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

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Now that I have gotten the national games of disinterest out of the way, I will turn my attention to picking this weekend's conference contests. I went 4-0 in last week's S.E.C. forecasts, bringing my record for the season to 62-10 in league outings.

I'd rather be lucky than good. (Photograph from Fantasy Football Bookmarks.)

My recent success in calling Southeastern Conference clashes, however, should be taken as an indication that I have lurched arbitrarily into a random selection of accurate prognostications and should in no way be interpreted as evidence of competence on my part. Lest you be tempted to repose even the most minor degree of confidence in my capabilities in this regard, I should hasten to warn you . . . Don't Bet On It!

Western Carolina at Florida---Ah, November . . . when the rivalries heat up, the games really start to matter, and the showdowns you've been waiting for all year come to pass. Take, for instance, the Gators' home date with Carolina. Wait a minute . . . didn't Florida play South Carolina last week? All right, then, that's O.K. . . . I guess that means that, instead of playing South Carolina, the Gators will be playing North Carolina. I guess that could still be worth watching; after all, the Tar Heels gave Georgia Tech a scare . . . hold the phone, that isn't right, either. I suppose it must be East Carolina, which isn't great, but, since the Pirates hung tough against West Virginia, there might be something to this one . . . hang on a minute. Florida is playing Western Carolina? The dadgum Division I-AA Catamounts, for crying out loud? Oh, good grief! Florida will win and every conscientious Gator fan will hang his head in shame at the thought of playing this turkey of a game so close to Thanksgiving.

Even a passing reference to East Carolina warrants a picture of E.C.U. alumna Emily Procter. (Photograph from The Trades.)

Louisiana-Monroe at Kentucky---Unfortunately, this is a game that will be watched with interest in Bulldog Nation, as Georgia's position in the bowl pecking order likely will be affected by the Wildcats' final record. Kentucky's 6-4 ledger already has the Bluegrass State Felines eligible to participate in postseason play for the first time in the 21st century, so now the 'Cats are jockeying for position. Enter U.L.M., which seems to operate a Division I-A college football program solely for the purpose of providing schedule fodder for S.E.C. teams. The former Northeast and/or Southwest Louisiana generally wasn't up to the task of upending the Wildcats even when they were bad and this is the best non-cheating U.K. squad since Bear Bryant had a Lexington mailing address. Kentucky takes care of business in the Commonwealth.

Middle Tennessee at South Carolina---The mouth of the South is at it once more; after making preposterous accusations following this year's Georgia-South Carolina game, Steve Spurrier is whining about S.E.C. officiating yet again, this time claiming that the referees were out to get him. Obviously, this is childish nonsense, particularly coming from a coach who benefits from E.S.P.N.'s long-running love affair with him (which should not be confused with his alleged brief but torrid liaison with a woman in a chicken suit 27 years ago). Stevie Boy needs to get a grip; he can gripe all he likes, but this fact remains a fact: Darth Visor is 25-31 in his last 56 games on the sidelines. Steve Spurrier has taken South Carolina to the next level, but, given the history of Gamecock football, "the next level" was consistent mediocrity. Personally, I think Steve Superior is about another year away from checking into the Old Ball Coaches' Home, but, if it's any consolation, I believe the 'Cocks will improve the Evil Genius's recent ledger to 26-31 on Saturday.

The most interesting aspect of Saturday's game in Columbia will be whether M.T.S.U.'s costumed sideline mascot punches Plucky the Chicken right in the kisser.

Ole Miss at Louisiana State---As the Rebels limp to the finish of their third straight losing season, it is easy to forget the strength of the Mississippi football tradition and, particularly, the heated nature of the L.S.U.-Ole Miss rivalry. The Fighting Tigers' 40-7 walloping of the Rebs at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium last fall represented something of an aberrational result, as tight ballgames have been the norm between these two division foes. From Billy Brewer's first year in Oxford to Nick Saban's last year in Baton Rouge, 10 of 22 series meetings were settled by six or fewer points, with only five being decided by as many as 17 ticks on the scoreboard. It seems only right that close contests should be typical in this border battle dating back to 1894, as the epic clashes of the 1950s and '60s between Johnny Vaught's Rebels and Paul Dietzel's and Charlie McClendon's Bayou Bengals were bruising confrontations that often settled conference titles and sometimes decided national championships. Alas, Ole Miss no longer occupies that high plane and, although Ed Orgeron may have the program headed in the right direction, it will be a while yet before the Rebs will be able to compete once more with Louisiana State.

Arkansas at Mississippi State---Who knew the Western Division crown would come down to a game between the Hogs and the 'Dogs in Starkville? The Razorbacks have the chance to clinch a berth in the Georgia Dome with a win over M.S.U. Beating the Bulldogs sounds like an easy task, but this series, too, has been a close one since it became an annual conference matchup in 1992, as 10 of the last 14 meetings between Arkansas and Mississippi State have been settled by a touchdown or less, with two of the remaining four games being 17-7 decisions. I like the Hogs to win their eighth straight over State, but I expect the home team to keep it close just long enough to get Houston Nutt twitching and jerking like Robin Williams doing a late-night comedy routine at the Improv in a wet wool suit while working on two hours' sleep and a pot of black coffee.

In the alternate ending to "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," Randle Patrick McMurphy escapes from the asylum, moves to Arkansas, and becomes a college football coach. (Photograph from Sports Illustrated.)

Tennessee at Vanderbilt---There's an old joke in S.E.C. country: "What does Vanderbilt have that Tennessee doesn't? An in-state rival." Not a lot of folks in Knoxville are laughing at that one any longer. The Commodores won last year's in-state showdown and, in 18 series meetings between 1987 and 2004, Vandy lost to the Vols by a touchdown or less nine times. The 'Dores are becoming more competitive and Tennessee is running out of steam. I still expect the Big Orange to win in the Music City, but I don't look for the unpaid military men of Knoxville to beat the naval commanders of Nashville by a large margin.

Auburn at Alabama---The Iron Bowl threatens to become iron dull as Mike Shula inches nearer and nearer to becoming Alabama's Doug Barfield, the .500 coach whose five seasons on the Plains from 1976 to 1980 bridged the gap between Shug Jordan and Pat Dye. Coach Barfield went 3-2 over Tennessee and 2-2-1 against Georgia, but what did him in was his 0-5 record against Bear Bryant's mighty Crimson Tide teams. The 'Bama faithful might not admit it, but they "fear the thumb" as the War Eagle goes for its fifth straight series victory in the Yellowhammer State slugfest. The Bulldogs provided Alabama with a blueprint for beating the Tigers, but it remains to be seen whether the Red Elephants can capitalize on that knowledge in an emotional rivalry game that the Plainsmen lately have owned. Tommy Tuberville's teams have won 33 of their last 38 games and I look for Auburn to make it 34 out of 39 this weekend.

I hate Auburn.

Those are this week's S.E.C. games and that is how I think they will turn out, but, of course, I have a tendency to go well wide of the mark anytime I am forecasting the outcomes of games that have even half a chance of being competitive, so you should treat my prognostications as entertaining rather than informative. Whatever you do, Don't Bet On It!

Go 'Dawgs!