decent (which it has not been lately), then LSU should have enough talent for a solid win.
Game Ball: LSU

Open: Arkansas, Tennessee

By the Numbers

Disappointment by the Numbers
Georgia at Auburn
SEC Game of the Week
November 11th at 12:30 ET Raycom

by Bob Epling
(article originally published in Game Day Weekly 11.9.08)

When Georgia and Auburn renew the South’s oldest rivalry this Saturday on the Plains, neither program is where it expected to be at the start of the season.

Most preseason publications and online sites tabbed Georgia as the nation’s top team and a serious national title contender. Auburn was also a solid Top Ten choice.

The season has not worked out so well for either and we can follow the disappointment by looking at the numbers.

1 and 9 … The preseason rankings of these two teams back in August.

Georgia, based on the Dogs strong finish in 2007, stomping of Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl, and returning talent at the offensive skill positions, garnered the top spot from most national publications before the season. The Dogs would drop from the top spot before even losing a game, then fall from the Top Ten after blowout losses to Alabama and Florida.

Auburn, with promises of a high-scoring new offensive system and traditionally stout defense, warranted a consensus Top Ten preseason ranking among national polls and stayed there (even after an ugly 3-2 win over Miss State) until a Week 4 loss to LSU.

10 … The SEC ranks in offense (Auburn) and defense (Georgia) heading into last weekend’s games.

Auburn has never completely gotten a handle on the spread offense attack installed at the end of last season. A significant culprit is inconsistent QB play from first Chris Todd and lately Kodi Burns. The numbers would be much worse if not for games with LA-Monroe, Southern Miss, and UT-Martin.

Georgia’s defense wilted in the biggest games of the year, yielding 41 points to Alabama and 49 to Florida. The Dogs never really competed in those two games, and the statistics got even worse this past weekend when Georgia won despite Kentucky ringing up 38 points.

125 and 115 … The number of points Georgia has given up its past three games (125) and the number of points Auburn has scored in its five wins (115).

Even though the Dogs won two of those games, that three-game span is the worst non-overtime stretch for a Georgia defense since 1994.

Auburn’s offensive ineptitude is evident even during victories as the Tigers have posted a win with single digit points (3), one win with a point total in the teens (14 vs. Tennessee), a win in the 20s (27 vs. Southern Miss), and two wins in the 30s (34 against LA-Monroe and 37 last week vs. UT-Martin).

5 and 2 … The number of offensive coordinators (Auburn) and defensive coordinators (Georgia) under Tommy Tuberville and Mark Richt.

While Tuberville has a nucleus of offensive coaches who stick with him (Greg Knox, Hugh Nall, and Eddie Gran have all been with Tubs dating to his Ole Miss days in the mid-1990s), he has never been shy about firing OCs. He’ll hire another for next year … if he’s back himself.

Richt’s staff is even more stable. Willie Martinez was on Richt’s original staff at Georgia, and became defensive coordinator in 2005 when Brian Van Gorder left for the NFL. Those are the only two DCs Richt has had, but there is increasing pressure on Martinez.

111 and 15 … The number of times the game has been played (111) makes it the nation’s seventh most played rivalry. Both teams average 15 points per game in the series.

The Auburn-Georgia rivalry is remarkably close in every aspect.

Auburn leads 53-50-8 overall and the average score is Georgia 15.59 and Auburn 15.18. The competition also rarely spills over into the over-the-top animosity found in bitter feuds like Alabama-Auburn or Georgia-Florida. This game is more akin to a hard-fought battle between close cousins.

5-5, 6-6, and 8-8-1 … The won-loss record in this rivalry going back ten years, twelve years, and seventeen years. You cannot get much closer.

While Auburn is down this season, the Tigers can earn a bowl bid by beating either Georgia or Alabama. This game provides the best opportunity, but Georgia should prevail.

Game Ball: Georgia

Around the Nation Week 12

Are the chickens hatching?

Perhaps they are for Texas Tech and Alabama, but beware of lurking chicken hawks.

We all know that axiom “don’t count your chickens before they hatch.” Crimson Tide and Red Raider fans should remember that wise old saying as we move toward the close of the college football season.

Alabama and Texas Tech survived huge obstacles last week, but Penn State got caught by the hawk in Iowa.

As the only remaining unbeaten teams from BCS conferences, Bama and Tech have clear, but dangerous, paths to the national championship game.

Alabama must win home games with Mississippi State and Auburn, then the SEC championship game against Florida.

Texas Tech has a bye week before finishing the regular season with a huge road game at Oklahoma and a home finale with Baylor. The Big 12 championship opponent would likely be Missouri.

Should either of those teams falter, the annual BCS anxiety attacks will commence.

A host of potential one-loss teams would have valid arguments for reaching the championship game.

Unfortunately for the great Joe Paterno, Penn State is not likely to be among them. While the loss was tough for Joe Pa, most of the nation is thankful to be spared another Big Ten team in the BCS title game.

Here is our latest handicapping of the BCS Conference races.

ACC: Atlantic Division is a tossup between FSU, Wake Forest, and Maryland with the edge to Florida State; in the Coastal Division North Carolina has the easiest path, but Virginia Tech must lose. Early favorite: Virginia Tech.

Big East: Pitt and Cincinnati are the front-runners, with West Virginia lurking. Slight favorite: Cincinnati.

Big Ten: Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan State are atop the conference. Edge to Penn State.

Big 12: North should be Missouri. Texas Tech controls South, but still must beat Oklahoma.

PAC 10: Oregon State now controls the league, but probably needs to win out to hold off USC.

SEC: Alabama and Florida have clinched the divisions and meet for the conference title on Dec. 6. The winner of that game (if the team does not lose before then) should be in the BCS title game.

BCS Busters: Utah and Boise State might both merit bids, with BYU and Ball State as longshots.

If a guess had to be made right now as to the two teams that will meet in Miami?

Try Oklahoma and Florida.

Around the Nation

Out West, USC looks great (especially on defense) and seeks revenge on the road at Stanford. The Cal at Oregon State game has big conference implications too.

The Big East features league leading Cincinnati at unpredictable Louisville on Friday night.

Texas at Kansas is the top Big 12 game of the week.

In Big Ten country, Ohio State visits Illinois and Minnesota takes on Wisconsin at Camp Randall.

Around the South

Steve Spurrier takes his hot South Carolina Gamecocks to Gainesville for a game with Florida. Bowl positioning is on the mind of SC, but the Gators are thinking national title.

Top-ranked Alabama welcomes the Mississippi State Bulldogs to T-Town. The Bullies are rested, but the Tide is still rolling toward a national title shot.

Auburn and Georgia renew the South’s oldest rivalry in a game on the Plains. The Tigers need a win to be bowl eligible.

In the ACC, Virginia Tech and Miami will try to sort out the Coastal Division on Thursday night in south Florida.

C-USA features a top game in Hattiesburg between East-Division leading East Carolina and suddenly improving Southern Miss.

See you at kickoff!

Professor’s Picks and Around the SEC Week 11

A November to Remember? Nah.

The SEC division races will not provide a November to remember.

Alabama, the nation’s top-ranked team, holds a commanding two-game lead over LSU in the West division and can wrap up the race with a victory against those Bengal Tigers in Baton Rouge this weekend.

Even if the Tide loses to the Tigers, wins in remaining home games with Mississippi State and Auburn would clinch the crown.

Florida, fresh from a pasting of rival Georgia in the annual Jacksonville cocktail party, is a heavy favorite in the East, but surprisingly both the Gators and the Vanderbilt Commodores control their own destinies.

Those two meet in Nashville this weekend.

Florida clinches the division with a victory; should Vanderbilt win, the Commodores would still need to beat Kentucky (on the road) and Tennessee (at home) to win the East.

Tide fans and Gator followers should go ahead and book the hotel reservations for Atlanta.

On the subject of the postseason, let’s look at some ridiculously early bowl projections for SEC teams.

The best chance for an SEC team to win a third consecutive national title (something no conference has done) consists of Alabama and Florida winning out, and the winner of the SEC title game reaching the BCS championship.

Below, we’ve given a best case scenario of SEC teams qualifying for all conference affiliated bowls.

BCS Title: Alabama-Florida Winner

Sugar: Alabama-Florida Loser

Capital One: Georgia vs. Big Ten

Cotton: LSU vs. Big 12

Outback: South Carolina vs. Big Ten

Chick-fil-A: Kentucky vs. ACC

Liberty: Ole Miss vs. C-USA

Music City: Vandy (if eligible) vs. ACC

Independence: Tennessee (if eligible) vs. Big 12

Papa John’s: Auburn or Arkansas (if eligible) vs. Big East

Enjoy the games!

Game Day Weekly SEC Ratings

1. Alabama: Tide faces biggest remaining test of regular season on the Bayou.

2. Florida: Gators continue to dominate and impress.

3. No Pick … the first two deserve to stand alone.

4. LSU … Bengal Tigers can regain pride at home against Bama this week.

5. South Carolina … Gamecocks again solid as head ball coach gets ready to go bowling.

6. Ole Miss … workmanlike win over Auburn for improving Rebels.

7. Georgia … Dogs played like pups in two biggest games of the year.

8. Kentucky … Wildcats going to three straight bowls for first time since Bear Bryant coached them.

9. Vanderbilt … Commodores desperately need to find a win to get to a bowl.

10. Arkansas … Hogs knocked off undefeated Tulsa … need two wins to go bowling with Bobby.

11 A-B. Auburn/Tennessee … Whose fans are more dissatisfied? Give it to UT since they just canned the coach … barely.

12. Miss State … a blocked extra point costs the anemic Bullies against Kentucky.

Professor’s Picks
Last Week’s Record 4-3
2008 Record 53-19

* all times Eastern

Alabama at LSU (3:30 CBS)
See SEC Game of the Week
Game Ball: LSU

Arkansas at South Carolina (1:00)
What once looked to be a snoozer has suddenly become a pretty interesting matchup. Bobby Petrino has his Hogs playing hard, while Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks have won five of six. Go with the head ball coach.
Game Ball: South Carolina

Tennessee-Martin at Auburn (2:30)
Tigers never crossed midfield in the first half against Ole Miss last week, but a nice cupcake is always good for what ails you. Skyhawks are in first place in Ohio Valley Conference at 7-2 and just beat an Alabama team (Jax State), so they may not go down easy. Tigers move within one game of bowl eligibility.
Game Ball: Auburn

Florida at Vanderbilt (8:00 ESPN)
The only flaw in Florida’s great performance against Georgia was Urban Meyer’s response to last year’s Bulldog celebration. It took a year to come up with calling timeouts after the game was decided? Wow, must have watched the local junior high rivals play. We wanted something more dramatic. Gators should clinch the East this week, but Vandy controls own destiny too and had a week to prepare. No matter.
Game Ball: Florida

Georgia at Kentucky (12:30 Raycom)
A tough call here because Kentucky won on the road while Georgia got humiliated at Florida. Dogs may take a while to recover from that beating, but their record in opposing stadiums is stellar.
Game Ball: Georgia

Wyoming at Tennessee (1:00)
Phillip Fulmer got the news on Monday … Joe Glenn of the Cowboys may not be far behind. Fulmer farewell tour off to a good start.
Game Ball: Tennessee

Open: Ole Miss, Miss State

Blue Bayou

Alabama at LSU
SEC Game of the Week
November 8th at 3:30 ET CBS
by Bob Epling

(article originally appeared in 11.3.08 Game Day Weekly)

“I’m going back someday, come what may, to blue bayou.”
Linda Ronstadt

Did your state go red or blue?

With Election 2008 finally ending this week (when did it start … around 2005?), count on political pundits to provide commentary about the presidential race, and all the national, state, and local contests too.

They’ll even break out those nifty color-coded maps to show us the red and blue states.

In the race for the SEC West, no such map is needed.

Alabama is definitely a red state.

LSU might be trending a bit blue on the bayou.

Alabama fans certainly are feeling red … as in red-hot. The Crimson Tide rolls into the LSU game on a ten-game winning streak that dates back to last season’s Independence Bowl.

Saturday’s 35-0 homecoming victory over Arkansas State exemplified the Alabama fall campaign.

The Tide continued a stunning record of getting off to fast starts by scoring on its first possession against A-State and taking a 14-0 lead into halftime.

For the season, Alabama has outscored opponents 198-26 in the first half.

The last time a team scored a touchdown in the first half against the Tide was back on September 20th when Arkansas posted a TD pass.

Alabama rushed for 205 yards and four touchdowns in Saturday’s game, passed for another 152, and chipped in a defensive touchdown on an interception return by Rashad Johnson. Such balance has been a hallmark of this team.

As if Alabama backers needed more good news, the Crimson Tide will roll into Baton Rouge as the nation’s #1 ranked team following the Texas Tech upset of Texas late Saturday night.

Tide coach (and former LSU head man) Nick Saban is going back to find the Bengal Tigers looking forward to happier times on a blue bayou.

The defending national champions are a respectable 6-2 on the season, but the two losses loom much larger than the six wins.

On October 11, LSU got swamped 51-21 on the road by the Florida Gators in a battle of the past two national champions. Two weeks ago, Georgia blasted the Tigers 52-38 at Baton Rouge.

When the only two really good teams on the schedule each romp to half a hundred points … welcome to blue bayou.

Those two LSU losses dimmed the spotlight shining on Saban’s return to red stick.

St. Nick led the Tiger program from 2000 to 2004, his five-year reign highlighted by the 2003 national championship. Saban left for the Miami Dolphins after the 2004 season.

Tiger fans could forgive Saban for leaving the program to chase his NFL dreams, but cannot so easily pardon him for returning to the college ranks only two years later, on the campus of a division rival no less.

Emotions will play a role in the game, but execution will mean more in the end.

Here are a couple of keys to watch:

1. The play of the quarterbacks: Alabama’s John Parker Wilson has been as steady as you’d expect a senior leader to be for the most part, but must maintain his composure in the most hostile arena he’ll face all season. For LSU, freshman Jarrett Lee shows flashes of excellence, but has been as erratic as you’d expect from a first-year starter. Handling the talented Tide defense will be a challenge.

2. The play of the defensive fronts: Both teams love to pound the ball on the ground. Alabama’s front has not been whipped all season, but the LSU offensive line is large. The LSU defensive front came into the season highly rated, but has been taken to the woodshed by the two best teams the Tigers played. If either of these units dominates, their team stands a great chance of winning.

A team going undefeated in the SEC seems unlikely. The Tide figures to lose one at some point. Let’s make it this one … on a blue bayou.

Game Ball: LSU