Don't Bet On It: Around the S.E.C.

Your patience has been appreciated as I have examined the upcoming weekend's schedule carefully in an effort to select the games most deserving of having their outcomes predicted, starting, as always, close to home.

I posted a 5-2 record in last week's S.E.C. picks, which wasn't stellar, but at least I correctly called the outcomes of the big showdowns in Knoxville and on the Plains.

Nevertheless, this drops my conference ledger for the 2006 season to 22-3, which should provide all the incentive you would ever need to heed my regular advice: Don't Bet On It!

The odds of this happening were better than the odds of me picking all of these games correctly.

With that, we turn to this week's Southeastern Conference forecasts:

Tennessee State at Vanderbilt---Last season, the Commodores defeated the Volunteers for the first time since 1982. This weekend, Vandy will go for back-to-back series wins against its in-state rival, something that hasn't happened since Robert Neyland's initial season in Knoxville. This is a huge game . . . I'm sorry, what's that? Not Tennessee, you say? Tennessee State? There's a Tennessee State? Oh, for crying out loud . . . even Vanderbilt can beat Tennessee State!

Buffalo at Auburn---Considering the fact that the Bulls are now coached by former Nebraska quarterback Turner Gill, this contest amounts to a clash between folks who are really ticked off about the fact that Miami won the 1983 national championship. How bad is Buffalo? The Bulls have won just six times in their last 50 games . . . and the wins were over Rutgers, Ohio (Ohio), Central Florida, Central Michigan, Kent State, and Temple. Uh, Auburn is, like, better than those teams.

Buffalo might have had a chance against Auburn if Jim Kelly hadn't retired, however.

Marshall at Tennessee---If a football program looks back on the era in which Jim Donnan was coaching it as "the glory years," that program fields a team that the Volunteers will beat.

Florida Atlantic at South Carolina---F.A.U. is headed to Columbia for the fourth of five straight road games to open the campaign. After winning 22 of 29 games between 2002 and 2004, Howard Schnellenberger's squad has begun backsliding, losing 12 of its last 14 contests, including four straight by margins of 52-6, 54-6, 45-0, and 48-8, respectively. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that even a South Carolina squad that was almost taken to overtime by Wofford can beat a team like that. In a way, this game will be sad to watch, sort of like seeing two heavyweights past their prime who have come back from retirement one time too many embarrass themselves in the ring. Sunshine State football was brought to the big time by Bobby Bowden at Florida State, Howard Schnellenberger at Miami, and Steve Spurrier at Florida, but all three of these once-mighty coaches have been reduced to coaching at lesser programs: Coach Spurrier at South Carolina, Coach Schnellenberger at F.A.U., and Coach Bowden at, well, Florida State. Anyway, the Gamecocks will defeat the Owls in this battle of the birds.

"Diane, it turns out that the Owls are just what they seem."

Mississippi State at U.A.B.---The Blazers have it in them to play tough against anyone on the road, as attested to by U.A.B.'s close losses at Missouri in 1999, at Kansas in 2000, at Georgia in 2003, at Tennessee in 2005, and at Oklahoma this year. Watson Brown's squad beat M.S.U. in Starkville in 2004 and this year's Western Division Bulldogs are woeful. I'm picking the Blazers to win at home in what will not be an upset.

Wake Forest at Ole Miss---As pointed out by Doug Gillett in his fine recap of last weekend's college football action, the A.C.C.'s status as the next great superconference has taken a bit of a hit thus far this season. Florida State and Georgia Tech struggled to put away Troy. Louisville administered a beating to Miami and Brigham Young took Boston College to the wire. The Yellow Jackets came up short in a home game against Notre Dame and the Terrapins were embarrassed by West Virginia. The Cavaliers were blown out by Pitt, narrowly survived a scare from Wyoming, and fell to Western Michigan. Akron and Southern Miss defeated N.C. State. Rutgers got the better of the Tar Heels and Duke is still Duke. That brings us to the Demon Deacons, who got to 3-0 on the strength of uninspiring wins over Syracuse, Duke, and Connecticut. How will Wake Forest fare on a road trip to Oxford? The road has not been kind to the Rebels of late, as Mississippi has dropped six straight away games, only one of which came against a truly daunting opponent. Still, Ole Miss has had its moments at home, going 3-3 in its last half-dozen outings in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. I like the Rebels to get it done in Oxford against a squad from a league that has acquitted itself poorly against non-conference competition this autumn.

If I'd called the game the other way, you'd be looking at a picture of Deacon Jones right now.

Tulane at Louisiana State---Even if this game didn't involve a Southeastern Conference squad, I'd still offer a forecast because I like to call attention to in-state rivalry games played prior to Thanksgiving, in order to remind folks that there is no good reason why Georgia should play Georgia Tech at the end of the regular season. Both of these teams were charter members of the S.E.C., but one of them left the conference in the 1960s and ended up in a lesser league, where it struggles to remain competitive and has wound up on the losing end of what has become a lopsided in-state rivalry against an opponent that has returned to national prominence as one of the dominant programs in the Southeast, making three championship game appearances and winning two conference crowns in the last five years, capped off by a stellar 13-1 season and a Sugar Bowl victory in a year in which its only loss was to Florida. Wait a minute . . . that's not like Georgia-Georgia Tech, that is Georgia-Georgia Tech! Since the Bayou Bengals are cast in the role of the 'Dawgs here, I have to go with L.S.U.

Kentucky at Florida---Both of these teams are coming off of big victories. The Gators beat Tennessee on the road. The Wildcats beat Ole Miss at home. That tells you everything you need to know. Florida wins handily.

Alabama at Arkansas---How did this get to be the marquee S.E.C. game of the weekend? (In Georgia's defense, we tried to upgrade our strength of schedule by bringing in Colorado. . . .) Neither team has looked especially impressive this season and, although the Crimson Tide are more likely to get the nod because of higher preseason expectations (such as they were), not a lot separates a team that beat Vanderbilt by three at home from a team that beat Vanderbilt by two on the road. This contest is scheduled to take place in Fayetteville . . . or Little Rock . . . or, heck, Evening Shade, for all I know; the point is that it's being played in the Natural State, where life for visiting teams often is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. I'm picking Arkansas to win at home.

Thomas Hobbes . . . a better college football handicapper than Danny Sheridan? Well, he would almost have to be, wouldn't he?

After that last prediction, I am sure you don't need reminding, but, just to be on the safe side, I should reiterate once again that, when it comes to my forecasts, enjoy them for what they're worth, but, by all means . . . Don't Bet On It!

Go 'Dawgs!

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