All week long, I've had visions of Neyland Stadium rockin' Saturday night, a full house, a rival in town and Derek Dooley getting his biggest win of his short career. And me, standing right there in the middle of it all, screaming a Woo!less Rocky Top all night, taking in a big win against a divisional foe.
The anticipation of getting back up to Knoxville is killing me.
It's been a great week already. The Vols are coming off a thorough whipping of Buffalo, and they got a huge commitment from a four-star defensive tackle in Dan O'Brien. As you're reading this, I'll hopefully be en route to God's country to watch the Everybodyfields and Avett Brothers concert at Smokies Stadium tonight and tailgating all day before the Vols-Dawgs on Saturday night.
It's an Epic Man Weekend, and, quite frankly, you need one of these at least every year. There's nothing better than watching two of my favorite bands [one reuniting!], seeing old friends and watching a night game in Neyland -- unless the weekend includes fishing, but that got nixed due to an unforeseen health situation, oh well. It's my idea of a perfect weekend, if only I could see my family in the midst of doing it all. But before we get to all that weekend excitement, it's time for the weekly feature that everybody waits for.
It's time .......... FOR THE LOCKS & KEYS!
Time for a look back at how the pod of prognosticators did last week:
SHEP'S PICKS [Makes me feel like Kelley Washington referring to myself in the third person]
Alabama -4.5 at Florida. In my heart, I want to believe that Florida is just really good and we played them almost punch-for-punch without our best player. Really, I think they're a flawed team in the secondary and in the running game. Bama, well, the Tide are just unfortunately awesome. It'll be a hostile environment, but I think UA wins by 7-10. I was actually hoping I would be wrong here, but after an early sputter, the Tide turned it on and showed why they were the best team in the nation, winning 38-10. 1-0.
Baylor -4 at Kansas State. Saw a statistic last week that Robert Griffin III has more touchdown passes than incompletions this season. That's just insane. Whatever the Bears are selling down there [and it's probably plenty with Lache Seastrunk ready to come in, if you know what I mean...] I'm buying. Take the Bears. As great as RGIII has been this year, who'd have thought he'd blow the game. KState came back and won 36-35 to drop me to 1-1.
Clemson +7 at Virginia Tech. They burned me last week, and every fiber of me is saying "THEY'RE STILL CLEMSON. STAY AWAY" but I just can't. I know it's at night at Lane, but I love this Sammy Watkins kid, and I think Tahj Boyd is playing terrific football this year. This game will be real close, but I think the Tigers cover. If BCS rankings were available yet, the Tigers would be second behind Bama. They crushed VT in Blacksburg, 23-3. Puts me at 2-1.
SMU +13 at TCU. I've said it and said it, and it has been fruitful for me so far this season -- the Horned Frogs are still a good football team. I like June Jones' offense, and I know the Mustangs can make some things happen there, but this game just feels like a frog walk. Looking back, this was just a completely stupid pick. Mustangs won 40-33. Screw TCU. 2-2.
Utah State +8 at BYU. After a stunning 54-10 thumping at the hands of Utah, the Mormons got a lot better last week in a 24-17 win over a pretty good Central Florida team. Eventually, Jake Heaps has to start living up to the hype, so I like the Cougars here. Again, just not a good pick. Honestly, this one goes on poor research, too. I forgot Utah State gave Auburn all it could handle. But they still couldn't beat the Cougars. Still, covered, losing 27-24. 2-3.
- Cincinnati -15 at Miami Ohio. Stunningly, a normally pretty good Red Hawks team is 0-3 after losses to Missouri, Bowling Green and Minnesota. And they're only getting 15 against a dynamic Cincy offensive team? While I believe Miami is a pretty good team with a tough schedule, I don't think they stay that close. Bearcats cover. It wasn't real pretty, but a 21-point third quarter led the Bearcats to a 27-0 win and evened by record at 3-3.
Showings like this aren't going to get me anywhere in expanding my lead over these two Yahoos.
KID B'S PICKS
LA-Lafayette-9 @ FAU: Hey guys, I like Howard Schnellenberger too. The pipe. That booming voice. Coolness epitomized. Plus my parents are Louisville grads, and so I even have a bit of a Schnellenberger connection. So this isn't personal; it's business. FAU sucks, and this spread should be about 21. ULaLa barely won this one 37-34. I'd comment further if I knew anything else about the teams. And Schnellenberger's stache is staring at me. 0-1.
Notre Dame-12 @ Purdue: The Domers didn't cover for me last week, but I'm going back to them because the bottom four teams in the B1G are dreadful dreadful dreadful and dreadful....and Purdue is one of those teams. Notre Dame should open this one up against a Purdue team that no longer has Drew Brees playing the quarterback position. Brian Kelly's boys looked pretty sharp in a 38-10 thumping of their next-door neighbors. 1-1.
Arkansas State -13.5 at Western Kentucky: Hugh Freeze is my homeboy.The Hilltoppers are getting a lot better as a program, and though that doesn't reflect in their 0-4 record, they're playing much better competition closer. WKU lost, but only 26-22. 1-2.
Team-that-plays-memphis-22.5 vs. Memphis: I'm not just gonna voluntarily step off this gravy train. Memphis is horrible, but MTSU isn't what it has been lately, either. Blue Raiders won 38-31 but didn't cover. 1-3.
Northern Illinois-9 at Central Michigan: For those of you aren't familiar with the Michigan directional schools, the quick summary this year is that they get worse as they move closer to the Atlantic Ocean. The slightly more nuanced answer is that Central Michigan is just a little bit better than Eastern Michigan, who is still just impeccably bad at the game of football. Northern Illinois has taken a slight step back from last year when they were juggernautin' all over the miggadda miggadda MAC, but do notice that word 'slight'. The Huskies win this one comfortably. Kid, Kid, Kid, I feel for ya this week, man. The Chippewas showed Life without LeFevour, winning 48-41 and dropping the Kid to 1-4.
- Fighting Zookers-8 vs. the team quarterbacked by the Legendary Dan "droplets of his perspiration cured 7 uncurable diseases" Persa: My goal is to go 6-0 this week, and I indicated that I would be choosing games solely for the purpose of achieving that end. Well, perhaps that statement was only 83% true. This game I am choosing because, after Illinois covers, I will proceed to subject my esteemed lock-picking colleague I_S to a seemingly endless stream of Dan Persa jokes. I already have several jotted down. What was your goal again, Kid? The Zookers won 38-35 to jump off to its first 5-0 start in AD. But they didn't cover. 1-5. Yowza.
All of a sudden, 3-3 for the ol Shepster doesn't seem so bad.
Florida Atlantic +10 @ULL. Florida Atlantic rolls over for BCS teams and then is sometimes almost decent in Sun Belt play. Also, sandwich special for ULL (FIU last week, Troy next week)! Yes, I also picked Oregon State and Kentucky this week. Don't judge. As we said, the Fighting Mustaches held their own in a loss. 1-0.
Rutgers +3 @Syracuse. Rutgers is improved this year, and Syracuse isn't. I'll take the better team catching points. Nice pick here. The Scarlet Knights won outright 19-16, and Doug Marrone probably hasn't smiled since July. 2-0.
New Mexico State -1.5 @New Mexico. New Mexico State is better anyways, and New Mexico just fired their coach. Good timing, that. For me at least. I didn't even know they played football in that state. Aggies won 42-28, and I_S keeps rolling like Limp Bizkit. 3-0.
Virginia Tech -7 vs Clemson. Clemson has had big, emotional wins over big-name teams two weeks in a row. Now they have to play a third tough game in a row? At night in Blacksburg? Give me the Hokies, please. FEAR THE DABO! 3-1.
- Boise State -15 vs Nevada (1H). They've been a little banged up, and they might pull players out early if they get a big lead. But this is Boise's Super Bowl this year, after what happened at the end of last year. Broncos score early and often. Boise got this one, yo, cruising to a 20-0 halftime lead and winning 30-10. 4-1.
- Georgia Tech -10 @NC State. As KidB said, NIU should destroy Central on the road. Just not as bad as Georgia Tech destroys NC State on the road. You realize how many defensive linemen and linebackers the 'Pack are missing to injury? Against an option team. The Yellow Jackets won 45-35, so this one's a push, and I_S finishes the week 4-1-1.
Don't look now, but the man with the screen name so long I'll start calling him Scrabble [Thanks, Cardinals!] has made a significant move.
Shep now stands at 16-12 (57%). Kid is 10-14 (42%). I_S is 11-12-1 (48%).
FIVE KEYS FOR TENNESSEE
- Stop the Scramble. Aaron Murray is a good quarterback having a bad year, and a lot of that probably has to do with the offensive line not performing as well as it was expected. The Vols must get pressure on Murray, but more importantly, the Vols cannot get caught out of position and allow Murray to sneak out and get rushing yards. He can beat you with his feet and burned UT with a long run last year. It's essential the Vols don't let him get the edge.
- Convert the Crucial Downs. The Vols lead the nation in third-down efficiency at 62% per game. The Bulldogs lead the conference and are second in the nation in third-down defense. Tennessee was just 4-of-12 against Florida on that crucial down but has obliterated everybody else. Tyler Bray and the Vols must convert those critical plays, must keep drives alive and must put offensive pressure on UGA.
- Don't Get Burned By Boykin. I shudder to think of our kickers getting the ball to Brandon Boykin and letting him run crazy. That level of fear doesn't quite reach Brandon James-Javy Arenas level but it's close. UT's kick coverage teams have been much improved this year, but this will be a major test because Boykin is the real deal in the return game.
- Hold the Fort. Tennessee's offensive line has been disappointing this year, and now it goes against 350-pound nose tackle Kwame Geathers and another big DT in John Jenkins. Those guys have wreaked havoc this year, and UGA's rush defense has been pretty stellar because of them. I don't know if the Vols will be able to run the football, but they have to keep those two big boys at bay. And, most importantly, keep Bray upright.
- Make Big Defensive Plays. The Vols have been OK this year on defense, but they simply haven't shown the ability to make big game-changing plays. That's probably because the talent over there just isn't up to the level it needs to be yet. But Murray has been mistake-prone this season, and the Dawgs also have a freshman runner in Isaiah Crowell. UT needs to force some turnovers that can turn the momentum in their favor. Force the Dawgs into a couple of mistakes, and UT may just have the fuel it needs to win a major pivot-point game of the season.
NOW ONTO THIS WEEK'S LOCKS
- Tennessee +2 covers against Georgia. I normally stay away from the Vols in these types of things, but there is nothing that even remotely worries me about the Bulldogs. I also think this has the opportunity to be the most electric atmosphere in Neyland since South Carolina in 2009 being a night home game in front of a sold-out crowd. I just like the Vols here. Even if I were not a UT fan, I'd think it was a solid pick.
- Boise State -21 over Fresno State. The Bulldogs are coming off a loss to a bad Ole Miss team that lost to a mediocre Georgia team that was blown out by Boise. I hate playing that association game, but it's just a round-about way of saying I think the Broncos are much, much better than Pat Hill's team, and that equates to more than three touchdowns. Take Boise.
Air Force +15 covers against Notre Dame. I know that the Domers are playing some pretty good football, but this just has all the makings of one of those close struggles the Irish have grown accustomed to the past couple of years. I really think the Falcons are a good football team, and they'll come ready to play. They won't win, but I like the spread.
- LSU -14 over Florida. I'm not sure that Les Miles' Tigers are on the same planet as Alabama, but I'm almost certain that the Gators will find the same tough sledding against that Bayou Bengals' defense without John Brantley in the game. Not sure why the spread is only a couple of touchdowns here, but I like LSU to roll much the way the Tide did last weekend.
- Arizona State -4.5 over Utah. You know how sometimes you have to look twice at a line you think is too good to be true? This Utes team is 2-2 and just not very good, as evidenced by a 31-14 thumping at the hands of a mediocre Washington team last week. The Sun Devils, meanwhile, and 4-1 and look like a quality squad. I don't get this. Which means it'll probably be one I'll lose.
- Oklahoma -10 over Texas. I simply cannot buy into Texas. I know they're undefeated, but the Longhorns haven't looked very good this season. This game has been close recently, but I just think the Sooners have too much firepower this year. I'm nervous about this pick, but I'm pulling the trigger.
You know in the movie "Old School" when Frank hands Mitch his housewarming gift and then Mitch calls out Frank because it is the exact same blender that he had given to Frank as his wedding gift? Frank then replies, "I'm embarrassed". Well, after last week's picks that is exactly how I feel. "I'm Embarrassed". Here are six more possible losers for ya:
- Oklahoma-10.5 @ Texas: I know that this is a home game for Texas. But I just don't think Texas has ability to score like Oklahoma. And I don't think they can stop them from scoring.
- Mississippi State-19 @ UAB: UAB is bad, and I realize that MSU aren't exactly juggernauts this year, but I think they cover this.
- Iowa+3.5 @ Penn State: Upset Special! Penn State can't score to save themselves. Hawkeyes win this one outright.
- Virginia Tech-7 vs. The U: I don't trust Va. Tech with big spreads, but I do trust them to pick off Jacory Harris about 8 times after a conference loss.
- Ohio-8 @ Buffalo: I simply think Ohio is better at football than Buffalo. That's all.
- Arizona-2 @ Oregon State: For my 5th road pick, I will pick against the team that has difficulty tackling grown men carrying a pigskin.
Remember how I said I had a thing for bad teams last week? Well, FAU, Oregon State, and Kentucky all did me proud. I will not complain about 4-1-1, and I'll do my very best to replicate or exceed it this week. Still have a little digging to get out of the early hole though. Also, for my esteemed colleague KidBourbon, remember that guy who had Northwestern up 28-10 before getting re-injured? His name is Dan Persa!
- Bowling Green +11 @Western Michigan. WMU comes off an upset win on the road, goes to NIU next week. Sandwich special! And the Fightin' Clawsons are actually not half bad as road dogs.
- Wyoming +11 @Utah State. Seriously, Utah State plays close games. Usually lose, but they play close games. That's what they do. How are they planning on beating somebody by 11? Also, I like how Christensen gets the 'Pokes ready for road games.
- Eastern Michigan +21 @Toledo. This is a huge mismatch. EMU has no business being on the field with Toledo. But Toledo won as a road dog last week and plays a rivalry game next week. If this isn't a letdown spot, what is?
- Minnesota +10.5 @Purdue. I believe two things. First, Minnesota is not as bad as they showed last week. Second, Purdue is terrible and has no right laying double digits to anybody. Just ask MTSU.
- Hipster Miami +2 vs Army. Remember what happened last time Army came off a big win and laid points on a MAC road trip? Yeah, Ball State happened. Well I think that team you probably haven't heard of actually isn't that bad, and they'll net a win here.
- Missouri -3 @K-State. I feel like I need to choose at least one favorite, and it's down to Mizzou or West Virginia. Guess I'll go with the current SEC candidate over the wannabe SEC candidate. Missouri lost respect for a too close win over a team you probably haven't heard of and an overtime loss to a good Sun Devil squad. They get it back by ending K-State's streak of upset victories.