Thanksgiving Professor’s Picks

One of my favorite sports traditions growing up in metro Atlanta was reading Furman Bisher’s annual Thanksgiving Day column in which he offered thanks for the various blessings in his life. In homage to the ageless Bisher, who is still going strong in his early 90s, please enjoy these turkey day ruminations (followed by Professor’s Picks).

On this beautiful Thanksgiving in north Georgia, among the many thoughts that come to mind … I am thankful for …

… a brisk walk on a cold, clear morning.
… a pastor with a sense of humor in the pulpit (and an accurate timepiece).
… a wife who handles all our family financial business.
… a son who loves college football more than I do and knows more about it too.
… college students; I get older every year but they stay the same.
… neighbors that put up Christmas decorations (after Thanksgiving please).
… craftsmen who know how to build things.
… a good lefthander in the Braves bullpen (thanks Venters).
… a six-foot putt to halve a hole – that falls in.
… listening to my favorite Bulldog for all those wonderful seasons. Oh, you Larry Munson.

Here’s hoping your Thanksgiving was full of family, food, fun, and football!

Professor’s Picks

2011 Overall Record: 109-35
Last Week’s Record: 10-6 (ouch again!)

Thursday, November 24

8:00 PM ET No. 25 Texas at Texas A&M … a great rivalry ends for a while. PP: A&M

Friday, November 25

12:00 PM ET No. 8 Houston at Tulsa … could the BCS buster get busted? PP: Tulsa

12:00 PM ET Iowa at No. 21 Nebraska … should be the start of a fine corn-fed rivalry in the B1G. With some of the traditional rivalries ending because of conference realignment, here’s to a new one. PP: Nebraska

2:30 PM ET No. 3 Arkansas at No. 1 LSU … Bengal Tigers probably wrap up a BCS CG bid with win. PP: LSU

7:00 PM ET Pittsburgh at West Virginia … sure hope the backyard brawl survives these teams splitting for different conferences. PP: WVU

Saturday, November 26

12:00 PM ET Iowa State at No. 9 Oklahoma … Sooners blew a chance to get back in BCS title picture, but should beat tough Cyclones. I really like Paul Rhoads at ISU though – good guy. PP: OK

12:00 PM ET No. 13 Georgia at No. 23 Georgia Tech … Dogs defense will have its hands full with Tech triple option, so UGA offense better step up (which it typically does in Atlanta). Tech coach Paul Johnson is crusty as week old bread, so if the Jackets lose steer clear. PP: Georgia

12:00 PM ET Ohio State at No. 15 Michigan … Wolverine fans are counting on turning this rivalry back toward Big Blue in the Big House (with a probable BCS bid in the offing); UM better get it done this year because a new sheriff will man the sideline in Columbus next year and it will in all likelihood be Urban Meyer. PP: Michigan

12:21 PM ET Tennessee at Kentucky … Two of the most personable head coaches in the SEC meet and things aren’t going great for either. Big Orange has owned the series the past three decades and another win Saturday may spell big trouble for Joker. PP: UT

3:30 PM ET No. 2 Alabama at No. 24 Auburn … many expect a Tide rout in the Iron Bowl, but I’m not sure it will be that bad because Auburn plays looser than Bama in this game (don’t get me wrong – if Nick Saban can win big he will). PP: Alabama

3:30 PM ET No. 5 Virginia Tech at Virginia … trip to ACC title game on the line in beautiful Charlottesville. Mr. Jefferson’s U will be happy. PP: Virginia

3:30 PM ET No. 19 Penn State at No. 16 Wisconsin … Wisonsin is two fluke plays away from playing for a national title. Bucky is Big Ten’s best. PP: Wisconsin

3:30 PM ET Vanderbilt at Wake Forest … bowl eligibility is on the line for Vanderbilt and first year coach James Franklin. Commodores defense is just good enough to slow Demon Deacon passing attack. PP: Vanderbilt

7:00 PM ET Florida State at Florida … Sunshine State showdown has lost some glamour but athletes still abound. This would be a big win for rookie Gator coach Will Muschamp. Much more was expected of Noles this season. PP: Florida

7:00 PM ET Ole Miss at Mississippi State … the Egg Bowl should be played Thanksgiving night, but Ole Miss fans just want this season over no matter the day. PP: MSU

7:45 PM ET No. 17 Clemson at No. 12 South Carolina … the Tigers may have too much offense for the Gamecocks, but are they tough enough to handle the Columbia crowd? Should be exciting. PP: Clemson

8:00 PM ET No. 22 Notre Dame at No. 6 Stanford … cannot agree with the way Brian Kelly handled the Irish QB situation this year. No such worries on the Farm. PP: Stanford

See you at kickoff!

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Professor’s Picks Week

Professor’s Picks
Week 12

2011 Overall Record: 99-29
Last Week’s Record: 9-6 (ouch!)

Around the SEC

Kentucky (4-6, 1-5 SEC) at Georgia (8-2, 6-1 SEC)
12:21 p.m. ET • SEC Network / ESPN3.com
Athens, Ga. • Sanford Stadium (92,746)
Series Record: UGA leads, 50-12-2 • Last Meeting: Oct. 23, 2010 at Lexington (UGA, 44-31)
Comment: Georgia can wrap up the SEC East and a trip to Atlanta with a win. Bulldogs grab 9th straight victory.
Professor’s Pick: Georgia

The Citadel (4-6) at South Carolina (8-2, 6-2 SEC)
12 p.m. ET • South Carolina PPV
Columbia, S.C. • Williams-Brice Stadium (80,250)
Series Record: USC leads, 39-7-3 • Last Meeting: Oct. 20, 1990 at Columbia (CIT, 38-35)
Comment: Most of the eyeballs in Columbia will be scoreboard watching and pulling for Kentucky, but Gamecocks still stifle Citadel.
Professor’s Pick: SC

Samford (6-4) at Auburn (6-4, 4-3 SEC)
12 p.m. CT • Auburn PPV
Auburn, Ala. • Jordan-Hare Stadium (87,451)
Series Record: AU leads, 25-0-1 • Last Meeting: Sept. 11, 1993 at Auburn (AU, 35-7)
Comment: Auburn tries to improve bowl options with easy win over Samford.
Professor’s Pick: Auburn

Furman (6-4) at Florida (5-5, 3-5 SEC)
1 p.m. ET • Florida PPV
Gainesville, Fla. • Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field (88,548)
Series Record: UF leads, 6-2 • Last Meeting: Sept. 22, 1990 at Gainesville (UF, 27-3)
Comment: UF continues SEC vs. Southern Conference weekend. Everybody is tuning up for next week’s rivalry games.
Professor’s Pick: Florida

Georgia Southern (9-1) at Alabama (9-1, 6-1 SEC)
1 p.m. CT • Alabama PPV
Tuscaloosa, Ala. • Bryant-Denny Stadium (101,82)
Series Record: First Meeting
Comment: BCS hopes are revived in Tuscaloosa but the Tide must handle the GSU option (in yet another SEC-Southern Conference showdown).
Professor’s Pick: Alabama

Mississippi State (5-5, 1-5 SEC) at Arkansas (9-1, 5-1 SEC)
2:30 p.m. CT • CBS Sports
Little Rock, Ark. • War Memorial Stadium (53,955)
Series Record: UA leads, 14-6-1 • Last Meeting: Nov. 20, 2010 at Starkville (UA, 38-31, 2 OT)
Comment: The SEC’s top game of the weekend sees the Razorbacks still harboring BCS title hopes. The Bullies will be no pushover, and an upset is not out of the question. Hogs – barely.
Professor’s Pick: Arkansas

LSU (10-0, 6-0 SEC) at Ole Miss (2-8, 0-6 SEC)
6 p.m. CT • ESPN
Oxford, Miss. • Vaught-Hemingway Stadium / Hollingsworth Field (60,580)
Series Record: LSU leads, 56-39-4 • Last Meeting: Nov. 20, 2010 at Baton Rouge (LSU, 43-36)
Comment: Just a couple of games left in the Houston Nutt era at Ole Miss. If he keeps suspending players there may not be enough left to finish the year. Bengal Tigers cannot look too far ahead.
Professor’s Pick: LSU

Vanderbilt (5-5, 2-5 SEC) at Tennessee (4-6, 0-6 SEC)
7 p.m. ET • ESPNU
Knoxville, Tenn. • Neyland Stadium / Shields-Watkins Field (102,455)
Series Record: UT leads, 72-27-5 • Last Meeting: Nov. 20, 2010 at Nashville (UT, 24-10)
Comment: Everybody is picking Vandy to come into Neyland Stadium and wear out the Vols. Well, almost everybody.
Professor’s Pick: Tennessee

Around the Nation

12:00 PM ET No. 16 Nebraska at No. 18 Michigan … Huskers visit the Big House in a meeting of two storied rivals. Professor’s Pick: Nebraska

3:30 PM ET Southern Methodist at No. 11 Houston … Cougars try to bust into the BCS bowls with a win over the Ponies. Hope the scoreboard has plenty of power. Professor’s Pick: Houston

3:30 PM ET No. 21 Penn State at Ohio State … OK winner gets to hire Urban Meyer? Penn State sure needs some good news, and maybe they’ll get some at the Shoe. Professor’s Pick: PSU

3:30 PM ET Miami (FL) at South Florida … were I on the hiring committee at Penn State, one phone call would be made. It would be to Al Golden. He’s the perfect choice for the Nittany Lions. However, I think he loses today. Professor’s Pick: USF

7:30 PM ET Virginia at No. 25 Florida State … Cavs try and keep ACC title hopes alive. No. Professor’s Pick: FSU

8:00 PM ET USC at No. 4 Oregon … Give Lane Kiffin credit (as much as it hurts to type that) because he has the Trojans playing about as well as anybody. Ducks are probably a bit too fast. Professor’s Pick: Oregon

8:00 PM ET No. 5 Oklahoma at No. 22 Baylor … Baylor has never beaten OK and the Bears fall again Saturday night. Professor’s Pick: OK

8:00 PM ET No. 13 Kansas State at No. 23 Texas … Longhorns tame Wildcats and improve bowl standing (Cotton anyone?). Professor’s Pick: Texas

See you at kickoff!

Professor’s Picks Week 11

Professor’s Picks Week 11

2011 Overall Record: 90-23
Last Week’s Record: 11-4

AROUND THE SEC
GAMES OF SATURDAY, NOV. 12, 2011

Florida (5-4, 3-4 SEC) at South Carolina (7-2, 5-2 SEC)
12 p.m. ET • CBS Sports
Columbia, S.C. • Williams-Brice Stadium (80,250)
Series Record: UF leads, 23-5-3 • Last Meeting: Nov. 13, 2010 at Gainesville (USC, 36-14)
Comment: SC can wrap up the SEC East with a win and a Georgia loss to Auburn. Florida beat a pretty good Vandy team last week, and may be rounding into at least some semblance of an offense. Go with the Gators in an upset.
Professor’s Pick: Florida

Kentucky (4-5, 1-4 SEC) at Vanderbilt (4-5, 1-5 SEC)
11:21 a.m. CT • SEC Network / ESPN3.com
Nashville, Tenn. • Vanderbilt Stadium (39,773)
Series Record: UK leads, 40-38-4 • Last Meeting: Nov. 13, 2010 at Lexington (UK, 38-20)
Comment: Two teams struggling for bowl eligibility, but Vanderbilt has looked good since Jordan Rodgers took control at QB. Dores move within a win of going bowling.
Professor’s Pick: Vanderbilt

Auburn (6-3, 4-2 SEC) at Georgia (7-2, 5-1 SEC)
3:30 p.m. ET • CBS Sports
Athens, Ga. • Sanford Stadium (92,746)
Series Record: AU leads, 54-52-8 • Last Meeting: Nov. 13, 2010 at Auburn (AU, 49-31)
Comment: Like South Carolina, Georgia can wrap up the SEC East today. The Dogs need to beat Auburn and get help from nemesis Flordida. Tigers had two weeks to prepare for this one and the road team historically plays well. I’m just not sold on this Georgia team although their 7-game winning streak under pressure grows more impressive each week.
Professor’s Pick: Auburn

Tennessee (4-5, 0-5 SEC) at Arkansas (8-1, 4-1 SEC)
5 p.m. CT • ESPN2
Fayetteville, Ark. • Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium (72,000)
Series Record: UT leads, 13-3 • Last Meeting: Nov. 10, 2007 at Knoxville (UT, 34-13)
Comment: My neighbor will miss his first Volunteer game in twenty-two years Saturday night when he doesn’t make the trip to Fayetteville. His home streak still stretches past the thirty-year mark, but hate to see it end. Might be a good one to miss though.
Professor’s Pick: Arkansas

Western Kentucky (5-4) at LSU (9-0, 6-0 SEC)
6 p.m. CT • ESPNU
Baton Rouge, La. • Tiger Stadium (92,542)
Series Record: First Meeting
Comment: LSU will suffer a letdown after handling Alabama in the game of the year last Saturday night. Will it be enough to derail their championship drive? Don’t think so.
Professor’s Pick: LSU

Louisiana Tech (5-4) at Ole Miss (2-7, 0-6 SEC)
6:30 p.m. CT • CSS / ESPN3.com
Oxford, Miss. • Vaught-Hemingway Stadium / Hollingsworth Field (60,580)
Series Record: UM leads, 8-1 • Last Meeting: Oct. 6, 2007 at Oxford (UM, 24-0)
Comment: LA Tech took Miss State Bulldog to overtime, so the Bulldogs stand a good chance to beat the rudderless Rebels. Houston Nutt is gone at the end of the year so he’d like to get a win before attention will turn to his successor.
Professor’s Pick: Ole Miss

Alabama (8-1, 5-1 SEC) at Mississippi State (5-4, 1-4 SEC)
6:45 p.m. CT • ESPN
Starkville, Miss. • Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field (55,082)
Series Record: UA leads, 73-18-3 • Last Meeting: Nov. 13, 2010 at Tuscaloosa (UA, 30-10)
Comment: Many expect Bama to blow out the Bullies after Tide championship hopes took a big hit last week. I’m not so sure they’ll have that much fire, but let’s give them the solid pick.
Professor’s Pick: Alabama

AROUND THE NATION

12:00 PM ET No. 2 Oklahoma State at Texas Tech … Cowboys must lasso the Red Raiders to keep championship hopes alive. Professor’s Pick: OK State

12:00 PM ET No. 19 Nebraska at No. 12 Penn State … I’m not sure how the Lions regain focus after the tumultuous week in Happy Valley. Maybe the game will serve as a release for them. Professor’s Pick: PSU

12:00 PM ET No. 17 Michigan State at Iowa … winner jumps to front of the pack in the jumbled Legends Division. Professor’s Pick: MSU

12:00 PM ET West Virginia at No. 23 Cincinnati … West Virginia must win to keep any Big East title hopes alive, while Bearcats remain impressive (and under the radar) with no conference losses. Professor’s Pick: WVU

12:00 PM ET Pittsburgh at Louisville … Louisville tries to stay within a game of Cincy in the standings (or move into a tie if the Cats lose). Professor’s Pick: Pitt

3:30 PM ET TCU at No. 5 Boise State … Broncos need another win to keep BCS title shot alive (if it is). Professor’s Pick: Boise

3:30 PM ET Texas A&M at No. 14 Kansas State … I believe A&M will continue to expose the Wildcats. Professor’s Pick: A&M

8:00 PM ET No. 7 Oregon at No. 4 Stanford … Stanford will leap Bama with a win, but the Ducks will be a tough out. Professor’s Pick: Oregon

See you at kickoff!

Needing a Hero

“I need a hero …
and it’s gotta be soon,
and he’s gotta be larger than life”

Holding Out for a Hero (Bonnie Tyler, 1984)

There likely have been sadder weeks in sport, but I don’t recall one easily.

Joe Frazier died Monday and Joe Paterno was fired Wednesday. Losing those giants could cause even the most optimistic sports fan to go searching for heroes. Seems not many are around these days.

Let’s spend a few minutes reflecting about Smokin’ Joe first.

Each spring, I have the pleasure of teaching about the great Frazier-Ali rivalry in my sport history course. Their triology of battles between 1971 and 1975 personified the greatest era of American heavyweight prize fighting. I liked both men when they fought, but over time have come to admire Frazier more, both as a boxer and – especially – as a man.

Frazier whipped Ali in their storied matchup of 1971 when both men were undefeated. It was the closest they would ever come to meeting at their peaks (though in fairness to Ali he missed his prime after being stripped of the title in 1967). After Frazier lost a non-title rematch in 1974, the men staged one final epic encounter in Manila in 1975. Frazier’s corner (specifically the quiet and gentle Eddie Futch) threw in the towel after the 14th round, unwilling to risk Joe’s health for another round. Frazier was ready to keep fighting. Ali won the decision, but Frazier probably did the most damage in the fight – Frazier danced the night away after the fight; Ali went to the hospital.

We could debate their merits inside the ring all day, but outside the ring I think Joe was clearly the better person.

Ali, for all his fortitude in standing up for his religious beliefs and refusing induction into the military, was in many ways a fraud. He decried the racism in America, but was himself racist … aligning himself with the Nation of Islam and their radical notions of blue-eyed devils, spaceships, and other such vitriol. Ali espoused pious beliefs for the cameras, but cheated on his multiple wives by running around with women like a drunken sailor on shore leave. Ali spoke of respect for his race, but poked fun of the noble Frazier in the most vile terms … Gorilla, Uncle Tom, ugly … names that cut Frazier in ways that Ali’s lethal left jab never could. Nor was Ali alone. Bryant Gumbel, as pompous a personality as you’ll find in national sports coverage (then and now), penned an article asking if Joe was just “a white champion in a black man’s skin;” a hateful phrase Gumbel cavalierly and irresponsibly threw out against Frazier – who grew up dirt-poor in South Carolina and faced far greater hardships than Ali (son of a Louisville schoolteacher) or Gumbel (son of a New Orleans judge). Gumbel is still pulling his tired act, recently comparing NBA players (who earn on average more than $5 million annually) to slaves. I’d give a month’s paycheck to go back in time and have Joe dust off Gumbel with a left hook.

Frazier wasn’t glib, quick-tongued, funny, or silly like Ali. He was ferocious, fearless, and loyal (even giving the spendthrift Ali money at times). He was repaid with hate, jealously, and insults. He deserved better … he was the better man.

Rest in peace Smokin’ Joe … you were the bravest guy in the ring I ever saw or ever want to see.

Now to the even sadder case of Joe Paterno and the mess at Penn State.

The word so many national pundits use is “unspeakable” as they continually speak about the alleged crimes committed by Jerry Sandusky, Paterno’s longtime defensive coordinator.

Obviously, any empathy felt about Joe Paterno is not meant to diminish feelings of anguish, anger, and sympathy for the victims and their families. It’s not the same reaction and one should not exclude the other.

The victims are unknown to the general public. They have not been on our television screens, our computer monitors, or in our newspapers for the majority of our lives. Obviously, we felt like we knew Joe – coke bottle glasses, high-wader khakis, black shoes and white socks. My gosh, the last time Paterno was not on the Penn State coaching staff Harry Truman was President. So, yes I hurt for Joe Paterno, for myself because I’ll miss him greatly, for college football fans, for American sports fans who loved him. My sadness and hurt regarding Paterno does not diminish in the least what I feel for the victims. Nor should yours.

There’s simply no sense to be made of this case.

Why didn’t Mike McQueary, a twenty-eight year old 6’2 strapping former Nittany Lion player, stop Sandusky when he caught him harming a child in a deserted locker room shower? Why didn’t he call the police right then (and better yet, beat hell out of Sandusky while waiting on them to arrive)?

Why didn’t Paterno or his bosses – all the way up to PSU president Graham Spanier – inform the police and make sure Sandusky was put away? There’s no rational answer.

Until more information comes out, I refuse to believe Joe Paterno would sweep something like this under the rug to keep from tarnishing his image or that of his program. I refuse to believe it because Joe Paterno is a good man who did great work for his university for over sixty years.

Revisit that word “unspeakable.”

In my neigborhood growing up near Atlanta, there was a strange guy that was about seven or eight years older than the kids in my age group (we were about eight or nine). He had a reputation for approaching young boys and offering them free comic books or the like if they’d come to his house and play. We didn’t really understand what was going on with the guy, but our parents told us to stay away from him, and when he rode his bike up around our circle (cul-de-sac to you more affluent readers) once too often, my mother went and spoke to his parents. The second time he came back about five of us pelted him with rocks and ran. Looking back, there was nothing ever spoken about what this guy did … we were told he was weird, we were to avoid him and tell our parents if he came around, but otherwise his behavior was … unspoken.

Ivan Maisel of ESPN wrote the only piece that has made much sense at all to me in this Penn State story and he spent some time on that word – unspoken. He (presciently) remarked that while Paterno’s age never failed him in his coaching duties, it did off the field – tragically so – when he was faced with Sandusky’s actions. I can believe that behaviors, even crimes, like those Sandusky is accused of, were unspoken in Joe Paterno’s world … embarrassing matters to be handled quietly and privately.

Does that excuse McQueary, Paterno, Tim Curley (AD), Gary Shultz (VP), or Spanier? No. The university had to rid themselves of all those men (why McQueary is still on staff baffles me). The institution failed to protect children … and allowed Sandusky free reign around the football complex to continue his evil. That’s unforgivable.

In the weeks and months to come nobody will be surprised to find out more heartbreaking, unspeakable acts committed by Jerry Sandusky. It seems too convenient that he retired soon after one of the earliest complaints about him in 1998. The coverup at Penn State may be far worse and more devious than we know right now. It is altogether sickening.

Joe Paterno – a tremendously significant figure in American sport history – failed to do all the he could to stop a staff member from harming children in the most vile way.

That should sadden all of us on so many levels.

At the risk of overload, let me close with comment on heroes.

Those who look to the sports world for heroes are going to be disappointed (same goes for any public profession in America). Look in the mirror and make that person a hero to someone. You be the person that your child reveres. You be the person that is a good neighbor, a good friend, a trusted confidant, a fine spouse, a community leader, a loyal employee, or a kind boss. Don’t count on the quarterback, the coach, the baller, or the slugger.

Searching for a hero?

Look in the mirror and find one staring right back at you.

Professor’s Picks Week 10

2011 Overall Record: 79-19
Last Week’s Record: 9-5

The professor tries to rebound after a lackluster week as we enter the season’s stretch drive. Enjoy the games.

AROUND THE SEC
GAMES OF SATURDAY, NOV. 5, 2011

Vanderbilt (4-4, 1-4 SEC) at Florida (4-4, 2-4 SEC)
12:21 p.m. ET • SEC Network / ESPN3.com
Gainesville, Fla. • Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field (88,548)
Series Record: UF leads, 33-9-2 • Last Meeting: Nov. 6, 2010 (UF, 55-14)
Comment: QB Jordan Rodgers is playing really well for Vanderbilt, giving the Dores a nice dual threat. While it would not be a shock for rapidly improving Vandy to gig the Gators, the talent level at the Swamp is still too much to overcome.
Professor’s Pick: Florida

New Mexico State (3-5) at Georgia (6-2, 5-1 SEC)
12:30 p.m. ET • CSS / ESPN3.com
Athens, Ga. • Sanford Stadium (92,746)
Series Record: UGA leads, 3-0 • Last Meeting: Sept. 28, 2002 (UGA, 41-10)
Comment: (In my opinion) For six straight games, Georgia coach Mark Richt has been faced with this situation: Win or Lose (your job). Winning against arguably the worst FBS team in America should not be a problem, but with the Dogs you never know. They are down to the bottom of the RB depth chart due to suspensions (3 tailbacks this week!) and injuries.
Professor’s Pick: Georgia

Ole Miss (2-6, 0-5 SEC) at Kentucky (3-5, 0-4 SEC)
3:30 p.m. ET • ESPNU
Lexington, Ky. • Commonwealth Stadium / C.M. Newton Field (67,942)
Series Record: UM leads, 27-13-1 • Last Meeting: Oct. 2, 2010 (UM, 42-35)
Comment: One team will get its first conference win of the season. I think Ole Miss is a little better team, but am going to give the home field and hunger edge to Kentucky. Big Blue gets a win as their fans get ready for the hardwood.
Professor’s Pick: UK

Middle Tennessee (2-5) at Tennessee (3-5, 0-5 SEC)
7 p.m. ET • FS South / ESPN3.com
Knoxville, Tenn. • Neyland Stadium / Shields-Watkins Field (102,455)
Series Record: UT leads, 1-0 • Last Meeting: Sept. 7, 2002 (UT, 26-3)
Comment: Tennessee is not good enough to take any team for granted, so the Vols better come prepared to handle a Blue Raider offense ranked 22nd nationally. MTSU averages over 460 ypg with a balanced attack, but the defense gives up nearly as much while yielding 34 ppg. Vols score enough to win.
Professor’s Pick: UT

South Carolina (7-1, 5-1 SEC) at Arkansas (7-1, 3-1 SEC)
6:15 p.m. CT • ESPN
Fayetteville, Ark. • Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium (72,000)
Series Record: UA leads, 12-7 • Last Meeting: Nov. 6, 2010 (UA, 41-20)
Comment: This is a big game for both squads, but it is really huge for South Carolina. If the Gamecocks can get past the Razorbacks, a home victory over Florida next week would earn them a second straight trip to Atlanta and the SEC title game. Might not be getting the hype of the LSU-Bama game, but should be a good one.
Professor’s Pick: South Carolina

Tennessee-Martin (5-3) at Mississippi State (4-4, 1-4 SEC)
6:30 p.m. CT • CSS / ESPN3.com
Starkville, Miss. • Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field (55,082)
Series Record: First Meeting
Comment: State needs two wins for bowl eligibility and with Alabama and Arkansas on the horizon this better be one of them.
Professor’s Pick: MSU

LSU (8-0, 5-0) at Alabama (8-0, 5-0)
7 p.m. CT • CBS Sports
Tuscaloosa, Ala. • Bryant-Denny Stadium (101,821)
Series Record: UA leads, 45-24-5 • Last Meeting: Nov. 6, 2010 (LSU, 24-21)
Comment: See “Wrong Place This Evening” post below (by the way, word comes down this morning that the great Smokin Joe Frazier is gravely ill with liver cancer. Keep the champ in your prayers.
Professor’s Pick: Alabama

OPEN: Auburn (5-3, 3-2 SEC)

AROUND THE NATION

12:00 PM ET No. 15 Michigan at Iowa … Wolverines stay in contention by beating Hawkeyes. Professor’s Pick: Michigan

12:00 PM ET Texas Tech at No. 21 Texas … is anybody in the SEC surprised that a Tommy Tuberville team would lay an egg (getting blown out by Iowa State last week) after a big win (beating Oklahoma two weeks ago). The answer is no. Professor’s Pick: Texas

3:30 PM ET Texas A&M at No. 6 Oklahoma … Plenty of offensive fireworks in Norman as the Sooners start climb back toward BCS title game contention. Professor’s Pick: OK

7:00 PM ET Cincinnati at Pittsburgh … Winner may well win the Big East; let’s go with Bearcats on the road. By the way, I’ll miss these type Big East games – this is a good river rivalry that figures to be lost (same as Pitt-West Virginia). Professor’s Pick: Cincy

7:30 PM ET No. 19 Arizona State at UCLA … Winner plays sacrificial lamb to PAC-12 North champ? Professor’s Pick: ASU

8:00 PM ET No. 14 Kansas State at No. 3 Oklahoma State … OK State stays in BCS contention and becomes second team to expose KSU as a fraud (the Wildcats will lose four games before this season ends). Professor’s Pick: OK State

8:00 PM ET Notre Dame at Wake Forest … Irish are too unpredictable to feel strongly about, but let’s say they handle the Demon Deacs. Professor’s Pick: ND

10:30 PM ET No. 8 Oregon at Washington … Huskies can score – but probably not enough to stay with Ducks. Professor’s Pick: Oregon

See you at kickoff!

Wrong Place This Evening

The Wrong Place This Evening
LSU at Alabama

Muhammad Ali – “I’m God! Don’t you know I’m God?”
Joe Frazier – “God … you in the wrong place this evening.”

Ali-Frazier I March 8, 1971

He was in the wrong place that storied night at Madison Square Garden (Ali – not God). After fourteen brutal rounds, Frazier launched a left hook in the fifteenth that broke Ali’s jaw, knocked him to the canvas, and secured “Smokin Joe” a unanimous decision. It was Ali’s first loss.

On Saturday night in Tuscaloosa, two undefeated heavyweights meet when LSU travels to Alabama. Which team will be in the wrong place?

Ali and Frazier battled for the heavyweight title as unbeaten champions, a first in the annals of prize fighting. Ali was the better known man.

As Cassius Clay, he won the light-heavyweight gold medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics. In 1964, he upset fearsome Sonny Liston in Miami Beach to win the heavyweight championship and a day later proclaimed his name change and his adherence to the Nation of Islam – he was a “Black Muslim.” So little known was this shadowy group to most of black America, and virtually all of white America, the Louisville Lip might as well have announced he was from Mars and adhered to the teachings of Ali Baba.

Ali reigned over the division into 1967 without a loss.

During that time, two social movements in the U.S. gained momentum. The Civil Rights Movement peaked in 1964 (Civil Rights Act) and 1965 (Voting Rights Act) then became more angry and threatening, with semi-fringe groups such as the Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam preaching and practicing a virulent form of rebellion against social and political inequalities. A bit later, the Anti-Vietnam War Movement strengthened. Ali would become a symbol for both groups.

In 1967, Ali’s draft status was reclassified, making him eligible for the draft. When drafted, he refused induction (famously proclaiming “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong”) and was stripped of his title and boxing license. Ali would not fight again until October 1970. He would whip Jerry Quarry that month and Oscar Bonavena in December as preludes to his “Fight of the Century” with Frazier.

Joe Frazier had quietly moved up the ranks of heavyweight contenders upon winning his own gold medal at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

After Ali was stripped of the belt, Frazier emerged as a top contender and won the title from Jimmy Ellis in 1970. He had defended his title once before beating Ali in March of 1971. That bout marked the apex of the finest era in heavyweight prize fighting history.

When Alabama plays LSU this weekend, the game may one day be looked at as the peak of SEC dominance over college football.

Like Ali and Frazier, neither team has lost. They are the top ranked contenders in the sport. It has been nearly six years since a team from another conference has worn the BCS crown.

In this contest, the Tide reminds me of Frazier and the Tigers of Ali.

LSU opened the season in grand fashion, dismantling last season’s runner-up Oregon 40-27. Les Miles and his Bengals backed that win up with easy victories over highly regarded Mississippi State and West Virginia in the next three weeks and no team has played them closer than 13 points all year. The Tigers have been a bit controversial too. Starting QB Jordan Jefferson was suspended for his role in a fight outside a bar, then reinstated and now shares time with Jarrett Lee. Two weeks ago, Miles suspended his best offensive player (Spencer Ware) and best defensive player (Tyrann Mathieu) for one game, but they were hardly missed as the Tigers swamped Auburn (last season’s BCS champion).

Alabama’s trek to the big game has been less eventful, but even more methodical and efficient. The Tide’s closest game was a 16-point win on the road over Penn State. Arkansas, the best team Bama has faced this season. fell by 24 points, Tennessee by 31, and Florida by 27. Similar to Frazier getting his shot on the big stage against Ali, this game provides the 2011 Tide team an opportunity to prove its mettle against the best of the best.

Like Ali, I believe LSU is more talented. Like Frazier, I think Alabama is tougher and hungrier.

There may not be a rematch (Ali would come back and defeat Frazier twice), but I’m sticking to the original script.

Frazier over Ali … Alabama over LSU.