Who is the 2nd-best team in the SEC? We're 10 weeks in. Alabama is out, because really, Alabama isn't #2, and 9 or 10 more teams are out for the other reason. The ones left are:
Best Wins: 51-28 at Vandy, 41-26 at Georgia, 36-17 over Florida
Worst games: 27-24 2 OT loss to South Carolina, 38-23 win over Toledo, 45-28 win over Indiana
Regular Season Games Left: At Ole Miss, Texas A&M
Trend: Up. What will the return of James Franklin mean? Missouri has been on a roll without him: a little shaky early, when their schedule was weak, but the Tigers have handled their toughest games with aplomb - until they choked the South Carolina game away after taking a 17-0 lead into the 4th.
Best Wins: 45-41 at Texas A&M, 55-23 at Tennessee
Worst games: 31-24 win over Washington St., 24-20 over Mississippi St., 35-21 loss to LSU
Regular Season Games Left: Just one, and I don't have to tell y'all about that one
Trend: Very much up - until the 4th quarter of the Georgia game. Auburn was shaky early, but has seemed to improve every week, with the 4th-quarter Georgia troubles seemingly stemming from the same problem Missouri suffered against South Carolina: the inability to handle success.
Best Wins: 56-24 over Vanderbilt, 41-38 @ Ole Miss, and it's not a win but TAMU can brag about the 49-42 home loss to Alabama
Worst games: 45-41 home loss to Auburn, 52-31 win over Rice, 51-41 win over Mississippi St.
Regular Season Games Left: At LSU, At Missouri
Trend: Sideways. A&M finished 2012 on a roll, possibly the 2nd-best team in the nation by January, so you keep expecting them to round into form like they did last year. As of now, no signs of any such form-rounding have shown themselves.
Best Wins: 35-21 over Auburn, 17-6 over Florida
Worst games: 44-41 loss to Georgia, 27-24 loss to Ole Miss, 38-17 loss to Alabama.
Regular Season Games Left: Texas A&M, Arkansas
Trend: Sideways. Very arguable putting LSU in this group at all, as they have no chance to even tie for the 2nd-best record in the conference, and at best a political chance for an argument they're better than Auburn if New Miss loses out and LSU belts TAMU.
While the three top teams have an excellent combined record of 27-4, all three have murderous schedules left. In fact, they're so murderous that the only reason not to consider a combined 0-5 as a real possibility is that New Miss and TAMU can't both lose when they play each other.
Looking over the entire seasons of all these teams, I'd have to say that Missouri is the best of the lot, with only one somewhat fluky loss and a couple of impressive wins, plus a solid trend of improvement. Auburn was putting together an argument until they tanked late against Georgia. Both those teams have become real threats as the season has progressed, while there's nothing in A&M's results to offset the extra loss.
I've beat the C.J. Mosley for Heisman drum a couple of times in the From The Couch columns. This is my last go at it, because if it doesn't start now it will be too late.
I don't want to be too ghoulish by jumping on the corpse of Jameis Winston's Heisman hopes before they're even dead, but they're on life support already. If any more bad news drips out of Tallahassee, the Hueytown native will not be toting the little dude this year.
Johnny Manziel is the obvious next guy in line and should probably be considered the favorite at this moment. "At this moment" is the key phrase there, as Manziel's Aggies - and really, they're Manziel's Aggies, not Kevin Sumlin's or anybody else's - are teeing up LSU and Missouri over the next two weeks. Johnathan F. Football's Heisman chances are likely to sink or swim in a big way with those games.
If Manziel shines in wins over LSU and Missouri, it's all over, two in a row. But let's assume for a second that he tanks and falls out of the Heisman race. If that happens, and Winston isn't resuscitated, the race will be as wide-open as a late-season Heisman race can get. A tardy entrant will have a chance for real traction - it wouldn't be the first time the Heisman winner hasn't emerged from the pack until late in the season.
In my view, by far the deserving candidate from the best team in the country is the lad from Theodore, Alabama: #32, linebacker C.J. Mosley. And if all Alabama's fans start message-boarding, calling in to radio shows, and writing the Alabama Sports Information Department with strong suggestions to pump Mosley for the Heisman, there could be a real opening for serious - very serious - consideration. As I've said before, the old line about "defensive players can't win" doesn't seem to be true any more, and there's a strong possibility the competition is about to be wide open.
Now here's the distasteful part, but if I'm going to influence people to throw their weight behind Mosley it has to be done: AJ McCarron does not deserve Heisman consideration. Almost nobody outside of Tuscaloosa thinks he's the best quarterback in the country, or even one of the three best, and in fact he can't really hope to survive the question of whether he's the best player on his team. The fact is that his stats are noticeably off from his 2012 numbers, even though his pass protection has been nearly perfect and his receiving corps is probably the best in the nation. The rest of his game has been fine, but McCarron has simply not been able to find his 2012 form with the deep ball.
I love AJ, wish he could play another 10 years in Tuscaloosa, hated doing that, and apologize for inflicting it on you, but I really, really want Mosley to get some Heisman love - and I think I spoke truth. C.J. so deserves it. He has been the Tide's best player all year, by far, and has played his best ball the last two games.
Now's the time to start the C.J. campaign. If it doesn't happen now, when the opening may be about to pop open, it won't happen.
I tumbled toward earth a bit last week with a 1-2 mark, but 30-12-1 against the spread for SEC games on the season still calls for a bunch of synonyms for fantastic: pull out the thesaurus.
But something else last week's games showed is how big a factor luck plays in picking against the spread. In the first of my picks that was played, I cursed fate as a last-minute reverse and jump pass TD in what was supposed to be a clock-killing drive gave Vandy the spread in a 22-6 win over Kentucky that was nip-and-tuck for 3 quarters. But if I thought luck slew me there, that was nothing compared to the events that made me "right" in picking Auburn to cover against Georgia. Close it out with an incomprehensibly close South Carolina win over the tanking Florida Gators, and you get the message: lucky is a lot better than good.
Chattanooga at Alabama -49
Oh yuk. I hate games like this. If it was a real game, would we rest as many of our starters as we are certainly about to do?
I never bet against Alabama and I will never pick against Alabama. However, I will note as an aside the 49 is too much. UTC is one of the strongest teams in the Southern Conference, and 49 is a mighty big spread for a team that disdains running it up. A 49-point win may happen this week and it may not, but it certainly is not a good bet.
Texas A&M at LSU -5
I think of the home field as being worth about 3.5 points, so this spread means that LSU is 1.5 points better than A&M on a neutral field. I can't see that. As I've said before, this ain't your 2011 daddy's LSU, this is a team that has a talented but inconsistent offense and a defense that is flat-out average.
TAMU could only wish for an average defense, but the offense is elite and sports a quarterback who can be unstoppable in close games. The Aggies won't have to hit that 2012 season-ending form to beat LSU. Take the visiting underdogs; they should win this game outright.
Missouri -2.5 at Ole Miss
I think the New Miss is quite a bit better than the Ole one, but I have qualms about picking them in this game. For one thing, I've struggled a bit with picking Missouri games; for another, while I agree that James Franklin should get the ball back, it wouldn't be surprising if the Tigers sputter a bit transitioning back to his leadership.
It won't take much sputtering in Oxford to make this one too close to call. I ain't gonna call it.
Vanderbilt at Tennessee -2.5
Vandy is coming off a 17-point win at Florida and a 16-point win over Kentucky. And while Tennessee has had to confront the cream of the SEC crop in its last three games - Alabama, Missouri and Auburn - the average score of those games was 43.7-12. And that ain't in the Vols' favor.
The off week should help Tennessee get over the physical pain of those losses, but you have to wonder where the Vols can find confidence after three straight beatdowns. While you're wondering that, you might also wonder why the heck Tennessee is favored in this game. Take the visitors.
Mississippi St. -1.5 at Arkansas
You might say that State was respectable last week in the 20-7 home loss to the top-ranked Crimson Tide - but eh, not really so much. It was only Alabama's 4 turnovers that made it close, and the amount of credit the Bulldogs get for the turnovers is not so tremendously great. In reality, the Bulldogs got bulldogged, just like the Tide's other foes.
Meanwhile, Arkansas has gotten a little more respectable the last couple of games, nearly making a game of it against Auburn, and staying right with Ole Miss, in Oxford, for a good 2-1/2 quarters. And last week, while State was matching up against the most brutalizing team in the land, Arkansas was resting up and prepping for one of the few games they have a chance to win.
It takes a hunch to pick Arkansas to win an SEC game this year, but I've got a hunch. Take the home team; this game is their season.
Kentucky at Georgia -24.5
It's hard to get a feel on the psych factors for this week's game for either team. The Wildcats' 22-6 loss to Vandy last week was a lot more competitive than the score would tend to indicate, so are they frustrated or do they feel they can prove something? I've had the feeling all year that Kentucky under Stoops is just a hair short of being an average team, and while 2-8 with wins over Miami of Ohio and Alabama State is, well, pitiful, there is still a possibility to eke out some season-ending respectability.
It's not likely to be this week, but with the way Georgia's last game ended, it wouldn't be the biggest shock in the world if the Bulldogs came out for this game totally flat. UGA has too many dawgs to actually lose this contest, but I have a funny feeling it will be competitive. This is a risky pick because the Georgia offense has enough firepower to cover even if it's tied going into the 4th, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say the Wildcats lose by no more than 24. In other words, take Kentucky.
Coastal Carolina at South Carolina -34.5
Oh boo. I truly have no opinion on this game. Coastal Carolina is 10-1, but is their best win over South Carolina State, Furman, Liberty, or one of the other horrible bow-wows they've matched up against? Ladies and gentlemen, the answer to that question truly beats me. I'll go out on a limb and say that South trumps Coastal here, but I lack any opinion on by how much.
Georgia Southern at Florida -27.5
Florida played its first non-horrible game in quite a while last week, forcing South Carolina to come from behind in the 4th quarter to win. If they play well this week, they're likely to break their 5-game losing streak, but the Gators haven't scored over 31 all year, so 27.5 is a pretty high hurdle against the 6-4 whatever-they-ares. If you don't like money, bet on one of these teams, but don't say I told you which one.