Alabama played a really pitiful schedule in October: Georgia St., Kentucky, Arkansas and Tennessee. Not only are those the three worst teams in the SEC plus perhaps the worst Div I-A team there is, but EACH of the three SEC weaklings was broken in, and down, by a physical South Carolina team the week before the Bama game. I mean really, there are Big 10 teams that played tougher schedules in October.
A lot of squads would've lost their edge against a schedule like that: obviously Alabama didn't, and I have a theory. Alabama is so full of high school stars that practice and inter-squad competition for playing time is fiercer than most teams see at gametime. Say you're a star? Big whoop, there are two more just like you pushing for your spot and if you want to play then you had better bring it, both in practice and in games. When this dynamic is fully in place - as it appears to be - the Tide remains challenged and focused even when the opponents emit a distinct two-week-old fish aroma.
Don't forget that there's also a head coach who constantly preaches the importance of greeting each play and each challenge with equal focus, Throw in the fact that little could be better for a green OL than what amounts to four 60-minute scrimmages under actual game conditions, and sure, whomping the Sisters of the Poor got Bama ready for LSU as well as playing top-caliber competition sharpens another team - and without the injuries.
In other words, Alabama prepares itself regardless of the environment you place the team in. Nick Saban's Crimson Tide is practically a perpetual-motion machine.
Speaking of the Tide, you hear a lot of "anybody but Alabama" yakking, but people sure like to watch the Tide play. According to Sportsmediawatch, Alabama-Texas A&M is the highest-rated game of the year by far with an 8.5 rating, with Notre Dame-Michigan's 5.3 bringing up 2nd place. Ratings for the LSU game aren't available yet, but Zap2it's "TV by the Numbers" has released numbers for the 18-49 market at 8 p.m. Eastern Saturday, and CBS with Alabama-LSU had over double the combined viewership of Fox with Texas-West Virginia, ABC with Notre Dame-Pittsburgh, and NBC with Saturday Night Live. It's worthy of note that Alabama was starting to put LSU away by 8 o'clock, while that Notre Dame-Pitt game went down to the wire.
This week, ESPN ran a poll asking which BCS matchup people wanted to see. ESPN posed 5 possible matchups, 3 involving Alabama and 2 not involving Alabama. 84% of respondents wanted to watch one of the matchups involving Alabama.
I guess we're like a really horrible wreck on the highway. They may hate us, but they can't stop looking.
So they're saying the SEC is down this year? Well, ya know what, they say that every year. And it's never true.
The only thing the SEC is lacking this year is a real marquee #2 team like Georgia in 2012, Alabama in 2011 and 2010, and Florida in 2009 and 2008. But that's probably more a matter of optics than reality: what's the hard evidence that says 2013 Missouri isn't as good as 2012 UGA?
Fact is, the top 3 SEC teams have a combined total of 2 losses, and that doesn't even count LSU and TAMU. What other conference can boast 5 teams as good as that group? (Hint: there ain't one.) What other conference has a bottom three that could hang with Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee? (That one's a little closer with the Big 10 and PAC 12, but no, I don't think so.)
What other conference has Alabama?
When January rolls around, if things are the way they normally are, almost every SEC team will play a team that ranks higher in its own conference than the SEC team ranks in its conference, yet the SEC teams will more than hold their own. But that won't keep the SEC from being down again next year. Just read your interwebs, you'll find out.
It was another good week last week, at least unless you compare it to the other weeks. I went 3-2 to go 26-10-1 on the season picking SEC games against the spread. Feel free to split your winnings with me, but your losses are your own affair.
Alabama -25.5 at Mississippi St.
Don't expect another post-LSU letdown from the Tide a la 2012. Last year, you could see the TAMU letdown coming from a mile away after the Tide's overly-emotional last-second win against LSU. This year there were no dramatics and no overt histrionics, and I expect the Tide was right back down to regular business by Monday.
That said, LSU was a big game, aimed at all year, and you can't expect focus to be quite at 100% for the trip to Starkvegas. Sharp focus may be necessary to whup up on a nearly-decent team like State by 25.5, especially when you bear in mind that both these teams like to shorten the game by ball-control, clock-running drives. Alabama might cover; it might not. I wouldn't bet.
Georgia at Auburn -3.5
This spread is a little puzzling. Georgia has flat-out stunk the last few games, only topping that horribly beat-up Florida team by 3 and letting 2-7 App. St. hang around to a 14-6 halftime score that could've been closer. The Bulldogs can't play defense, and while Todd Gurley and Chris Conley may play, neither will be full speed. Auburn's offense is clicking, the defense is good enough to slow Georgia down, and Auburn should win this game fairly easily. Take the home favorites.
Florida at South Carolina -13
Florida's injury luck is as bad as I've ever seen. Now it's the Gators' top tackler, linebacker Antonio Morrison, out for the season with a torn meniscus suffered in the beatdown by Vanderbilt, yes I said beatdown by Vanderbilt. And quarterback Tyler Murphy is day-to-day and missing practice. Not that South Carolina's playing all that well, but at least they're not asking for volunteers from the band. This one's easy; take the home favorites.
Kentucky at Vanderbilt -12.5
Really, I just can't stop talking about how badly Florida is playing. Florida is SO bad that Vandy won't beat Kentucky at home as badly as they beat Florida in Gainesville last week. That's bad.
There's not a lot great to be said about Kentucky, either, but this is actually a big game for the Wildcats, while Vandy is thinking bigger things. The psych factors set up against the 'Dores, who are still missing injured quarterback Austyn Carter-Samuels. Take the visiting Wildcats.
Troy at Ole Miss -29
Ole Miss is a lot better than Troy, but the Rebels offense is somewhere between stodgy and slow-moving. Both because of that and because Ole Miss will have next week's Missouri game on its mind, 29 is a pretty realistic spread here, which means it's a bad bet. Troy has come far enough since losing to Mississippi St. by 55 in September that I'm not confident they will lose to a better Mississippi team by 29. I wouldn't bet on this one.