A 7-1 ledger in last week’s SEC picks improved my record for the season to 22-2 in conference games, which sounds pretty impressive until you consider how many patsies the league crossed paths with in the first three weeks of the autumn. Please bear in mind, therefore, that my weekly disclaimer still stands: Don’t Bet On It!
Here are this week’s Southeastern Conference contests, which will be played on September 26 unless otherwise noted:
Ball State Cardinals at Auburn Tigers: I think it would really be cool if David Letterman decided to become for the school in Muncie what Bobby Lowder
is was for the institution in the so-called Loveliest Village. You’d see high-ranking university administrators flying around on CBS corporate jets hiring replacements for coaches who hadn’t been fired yet, followed by late-night comedy bits entitled "Top Ten Reasons My Alma Mater Got Its Accreditation and Its Athletic Program Put on Probation," all topped off by gap-toothed grinning into the camera with the declaration: "The NCAA infractions committee is the finest law enforcement agency in the world!" In a game that could only have been scheduled as part of the Worldwide Leader’s plan to get every Division I-A program to arrange an outing against the team that comes after it alphabetically in the ESPN College Football Encyclopedia, the Hoosieroons will go down fighting against the Plainsmen.
Ohio Bobcats at Tennessee Volunteers: Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, uttered by Lane Kiffin about the threat of a flu outbreak in Knoxville after the Big Orange dropped a ten-point decision in the Swamp: "I don’t know. I guess we’ll wait and see, and after we’re not excited about our performance, we’ll tell you that everybody was sick." That is truly, genuinely pathetic. Think about what that says about the state of Tennessee football. Following a double-digit loss in a rivalry game in which the Vols did not perform appreciably better on the field than they did the year before, Coach Kiffin fils projects forward to the day when they’re "not excited about our performance." That means Coach Kiffin the younger was excited about his team’s performance in the game he just lost by less than anticipated. (Try to imagine Phillip Fulmer saying such a thing. Try to imagine Johnny Majors even thinking such a thing. Heck, try to imagine Robert Neyland not pistol-whipping someone who said such a thing.) When you compare the reaction of Coach Kiffin the lesser to the angst that gripped the Gamecock faithful after their loss to the ‘Dawgs, it quickly becomes apparent that Tennessee has replaced South Carolina as the SEC program most inclined to accept moral victories in lieu of actual victories. That’s just sad . . . though not so sad that the Volunteers won’t register a win (on the scoreboard and everything) over Ohio (Ohio).
Vanderbilt Commodores at Rice Owls: If this game is tied after 60 minutes, can the teams forego overtime and settle the contest using a Final Jeopardy! question posed by Alex Trebek? Seriously, if I wanted to watch snooty private school students play a sport, I’d have the courage of my convictions and watch Harvard take on Yale in lacrosse. I’m really going out on a limb by picking Vandy to win a road game, but I’m taking the ’Dores.
Florida Gators at Kentucky Wildcats: The Sunshine State Saurians last lost to the Bluegrass State Felines on November 15, 1986. That was about a week and a half after most Americans learned the name "Oliver North." It was exactly one week before Mike Tyson beat Trevor Berbick to win his first world boxing title. It was around the time I was finishing up the first quarter of my freshman year of college. What about this Florida team or about this Kentucky team leads you to believe this will be the year the Wildcats break the streak? That’s what I thought. I can’t stand the Gators in general, but I like them in this game.
LSU Tigers at Mississippi State Bulldogs: I keep waiting for the Bayou Bengals to put it all together. A trip to Starkville may be just what Louisiana State needs to start looking like the team I keep telling myself the Tigers are going to be.
. . . you’re going to get to the end of the Alabama-Arkansas game and feel worse. In terms of sheer fear factor, I’d be significantly more concerned about the prospect of facing a Nick Saban-coached defense than I would be of facing a Bobby Petrino-coached offense . . . and that is without taking into account the vast chasm yawning between the Tide’s offensive prowess and the Hogs’ defensive ineptitude. I like ’Bama to win this one in Tuscaloosa and I don’t look for it to be close.
Ole Miss Rebels at South Carolina Gamecocks (Sept. 24): Is there any chance of Colonel Reb pounding Plucky the Chicken into the Williams-Brice Stadium turf? Because I would pay to see that, particularly if the fight was followed by the winner being interviewed by Erin Andrews sporting her new "hot librarian" look. Wait, where was I? Oh, yeah, right . . . Thursday night SEC football. There shouldn’t be Thursday night SEC football, but, in any event, there’s this game, and they’re going to play it without regard to whether we want this game to occur, so I might as well pick it. You know what? I’ve thought all along that Mississippi was overrated by everyone (including, oddly enough, by me; we all ranked the Rebs highly, but none of us seemed to believe it as we were doing it), and I have such personal familiarity with the bear trap that is Columbia that it is the one sports arena in all the world to which I have sworn a solemn oath never to return (Georgia is 0-2 at South Carolina with me in the stands), so, while I’ll be rooting for Ole Miss, I’m picking the Palmetto State Poultry.
Clearly, I have plunged entirely off the deep end here, so caveats hardly seem necessary, but, just to be on the safe side, I’m going to warn you once again: Don’t Bet On It!
Coming Soon: National Games of Interest.