Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Professor's Picks and Around the SEC Week 10

Should Alabama fear a ghost of Auburn past?

The season has held noting but treats for the Tide so far.

With an undefeated record and two-game lead over nearest rival LSU, Alabama is virtually assured a tie for the SEC West division crown, and in all likelihood is headed for the conference title game in Atlanta against either Florida or Georgia.

If Bama wins out, a BCS championship game appearance would normally seem a certainty.

So, what is scary for Tide fans?

Auburn 2004.

The Tigers ran the table that year, but got shut out of the BCS title game (USC-Oklahoma) and settled for a Sugar Bowl victory over Virginia Tech to cap an undefeated, and unfulfilling, season.

Alabama might suffer a similar ghastly fate … and the goblins would either be wearing masks that looked like a big longhorn steer, or an old-timer with thick, black, horn-rimmed glasses, and a big smile.

Texas and Penn State.

Bevo and Jo Pa.

Texas is undefeated, still has tough road games at Texas Tech (this week) and Kansas (Nov. 15), home games with Baylor and Texas A&M, and a Big 12 title game date (most likely a rematch with Missouri). Tough to see anybody jumping over the Longhorns if they win out against that schedule.

That leaves Joe Pa.

Joe Paterno’s Penn State team pulled out a win at Ohio State in Columbus, and now only Iowa, Indiana, and Michigan State stand between Paterno and his sixth (!) undefeated team.

In four of his five undefeated seasons, Paterno and the Lions have been denied the chance to play for a national title (1968, 1969, 1973, 1994).

Do not expect voters to keep the 82-year-old Paterno from a national championship game appearance in what could be his grand finale.

That Halloween scenario means scary times for Alabama in an otherwise sweet season.

Enjoy the games!

Game Day Weekly Halloween Issue Tricks or Treats

SEC West (alphabetically)

Alabama … a treat for the Crimson Tide as the boys from Bama continue to roll.

Arkansas … tricks for the Hogs even though they battled Ole Miss close. Do you see another win?

Auburn … tricks for Tommy Tub … who is left to fire? Don’t answer that Tommy.

LSU … tricks for the Bengal Tiger defense after giving up 51 and then 52 points. Yikes.

Ole Miss … a treat for Houston Nutt after a sweet homecoming in Arkansas.

Miss State … a treat for Croom’s Bullies because they don’t get many.

SEC East (alphabetically)

Florida … a treat to a team that always brings a bag of trick plays.

Georgia … a treat for the team that finally lived up to its preseason billing.

Kentucky … tricks for the suddenly struggling Wildcats after surrendering 63 points to the Gators.

South Carolina … a small treat for the head ball coach as an 8-win season now looks probable.

Tennessee … tricks for the Volunteers as time may be running out for the biggest orange.

Vanderbilt … tricks for the Commodores … all you had to do was beat Duke to go to a bowl. Duke!

Professor's Picks

Last Week’s Record 5-2
2008 Record 49-16

A solid week, the losses coming after the longshot Arkansas pick barely fell short, and Vandy flunked an exam with Duke. Top pick? Georgia went to Death Valley and handled the defending national champs.

* all times Eastern

Arkansas State at Alabama (3:00)
Alabama continues to look very solid in all aspects of the game, putting away Tennessee in workmanlike fashion. The Tide sometimes goes to sleep in these games (see Tulane this season and LA-Monroe last), but should use this game as a nice tune-up before the LSU showdown. The A-State Red Wolves are 4-3, had a bye week to get ready, and beat that LA-Monroe team a couple weeks ago.
Game Ball: Alabama

Tulsa at Arkansas (2:00)
The Razorback soap opera featuring former coaches continues this week when Tulsa offensive coordinator (and former Hog OC) Gus Malzahn brings his high scoring Golden Hurricane attack to the Natural State. Undefeated and ranked Tulsa has failed to score 40 points only once this season and is a potential BCS bowl buster. Arkansas continues to be scrappy, fighting back against Ole Miss late in a 23-21 loss. If Arkansas controls the ball and keeps Tulsa off the field, I like the Hogs chances. Just not sure they can score enough to keep up.
Game Ball: Tulsa

Auburn at Ole Miss (12:30 Raycom)
Auburn played a good half against West Virginia, jumping to a 17-3 lead, then fell apart and allowed the Mountaineers to romp for 31 straight points and a 34-17 victory. Tommy Tuberville held a combative news conference last week to dispel rumors about his health (it’s fine) or his intentions to keep coaching Auburn (he does), but the Tigers have problems. Ole Miss is so up and down that the Rebels are hard to peg, but let’s give them the win.
Game Ball: Ole Miss

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

Kentucky at Mississippi State (2:30)
Kentucky got humiliated at Florida and I’m not sure the Wildcats can recover from that beating anytime soon. State beat MTSU and showed some offensive balance. Kentucky is the better team in my opinion, but the Bulldogs are physical and should be tough enough to get the home win.
Game Ball: Miss State

Tulane at LSU (8:00)
The LSU defense has been hammered by Florida and Georgia the past two games, while Tulane has lost three in a row. Uh-oh. This one may get ugly early. Bengal Tigers take out frustration and prepare for Alabama game.
Game Ball: LSU

Tennessee at South Carolina (7:30 ESPN2)
The vultures are circling Phillip Fulmer after his Volunteers turned in another lackluster performance, this one a 29-9 loss to rival Alabama. Think perennial Tennessee nemesis Steve Spurrier wouldn’t love to be the guy to kick sand in the face of UT fans one more time? South Carolina had a week off to get ready. It’s doubtful Tennessee can recover from the Bama loss to win on the road against the head ball coach.
Game Ball: South Carolina

Open: Vanderbilt

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Party Goin' On

Florida vs. Georgia
SEC Game of the Week
November 1st at 3:30 ET on CBS

by Bob Epling
(article originally appeared in 10.28.08 Game Day Weekly)

“There’s a party goin’ on right here, a celebration to last throughout the years … Celebrate good times, come on!”
(Kool and the Gang, 1980)

Who’ll celebrate like Kool this time?

In that great party song from 1980, Robert “Kool” Bell and his Gang, sang of a celebration to last throughout the years.

Well, after their first touchdown in this border battle last season, the Georgia Bulldogs celebrated and had a good time.

Video clips of the Georgia team streaming onto the field and turning the Gator Bowl into a 70,000 seat disco are seared into the minds of Dogs and Gators alike.

The celebration was a defining moment of the 2007 college football season, propelling Georgia to a 42-30 win over Florida, and catapulting the Dogs to an eventual Sugar Bowl berth and #2 national end-of-the season ranking.

That celebration will last throughout the years.

Florida won’t forget. Georgia doesn’t want to.

Let the 2008 party begin.

Florida comes into the game with the momentum of a runaway Mack truck.

The Gators hung 63 points on a previously flinty Kentucky defense, and scored the same way lightning strikes, suddenly and dangerously.

Quarterback Tim Tebow ran for two scores, passed for two more, and spent the fourth quarter doing his own celebration dance on the sideline, swaying to the Florida pep song “We are the Boys” with his offensive compatriots.

The Gators blocked more kicks than a soccer goalie.

William Green blocked the first Kentucky punt. Seconds later, touchdown Gators. Jeff Demps blocked the second Kentucky punt. Seconds later, touchdown Gators. Just so Lones Sieber, the Kentucky place-kicker did not feel left out, Joe Haden blocked a field goal in the second half.

Florida looks ready for a party.

Georgia does too.

The Bulldogs come into the game fresh from blasting LSU 52-38 on the bayou.

Offensively, the Dogs are as balanced as a circus high-wire walker.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford passed for 249 yards and two touchdowns, and added a rushing TD. Tailback Knowshon Moreno broke the Tigers with his tackle-breaking 68-yard touchdown run late in quarter three (part of his 163 yards on the ground). Freshman star WR A.J. Green hauled in a 49 yard touchdown throw.

Georgia dials long distance more than the phone company.

In the LSU game, the offense rang up four plays of more than 40 yards, and the defense chipped in two more (40 and 53 yard interception returns for touchdowns by LB Darryl Gamble). Freshman kicker Blair Walsh also boomed a 50 yarder to get in on the act.

Even with all the fireworks, the young Georgia offensive line made perhaps the boldest statement. A group that includes two true freshmen, a redshirt freshman, and two sophomores held their own against the seasoned, deep, and ballyhooed LSU defensive front.

Unlike Florida, however, Georgia’s performance did leave room for concern.

The Georgia and LSU defenses played like they wanted to be in the Big 12 for a week.

Combined, the defenses allowed 90 points and 940 yards. Georgia surrendered 38 points and 497 yards to the Tigers, with 218 of those yards coming in the fourth quarter and the Dogs protecting a 21-point lead.

Georgia supporters will read those statistics and blame a conservative approach in trying to nurse a big lead. Doubters will question the ability of the Dogs to put teams away when they have the chance.

In determining which team celebrates Saturday, two keys are crucial.

Can Georgia cope with Florida’s speed?

The Gators will not hammer anybody physically, but they are swift enough to carve up teams like a Halloween pumpkin.

Can Florida handle Georgia’s terrific offensive trio?

The triple threat of Stafford, Moreno, and Green must provide scary thoughts for Gator defenders and coaches.

Regardless of the outcome, this game is a pure SEC classic.

So … celebrate and have a good time!

Game Ball: Georgia

Georgia Quote: “More than likely the winner of the game will go to Atlanta.” Bulldog head coach Mark Richt on the importance of the Georgia-Florida game.

Florida Quote: "It (the UGA celebration) will forever be in the mind of Urban Meyer and in the mind of our football team." Gator head coach Urban Meyer in his book Urban's Way.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Around the Nation Week 10

A BCS Halloween Fright?

Think those Joe Paterno masks will be popular in Pennsylvania this week?

Like a creature that cannot be eliminated in one of those Halloween horror flicks, old Joe keeps coming back for more.

Just when you think he’s too old, he’s too hobbled, he’s too out of touch, or he's just too stubborn to change … watch out because those white helmets, plain jerseys, and black shoes will get you every time.

Penn State fans, and all college football fans of the great Joe Paterno, received an early Halloween treat when the Nittany Lions prowled the horseshoe late Saturday night to beat the Ohio State Buckeyes and stay unbeaten on the season.

Joe Pa and State now have a clear path to an undefeated regular season.

Penn State gets this week off before finishing the season with a road game at Iowa and home games with Indiana and Michigan State. The Lions will be heavily favored in all three games, and it would be a shock for them to lose.

The question is whether an undefeated Penn State team will get to the BCS championship game.

The guess here is yes.

The only other undefeated contenders are Texas, Texas Tech, and Alabama and all have challenges ahead.

The Longhorns play at Tech this week, and still have games with Baylor, at Kansas, and with rival Texas A&M.

The Red Raiders face a brutal stretch. In addition to the Longhorns, TT still has OK State at home, a trip to Oklahoma, and a home finale with improving Baylor.

Both would also play a Big 12 title game.

Alabama has no picnic either.

The Tide plays home games with Arkansas State, Miss State, and Auburn, those games sandwiched around the huge road trip to LSU on Nov. 8th. The SEC title game almost certainly would pit the Tide against one of the dynamic duo of Georgia or Florida.

It seems doubtful that Alabama and one of the two Texas teams will win out.

If they do, then the BCS will have quite a monstrous dilemma … what teams go to the title game … sentimental choice Penn State or two (perhaps more deserving) undefeated teams from tougher conferences?

Keep an eye on that scary scenario.

Here are our annual trick or treat ratings for the BCS conference races.

ACC: Trick … for the conference although it is competitive and getting better. A Treat goes to FSU and Virginia.

Big East: Trick … for the league because there is no national power. A Treat for West Virginia since the Mountaineers are the closest thing to a national contender.

Big Ten: Treat … for tradition if nothing else. Special Treat to Penn State.

Big 12: Treat … to the league where games are like pinball scores. Big Treat to Texas, with snacks for Texas Tech, Oklahoma and OK State.

PAC 10: Trick … this league is a one-trick pony. A Treat to USC.

SEC: Treat … these top three teams may be tougher than any. Triple Treats to Alabama, Florida, Georgia. All look mighty strong right now.

Around the Nation

The Big 12 offers a premier pairing when Texas travels to Lubbock to play unbeaten Texas Tech. Winner controls the Big 12 South and is very much in national title picture.

Pitt travels to Notre Dame in a game that might have New Year’s Day bowl implications.

Out West, Cal hosts Oregon. The winner may go to the Rose Bowl if USC makes it to the BCS title game.

Around the South

The annual border battle between Florida and Georgia highlights the SEC schedule.

The winner of that game will represent the SEC East in the conference championship and remains in the national picture too. Watch for The Campus Game SEC Game of the Week on Tuesday.

In the ACC, Atlantic front-runner Florida State visits Georgia Tech, and Miami plays at Coastal Division leader Virginia.

Conference USA features top-rated Tulsa facing Arkansas of the SEC on the road. Houston plays Marshall on Tuesday night, and East Carolina faces off with Central Florida on Sunday.

See you at kickoff!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Professor's Picks and Around the SEC Week 9

Is the SEC in a mid-season swoon?

A month ago, the league reached its high water mark based on national polls. That week, the SEC boasted three of the top five teams in America, four of the top eight, and six of the top twenty-five.

The first BCS poll of the season (out this week) lists the SEC with one of the top five, three of the top ten, and only four in the top twenty-five.

Those are still impressive numbers, but why the decline … and should SEC fans be concerned that national perceptions of the league could hurt a conference team's BCS championship hopes?

Why the decline?

1. Middle Class Malaise: No, it’s not the economy. It’s the disappointing seasons of Auburn in the West and Tennessee in the East, and the inconsistency of Ole Miss and South Carolina.

The top four SEC teams (Alabama, LSU, Florida, Georgia) are better than the top four in any other league. The bottom four (let’s say Miss State, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Vandy) are superior to the worst teams in any other conference.

However, the poor showings of Auburn and Tennessee, along with the up and down performances of the Rebels and Gamecocks have hurt national perceptions of conference depth.

2. Big 12 Love: Just as Florida, Georgia, and LSU were losing a game each, the Big 12 stepped in and filled the power vacuum.

With terrific performances by marquee quarterbacks, attention moved to Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma State. The national media, always more herd than individual, moved attention to the southwest.

As those teams beat each other up the next few weeks (and as more people discover that DEFENSE is as unwelcome in the Big 12 as Sarah Palin at a mainstream media party), perceptions may change again.

3. Voter Fatigue: Excepting Ohio State followers, most college football fans and media do not want to see the Buckeyes back in a title game. A similar backlash may be occurring with the SEC. People are just as quick to jump off a bandwagon as to climb aboard one.

Should SEC fans be concerned? Perhaps not.

1. Closers: No conference closes like the SEC. Count the big game coming up … this week is Georgia-LSU, the next has Georgia-Florida, then Alabama-LSU. No other conference will have so many games with national implications.

2. Non-Conference Games: The SEC can reassert itself starting Thursday when Auburn plays West Virginia on the road. The Tigers have had a week off to prepare for a team that actually knows how to run the spread offense. Other non-conference games that could impact national attitudes include Vanderbilt against Duke and Wake Forest, Florida-Florida State, Georgia-Georgia Tech, and South Carolina-Clemson.

3. History: The SEC has proven itself in the past two national title games with blowout wins. If a conference team finishes undefeated or with only one loss, expect that team to play for another national championship.

Enjoy the games!

Game Day Weekly Conference Ratings

1. Alabama … Crimson Tide needs to play better in second half to be a champion.

2. Georgia … Dogs gaining plenty of yards, but not putting teams away.

3. Florida … Idle Gators drop a spot … can offense continue recent surge?

4. LSU … Bengal Tigers rebound with nice win over tough South Carolina squad.

5. Ole Miss … Much like Alabama last season, the Rebels keep losing close games.

6. Vanderbilt … Commodores hung in there with Dogs although they never really threatened.

7. South Carolina … Gamecocks had their chances against LSU; an 8-win season is possible.

8. Kentucky … The Wildcats struggled past Arkansas with a late rally … can’t afford to dig a big hole against Gators.

9. Arkansas … Hogs showing a fine running attack, especially Michael Smith, but tough to see many wins left on this schedule.

10. Auburn … Will Tub’s Tigers see how the spread is supposed to be run when they take on the Mountaineers?

11. Tennessee … Big Orange shows some fight with solid win over Miss State. Fulmer’s fate may be known this week.

12. Mississippi State … Bullies offense ranks lower than Congress’ approval ratings.

Professor's Picks
Last Week’s Record 5-0
2008 Record 44-14

Finally, a week with no glitches pushes the Professor to thirty games over .500 on the season. The top call was probably LSU over a hot South Carolina team that many picked in an upset. Luckiest choice … how about Kentucky coming back from a 20-7 deficit?

All Times Eastern

Alabama at Tennessee (7:45 ESPN)
See SEC Game of the Week.
Game Ball: Alabama

Ole Miss at Arkansas (7:00)
This is the soap opera game of the week. Arkansas is improving, and had Kentucky on the ropes before letting the Cats claw out a 21-20 victory. Ole Miss played Alabama tough and could have won, but that has been the story of the season for the Rebs … close but no cigar. This will be an emotional homecoming for former head Hog Houston Nutt. I have a feeling the Razorbacks will spoil it for him.
Game Ball: Arkansas

Auburn at West Virginia (7:30 10/23 ESPN)
Tigers had week off to prepare, and it looks like Kodi Burns is their guy at quarterback. The Mountaineers are tied for the Big East lead, but struggled to get past doormat Syracuse in their last outing. WVU QB Pat White is one of the best when healthy; he missed the Cuse game with a head injury. Auburn has to show more to earn a pick.
Game Ball: West Virginia

Kentucky at Florida (12:30 Raycom)
Florida took a week off at a bad time in my opinion. The Gators were just getting their offense in gear and had a lot of momentum after swamping LSU. Kentucky eked out a come-from-behind win over Arkansas. The Big Blue defense has been good, but gave up too many yards on the ground against Hogs. Gators grind it out.
Game Ball: Florida

Georgia at LSU (3:30 CBS)
The Georgia offense keeps putting up big yardage numbers, while failing to pile up points. For the Dogs to have a chance in this one, the young offensive line must neutralize the talented Tiger defensive front. Don’t be surprised if Georgia tries to run straight at LSU with TB Knowshon Moreno, then look for deep play action passes to outstanding freshman WR A.J. Green. LSU will counter with a strong rushing attack. The duo of Charles Scott at FB and Keiland Williams at TB was effective at South Carolina so expect to see more. QB Jarrett Lee throws a nice ball when given time. Loser of this one is likely out of the national title race, but still much in the SEC chase. I think Georgia is a bit more solid team.
Game Ball: Georgia

MTSU at Mississippi State (7:00 ESPNU)
The Blue Raiders beat Maryland earlier in the season, so handling the woeful Bulldog offense is not out of the question. However, Sly Croom’s teams usually are disciplined enough to beat teams with less talent. A pick’em game and perhaps the nation’s ugliest matchup this week.
Game Ball: Miss State

Duke at Vanderbilt (3:00)
David Cutcliffe is a good guy and doing a nice job in his first season with the Blue Devils. The former Ole Miss head coach and Tennessee assistant certainly knows the Commodores well. Still, who can pull for Duke in anything? The school is arrogance personified, from its politically correct faculty (remember how the faculty and pres threw the lacrosse team under the bus) to the saintly Coack K. Vanderbilt (no small snob faction there either) still needs one win game to become bowl eligible. This would be a good time to do so.
Game Ball: Vanderbilt

Open: South Carolina

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Call In Calamity

Alabama at Tennessee
SEC Game of the Week
October 25th at 7:45 ET on ESPN
by Bob Epling

(article originally appeared in 10.20.08 Game Day Weekly)

“Welcome to the Big Timer Sports Talk Radio Show.”

“This is Alabama-Tennessee week, always one of our busiest of the season, so let’s get right to the phones … here’s Johnny from K-Ville … what’s up Johnny?”

“What’s up? Phillip Fulmer’s weight and his time, that’s what’s up Big Timer.

I been looking forward to seeing that backstabber get his for sixteen years, and well … that’s all I want to say about that. Two things are fixing to happen that I never thought I’d see. All the Big Orange people are gonna pull for Alabama, and we’re about to elect a dern communist for President … old Barack Osama.”

“That’s Obama, Johnny.”

“I know they’re pulling for old Bama … that’s what I just said. They don’t want Fulmer to win cause then he might keep his job. Roll tide this week.”

“Let’s go to Pauley in Birmingham. Pauley, what do you think about a Tennessee fan pulling for Alabama?”

“I like it; I’m pulling for Tennessee myself. I’ve been kicking Fulmer around for fifteen years and he sure is a big target. If Fulmer and Tuberville both get run off this season, I won’t have anything to talk about on my sho … ah, never mind.” Click.

“Well, Pauley’s voice sounds familiar, I’m sure he’ll find another target pretty easy. Maybe Pat Dye can come on there and fake like he’s mad about something.”

“Let’s go to Red A from T-Town … Red, tell our listeners what the A stands for.”

“It stands for All the Way to the BCS title game this year Big Timer. You know what Phillip Fulmer and Billy Graham have in common? They can both make a hundred thousand people stand up and holler, ‘Oh Jesus!’”

“Not bad Red … let’s go to Jeff in Halls, Tennessee. Talk to me Jeff.”

“Big Timer, what’s the difference between an Alabama football player and a church bell?”

“Don’t know Jeff.”

“One steals from the people and the other peals from the steeple … get it … anyway our offensive coordinator is so dumb when Fulmer asked him about the quarterback, Clawson thought he was talking about a refund.”

“Okay … not too personal now … let’s talk to Ronny from Leesburg, Alabama.”

“Hey Big Timer, did you hear about Nick Saban getting arrested?”

“Now wait a minute Ronny, I thought you were a Tide man.”

“I am a Tide man … he got arrested for cruelty to animals after Alabama whipped them Bulldogs the other week in Athens.”

“Oh brother ... you better worry about Tennessee this week. Here’s Rocky Top from the beautiful Smoky Mountains … how about it Rock, have your Volunteers got a chance?”

“Yeah, they got a chance to hire Will Muschamp or Mike Leach if they’ll go ahead and get rid of the great pumpkin … they don’t have a chance in the game though.

Anyway, I heard Nick Satan has changed Alabama’s pregame walk to the stadium … now, they just start it at the Tuscaloosa County jail since that’s where most of the players stay.”

“Alright … easy now … here’s BW from Centre. What’s going on BW?”

“Big Timer, here’s three ways you can tell whether somebody is a Tennessee fan … their favorite tailgate food is spam, when a state trooper asks ‘em for ID they show him their belt buckle, and their family tree don’t fork.”

“Now BW, the game turns into something like this every year. Next thing you'll be serving Fulmer another court summons ...

... we need a neutral voice to discuss Tennessee and Alabama. Here’s Tom Thumb from the Plains.”

“Big Timer, if I was Phillip, I’d fire my offensive coordinator. If I was Saban, I’d go ahead and start looking for my next job while he's on top. Actually, there's a fellow I know that could send a private jet.”

“Thanks Tom … that’s all folks.”


Game Ball: Alabama

Monday, October 20, 2008

Around the Nation Week 9

Unwritten Rules

You know the rules, but do you know the unwritten rules?

Pull your starters when you have a big lead in the second half.

Never call for an onside kick when you have the game in hand.

Take a knee when the game is won.

Ah, maybe Texas Tech coach Mike Leach forgot that one.

Mike Leach broke an unwritten rule when he called for a play at the goal line to be reviewed with just 24 seconds left on the clock and his Red Raiders whipping Texas A&M 36-25.

After the review, Tech tacked on a meaningless touchdown for the final margin. Leach (who is just enough of a flake - in an endearing way - to be sincere) claimed he just wanted one of his favorite players to score a TD.

That rules breach by Leach made me wonder if there are other unwritten rules of which we should be aware.

Is it OK to hit Colt McCoy … or any Big 12 quarterback?

The Texas QB is having a masterful season, completing nearly 80% of his passes. Still, the defenses he’s been going against show all the resistance of a wet paper towel. Has the Big 12 instituted a touch football rule on quarterbacks?

Is it illegal for Big Ten teams to compete with Ohio State?

In the past two national title games the Buckeyes got tossed around like the local JV squad by the varsity boys from the SEC, yet the rest of the Big Ten treats them as if they are Lombardi’s Packers. What gives?

When did the ACC and Big East deemphasize football?

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, who otherwise appears sane, seemed to argue in the Atlanta papers last week that the ACC was just as strong as the SEC, Big 12, and all other conferences … that it was just uninformed perception that led people to believe the league was down. He said this after his team had beaten Gardner-Webb. 10-7.

As for the Big East, their commissioner was last seen pumping up basketballs for the big season ahead.

Enjoy the games and don’t break any rules.

Around the Nation

Big Ten country offers a premier matchup when unbeaten and #3 Penn State travels to the horseshoe for a game with once-beaten Ohio State. Watch it on ABC primetime at 8:00 ET. The winner figures to take the conference crown and go to either the Rose Bowl or the BCS title game.

In the Big 12, Texas continues its difficult gantlet with a home game against yet another Top 10 opponent, this time the Cowboys of Oklahoma State. Texas Tech travels to Kansas in a dangerous game.

Out West, surging USC tries to stay on a championship path, but must get through a challenging road game with a pretty gritty defensive team in Arizona.

In the wide-open Big East race, two favorites collide when South Florida travels to Louisville. Auburn also travels to West Virginia.

Around the South

The SEC offers two inter-divisional games as Georgia faces LSU in Baton Rouge and Alabama plays Tennessee at Knoxville in their annual grudge match.

The loser of Georgia-LSU is probably out of the national championship race, but still very much alive in the conference.

Houston Nutt’s return to Arkansas should be fun too.

Virginia Tech travels to Florida State in the ACC, while Georgia Tech hosts a hot Virginia team. The Rambling Wreck looks like the league's best team to me right now.

Conference USA features a Sunday night game between Central Florida and league-leading Tulsa. Keep an eye on Tulsa as a potential BCS buster.

See you at kickoff!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Professor's Picks and Around the SEC Week 8


Want to stop a college student right in the middle of his hundredth or so text message of the day? Want to shut down the latest Madden video tournament or online poker party?

Midterm examinations should do the job.

Welcome to the annual SEC midterm grades from Game Day Weekly and The Campus Game.

Every year we post grades halfway through the season, and grade inflation is a dirty phrase to us; we'll fail you faster than Tommy Tuberville can fire a coordinator.

We do not allow makeup exams. There are no excused absences in our grading scale, and don’t even ask about extra credit.

Make the grade and you might be rewarded with a New Year’s trip to New Orleans, another BCS site, or the sandy beaches of Florida.

A failing mark means staying home for the holidays, or perhaps a mid-December trip to a city where you’ll need to pack a heavy coat instead of swim trunks.

Grades are posted alphabetically by division.

SEC West

Alabama: We knew there was much promise here, but didn’t expect this kind of first-in-the-class performance. Has aced every test thus far and is now shooting for Valedictorian. Grade: A+.

Arkansas: Needs remediation … or at least regular trips to study hall. Some improvement noticeable the past couple of quizzes, but does not seem prepared for tougher tests to come. Grade: D.

Auburn: Too many distractions that result in low scores. Tries one system and then another, but has not buckled down and performed with any consistency. Too much talent for this mark. Grade: D.

LSU: Could be a top student, but the hangover from a trip to Florida has left this star student behind a bit. Must get by some tough tests to move to top of class. Grade: B+.

Ole Miss: A puzzling performance at mid-semester. One week looks like a true scholar, then loses concentration and fails an exam the next week. Not giving up on this student yet though. Grade: B-.

Miss State: Earnest, hard-working type that may have tried to get by on last year’s efforts. That doesn’t work in this class. Grade: D.

SEC East

Florida: All that talent makes a slipup seem even more dramatic. Still looks like a good bet to make the Dean’s list. Grade: A-.

Georgia: Too undisciplined to be the class leader because you never know what to expect … looks to know all the answers one week then sleeps through class the next. Grade: B.

Kentucky: Had potential to be a star performer until the last two tests before the midterm. A decent student, fun to have in class, but not ready to graduate with honors just yet. Grade: B-.

South Carolina: Class wild-child. Started pretty slow, but has really come on lately. Might be in the top half of class before long. Grade: B-.

Tennessee: Flunked every legitimate test thus far in the term, and is now running out of chances to post a passing grade. May have big problems here and will likely be home for the holidays. Grade: F.

Vanderbilt: Classic overachiever really scored well until this past weekend. Keep performing like this and earn a nice end-of-semester trip for the effort. Grade: A-.

Enjoy the games!

Game Day Weekly Conference Ratings

1. Alabama … Crimson Tide controls destiny in division, conference, and national championship races.

2. Florida … Return of the Swamp Creature as the Gators poured it on LSU.

3. Georgia … Probably a bit high for the Dogs, but with LSU losing big there is nobody else to bump up.

4. LSU … Tigers got swamped by Gators. Now all the big tests are at home.

5. South Carolina … Gamecocks suddenly getting just enough offense to be dangerous.

6. Vanderbilt … Back to earth for Commodores after loss to State. Still looking for one more win.

7. Kentucky … Big Blue has dropped two tough ones in a row … could get well against Hogs this week.

8. Ole Miss … Rebs at 3-3 as they reach AAA part of schedule … Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn.

9. Mississippi State … Bullies will try to win three in a row over Tennessee teams … first Vandy, now UT, then MTSU.

10. Arkansas … Hogs finally climb out of rankings basement with win at Auburn.

11. Auburn … No word on who Tub will fire this week … just know it won’t be himself.

12. Tennessee … Fire Fulmer-Meter now running wide-open. A loss to Miss State might cause school to push the $6 Million buyout button.

Professor's Picks

Last Week’s Record 3-2
2008 Record 39-14

On the positive side, the Miss State and Florida calls look pretty good. The Kentucky and Auburn losses? Not so much. Give us a solid B at the midterm, as we try to avoid losses that might land us the old Gentleman’s C.

* All Times Eastern

Ole Miss at Alabama (3:30 CBS)
Both teams had the week off to prepare. Ole Miss has the athletes to compete with Alabama, and Houston Nutt does fine in big games (it’s the ones his teams should win that cause problems). Further complicating the picture for Alabama is that the Tide is now in the driver’s seat as far as the national championship game goes. That seat has not been kind so far (see Georgia, USC, and Oklahoma). Let’s roll with the Tide although this one scares me a bit.
Game Ball: Alabama

Arkansas at Kentucky (7:00 ESPN U)
Give Arkansas credit for continuing to battle by beating Auburn on the road after losing three games in a row by a combined 139-31 score. The Hogs showed improvement on offense by outgaining Auburn 416-193. Kentucky has lost two in a row after starting the season 4-0. I think the Wildcats are the better team and pick them to get back on the winning track by handling the Hogs.
Game Ball: Kentucky

Vanderbilt at Georgia (12:30 Raycom)
* Note: For a fuller account see SEC Game of the Week: Burgers and Fries ... (a special for TCG). Georgia continues to perplex. The Dogs had plenty of chances to blow out a reeling Tennessee team, only to keep giving the Volunteers chances by turning the ball over. Matthew Stafford was erratic, passing for a career-best 310 yards, but also tossing two terrible interceptions in the red zone that both led to eventual Tennessee touchdowns. Vanderbilt tasted defeat for the first time by losing in Starkville and the Commodores better not look ahead to a bowl too quick. They need one win, and the only game in which they are likely to be much of a favorite is next week against Duke. This one should be close; give edge to Georgia.
Game Ball: Georgia

LSU at South Carolina (8:00 ESPN)
The Gamecocks have suddenly come to life. After starting the season 1-2 and struggling in wins over Wofford and UAB, SC struts into this contest on a four-game win streak fresh from big road wins over quality teams at Ole Miss and Kentucky. Unfortunately, LSU will be playing to avoid falling farther behind Alabama in the SEC West race. The Tigers got whipped soundly by Florida on the road and this game will present an interesting challenge to them. If you are looking for an upset special this one feels right … but I cannot pull the trigger against the defending national champs.
Game Ball: LSU

Mississippi State at Tennessee (7:00)
Tennessee fans are all turning math majors. The formula goes like this … fire Phillip Fulmer and the school owes him six million dollars, payable in annual $1.5 million sums the next four years. The big man could eat a lot of meals at Cracker Barrel on that kind of cash. Some who were in Knoxville when Fulmer shouldered aside Vol legend Johnny Majors to get the head coaching job are not unhappy to see Fulmer suffering a slow boil. State has underachieved for the most part, but did get a nice win over Vanderbilt last week. Fulmer has quite a knack for self-preservation, so go with the Big Orange.
Game Ball: Tennessee

Open: Auburn, Florida

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Burgers and Fries and ...

Vanderbilt at Georgia
SEC Game of the Week
October 18 at 12:30 ET on Raycom
by Bob Epling

(originally published as special for The Campus Game 10.14.08)

“It was burgers and fries and cherry pies in a world we used to know.”
Charley Pride, 1978

A world we used to know.

Country music balladeer Charlie Pride lamented a fading love in that simple, but classic, song, and also longed for a past that was long gone.

Plenty of us today have trouble recognizing the college football world we used to know.

In the world we used to know, there were powerhouses and patsies, haves and have-nots, heroes and homecoming opponents.

In the world we used to know, there were veers and wishbones, three yards and a cloud of dust and the power-I, not five wides, spread attacks, and the no huddle.

In the world we used to know, there were names and faces that had lived life, names like Bear, Ara, Vince, and Joe Pa, not job-hoppers or pretty boys like Petrino, Urban, Pete, and Joe Pa … hey, scratch that last one because that still is the world we used to know.

In the world we used to know, Michigan beat Appalachian State and Toledo, if the Wolverines scheduled them at all.

In the world we used to know, throwing the ball meant three things could happen … and two of them were bad.

In the world we used to know, teams told television when they could kickoff instead of making fans wait until the week of the big game to know whether to pack bacon and eggs or a midnight snack for the tailgate party.

In the world we used to know, South Florida, Central Florida, and Florida Atlantic were our vacation choices.

In the world we used to know, Vanderbilt was the perfect homecoming opponent.

As the song says, it was simple and good back then.

Not anymore.

In the world we know today, old state U. can lose to say-who any given Saturday.

In the world we know today, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest can sit atop the SEC and ACC standings.

In the world we know today, it is three years and a cloud of dust as top players bolt for NFL riches.

Maybe fans of the traditional big-time powers were like Charley and his girl in that song … “walking in the sand, hand in hand, never thinking that it could end.”

It ended.

It's not the world we used to know.

Still, for just another Saturday, the Dogs can take us back to burgers and fries and cherry pies ... when it was simple and good back then.

Game Ball: Georgia

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Around the Nation Week 8

Midterm Grades

No, they are not typical college students.

They do not have to worry about rent, or meals, or getting into the classes they need.

Instead, they live in nice dorms (or in apartments paid for by college stipends), eat feasts at every meal that would have made ancient kings blush, and enroll in courses laid out by an academic support staff the size of an army platoon.

No, players at big time college football programs are not typical students.

Still ...

Those players attend mandatory study halls. They research and write papers outside all the time devoted to football practice and meetings. And, like every other college student, they dread and take examinations.

Yes, even the most hardened college football player can still be made to shudder at the sound of one word ... midterms.

This time of the semester brings our annual midterm grades, and this is no easy course.

See if your team earned the mark you expected ... and if not, email your team, assign your own grade and reasoning, and we might just post that score.

Summa Cum Laude

Texas: The Longhorns steered past Oklahoma in another great Red River Shootout and jumped to #1 in both polls.

Alabama: Tide head coach Nick Saban is like a mad professor, always striving for perfection – so far so good.

Penn State: Even non-traditional age students can excel with good preparation; just ask that youngster named Joe Paterno coaching the unbeaten Nittany Lions.

Dean’s List

Florida: This kid can outrun everybody at recess, may be tough to beat in any subject.

Missouri: Posted some outstanding scores before stubbing toe on last test; still plenty sharp however.

Vanderbilt: Formerly a nerd, this student has grown into an all-around big man on campus.

USC: Best-looking student in the class, but sometimes a bit of an airhead.

Ohio State: This know-it-all kind of gets on the instructor’s nerves, but you can always count on him being in class

Oklahoma State: Hey look, he’s a man. He’s forty (one). He just beat Missouri and moves into the accelerated program.

Brigham Young/Utah/Boise: New students in class could come up big by final exam time.

Gentlemen’s Cs

Oklahoma: A sharp cookie, but came unprepared for biggest test to this point in semester.

Georgia: Talented, yet undisciplined effort makes one wonder if a move up the class roll is possible.

Notre Dame: Much is expected of this blue-blood and the performances have been acceptable.

Wake Forest: Not much to look at, but performance sure is solid.

Ds (Could Still Pass)

South Carolina: Unpredictable although impressive on last few quizzes.

Ole Miss: Looks like a pageant winner one week and a dropout the next.

Big East: This whole conference is on performance probation.

Wisconsin: Usually a good student, fallen on poor grades lately.

Florida State: Showing signs of improvement with a lot of work still to do.

Drop the Course

Auburn: Stop trying new systems and go back to old-fashioned hard work.

Clemson: Good thing tuition has been paid in advance with a new contract, else withdrawing would be in order.

Michigan: Always tough to see a former star student struggle; we’ll see them back in class after a year or two.

Tennessee: A whole lot of money is being spent on this student, with very little to show for the dough.

Enjoy the games!

Around the Nation

The week after a big Saturday is always a bit sparse, but some good games dot the docket.

In Big Ten country, Ohio State plays at tough Michigan State, and Michigan travels to front-running Penn State.

Big 12 contenders cannot catch their breath after last weekend’s upsets because Texas hosts Missouri and Oklahoma welcomes high-scoring Kansas.

Out West, Cal visits Arizona in the best PAC-10 game.

If you are tracking BCS busters, Boise State hosts Hawaii, Utah welcomes Colorado State, and BYU travels to TCU for a tough Thursday night game on the Versus network.

Around the South

In the SEC, Vanderbilt faces a tough test on the road at Georgia. Winner leads the East.

Ole Miss visits Alabama and LSU travels to South Carolina in other games of note.

The ACC features Wake Forest at Maryland and Virginia Tech at Boston College.

UTEP goes on the road to Tulsa in a battle of C-USA West leaders.

Study hard and see you at kickoff!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Professor's Picks and Around the SEC Week 7

Breakup the Commodores!

We are only a week away from the halfway point of the season, and Vanderbilt is one of only three unbeaten conference teams (with Alabama and LSU).Reserve quarterback Mackenzi Adams replaced injured Chris Nix and led Vandy to a 14-13 comeback win over Auburn in Nashville. The win was no fluke as Vanderbilt controlled the second-half and outgained the Tigers 263-208.

The game carried historical implications. Vandy is 5-0 for the first time since WWII, beat Auburn for the first time since the 1955 Gator Bowl, and needs only one more win to reach a bowl for the first time since 1982.

Alabama is on a roll too.

The Tide avoided too much of a letdown after the dramatic victory over Georgia, and hung on to beat a tough Kentucky squad 17-14. Bama has the best shot of any SEC team to go undefeated … a realistic shot with one real tough remaining test – a visit to LSU on November 8th.

LSU has a rougher road ahead.

The defending national champs visit Florida for a prime-time Saturday night game this week.

Should the Tigers pass that test, home games with Georgia and Ole Miss (in addition to Alabama) and a road trip to South Carolina could pose problems.

Rumblings on Rocky Top continue to get louder as the Vols prepare for a trip between the hedges.

Tennessee sent out a new QB (Nick Stephens) but the Volunteers still got ugly results in a 13-9 win over visiting Northern Illinois. Phillip Fulmer is rapidly using up the remaining patience of Vol fans, and needs a good showing in Athens (where UT historically plays well).

The Ole Miss Rebels take a week off to let their collective feet heal up after shooting themselves in them in a loss to South Carolina.

Miss State gets a chance to upset the Vanderbilt bandwagon in Starkville. Read on to find out whether the Pigskin Prognosticator believes the Bullies will pull out the win.

Bobby Petrino returns to Auburn as head coach … of Arkansas … several years after Auburn brass tried to hire him behind Tommy Tuberville’s back. Think Tub would like to win this one?

Well, he wants to win enough that he jettisoned brand-new offensive coordinator Tony Franklin midway through the OC's first season on the Plains. Tuberville goes through coordinators like Petrino goes through jobs.

Enjoy the games!

Game Day Weekly Conference Ratings

1. Alabama … Tide overcame Kentucky behind big game from RB Glen Coffee (218 yards) and now rests.

2. LSU … Tigers plunge into the Swamp for a game between the two most recent national champs.

3. Vanderbilt … Commodores need only one more win to go bowling … are there any lanes in Starkville?

4. Florida … Gators still inconsistent on offense, but, my-oh-my, the speed.

5. Georgia … Dogs had week off and now welcome struggling Tennessee. Injuries are a concern.

6. Kentucky … Wildcat showed they could compete with Bama, now can they handle a team they should beat?

7. South Carolina … Head ball coach plays head games with QBs but gets big win in Oxford.

8. Ole Miss … Fumbles by offensive stalwarts QB Jevan Snead and WR Dexter McCluster doomed Rebels against SC.

9. Auburn … Tiger offense just can’t get right … mediocre quarterback play is the reason.

10. Mississippi State … Bullies can stave off Vanderbilt bowl march another week … will they?

11. Tennessee … Vol fans were ready for Halloween early … many came dressed as empty seats.

12. Arkansas … Petrino’s Pigs competed with Florida, but may not win another game this season.

Professor's Picks
Last Week’s Record 3-2
2008 Record 36-12

The old prognosticator got off-beat in music city when Vanderbilt handled Auburn. South Carolina also muddled up the picks by whipping Ole Miss. Maybe the SEC West is not so much better than the East. We’ll find out this week when LSU visits Florida.

(All Times Eastern)

Arkansas at Auburn (5:00)
If we could go back to the days before overtime, we might get ourselves a good, old-fashioned 0-0 tie. Arkansas actually moved the ball pretty well against Florida in a 38-7 loss, but the Hogs never punched across many points. If you are an Arkansas fan, don’t worry about missing the first quarter … the Hogs haven’t scored in the opening period in eight games. How bad is it at Auburn? Bad enough that Tommy Tuberville showed Tony Franklin the door. Bad enough that Vanderbilt shoved the Tigers around in Nashville, controlling the game, outgaining the Tigers by 55 yards (263-208), and got one (sack) for the thumb by dumping Tiger QBs five times. It is questionable whether the Razorbacks win another game, but this might be their best chance.
Game Ball: Auburn

LSU at Florida (8:00 CBS)
See SEC Game of the Week.
Game Ball: Florida

Tennessee at Georgia (3:30 CBS)
Whatever juice Phillip Fulmer has left in Knoxville is getting sucked down like a big orange slurpee. Tennessee escaped with a 13-9 win over Northern Illinois in front of several thousand no-shows. New QB Nick Stephens connected on a third-quarter 52-yard TD pass to Denarius Moore to provide the victory. Georgia fans feel a bit glum too. The Dogs had a week off to lick wounds from the Alabama debacle, but questions linger on both sides of the ball. The offensive line plays musical chairs, the defense gives up too many yards and points, and injuries continue to mount. Call this the grumpy bowl.
Game Ball: Georgia

South Carolina at Kentucky (12:30 Raycom)
Just when the SEC thinks the head ball coach might be ready for a permanent tee time, Steve Spurrier takes his South Carolina Gamecocks to Oxford and does something Florida could not do … beat Ole Miss. QB Chris Smelley passed for 327 yards and 3 TDs, and SC took advantage of Ole Miss turnovers to get the big win. Kentucky played Alabama tough to the very end in a 17-14 loss. This game promises to be a bruising battle of two outstanding defenses. I like Big Blue.
Game Ball: Kentucky

Vanderbilt at Mississippi State (2:30)
The Commodores moved within one win of being bowl eligible for the first time since 1982 with a huge 14-13 victory over Auburn in front of ESPN College Gameday and a national television audience. These are heady times in music city, but the Dores better beat either State or Duke in two weeks because they will be underdogs in every other game. This is a State team that can be rugged at times, especially on defense, and had the week off. I never liked the story of Cinderella anyway so I’m going with the Bullies in an upset.
Game Ball: Mississippi State

Open: Alabama, Ole Miss

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A Green Ticket Game

LSU at Florida
SEC Game of the Week
October 11th at 8:00 PM ET CBS
by Bob Epling

(article originally appeared in 10.7.08 Game Day Weekly)

Ever heard of a “green ticket” game?

There will be one Saturday night in Gainesville when LSU visits Florida.

What is a green ticket game? Let me explain.

Growing up in Atlanta, a buddy of mine could get into any sporting event. Call him the General (because he calls himself that).

Take a little April 1974 baseball game between the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers … fellow named Aaron passed a guy called Babe on the all-time homerun list. The General was there.

January of 1977, at the old Omni arena downtown, a standing room only college basketball crowd showed up to see mighty UCLA take on the Tennessee Vols with their Ernie (Grunfeld) and Bernie (King) show. John Wooden was there (as an announcer). So was the General.

At the end of the 1982 college football season, undefeated and #1 Georgia met undefeated and #2 Penn State in the Sugar Bowl. Joe Paterno and Vince Dooley. Herschel Walker and Curt Warner. Toughest ticket you could imagine. The General was there.

Georgia-Georgia Tech basketball games, NBA playoffs, NFL games … there was always one way to get in the game.

Green tickets.

Here’s how it works. The General stands in line to enter the game, and says to the ticket-taker, “You taking green tickets tonight?” while flashing a ten-dollar bill, or maybe a twenty depending on the event. I’ve seen ticket takers laugh him off, shoo him away, and even throw him out (in which case he simply went to another line), but most would take the “green ticket” or say something like … “it’s two green tickets tonight.”

A green ticket game … we’ve got one in Gainesville Saturday night.

Now that you know how to get into this game, what will you see?

For Florida fans, a speedy and talented team on both sides of the ball and in special teams, but with an offense struggling to gain the rhythm and consistency required to win another national title to go with the 2006 championship.

Heisman winner Tim Tebow, after accounting for fifty-five touchdowns last season, including more than twenty by way of rushing and passing, has amassed just ten through five games in 2008, only two on the ground. The offense has particularly struggled in short-yardage situations where the lack of a big, strong running back to complement QB Tebow becomes acute.

Still, the Florida speed can be breathtaking and game-changing.

Against Arkansas Saturday, three tiny Gators turned in huge plays to spearhead the 38-7 victory.

Brandon James (5’7, 186) scored on a two-yard shuttle pass and recovered a botched Arkansas punt return. Chris Rainey (5-9, 185) scored on a 75-yard run by spinning around a tackler and outrunning the Hog defense to the end zone. Jeff Demps (5’8, 176) scored on sprints of 36 and 48 yards. All three of them would not be tall enough to get on some of the rides at your local amusement park.

The (4-1) Gators will need the speed Saturday night.

LSU is also fast, but the Tigers are big too.

The defending national champions are 4-0, and coming off a bye week. The LSU offense may have found its quarterback two games ago when redshirt-freshman Jarrett Lee relieved injured Andrew Hatch and led a second-half rally and win against Auburn on the road.

The Tigers also have the big back Florida is missing in Charles Scott, a workhorse averaging 17 carries and 132 yards per game. Wide receivers Demetrius Byrd and Brandon LaFell offer tempting targets on the flanks.

Defensively, consider this game a wash.

As with offense, Florida has better speed, but LSU offers a better balance of speed and strength.

In my opinion, LSU is the best team in the SEC.

However, any conference team going undefeated seems unlikely. The Gators have lost already, but LSU has not … yet.

The Gators win a green ticket game.

Game Ball: Florida

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Around the Nation Week 7

A Tale of Two Conferences?

Is the 2008 college football season turning into a tale of two conferences?

It is the best of times in the Big 12.

Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas, and Texas Tech all find themselves in the national top ten rankings, and Oklahoma State may soon join them.

It is the best of times in the SEC too.

Alabama and LSU remain undefeated and top five teams, Florida and Georgia are still considered championship contenders, and conference teams won the past two BCS national titles.

Welcome to The Campus Game, where it is never the worst of times, and where you get news and information on the SEC, the Big 12, and all of college football every week on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday (but check back anytime!).

The Big 12 continued a big roll last weekend.

Top-ranked Oklahoma blistered Baylor 49-17 behind Sam Bradford’s 372 yards passing. The Sooners go to Dallas this weekend for another installment of the Red River Shootout with Texas.

The Longhorns corralled Colorado in Boulder 38-14 and that score is as close as any team all year has come to hooking the Horns.

Missouri may be the most impressive team in America right now.

The Tigers crushed the Nebraska Cornhuskers 52-17 in Lincoln (with all the points coming in the first three quarters), have scored at least six touchdowns in every game, and have two legitimate Heisman Trophy candidates in quarterback Chase Daniel and wideout Jeremy Maclin.

Texas Tech and Oklahoma State put up 58 and 56 points respectively in big wins.

The SEC cannot match that scoring output, but rugged defenses might make the league even tougher.

Alabama pounded out a 17-14 victory over previously unbeaten Kentucky, and the Tide now has a clear path to an undefeated regular season with one major obstacle – a trip to LSU in early November.

Those LSU Tigers, defending national champs, must first navigate a difficult visit to the Swamp this weekend where they will play Florida, the SEC’s other entry into the national title quinella of the past two seasons. The Gators are perhaps America’s fastest team.

In addition to those three, Georgia remains in the picture with only one loss, and – surprise – Vanderbilt is at 5-0 after a nice win over Auburn.

The winners of these two conferences are on track to play for the national title with Penn State and USC lurking.

Stay tuned for this tale of two conferences.

Also, next week we post our popular Midterm Grade Reports, so be sure to visit again.

Enjoy the games.

Around the Nation

The winnowing of the Big 12 contenders starts at the Texas State Fair when Oklahoma and Texas provide another big game in a series full of them. Catch it at noon Eastern on ABC.

Oklahoma State and Missouri play in Columbia … let’s hope the scoreboard bulbs are fresh.

The Big Ten schedule is topped by unbeaten Penn State playing at Wisconsin. The Nittany Lions are starting a rugged three-game stretch against UW, Michigan, and Ohio State. The tough-luck Badgers have lost consecutive close games against Michigan and then Ohio State.

Out West, Arizona State and USC collide in LA. The winner is probably the favorite to win the PAC-10, and Southern Cal certainly should not be counted out of the national championship picture.

Improving Notre Dame travels to Chapel Hill for an intersectional game with rising North Carolina.

Around the South

LSU at Florida is the headline game in SEC country, and (along with UT-OK) the best game of the weekend.

Georgia tries to get back on track against struggling Tennessee as Vol coach Phillip Fulmer continues to catch heat.

Undefeated Vanderbilt will be tested with a trip to rested Mississippi State (Bullies had a week to prepare).

The ACC takes a week off from conference play, with the notable exception of Clemson at Wake Forest on Thursday night.

C-USA has an interesting matchup as Southern Miss, with terrific running back Damion Fletcher, tries to bust the BCS bowl dreams of undefeated Boise State. The game is at the Rock in Hattiesburg.

See you at kickoff!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Professor's Picks and Around the SEC Week 6

Survival of the Fittest should be a topic for a college term paper.

Instead, the SEC brutally puts that theory into practice every Saturday as teams fight, claw, and scratch toward Atlanta and the conference championship game.

No team looks more fit right now than Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide.

While all college football fans would have acknowledged before the season that the Tide was rising, it’s doubtful many believed Saban would have the team this good this soon.

Bama must love to cross I-20 into Georgia because the Tide has turned in perhaps the nation’s best two performances this season and both came in the Peach State. After humiliating Clemson to kickoff the season in Atlanta, Bama blasted to a 31-0 halftime lead against #3 Georgia and then was never seriously threatened as the T-Towners staved off a modest Bulldogs rally for a 41-30 victory.

Elsewhere ... “Mighty” is a term we are used to using with Florida … as in the mighty Gators. Perhaps we should start thinking of Mighty Mississippi.

The Rebels always play the Gators tough, and this time they pulled out a huge win for first year coach Houston Nutt by hanging on for a 31-30 win. The win was no fluke as the big Ole Miss defensive line harassed Florida QB Tim Tebow all day, and the “wild Rebel” offensive formation gave the Gator defense trouble.

With the losses by Florida and Georgia, there are now four unbeaten league teams.

Alabama, Kentucky, LSU, and Vanderbilt have unblemished records.

While it may be unlikely for any SEC team to run the table, of the four Alabama has by far the easiest path.

The Tide should be significant favorites in home games with Kentucky, Ole Miss, Arkansas State, Miss State, and Auburn, and also a road favorite against Tennessee. That leaves the Armageddon game at LSU on November 8th as perhaps the game of the year in the SEC.

LSU has more talent than a decade’s worth of American Idol contestants, but the Tigers must play Florida on the road (along with South Carolina and Arkansas) which will be a big challenge and they face tough Georgia and Alabama at home (along with Tulane, Troy, and Ole Miss).

Kentucky and Vanderbilt should get kudos for their play thus far, but it is a stretch to think either will not lose at least two games (and probably three or more each).

While it’s only the first week of October, the division races are beginning to take shape.

The East is up in the air, but the winner of Georgia-Florida on November 1st should have the edge. Florida has a much easier league path than Georgia because the Dogs travel to LSU and Auburn while Florida’s only remaining league road game is at Vandy.

The West looks more and more like a two team shootout between Alabama and LSU, although Auburn and Ole Miss cannot be counted out yet.

Alabama should be undefeated when the LSU game rolls around, but the Bengal Tigers must play at Florida and host Georgia before then. Advantage Alabama based on schedule.

This week is kind of a “catch your breath” Saturday with several teams having a bye.

The Kentucky at Alabama game assures us that yet another unbeaten will suffer defeat as the survival of the fittest marathon continues.

Enjoy the games!

Game Day Weekly Conference Ratings

1. Alabama … Tide could be charged with cruelty to animals after first half thrashing of Dogs between the hedges.

2. LSU … Tigers a bit sluggish after big win last week but still get to bye week near top of our rankings.

3. Kentucky … Wildcat defense giving up just over five points per game … is Big Blue a big fluke? Find out in T-Town this weekend.

4. Vanderbilt … Commodores had week off to prepare for Auburn … will it be enough? Bowl countdown is on for Bobby Johnson’s boys.

5. Georgia … Dogs have plenty of wounds to lick in an off-week after beating by Bama.

6. Auburn … Tigers know how to win even when offense struggles … which is all it seems to do. Help wanted at QB.

7. Ole Miss … Rebels get first signature win of Nutt era; can they handle the prosperity? The head ball coach at SC will test them.

8. Florida … Gators will rise back up these rankings, but why can they not find a running game to help Tebow?

9. Tennessee … Smokey and others will be howling on Rocky Top after Vols blew good chance to win on the Plains.

10. Mississippi State … Bullies battled LSU tough, but at 1-3 are a long ways from looking like a bowl team.

11. South Carolina … Gamecocks O got a little lift from Stephen Garcia and defense always gives them a chance.

12. Arkansas … It doesn’t get any easier for Petrino’s Pigs with an angry bunch of Gators coming to town.

Professor's Picks
(Last Week’s Record 5-2)
(2008 Record 33-10)

The pigskin prognostication record remains in pretty good shape, but perhaps not the absolute fittest. Missed the Ole Miss upset (although warned that the Rebels played Florida tough) and declared the Alabama-UGA game would not be as close as expected … while calling it for the Dogs.

* All times Eastern

Kentucky at Alabama (3:30 CBS)
Alabama just won the biggest game of the Nick Saban era as the Tide rolled over Georgia in Athens by a 41-30 margin. The game was not that close as the Tide powered to a 31-0 halftime lead, then hung on as the Bulldogs showed some pride in the second half. Bama looks like the league’s best team right now. The Wildcats moved to 4-0 on the season with a 41-3 win over Western Kentucky, but struggled offensively. The Big Blue defense has allowed only 22 points all season (and only more than 3 in one game). We’ll find out how good they are this week.
Game Ball: Alabama

Florida at Arkansas (12:30 Raycom)
Florida will be one angry bunch of Gators this weekend. Last week turnovers, miscues, and pretty good play by the Ole Miss Rebels dropped Florida from the ranks of the unbeaten, so expect Urban Meyer and the reptiles to play nasty in this one. Arkansas got completely outclassed in losing to Texas 52-10. With a 35 point loss to Alabama the week before, that means the Hogs have lost consecutive games by an average of 38.5 points. Let’s call this one to the Gators by 38.5 to 0.
Game Ball: Florida

Auburn at Vanderbilt (6:00 ESPN)
Auburn’s defense must have felt like a scoring floodgate had opened when the Tigers put up two touchdowns in a 14-12 win over equally futile Tennessee. Of course, the Tiger defense actually scored seven of those points by falling on a Volunteer fumble in the end zone. That play made the difference as the Auburn defense shut down the anemic big orange, and the Auburn offense managed just enough yards to keep UT from getting one last, late chance to score. This game is interesting in that Vanderbilt has already surpassed the expectations of most (except those inside the program of course). The 4-0 Commodores are two wins away from their first bowl in more than 25 years, but play only one team that is supposed to be a patsy – 3-1 Duke – the rest of the way. Until Auburn finds QB consistency, Vanderbilt may actually be the better team … I just don’t have the guts to pick them.
Game Ball: Auburn

South Carolina at Ole Miss (2:00)
See SEC Game of the Week
Game Ball: Ole Miss

Northern Illinois at Tennessee (7:00)
Turn your ear toward Rocky Top and you are liable to hear great wailing and gnashing of teeth – just make sure your kids don’t listen or they may hear some language that would not be suitable. The Volunteer offense is anything but suitable right now for a big-time program. New offensive coordinator Dave Clawson is struggling to get QB Jonathan Crompton in rhythm and any more adversity may cause an emotionally fragile program to split worse. The 2-2 Huskies of NIU have won two in a row, and lost their first two games of the year by a combined seven points. Volunteers get ready for trip to Georgia with the best medicine – a win.
Game Ball: Tennessee

Open: Georgia, LSU, Mississippi State

Facebook at Oxford Square

South Carolina at Ole Miss
SEC Game of the Week
October 4th at 1:00 CT (No TV)
by Bob Epling
(article originally appeared in 9.28.08 Game Day Weekly)

Facebook – football style - comes to Ole Miss this weekend.

That famous social networking site was launched at Harvard less than five years ago, quickly expanded to the Ivy League and colleges nationwide, and now is open to anybody over age thirteen. As you read this there are more than 100 million users across the globe.

My guess is that Houston Nutt and Steve Spurrier are not two of them.

The two most expressive coaches in the SEC – and my favorite two to watch coach – meet this Saturday in Oxford. Focus on the sidelines because these two faces are open books.

Spurrier, head ball coach at South Carolina, suffers through a game like a man needing another dose of Metamucil.

See the grimace when a Gamecock quarterback makes a bad read. Then the legendary visor gets pulled off, twisted around, and tugged back on when an offensive lineman jumps too early. There goes the customary mussing of the hair as a wayward pass makes the coach look like he’s developed a case of hives. Finally, the explosion replete with a new record in visor-flinging as Spurrier sends in yet another signal-caller.

That’s just one South Carolina possession.

On the other sideline, Houston Nutt should be set to music.

The wild rebel himself always appears as if he’s just polished off a six-pack of Coca-Cola, washed them down with three cups of coffee, and has his heart rate up in the “I’ve just run five miles” category. He claps more than an Ole Miss cheerleader, gnaws on his nails like a teenage boy getting ready for a prom date, and suffers like a modern-day Atlas trying to hold up the spirits of his talented – but inconsistent – Rebels. And that’s before kickoff.

This weekend should bring more facial expressions than a mime contest.

Nutt just captured the first big win of his first season at Ole Miss.

The Rebels traveled to Gainesville, played toe-to-toe with the undefeated and fourth-ranked Florida Gators, and pulled off the 31-30 upset with a combination of special teams ferocity, defensive pressure from the front four, and just enough offensive moxie from quarterback Jevan Snead.

The win moves the Rebels to 3-2 on the season, 1-1 in the SEC, and into solid contention for a bowl bid in Nutt’s inaugural season. The program is on the way up.

Over in Carolina, the Gamecocks also sit at 3-2 (0-1 in conference play) but the vibe in Columbia is not so positive.

Without committing himself fully, Spurrier has most likely found his quarterback in wayward Floridian Stephen Garcia. The brash redshirt-freshman has made more noise off the field than on it during his first two seasons. Against UAB last week, the mobile Garcia showed himself more adept at staying out of trouble on the field than he does off it, as he passed for 131 yards and ran for 86 more in SC’s 26-13 win over the Blazers. He may not start against Ole Miss, but will probably be playing when the game is on the line.

Ole Miss has no such debate at the quarterback position.

Texas transfer Jevan Snead outplayed Heisman winner Tim Tebow in the Rebel win at Florida. Snead, once a Gator commit (he bailed after finding out Urban Meyer was still recruiting Tebow), passed for only 185 yards, but made big plays when needed … none bigger than his 86-yard touchdown throw to Shay Hodge to put the Rebels ahead 31-24 with just over five minutes to play.

The Ole Miss offense will be tested by an excellent South Carolina defense.

The weakest unit in the game figures to be the South Carolina offense, but Garcia adds a wild card to the mix.

The action between the sidelines should be good, but the show put on by Nutt and Spurrier may be just as fun to watch.

Game Ball: Ole Miss