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