Thrill of Victory

Week 3: Tough tests for Vols, Titans ahead

With all Southeastern Conference and NFL teams having played at least one game now, football season is in fully swing. On the NFL side, the Titans make their first road trip, and on the college side, a lot of SEC schools are playing their final tune-up games before things get more serious next week. Here’s a quick preview of this weekend’s action.

Titans at Chargers
The schedule-makers started the Titans’ season by giving them a game with the NFL’s best team (New England) last week. This week, what’d they do for an encore? How about send them to a team that’s beaten them the last five-straight meetings dating back to 2004, with an average margin of victory of almost 20 points?

Maybe some of those earlier meetings aren’t that relevant given the speed at which NFL teams turn over rosters. But the lingering memories of some of those beat-downs just won’t go away for me, the Chargers have a potent passing attack between Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates and some nice receivers, and now, running back Ryan Matthews appears healthy enough to play after missing last week.

The Titans should be able to move the ball a bit; Chris Johnson and the offensive line can’t be that bad, can they? It’s worth noting, too, that the Chargers’ offense didn’t play that well against Oakland in Monday’s 22-14 win. But San Diego always seems to save its best for the Titans. Here’s hoping Tennessee breaks the mold for this one, but I’m not counting on it.

Prediction: Chargers 27, Titans 20

Presbyterian at Vanderbilt
Okay, let’s get straight to the point here. Presbyterian is an FCS team playing in a 6,500-seat stadium. Last week, Georgia Tech put a bit of a run in the Blue Hose’s stocking in a literal sense, scampering for 469 yards (and passing for 243 more. For those of you who aren’t math majors, that’s 712 yards, the second-highest total in Tech history. The final score was 59-3, and, oh yeah, PC’s three came with five seconds remaining.

In other words, the drama’s not so much around how it ends, but when the walk-ons play.

Prediction: Vanderbilt 51, Presbyterian 7

Florida at Tennessee
UF’s Will Muschamp is 0-5 against ranked teams. Tennessee’s Derek Dooley is 0-10. The NCAA doesn’t allow games to end in ties here, so something’s gotta give this week.

The team that runs the ball better always wins this game. With Muschamp only using the pass as an afterthought these days, the Gators have put all their chips in the hands of Mike Gillislee, who’s proven up to the task so far. The Vols, meanwhile, have run in stretches with some success after having major issues on the ground a year ago, though consistency remains an issue.

So, you think you know where I’m going with this one? No, you don’t; I think this game will wind up being decided by somebody making a big play, and with Tyler Bray and a pair of terrific receivers in Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson, it’s the Vols who are more capable of doing so. Oh yeah, and the game’s in Knoxville, too.

Prediction: Tennessee 27, Florida 24

Other SEC picks:
LSU 45, Idaho 3: Once upon a time, the Vandals sacked Rome with regularity. Now, it just happens to their quarterbacks. There’ll be a lot of that in Baton Rouge on Saturday.

Alabama 41, Arkansas 21: The week started badly enough for Arkansas coach John L. Smith when he declared bankruptcy, got worse when all-star quarterback Tyler Wilson got knocked out of the game in the second quarter against Louisiana-Monroe, and then, the Razorbacks did the unthinkable and lost the game in overtime. It’s sounding like Wilson won’t play this week, either. Meanwhile, the buzz in Fayetteville is that any chance Smith had of being more than an interim coach is now gone. In case you thought it couldn’t get worse for Smith, it will: Alabama’s up next.

Mississippi State 45, Troy 20: Poor State fans can’t even enjoy a rare win over Auburn with the NCAA in Starkville over allegations of boosters paying recruits. On that note, Troy will need to purchase a defense quickly if it hopes to hang with a good MSU team, though it might help that the game’s in Troy.

Auburn 30, Louisiana-Monroe 21: Speaking of coaches who might be looking for jobs and athletes who allegedly played for pay, Auburn coach Gene Chizik is 19-31 as a head coach when Cam Newton’s not his quarterback. For that reason, a lot of Auburn fans are starting to ponder the possibility of going after deposed Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino after this season. Should Chizik lose this one, that’ll only pick up steam, but I don’t think he will: Auburn’s got too much talent and some of it will come together eventually.

Texas A&M 37, SMU 25: Speaking of athletes taking cash under the table… ah, never mind, that was the 1980s. Instead, a couple of facts you might want to know: SMU’s only game against an FBS team came against Baylor, which lost Heisman winner RG III and first-rounder Kendall Wright. In only 20 minutes with the ball, Baylor scored 59 points and had 613 yards. In other words, QB Johnny Manziel’s second game should be much easier – not that the first was all that bad as it was.

Texas 31, Ole Miss 17: Hugh Freeze’s offense is the talk of Oxford right now, but the Rebels haven’t played a defense nearly the caliber of Texas. If Freeze can win this came, start the coach of the year talk, because the man truly will be a genius if that happens.

Georgia 56, Florida Atlantic 7: The Bulldogs served fair warning to the football world by sticking it to a good Missouri team in the last quarter and a half with a bunch of key players either missing or hurt. Imagine what happens when UGA gets a lot closer to 100 percent, and then imagine what happens when they heal and play a Sun Belt team coming off a 1-11 season.

South Carolina 40, UAB 13: Will Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw play, or won’t he? The way South Carolina thumped East Carolina without him last week, does it really matter?

Missouri 35, Arizona State 34: Fortunately for Missouri, Old Man football > West Coast football. This should be a shootout down to the wire, but I like James Franklin’s Tigers at home, though it concerns me that Missouri’s offensive line is about as beat-up as they come.