Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Week 4 Picks

No hurricane-delayed games this week as there's finally a healthy slate of conference games, including 2 major divisional showdowns in Auburn and Knoxville. All 5 conference teams in the AP Top 10 are in action.

Off This Week: Kentucky

Mississippi State (1-2, 0-1) at Georgia Tech (2-1)
11:30 CDT, ACC Raycom
All Time Series:
Georgia Tech 2-0
Wednesday’s Line: Georgia Tech -8.5

The Bulldogs will head down to Atlanta this weekend hoping to redeem themselves from one of the worst offensive showings ever nationally-televised. MSU mustered just 116 yds last week against Auburn, but - as usual - their defense kept them in the ballgame until the very end of it. They be facing another stout defense as GT ranks 27th in the country in total defense (255.7 ypg) and 37th in scoring defense (16.7 ppg). That's unfortunate for MSU as their offense ranks a woeful 106th (16.7 ppg) in the country and that's with 34 points against a 1-AA school.

The Bulldog D will be tested by the Yellow Jackets' triple option. It's been a successful transition so far this year for Paul Johnson and his staff, though it will be interesting to see how it works against a defense as quick and good as MSU's. They won't have to put up many points to win, but they may find the points tougher to come by than their previous games though.

When it's all said and done, the Yellow Jackets win this one. After such an anemic showing at home last weekend, there’s no way to pick MSU on the road this week. The Bulldogs haven't beaten a non-SEC BCS opponent since the Snow Bowl on NYE 2000.

Straight Up: Georgia Tech
Against the Spread: Mississippi State

(#9,#13)Alabama (3-0, 0-0) at Arkansas (2-0,0-0)
11:30 CDT, Raycom
All Time Series:
Alabama 10-8
Wednesday’s Line: Alabama -9.5

Arkansas will be out for revenge this year after last season's *ahem* controversial ending. But really, the biggest question in this game is which Alabama team will show up? The one that dominated Clemson and Western Kentucky? Or the one that needed its special teams to step up to get by Tulane. My hunch is that it's the former as Saban will have his players focused and ready to go.

The Hogs are averaging nearly 60 yds more per game than UAT (450-383), but based on competition level, it's not surprising. What's more telling though is the Tide is allowing 90 yds less per game than Arkansas is on defense (221-302). The Razorbacks - even with the extra week of preparation will find much tougher sledding this week. The rumor is that Petrino hasn't shown his full hand yet and was saving some tricks for the now-postponed Texas game, but until the Hogs put up points against a legitimate defense, that's just hearsay. The fact that they haven’t forced a turnover on defense is also disturbing.

The home team has won 4 straight in this one, but that trend stops this year. The Hogs just don't have the manpower to compete day in and day out in the SEC this year. Alabama wins big.

Straight Up: Alabama
Against the Spread: Alabama

(#4,#4)Florida (3-0, 0-0) at Tennessee (1-1,0-0)
2:30 CDT, CBS
All Time Series:
Tennessee 19-18
Wednesday’s Line: Florida -7.5

It's always entertaining when these two schools hook up, as the games are normally competitive and there's certainly no love lost between the two fan bases. This will a big test for UT QB Crompton as it will be just his 3rd career start. He was sharp last week against UAB, but looked lost for the majority of the UCLA game in week 1.

This will be the Gators' toughest defensive test to date. The Vols are rushing for 220+ ypg and averaging nearly 5 ypc. UF is only giving up 60 ypg, but have obviously not played a RB or OL like they'll encounter on Saturday. The Vols ability to pound the ball gives them a real shot at this game as the team that's rushed for more yds is 16-2 over the last 18 seasons. UT is only allowing 68 rush ypg, but like UF haven't faced an SEC-quality backfield.

In the end, the Gators just have too much firepower for the Vols to keep up with. Urban Meyer is 3-0 against Tennessee so far in his tenure in Gainesville and it's never been a good matchup for Fulmer, who's just 5-11 vs UF. Tebow shredded the Vols last year for 4 total TDs, and I expect more of the same this year, though a much closer game than the 39-pt blowout.

Straight Up: Florida
Against the Spread: Florida

Wofford (2-0, 0-0) at South Carolina (1-2,0-2)
6:00 CDT
All Time Series:
South Carolina 17-4
Wednesday’s Line: N/A

The Gamecocks are the only team in conference playing a 1AA school this week, but after their last two games, they deserve it. This should (ideally) give Spurrier a chance to find a QB to stick with as his guy, but that won't happen. The Gamecock D may be a little disinterested in game after repeatedly holding the UGA offense down last week and not being rewarded for their efforts. South Carolina will obviously win this game, but it won't be pretty.

Straight Up: South Carolina
Against the Spread: N/A

Vanderbilt(3-0, 1-0) at Ole Miss (2-1, 0-0)
6:00 CDT
All Time Series:
Ole Miss 46-34-2
Wednesday’s Line: Ole Miss -6.5

Vanderbilt heads down to Dixieland this weekend to take on Ole Miss. This has been a very competitive series lately. Though OM has won 12 of the last 15, many of the games have been very close. Vandy has taken 2 of the last 3, but both were in Nashville.

The ‘Dores have already exceeded some people’s expectations this season. They lead the conference in sacks with 10 and are 2nd in interceptions with 6, but rank just 68th in total defense in the country (357.3 ypg) and allow a surprising 5.1 ypp. The Rebels are actually ahead of VU in total defense, ranking 57th (333.0 ypg). They also sport the conference’s leading TD-tosser in Jevan Snead. He’ll have his work cut out for him against VU’s DBs.

If Vanderbilt can throw the ball effectively in this game, they’ll be tough to beat. QB Nickson and RB Hawkins average 170 ypg rushing, but the ‘Dores struggle through the air. With the Rebels’ DL getting healthier by the day, they’ll need a reliable aerial attack to keep the Rebels from stacking 8 or 9 guys in the box to stop the run.

If Vanderbilt wins this game, they’ll be 4-0 (2-0 in SEC) and ranked in the top 25. Let that sink in for a minute… now exhale, because it’s not gonna happen. The Rebels will be too hungry to pick up their first conference win since November 2006 and will pull this one out.

Straight Up: Ole Miss
Against the Spread: Ole Miss

(#6,#6)LSU (2-0, 0-0) at (#10,#9)Auburn(3-0, 1-0)
6:45 CDT, ESPN
All Time Series:
LSU 22-19-1
Wednesday’s Line: LSU -2.5

This is always one of the most entertaining and hard-fought games of the conference season and typically serves as a de facto SEC West Championship Game. LSU pulled a rabbit out of its hat last year to win 30-24 while AU used a few fortuitous calls from the men in stripes to win 7-3 in 2006. The last 4 games in this series have been decided by a combined 14 pts. The last two games in Auburn, the teams have combined for a total of 29 pts.

This year’s game will much more resemble the 2006 slugfest than last year’s offensive explosions. Both teams have questions on offense – LSU wonders which QB will play, Auburn wonders why they switched to the spread… We all knew there would be growing pains going to the new offensive scheme, but no one expected what they saw Saturday night. As an aside, the offense looked pretty crisp last year against Clemson in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, rolling up 420 yds and only committing 1 turnover all game. What happened?

This game is going to come down to the QBs. Both teams have stout Ds – Auburn ranks 1oth in the country 213.7 ypg, LSU 12 at 219.0 ypg – and a handful of explosive RBs, and Tuberville says that Brad Lester may even be back this weekend. The QBs are a different story. LSU and Auburn rank 76th and 96th respectively in passing offense. At this point, the advantage has to go to LSU as Auburn doesn’t have a QB on its roster who moves around well enough and smart enough to effectively operate the spread.

AU was my preseason pick to win the West, but now I’m not so sure. LSU is certainly not without weaknesses, but theirs are less glaring than AU’s. If LSU can minimize mistakes offensively, they’ll win this one behind the strength and size of their gargantuan OL and DL. The home team has won this game 8 straight years, but that trend ends this season.

Straight Up: LSU
Against the Spread: LSU

(#3,#3)Georgia (3-0, 1-0) at (NR,#24)Arizona State (2-1)
7:00 CDT, ABC
All Time Series:
First Meeting
Wednesday’s Line: Georgia -7

This was hyped as one of the big marquee non-conference matchups of the year headed into the season. It’s lost some of its luster with the Sun Devil’s tank job last week against UNLV, but it will still be a statement game for one of the teams involved.

While it’s hard to get a read on ASU so far this year – their stats (except for that whole W/L record) have been propped up by mediocre competition – they do typically score a lot of points. QB Carpenter has been on the roster since the Reagan administration and has put up some gaudy passing #s in his tenure. If this game comes down to a FG, the advantage goes to the Sun Devils as they boast one of the country’s top kickers.

As for the outcome, I’ll believe it’s going to be competitive when I see it. I don’t think that the Sun Devils have the talent to handle the ‘Dawgs for 4 quarters. I also don’t believe UGA’s offense will struggle like it did last week for 2 consecutive games. This one may be competitive early, but in the end, the ‘Dawgs run away with it.

Straight Up: Georgia
Against the Spread: Georgia

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