5-at-10: SEC items of interest, Fab 4 (plus-1) picks, NFL predictions, Rushmore of talent

5-at-10: SEC items of interest, Fab 4 (plus-1) picks, NFL predictions, Rushmore of talent

September 4th, 2014 by Jay Greeson in Sports - Columns

Gang, still have a spot or two in the mailbag.

From the "Talks too much" studios, believe = achieve. Achieve = bank. Believe that.

5 SEC things to watch

After a washed away opener for Florida and Thursday night beginning that South Carolina and Vandy wished had been rained out, the SEC heads to week two with few head-turning games and fewer matchups that figure to be close.

Butch Jones

Butch Jones

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

Still, it's the SEC and there's always items of interest.

1) How does Tennessee respond to a smashing debut? The Vols took Utah State seriously and then seriously took the Aggies to the woodshed. Now, after a week of hearing how great they did and seeing they are a 17-point favorite against Arkansas State, keeping the young Vols focused and grounded has to be job No. 1 for Butch Jones and Co. Jones and his staff did an excellent job of keeping the youngsters - 21 true freshmen played in the opener and 32 newcomers saw action in the 38-7 win over Utah State - energetically under control. Keeping the Vols engaged and fighting the "We did it" view from a room full of 18-to-22-year-olds is paramount this week.

2) How does Vandy respond in a debut smashing? Entering the season the Commodores were riding a wave of success unseen in half a century. It crashed like a derailed train when Temple dropped a 37-7 win on Vandy in Nashville. Ouch-standing. Now, the Commodores host Ole Miss in the only league game of the weekend. Vandy's seven turnovers were the key factor in the 30-point loss, and certainly Derek Mason's second game won't include that many freebies. (Heck, the last sequel to offer that many freebies was Weekend at Bernie's II.) Still, Ole Miss is way better than Temple, which looked way better than Vandy. This could be a key moment for Mason; if the Rebels blow Vandy out, what is the ceiling for Mason in Nashville?

Former Southern California coach Lane Kiffin.

Former Southern California coach Lane Kiffin.

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

3) Will Lane Kiffin wear a collared shirt? Sure we could wonder about the quarterback rotation at Alabama, but the Tide could trot today's version of Joe Namath out there and they'd crush Florida Atlantic on Saturday. So, while there still remain some questions after a tighter-than-expected win over West Virginia last weekend, the answers will be skewed against an overmatched FAU, which gave up almost 500 rushing yards to Nebraska. That said, can someone push Kiffin from the Crockett and Tubbs collection into a normal golf shirt for crying out loud?

4) A week later than expected, will Florida's new offense be a reason to believe or another log on the fire under Will Muschamp's seat? Kirk Roper has earned nothing short of glowing praise from colleagues and throughout the preseason. It's go time now, and while Florida should pummel Eastern Michigan, the style, production and fluidity of the offense will be placed firmly under a microscope. Are you ready for your close-up Mr. Roper, who we always believed was a way-better fit than Mr. Furley on "Three's Company."

5) What will be the biggest blowout in an SEC weekend filled with them? Wait, scratch that. Let's go which of the SEC games against foes that sound like pushovers will be the closest. There will be a lot of landslides this weekend as roughly half the league plays FCS teams and several more play teams that have a direction in their name. That said, Missouri's going to Toldeo, which has former Alabama QB Phillip Ely running the show, and South Carolina can't sleep on East Carolina this weekend either. Of course, after their season-opening debacle, South Carolina can't look past East Hamilton, nevermind East Carolina.

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Fab 4 picks (plus 1)

Week two of the college football season and we have a question for the group and an observation about week two.

First, the question: Last week when we made these picks LSU was -5 and we took the Tigers. The line moved to LSU -3 on Saturday. LSU won by 4. Does that count as a win or a loss for the picks? We are counting it as a loss here - although, since these picks are for "entertainment only," we counted it as a big entertainment win over the weekend.

Second, the observation: Coaches like to say the biggest improvements are made from week 1 to week 2. That makes sense. As for the handicappers and lines-makers, the best improvements are made between weeks 2 and 3. Week 2 for Vegas is when the handicappers have to decide the difference between a surprise team and a good or bad season opener. Like what do we make of Vandy? Was it one bad game or are they going to go 2-10? Could it be some of each? The answer is no one knows - including Vegas - and when the unknown looms that favors the prepared minds.

So focus on what you know and the teams you believe in, whether they played brilliantly or badly last week.

With that, and with the one-point loss/win for LSU, here are this week's Fab 4 picks:

Last week: 4-1 against the spread

Season: 4-1 against the spread

Arizona minus-7 at Texas-San Antonio: We like a Thursday night fun, and enjoyed ourselves tremendously last week with Ole Miss on Thursday night. UTSA has a ton of experience back and debuted in style with an impressive 27-7 upset at Houston last week. They are riding the week 2 wave of good vibes. But the USTA Roadrunners pulled that upset with six Houston turnovers and managed only 263 yards. Arizona logged almost 800 yards in a 58-13 win over UNLV. Yes, road dogs on Thursday night can be scary, but this game is off campus and at the Alamodome. Buy the half and maybe get the significant other some flowers, while you're at it.

UCLA minus-24 over Memphis: UCLA looked anemic in a lucky 28-20 win over Virginia last week in which the Bruins defense scored three TDs. But the Bruins traveled across the country for a noon game that felt like 9 a.m. for the California boys. Plus, Virginia's strength - a salty defensive front - played well against UCLA's young and fragile offensive front. Now, flip the script. This game is to kick at 7 p.m. Pacific time, which means it will feel like a 9 p.m. start for Memphis. This also seems like the number is at least seven points low because of the overreaction from week one. This feels like a 59-10 game.

Football tile

Football tile

Photo by WRCB-TV Channel 3 /Times Free Press.

Georgia Tech minus-10 at Tulane: Putting faith in Georgia Tech is normally like buying a penny stock - you might as well be flipping a coin or playing a slot machine. So why are we giving that much weight on the road no less. Three reasons: We think Tech and coach Paul Johnson are desperate. We think Tulane put a ton into a winnable season-opener that they gave away - they missed a 21-yard field-goal try in the final minute of regulation of a 38-31 double-overtime loss - and that hangover could be huge. We also believe that there's no way to get ready for Tech in a week, and Tulane spent the preseason focusing on American Conference foe Tulsa. Buckle up Green Wave, the run-first, run-almost-always Jackets, who threw for more than 280 yards in their opener, are coming.

Michigan State plus-13 at Oregon: This number is lofty. Seriously lofty. We also believe that Michigan State has arguably the best coaching staff in the country, and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi has spent a considerable amount of time getting ready for an Oregon spread. And lest we forget the last time Narduzzi saw a spread attack that was rolling was the Big Ten title game last year when Michigan State upset Ohio State. The winner of this game has a leg up on the nation in the chase for the Football Four, and in a game with stakes that high, we'll take Michigan State's coaching over Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.

USC plus-3 over Stanford: This is as much a hunch as it is a pick. We believe Steve Sarkisian can really coach. We believe at some point all the personnel losses will affect The Cardinal. We believe that children are the future, teach them well and let them lead way. And yes, that's two underdogs in one Fab 4-plus-1.

Check Friday's TFP for our final pick.

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NFL season predictions

We have covered the divisional picks the last two days here at the 5-at-10.

Here's our playoff predictions, and feel free to share yours.

NFC division winners ( home-field advantage; # first-round bye): Philadelphia, New Orleans#, Green Bay, Seattle

Wildcards: Chicago, Arizona

Playoffs: Chicago over Philly and Seattle over Arizona in round one; Green Bay over Chicago and New Orleans over Seattle in semifinals; Green Bay over New Orleans in NFC title game.

AFC division winners ( home-field advantage; # first-round bye): New England, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Denver#

Wildcards: Cincinnati, Kansas City

Playoffs: Indy over Cincy and Pittsburgh over Kansas City in the first round; New England over Indy and Denver over Pittsburgh in the semifinals; Denver over New England in the AFC title game.

Super Bowl: Denver over New Orleans and even the biggest Peyton fan will get tired of the (Manning rematch versus New Orleans story lines).

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees smiles on the sideline during an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in New Orleans, Monday, Dec. 26, 2011. (AP Photo/Rusty Costanza)

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees smiles on...

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

Thoughts?

As for the awards, well...

MVP - Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay, edges Drew Brees and Tom Brady

Offensive player of the year - Drew Brees, Green Bay

Defensive player of the year - Patrick Peterson, Arizona

Offensive rookie of the year - Brandin Cooks, New Orleans

Defensive rookie of the year - Ryan Shazier, Pittsburgh

Comeback player of the year - Rob Gronkowski, New England, although Julio Jones is a fine pick here too

Coach of the year - Sean Payton, New Orleans (although we think Lovie Smith and Tampa are going to do some things)

Thoughts?

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This and that

Atlanta Braves catcher Christian Bethancourt (25) is greeted by Atlanta Braves first base coach Terry Pendleton (9) as he leaves the field after defeating the Philadelphia Phillies 7-4 in a baseball game Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014, in Atlanta.

Atlanta Braves catcher Christian Bethancourt (25) is greeted...

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

- Hey the Braves scored seven runs and won. Who knew? Check out ace columnist Mark Wiedmer's view on it here.

- Michael Sam signed with Dallas. Jerry Jones made a shrewd move there since he keeps his team's jersey sales.

- There's some tennis out there, and the rest is the ball that bounces funny. Oh yeah, Nike retained Kevin Durant in a deal that will net the NBA MVP around $300 million over the next 10 years. Wow.

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Today's question

We're still working on one, although did you know it was Beyonce's birthday? Who's on your Rushmore of most talented people among today's current stars? Beyonce has to make that list, right?

Know who else: Mike Piazza.

Does it not feel like Piazza lost more than anyone else in the steroid era, considering his name was never mentioned during the process but now people just assume he was because he reportedly had back acne and he could mash?