I was really shocked by both those games last night, especially the one I watched, Stanford's 26-20 win over Oregon. It took a bizarre sequence of events in the 4th quarter for Oregon to almost get back into it, but the beatdown Stanford put on the Ducks for 3-1/2 quarters was an even more bizarre sequence of events in my book.
I've watched both these teams several times this year and seen nothing to prepare me for the level of play from either squad. If you're familiar with both guys, you would've expected Marcus Mariota to outplay Kevin Hogan by a mile, but in fact the opposite proved true: Hogan was flawless and Mariota was psyched from the first play. Showing a mystifying reluctance to take off and run, his ace in the hole all year, the Duck signal-caller's Heisman stock dropped like a Syrian MIG after a fight with an Israeli F-15. But even with Hogan's stellar play coming out of nowhere, as did Stanford's suddenly-mysteriously-efficient 3rd-down-converting-machine of an offense (25 first downs on only 377 yards), and even with Oregon coach Mark Helfrich's bizarre early decision to go for it on 4th and goal from the 4 when his offense wasn't in synch, Oregon still might've been in this thing if its players had bothered to try to recover their own fumbles.
So what's the Alabama fan's take on this? Let's cut all the false modesty and go ahead and assume wins over LSU, Auburn and Missouri - I'm expecting them, aren't you? So are we pulling for somebody to shock FSU, so that we can set Urban Meyer up to be a punching bag again like he was in 2009? Hey, maybe we can get him to quit coaching one more time.
Or do we want a real opponent? Is a national championship enough for Alabama in 2013, or do we want to put it on the line and prove it against the toughest foe we can get? If you're playing for the ages, if you're playing for lasting respect, there's nothing quite like beating another team that will also bring the hype.
As of now, that could only be Florida State. We might as well pull for ‘em, they're not likely to lose in 2012.
Baylor will never get that hype level, but all of a sudden I think we need to ask how good this team really is. I had frankly given them little respect before last night. You can never be quite sure of what depths a Stoops Oklahoma team can unexpectedly plunge to, so I'm still not going to shoot tons of esteem beams at the Bears. But if they can put those same kinds of beatdowns on all of their remaining foes - Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas - that will say something. I just don't see it saying enough to pass FSU unless the ‘Noles lose. (Wake Forest, anybody?)
Suddenly, though, even a shocking FSU loss might not be enough for the Urbster's crew.
Last week I was 3-0-1 to go 23-8-1 on the season. Not counting the push at all, that's a win rate of 74.2% against the spread on SEC games. I know that's awfully good, so I decided to look around at some other guys picking against the spread for comparison to see how good. I googled "college football spread picks" and looked through the first few pages of results in an effort to find everybody who was picking college games against the spread but not also trying to get you to buy something.
The answer to how good I have been doing is "Real Damned Good," yes, in initial caps. I found 6 sites: CBS (6 predictors, best result 57.8%), Bleacher Report (1 predictor, result 53.3%), something called isportstimes.com (1 predictor, result 64.3%, but based on only 14 results), Athlon Sports (4 predictors, best result 50.3%), Dr. Saturday (1 predictor, result 57.1%), Fox Sports (1 predictor, result 51.7%),and Collegefootballnews.com (1 predictor, result 47.5%). Note that not all of these picks reflect last weekend's results, but this is what I found when I looked ‘em up.
So that's 15 spread predictors, and the one who is within 10% of me (9.9 % to be exact) only has 14 results while the other 13, all of whom have many more results than that, are all at least 16.4% behind. Sure, I only have 31 results, and with a low number of results like that luck could be a factor, and I'd go so far to say that as well as I am doing, luck almost certainly is a factor. Or to put that in English, I've been lucky. After all, if I was so doggoned brilliant, how could I have been so wrong about Stanford-Oregon and Baylor-Oklahoma?
However, please allow me to be so bold as to point out that skill and knowledge could also be a factor. And now that the brag's out of the way, here are this week's picks.
LSU at Alabama -12.5
Boy, do these teams have recent history. But you know what the most interesting thing about history is? It's that the new history doesn't have to be the same as the old history.
And you wanta know one thing that's definitely different from the old history? LSU's defense. Every team they've played with the exception of Florida (whose offense I need not describe) has racked up at least 13 on the Tigers, including UAB. Furman tapped ‘em for 16 in their last outing. Mississippi St. racked up 26, and that was in the first 3 quarters. You know who else Mississippi St. has scored 26 or more against? Alcorn St., Troy, and Kentucky, that's who.
Yes, as I pointed out in my Monday column, LSU's offense is definitely improved this year. And yes, while Alabama's defense has been putting fancy stats on the board the last few games, it has done so against bottom-feeding competition. But Bama has been shutting down those bottom-feeders in the finest style, and not only that, the Tide defense is guess what, coached by Nick Saban and Kirby Smart. LSU's high-flying offense won't be shut down, but it's hard to think they will score much more than 20 against the Tide, while on the other hand it's hard to imagine that LSU's defense is going to get up off of its consistent run-of-the-mill results to hold an Alabama offense that is really clicking under 35. Take Alabama, and I'd say the same if the spread were a few points bigger.
Vandy at Florida -10
If you had spent the last 10 months with Tom Hanks and Wilson on that island, you'd be thinking "Florida, eh? Traditional powerhouse, just went to the Sugar Bowl. Returning a lot of players. And they've got Vandy at home."
But if you've spent your Saturdays this fall in front of the TV box, you know better. Florida has been bad this year, and they're not getting any better. They're coming in off 3 straight losses, and it was really only a series of flukes that kept ‘em within 3 of Georgia last week - another team that hasn't exactly been setting the world on fire. The offense has been terrible, the offensive line worse than terrible, yet one more starting tackle is gone after Tyler Moore broke his elbow this week in, get this, a scooter accident.
My entire soul rebels against picking Florida - but it's just as hard to pick Vandy. The ‘Dores would all but wrap up a bowl bid with a win here, but their last outing was their first game without injured quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels and they laid a total egg in a 56-24 loss to a Texas A&M team that has had its own struggles. Carta-Samuels is still out.
This might've been a good game 6 weeks ago. This week it will plumb the depths. Both teams need this game: can either win it? Don't bet.
Auburn -7.5 at Tennessee
Was it only a few weeks ago that Tennessee was showing signs of resurgence with the overtime loss to Georgia and actually pulling out a W against Georgia? Since then back-to-back beatdowns from Alabama and Missouri have sapped this team's life. Auburn was less than impressive last week in allowing a horrible Arkansas team to hang around until the 2nd half, but the spread-makers continue to treat Auburn like a middle-of-the-pack team, not like an 8-1 Top Ten BCS team.
Maybe the spread-makers have a point - but Tennessee is a dead team walking. Middle-of-the-pack should be plenty good to go into Knoxville and win by 10. Take the visiting favorites.
Missouri -13.5 at Kentucky
Maty Mauk probably gets the nod as the best backup quarterback in the SEC, or at least the most proven, but James Franklin is healthy again, and it's his team. It wouldn't be surprising if Franklin shows a little rust, but even if he does, only Missouri has beaten Missouri lately, and the Tigers won't defeat themselves against a foe of this caliber. And if you didn't understand that sentence don't sweat it: the next one will be a wee bit more straightforward. Bet on the Tigers.
Mississippi St. at Texas A&M -19
I've made some hay picking against this overrated TAMU team this year, but the Aggies have shown recent signs of turning the corner, beating down Vandy two weeks ago and holding UTEP to only 7 last week (yes, it's UTEP, but TAMU's D has reeked in 2013). Not only that, but it seems that the spread-makers have finally lowered their regard of Manziel and his buds, as 19 at home against a really bad Mississippi St. team really isn't a very large spread, especially for a team that typically sees lots and lots of points scored in its games (average total points in TAMU games this year = 78.8). Take the home favorites.
Arkansas at Ole Miss -17
17 ain't enough. Ole Miss has won two straight, one of those over LSU, and is coming off a bye week. Arkansas, meanwhile, is a big disappointment and that says a lot because they were always expected to be pretty crappy. Take the home favorites.
Appalachian St. at Georgia -40
Georgia has been having problems the last 4 weeks: a pair of 3-point wins over Tennessee and Florida, and a pair of losses to Missouri and, for the sake of all that's holy, to Vanderbilt. But 2-7 App. St., 24-point losers to powerhouses like Montana, Samford and Georgia Southern?
I hate the very idea of this game. Betting on it is the equivalent of paying somebody a fee to allow you to flip a coin. Don't do it.