Professor’s Picks Week 9

Professor’s Picks Week 9

2011 Overall Record: 70-14
Last Week’s Record: 11-2

Around the SEC Week 9

Arkansas (6-1, 2-1 SEC) at Vanderbilt (4-3, 1-3 SEC)
11:21 a.m. CT • SEC Network / ESPN3.com
Nashville, Tenn. • Vanderbilt Stadium (39,773)
Series Record: UA leads, 6-2 • Last Meeting: Oct. 30, 2010 at Fayetteville (UA, 49-14)
Comment: Should the Razorbacks rumble past Vanderbilt on the road as expected, they figure to be strong favorites in three upcoming home games (South Carolina, Tennessee, Miss State) before the season finale at LSU. Another BCS bid could be in the offing. Vanderbilt is scrappy and needs two wins to earn bowl eligibility.
Professor’s Pick: Arkansas

Florida (4-3, 2-3 SEC) vs. Georgia (5-2, 4-1 SEC)
3:30 p.m. ET • CBS Sports
Jacksonville, Fla. • EverBank Field (84,000)
Series Record: UF records list UGA leads, 46-40-2 • UGA records list UGA leads, 47-40-2
Last Meeting: Oct. 30, 2010 at Jacksonville (UF, 34-31, OT)
Comment: Around Georgia I’m hearing more and more apathy about Mark Richt and the Bulldogs. Near the end of the Ray Goff regime, many Dog fans felt torn between pulling for their team – in which case the overwhelmed Goff might linger longer in the job – or counting on losses so a coaching change would occur. The animosity is not at that level yet, and Richt has certainly built up much good will, but another loss to Florida would trigger a backlash. It just might happen too. While Georgia has won five straight, the level of competition has been weak. Florida has lost three straight, but played Alabama and LSU back-to-back and then lost at Auburn with a beat up squad. If the schedules were reversed, you’d probably see about the same results. Georgia will probably be without top deep threat Malcolm Mitchell on offense, and the Dogs need a strong game from freshman RB Isaiah Crowell (who’s been a little banged up himself). Florida gets back starting QB John Brantley. Georgia will play this game on a 5 and 1/2 inch space (between their helmet earholes) and I’m just not sure the Dogs are composed enough to handle the stage.
Professor’s Pick: Florida

Ole Miss (2-5, 0-4 SEC) at Auburn (5-3, 3-2 SEC)
6 p.m. CT • ESPNU
Auburn, Ala. • Jordan-Hare Stadium / Pat Dye Field (87,451)
Series Record: AU leads, 26-9 • Last Meeting: Oct. 30, 2010 at Oxford (AU, 51-31)
Comment: Ole Miss arrives on the Plains after losses to Alabama and Arkansas, but the Rebels did play the Razorbacks close last week. Auburn got whipped pretty soundly by LSU (who hasn’t). Neither squad plays much defense, so you may see a lot of points.
Professor’s Pick: Auburn

Mississippi State (3-4, 0-4 SEC) at Kentucky (3-4, 0-3 SEC)
7 p.m. ET • FS South / ESPN3.com
Lexington, Ky. • Commonwealth Stadium / C.M. Newton Field (67,942)
Series Record: UK leads, 21-17 • Last Meeting: Oct. 30, 2010 at Starkville (MSU, 24-17)
Comment: One team finally gets a conference “W” in this battle of teams with identical records. Miss State would seem to be the stronger team, but the Bullies have been overrated quite often this season. Let’s give them one more try.
Professor’s Pick: Miss State

South Carolina (6-1, 4-1 SEC) at Tennessee (3-4, 0-4 SEC)
7:15 p.m. ET • ESPN or ESPN2 / ESPN3.com
Knoxville, Tn • Neyland Stadium / Shields-Watkins Field (102,455)
Series Record: UT leads, 22-5-2 • Last Meeting: Oct. 30, 2010 at Columbia (USC, 38-24)
Comment: Seems like not many still give South Carolina an edge in the SEC East after the dismissal of Stephen Garcia and the season-ending injury to Marcus Lattimore, but the Gamecocks can hold serve with a win on Rocky Top. The Vols hope to use a victory over SC as a springboard to a bowl and they will use freshman QB Justin Worley under center. Many Vol fans questioned pulling the redshirt off Worley in a hopeless cause against Alabama last week … they should keep in mind he’ll probably just be redshirted next season when Tyler Bray returns from injury with two seasons of eligibility remaining. Calling for the moderate upset here.
Professor’s Pick: Tennessee

OPEN: Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC); LSU (8-0, 5-0 SEC) … have you heard? These teams play next week!

Around the Nation Week 9

12:00 PM ET No. 11 Michigan State at No. 14 Nebraska … Spartans are physical, but I think Huskers get enough offense to knock them off in Lincoln. Professor’s Pick: Nebraska

12:00 PM ET Missouri at No. 16 Texas A&M … These SEC teams play a Big 12 game on Saturday; Aggies prove themselves the bigger catch right now. Professor’s Pick: A&M

3:30 PM ET Baylor at No. 3 Oklahoma State … Hope T. Boone Pickens paid all the electricity bills (or maybe the OSU scoreboards run off wind power); either way plenty of points as the Pokes try and stay in BCS title contention. Professor’s Pick: OK State

3:30 PM ET No. 9 Oklahoma at No. 8 Kansas State … Bob Stoops has lost consecutive conference games … ah, never? K-State gets exposed in the first of what this prof thinks will be at least three losses before season’s end. Professor’s Pick: OK

3:30 PM ET Illinois at No. 19 Penn State … Who is this up and comer coaching the Nittany Lions to another fine season? Joe Pa’s only loss to Alabama, but the Zooker at Illinois might upset the State bandwagon. Professor’s Pick: Penn State

3:30 PM ET Navy at Notre Dame NBC … Last season Navy ran for a few miles against a clueless ND defensive scheme. Last week East Carolina completed around thirty passes in a row against the Middie defense. Something has to give. Let’s say Irish by 42-33. Professor’s Pick: ND

8:00 PM ET No. 5 Clemson at Georgia Tech … This figures to be a nice contrast between the Tigers explosive spread attack, and the Jackets explosive option game. I’ll be tuned in. I want to pick the upset but Tech’s defense scares me too much. Professor’s Pick: Clemson

8:00 PM ET No. 6 Stanford at USC … Is anybody a more graceless winner than Lane Kiffin? We won’t have to suffer him this week because Stanford will whip USC (actually Kiffin’s a graceless loser too so maybe we will have to put up with him). Professor’s Pick: Stanford

8:00 PM ET No. 15 Wisconsin at Ohio State … Wiskey must recover from the heartbreaking loss to Michigan State and I believe the Badgers will. Let the Urban Meyer to Columbus watch begin (oh, am I late on that?). Professor’s Pick: Wisconsin

See you at kickoff!

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Almost Heaven

Almost Heaven

Country Roads Take Me Home
to the place I belong,
West Virginia …

Take Me Home, Country Roads (John Denver 1971)

“Almost Heaven, West Virginia,” begins John Denver’s iconic ode to the Mountain State.

Too bad Mike Slive is no John Denver fan.

When news broke today that West Virginia agreed to join the Big 12, it marked a missed opportunity for the Southeastern Conference.

Slive, the Ivy League-educated (Dartmouth 1962) Southeastern Conference Commissioner, has by all reasonable accounts been a truly successful leader of the nation’s premier college football league. As anybody who follows the sport knows, he presides over a group that has captured the past five BCS championships, boasts the top two teams in the most recent rankings, and far surpasses all competitors in attention, attendance, and zeal among fans.

Still, nobody’s infallible and I believe it was a mistake for the SEC to pursue Missouri and take a pass on West Virginia.

Deciphering first, second, and third-tier television contract rights, numbers of potential viewers, and marketing footprints of Mizzou vs. the Mountaineers sails far above this old professor’s comprehension and interest. But, as a southerner with interest in the league going back to the 1960s I think I have a feel for the SEC – and West Virginia was a better fit than Missouri.

Yes, the Mountaineer football program is probably a notch above the Tigers (but not by much), basketball is about a stalemate. Columbia is certainly more cosmopolitan than Morgantown, and the UM academic reputation exceeds that of WVU (an important consideration for the pseudo-academician Slive and the twelve conference presidents who actually make decisions in the SEC). The state of Missouri has bigger cities, bigger television markets, and may bring a bigger dollar windfall when the SEC renegotiates its contract with ESPN (which still has a dozen years remaining).

All that said – West Virginia is a better fit.

Geographically West Virginia is a better fit. The state is contiguous (touching Kentucky) with the rest of the conference. Missouri borders conference states too, but WVU would fit nicely into the SEC East Division as a counterpart to recent league addition Texas A&M. Just watch, Missouri will be placed in the East initially (so as to save the annual Alabama-Tennessee football game), a glaring exception to the league’s current east-west geographic balance and an affront even in this age of map-twisting silliness.

More significantly, West Virginia – the state and university – is a better fit culturally. Whatever aspirations Mike Slive and the SEC presidents have from an academic perspective, the conference will always be sneered at by the likes of the Big Ten and the Pac-12 (welcome to the South boys). West Virginians sound more like us, act more like us, and wanted to join us (in contrast to Missouri – which openly pined for the preening Big Ten only to be rejected).

The SEC missed out on the Mountaineers … leaving this professor with only a misty taste of moonshine and a teardrop in my eye.

West Virginia, mountain mama, take me home country roads.

The Cowboy in Me

The Cowboy in Me

I got a life that most would love to have
But sometimes I still wake up fightin’ mad

The Cowboy in Me – Tim McGraw 2001

Welcome back to campus where college football coaches and players are apparently channeling their inner “cowboy” from Tennessee to Tucson. Professor’s Picks are below, but first a few fightin’ words.

This fall’s pugilistic proliference actually started before the season when several LSU Tigers celebrated the end of football camp with a parking lot brawl outside a bar called (appropriately enough) Shady’s. Starting QB Jordan Jefferson was initially suspended after being charged with felony battery, but was reinstated after the charge was lowered to a misdemeanor.

This past week really got the cowboy blood boiling in a couple of SEC coaches. Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin took offense to some mouthing off by Georgia defensive back Shawn Williams in the aftermath of the Commodores close loss to the Dogs. UGA defensive coordinator Todd Grantham in turn blew his top and engaged in a good, old nose-to-nose screaming session with Franklin (below).

Finally, last night a “knucklehead” (in the great description of ESPN’s Rece Davis) prompted a donnybrook between Arizona and UCLA that was far more entertaining than the 48-12 beating administered to the Bruins by the Wildcats.

The fighting filtered down to the high school level as well. Warren County (GA) High head coach David Daniel suffered a severe beating from Hancock Central players after his squad won a road game last Friday night. When Daniel tried to break up a post-game altercation between the teams, a Hancock player allegedly struck him in the face with a helmet and then several players beat him. Daniel suffered crushed bones in his face, but is now out of the hospital.

Since many faculty and students are engaged in Academic Advising this week, allow me to provide some advice for our gridiron grapplers.

1. Coaches get control of your teams. If you promote a cocky attitude and allow the constant jabbering and posturing after even mundane plays – which many college programs do – then you should not be surprised when somebody on the team crosses the line.

2. Coaches get control of your own emotions. Todd Grantham of Georgia is fiery (which a lot of Dog fans like because of the contrast with the placid demeanor of head coach Mark Richt), but he cannot come unglued like he did at Vandy. Watching the game live, I truly thought he might take a punch at Franklin. Similarly, we saw Jim Harbaugh of the 49ers and Jim Schwartz of the Lions tangle after an NFL game last week … if players see their coaches out of control, why should they maintain their own composure.

3. Administrators get control of everybody. Athletic Directors, conference commissioners, and even college presidents need to be more proactive. The SEC suspended a couple of Georgia players (one for a punch and one for a late hit) and one Vandy player (for a particularly dirty late hit to the back of a knee) for a grand total of …. one half! Boy, that’s strong. Still, that’s better than the ADs at Vandy and Georgia. Neither publicly addressed the penalties imposed on their childish coaches.

I teach a Sport in Society course spring semesters that addresses ethical issues in sport. All are welcome to enroll.

Professor’s Picks

2011 Overall Record: 59-12
Last Week’s Record: 10-1

Around the Nation

12:00 PM ET No. 4 Oklahoma State at Missouri … Cowboys look to keep riding high into Bedlam with a shot to play for BCS title. Professor’s Pick: OK State

12:00 PM ET North Carolina at No. 7 Clemson … following a terrific comeback, the Tigers face the talented but unpredictable Tar Heels. Professor’s Pick: Clemson

3:30 PM ET Air Force at No. 5 Boise State … one of the few tests left for Boise, but the Falcons probably cannot swoop in and derail another unbeaten season. Professor’s Pick: Boise State

3:30 PM ET No. 22 Georgia Tech at Miami (FL) … The Ramblin’ Wreck crashed unexpectedly in Charlottesville and must regroup in a tough place against a decent team. Professor’s Pick: Miami

7:00 PM ET No. 21 Penn State at Northwestern … great seasoned coach in Joe Pa against fine young coach in Paddy Fitz – nice matchup. Professor’s Pick: Penn State

7:30 PM ET USC at Notre Dame NBC … the nation’s most famous intersectional rivalry moves to prime time in South Bend. Irish are favored and also unveiling new helmets and (most likely) green jerseys but I think USC has a very good chance to spoil the party. Professor’s Pick: USC

8:00 PM ET Texas Tech at No. 3 Oklahoma … Sooners typically handle Tech pretty well. Professor’s Pick: OK

8:00 PM ET No. 6 Wisconsin at No. 16 Michigan State … Really looking forward to this pairing of the Big Ten’s most physical teams. Suspension of Sparty’s William Gholston is a difference maker. Professor’s Pick: Wisconsin

AROUND THE SEC

Headlines (courtesy of SECsportsmedia.com)

• SEC Football Players of the Week for games of Oct. 15 are Alabama RB Trent Richardson (offense), Auburn DE Corey Lemonier and South Carolina FS D.J. Swearinger (co-defense), Auburn P Steven Clark (special teams), LSU OT Chris Faulk (offensive line), Mississippi State DT Fletcher Cox (defensive line) and South Carolina WR Bruce Ellington and Georgia OLB Ray Drew (co-freshman).

• The SEC has six teams ranked in this week’s AP poll and the consensus 1-2 teams in the major polls. LSU and Alabama are ranked 1-2 in the AP, Harris Interactive and BCS Rankings this week.

• Ole Miss DE Jason Jones is this week’s SEC Community Service Player of the Week.

• The SEC has a 29-4 mark in non-conference games this season (87.9 percentage). The mark is second this season to the Big 12’s 26-3 (89.7 percentage) record.

• LSU has won at least two SEC road games every season since 2001. The 11-year streak is the longest in the conference.

• Vanderbilt’s 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Andre Hal against Georgia was the first allowed by an SEC team this season.

• LSU’s 16-play, 99-yard, 8:44 touchdown drive against Tennessee is the longest in the SEC this season in all three categories.

• The Auburn-LSU series (Saturday, CBS Sports, 2:30 p.m. CT) is the ninth closest in the SEC since 2000 with an average margin of 11.27 points. Six of the 11 games during the time have been decided by nine-points-or-less.

SEC Professor’s Picks

Jacksonville State (5-1) at Kentucky (2-4, 0-3 SEC)
12 p.m. ET • ESPNU
Lexington, Ky. • Commonwealth Stadium / C.M. Newton Field (67,942)
Series Record: First Meeting
Comment: Kentucky will take a win against any level, but Gamecocks are not pushovers.
Professor’s Pick: UK

Arkansas (5-1, 1-1 SEC) at Ole Miss (2-4, 0-3 SEC)
11:21 a.m. CT • SEC Network / ESPN3.com
Oxford, Miss. • Vaught-Hemingway Stadium / Hollingsworth Field (60,580)
Series Record: UA records list UA, 31-25-1 • UM records list UA, 30-26-1
Last Meeting: Oct. 23, 2010 at Fayetteville (UA, 38-24)
Comment: Rebels look like worst team in the league while Razorbacks are not out of title contention just yet. Houston Nutt would love to knock off his old team, but don’t think he has the squad to do so.
Professor’s Pick: Arkansas

Auburn (5-2, 3-1 SEC) at LSU (7-0, 4-0 SEC)
2:30 p.m. CT • CBS Sports
Baton Rouge, La. • Tiger Stadium (92,542)
Series Record: LSU leads, 24-20-1 • Last Meeting: Oct. 23, 2010 at Auburn (AU, 24-17)
Comment: The suspensions of two top LSU Tigers hurts, but Auburn will be throwing a new starting quarterback (Clint Moseley) into the din of Death Valley against one of the nation’s top defenses. I still think Les Miles is going to harm LSU’s title chances by expanding the number of snaps Jordan Jefferson gets at QB. I’ve noticed what looks like a decline in confidence by Jarrett Lee … Jefferson should not be playing in this professor’s gradebook.
Professor’s Pick: LSU

Army (2-4) at Vanderbilt (3-3, 1-3 SEC)
6 p.m. CT • ESPNU
Nashville, Tenn. • Vanderbilt Stadium (39,773)
Series Record: Tied, 4-4 • Last Meeting: Oct. 10, 2009 at West Point (Army, 16-13, OT)
Comment: James Franklin better calm down this week or an Army coach might really show him how to handle an altercation. Improving Commodores should beat Cadets.
Professor’s Pick: Vandy

Tennessee (3-3, 0-3 SEC) at Alabama (7-0, 4-0 SEC)
6:15 p.m. CT • ESPN2
Tuscaloosa, Ala. • Bryant-Denny Stadium (101,821)
Series Record: UA leads, 47-38-7 • Last Meeting: Oct. 23, 2010 at Knoxville (UA, 41-10)
Comment: This great old southern rivalry may be on its last legs because the game is probably gone (at least on an annual basis) if Missouri joins the SEC. For that matter, Vol fans might prefer not to play it this year.
Professor’s Pick: Alabama

OPEN: Florida (4-3, 2-3 SEC), Georgia (4-2, 3-1 SEC), Mississippi State (3-4, 0-4 SEC), South Carolina (6-1, 4-1 SEC)

See you at kickoff!

College Football Fall Break

College Football Fall Break

Welcome back to campus.

Most colleges follow a semester course schedule which means this week – midpoint of the semester – includes the dreaded midterm exams but also the treasured Fall Break (a couple of days with no classes). Fall Break 2011 finds the college gridiron schedule a bit light on big-time games, so hopefully students allotted plenty of study time for tests, papers, and presentations (what – you don’t think so?).

This prof is knee-deep in grading such assignments, but still has made time to provide midterm grades and professor’s picks.

MIDTERM GRADES

Class Clown … Steve Spurrier. The ol’ head ball coach (shown below studying a new backfield formation) refused to hold his weekly press conference with columnist Ron Morris of The State newspaper in the room. Spurrier claimed he was upset over a 7-month old story Morris had written, but this seemed to be more a case of the ball coach throwing up a smokescreen so he wouldn’t have to answer questions about dismissing troubled QB Stephen Garcia. That’s an F in the professor’s gradebook.

Dean’s List … the top academic honor halfway through the season goes to “The Hat” and LSU. Les Miles may not wear a mortar board perched atop his head, but he and the Bengal Tigers are heading for Summa Cum Laude status for overcoming a preseason scandal that cost them starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson. The Tigers devoured solid competition including Oregon, Miss State, West Virginia, and Florida. With Tennessee, Auburn, Alabama, Arkansas, and a potential SEC title game still to come, the Tigers would certainly earn their BCS championship game appearance by winning out (and maybe even with 1 loss).

Honor Roll … Alabama appears to play the nation’s best defense to this point of the season; Wisconsin’s offense has blended the talents of new QB Russell Wilson seamlessly into the Badger power run game; Oklahoma and Oklahoma State seemed destined to decide the Big 12 and perhaps a BCS title game berth; Boise State mashed Georgia in the Broncos one annual big game.

Incompletes with High Marks … the winner of Georgia Tech and Clemson has a really good shot at an undefeated regular season (they meet in Atlanta in late October). Clemson might deserve a higher rating, but I’m not sold on the Tigers just yet (nor on the Tech defense); Stanford and QB Andrew Luck look terrific, but have played a cupcake schedule; Michigan is off to yet another fast start but the Wolverines have gotten out of the gate in similar fashion the last few years only to stumble (however their schedule is favorable).

Failing … Ohio State fans can begin pooling their money to try and lure Urban Meyer or Chris Petersen to Columbus; the Arizona administration – yes Mike Stoops lost a bunch in a row but wasn’t the program in a mess when he took over?; Pitt, Syracuse, and the ACC – while the rest of college athletics is driven by football, ACC Commissioner John Swofford must have lent his ear to Coach K from Duke by bringing two basketball schools with mediocre football programs into a league full of schools with similar resumes. All he probably accomplished was to kill the Big East; Realignment – so would people in NYC really rather watch Rutgers play NC State than Alabama play Florida? This talk of expanding because of television markets seems awfully short-sighted to me … fans want to see good football programs (that’s why the Big 10 move to accept Nebraska was a fit). I realize academics play a larger role than many might imagine, but please spare me that conferences are inviting or decling membership based on a school’s academic reputation – not the case.

Professor’s Picks Week 7

2011 Overall Record: 49-11
Last Week’s Record: 11-2

AROUND THE NATION

Saturday Oct. 15 Games

12:00 PM ET No. 11 Michigan at No. 23 Michigan State (ESPN) … State stops Brady Hoke’s unbeaten string by controlling Denard Robinson. Professor’s Pick: Michigan State

12:00 PM ET No. 20 Baylor at No. 21 Texas A&M (FX) … The Aggies haven’t done much to excite SEC fans since garnering the coveted invite a few weeks ago; they get back on track against the Bears. Professor’s Pick: TAMU

12:30 PM ET Miami (FL) at North Carolina … Al Golden is a prof’s favorite although I’m not sure his Hurricanes can beat a pretty good NC team. Hey, he wears a shirt and tie on the sideline, that’s good enough for me. Professor’s Pick: Miami

3:30 PM ET No. 6 Oklahoma State at No. 22 Texas (ABC/ESPN) … Texas tries to recover from a massive beating at the hands of Oklahoma, and must do so against one of the nation’s highest scoring offenses. Cowboys lasso Bevo. Professor’s Pick: OK State

3:30 PM ET Ohio State at No. 16 Illinois (ABC/ESPN) … Can the Zooker keep it going another week? Ohio State is showing some signs of improvement but the Illini have a lot of confidence. Professor’s Pick: Illinois

10:15 PM ET No. 18 Arizona State at No. 9 Oregon (ESPN) … This could be a preview of the PAC-12 championship game because the Sun Devils almost assuredly will be there (the Ducks will settle the North when they face Stanford). Oregon makes a statement. Professor’s Pick: Oregon

AROUND THE SEC

SEC Headlines
(courtesy SECSportsMedia.com)

• SEC Players of the Week for games from Oct. 8 are Connor Shaw, QB, South Carolina (offense); Mike Gilliard, ILB, Georgia (defense); Blair Walsh, PK, Georgia (special teams); Will Blackwell, OG, LSU (offensive lineman); Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State (defensive lineman); and, Tevin Mitchel, CB, Arkansas (freshman).

• Six different SEC teams are listed in the top 25 of the three major polls – USA Today Coaches, Harris Interactive and AP polls. In the USA Today poll, LSU and Alabama are second and third, followed by Arkansas 11th and South Carolina 13th. In the Harris Interactive poll, LSU and Alabama are 1-2, followed by Arkansas 11th, South Carolina 15th and Florida 25th. In the AP poll, LSU and Alabama are 1-2 followed by Arkansas 10th, South Carolina 15th and Auburn 24th.

• The SEC now has a 29-4 (.879) non-conference winning percentage this season, which is second to the Big 12 (26-3, .897). Since 1992, the SEC is 714-221-2 in all non-conference games (including bowls) for a 76.3 winning percentage.

• In five SEC home games last week (Week 6), the total attendance was 447,627, an average of 89,525 fans per game. The average capacity of the five games was 99.68 percent. In 40 SEC home games this season, the total attendance is 3,104,673, which is an average of 77,617 fans per game. The average capacity so far this season is 95.37 percent. 18 of 40 games have been sell-outs.

• Three of SEC’s 5 highest active players with most TDs scored have as many TDs as games played (Trent Richardson, UA – 31 games/31 TDs; Marcus Lattimore, USC – 29 games/19 TDs; Vick Ballard, Mississippi State – 25 TDs/18 games).

• Georgia and LSU are the only SEC teams to have scored first in all of its games this season.

• Florida has the SEC’s best mark against AP Top 25 teams since 1989. During that time, the Gators are 68-52-1 (.566) against AP Top 25. Alabama is second with a .519 winning mark (54-50-1).

GAMES OF SATURDAY, OCT. 15

South Carolina (5-1, 3-1 SEC) at Mississippi State (3-3, 0-3 SEC)
11:21 a.m. CT • SEC Network / ESPN3.com
Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field (55,082)
Series Record: USC leads, 7-6
Last Meeting: Sept. 29, 2007 at Columbia (USC, 38-21)
Comment: The Gamecocks never got to enjoy their best performance of the season (a pasting of Kentucky) because of the dismissal of Stephen Garcia and the childishness of Steve Spurrier this week. They really cannot afford a loss with Georgia breathing down their neck in the East.
Professor’s Pick: SC

LSU (6-0, 3-0 SEC) at Tennessee (3-2, 0-2 SEC)
3:30 p.m. ET • CBS Sports
Neyland Stadium / Shields-Watkins Field (102,455)
Series Record: UT leads, 20-8-3
Last Meeting: Oct. 2, 2010 at Baton Rouge (LSU, 16-14)
Comment: Last year was a vintage crazy finish on the bayou, a game Tennessee should have won. This time around the Vols are struggling and the Tigers are rolling.
Professor’s Pick: LSU

Alabama (6-0, 3-0 SEC) at Ole Miss (2-3, 0-2 SEC)
5 p.m. CT • ESPN2 / ESPN3.com
Vaught-Hemingway Stadium / Hollingsworth Field (60,580)
Series Record: UA leads, 44-9-3
Last Meeting: Oct. 16, 2010 at Tuscaloosa (UA, 23-10)
Comment: Look at the stat above … Ole Miss has only beaten Alabama 9 times in the history of the rivalry. Does anybody think the Rebs will make it into double digits this week? I agree with you.
Professor’s Pick: Alabama

Florida (4-2, 2-2 SEC) at Auburn (4-2, 2-1 SEC)
6 p.m. CT • ESPN / ESPN3.com
Jordan-Hare Stadium / Pat Dye Field (87,451)
Series Record: AU leads, 42-38-2
Last Meeting: Sept. 29, 2007 at Gainesville (AU, 20-17)
Comment: For my money the most intriguing SEC game this weekend. The Tigers finally got thumped a bit at Arkansas last weekend, while the Gators got steamrolled for a second consecutive week (first by Alabama and last week by LSU). Florida must be a beaten up team at this point and with all the problems on offense this season could get away from new coach Will Muschamp in a hurry. Auburn is clever enough to score some on the Gators and I think that will be the difference.
Professor’s Pick: Auburn

Georgia (4-2, 3-1 SEC) at Vanderbilt (3-2, 1-2 SEC)
6 p.m. CT • FS South / ESPN3.com
Vanderbilt Stadium (39,773)
Series Record: UGA leads, 51-18-2
Last Meeting: Oct. 16, 2010 at Athens (UGA, 43-0)
Comment: Regardless as to how terrible Georgia looked to open the season, many people now favor the Dogs in the East. I still give the edge to South Carolina, but Georgia should win at Vandy and then head into a bye week before the Cocktail Party in Jacksonville.
Professor’s Pick: Georgia

OPEN: Arkansas (5-1, 1-1 SEC); Kentucky (2-4, 0-3 SEC)

See you at kickoff!

Professor’s Picks Week 6

Professor’s Picks
Week 6

The professor returns after a two-week hiatus due to an academic overload. Enjoy the picks.

2011 Overall Record: 38-9
Last Week’s (Week 3) Record: 10-2

12:00 PM ET No. 3 Oklahoma vs. No. 11 Texas … Red River Shootout regains some luster with revival of Longhorns. Not sure this one will make the highlight reels of The Longhorn Network though because Sooners seem strong. Professor’s Pick: Oklahoma

12:00 PM ET Maryland at No. 13 Georgia Tech … the Ramblin Wreck quietly appears one of the most likely teams in America to finish unbeaten; the option offense is dynamic (defense is weak) and should turn Terps to turtle soup. Professor’s Pick: Georgia Tech

2:30 PM ET No. 19 Illinois at Indiana … the happy Zooker at Illinois saves his job more often than any coach that comes to mind. Indiana is woeful, but wouldn’t it be just like the Illini to lose? Nah … Professor’s Pick: Illinois

3:00 PM ET Boston College at No. 8 Clemson … Clemson had the best September in sports this side of the St. Louis Cardinals, but BC has been a thorn in Tigers’ paws over the years. Dabo’s boys stay unbeaten. Professor’s Pick: Clemson

3:30 PM ET No. 17 Florida at No. 1 LSU CBS … the premier SEC matchup of the week matches two terrific defenses. LSU should win the game, especially since Florida is without starting QB John Brantley. Baton Rouge on a Saturday night is no place for the Gator’s freshman backup Jeff Driskel to learn on the job. My only concern with LSU is the presence of quarterback Jordan Jefferson. The team leader and former starter returned from suspension last week; working him back into the lineup could be tricky for the Hat. Professor’s Pick: LSU

3:30 PM ET Miami (FL) at No. 21 Virginia Tech … Hokies try to rebound after a loss to Clemson while the U tries to remain in the Coastal race. Let’s go with the Gobblers. Professor’s Pick: VA Tech

3:30 PM ET Air Force at Notre Dame NBC … the Irish defense was hit and miss against option attacks last season, getting shredded by Navy but shutting down Army. The fly boys swoop into South Bend but could suffer a little letdown after sinking the Middies last week. Professor’s Pick: ND

7:00 PM ET Vanderbilt at No. 2 Alabama … Tide cannot fall asleep against Commodores but should continue to roll, probably all the way to the early November meeting with LSU. Professor’s Pick: Alabama

7:00 PM ET No. 15 Auburn at No. 10 Arkansas … if anybody can figure out Auburn, please let me know. The Tigers are either very lucky or very well-coached (but probably both). The Arkansas offense lit up Texas A&M to the tune of 500+ yards … this one could be close. Professor’s Pick: Arkansas

7:00 PM ET No. 12 Michigan at Northwestern … are Brady Hoke and the Wolverines really contenders? Probably not and the Wildcats may have enough offense to outscore Denard Robinson and the winged helmets. Professor’s Pick: Upset Special Northwestern

7:00 PM ET No. 24 Texas A&M at Texas Tech … the Red Raiders are the quietest unbeaten team in America. This will actually be the real shootout in the Lone Star state this weekend, but let’s say Aggies get back on track. Professor’s Pick: Texas A&M

7:00 PM ET Georgia at Tennessee … Dogs have rounded into form after two ragged losses to open the season. The Vols will throw the league’s top passing team at them and pull a mild home upset. Professor’s Pick: Tenneseee

8:00 PM ET Ohio State at No. 14 Nebraska … think Nebraska might want to make amends for the putrid effort in Madison last week? The struggling Buckeyes might be the perfect foil for them. Professor’s Pick: Nebraska (big)

See you at kickoff!

Against the Wind

Against the Wind

“It seems like yesterday
but it was long ago …
I’m older now but still running
against the wind”

Against the Wind – Bob Seger 1980

Derek Dooley was an unhappy camper. Literally.

The site was Jekyll Island, circa late July to early August of 1984 or so, on a hot Friday morning. Derek and about 100 of his closest buddies were running against the wind – against the wind of the Atlantic Ocean blowing along the coast of Georgia’s Golden Isles.

Yellow football helmets, adorned with bright red stripes down the middle and a “C” on the sides, lay stretched in a zig-zagged pattern in ten-yard intervals far into the sandy distance as the Clarke Central High School football team suffered through the world’s longest “hat” drills.

It was the last morning of Clarke Central’s annual football camp, but instead of readying for the traditional scrimmage that marked the end of a grueling week, a little good-natured “conditioning” was being doled out by legendary Gladiator head coach Billy Henderson (pictured below).

Seems young master Dooley and a few compadres and team leaders had been observed sneaking back into the team hotel after curfew the night before (names omitted to protect the guilty – but let’s just mention that one is now the head baseball coach at a major university in Athens). Presumably the wayward band had been trying to rendevous with some visiting Clarke Central co-eds staying on nearby St. Simon’s Island.

A young staff member at the time coaching mostly 9th and 10th graders (C and B teams in CC vernacular), I stood on the beach with a few other coaches including Chuck Conley, Greg “Curly” Neal, and the late, great Ben Scott, as the sad Glads trudged by. An unparalled needler, offensive coordinator Scott jeered and snapped pictures with an old Polaroid camera as Dooley and a cluster of the perpetrators passed us … I’ve still got a snapshot in a shoe box somewhere of the “salutes” the players gave us while we heckled them.

It seems like yesterday, but it was long ago.

The old Clarke Central Gladiator tight end is now a young head coach at Tennessee, and this week his second Volunteers team welcomes the Georgia Bulldogs to Neyland Stadium in a pivotal game.

Bulldog coach Mark Richt has been running against the wind himself of late.

Coming off a 6-7 record in 2010 and an 8-5 mark in 2009, Richt has gone from universally respected and mostly revered among Georgia fans to a coach who might not be able to afford many more stumbles.

A disastrous loss to Boise State in the season opener and a sloppy home defeat against South Carolina put the Dogs into an 0-2 hole record-wise, but – more significantly – sent hope among the program’s fans plummeting and Richt’s reputation among the faithful spiraling down.

The team steadied itself with consecutive wins over Coastal Carolina, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State, but this week’s game in Knoxville is huge.

In the short term, a win places Georgia squarely in the midst of the SEC East race, and in normal years would solidify the Dogs as the division favorite. Their schedule is by far the easiest among division contenders. The Dogs do not play Alabama, Arkansas, or LSU from the West, they get Auburn at home, and nemesis Florida looks vulnerable. Throw in Auburn’s upset of South Carolina last week, and a trip to Atlanta and the SEC title game is there for Georgia’s taking.

More broadly, beating Tennessee in Knoxville would send a message that the Georgia program is actually on sound moorings. The Dogs signed a terrific freshman class and many of the “dream team” are now contributing (especially running back Isaiah Crowell and receiver Malcolm Mitchell). Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham may be finding his bearings at the college level in his second season from the NFL. Heck, there’s even word that a new Uga mascot may be unveiled soon to replace interim stalwart Russ.

But – first comes this trip to the banks of the Tennessee River.

Derek Dooley was a young man runnin’ those many years ago … now he and his Vols are searching for a win.

Mark Richt and his Dogs must have one or he may find himself surrounded by strangers he thought were his friends.

The losers of this game?

They’ll be riding against the wind the rest of the 2011 season.