We all try to rebound from a bad-to-mediocre week picking games, and we look at what UT has to do shy of moving Mount LeConte rather than scaling it to beat the Crimson Tide.
It's hate week.
Unfortunately for Tennessee Volunteers fans, as much of that disdain has been spewed in the direction of embattled head coach Derek Dooley as the University of Alabama.
Granted, after last week's shocking, disappointing 41-31 loss to Mississippi State in Starkville, the heat has been considerably more turned up on Dooley but at least here at Rocky Top Talk, we've tried to take a step back and honestly evaluate the job he's done. Though that not-so-little evaluation [check it out if you haven't already] still wound up with the same frustrating finality, the last couple of paragraphs say everything as simplistically as possible.
Beat Alabama and everything is at least temporarily forgiven.
On the way home from work yesterday, I drove from Huntsville through rural North Alabama, meeting very few cars. Still, you know how many vehicles I counted that was decorated by Alabama gear? 37. THIRTY-SEVEN. If you knew the route I took home, that would astound you. What would astound you wouldn't have seen a third of that many 15 years ago.
I had to watch my wife put on her Alabama t-shirt, get in her Ford Edge with the "cute" House Divided tag on the front of it and drive to work this morning. I have to endure "friends" giving my child Alabama clothing that -- sorry guys if you're reading this [actually, I'm not] -- go unworn to the back of the closet.
So, while I'm a little bit disgruntled with Dooley, I'm ready to put that aside for the next couple of days. Some way, somehow, he needs to find a way to beat Alabama and at least temporarily put me out of my misery. If he does that, I'll donate a little money for him to stick around for 2013.
Meanwhile, after going 15-3 the previous three weeks, I came back to Earth with a 2-4 record. Thankfully, KidB was equally horrendous and I_S picked up a scant game, giving me a three-game cushion heading into this week's picks. Onto the Locks & Keys!
ONTO THE LOCKS
- Penn State +3 over Iowa. This one is going to be a good, old-fashioned B1G slobberknocker. How impotent is the Hawkeyes' offense? They won 19-16 over Michigan State last weekend ... in double overtime. They lost a barn burner 9-6 to rival Iowa State earlier this year. Listen, I like what Penn State has done this year, and Kirk Ferentz's boys haven't played a quarterback like PSU's yet. I like the Lions to win outright, but I'll take the three. Also love the under 42 here.
- Louisville -6.5 over South Florida. This is one of those "Am-I-Missing-Something?" lines, I know. The Cardinals burned me on one of those earlier this year against Southern Miss. I got scorch-marked last week with West Virginia. But I'm a Charlie Strong believer, and USF just isn't good. I think Teddy Bridgewater and the boys cruise.
- Rutgers -5 over Temple. Rutgers has the No. 2 rush defense in the nation, and that's really the only successful thing the 3-2 Owls have done this season with Boston College transfer Montel Harris. I don't know what a Rutgers is, but they've been strong for me this year, and I think this is a good, safe pick. I like the Scarlet Knights' opportunistic defense (+13 turnover margin on the year) and I think they'll exploit Temple's porous secondary. It won't be domination, but I can see something like 27-10 all day.
- LSU -3 over Texas A&M. Everybody in the nation loves them some Johnny Manziel, and why not? As a true freshman, you'd at least have to put him on the midseason Heisman watch list. But Texas A&M has to put on its big boy britches in this one. I'm just not sure they can hang. While I don't think this game will be a blowout, I see the Bayou Bengals at least covering.
- Iowa State +14 covers vs. Oklahoma State. I'm not totally sure that the Cyclones are ready to win this game, but Paul Rhoads is a good coach. Maybe a really, really good coach. He's got Mr. Barnett at the helm at quarterback, and they are going to be a tough play for anybody. The only X factor in this game is the Cowboys will be hungry after Iowa State knocked them out of the BCS National Championship Game last year. Still, I think two touchdowns is too much.
- Troy -6.5 over Florida International. I love Texas Tech -2 over TCU. I, like Kid B, think La-Monroe gets that win. I also think Stanford wins by more than three over rival Cal, even after flying cross-country from getting hosed. But I like this one better. Troy can play. They barely lost to Mississippi State, U-La-La and Western Kentucky, and they're 3-3. Meanwhile, Florida International is 1-6. This game is at Troy -- an underrated place to play. Trojans win by more than a touchdown.
KID B'S "hey, at least they're consistent" PICKS
- Louisville-6.5 over South Florida: Teddy Bridgewater did right by me last week, and Louisville is finally back at home after three straight road games. And they play a USF team whose lone FBS victory was a point victory over Nevada back in week 2. Since then they've lost four straight, with one of those losses coming at the hands of the might Ball State Cardinals, who are not as good at the game of football as are the Louisville Cardinals. So, unless USF has managed to turn a 180 in their bye week, I think the Fighting Teddy Bridgewaters roll.
- Indiana+3 over Navy: Upset Special! Navy burned me once, and then burned me twice. But I don't think you can burn me three times in a row. This Indiana team can actually score. In their last five games -- against FBS opponents -- they've put up 45, 39, 29, 27, 49. Navy has put up 10, 7, 0, 28, 31. Is that analysis airtight? No. But if Indiana gets ahead of Navy by, say, two scores, Navy will have a tough time wining the game as they can't score quickly.
- Cincinnati-7 over Toledo: Toledo just gave up 47 points to Eastern Michigan, who is arguably one of the top five worst teams in FBS. And they won that game by only 5 points. When you're beating one of the worst teams in the land by a mere 5 points, I'm not bullish on your chances of hanging in there with a decent Bearcats squad.
- ULM+3 over Western Kentucky: Upset Special! I really like Western Kentucky this year. I may have even made a hypothetical play last Thursday that they would beat some guy named Troy by two or more points. And their efforts in doing just that were very much appreciated. But I just really like this ULM squad, and so I'm gonna stick with them.
- South Carolina+3.5 over Florida: Upset Special! Florida is Roger Federer. LSU is Novak Djokovic. South Carolina is Rafa Nadal. WE all know how it works from here. Federer beats Djokovic; Djokovic beats Nadal; Nadal beats Federer. And since Nadal is about to play Federer -- and we know that Federer couldn't beat Nadal if his life depended on it -- the only possible outcome is that Nadal works over Federer just like he's consistently been doing since he was 17 years old. I mean that South Carolina works over Florida because they have a better team and a better coach.
- New Mexico+11 over Air Force: Just way too many points here. New Mexico has been playing quite well, and I see this as a close game. Bob Davie is my homeboy.
- BONUS PICKS: San Jose State-13.5; Washington+7.5; Baylor+10; Stanford-2.5; Nebraska-6.5. Chances of me hitting on all of these bonus picks and missing on the majority of my six pack are somewhere between strong and quite strong.
- Ball State -3 over Central Michigan. I learned my lesson last week. Central Michigan is bad at football. And Ball State has actually been fairly impressive this year. If the MAC is stratifying, as it often does, the Cardinals win easily. If the MAC is bringing the crazy. . . well then who knows?
- TCU +2 over Texas Tech. Look, I like the Red Raiders this year, even though Chris doesn't. But I like fading Tuberville off big wins, especially on the road against a TCU squad that can be good when they come to play. I picked Iowa State to beat Texas Tech as a 14 point underdog last year (the week after Tech beat Oklahoma). Iowa State won by five touchdowns. Maybe that's skewing my expectations, but I like the Frogs.
- Toledo +6 over Cincinnati. Hypothetically, I liked this even better at 7.5 earlier this week. Toledo, last week notwithstanding, is a pretty good MAC squad. It's always nice to get a small conference team at home against a major conference team in midseason. The small school treats it like the Super Bowl, the big school sleepwalks. And the Rockets are good enough to pull an upset if Cincy is looking ahead to Friday night's rivalry matchup with Louisville.
- Maryland +3.5 over NC State. Chris is going to flip out on me for picking a Maryland game, but I remain convinced that--despite being the beneficiaries of Florida State's choke job, that NC State isn't that good. Also, their biggest rivalry is next week. Good spot for the Terps.
- Clemson -8 over Virginia Tech. Okay, I'm picking Clemson and Maryland, so I probably deserve to lose every game. But beating Duke doesn't mean Virginia Tech is good. Virginia Tech, for some reason that I don't understand, has no defense. That's a bad position to be in against Clemson.
- BYU +13 over Notre Dame. Taking a team with a pretty good defense catching double digits against a team in a major sandwich spot (Stanford game last week, Oklahoma next week).
FIVE KEYS FOR TENNESSEE
- Stop the Big Play. Alabama has that grind-it-out, wear-you-down type offense. Anybody who has watched a Nick Saban-coached team knows the Tide can impose its will on you and eventually force you into submission. But if you've watched T.J. Yeldon run the football, the emergence of freshman wide receiver Amari Cooper or Eddie Lacy trounce Missouri, you know Bama is capable of gashing you for big plays, too. We've said it a million times, but we'll say it again: Tennessee cannot allow this to happen.
- Pressure McCarron. Everybody thought Alabama's offensive line would be all-world this year, but they've actually struggled at times. They've allowed A.J. McCarron to get sacked 13 times already this season. That isn't dreadful, but it's not great by their standards. Also, McCarron has a tender knee, so the more times you can legally hit him, the better. If he leaves the game, it becomes a totally different landscape.
- Make A Big Play [Or Two] On Special Teams. This is the first of two keys that will involve Cordarrelle Patterson. I'm sure he'll be returning kicks, and Devrin Young will likely be returning punts [though there may be somebody different back there if DY is carrying the running back load ...] Needless to say, a repeat of CP's 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown needs to be duplicated. Let's face it: The Vols need some unexpected points from somewhere against the nation's top-ranked team. The Tide hasn't had the best kickoff coverage this year. Here's a place we can have an advantage.
- Get the Ball to CP. The SEC's most explosive player is averaging nearly 20 yards per touch. He's touching the ball only seven times a game. That's inexcusable. CP is not yet a polished wide receiver, but that doesn't excuse not getting the ball in his hands. He even took a direct handoff against the Bulldogs last week and looked good doing it. In my opinion, he needs to get around 10 carries at least this week. We need to get him the football. Get it to Pig Howard too while we're at it.
- Pray. A Lot. Bama's defense is No. 1 against the run, No. 1 against the pass, No. 1 in scoring defense. Simply put, they're nasty. They haven't played a lot of quality competition, and this is the first time in a couple weeks that they will be playing an opponent's starting quarterback. They aren't invincible, but winning a game like this just seems insurmountable. The Vols have to play a complete game and play their best game in a decade. Plain and simple.