It is rivalry week in the S.E.C., which lends to the upcoming round of forecasts additional intensity, intrigue, and interest as teams compete not just for poll positions and the right to play the role of spoiler, but for local bragging rights for the next 12 months.
Actually, win or lose, Rich Brooks will be bragging about the fact that he has a job in coaching for the next 12 months.
Ere I turn to this week's predictions, though, I must acknowledge that, in last week's prognostications, I managed to eke out a 7-0 record, bringing my season-long ledger in Southeastern Conference picks to 69-10. At this stage of the game, any warning probably is superfluous, but, just to be on the safe side, permit me to add: Don't Bet On It!
Each of the following games is scheduled to transpire on Saturday, November 25, unless otherwise indicated:
Louisiana State at Arkansas (Friday, November 24)---There may not be a more underrated rivalry in all of sports than the battle for the Golden Boot. The Bayou Bengals and the Razorbacks have been squaring off on the gridiron since 1901 and they did battle in the Cotton Bowl at the end of the 1946 and 1965 campaigns before becoming conference opponents in 1992. The Hogs have already clinched an S.E.C. championship game berth, but L.S.U. still has the chance to knock Arkansas out of national title contention. The stakes in this one are so high for the Hogs that Houston Nutt is liable to spend the whole game spitting and fidgeting like Solomon Grundy while taking (and failing) one of Ken Kesey's acid tests, but all's well that ends well and I expect the home fans in Little Rock or Fayetteville or, heck, for all I know, Evening Shade to be in Hog Heaven when the Razorbacks win.
After the game, Houston Nutt may offer to teach Les Miles how to wear a hat in a way that doesn't make him look like a less hip version of Howard Dean.
Mississippi State at Ole Miss---The resistible force meets the movable object as a pair of 3-8 teams meet on the gridiron to settle last place in the Western Division. Seriously, can't we find a way to declare this one a tie and spare everyone the indignity of the Rotten Egg Bowl? On the other hand, no team in the league has scored fewer points than the 103 tallied by the Rebels and only one team in the conference has allowed more points than the 202 surrendered by the Bulldogs, so we should be in for a competitive game, as long as equal and opposite ineptitude yields a balance of offsetting weaknesses. While I don't rule out the possibility that this one will be settled by a safety in double-overtime to hand the slightly less putrid squad a 2-0 victory, I believe Mississippi has slightly more spark than M.S.U., so I like the home team.
Kentucky at Tennessee---I know they're technically rivals and all, but, come on, now . . . the Wildcats haven't beaten the Volunteers in their last 21 tries, oftentimes being torched to the tune of 42-0 (1985), 48-0 (1993), 52-0 (1994), 56-10 (1996), 59-31 (1997), 59-21 (1998), 56-21 (1999), and 59-20 (2000). While these teams feature the S.E.C.'s top two passing offenses, Tennessee boasts by far the better defense, as Kentucky has the league's worst scoring defense, worst pass defense, and worst rush defense. The prospect of coaching in this game should make David Cutcliffe giddy, for two reasons. First of all, he'll be able to do pretty much whatever he wants against Kentucky's porous D . . . and, secondly, he'll be giving seasonally-appropriate thanks for the fact that he's not down in the Magnolia State slogging through the sorry display that is Ole Miss-Mississippi State. The Wildcats' bowl position will not be improved by the beat-down the Vols will administer to them in Knoxville.
If they make it in Tennessee, it's sour mash whiskey. If they make it in Kentucky, it's bourbon. This is a point of pride for Kentuckians. That's good, because it may provide the Wildcat faithful with a certain solace after the Volunteers get done laying a whipping on the Blue and White.
Florida at Florida State---By coincidence, this Saturday will mark the 39th anniversary of the Seminoles' first series victory over the Gators in Gainesville. F.S.U. clinched a Gator Bowl berth by going on the road and defeating a Florida team that had lost 12 starters (including Heisman Trophy winner Steve Spurrier) from its 1966 Orange Bowl championship squad. It was a major victory for what remained, in many respects, a fledgling program not far removed from its heritage as the Sunshine State's college for women. Now the 'Noles are right back where they started, struggling for respect from the partisans of the flagship university. The Gators are looking to win three in a row over Florida State for the first time since the mid-1980s and I like Florida's chances to turn the Seminoles' disappointing season into a disaster.
South Carolina at Clemson---You'll have to forgive the fine folks from Columbia for being a bit distracted at the moment; now that even the mainstream news media have figured out that Mark Richt will spend the entirety of his head coaching career in the Classic City, the rumors swirling around the soon-to-be-vacated Miami job are centered around the Evil Genius. I wouldn't worry about Steve Superior leaving for Coral Gables if I were a Gamecock fan; for a former Florida football coach to take over the program at rival Miami would be as inconceivable a betrayal as, say, a former Kentucky basketball coach taking over the program at Louisville. Oh, wait, Rick Pitino already did that, didn't he? Well, I still wouldn't worry about Darth Visor leaving if I were a South Carolina fan . . . not even if Alabama came calling. The 'Cocks have much bigger concerns right about now . . . like not losing to their in-state rival for the fifth year in a row. They may keep the Ol' Ball Coach, but the Palmetto State Poultry are losing to Clemson.
The bloom may be off the rose as far as the Bowdens are concerned, but, if there's one thing the first family of college football still knows how to do, it's beat Steve Spurrier. (Photograph from TigerNet.)
Those are my takes on how this weekend's Southeastern Conference contests are liable to shake out, but you all know how little I know about such things, so please bear in mind that my prognostications are intended to be ornamental rather than useful. Allow me to put my disclaimer more succinctly: Don't Bet On It!