This is a fairly impressive SEC football week as Johnny Vols Fans everywhere get a week to relax while they ponder the thoughts of playing Virginia Tech at a NASCAR venue.
Three questions about that plan: (a) Will moonshine be served in the stadium? (b) If Tennessee can play Virginia Tech at Bristol Motor Speedway, can we get UTC vs. VMI at Boyd's Speedway? And (c) will the coaches have to speak NASCARese to reporters after the game?
Pit reporter: Coach Jones, your team struggled out there a little bit today. Can you tell us what happened?
Butch: Sure. It was one of those football deals, really. This UT Pilot Flying J Adidas CheckintoCash Ford has been running on rails lately. But we got a little loose in the turn there between the third and fourth quarters. It's one of those things and we know no one's working harder than this team. Pass me a Coke or a PowerAde.
There are a slew of games around the country and around the SEC that can keep your interest, including one that is as much of a car wreck as it is a college football collision.
In addition to Saturday's slate, there are some great college football games on the horizon in coming weeks. There's FSU-Clemson next weekend. There are Oregon-Stanford and Alabama-LSU in early November. Saturday, there is the antithesis of those matchups. Saturday is the ultimate Toilet Bowl as 0-5 Miami of Ohio goes to 0-5 UMass in the closest thing to an unwatchable college football game that has ever been staged. Miami is 125th nationally in scoring at 8.8 points per game; UMass is 126th at 7.0 per game. There are 126 FBS teams, by the way. Heck, the over/under may be 16.5.
Watching this thing will be like watching a monkey have a conversation with a pitching wedge -- you may recognize what's going on even if you have never seen it before, but you can't be sure and strangely you can't take your eyes off it. Also of note, the game will be at the New England Patriots' home, Gillette Stadium, which seats more than 68,000. Here's saying there are still several good sections available. First one to nine wins.
1. Good on good and best on best in Death Valley
LSU and Florida take the field in what is the best cross-divisional rivalry in the SEC. Yes, Alabama-Tennessee is the most passionate and Auburn-Georgia is the longest, but LSU-Florida is the best. Those guys are good at tackle football. And when the LSU wide receivers try to get open against the Florida secondary, it likely will pit the best group of wideouts against the best collection of defensive backs in the country. In fact, if this game is going to be as entertaining as we think it can be, the Florida secondary will have to best the best and top the likes of Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. Good luck with that.
2. Buckle up, Colonel Reb
After a tough loss at Auburn, Ole Miss has to gird up its loins and try to figure out a way to stop Johnny Football and the high-flying Texas A&M offense. This will be a test -- and a high-scoring one at that -- for the young Rebels, and how they respond will speak volumes about the growth and potential of this young bunch in Oxford. The difference between winning and losing sometimes is so slight -- and so magnified -- that it is staggering. The difference for Ole Miss at Auburn was that Tigers defensive back Robenson Therezie made a difficult interception and returned it for a 78-yard score, while an Ole Miss defender dropped a certain pick-six in the second half. Now, the Rebels have the Aggies on deck and LSU in the hole.
Yep, in SEC parlance, at least this week, that stands for "What Will Jadeveon Do?" Considering the fallout from last week's decision, all of the country will be paying attention when South Carolina plays at Arkansas on Saturday. For those of you who picked up the sports page by mistake and wondered, "Where are those pecky stock listings?" here's the back story: South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney likely would have been the No. 1 overall pick in last year's draft but because of NFL rules he was not eligible to enter. He came back to Columbia amid a growing Heisman buzz and a ton of attention. He has started slowly -- in part because every offensive coordinator from the Aztecs to the Zips is game-planning for the monster -- and has battled injuries. He told coach Steve Spurrier that he could not play against Kentucky last week, setting off a ripple effect that became a tidal wave of debate about whether he should protect himself or bust it for the team. Now he's questionable going to Arkansas, which underperformed at Florida last week but can run the football against less-than-Gator-tastic defenses. So what happens Saturday? What will Jadeveon do? If he's truly questionable, so is the outcome in this one.
4. Will they add an extra column on the Sanford Stadium scoreboard?
Missouri behind quarterback James Franklin are the league's biggest surprise to date, scoring points in bunches and sprinting to a 5-0 record. Sure, that's been against less-than-stellar competition, but to match last year's win total in five Saturdays is impressive. Georgia's offense has been excellent and Aaron Murray has positioned himself to get a Heisman invitation. But the Bulldogs have been forced to score all those points because Todd Grantham's defense apparently is allergic to tackling. (Maybe someone told Todd those smokey gray UT uniforms were "noncontact" jerseys, who knows?) Georgia has been able to win shootouts since its season-opening 38-35 loss to Clemson, but the Bulldogs keep losing ammunition on a weekly basis. Can Murray and the next wave of Georgia offensive stars score with Missouri? First team to 40 wins? Better make that first team to 50 wins.
5. Can Kentucky get 10?
The Wildcats rallied last week as Clowney fiddled and turned an early three-touchdown hole into a 35-28 fight at South Carolina. Saturday is a bigger test. Kentucky has settled on Jalen Whitlow at quarterback. Congrats, Jalen. Or condolences. Whitlow and the Wildcats welcome an Alabama defense that is playing at an extremely high level right now. Other than the arcade shootout engineered by Texas A&M's pinball wizard Johnny Football, the Alabama defense has allowed 19 points in four games.
Fab 4-plus-1 picks
You know the mantra of the picks around these parts -- say it with us -- "for entertainment purposes only."
Well last week was as entertaining as a Carrot Top one-man performance of Ishtar. Last week's 1-4 mark was as much fun as having an emergency root canal during an impromptu insurance seminar. It was our first sub-.500 week of the season, and it was really and spectacularly bad.
Not good times. (Side note: The Mrs. has developed an ability on late Saturday afternoon to scan the lines, pick one evening game and make a keen observation. Let's just say that if we were in an entertainment deficit last Saturday around 6, the Mrs. noticing, "Hey, why is LSU only giving Mississippi State 10 points? LSU is going to kill them," served our entertainment accounts quite nicely. Well-played indeed. Yes, dear.)
So with the debacle that was 1-4 in the rearview, and the lessons of moving away from lines that look too good to be true and vowing not to put too much into the previous week's performance, let's try this again.
Mississippi State minus-10 over Bowling Green: Mississippi State is a bottom-shelf SEC team right now. That still makes the Bulldogs better than most of the country. Yes, the Bowling Green Green Bowlers (that's not their nickname, but it should be) are 5-1, but that mark is inflated with wins over Akron, Miami and Kent State, a trio that is a collective 3-14. We'd likely buy the half to be safe -- and those of you in the entertainment world know what that means.
LSU minus-6.5 over Florida: Tyler Murphy has been the best two-star prospect in the five-star history of Florida recruiting. The backup QB who has been forced into action because of Jeff Driskel's season-ending injury has been aces. Well, LSU likes to trump aces, especially in Death Valley, where LSU coach Les Miles says, "Opponent's dreams come to die." Raise your hand if you love Les Miles. It's OK: No one's looking. Les makes the game more fun, and we should embrace him for that because when you find "a spectacular group of men, you go find them, you put your arm around them and you give them a big kiss on the mouth ... if you're a girl." Not that there's anything wrong with that.
BYU minus-7 over Georgia Tech: Another place to buy the half. BYU went across the country last year and thumped the Yellow Jackets, and the experienced Cougars now get to wait for the Jackets to make a second long road trip in as many weeks. We'd buy the half here just to be safe, and if this one goes the way we expect, the whispers around The Flats about Paul Johnson's future will grow.
Texas A&M minus-6 over Ole Miss: We have vowed not to let the previous week's result not affect our view. That said, the way Ole Miss struggled to contain Auburn's Nick Marshall should sound major warning bells considering the Rebels now have to face the dude of duality, the duke of duck and the king of fling -- yes, college football's sharp-edged dagger of swagger, Mr. Johnny Manziel Football Merchandize, esquire. Side question: If Johnny Football took a few extra "online" courses, could he someday be Dr. Johnny Football. That would be cool. Would he then have Johnny Football, M.D., on his card? Oh yeah, the picks ... hard not to see the Aggies scoring enough to win and with a line under a TD, we say thanks and hope to cash the entertainment checks.
UNLV minus-9 over Hawaii: Here's what we know -- Hawaii is balanced in bad, ranking in the bottom 25 nationally in scoring (20 points per game is 105th in the country) and scoring defense (allowing 34.6 per game, which is 103rd) and is 0-5 overall and has lost twice on the mainland by an average of 20.5 points. UNLV has won three in a row. Now don't get spoiled by all this research -- it's time for a nap.
Last week against the spread: 1-4
This year against the spread: 19-10-1