As much as I'd like to not be superstitious, when it comes to football, I've got a little bit of in me. It's something I'm a little ashamed of and somewhat embarrassed to admit. Just a little bit.
FOr the longest, I had this little Nugget of concern in the back of my head that the hat I was wearinG to a football game or a ceRtain pair of boxer shorts I had on for the day may astrologically have a direct impact on the game. DUmb, huh? Well, for a while there when Derek Dooley first started coaching the Vols, I was watching a lot of gamEs in Neyland, so my attire was always coordiNated. If we lost a game when I had a certain shirt on, I simply wouldn't wear it to the next one.
WE still got bEat.
When my little boy Jackson was born and my trips to Knoxville became less frequent, I wanteD to Spend as much Time with him as pOssible and needed to Be near homE in case my wife needed help with our first child. So, many times, we waTched the gamEs over at my house.
We still got beat.
From there, I decided to begiN changiNg venues. We went to my Mamaw's, UnclE Billy's, moStly over at my parents' house and other placeS. Anywhere we could to change it up. My wife and my dad thought I was being a doofus.
Still, wE got bEat.
So, last weekend, I was excited when my Uncle Randall [a regular RTT reader] invited us over to his maNsion to watch the Bama gamE. By this time, of course I realized that it had eXactly nothing to do with any pregame supersTitions, clothes I wore or places wHere I watched the gamE. Basically, we just had inferior coaching, And we'd all gotten useD to losing. No, I was looking forward to the trip beCause my cOusin Ben -- Away from home for the first time -- was making his return home for the weekend from his freshman year at Auburn.
[Ben's a good kid and though he was raised as a Tennessee fan, he Certainly pulls for the Tigers now while He's going to school down there with all his buddies. He's a smart kid, too, but when I look at him and see that while he still loves the Vols, he's changed allegiances, it certainly concerns me about Jackson's future. After all, we live in Alabama, too, so going to UT is not a slam-dunk financially or from a scholarship standpoint...]
Well, Ben is sitting there, cheering for the Vols like everybody else, and -- you know the drill by now --
We got beat.
Even when fans of other teams are pulling for us, we can't come through. At this point, I'm thinking of watching the game on my cell phone standing on my head naked. Maybe that'll help. Or maybe I need to quit Xing out black cats as they cross the road, worrying about walking under ladders or quit trying to put together that mirror I broke seven years ago and just realize we're a broken program right now. Maybe that'll end soon.
Onto the Locks & Keys, where it seems I've got a dog fight on my hands. Need some winners, boys, like the capital letters say.
FIRST, A QUICK LOOK BACK
SHEP (Week 8: 3-3, Total 29-19)
- Northwestern -5.5 over Iowa. I watched that Wildcats game against Nebraska last week and was very impressed. I also saw them against a Vanderbilt team that looks like it's getting better every week. I felt just the opposite about Iowa last week. They are a truly awful offensive team. I think Pat Fitzgerald has his alma mater looking good, and I like them to cover.
- Oregon State -3.5 over Washington. Part of this is my hatred for Justin Wilcox. Most of it is the fact that I love Mike Riley, and the Beavers are likely getting their starting quarterback back for this one. OSU plays some hard-nosed defense often, which is more than most Pac-12 teams can say. I think the Huskies are a bunch of posers, and they'll get exposed in this one. Oregon State is for real.
- Baylor +2.5 over Iowa State. Last week, we saw what the Cyclones looked like against a football team that scored tons of points. Granted, the Bears' defense is worse than Oklahoma State's, but I don't think Paul Rhoads' boys have the offensive firepower to keep up with a team like Baylor. I'll take Baylor and the points.
- TCU +7.5 over Oklahoma State. Some time during last week's win over Iowa State, JW Walsh got hurt and is out for the season. While the Cowboys could have fellow freshman Wes Lunt back this week, even if he plays this has all the feeling of one of those 48-45 games to me. I think 7.5 is too attractive not to take.
- Western Kentucky -7 over Florida International. This is consecutive weeks that I'm betting against FIU. They burned me last week when that guy named Troy failed to show up. But I believe in Willie Taggert, and I believe in the Hilltoppers to win by much more than a touchdown.
- Rutgers -13.5 over Kent State. Until they give me a reason not to pick them, I'm going to keep playing the Scarlet Knights. They've been nothing but money for me all season and a week after road-grading a Temple team much better than the Golden Flashes after taking a week off, they're going to celebrate a week off from the Big East with another cakewalk. Look for it to be something like 31-14.
- Arizona +7 over Southern California. USC has about as big a lookahead as you can get, and Rich Rod has the offense to make them pay. Shootout in the Desert, one score either way.
- Minnesota +3 over Purdue. Do the Boilers even get off the bus after choking last week against Ohio State? Really rough spot for them.
- Michigan +2 over Nebraska. I thought Michigan would have trouble last week just because that defense is a bad matchup. This week? Nebraska's D isn't a bad matchup for much of anybody. Wolverines should take this one.
- NC State +7.5 over North Carolina. I've been on the "NC State is overrated" bandwagon for a while now, but they match up fairly well with UNC, and they always seem to win this game for no apparent reason. Which of course means they'll get blown out this week.
- Colorado State -6 over Hawai'i. Colorado State is awful, but Hawai'i is even worse, and they're even worse than even worse when off the Island. I hate laying points in a cripple fight, but I'm counting on Hawai'i to blow it against anybody.
- TCU +7.5 over Oklahoma State. I have no clue about anything this week. Doing anything with my picks is never recommended, but this week it's highly, highly discouraged. I just don't have a read on things. But Shep's reasoning seems solid here. I expected this line to come out at -1 after OSU's QB went down. Also considered Iowa State over Baylor. And was tempted to fade Toledo after a big win, but I just can't take Buffalo with a single digit spread.
- Kill All Distractions. This is much easier said than done. In today's instant news environment, you know every single player on our team has heard the name Jon Gruden this week. Heck, there are even recruits tweeting about the rumors. As of right now, Derek Dooley is still the coach of a team that can still win out and go to a pretty good bowl game. This is a South Carolina team that is not dominant. It's not out of the realm of possibility that we win this football game. It's time we did. And it still honestly may not affect the big-picture outcome.
- Play The Game Of Our Offensive Line's Lives. Jadaveon Clowney is a pretty decent football player. The Gamecocks have other stars on that defensive front, too. Basically, this is going to be the toughest group UT has faced all season with the best bunch of pass rushers. As good as the Vols have been along the offensive front, they will be facing another level this week. Perform well, and a group full of NFL prospects may see their stock rise even farther.
- Stuff Shaw. Junior quarterback Connor Shaw has been up and down this season, and as he's gone, so have the Gamecocks. He is a player who can beat you with his feet -- as the Vols found out the hard way last year. We all know what Marcus Lattimore can do, even if he isn't 100 percent. Against our porous defense, he's going to get his. The Vols simply cannot get out of their rush lanes and allow Shaw to scramble for first downs. If that happens, we won't be able to stop Carolina.
- Re-Discover That Long-Lost Passing Game. The Gamecocks were really expected to struggle stopping the pass a bit this season, and that hasn't exactly happened. They are fourth in the league, allowing 182.2 yards per game. Someday, Tyler Bray has to play up to his potential, and I don't believe that the 'Cocks' defensive backs can hang with Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson if they play up to their potential. After Dooley's criticism of Bray and Hunter last week, this game could go either way for them.
- Don't Face Ace. Ace Sanders in the running game is an X-factor. He is perhaps the most exciting punt returner in the country. The Vols and Michael Palardy don't need to let him get his hands on the ball. They should punt away from him the whole game and don't give up any cheap special teams points.