Last week was about as weak a college football schedule as you could ever hope to see during a week with a full slate of games. What was the game of the week, anyway? Tennessee-Florida? Auburn-LSU? Utah St.-USC? There wasn't anything even close to ranked vs ranked.
This week isn't one of the greatest weeks of blockbuster college football ever, but it's a heckuva lot better than last week's. Along with the SEC games we'll discuss below, including the big one in Athens, national games to watch include Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech on Thursday and Saturday games Oklahoma at Notre Dame, Arizona at Washington, Wisconsin at Ohio St., Stanford at Washington St., and USC at Arizona St.
By the way, there's no good reason for Ohio State to be favored this week.
* * *
A note on terminology, so I don't have to keep repeating this week after week. As a point of pride, politics, stubbornness, or just pure cussedness, I refuse to use the terms FBS and FCS to describe college football divisions. After all, the nomenclature was very obviously adopted as a purely political move to try to strengthen the BCS system by emphasizing that we don't do nasty "championships" in this division. I opposed that idea from the start, hated the underhandedness of trying to win a political point by changing the language, and I'm sure not going to back down now that the entire "Bowl" subdivision vs "Championship" subdivision concept has been rendered completely archaic by the move to a playoff.
So when you see me talking about Division I-A, just know I mean that division that Alabama plays in. I would call it the Big Boy Division, except, well, it has Massachusetts and Georgia State in it, you know.
* * *
So, to the games: It has been feast or famine for me on the spread picks. The first week I was 2-0, the 2nd week 0-3, and last week was a spiffy 4-0 to put me at 6-3 on the season. With that kind of pattern going on, I should just not make any spread picks this week, right?
Ole Miss at Alabama
Extended version - ESPN Ole Miss Star Wars commercial (via ESPN)
Yeah, the RBBs are improved, but how much? After all, they needed a good late bounce to edge out the same Vandy team that struggled last week with one of the worst Division I-A teams in the country. And how much does trucking Texas really mean?
On the other side of the coin, has Alabama been letting down against weaker teams and pulling out the stops against the big boys, or was the A&M win either a fluke or a reflection of the fact that the Aggies have played absolutely nobody but us? Tide fans are accustomed to the occasional flat performance against a non-entity, but there have been too many problems early in 2013 to whistle away.
I have never, ever bet against Alabama, on principle, nor will I designate one of my spread picks against the Tide. But even though the spread has now edged down to 15.5, it's still excessive. Ole Miss has weapons on both sides of the ball, and Alabama has looked very vulnerable. May this be the week that the Tide turns.
LSU at Georgia
About time. It has been two full weeks since the last Game of the Year. The way I see it, both these teams have proven that they're good, but neither has proven that it's great. LSU is undefeated with decent wins over Auburn and TCU by 14 and 10, respectively, but Georgia's 41-30 win over South Carolina is better than either of those wins, and while UGA does have a loss, LSU probably hasn't faced an opponent nearly as tough as Clemson on the road.
While it isn't unexpected news that Georgia's offense fares better statistically than its defense, you might be surprised to learn that the same situation prevails for LSU, which is 17th nationally in scoring offense but 37th in scoring defense. Since the Saturday afternoon forecast is for light clouds and light winds, expect a high-scoring affair. Mettenberger is going to have to light it up if the Bye-You Bengals are to come out with a win, and I'm not sure I like those odds. UGA is about a 3-point favorite, and that seems right to me. I wouldn't bet this one either way.
Texas A&M at Arkansas
I'm using the lines from ESPN, and I've kept checking back all week to see when the line on this game might look less fishy, but the fish smell remains. 3 of the services ESPN follows have Arkansas as a 3-point favorite and the other 2 have TAMU as a 3-point favorite, while vegasinsider.com shows TAMU by 3.
Even assuming TAMU to be the favorite, that's not nearly enough. Arkansas looked out of their league last week in the 2nd half against Rutgers. Against Rutgers. A&M should win by double digits, maybe big double digits, even if Arkansas starting quarterback Brandon Allen plays, which seems doubtful. Lay the points.
South Carolina at Central Florida
If you're thinking South Carolina vs Directional U (yawn), think again. UCF is 3-0 with a road upset over Penn St. behind a balanced attack that racked up 288 passing and 219 on the ground, to go along with pastings of Akron and FIU. You might not think of Orlando as a college-football-crazy town, but folks are saying things like "biggest game in school history," so the OBC might have a revved up home crowd to deal with, too.
South Carolina was listless in a 35-25 win over Vandy two weeks ago and will be in real danger if they don't play better against the Knights. Did the Gamecocks fix what was broken during the week off, or did they just get rusty? South Carolina is a 7.5-point favorite, and that seems about right to me. Lay off.
Florida at Kentucky
Kentucky was competitive in a 27-13 loss to Louisville last week, and if the 3-1 turnover edge had gone in their favor instead of against them, they may have been more than competitive. On the other hand, the 9-point loss to Western Kentucky is all too reminiscent of Kentucky's 2012 plumbing of the abyss and Kentucky's sole win is over a horrific Miami of Ohio team.
Florida is listed today as a 12.5-point favorite, but that line may fluctuate after today's injury to Damion Easley. From my perspective, though, Florida's defense can shove Kentucky around with or without Easley: the real question is whether new quarterback Tyler Murphy is an upgrade over Jeff Driskel. If he is, Florida should truck Kentucky, but if Murphy proves why Driskel got the start this one could get ugly for the Gators. With all the uncertainty, I wouldn't bet unless the line drops into single-digit territory.
South Alabama at Tennessee
South Alabama is off to a respectable start, with close wins over Tulane and Western Kentucky and a 1-point road loss to Big Sky leading South Utah. Tennessee is coming off a respectable road loss to Florida and a not-so-respectable devastation by Oregon.
These two teams actually have a comparable opponent, Western Kentucky, which lost 31-24 to South Alabama and 52-20 to Tennessee, and that's probably why UT is a 19.5-point favorite. But the UT-WKU game was highly fluky, as the Hilltoppers had 7 turnovers, including an NCAA record 4 straight on 4 plays to put the game out of reach early on. Butch Jones needs a big win in a bad way, but 19.5 looks like too many points to me. Take the points.
UAB at Vandy
Vandy is also a 19.5-point favorite against UAB, and based on the way the ‘Dores played against hapless UMass last week, 19.5 is too many. But it says here that Vandy had an off week last week, and the competitive losses to South Carolina and Ole Miss are a more accurate picture of who this team is.
UAB, meanwhile, is 1-2 and their only win is over someone named NW State. Nashville will not be hospitable this week. Lay the points.
Arkansas St. at Missouri
Missouri looked strong last week in a 45-28 road win over Indiana that could've been a beatdown but for early Tiger turnovers that allowed the Hoosiers to hang around.
Arkansas State has taken beatdowns from Auburn and last week they fell 31-7 to Memphis. Missouri will do that or better if they play anywhere near as well as they played last week. Take the home team and lay the 21.
* * *
Here's a peek ahead at some of the good football coming in October:
Week of October 5 - Ole Miss at Auburn; Maryland at Florida St.; Arkansas at Florida; Georgia Tech at Miami; Georgia at Tennessee; TCU at Oklahoma; LSU at Mississippi St.; Missouri at Vanderbilt; Ohio State at Northwestern; Stanford at Washington.
Week of October 12 - South Carolina at Arkansas; Missouri at Georgia; Florida at LSU; Texas A&M at Ole Miss; Northwestern at Wisconsin; Michigan at Penn State.
Week of October 19 - Washington at Arizona St.; UCLA at Stanford; Minnesota at Northwestern; Florida at Missouri; Ole Miss at LSU; FSU at Clemson; Georgia at Vandy; Auburn at Texas A&M; Arkansas at Alabama; South Carolina at Tennessee; Washington St. at Oregon; USC at Notre Dame; Wisconsin at Illinois.
Week of October 25 - BYU at Boise St.; South Carolina at Missouri; Texas Tech at OU; Stanford at Oregon St.; Vandy at Texas A&M; Tennessee at Alabama; UCLA at Oregon; Penn St. at Ohio State.
A lot of teams have tough Octobers, but as you can see, Bama's toughest games will be home games against Arkansas and Tennessee.