After I ranked Michigan No. 1 on my preseason BlogPoll ballot (which, to his credit, no less an authority on Wolverine football than Brian Cook warned me not to do), I had to do something to redeem myself, so I elected to go with posting a 10-0 record in last weekend's S.E.C. picks.
Granted, that isn't remotely as impressive as it sounds, since only three of those games were expected to be the least bit competitive and I regularly misfired when predicting the margins of victory, as I am sure my SB Nation colleague at Corn Nation would be quick to remind me. (Of course, he also warned me that all Oklahoma State had to do was keep it close at the half, so none of us exactly has the market cornered on correctness.)
Good fortune appears to have been brought to last week's prognostications through the posting of a photograph of Kate Walsh, so we're sticking with that approach again this week.
Naturally, given my almost comically bad skills at forecasting the outcomes of college football games, it virtually goes without saying that my fast start is indicative of an inevitable crash and burn, which likely will begin this week. That being the case, I shouldn't have to warn you, but I will, anyway. My predictions are for entertainment purposes only (if that), so, whatever you do . . . Don't Bet On It!
Here are my picks for next Saturday's slate of Southeastern Conference showdowns (excluding Georgia's game with South Carolina, of course):
Troy at Florida: Having acquitted themselves so well against a provisional Division I-A opponent playing its first official game at the major college level, the defending national champions now take a step up in weight class and tussle with the team that just lost by 20 points to the team that endured the worst offseason in the sport. Wake me when the Gators get around to playing a serious opponent . . . like, you know, Appalachian State. Florida will win by a lot and I will remain unimpressed.
Kent State at Kentucky: This is the first of two games this weekend pitting Southeastern Conference squads against teams sharing the same first syllable in the names of their respective universities. How seriously should the Wildcats regard the Golden Flashes after K.S.U. went on the road and beat Iowa State? Yes, Kentucky is better than I.S.U., but, just last season, U.K. surrendered 36 points to Kent State's fellow M.A.C. member Central Michigan in a shootout. Can Kent State, the school attended by future S.E.C. coaches Lou Holtz and Nick Saban, pull off a second straight upset over a B.C.S. conference opponent? I tend to think that Appalachian State's big win in Ann Arbor has everyone on upset alert and, after the Flashes' success against the Cyclones, the Wildcats will not overlook them. Kentucky will win big at home.
While I believe the home team will record a convincing victory in Lexington, I don't think it will be bad enough to provoke any student protests or anything.
Alabama at Vanderbilt: For the record, Bear Bryant's first game against the Commodores as the head coach of the Crimson Tide was a scoreless tie in 1958. I'm just saying. It's hard to know how good either of these teams really is after 'Bama took care of Western Carolina and Vandy dealt Richmond a setback, but this game strikes me as one of those three-quarter classics in which the Commies hang with an historic S.E.C. power well into the second half before falling by 10 points in the end. The Nashville Naval Officers will do their best to calm the choppy seas, but, in the end, the Commodores will be overwhelmed by the rising Tide.
Mississippi State at Tulane: Was it just me, or did anyone else feel his stomach start to turn during last Thursday night's M.S.U. game when Jackie Sherrill joked with Craig James about their old Southwest Conference days when S.M.U. and Texas A&M squared off in the early '80s? The Big Pony essentially said, "We sure out-cheated y'all when you first got to College Station!" and Coach Sherrill more or less replied, "Yeah, but we got to where we out-cheated y'all after a while, didn't we?" Listening to a football coach as truly repugnant as Jackie Sherrill makes it all the more regrettable to have to question the abilities of a football coach as genuinely admirable as Sylvester Croom, but, for all the mess that Sly inherited in Starkville, his teams have shown few, if any, signs of progress since his arrival. When your team's non-conference outing against the Green Wave is considered a "must win," that's a sign that your coaching career is going badly. Fortunately for Coach Croom, Tulane has nothing to slow down a Bulldog offense that rolled up 146 yards, nine first downs, and no points on L.S.U. Seriously, the Conference USA bottom-feeder gave up 400 points last season and ranked 108th in total defense, 113th in pass defense, and 113th in scoring defense. To repair the leaky sieve that is the Green Wave defense [sic.], Tulane has brought in Bob Toledo, whose most famous coaching performances came at U.C.L.A. when the Bruins surrendered 49 points to Miami and 38 points to Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. In short, this is a defense even a Mississippi State offense could love. In this clash of the resistible force that is the Bulldog O with the movable object that is the Green Wave D, Mississippi State will get the better of a motion of the ocean for the last time this season.
Yes, that last line was a bit of foreshadowing of my Alabama-M.S.U. pick for the week of November 10.
Southern Miss at Tennessee: Although S.E.C. schedules are improving, there can be no doubt that the Volunteers have done the best job in the league of setting their out-of-conference slate over the last several years. (Of course, not having an annual neutral site game, a traditional non-S.E.C. rival, or an in-state opponent of consistent quality helps.) The problem for the Big Orange is the let-down after taking on a tough customer from elsewhere. Hence, Tennessee can beat Cal by 17 points one week and beat Air Force by one point the next. The Vols often find themselves struggling against lesser opponents (17-10 against U.A.B. in 2005, 34-24 against Marshall in 2003, 19-16 against Southern Miss in 2000, 17-16 against Memphis in 1999, etc.) more so than against B.C.S. conference competitors, so I wouldn't be surprised to see the Golden Eagles make a game of it, but, in the end, Tennessee will take U.S.M. on Rocky Top.
Missouri at Mississippi: After both the Tigers and the Rebels won last Saturday, is it too early to call this one the Unemployment Bowl? I hope not, if only because it's fun to imagine Ed Orgeron saying "Unemployment Bowl." I'll be rooting for Ole Miss, but I have my doubts about a team that held a 23-0 lead with two minutes remaining in the third quarter yet came within a failed two-point conversion attempt of being forced into overtime by Memphis. Granted, there is cause for concern regarding a Missouri team that held a 37-20 lead with three minutes remaining in the third quarter and had to hang on to win by six, but the Tigers can score some points. The Rebs' only hope is that the Mizzou players will be distracted by college football's second-prettiest set of coeds. Otherwise, Mississippi will find out the hard way that, although Missouri loves company, the Tigers prefer to go on the road to enjoy the Southern hospitality of an S.E.C. team they will beat.
"Show Me" State, huh? Well, gentlemen, Doug Gillett would like to show you the Ole Miss dance team. You're welcome.
South Florida at Auburn: For a while there, this looked like the trap game to end all trap games. It has been obvious for a while that U.S.F. is in a prime position to become a Sunshine State power as a member of the Big East (although no more so than Cincinnati is poised to use its Ohio locale to similar effect), but the universal identification of the Bulls as a team on the rise and nearing the verge of the breakout win that springboards a special season prevents them from sneaking up on anyone. The Plainsmen performed poorly enough in their opener that Auburn fans are demanding improvement from the coordinator believed by outsiders to be the architect of a conference-wide paradigm shift, so I doubt seriously whether Tommy Tuberville's troops will have the luxury of complacency during their preparations this week. Any team that needs a furious fourth-quarter rally to beat Kansas State at home surely can lose to South Florida . . . but the Tigers know that, so they will be more ready to face the Bulls than they were to take on the Wildcats. Auburn will win, dang it. (I hate Auburn.)
Virginia Tech at Louisiana State: Although, theoretically, I saved the best for last, I am on record with my belief that this one won't be close. Although the Bayou Bengals' 45-0 romp in Starkville was nowhere near as impressive as it sounds, nothing in the Hokies' lackluster opening win over East Carolina offers any reason to believe that Frank Beamer's squad is anything other than overrated. I like L.S.U. to win big over V.P.I.
Those are this week's S.E.C. picks, which you ought to know better than to take too terribly seriously, but, just in case one disclaimer wasn't sufficient, permit me to reiterate that you have been forewarned: Don't Bet On It!