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

On Saturday, my record in S.E.C. predictions came back down to earth a bit, but just a bit, as I went 7-1 in last week's picks. (Yes, I checked the scores this time!) This brings my season-long ledger to 17-1 in Southeastern Conference contests, which is artificially inflated, since it includes all of the cupcake games on the various teams' September slates.

Since this run of success is misleading and will not last, you should be exceedingly careful about giving credence to any of my forecasts. If I were you, I wouldn't even use these prognostications as a rough guide to what might happen in next Saturday's action, but, no matter what you do, please, by all means . . . Don't Bet On It!

The Dawg Sports chief prognosticator is ready to begin making his weekly picks just as soon as the dartboard arrives.

Here is September 15's slate of games in the S.E.C.:

South Carolina State at South Carolina: You just know Steve Spurrier will be griping all week long about the athletic administrator in Columbia who put together this schedule. One week after the Gamecocks' big road win over Georgia---and, yes, Stevie Boy, it is a big win when you beat the team that has won three of the last five S.E.C. East championships, as evidenced by the raucous postgame celebration in which your team's fans and players rightly engaged in Sanford Stadium immediately after the conclusion of what they knew was a momentous victory for a program that had just claimed its first win in six tries over the S.E.C. team with the best winning percentage over the last decade---the Palmetto State Poultry will have to turn right around and get ready for this traditional in-state showdown. College football is littered with such intense rivalry games for local bragging rights: Arizona-Arizona State, Florida-Florida State, Iowa-Iowa State, Michigan-Michigan State, Oregon-Oregon State, Washington-Washington State, and, of course, South Carolina-South Carolina State. There is no game on the Big Chickens' slate more daunting than this one, as the undefeated Palmetto State Poultry host their in-state rival . . . wait just a dang minute here; Clemson is South Carolina's in-state rival, so who the heck is South Carolina State? Oh, right . . . S.C. State is a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference squad that competes against Bethune-Cookman, Florida A&M, and Howard. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say the Gamecocks will get the better of the visitors in this shameful cross-state beatdown.

Middle Tennessee State at Louisiana State: Considering how the Blue Raiders performed against Louisville, it is no exaggeration to claim that M.T.S.U. will give the Bayou Bengals' defense the toughest test it has yet faced. Middle Tennessee's strong showing in the game with the Cardinals has Les Miles completely focused on leading the Wolverines Fighting Tigers to victory over the Fighting Irish Blue Raiders. It's a good thing the Bayou Bengals are on auto-pilot---indeed, they might well be better off if their head coach isn't directly involved in the game---because Coach Miles is going to spend the first quarter polishing his resume before faxing it up to Ann Arbor at halftime. Meanwhile, L.S.U. is going to take care of business in a big way.

Coach Miles intends to show Brutus Buckeye Lightning who's boss!

Ole Miss at Vanderbilt: As an historical matter, Mississippi Rebels haven't fared particularly well against naval officers since their run-ins with David Farragut. Even though the squad from Oxford showed some signs of life on Saturday, looks can be deceiving. The Rebs' 18-3 run in the final 28 minutes---which would have been a 21-3 run, had not Ed Orgeron displayed the most idiotic penchant for futile two-point conversion attempts seen in the S.E.C. since Jim Donnan's daffy decisionmaking during the 2000 Georgia-Georgia Tech game finally got him fired---came only after the game already was out of reach, following the score that gave Missouri a commanding 35-7 lead in the second minute of the third quarter. The score looked more respectable than it was. The same, however, could be said for the Commodores, whose cosmetic touchdown halfway through the fourth period cut into a 24-3 Alabama lead in a game dominated by the Crimson Tide across the board. I came into this season ready to believe in Vanderbilt, but, unless the Red Elephants are a good deal better than I hope they are, the Commies still have a long way to go. Even without Patrick Willis, the Rebel D boasts five of the S.E.C.'s top nine tacklers. Of course, three of those are defensive backs, which probably isn't a good sign, but linebacker Ashlee Palmer and lineman Greg Hardy average 12 and 10 takedowns per game. All right, at this point, I'm just stalling, because I genuinely have no idea which team is going to win this game. Ah, what the heck? Eenie, meenie, minie . . . Mississippi.

Mississippi State at Auburn: Having completed the circuit of their Pelican State opponents, the Bulldogs make their way to the so-called Loveliest Village, where the Plainsmen are smarting from the upset that cemented U.S.F.'s stature as a rising power in the college football firmament. The Tigers are looking to take out their frustrations on someone and Sylvester Croom's unfortunate charges look like prime candidates for a bloodletting. M.S.U. has gone 1-24 in conference road games since beating Kentucky in Lexington in 2000 and the lone S.E.C. coach to have lost at home to the Bulldogs during that span was fired. Tommy Tuberville isn't about to get himself Croomed, so I'm taking Auburn to get it done at home.

I hate Auburn.

Louisville at Kentucky: Wildcat fans, be warned . . . back in early June, I listed the top five non-conference games everyone thought would be good that wouldn't be. At that time, I made it known that the Yellow Jackets would "roll right over Notre Dame," the Sooners would beat the Hurricanes "in a rout in Norman," and the Bayou Bengals would pound Virginia Tech. The final scores of those games were 33-3, 51-13, and 48-7, respectively, in favor of the teams I predicted would win. Admittedly, I also claimed Auburn would "crush Kansas State," which did not come close to happening, so I'm only batting .750, but, still, U.K. boosters should be cautious, as I forecast that the Cardinals would "trounce the 'Cats handily." A conscientious Kentucky fan respectfully disagreed, although he took issue with every one of my blowout predictions except the one about which I was wrong, so that may be cold comfort to the Blue and White faithful. Conference pride compels me to root for Kentucky, a division rival toward which I bear no ill will, but I still think U. of L. will get the job done. The first team to 50 wins and I believe that team will be Louisville.

Arkansas at Alabama: When the embattled Houston Nutt and the sainted Nick Saban meet at midfield, it will represent the single greatest disparity in hometown popularity since Flash Thompson tormented Peter Parker in high school. (This gap is understandable, seeing as how one of these coaches led his team to a 10-win season and a Western Division championship last fall and the other has victories over Western Carolina and Vanderbilt to show for his stay at his present billet. Hey, wait a minute. . . .) Something tells me I've seen this movie before; the Hogs, hiding under the radar and coming off a bye week, travel to the Yellowhammer State for a showdown with a highly-touted Western Division foe. Wasn't that the scenario for the Razorbacks heading into last year's Auburn game? Somehow, I have a sneaking suspicion history is about to repeat itself. I'm taking Arkansas to turn back the Tide.

Never bet against a crazy man.

Tennessee at Florida: The annual meteor game will take place this Saturday and I'd like to think the defending national champions finally will get their first real test of the season. I'd like to think that . . . but the evidence out of Knoxville to convince me that this is the case is scant, to put it mildly. Tennessee's defense was shredded in the Big Orange's opener against California and the Vols appeared sluggish against Southern Mississippi. Meanwhile, the Gators are stairstepping their way into the season using a slate only Bill Snyder could love. Urban Meyer's charges are tanned, rested, and ready . . . and they are lying in wait in the Swamp, biding their time before larger game strolls obliviously into their lair. Florida has fallen far short of making a believer of me because the Orange and Blue lack a meaningful win; the Big Lizards need a meaty victim and, this Saturday, they will be seeking Volunteers. The Gators get the victory.

Those are my usual misguided and erroneous predictions, by which I hope you have been at least mildly entertained but to which you should pay absolutely no heed, as there isn't a chance in the world that I'm finishing above .500 in conference picks three weeks in a row. You have been forewarned: Don't Bet On It!

Coming Soon: National Games of Interest. . . .

Go 'Dawgs!