By Kendall Webb
The Texas A&M Aggies got a much-needed break last week. With a defense still struggling to recover from early suspensions and the usual bumps and bruises that come from playing week-to-week in the SEC, it was time to recover a little and refocus on the next stretch of conference games. That stretch begins Saturday with a road trip to face a Ole Miss team desperate to turn things around after two straight SEC losses.
It’s actually a tough pick, and we’ll deal with that below. But regardless of whether or not the defense is ready to show improvement – the defense is ranked No. 112 out of 125 FBS teams – the offense will still have the legendary Johnny Manziel directing a Top 5 offense that’s rolling up 586.4 yards and 49.2 points per game.
Just how big is the legend of Johnny Manziel these days? Well, last Sunday in the midst of Tony Romo’s greatest game ever for the Dallas Cowboys, the joke was that somehow Manziel had managed to sneak into the game and take his place. I even found myself looking at the game in slow motion to make sure it wasn’t true. So when the quarterback of America’s Team is being compared to the quarterback at Texas A&M rather than the other way around, you can only shake your head and come to one inescapable conclusion:
Even the legends are bigger in Texas.
Week Six Recap
Last week I was crowing about an undefeated 8-0 week on my picks. This week I’m mostly eating crow.
In fact, I’m scanning the internet right now to find the best recipe for crow in Missouri. Yeah, that was my biggest miss when I said the 4-0 Tigers would be 4-4 before it was all said and done. That was with the Tigers headed to Nashville last weekend to play Vanderbilt with Georgia, Florida and South Carolina on deck after that. The problem was overvaluing Vanderbilt at home. Missouri beat the Commodores up and down the field in an old-fashioned 51-28 butt-kicking, and I was hunting for crow by halftime when the Tigers were up 30-7.
My other miss was Ole Miss – the Rebels found themselves in an early 17-point hole at Auburn from which they could never climb out. I called it a nail biter with Ole Miss finding a way, and the Rebels would climb to within five with 8:29 to play in the game. They lost, however, 30-22 in a game I figured could go either way.
All in all, it was a 5-2 week leaving me at 49-8 for the season.
Saturday in the SEC
It’s ESPN3 week in the SEC, and that tells you about all you need to know about most of these games. Three of the seven games involving SEC teams will be on ESPN’s internet channel rather than on the cable/satellite lineup (unless you’ve got ESPN Gameplan), and for good reason for the most part. However, there are some interesting matchups and a handful of games that will have college football fans’ attention if they don’t get out of hand early.
Alright, I missed Missouri’s first loss by one week. Look, Missouri is to be commended for its 5-0 start, and all joking aside, they did look like a pretty solid outfit at Vanderbilt. But Georgia? Well, this is a Bulldogs’ team that knows it absolutely can’t lose another game after losing in the opener to Clemson. To stay in the national title picture, they absolutely have to run the table and since that loss they own two wins against teams that were consensus Top 10 at the time in South Carolina and LSU. Missouri is playing with a lot of confidence, but it’s impossible to ignore the contrast in opponents as Missouri’s have combined to go just 15-13. That includes Vandy, of course, which is just 3-3 and 0-3 in the SEC.
PREDICTION: I undervalued Missouri, no doubt, but I think I also gave Vandy too much credit at home. This isn’t Vandy from a year ago, and Missouri exposed them last week when I thought it might be the other way around. Georgia, meanwhile does have a lot of injuries, but they were still good enough despite that to survive Tennessee on the road. I think they’ll have enough motivation and talent to survive Missouri back in Athens.
Heck, I was as surprised as Steve Spurrier last week when word came out that Clowney was a scratch just before kick off last. I was expecting he’d come out and get things back on track against Kentucky, but then his mysterious rib injury ended up keeping him out of the game at the last-minute. It was such a surprise to Spurrier that he actually delivered some sarcastic comments in the postgame indicating that maybe he thought Clowney was taking the easy way out. He has since backed off, and it appears Clowney will play this weekend. Quite frankly, they need him. This is a Carolina team that isn’t dominating anybody right now with just a three-point win over UCF two weeks ago and a seven-point win over the Kentucky Wildcats at home. The Gamecocks are ripe for an upset, and that only becomes a stronger likelihood on the road – especially if Clowney can’t go.
PREDICTION: Tougher than it looks. Carolina’s only favored by six, and can’t afford too many mistakes in this one. Turnovers will probably figure into this one, and of course, Clowney’s status and effectiveness if he does play. It’s been a disappointing season for Clowney in many respects, but if he’s on the field, I believe he affects the gameplan enough to give the Gamecocks an edge. That’s how I’ll call it – with South Carolina escaping in another close one.
At 4-1, Auburn has probably exceeded some fans’ expectations, although in all fairness, it wasn’t impossible to see this coming. Home games with Washington State, Arkansas State and Mississippi State realistically gave the Tigers a shot at 3-0, and Ole Miss last week proved they haven’t exactly joined the top half of the SEC West yet. Only LSU in Week 4 was a given loss for the Tigers, but therein is the important detail – this Tiger team is winning all the games that it should have a shot at winning. That’s a big difference for a team that was losing those games a year ago.
PREDICTION: Enjoy, it Tiger fans, you’re already one game better than you were all of last year, and you’re about to be one game away from the postseason. Auburn in a rout.
This is the big one in the SEC this week, and on paper it has the potential to be very interesting. Florida is No. 2 in total defense (217.0 ypg) and tied for No. 4 in scoring defense (12.2 ppg). LSU’s offense, meanwhile, is flying high behind the breakout season of Zach Mettenberger who is starting to get some whispers in Heisman conversations. Interestingly, though, both units have put those numbers up against statistically inferior opponents meaning we really don’t know yet which number if either is the more reliable. Ironically, that means the game could be decided when the other two units are on the field. LSU’s defense has been extremely vulnerable at times, and Florida’s offense is still a work in progress even if Tyler Murphy is starting to look like he might be an upgrade over Jeff Driskel. If the LSU offense vs. Florida defense is a stalemate, then if one of those other units asserts itself, it could be the difference.
PREDICTION: LSU is favored by seven, but something tells me they’ll find a way to crack Florida’s defense a few times. It could be tough in this environment for young Tyler Murphy to respond, and in the end, it’s just a gut feeling but I feel like LSU covers that spread while winning for the 28th time in their last 29 games at Tiger Stadium.
With a lopsided history such as that in the storyline, the real question is simply – how much does Alabama win by? Kentucky will be doing well at this point just to beat the 27-point spread.
PREDICTION: Sometime after 10 p.m. ET Saturday, Alabama will be 36-2-1 vs. Kentucky.
Bowling Green comes in at 5-1, but playing in the MAC, their biggest win is a 34-7 victory over Tulsa in the opener. At the time, it was an extremely surprising result, but since then, Tulsa has fashioned just a 1-4 record overall. The loss, meanwhile, came in a 42-10 beatdown at the hands of Indiana which is much-improved, but generally can have a tough time with upper-level MAC opponents. Indiana might give Missisippi State a good game in Bloomington, but I’d still side with the Bulldogs to win comfortably if the game was in Starkville. That all translates into Mississippi State probably pulling away and beating Bowling Green comfortably at home.
PREDICTION: Mississippi State’s biggest mistake would be letting the Falcons hang around too long and pick up confidence so I think the Bulldogs will be aggressive and look to create some space by halftime. The spread is running around 11, and I’ve got a feeling that Mississippi State covers that.
Corny story lines aside, it really does boil down to whether Hugh Freeze can devise a game plan that at least makes Johnny Manziel cool down. The Rebels don’t want to get into a track meet with Manziel so much as they’d prefer it to be a marathon where maybe the Heisman winner and his Aggies are forced to go the distance to get touchdowns and the win. The Aggies are capable of winning those games, too, of course as they showed at Arkansas a couple of weeks ago, but I think the Rebels will come in confident that they can move the ball on the Aggies’ defense. Manziel will create yardage and scoring opportunities, no doubt, but as long as it isn’t too easy, the Rebels stand a chance of being there at the finish line with a chance at home.
PREDICTION: It sounds crazy, but somewhere Manziel’s bound to stumble and have an off day. If he does, then the Aggie defense might finally have to come to the rescue. If it’s in a place like Oxford, Mississippi, then that could be a problem because the Bo Wallace-led offense of the Rebels can score with the best of them when they’re clicking on all cylinders. They’ve had a rough couple of weeks in the SEC with a shutout at Alabama and only 22 on the road at Aubun, but there’s no better cure than to play in front of the home crowd. I think the 6.5 point line in favor of the Aggies indicates that there’s some other folks thinking what I’m thinking, and it might be a mistake, but I’m going with the Rebels in an upset.
— Rattle & Hum Sports (@RandHsports) October 12, 2013