So, now we're home dogs to Vanderbilt. I never thought I'd see the day. Blame it on depth. Blame is on the previous two coaches. Blame it on Derek Dooley. Blame it on injuries. I don't care.
It shouldn't be this way.
And, if we lose, you guys don't want Captain Irrational around next week, that's for sure. James Franklin is already winning his share of recruiting battles against the Vols. If he beats us for real, I really don't know what I'll do. Probably cry for starters. Then cuss. Then yell some more. Then kick a puppy.
What is there to say? Either Tennessee wins this week and next or I carve my eyeballs out with a rusty spoon. That's all you need to know.
Onto the LOCKS & KEYS!!
- Kansas State +4.5 over Texas A&M. Did I crush my Oklahoma State mojo? I can't decide. Two weeks ago, I went a different direction, and they covered. Last week -- against better judgment -- I picked them to cover 21 over K-State, and they barely won. So, I'm shaken. I'm not taking them giving 17 to Texas Tech this week. Instead, I'm going with Bill Snyder's Wildcats, who are still playing well and going against an Aggies team whose season is teetering on the brink of falling off the map. [Texas A&M winning a game in crunch time? Hahahahahahaha. 1-0]
- Louisiana Tech -2 over Mississippi. Normally, I'd stay away from a game like this. After all, Ole Miss just fired Houston Nutt, and players often play better with a rallying point. But the Bulldogs are really lighting it up lately, averaging nearly 400 yards and 30.2 points per game during their recent four-game winning streak. The Rebels have struggled defensively all year, and we all remember what happened to UT the week after we fired Phil Fulmer. [Wyoming, anyone?] I think Tech covers. [Not a rallying point, and the Fightin' Former Dooleys walk. 2-0]
- Auburn +13 covers against Georgia. I don't think the Tigers win this game outright, but this is a pretty gaudy line considering the rivalry and the fact that AU isn't a terrible team. [45-7. You read that right, I said 45-7. Holy 45-7, Batman. Yeah, crazy. Maybe Georgia is actually good. 2-1]
- Alabama -18 over Mississippi State. The reason why this line is lower than you'd normally expect is because everybody in the nation is expecting a hangover from LSU's 9-6 win last week. I don't buy it. The Tide still has a ton to play for, including a spot in the BCS National Championship Game. Nick Saban won't let them forget that. I like the Tide to cover. [A hangover even Saban can't cure. Almost covered anyways though. 2-2]
- Boise State -15 over TCU. This is the best line on the entire board. I haven't bet a Broncos game all year because I HATE taking favorites with huge lines. This may look like one of those mid-major brawls from the past few years on paper, but the Frogs are not on this level this year. Broncos big. [TCU small. But it's enough. 2-3]
Arkansas -14 over Tennessee. I've rarely -- if ever -- gone into a public forum and picked against the Vols. It hurts my soul. But since I think this one of the six craziest lines of the weekend, I can't sit here and honestly tell you I think UT will stay within two touchdowns of the best offensive team they've played all season -- especially one whose strength is passing the ball when UT's biggest weakness is the secondary. I pray I'm wrong. But I think this could be one of those 35-17 games. Or worse. [Worse. Oh second half, how I despise you. 3-3]
- Nebraska-4 @ Penn State: Honestly, I think there are probably six games that I like more than this one. But I've been talking sooooo much trash about Penn State in the blogpoll threads that I think it would be a bit of a wussbag move to not go ahead and go on record with this one. [Nebraska chokes away the cover. Would've been fine against the opening line. 0-1]
- SDSU-13 @ Colorado State: Colorado State is just a really bad football team. They beat New Mexico earlier in the year by 4, and they recently lost to UNLV. This one shouldn't be close. [Colorado State and their home/road splits. 0-2]
- Wyoming+16 @ Air Force: I dunno, Hooper is a good guy, and this seems like too many points. Why not? [Why not indeed. Pokes STRAIGHT UP! Hooper celebrates. 1-2]
- Boise-15 vs. TCU: Forget about past year's results. Boise is just a way better team this year than TCU. [Somebody forgot to tell TCU that. 1-3]
- Oregon+4.5 @ Stanford: I don't believe Stanford has the speed on defense to prevent Oregon from scoring. Every. Single. Drive. Have y'all ever watched an Oregon game via ESPN gamecast on your iphone/droid/zack-morris-phone/whatever? I did, and I think I learned more about Oregon from watching their game as a progressive sequence of rectangular streaks progressing across the screen of my device than I ever could have watching them live. And here is why. Most games viewed on the gamecast are excruciating. 3 yard run. Wait one minute. 4 yard run. Wait one minute. 7 yard pass. Wait one minute. With Oregon it was like their offense was going faster than the Verizon 3G network could even keep up with -- 16 yd run; 11 yd run; 13 yd pass; 37 yd run; 9 yd run. Touchdown....all with no delays in between each play. The difference was noticeable. [As an aside, the Kansas State / Oklahoma St game was almost humorous watched via gamecast. Kansas State would march up the field with these 15 play, 8 minute drives. Okie State would follow up with: Weeden complete to Blackmon 74 yards, touchdown. Okie State is EXPLOSIVE. I'm on a tangent. I'll stop.] [Oregon is EXPLOSIVE. 2-3]
- Michigan-1 @ Fighting Zookers: The Wolverines played a horrific game against Iowa. Basically everything that could have gone wrong did. I have no doubt that they'll bounce back and give the Fighting Zookers the type of whuppin' that the Fighting Zookers are accustomed to receiving. [Zookers look like they might not fight much longer. 3-3]
- Rice +16.5 @Northwestern. So Northwestern comes off a huge road upset and takes care of business as a three score favorite? That Northwestern, who is usually bad as a favorite anyways? [STOP PICKING AGAINST NORTHWESTERN AS A FAVORITE! 0-1]
- Utah -7 vs UCLA. I take the opinion that the Bruins were the beneficiaries of Cal's horrible road play and Erickson's biannual WTF game. Now they run into an improving Utah team, and I don't see them hanging around. [Oh. Ver. Ray. Ted. Utes roll. 1-1]
- MTSU +5.5 @ULM. One of my favorites this week. ULM led in-state rival ULL by two touchdowns with under two minutes to play and lost. I don't see their hearts being in it. And Middle usually beats them anyways. [Well, one team's heart wasn't in it. 1-2]
- Nebraska -3.5 @Penn State. Penn State either pulls together and has a Tennessee/Kansas performance or falls apart and has a Tennessee/Wyoming performance. When this was JoePa's last home game, I expected the former. Now. . . I see ugly. The same logic will probably put me on Louisiana Tech, but this is an even stronger situation. [Turns out Tech was stronger. 'Huskers build a 17-0 lead and choke. 1-3]
- Boston College +2.5 vs NC State. NC State won their rivalry game in an upset last week. This makes this the kind of game that BC wins. Now I did say last week was the kind of game they randomly played close, but let's ignore that. [BC wins STRAIGHT UP. NC State blames boring uniforms. 2-3]
- Kentucky +13 @Vanderbilt. Vandy finally thinks they can beat Tennessee, and they're not used to having to take care of business as a big favorite while looking ahead to a rivalry game. And it was Kentucky or Texas for the last spot--I have less distaste for the Wildcats. [I'll give Franklin this, he takes care of business against bad teams. 2-4]
FIVE KEYS FOR TENNESSEE
- Forget This Is Vanderbilt. I don't know why this would be a big deal to the players given that Vandy most always plays UT close regardless of record. But Tennessee cannot go into this game taking for granted that if they show up, they'll win. The Commodores are favored for the first time ever in Knoxville against UT, and this year's edition of VU is an upstart, pretty good football team under James Franklin. The Vols need to treat this like any other big game. Actually, scratch that, since they've not shown up and played an entire game against a quality opponent. Nevermind, remember it's Vandy ....
- Limit the Big Plays. Tennessee has allowed way too many big plays on defense this year, and Vanderbilt is actually one of the two teams in the SEC along with Arkansas for most plays over 40 yards. Zac Stacy has been enjoying a great season, and the Commodores have a little bit of firepower, especially with Jordan Rodgers at quarterback. The Vols need to limit those big plays and have some of their own.
- Get The Most Out Of Bray. I'm worried about Tyler Bray playing. Very worried. It has nothing to do with the chance for re-injury and everything to do with the fact that he's going to be rusty having not played in five weeks, he's going to be sore after not throwing much recently, and he's going to be the target of a pretty good defense. It has everything to do with us lining up in the Pistol formation when Jim Chaney has almost no experience calling plays out of it and UT players have zero experience playing out of it. Vanderbilt has potentially the best secondary Bray has ever started against in his UT career. This isn't going to be easy. We need Bray at his best, and he'll likely only be about 80 percent.
Run the Dang Football. Screw it. I'm going to keep saying it. Tennessee needs to be able to run the ball against somebody. In the past, we've had horrible teams that beat VU by running the ball only [see 2008]. We need to gain some kind of momentum on the ground these last two games. Even if it's not a key to winning, it's a key to my sanity. We are ranked ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTEENTH out of 120 teams in rushing in the country. Pathetic. Maybe we'll find that we can run from the Pistol like we found we can run from the Wildcat. I don't care how we do it. Just run.
- Man Up. Tennessee has struggled in the secondary this year -- that's not debatable. Now, in this game with Stacy being such a threat, UT will almost assuredly play man coverage on Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd. Doing this could spell disaster for UT unless they get great games out of their defensive backs. As we've said, Vandy is a different team with Rodgers back there under center, and they can throw the ball downfield. Not only does UT have to worry about Stacy but also Rodgers on that zone-read run that has hurt the Vols all season. It's essential that when UT stacks the box, they stay in their lanes because, if not, Rodgers can hurt you with his feet. And those DBs will be out on the islands with those talented Vandy receivers.
ONTO THE LOCKS
Oklahoma State -27 over Iowa State. All the Cowboys do is cover, and if you're a regular reader of the L&K, you know I've out-thunk [not a word] myself the past few weeks on OSU. Now, they're favored by a huge margin over a pretty decent team with their game of the year facing them next week. I know everything is pointing against taking them this week, but I don't care. I promised myself last week after their 66-6 win that I'd take them this week regardless of line, so I am. I will now light myself on fire.
- Clemson -7.5 over North Carolina State. The Tigers haven't been nearly as dynamic as they were at the start of the season, but they're still 9-1 and playing a very mediocre NCST team that just lost to an embarrassing Boston College team in a game where they only scored 10 points. I like the high-octane Tigers in this one.
- Tennessee +1.5 over Vanderbilt. I'm worried about this one, and I probably shouldn't even pick it, but I haven't got to take the Vols much this year because of how many injuries we've had. I really think that VU is the better team right now, but not by much. Also, there's the probability of Bray playing, the fact that it's in Neyland Stadium and that it's just hard not to pick UT to win a game that looks pretty close to even against a Commodores team that finds ways to lose. I'm taking the Vols.
- Kansas State +8.5 covers against Texas. We must be playing the name game here. Surely, the Longhorns are favored by more than a touchdown because they're TEXAS, right? Not because they really have earned it. This is a Texas team that just lost 17-5 to Mizzou. I'll go with the Wildcats, thank you. They'll win as dogs for the second week in a row.
- Houston -20 over SMU. Giving Case Keenum fewer than three touchdowns against an opponent like SMU looks attractive to me right now. The Cougars are trying to play the Boise-TCU no-name role this year. While I don't think they're on that level, they can score some points and will do enough to cover against the Mustangs.
- Oregon -14.5 over USC. Well, it was between this one and Oklahoma -15.5 over Baylor, and since I like pulling against Lane Kiffin more, we'll go with this one. It's the same reason the Ducks beat Stanford -- too much speed all over the field. DeAnthony Thomas is in the zone right now and just gives them another dimension along with all their other burners. It'll be fun watching him run all over the team he originally committed to.
Clemson-7.5 @ N.C. State: if you saw this game and talked yourself out of it on "situational" grounds, then congratulations, smart guy, you just outsmarted yourself. NC State is a bad football team. A real bad football team. Clemson is by no means a juggernaut. Heck, I was one of the people speaking reality when they were 8-0. And I'm still speaking reality when I say that they are appreciably better than NC State and should cover this spread easily. This might just be my favorite play of the weekend.
- Wiscy-14.5 @ Illinois: I smell trouble a brewin' in Fighting Zookerville. One of two things could happen: (1) the Zookers could continue their downward tailspin towards an epic crash, or (2) the Zooker himself getting perturbed at a press conference when asked about his job security is not an indication that the man is unraveling and his team following suit, but rather a calculated maneuver done with the intent of rallying his players and focusing their efforts on the singular purpose of unfettered domination of all opponents forthcoming. I'm going with the former.
- La.Tech+7.5 @ Nevada: La. Tech is no joke this year. All they do is cover spreads.
- Georgia Tech-11 @ Duke: Should be a bounce-back game for the Ramblin' Wreck against an inferior opponent that they really should be able to beat by two scores.
- THE U +1 @ USF: Honestly, I really can't get much of a read on the Canes this year, and so this is not necessarily my favorite pick of the bunch. Boise, SMU, Utah State, and a couple others were taken into consideration. The reason I ended up going with this one is because Kellen Winslow went to the U...and he's a $%#&*^ soldier...and he doesn't give a "you know what about a Vol, man....IT'S ABOUT THIS U!!" Also, I think if I can win 3 games out of the ACC in a given week, that will be a record and I may get some sort of medal or something.
- New Mexico St.+22.5 @ BYU: BYU's starting QB is out and New Mexico State was a team I was getting behind before Georgia brought them back down a level for me. But I shouldn't let an ass whuppin by an SEC team negatively affect my opinion of a team. I mean, come one, we're the ESS EEE SEE!
- Iowa State +27 vs Oklahoma State. Oklahoma State has been covering like it's their job, but when they won 66-6 last week, I promised myself that I'd go against them no matter what the spread. Yeah, I think differently from Shep. But OSU dominated last week, they're looking ahead to a national title play-in game against their arch-rival, and they're going on the road on a weeknight. EVERYTHING points against them, except that they're Oklahoma State.
- Ole Miss +30 vs LSU. When a popular coach is fired, pick them to absolutely choke in their next game. They did. A week later, when a popular coach is playing his last home game, pick them to rally. LSU is vastly superior, but they may be looking ahead to Arkansas, and this is probably more of a rivalry to Ole Miss anyways. Kentucky was able to keep it within 30, and I think the Rebs do too. But like OSU, the sheer talent disparity scares me.
- Mississippi State +13 @Arkansas. Arkansas has an outside shot at a national championship with a win over LSU next week. Or at least that's what they tell themselves. The Bulldogs can stay close to you if you don't pay attention to them.
- UTEP +14 vs Tulsa. Similar situation to MSU. Tulsa plays Houston next week, with the winner capping off an undefeated CUSA season and gaining a berth in the championship game. But UTEP can sneak up on you if you're not careful. Heck, they almost beat Houston earlier this year.
- Oregon -14.5 vs Southern Cal. Too many times this year, I've seen a pretty decent team get so many points that it looked too good to be true. It usually ends with the favorite opening up a can on them. That's an awful big line to cover against a good Trogan squad, but I can believe in Oregon and their can of Autzen second halves.
- New Mexico State +23 @BYU. I hate agreeing with the Kid on underdogs. It creeps me out. Because it usually ends badly. But I was between NMSU and Louisiana Tech for this last one, and he agrees on both. Like I said against Georgia, this is too many points against an Aggie squad that can put a few on the board themselves. But that was before we knew about 45-7, and BYU doesn't have 45-7 in their future. What will probably happen is we'll find that I should've picked Ohio State or San Jose State (the other two that made my final list) and avoided a Kid-friendly dog.