There is a fair amount of unpredictability across all sports. That's a large part of its charm. (Or as my father would always say after upsets big and small, "That's why they play the game.")
As for the picks, finding those upsets can be tricky, and in an effort to continue a pretty stout streak, let's try to peg the things we believe we know the best.
We know that stakes matter. And they can matter in each direction. A team with everything to play for — especially at home — can be dangerous.
We know that trustable quarterbacks matter. A whole lot. And forget about perspective: If you can find a coach-quarterback relationship that is centered on trust, well, that can be very entertaining this time of year.
We also know that this time of year — even when you're riding a hot streak — almost every Vegas spread makes you use that sideways slow nod and think, "Yeah, that's a good line."
Let's find some entertainment among them, shall we?
Georgia minus-2.5 over Auburn. Can Auburn make this be the game in which Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm has to deliver multiple third-and-8 completions to extend drives, and in the grandest Auburn dreams, to try to score points late? There certainly is the motivation factor on each side: Georgia chasing the impossible dream and Tigers coach Gus Malzahn needing a win over a November rival in the worst way. Still, Georgia is more complete, has more depth and is more healthy, especially at running back.
Middle Tennessee State University minus-11 over UNC Charlotte. Want to talk about QB-coach trust? Try this one: MTSU has a Stockstill in each spot. Yep, young Brent Stockstill — coach Rick's son — is back and healthy. He has played in three games this year — a loss against Vanderbilt, a win at Syracuse and last week's rout of winless UTEP. In his past two starts (both wins) he's 35-of-66 for 459 and six scores. (And did we mention Charlotte is averaging fewer than 13 points a game and its dual-threat QB is nursing a sore ankle?)
Alabama minus-14 over Mississippi State. It's impossible not to trust the Crimson Tide. It's also impossible not to remember what they did to Nick Fitzgerald last year in Alabama's 51-3 win. (If you think last year's defense was better than this year's, well, OK. It lost a lot of NFL talent, but is allowing a nation-leading 9.8 points per game this year, too.) We'll take the half to be safe, but this feels like a spot Alabama plays really well, banged up or not.
Florida Atlantic University minus-5 over Louisiana Tech. OK, a little Lane Kiffin story, because in a world of college football coaches trying their dangedest not to be entertaining (in the actual definition of entertaining) or answer in anything this side of robot-ese, Kiffin is truly his own dude. Last week, after taking a safety in the final seconds that flipped a seven-point lead to a non-spread-covering 30-25 victory, Kiffin took to Twitter and trolled the spread, gamblers and even Nick Saban by using the hashtag #ratpoison. You stay you, Lane. As for football, Lane being Lane always has led to offensive success. His bunch is 15th nationally in points per game (38.4) and excellent since September with showings of 58, 69, 42 and 30 points in four straight wins.facebook
Fresno State minus-9.5 over Hawaii. Let's roll a little math, shall we? Hawaii is allowing 464 yards (117th nationally) and 34.2 points (107th) per game. The Rainbow Turnstiles are 1-8 against the number. Fresno is allowing 311 yards (16th nationally, ahead of some team named LSU) and 18 points per game (14th). The Bulldogs are 6-3 against the spread. Sometimes it's easier when we break it down, right? Yes, travel is always a concern, but remember the motivation. Fresno State is playing for a chance to be in the Mountain West title game; Hawaii is playing because it has to.
Southern Miss minus-10 over Rice. Who watched the Southern Miss-Tennessee game? Here's believing that if Tennessee had not forced a couple of turnovers deep in Golden Eagles territory and the penalty disparity had not been something like 402 for Southern Miss and one for the Vols, that was a very tight game. (Seriously, the penalty divide was 14 for 120 yards and 3 for 29.) Southern Miss limited Tennessee, which spent most of the second half protecting freshman quarterback Will McBride, to 210 yards. Now comes Rice, which is in the bottom four in points nationally and dead last in turnover margin. The Owls are minus-21 in takeaways, which works out to minus-2.33 per game. Buy the half for peace of mind, but I'd be surprised if Rice's offense, which now has its starting left tackle listed as doubtful and its starting running back listed as questionable, cracks double digits.
Last week: 5-1 against the spread (83.3 percent)
This season: 34-20-1 against the spread (63 percent)
SEC ITEMS OF INTEREST
For time and space, we will keep this short. For matters of interest, we will also keep this of a limited scope.
Seriously, other than the folks in East Tennessee and those who have loaned Butch Jones money, who really cares about Tennessee-Missouri? Or Kentucky-Vanderbilt? Or the "Wow, didn't know he still had a head coaching job Bowl" that is Bob Davies' New Mexico team vs. Kevin Sumlin's Texas A&M bunch?
Not when Georgia heads to Auburn in what is the Southeastern Conference's first meeting of top-10 teams this season. Crazy, right? Not when Alabama goes to Starkville for a meeting of No. 2 and No. 16 in the playoff rankings, a matchup that on almost every previous Saturday in this decidedly top-heavy SEC season would have been the best on the board. And not when it's impossible to take your eyes off the dumpster fire that is the Florida Gators, who head to South Carolina as a double-digit underdog to former coach Will Muschamp.
First down. Georgia protecting the quarterback. This is multilayered, as is our view as the key to the Bulldogs. Georgia must physically protect Fromm. Auburn is tied for 17th nationally with 2.89 sacks per game, and defensive end Jeff Holland is second in the SEC with eight sacks. Georgia has been great at protecting Fromm, allowing only nine sacks this year in nine games. But a big part of that has been the overpowering Bulldogs running game that has allowed Fromm and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney the glorious luxury of play-action and picking their spots. Auburn has to put the Georgia offense in places where everyone in the building knows Fromm is dropping back and the Tigers can try to create pressure, which often can create turnovers in big games.
Second down. Auburn finding running lanes. We think this likely would be a pick 'em game if Kam Pettway, Auburn's monster, bruising, between-the-tackles power back, was healthy. But he's not, and that leaves a monumental responsibility on the shoulders of Kerryon Johnson. Yes, Johnson has been durable, and, yes, he has been productive (he's second in the league with 868 rushing yards, despite missing some time early, and his 15 rushing touchdowns are tied for third nationally). But this Georgia defense is better in points allowed, rushing yards allowed and total defense than the Clemson bunch that completely suffocated Auburn earlier this year. Creating space for Johnson is the biggest key for the Auburn offense, and that will allow quarterback Jarrett Stidham more time and Malzahn more options in what is a monster game for his long-term job security.
Third down. Tide's next wave. There are a lot of national mouthpieces saying the Bulldogs can topple the Tide. It's possible. And a primary reason for that optimism is the rash of season-ending injuries Alabama has suffered at linebacker. Sure, no one is going to feel sympathy for depth challenges for Saban. Not even Saban. Still, here's betting there's going to be a new name of a future star — hi, Dylan Moses — and probably an SEC freshman of the week emerge from the playing-time opportunity for the Tide defenders.
Fourth down. Florida's anthem. OK, Gainesville native and legendary rock-n-roll icon Tom Petty died in his home on Oct. 2. The Florida crowd at the Swamp on Oct. 7 did a magical rendition of "Won't Back Down" during the LSU game as a tribute. Maybe they should have done "Free Fallin'" instead. Since Petty's death, the Gators are bagel-and-4 with a 17-16 loss to LSU, a 19-17 loss to Texas A&M and complete pantsings by Georgia, 42-7, and Missouri, 45-16. Plus, there's the Coach Boom factor. That said, there's been a recent trend of former Florida coaches winding up, and having success, at South Carolina. Anyone want to bet Jim McElwain will not continue that trend?
Contact Jay Greeson at firstname.lastname@example.org.