After last week’s epic Alabama-Texas A&M game, and the previous week’s schedule which had South Carolina-Georgia, this week’s slate leaves a lot to be desired in terms of marquee games. And as usual for September, there are some dogs. However, as you will soon see, there are a few games on the slate that afford the die-hard Southeastern Conference fan the potential for quality viewing.
But, I’d like to note a couple of new things here at The Thrill of Victory.
First, I’ve started keeping score on both my overall record, and (not that I condone gambling, and especially gambling based on my predictions), my results against the point spread. The good news: I was on fire last week, finishing 8-0 overall and 7-1 against the number.
The bad news: I was so dismal against the number coming in that I’m just 14-16 on the year against the point spread (though a pretty respectable 28-5 overall. (And if you’re wondering why the discrepancy in games, there were a couple of “pushes” in there, plus a game I inadvertently omitted in Week 1. My apologies to those of you who hang on my every word.) I have also included lines as of Thursday 8 p.m. Central according to Covers.com.
Second, I’m going to number games based on their attractiveness to the viewer, which will be based on several things: perceived competitive balance between the teams, importance of the matchup in terms of standings, etc., whether it’s a rivalry game, or something else particularly interesting about the contest.
Anyway, on to the games:
1. Arkansas at Rutgers (-1.5): As the line would indicate, this would appear to be about as evenly-matched as games come. The scary thing for the Razorbacks, who love to run the football, is that Rutgers is giving up just 2.0 yards per carry, but of course that can happen when two-thirds of your schedule is against Norfolk State and Eastern Michigan. Meanwhile, the Razorbacks are sixth in America in total defense (253 yards per game), but it hasn’t exactly been against a Grade A schedule either. Both teams have injury issues, but the biggest question mark is the availability of Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen, who hurt his shoulder and hasn’t practiced the last two days. Coach Bret Bielema is bringing him to New Jersey with the rest of the team, but nobody seems to have a firm grip on whether he’ll play or not. Lacking the assurance that he will, combined with the fact that Arkansas is on the road, leads me to take Rutgers. Rutgers 20, Arkansas 17
2. Missouri at Indiana (+1): If you like high really, really high scoring games, this may be the college football game of the weekend — Las Vegas has put the over-under at 70 and I suspect that’s low since Missouri averages 48 points and IU, 50. Both offenses average well over 500 yards, too. Missouri’s defense looks to be a little better and I like the offensive play-makers that the Tigers have on offense, so I’ll go with Missouri, and for the sake of coach Gary Pinkel, I’d better be right. Missouri 45, Indiana 42
3. Tennessee (-16.5) at Florida: This much we know: the Vols have quarterback troubles and aren’t going to want to put the ball in the air against a tremendous Gator secondary. So, it’s pretty easy to guess what coach Butch Jones will want to do, which is to run the ball. The problem there: UF is giving up a microscopic 2.3 yards per carry. The real question is, can UF move the ball against Tennessee? I don’t have a lot of faith in the Gators to throw the ball well, or not to throw a pick or two, but the Gators are averaging a 71 percent completion rate and do have a few athletes, and we saw what athletes did to UT, which has very few of them in the secondary, last weekend. (On that note, knowing that ahead of time, what was I thinking picking Tennessee to cover 28 points?) All it takes are a couple of big plays for Florida to win this one, which it will get. Florida 31, Tennessee 10
4. Auburn at LSU (-17): It’s been a nice start for the Auburn offensively, and the fact that coach Gus Malzahn has helped Auburn discover its running game again means that a bowl game is quite a reasonable goal. However, AU is bringing a knife to a gunfight if this gets to be a shootout, because quarterback Nick Marshall hasn’t proven to be anything like his counterpart, Zach Mettenberger, nor does Marshall have weapons like Odell Beckham or Jarvis Landry, nor does Auburn have anything close to LSU’s talent on defense. Auburn is a quality team, and who knows, maybe even a good team, but LSU may be an elite team and would have to lay a serious egg to lose on Saturday. LSU 45, Auburn 20
5. Troy at Mississippi State (-14): Troy can really move the ball, but State can play a little more defense. Meanwhile, we’ll wait to see if MSU QB Tyler Russell gets cleared to play. I’m not crazy about this game because I don’t think either team is that good; MSU won the match-up 30-24 last year and so I’ll go with something close to that this time. With a prediction this close, why’s the game not ranked higher? Because, would you really rather watch MSU and Troy over any of the other games listed above? Mississippi State 30, Troy 27
6. SMU vs. Texas A&M (-28): Actually, these teams may out-do both Indiana and Missouri in scoring, as Vegas has established a 78-point over-under. Neither can stop anybody, but A&M has just an absurd dimension to its offense as the Aggies average 609 yards and 53 points, even though Alabama comprises a third of its schedule. SMU nearly lost to Montana State last weekend, and so I am a little surprised the Aggies are only 28-point favorites, especially with the Aggies winning 48-3 last season. TAMU 59, SMU 24
7. Colorado State at Alabama (-39): Alabama keeps its No. 1 ranking and is the biggest SEC favorite this weekend, so why wasn’t this game rated lower? Because Colorado State coach Jim McElwain was Alabama coach Nick Saban’s offensive coordinator from 2008-11. No, the Rams aren’t very good, but Saban will clear the benches early to keep from embarrassing his friend and this won’t be the rout to the degree that most expect. Remember, as dominant as Alabama has been, the Crimson Tide have scored over 50 just twice since the start of the 2012 season, and that was 52 each time. Alabama 41, Colorado State 10
8. North Texas at Georgia (-32.5): After playing Clemson and South Carolina to open the season, facing North Texas should make the Bulldogs feel as if they’ve removed a 100-point weight from their backs. The Mean Green, led by former long-time Iowa State coach Dan McCarney, aren’t bad for a non-BCS team — they handed a pair of decent Mid-American Conference squads, Ohio and Ball State, those teams’ lone losses this year — but there’s light-years difference between a decent MAC team and pretty much any SEC squad. North Texas gives up 438 yards per game, so the Bulldogs should score almost at will. Georgia 59, North Texas 13
9. Vanderbilt at Massachusetts (+31.5): UMass is terrible in just about every aspect of offense and defense, and will struggle to draw more than 10,000 fans playing in a stadium 94 miles from its campus. Vanderbilt needs to shake off what was mostly a poor performance last week against South Carolina, and has legitimate questions on both sides of the ball as well. The Commodores will probably look to run, run and run some more against a UMass defense that gives up 7.2 yards per carry, but VU may not have the explosiveness (remember, VU beat lowly Austin Peay by just 35) to make this as ugly as perhaps it should be. Vanderbilt 34, Massachusetts 7