by Bob Epling
The Campus Game
Last Week: 11-4
Comment: Last week's picks stayed in the solid B+ range, not stellar but above average. Still waiting on a breakout week with only one or two miscues.
Best Pick(s): Many people projected Ole Miss to be overrated, and South Carolina's Thursday night victory over the Rebs justified that skepticism. Virginia Tech slowed Miami's march back to national prominence as predicted in this spot last week.
Worst Pick(s): Florida State's roller coaster season descended quickly when the Noles plunged to a home loss against South Florida. Iowa punctured Penn State's potential Pasadena pilgrimage.
Here are this week's SEC Picks and selected national games.
(All times Eastern)
Alabama at Kentucky (12:21 SEC Network) ... For a team ranked in the top five nearly all season, the Crimson Tide garnered little national attention for much of September, but expect that to change. Several pundits now call Bama the nation's best team. The game at Lexington is a potential trap for the Tide as a West Division showdown with Ole Miss looms next week. The Red Elephant offense has been balanced (3rd in SEC in both passing and rushing), the play of QB Greg McElroy sound (7 TD-1 INT), and the emergence of freshman RB Trent Richardson gives the Tide one more playmaker. Kentucky is last in the conference against the rush, so expect Bama to pound a bit in this one. Enjoy two of the nation's premier return men in Javier Arenas of UA and Derrick Locke of UK.
Professor's Pick: Alabama
LSU at Georgia (3:30 CBS) ... The Amazing Kreskin would have a tough time figuring out these two squads. Georgia needs to stock defibrillators around Sanford Stadium because the Dogs keep playing heart-stoppers. One week QB Joe Cox and the offense light up Arkansas or South Carolina while the defense provides less resistance than the gentle current of the Oconee River rolling past Athens; other weeks the defense slows down a good Oklahoma State team or repeatedly stifles Arizona State to save the game after a late turnover by the UGA offense. LSU has been similarly confounding. Based on press reviews, we might guess the Tigers were ranked the fourth best team in Louisiana instead of fourth best in the whole of the good ole USA. Rangy receivers Brandon LeFell and Terrance Toliver could pose big issues for Georgia's corners, but the same can be said of Georgia's wideouts who are led by the terrific A.J. Green. The teams rank lower in league statistics than their combined 7-1 record would suggest ... LSU is last in total offense, Georgia next to last in total defense. LSU is ninth in total defense, Georgia is ninth in total offense. Both have outstanding punt and kick teams. Tough call, but LSU has yet to play well ... I think they do in this one and tame the Dogs in Athens.
Professor's Pick: LSU
Ole Miss at Vanderbilt (7:00 ESPNU) ... The Rebels are licking wounds after the loss to South Carolina. While Ole Miss should have enough offensive firepower to outscore Vandy, the Commodores cannot be overlooked. The psychological state of the Rebs will be important because their entire season had been pointing to next week's game against Alabama. Perhaps a somewhat risky pick, but let's take Ole Miss.
Professor's Pick: Ole Miss
SC State at South Carolina (7:00 ESPN Classic) ... a nice non-conference game for the Roosters in that the State Bulldogs should provide just enough competition to keep the game interesting for a while. SC State comes in 3-0, but the old ball coach and his Gamecocks should be riding high after handling Ole Miss last Thursday.
Professor's Pick: South Carolina
Texas A&M vs. Arkansas (7:30 ESPN2) ... Two quarterbacks putting up huge numbers will play at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. Undefeated A&M features Jerrod Johnson who passes for 320 yards a game and adds another 65 on the ground. Johnson is responsible for more points per game than any player in America (26). The 1-2 Hogs counter with big Ryan Mallet. He leads the SEC in passing (292 ypg) and has a 7-1 TD-INT ratio. Should be entertaining, but I like the Razorbacks due to their tougher schedule.
Professor's Pick: Arkansas
Georgia Tech at Miss State (7:30 CSS) ... One of my favorite games of the weekend. MSU head coach Dan Mullen has brought new excitement to Starkville, and the Bully offense features solid running back Anthony Dixon (2nd in SEC rushing at 107 ypg). Tech counters with Paul Johnson's quick-strike option offense and outstanding back Jonathan Dwyer, the ACC preseason player of the year. The Jackets are my pick to win the ACC and I originally liked them as a dark-horse national title contender (tough to swallow for a Georgia grad and SEC man) until they showed too many inconsistencies on both sides of the ball. MSU should know how to defend the option fairly well, but the Rambling Wreck ought to run past the Bulldogs.
Professor's Pick: Georgia Tech
Auburn at Tennessee (7:45 ESPN) ... An intriguing game between two new SEC coaches. The Auburn offense has surprised most everyone (including me) by putting up 45 points per game. QB Chris Todd has an outstanding 11-1 TD-INT ratio, and his passing is complemented by an excellent rush attack featuring Ben Tate and Onterio McCalebb. On Rocky Top, Tennessee has its own nice tailback tandem in Montario Hardesty and Bryce Brown. The big difference is at quarterback. UT's Jonathan Crompton ranks 10th in the SEC in passing yards per game and has not provided any spark for the Vol offense. Both teams are solid on defense, so the only other mismatch might be on the sideline. It will be interesting to see how AU's Gene Chizik fares against the more balleyhooed (and controversial) Lane Kiffin of Tennessee. In some ways, this is the first big game each team could reasonably be expected to win. I've been more impressed with Chizik than Kiffin, but after going back and forth the Neyland Stadium crowd leads me to the Big Orange.
Professor's Pick: Tennessee
Selected National Picks
Air Force at Navy: First round of commander's cup; can AFA break Middie's grip? Professor's Pick: Navy
Pitt at Louisville: Winner moves into contention in Big East race for BCS. Professor's Pick: Pitt
Cincinnati at Miami (Ohio): Upset alert for Bearcats against nearby rival? Nah. Professor's Pick: Cincy
Wisconsin at Minnesota: Two pretty good Big Ten teams scrap for position; Gophers hand Bucky first loss. Professor's Pick: Minnesota
Michigan at Michigan State: Rich Rod and Wolves will be taken seriously with a win ... they get it. Professor's Pick: Michigan
USC at Cal: Much still rides on the outcome ... until someone knocks Tommy Trojan from perch astride PAC 10, I'm sticking with them. Professor's Pick: USC
Oklahoma vs. Miami: Not quite the Barry Switzer-Jimmy Johnson teams of the 80s, but not bad. With or without Sam Bradford, I believe Sooner defensive pressure will prove too much for young Canes. Professor's Pick: Oklahoma