So, after last weekend's Battle Royale between Alabama and LSU, three of my Bama buddies decided to take to Facebook to call out Tennessee fans in general for being so excited that the Tide lost, labeling us as bandwagon fans, etc.
Last I checked, rivals are supposed to cackle and point fingers when the other team loses. That's part of football. If pulling for Alabama is ever part of my license of being a UT fan, revoke it. Sure, we've not had anything remotely close to "bragging rights" in the Alabama series lately, but that doesn't mean we can't take a modicum of joy in seeing their national championship hopes take a major hit, right? I remember back in 1998 when a bunch of my buddies at UA actively rooted against the Vols. It happened before then, and it has happened afterward.
There was never a time when I called them out for it. I simply would rag on them, telling them it's good that they have that to cling to since they have nothing to pull for with their own team. I get the same type of comments these days, and I did all of last week as I was preparing to root for the Bayou Bengals. That's part of it.
But bandwagon fans? Really? Here's the greatest thing about the whole episode: Two of my buddies who posted things calling out Vols fans on Facebook who were Alabama fans? Yeah, they were born and raised in Tennessee. Talk about bandwagoneers.
Anyway, Bama got beat -- fair and square -- and I lost that game in my picks ... gladly. After a couple of bad weeks, I need to regroup. So, let's get to it -- The Locks & Keeeeeeeeeeeeys!
A QUICK LOOK BACK
- Mississippi -2 over Kentucky. There is one thing I really, REALLY like about Houston Nutt's Rebels this season: They aren't Kentucky. Last week, the Wildcats played against the other Mississippi SEC team, and it happened to be the only game I won. I'll stay with the only hot hand I have. [Who really saw this? 0-1]
- Alabama -5 over LSU. It's the biggest game of the weekend -- maybe of the season -- and therefore I cannot get myself to shy away from it. I probably have no business picking this game, but I really believe that the Crimson Tide are at least a touchdown better than Lesticle's boys. Matter of fact, two weeks ago, I picked UA by double-digits. Not so sure about that now -- and it's hard to pick against Miles' guts in a big game -- but I think this Bama team is going to win the national championship. I'll be happy to be wrong. [Happy? 0-2.]
- Oregon -16.5 over Washington. The last time the Huskies played a high-scoring Pac-12 team, I figured they would hang closer than three touchdowns against Stanford. The Cardinal promptly scored 59 points and ran UDub out of the stadium. The Ducks are healthier than they've been in a long time, and while Sark is doing well in the Pacific Northwest, he doesn't have the horses yet to keep this one close. [Oregon has faaaaast horses. 1-2.]
- Stanford -21 over Oregon State. Speaking of Andrew Luck and the boys, I am stunned this line is only three touchdowns. Maybe I'm wrong -- and I know this is prime territory for an off week after such an emotional win over USC last week -- but I think the Cardinal sleepwalks to this line. [Not exactly a sleepwalk, but a cover. 2-2]
- Oklahoma State -21 over Kansas State. Bill Snyder's Wildcats are for REAL, right? Right? Well, in a 41-point slaughtering by the Sooners last week, they sure didn't look like it. I was scared off by the three-touchdown favorite Cowboys over Baylor last week, and it's one reason why I had such a horrible week. I hope I didn't break my streak by taking a week off. This is my third big-line gamble. [Not clear that Okie State can play defense. 2-3].
- Oklahoma -13.5 over Texas A&M. The wheels may be about ready to come off the Aggies after their third loss of the season last weekend against Missouri. The Sooners had their one big letdown two weeks ago, and they've got their offense re-clicking against a defense that has struggled all year. I like Oklahoma to cover and round out the favorites sweep of the week. [Not sure if the wheels are off or if Okie is just good. 3-3]
- USC-21.5 @ Colorado: If USC's offense even loosely resembles what I saw against Stanford last weekend, they should roll the Buffs without a great deal of difficulty. Colorado is getting some guys back on offense who were out with injuries, and I think this is what is keeping the line from being even higher. But (a) it isn't clear that these guys (a receiver and a RB) are going to be at full strength, and (b) they weren't much better when they had them in the lineup [There was a loose resemblance. 1-0.]
- New Mexico State +33 at Georgia: This one came down from 34.5 after a trio of Dawgs -- a key trio, to be fair -- were suspended for the game for hanging out with Janzen Jackson. I like the bigger number better, but I also like hearing that a walk-on will be getting the carries. Last year this wouldn't have mattered -- New Mexico State and New Mexico were both as dreadful as New Mexico remains -- but this year's version of the Aggies is like a full standard deviation better than last year's outfit, and can actually score points. They'll put about 14-17 on the board against the Dawgs, and this will be plenty enough for the cover. [KidB was just wroooong on this one. 1-1.]
- Notre Dame-13.5 at Wake Forest: I have this sneaking suspicion that Notre Dame is actually pretty good at football.[Good enough to win. Not to cover. 1-2.]
- Stanford-21 @ Oregon State: There is really no reasonable basis for believing that Stanford puts fewer than 45 on the board against the Beavs. There is, on the other hand, a substantially reasonable basis for believing that Oregon State puts less than 20 on the board against the Cardinal. Doing the math... [Winning with math. 2-2]
- MTSU+20.5 @ Tennessee: Deep down in places I don't talk about at parties, I worry about us winning this game straight up. [This was just a reverse jinx. 2-3.]
- Houston-28 @ UAB: The best defense is scoring again. Especially when the team you're playing isn't so good at scoring. And this Houston team, to put it mildly, is on a roll. [Roooollllling. 3-3.]
- Colorado +21.5 vs Southern Cal. So Southern Cal loses a huge upset bid in the third overtime, and now you expect them to stay focused for a Friday night game against an abysmal Colorado team? Let alone keep their legs for 60 minutes at altitude? I don't. [When justifying taking a team because they are abysmal goes wrong. 0-1]
- Oregon State +21 vs Stanford. Mike Riley is usually good for an o.O win late in the season. I don't think this is it. But Stanford just game off a triple-overtime win, and their whole season rides on next week's game against Oregon. If they can stay focused this week, they are truly special. [When contrarianism goes wrong. 0-2]
- New Mexico State +33 @Georgia. The Aggies have scored fewer than 24 just once this year, and Georgia is coming off an emotional win over a hated rival and looking forward to a revenge game against another hated rival. It makes me a little nervous when I agree with a chalk guy like the Kid on an underdog selection (see: Washington/Stanford, Tennessee/Florida. . . ), but the situational player in me can't ignore this spot. [When not trusting the SEC goes wrong. 0-3].
- Iowa +4 vs Michigan. Michigan struggled mightily against the only competent defense they've played this year. Iowa's defense, I think, is competent. And on "buy low" principles, is there a better time to hop on the Hawkeye bandwagon? [Good buy low. 1-3.]
- Kansas +14 vs Iowa State. Kansas is soooooooooo bad. But so are Oregon State and Colorado, so I'll just plug my nose and make the pick. Iowa State won by 34 last week. As a 14 point underdog. Yes, this is where I continue to gloat about picking them. And then ask exactly where there heads are, and if it's somewhere conducive to winning by two touchdowns on the road, even against the worst defense in FBS. [Kansas wins the ATS cripple fight. 2-3.]
- Northwestern +17.5 @Nebraska. Seriously, there are so many short favorites that I kinda like this week, and I considered Hawai'i, Navy, Arizona, Arkansas, and Baylor. But I'm a dog guy and a situational guy, and I just couldn't ignore the letdown possibility for Nebraska playing a team with a pretty decent quarterback. [Whose name is Dan Persa. Or Dan Persa's backup. 3-3.]
FIVE KEYS FOR TENNESSEE
- Pressure Tyler Wilson. If there was one single key to this entire game, that's it. It's not something Vols fans are going to like to hear because it's something UT has struggled doing all season, but the teams that had success slowing the Razorbacks -- Alabama and Vanderbilt -- were able to do it. There's simply no way to slow down the Hogs' high-octane, SEC-leading offense without forcing Wilson into quicker-than-normal decisions. If there was ever a time to turn up the heat, it's now.
- Possession-Sustaining Drives. The second key is keeping the ball out of said high-octane offense's hands. That means Tennessee needs to keep the ball and score touchdowns on 10 play-plus drives. The good news is the Vols are second in the SEC in third-down efficiency at 46 percent. The bad news is most of that success happened with Tyler Bray under center, and the Vols don't have that luxury again this week as Justin Worley will be starting. Still, UT has to run the football better, convert third-downs and score touchdowns to have a chance.
- Slip Something In Worley's Pregame Drink. I'm kidding here, of course, but we need Calm Justin Worley. Not Scared Justin Worley. Two weeks ago, when South Carolina beat the Vols 14-3 and Worley struggled in his first career start, he was rattled, and it affected his decision-making. Last week, he regrouped against Middle Tennessee and was mistake-free. Well, going on the road at Arkansas may not mean Worley is going to play as good a defense as he did two weeks ago, but it'll be a much more hostile environment than a mostly-quiet Neyland against the Gamecocks. UT needs something really good to happen early in the passing game to get Worley's confidence soaring.
- Remember There's A Second Half. Until one of Derek Dooley's teams come out and play a better first half than first, I'm going to worry that this trend is something that is going to derail his coaching career. Before everybody starts piling on, I know the Vols are not deep, not as talented, but as I've said a million times before, when/if it's a close game at the break, that belief that a win can be accomplished needs to kick in. UT needs to play a complete game in order to win. Anything less could lead to an embarrassing final score.
- Make Our Breaks ... then Capitalize. I fear this game cannot be won with just offensive scores. The Vols are going to have to get a game-changing defensive play or two [this has happened with some frequency the past two weeks] or in the return game. Against South Carolina, UT had two potentially game-changing turnovers only to see Worley turn it right back over to the Cocks. How many times have we seen Devrin Young bust a big return this year only to watch a drive stall? Those big momentum plays must be converted in order to win.
ONTO THE LOCKS
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Wyoming+16 @ Air Force: I dunno, Hooper is a good guy, and this seems like too many points. Why not?
- Boise-15 vs. TCU: Forget about past year's results. Boise is just a way better team this year than TCU.
- 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.]
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.