We could go around the league and pick nits on Missouri and Johnny Football or Clemson and South Carolina. Good games with high stakes and high drama.
But the game of the year in the league -- and in turn the nation, which makes sense since the league is the nation and the nation is the league -- is Saturday's Iron Bowl reconnection in Auburn. Let's look at five things to watch when No. 1 Alabama visits No. 4 Auburn:
1. Marshall must be ready
If Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall throws for 250-plus yards (as long as it's not all in the fourth quarter of a 49-21 game), then the Tigers are going to be hard to handle. Alabama feasts on one-dimensional offenses. Auburn has chosen to be one-dimensional because very few teams have been able to stop its running game. The Tigers will not be able to get by on the running game alone this week. So step to the center stage, Mr. Marshall. Are you ready?
2. Out of the gate on the road
For Alabama, starting fast is paramount. The Crimson Tide have bludgeoned folks for the better part of two months. Heck, even the relatively close game against LSU became a 21-point win. Alabama knows it belongs on this stage; Auburn is hoping to get comfortable on this stage. If the Tide do not start quickly and let the Tigers gain confidence and the Jordan-Hare crowd get rolling, this one could be a thriller. Of course if the Tide start fast, this one could get one-sided quickly.
3. Fast paced for the long haul
Auburn needs to be in a one-score game to start the fourth quarter. Yes, Alabama is the country's A-list megastar and has been on this stage more than any other team in recent years. But Alabama has seldom been in a one-possession, got-to-make-a-play-on-third-and-6 game since last December. Auburn lives that drama almost every week. Alabama is better prepared to handle the magnitude of the moment; Auburn is completely comfortable handling the pressure of the final two minutes of a one-score game. Which team gets to dictate the scenario to its strength will be in control.
4. Special-teams aces
This arguably could be two of the best special-teams units in the country. From return guys Christion Jones and Tre Mason to the complete kicking crews, each team has made monster plays in the kicking game. Since each counts that as a strength, whichever strength is stronger could prove quite fruitful.
5. Pace of play
The dichotomies here are intriguing. The methodical perfection that is Alabama. The hurry-up, no-huddle electric ballet that is Auburn. The experienced demeanor and business-trip persona that is the Tide and coach Nick Saban. The frenetic energy and boundless juice that is Auburn and coach Gus Malzahn, who goes through bubble gum on the sideline like a nervous teenager. The team that dictates the pace will be in good shape.
Fab 4-plus-a-few picks
This is a holiday week, and with Black Friday becoming Turquoise Thursday we thought, "Hey, what would Les Miles do?" And gang, any time you find yourself in a tight spot -- "Boys, we're in a tight spot" -- you can (a) look up a real Les Miles quote; (b) quote the movie "O, Brother Where Art Thou" or (c) look pensive, put your hand on your chin and nod while slowly saying, "Ah, Saban."
Let's go with (a). Let's start each pick with an actual Miles quote. Remember these picks are for entertainment only, and here's hoping your entertainment accounts keeps growing.
SMU-Houston over the 61: "We have to respond to what has happened and enjoy the opportunity to improve and work hard at it and return to the team we are very capable of being." Two capable quarterbacks in high-volume passing offenses against low-caliber defenses. Yes, please.
Fresno State minus-7 at San Jose State: "I don't know about other teams and the buoyancy of other teams." Buy the half, of course. We, like Les, are not familiar with the float-ability of either team, and we, like Col. Jessup, are not familiar with the packing habits of PFC William Santiago. What we do know is this: San Jose State cannot tackle. Fresno State can score and has a bracket-busting BCS spot for which to play. We strongly recommend this one for added buoyancy in your entertainment account.
Toledo minus-7 at Akron: "The want to have had the players on the field make the timeout call in that spot certainly is a great call." Buy the half, of course, again. Toledo is an upper-crust team in the MAC, which is a league with a few high-quality teams and several dreadful ones. Akron is bad but has won a handful of games because the bottom of the MAC is really bad. Toledo is good, which is better than bad and certainly better than seven points better than bad.
Ohio State minus-14 at Michigan: "Now, we refute this now put into this position, how do we get a play snapped? I suggest that it's very difficult." One of the tough things about picking games during rivalry week is putting a proper gauge on the emotional stakes and swing of those involved. That said, this is a great value bet considering that Ohio State is way better than Michigan and has way more skin in the game overall. Think of it this way: A tight win is no good for Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes, considering they are looking over their BCS shoulder at one-loss teams and trying to defend their merit. The Buckeyes need to drop the hammer. The rivalry part of this gives us cause, but only for a moment. This one will be 48-14 rather quickly and allow you some high-quality channel flipping.
Florida State minus-27 at Florida: "It's always enjoyable for me to be in a stadium filled by fans from two teams in one state." Yes, Les, that can be fun, especially when one side is way, Way, WAY better than the other. Get on this now. It's only going up, and it's another game to disassociate the passion from the present. This is the worst Florida team since before Spurrier started wearing visors. The Gators will have a tough time getting to 14 points. Do you think the Seminoles, who have scored 41 or more in every game this season, are going to start stuttering now? Add to the fact that there will be a ton of FSU fans in the Swamp, and 27 seems like a great value. Wow, read that last sentence again, that FSU laying 27 at Florida is a "great value." Egad. Coach Boom goes the dynamite.
Baylor minus-12.5 at TCU: "Minus being undefeated, I think we're on point." TCU is flawed. Baylor is irate. Anyone thinking Baylor is not going to score 60 in this one?
Clemson plus-6 at South Carolina: "That may be the reason. It may not be the reason." Les is great. In fact, Les Miles is the perfect blend of Dabo and Spurrier -- witty and clever, successful and unpredictable. Clemson is a better football team front to back, and while South Carolina's defensive front has dominated this game in recent years, Clemson has 13 more sacks as a team this year. And in truth, the most productive defensive end in the country will be in this game -- but it's Clemson's Vic Beasley rather than the Gamecocks' Jadeveon Clowney.
Missouri minus-4 over Texas A&M: "Certainly with time, he'll be potentially a great ballplayer." Johnny Football is magnificent on the field. Johnny Football does not play defense, though. Does any team in the country get less respect than the Missouri Tigers? Consider this: They are No. 5 in the BCS and have yet to play a CBS game. They are 9-1-1 against the number and they still are a single-digit favorite at home. That's because of A&M's Heisman-winning quarterback. Thank you, Johnny Football, for everything.
Last week against the spread: 4-3
Overall this year against the spread: 44-31-1 (58.6 percent)
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 ...
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