We are pulling the prime-time LSU-Alabama matchup out of this because there are five awesome things to watch in that one alone. So let's do five things to watch on the undercard of an interesting Saturday in the SEC:
1) Can Tennessee get Auburn off the field?
The 8-1 Tigers' eye-popping turnaround -- they were 2-7 at this point last year and had all but quit -- has been fueled by an Energizer Bunny-esque run game fueled by first-year coach Gus Malzahn, who is a mad scientist calling run plays that are equal parts misdirection and power. The Tigers' 306.2 rushing yards a game rank sixth nationally, and running backs Tre Mason and Cameron Artis-Payne and quarterback Nick Marshall each is among the top 13 in the SEC in rushing yards at better than 5.7 a carry. That on-schedule running game has allowed Auburn to convert almost 46 percent of its third downs and extend drives. Tennessee coach Butch Jones talked about his team's lack of depth this week, and that will be magnified if Auburn is allowed to convert a series of third downs. For the Volunteers to be in this game in the fourth quarter, they are going to have to get off the field in the first three.
2) What's Johnny Football's ceiling?
Mississippi State is stagnant, and the amazing thing is that the Bulldogs were 11 seconds away from derailing the Auburn turnaround before it even started back in September. So it goes. Now the home stretch starts with a MSU trip to College Station and Mr. Johnny Manziel's high-wire, high-flying, high-flinging act of shiny football goodness. Texas A&M choked MSU in Starkville last year, and while that Aggies team was better than this version, that MSU team was a lot better than this version. Also of note, this will be the lead game of the CBS doubleheader, and if memory serves Craig Bolerjack will be on the broadcast. Here's saying Mr. and Mrs. Bolerjack missed a cool naming opportunity. Jack Bolerjack would have been boss. And as in most cases, Barkevious would have been cool, too. Good times.
3) Vandy a 10-point dog in the Swamp
In the bizarro world that is this year's SEC, Vanderbilt is only a 10-point underdog headed to Florida, and that seems like a really good line. There were years when Florida's intramural champs would have been a 10-point pick over Vandy, but with the Florida offense going in reverse and the up-and-down nature of the Commodores, this game could go any number of ways. That said, there are two future NFL players matching up when Jordan Matthews faces any of the Florida cornerbacks. In fact, the testament to the strangeness of this game is that the best offensive player on the field is a Vanderbilt wideout. When was the last time you would say that in this matchup?
4) Will Ole Miss name its score?
We think that's a real possibility when the deflated Arkansas Razorbacks come calling. This Ole Miss team is built for speed and built to run away from folks. Plus, if the Rebels can force LSU to become one-dimensional and slow the LSU passing game that is filled with shiny NFL pieces from Saks, how is the Hogs' tarnished, Walmart brand passing game going to succeed? There also is a very real chance that Arkansas shoved all its chips into the pot last week in trying to upset the Auburn Tigers, especially since Arkansas coach Bret Bielema had words with Auburn's Gus Malzahn about a slew of things, including Malzahn's penchant for fast-paced offense. Well, want to guess who is tight with Malzahn? Yep, Ole Miss coach and fellow fast-pace enthusiast Hugh Freeze.
5) Will Kentucky keep fighting?
The Wildcats have given effort throughout this disappointing first season under Mark Stoops. It will be interesting to see if that passion continues as the weather turns, the goals fade and an inspired and talented Missouri team visits. If the Cats do play tough -- especially since basketball season opens today -- then that would be another positive sign in Stoops' debut with a collection of misfit toys that are squeaky, dated or flat-out busted.
Fab 4-plus-1 times two picks
This is surely tippy-toeing into dangerous waters, considering we are racing against the clock to get back near the 70 percent mark we established the last two college football seasons. We know a lot of folks who focus on picking one game and making it count. That's kind of the Hennen's restaurant approach to picking games. This is the Shoney's breakfast bar.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and our normal 4-plus-1 just got supersized. Side question: How big is the profit margin on Co-Colas and fries at the drive-thru if they can double the size of each for like 10 cents? Remember, these picks are for entertainment only, and please risk only the entertainment with which you can afford to part. So let's get to the games:
Navy minus-17 over Hawaii: OK, buckle up for some research and science. SCIENCE. Hey, whatever happened to Thomas Dolby? Anyhoo, this pick has nothing to do with football. Can't even name a player on either team, although we do know that each head coach has roots in the Aloha State. Here goes: Hawaii has lost eight in a row. Check. The Rainbow Warriors traveled roughly 2,950 miles one way to Utah last week and got thumped. They are going to travel about 4,800 miles to play at Annapolis. The game kicks off at 3:30 Eastern, which is 10:30 a.m. Hawaii time. Aloha means goodbye in this case.
Notre Dame minus-4 over Pitt: The Irish are renowned for playing to their level of competition. That said, we believe the Irish are improving every week. Call this one a hunch -- and a tip of the green-shaded visor to the "SportTalk" guys and Izod, who's riding the Irish, too.
Louisiana Tech minus-14 over Southern Miss: We're pretty sure we'd lay two TDs with Baylor over Southern Miss. No, not Baylor University, Baylor School. Southern Miss has imploded. It's 0-8 this year after going winless last year, and the only game the Golden Eagles have covered was a 24-3 loss at Arkansas. Want the final stat line on complete and total stink? USM is in the bottom five in scoring offense (12.8 per game) and scoring defense (44.6).
Louisiana-Monroe minus-3 over Arkansas State: We made some hay -- country term for entertainment, of course-- last year riding ULM's Warhawks and quarterback Kolton Browning. When Browning was thought to be lost for the season in September with an injury, we lost touch with Monroe. (Speaking of that, whatever happened to Jim J. Bullock, who played Monroe on "Too Close for Comfort" with Ted Knight?) Well, Browning has been back for three weeks, and the Warhawks have won -- and covered -- three straight. Yes, please.
UCLA-Arizona over the 56: We also think the Bruins cover the 1 here, but so it goes. That said, there are NFL first-rounders on each offense, and this one will be close to that total by halftime.
Ole Miss minus-16 over Arkansas: Call this a hunch, but we believe the Razorbacks are about to wave the "Slaughter us now" flag. And Ole Miss, which had a bye last weekend as the Hogs were getting drummed by Auburn, has a lot on the line that could even lead to a potential Cotton Bowl invitation.
Fresno State minus-9.5 over Wyoming: One of only seven unbeaten major college football teams and one of two unbeaten FSUs, Fresno has a lot on the line. Wyoming wears brown. So there you go.
Auburn minus-7 over Tennessee: We were shocked when this line came out. We were shocked that this line has not moved. We'd be shocked if Auburn did not win by double digits, considering allowing more than 300 rushing yards to Missouri is hardly a good prequel to facing an Auburn offense that averages more than 306 rushing yards a game and has three players with more than 500 rushing yards this season.
Missouri minus-13 over Kentucky: The Wildcats are giddy. Basketball is starting. That said, the Kentucky football team, while fieisty, does not have the weapons to stand toe-to-toe with the offensive machine that Missouri has become. Ask yourself this: Missouri with backup quarterback Matty Mauk trucked Tennessee last week; Kentucky lost to fellow SEC cellar dweller Mississippi State; how is Missouri only a 13-point pick here?
Indiana minus-9 over Illinois: The Hoosiers are giddy. Basketball is starting. Beyond that, the offense for their football team is posting numbers that must be noticed. Want to know the last team to score more than six points against the Michigan State Spartans? Yep, the Hoosiers, who lost 42-28 at East Lansing four weeks ago. Two weeks ago, Illinois lost 42-3 at home to the same Spartans. Big Ten football is bad, but making entertainment is good.
Last week against the spread: 2-3
This season against the spread: 29-20-1
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...