Sarah Glenn - Getty Images
The Vols have a Bye Week, but that doesn't mean college football takes a break. [Though it does for me as I go dark for a weekend to experience all the majestic beauty that idyllic Gatlinburg has to offer .... sigh]. Still, we're here to give you odds on the games we like and five things UT needs to do to improve this off-week, while they're watching the baseball playoffs get started.
I'm not a fan of Gatlinburg.
There, I said it. I know that's very un-Tennessee of me. But trinket shops, pancake houses, Dollywood and mullets just aren't my idea of a fun weekend. With that said, I married into a family full of not only Alabama fans but Gatlinburg goers. My in-laws love the Smokies like nobody's business.
In my family, it was always the beach. Every year, we'd load up the car and head to Panama City Beach. I'm from a large extended family, and, growing up, we'd all go together. All the kids would play on the beach, all the families would go out to eat. It became tradition. So, even when my parents tried to persuade my sister and I to go to Disney World one year at the expense of going to the beach, we simply didn't want to go. At PCB, we always stayed in the same hotel, did the same things, lounged, played putt-putt, ate at ice cream shops, went to Miracle Strip and Shipwreck Island. It was childly bliss.
Once I got older, we cruised the Strip for, ahem, other reasons.
But, looking back, it's just what you were used to. It wasn't necessarily special. It only was because we made it that way and that's what we always looked forward to. So, I get my wife's family's infatuation with the Smokies. I do. It just never was my bag growing up.
Still, it's the place my in-laws took their parents, it's the place Jen grew up going every year and it's the place she wants us to take Jackson with her parents now that we have a child of our own. I totally understand. But that doesn't mean that I don't whine when it's time to go.
But this year, my in-laws -- knowing it was football season -- actually asked me when would be the best weekend to go. Looking at the schedule, this weekend stood out. After all, the Vols and Tide are both off. It's still mild enough to head to the mountains and not freeze [though it's going to be on the chilly side this weekend]. It's just a no-doubt week to go. I felt like I'd actually accomplished something with this pick, like I could go and enjoy hanging out with them and "enjoy" Gatlinburg for what it was without having to worry about missing anything of any sporting significance.
Stupid me. Why oh why wasn't I thinking about the baseball playoffs?????
The only thing besides God and family that I love nearly as much as the Vols is the Atlanta Braves. I knew they were going to be in the freaking Wild Card game, but what I didn't think about was looking at the schedule. Now with us heading to Gatlinburg and the cabin booked, I'm staring at **perhaps** missing Friday night's play-in game and definitely missing the Sunday game if the Braves win against the Cardinals. I'll probably miss Monday's game as well, but since we're traveling home that day, I can DVR it and just turn off my phone for the trip home.
Still, you invest countless hours watching 130-140 games this year -- [I watch religiously] -- and you're not present for the Big Games. It makes me feel like a failure of a fan. Oh well, I need to just suck it up, throw on my wolf shirt and take one for the team. Maybe I can get some family man points, and the Bravos can win without me. #doubful.
Onto the Locks & Keys!
FIRST, A QUICK LOOK BACK
SHEP (Week 5: 4-2, Total 18-12)
- Penn State+1 over Illinois. Now we all know that Illinois is trash. Shep knew it last week. Good pick.
- Minnesota+7 over Iowa. Now we all know that Minnesota is trash. Shep didn't know it last week. It happens.
- Clemson-10 over Boston College. Solid pick. Everybody knows they don't play football in the Northeast.
- Louisiana Tech-3 over Virginia. Shep and KidB should have pooled all their money and put it all on this game. La Tech is legit.
- Texas-2 over Oklahoma State. Maybe it wasn't easy money, but it was money.
- Louisville-10 over Southern Miss. This game was played in standing water. Who wants to give Shep partial credit?
KID B (Week 5: 2-4: Total: 11-19)
- Louisville-10 over Southern Miss. Again, game played in standing water. Who wants to give KidB partial credit? [EDITOR'S NOTE: Shep does]
- Florida State-17 over USF. Okay, so we're officially removing the "juggernaut" tag from FSU.
- Texas Tech-3 over Iowa State. Ah, finally, some evidence that Ames isn't in fact haunted. Solid pick.
- Louisiana Tech-3 over Virginia. This was just Free Money. Poor UVA fans probably unpopped their collars.
- Alabama-30 over Mississippi. Ole Miss is a little better than perhaps KidB thought.
- Oregon-30.5 over Washington State. This missed, but doesn't it still kinda look like a good play? [EDITOR'S NOTE: This makes three straight years Wazzu has covered against Oregon, with all spreads in the low to mid-30s. So no]
I_S (Week 5: 1-5, Total: 17-13)
- Tulane+19 over ULM: Dear I_S: your analysis should have stopped with "Tulane is an abysmal football team".
- Navy+2.5 over San Jose State: Dear I_S: your analysis should have stopped with "Navy isn't good this year".
- Kent State+2.5 over Ball State: The MAC is a tough conference to pick this year. All the teams seem similarly flawed. So props to I_S for successful navigation of the miggadda miggadda MAC.
- NC State+3 over Miami: You had a fighting chance in this one. But the overtime gods were not in your corner.
- Georgia-14 over Tennessee: Always always think twice before taking Mark Richt on a double digit spread.
- Virginia Tech/Cincinnati under 45.5: this is what you get for even messing with such an atrocious game.
ONTO THE LOCKS
- Iowa State +7.5 over TCU. I liked this game before, and I definitely like it now that Horned Frogs quarterback Casey Pachall was suspended indefinitely after a DWI arrest early Thursday morning. I like it so much that if I hypothetically gambled, I would have called my hypothetical bookie at 11:24 a.m. Thursday to hypothetically lock in that line.
- Clemson -10.5 over Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets are searching, especially after being dominated last week by a pretty good Middle Tennessee team. I really like Clemson against anybody not named Florida State, and I've ridden them at times throughout the past two years. They've hit for me twice already this year. I'm awaiting the inevitable "We're coached by Dabo" crash, but I don't think it'll come this week.
- Mississippi State -10 over Kentucky. This was the crazy line that opened with Kentucky -14 -- obviously a misprint. Even though Vegas has corrected the line, I think it's still too low, just not certain money like it would have been. The Bulldogs are very good on defense, led by two NFL cornerbacks, and they're too fast for UK on offense. I think they come into the UT game undefeated.
- Boise State -9.5 over Southern Miss. The Mustard Buzzards kept me from going undefeated last week, but that doesn't matter. They kept it close against undefeated Louisville thanks to a deluge in Hattiesburg. They're still hot garbage. Though Boise isn't BOISE this year, they'll still cover easily. If they burn me twice ...
- Kansas State -24 over Kansas. I hate -- ABSOLUTELY HATE -- big lines like this. But Bill Snyder makes sure his Wildcats take care of business against the in-state rival, and KState is boss this year. I think Collin Klein could potentially get invited to New York in December -- that's how good I think he is. I also think the Cats win this one going away, something like 49-10.
- Rutgers -7 over UConn. Ugh. I mean, U-G-H. There is just not another game I want to pull the trigger on this week. I thought about UGA +1 over SC, but Bennett's injury worries me as does the Dawgs' OL against SC's defensive ends. As much as I'd love to go West Virginia to pull the upset over Texas, I think the 'Horns' defense is much better. I was talked out of one I liked all week: Florida State -16 over NC State, because the line moved. So, I picked this one by default. Confidence level? 45%. I know nothing about these teams.
KID B'S "they're all gonna laugh at your" PICKS
- ULM-3.5 over MTSU: Hold on, I_S and KidB agree on a pick? Seriously? Whoah, man, whoah! Something weird might be going on here. Somebody check the Mayan Calendar, stat.
- Georgia+1 over South Carolina: If you look at these two teams on paper, they are quite similar. But one statistic that is consistent with what I've seen with my own two eyes is that of yards/play. Yards/play is an indication of offensive firepower and, for myriad reasons, is just a way way way more useful metric than yards/game. UGA gets 7.8 yards per play. USC gets 6.1 yards per play. On the defensive end, UGA allows 4.9 yards per play and USC allows 4.1 yards per play. From this we can draw two conclusions: (1) UGA is simply better on offense than South Carolina, and (2) South Carolina has yet to face Mr. Tyler Bray. But, honestly, I didn't need any of those stats. I've seen these two teams play, and UGA is the better team, and by a wide enough margin that I'm confident they'll get it done on the road.
- Boise State-9.5 over Southern Miss: This line is what it is for two reasons. First, Boise had a very unimpressive looking final score against a New Mexico team that is getting better, but still isn't very good. Second, Southern Miss kept the game against Louisville much closer than what was expected. The latter happened because the game was played in three inches of standing water. The former happened as a result of several uncharacteristic second half miscues by the Broncos that allowed the Lobos to get back in the game despite being down 25 points at the half. Listen, I understand the Boise isn't the offensive juggernaut that it's been the last few years, but it's still a well-coached team that I expect to bounce back in impressive fashion and win this game in comfortable 2 TD+ fashion.
- Air Force-8 over Navy: The mighty Air Force Falcons begin defense of their Commander-in-Chief's Trophy as the lowly Navy Midshipmen make the trek into the Rocky Mountains in search of their first FBS win. But you can't always get what you want. Air Force leads the nation in rushing, has punted only once the entire season, and has a solid Senior QB in Connor Dietz who can both run, and pass a little bit too. Air Force is simply the better team. And with home field advantage, and fancy special black uniforms made just for the occasion, I have no reason to anticipate a Falcons letdown.
- Wisconsin-14 over Illinois: Recent evidence suggests that the Fighting Illini may have entered into what some have referred to as a "pocket of putridity". Which basically just means that we don't know exactly what's going on up there in Urbana-Champaign, but when you lose by four touchdowns at home to a bad Penn State team, it is reasonable to conclude that elements of disarray are likely quite pervasive throughout the program. Think of that Weezer song "Undone" (the sweater song). I think Illinois is the sweater. The program will soon be naked. But hopefully not on television. Unless we're talking coeds here. I digress.
- Texas Tech+5 over Oklahoma: If the Vegas handicappers were aliens who had just landed on Earth this year and had no knowledge of Oklahoma's history as a football program -- and only knowledge of what Oklahoma and Texas Tech, respectively, had accomplished on the field of play this year -- what would this spread be? Just food for thought. Personally, I have no reason to believe that Oklahoma is a good football team. And I have every reason to be believe that Landry Jones is a bad quarterback. What, you haven't seen him play?
- UConn +7 over Rutgers. Isn't there some sort of rule that no Big East game can be decided by more than a touchdown?
- Georgia Tech +10.5 over Clemson. Georgia Tech looked awful last week. But they looked like world-beaters three weeks ago. The truth is somewhere in between. The other truth is that they always seem to play Clemson well. The other other truth is that I don't have faith in Clemson's defense to stop
- Kansas State -24 over Kansas. One thing Bill Snyder always does is beat the [Fulmerized] out of Kansas.
- ULM -3.5 over MTSU. ULM has convinced me. They played with three straight power conference teams, they didn't let off the gas when playing on the road against a high school team. MTSU had the game of their lives last week, but this is still a team that's lost to McNeese State in the past month.
- UCLA -2.5 over Cal. What makes me nervous is that Cal is usually good at home. What makes me less nervous is that this year's Cal team hasn't demonstrated any ability to be good anywhere. And UCLA has.
- Penn State -2.5 over Northwestern. As usual, when we get to the back half of the picks, there are a bunch that I feel kinda okay about and none that I feel good about. For instance, I had to talk myself out of picking Wazzu just because Mike Riley sometimes loses these games for no apparent reason. So I'll take the Nittany Lions again. I'm not sure they're undervalued anymore, but I'm pretty darn sure Northwestern is overvalued.
FIVE KEYS FOR TENNESSEE (Since It's a Bye Week, we'll examine things that need to happen ... quickly)
- Weed Out the Weakest Links. There are a lot of things that need to happen with this Tennessee defense, but the first two that should materialize this week are taking Jacques Smith and Brent Brewer out of the lineup and plugging in Willie Bohannon and LaDarrell McNeil. I'm not saying Smith shouldn't step foot on the field the way I am with Brewer [unless it's at linebacker] but his gap control is so consistently poor that he just can't start anymore. Unfortunately, it appears he's always going to look like Tarzan and play like Jane, the way Phillip Fulmer used to talk about Robert Ayers before his senior year.
- While We're At It ... The freshmen cornerbacks -- Deion Bonner and Daniel Gray -- need to be worked into the rotation. Swagg and Justin Coleman simply aren't getting the job done right now. Again, those two should be in the rotation, but the freshmen are faster and can't do that much worse in coverage. UT needs to upgrade its secondary speed in the worst way.
- Have Tyler Spend An Entire Day Throwing to Mychal Rivera. The biggest enigma on this offense this season is the ineffectiveness of Rivera. He should be the best receiving tight end in the SEC, and Bray has thrown to him before. So, why isn't he throwing to him now? This is a match-up nightmare who needs to be utilized. With Mississippi State's quality corners, he needs to play a major role in this game.
- Make Cordarrelle Do A Crossword Puzzle. Or Sudoku. Or Words With Friends. Heck, anything to get him to maintain his concentration for an extended period of time. He's the most talented wide receiver in the SEC. While we need to devise creative ways to get CP the ball, he needs to take advantage of those opportunities when they come.
- Buy Curt Maggitt and Herman Lathers Hoverounds. These guys -- especially Maggitt -- shouldn't be on their feet at all this week. Remember when Maggitt was closing that gap on Mike Glennon leading to the sack-fumble in the N.C. State game? Where is that guy? Turf toe robbed us of that beast. He should have nearly two weeks to stay off it, which won't heal it but could make him feel better for the tilt against the Bulldogs.