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Don't Bet On It: Around the S.E.C.

For the second straight Saturday, I was 5-0 in my S.E.C. picks, but most of those were gimmes, so nothing even vaguely resembling competence on my part should be inferred from my recent record in predicting the outcomes of Southeastern Conference contests.

Jodie Foster isn't a redhead, a Notre Dame alumna, or (as far as I know) Irish, but she is relevant to an observation I will make later in this posting, so she'll have to do.

Lest my season-long league ledger of 48-8 lead you to the erroneous conclusion that I have the faintest notion of what I am doing, I should hasten to add my usual disclaimer ere I get to this weekend's prognostications. Accordingly, I implore you with much vigor: whatever you do . . . Don't Bet On It!

Here are this week's S.E.C. predictions:

Florida International at Alabama---Why do the Crimson Tide schedule games like these? I can think of only two reasons. First of all, the Red Elephants bring in patsies like F.I.U. so Paul Finebaum will have material at his disposal. Secondly, they do so in order to make it easier for folks like me to predict the outcomes of college football games, as it is obvious to anyone and everyone that 'Bama is going to win.

A third possible explanation is that, by welcoming the student-athletes from Florida International University, the Crimson Tide will enjoy an experience in multicultural diversity of a sort not seen on the University of Alabama campus since Tuscaloosa got its first I.H.O.P. (Photograph from Kennyster.)

Louisiana-Monroe at Arkansas---There are those in the intercollegiate athletics blogosphere who like to bandy about the notion (which does not rise to the level of intellectual coherence required to dignify it with the label "idea") that the S.E.C. is a league of haves and have-nots in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer as six successful programs (Georgia, Alabama, Auburn, Florida, L.S.U., and Tennessee) grow fat off of the weak competition offered by the six teams (Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Mississippi State, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt) comprising what is called "a permanent underclass." Obviously, this theory is sheer idiocy spewed forth biliously by ignorant S.E.C.-bashing bigots who don't know the first thing about football. There is, in fact, a great deal of parity in the league. In the five seasons from 1998 to 2002, five different teams represented the Western Division in the conference championship game. Five of the six members of the alleged underclass have attended January bowl games in the last eight seasons, with three of these playing on New Year's Day or later within the last five years. The lone team not to have played after December 31, Vanderbilt, has become quite competitive in four and a half years under Bobby Johnson's direction; the Commodores lost four games by seven or fewer points in 2002, five games by 11 or fewer points in 2003, five games by five or fewer points in 2004, four games by seven or fewer points in 2005, and three games by seven or fewer points so far in 2006. Vandy easily could have won an additional 20 games under the current coaching regime, which, but for a blown officiating call in Gainesville last fall, would have guided the 'Dores to victory in the program's most recent series meetings with the "Big Three" teams in the East. Finally, unserious observers consider Arkansas a second-tier team in the aftermath of back-to-back losing seasons, yet, in 2006, the Hogs are virtually certain to attend their seventh bowl in a nine-season span and they are a good bet to appear in their third S.E.C. championship game in a 12-year period. In other words, the "permanent underclass" theory is as bogus as The Cover Two says it is and, oh, by the way, the Razorbacks will win.

Vanderbilt at Duke---If it were up to me, this would be a conference game. As it stands, though, the Devils and the 'Dores will square off in a clash of smart guys who decided to give sports a try. The problem for the home team is that, as noted above, Vandy has become at least somewhat adept at competing on the gridiron, while the Dukies still view football as an autumnal diversion designed to kill time before basketball season. Nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina . . . unless you're losing to Vanderbilt at home. Believe me . . . I know from losing to Vanderbilt at home!


How smart are Bobby Johnson and his players? They're smart enough to be able to spell "Krzyzewski."

Kentucky at Mississippi State---When an upcoming opponent on Georgia's schedule takes on the team that just gave the Red and Black a scare, the loyal denizens of Bulldog Nation will sit up and take notice. There is much about this game that will not be pretty, as the squads from Lexington and Starkville rank 11th and 12th in the conference in scoring defense, pass defense, and rushing offense. However, the Wildcats are performing respectably well in other areas, scoring over 24 points per game and amassing almost 250 aerial yards per outing, while the Western Division Bulldogs lack the weaponry with which to exploit adequately the visitors' weaknesses. In a sloppy, ugly football game even Jefferson Pilot couldn't love, Kentucky will notch a victory in the Magnolia State.

Auburn at Ole Miss---How is it that, of the two college towns whose universities are represented in this contest, Oxford isn't the one known as "the Loveliest Village"? The postgame handshake ought to be something to see as the lumbering strongman Ed Orgeron angrily grunts and shuffles his way to midfield to meet the oily yet well-manicured Tommy Tuberville. I'm guessing Tubs will add insult to injury by dropping a few polysyllabic words during their brief exchange, secure in the knowledge that Coach O will have to get a student manager to look up the definitions for him afterwards. (The Orgeron, incidentally, didn't get the "Ozymandias" reference.) The Auburn head coach will have the opportunity to add insult to injury because the Plainsmen are going to run the Rebels right out of the building.

Tennessee at South Carolina---All other things being equal, I will always pick the Evil Genius to get the better of the Great Pumpkin, both during the game and at the postgame press conference . . . but all other things are far from equal. Yes, I know the Gamecock faithful will be pulling a "blackout," dressing all in black for the game. It was one thing when the Penn State student section declared a "whiteout" in last year's showdown between the Nittany Lions and the Buckeyes in Happy Valley; that looked cool and glaringly illuminated the grandstands. Blackouts for night games, though, are sheer idiocy. What is the theory behind this, exactly? "The stadium will seem more intimidating if the opposing team looks up at a full stadium and can't see anyone there!" Besides, as Buck Belue pointed out on 680 The Fan this afternoon, the combination of black-clad South Carolina fans and orange-clad Tennessee fans will make the stadium look festive for Halloween, which probably isn't the effect the home crowd is attempting to create. Now, if a team playing an E.S.P.N. Thursday night game wants to declare "Blackout Thursday" and intersperse the action on the field with a series of misadventures in which Helen Hunt disconnects the stolen cable in her building, plunging the city into darkness and causing Matthew Perry to be trapped in an A.T.M. vestibule with Jill Goodacre, that might be cool, but, otherwise, the whole blackout idea is just stupid. Accordingly, I'm going to go with the better team, which would be Tennessee by rather a large margin.

On the other hand, Steve Spurrier couldn't be more inside Phillip Fulmer's head if the former were Hannibal Lecter and the latter were Clarice Starling. (O.K., I admit it: Jodie Foster as Phillip Fulmer doesn't quite hold up, but Hannibal the Cannibal as Darth Visor makes a disturbingly creepy kind of sense, doesn't it?)

That, as I see it, is how the weekend will go in the Southeastern Conference. Of course, I've been known to be wrong before . . . quite frequently, as a matter of fact. Please bear this in mind when considering what weight to assign to my forecasts and, by all means, Don't Bet On It!

Go 'Dawgs!