1) Who will take the Vols' first snap?
Butch Jones opened practice this week by saying Tennessee's quarterback job was open. Justin Worley's performance in the first three games revealed he can be little more than a game manager, which is fine if every other part of your team is loaded but is troublesome for a team yearning for playmakers. Going to the Swamp is hardly the ideal place for a freshman -- true or redshirted -- to make his college debut. Still, the questions about Tennessee's offensive limitations mirror the lingering suspicions about Worley's physical ceiling. Paging Riley Ferguson; paging Riley Ferguson.
2) Tigers meet challenges
Will LSU be tested when unbeaten Auburn comes to Baton Rouge? Is Auburn ready to take its show on the road against arguably the league's most impressive team? It's hard to see how, and on paper this is the perfect example of how not all 3-0 records are created equally. LSU has pounded its three foes, beating each by double digits. Auburn has won three straight home games for first-year coach Gus Malzahn, including a seven-point win over Washington State and a come-from-behind rally with a TD in the final seconds against Mississippi State. If the game is close late, maybe those tight experiences will behoove Malzahn's Tigers. But that's an awfully big maybe.
3) Do the Bulldogs and the Tide handle their BID-ness?
Georgia is a 33-point favorite over North Texas. Alabama is a 40-point favorite over Colorado State. Winning should not be the question. Effectiveness and execution are the buzz words for Mark Richt and Nick Saban. How each team plays against its own expectations rather than its opponent will determine success for these heavyweights and heavy favorites.
4) Road tests for two surprising unbeatens
Of course we all expected that three weeks into the season the only unbeaten SEC East team would be Missouri. Right? Right? Well, the Tigers now carry the SEC banner to Indiana for a road game against the Hoosiers. In February -- during college hoops season -- this could lead CBS. In September it's buried on the Big Ten Network. For Arkansas, which has record-setting freshman rusher Alex Collins, a trip to New Jersey to face a better-than-expected Rutgers team is another chance to carry the league's message of dominance to the outlands. Good luck, and do not come back empty-handed.
5) Now or not at all
Bowl hopes are flickering for Vanderbilt and Mississippi State, two SEC programs that already have two losses and still have several serious challenges left on the schedule. Vandy appears to be relatively safe against a UMass team that is 0-3 and smells like a foot. Mississippi State, however, hosts a Troy team that poses some threats. Should the Bulldogs win? You bet. Would the season be all but over if Troy pulls the upset? You better believe it.
Fab 4-plus-1 picks
Last week we went 2-2-1 against the spread. We were less than pleased but less than frustrated considering the number of strange plays and performances that happened. And, yes, the picks as always are for entertainment purposes only.
It could have easily been a very painful weekend, all things considered, and if you escape with a .500 record when things look bleak, well, that's not too shabby. (Side note: A week ago, we pledged to ride Oregon and UCLA, and we did neither. Of course, they each hit. Welcome to betting, folks, the cosmic ball-bouncing that is the would've, could've, should've realm of possibilities.)
There are a slew of one-sided lines this week -- Miami is giving Savannah State 60 points (yes, 6-0!) -- and more than a few less than stellar matchups. So it goes.
Still, there's entertainment to be made. We're 11-3-1 through three weeks, meaning if you dropped 100 entertainment vouchers on each pick you would be 760 entertainment vouchers to the good after drinking the juice and figuring the vig.
Let's get to it.
Clemson minus-13.5 at North Carolina State: The more we look at this game, the more it scares us. That said, no one said entertainment risks were not without a little edge.
Pittsburgh at Duke, over the 50.5: Duke coach David Cutcliffe can call some mean football plays. Pitt's Panthers allowed 27 points to New Mexico. This one could be close to the over before halftime.
Vanderbilt at UMass, under the 54.5: The Minutemen are much slower than that on offense, scoring seven points per game through the first three -- and it's not exactly a murderer's row of Wisconsin, Maine and Kansas State. Even if Vandy names the score, 45-0 covers with ease.
Missouri plus-1 at Indiana: At its core, this one is as simple as a bottom-tier Big Ten team against a lower-tier SEC team. And whichever team executes in the halfcourt better will ... wait one second. Serious note: Each of these teams is in the top 10 in scoring, and each averages more than 500 yards of total offense per game. The hunch here is that Missouri has more at stake.
Nebraska minus-20.5 vs. South Dakota State: On the subject of something at stake, do you think Bo Pelini and the Nebraska coaching staff need a good performance in front of the home crowd after last week's implosion against UCLA and the leaked Pelini tapes that included profanity-laced insults against the Nebraska fan base? This one has the feel of 59-6. (Side note: This is assuredly the only matchup of Cornhuskers and Jackrabbits on the schedule this weekend. Enjoy.)
Last week against the spread: 2-2-1
Overall against the spread: 11-3-1
Grab the remote
Well, this college football weekend is so blah-tastic that ESPN "College Gameday" is headed to Fargo, N.D., and unless they are looking for the best movie with a city name in it, well, that's underwhelming. (Side note: How great a thespian is Steve Buscemi for that guy to be a well-paid, in-demand actor and look like that? Dude looks like a bad dental commercial and he's making two films a year. Well-played indeed.) With that in mind, let's turn our attention to the TV schedule that is this weekend, and know that in a previous life, LSU-Auburn or Tennessee-Florida used to be a big game.
Boise State at Fresno State, 8 (ESPN)
Take note and pay special attention to Fresno quarterback Derek Carr. He could very well be a first-round pick in next year's NFL draft. As for Boise's Broncos, this is the type of game that has befuddled them in recent years.
North Carolina at Georgia Tech, noon (ESPN)
Hold on to your engineering caps, but Georgia Tech has the best scoring defense in the country. It's like the soup at Mindy's -- the best Jerry, the best. Who woke Ted Roof up and reminded him how to coach?
TRIPLE CLICKER ALERT
Arkansas at Rutgers, 3:30 (ESPN) -- or -- Tennessee at Florida, 3:30 (CBS) -- or -- Utah State at USC, 3:30 (ESPN2)
Yes, it's a skinny day when Arkansas-Rutgers and Utah State-USC make the cut. But here are some interesint things to remember. One, Rutgers has the nation's leading rusher; two, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema's wife Jen is a must-follow on The Twitter. So there's that. Also, if Utah State, which is only a touchdown underdog, pulls the upset, everyone's favorite all-around goofball Lane Kiffin could be fired before the 7 p.m. "SportsCenter". Good times all around.
Arizona State at Stanford, 7 (Fox) -- or -- SMU at Texas A&M (ESPNU)
The Pac-12 is easily the second-best conference in college football, and in truth it is closer to the top than it is to whichever league you put No. 3. And the depth of quality teams such as Arizona State and UCLA and Stanford is a big reason. Good game. As for the Aggies and SMU, well, one of these teams has a quarterback that was one of the nation's top recruits, and the other has Johnny Football. Yep, Garrett Gilbert, the former five-star recruit, takes snaps for the Mustangs. And while you do not want Johnny Manziel watching your kids or managing your finances, the kid is fun to watch on Saturdays.
Auburn at LSU, 7:45 (ESPN)
This game may be over by 8:20. Or it could be highly entertaining. That said, the ultimate testament of how blah-some this Saturday is in the college football world may be that the ABC nightcap is Michigan at UConn.
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 ...