Happy October and welcome to the real meat of the college football season.
Our picks record took a hit last week, as we were dead wrong on Clemson-Louisville, Stanford-Washington, and Michigan-Wisconsin. We would opine, however, that it’s not our fault the teams we picked didn’t listen to us. We are usually right. That being said, this has been a crazy season so far and it’s worth having a mediocre picks record in order to get the fantastic football we’ve seen so far.
Before we get started, let’s talk about something serious, moving a usual feature to the top of the article.
Trash Act of the Week
Right now, Hurricane Matthew is pummeling or heading toward the east coasts of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. This is a huge storm, a killer storm – the worst storm to hit the U.S. mainland in a decade.
And Florida refused to move its game against LSU.
What? We lived in Florida for Hurricane Andrew. We know what happens when Florida is hit by a hurricane, especially a direct hit. Hundreds of thousands of people are trying to get out of the state, and yet the University of Florida as of noon on Thursday had refused to move this game to the safety of Death Valley or a neutral site, and so far refused to cancel the game.
Aside from the ridiculous risk to the teams, fans, and the media, just think about the logistics of hosting a major college football game. This game will take first responders away from a natural disaster and force them instead to monitor traffic and offer security – at a college football game. On top of that, 1.5 million Florida citizens are fleeing the coast. Canceling the game would free all those hotel rooms in Gainesville for refugees.
But no. Florida is too greedy for the money a big game produces to agree to move the game either to LSU or to a neutral site. The Georgia Dome, for example, isn’t hosting an event this weekend and could accommodate the teams and fans in safety. But according to Florida’s latest statement, the game will not be moved.
We expect this game to get cancelled today. But even as we speak, there are people in the danger area of Florida preparing for the game and they, too, will be forced to join the traffic gridlock to escape a killer storm – tens of thousands more people added to the millions already on the roads. This was a stupid move on Florida’s part. Stupid, greedy, and irresponsible.
This is an elevated case of money being more important than anything else, including the UF students, faculty, athletes, and fans.
And let’s not forget Leonard Fournette’s injury – we’re certain the Gators haven’t. LSU racked up 670 yards last week against a good Mizzou defense without him. Florida doesn’t want to see how many yards they’ll tally with him.
Epic fail, Gators. Epic fail.
UPDATE: The game was cancelled at 3:30 on Thursday afternoon, which is good news despite the serious implications for the rest of SEC play, which we’ll discuss in greater detail next week. But delaying the decision still put people and resources in harm’s way, so everything we said above still applies. Epic fail is a fact.
Back to Your Regularly Scheduled Column
Before we go on, let’s get this out of the way.
We don’t have much to say about this that hasn’t already been said, other than we told you so.
On to some Week 5 myths!
Washington is Overhyped and Overrated
Nope. They’re not. By the time the Huskies got done beating the absolute crap out of top-10-ranked and PAC-12 favorite Stanford, all the Cardinals’ hopes for the season were flatter than Christian McCaffrey’s Heisman hopes. Washington held McCaffrey to 49 yards rushing and the rest of the team to 29.
Math notwithstanding, make no mistake: Chris Peterson is once again proving he is the real deal when it comes to building a powerhouse program. After his incredible run at Boise State, he’s got the Huskies in the driver’s seat in the PAC-12. This weekend, the Huskies head to Oregon, which has been steadily demolishing itself this season after losing the CFP Championship to Ohio State in 2015, and while it’s never a good idea to overlook the Ducks, the road looks clear for Washington to get into the PAC-12 championship game and from there to points unknown.
At this point, you’d have to be a fanatic not to believe that Washington is the best team in the PAC-12. For now.
Michigan is Back, Baby!
Michigan cannot claim to be back until and unless they beat two teams. They must win the battle of Michigan by taking down the Spartans of Michigan State. And they must defeat the high-flying Ohio State Buckeyes. We aren’t convinced that’s going to happen this season. Last week’s matchup versus Wisconsin was an ugly defensive battle, highlighted by a spectacular one-handed, behind-the-back interception by cornerback Jordan Lewis that has been the first real moment for Michigan this season. Haven’t seen it? You need to.
So while the win over Wisconsin was great and all, that’s not the real test the Wolverines have to pass. Until Michigan can defeat both its main rivals in the same season, this program is not back and that’s a fact.
Class Act of the Week
Last year, Southern University WR Devon Gales was paralyzed in a game against the University of Georgia. The UGA community took the player into their collective hearts in a remarkable display of solidarity and generosity. Not only has the university provided financial assistance to the Gales family, but Bulldog Nation raised the money necessary to build the family a new, handicap-accessible home in Baton Rouge. When Devon regained the ability to move his legs in May, UGA fans were ecstatic. But then came August, and the floods in Baton Rouge forced the Gales family to evacuate. Georgia flew the family to safety in Atlanta.
Over the course of the last month, Gales regained the ability to move his hip during physical therapy.
Last week, Gales and his mother were shown on the big screen at Sanford Stadium, and the 92,000-plus fans gave him a standing ovation. Everything about this story is commendable. The University of Georgia and its fans have been absolutely splendid in the way they’ve taken Devon Gales to heart. Complete class.
But the real class act? A young man who refuses to give up. Bravo, Devon. Keep up the hard work, because we know you’ll be walking.
On to the Picks
Time to see if we can redeem ourselves. We have a smorgasbord of games with huge ramifications to choose from, so let’s see if we can take 17-8 and 68% accuracy to 22-8. With 14 unbeaten Division 1 programs in the Top 25, we’re getting to the part of the season where pretenders are being exposed and contenders rising to the top. Let’s take a look at the marquee matchups.
Texas versus #20 Oklahoma
With four teams unbeaten in Big XII play, every game is do or die for the Oklahoma Sooners if they can recover from a 2-2 start and win the Big XII title. With a promising start for the Longhorns derailed by a bizarre loss to Cal and a shootout with Oklahoma State, Charlie Strong is in a do or die situation as well. This game has connotations far before the Red River Rivalry. If Strong doesn’t pull this game off, Texas will enter into the Tom Herman post-season sweepstakes with the unlimited bankroll and apparently unlimited influence of its boosters. Heading into a battle against their most hated rival, that’s a lot of pressure on the Longhorns.
But Oklahoma has its issues too. They were able to outgun TCU last week, but in the process have been exposed as vulnerable against a strong passing attack. This is a tough game to pick. In the end, we have to lean toward coaching as the key in this matchup. If it comes down to coaching, the choice becomes much easier. Look for the Sooners to pull it off, thanks to Texas’s inability to tackle and desperation mode for Strong, spiced with a dash of revenge for the upset last year.
Oklahoma 42 Texas 35
#25 Virginia Tech versus #17 North Carolina
Both these teams are now ranked after early-season losses. The Hokies have recovered from a how-not-to-hold-onto-the-ball clinic they ran against Tennessee in the Battle at Bristol by absolutely tub-thumping Boston College and Eastern Carolina. The Tarheels fell in a season-opening thriller against Georgia, but rebounded into the national spotlight with a huge last-second-field-goal win over Florida State last week.
Now these two ACC teams are facing each other, and the winner will re-enter the conversation in the ACC Coastal Division stakes. Both teams have boomtown offenses. NC’s QB Mitch Trebisky has posted back-to-back games with 400-plus yards passing against Pitt and FSU, while VT’s Jerod Evans adds a significant dual threat, with 282 yards passing, 97 yards rushing, and three touchdowns.
The difference in this game is defense. The Tarheels gave up almost 600 yards to the Seminoles, while VT has only allowed 17 total points in its last two games. Either the NC offense will break or the VT defense will. We think Hokies head coach Justin Fuente has a more complete team at this point in the season.
Virginia Tech 38 North Carolina 35
#23 Florida State versus #10 Miami
This game, as well, is in the danger zone, and depending on the track the hurricane takes might be affected. At this time it appears the worst part of the storm will be affecting central and northern Florida, so on the off-chance this game goes ahead, we’ll go ahead and pick it.
Florida State lost a heartbreaker to North Carolina last week after a monster 54-yard field goal as time expired. On the other hand, how ‘but those ‘Canes? Georgia punted Mark Richt after a 10-win season, only to have him land at his alma mater with an undefeated Miami team heading into week six. Sometimes attitude and confidence supersede anything else on the field. Miami’s defense is one of the best in the country statistically but has not yet played a ranked team, while FSU has played three ranked teams: Ole Miss, whom they rallied to beat; Louisville, who blew them out of the CFP picture; and North Carolina. While we’re not yet buying into the Miami-is-back hoopla, the stats don’t lie. Florida State loses to a third straight ranked opponent in a contest that may be closer than anticipated.
Miami 28 Florida State 27
#9 Tennessee versus #8 Texas A&M
The Volunteers and Aggies are meeting for the first time during the regular season, with UT owning a 2-0 record in bowls with the Aggies. This is a bizarrely well-matched pair of teams. Both are clawing their way into the CFP picture, with UT in sole ownership of the SEC East title race and A&M still very much in the picture for the West.
Tennessee is coming off the first two weeks of a brutal four-week stretch and an unbelievable victory over rival Georgia last week. Texas A&M’s schedule hasn’t been as difficult. UCLA, whom they played in the season opener, isn’t as good as expected, leaving Arkansas as the Aggies’ sole real challenge. Both teams finally have the talent and the depth to challenge for the SEC Championship, and yet both are limping into this game with key injuries.
All that being said, this cross-division matchup will have a serious impact on the rest of the conference. A&M still has Alabama, Ole Miss, and LSU to meet this season. Tennessee, on the other hand, has the Crimson Tide next week in Neyland Stadium and a relatively comfortable schedule the rest of the year. Add to that the possibility that LSU and Florida’s game cannot be rescheduled, and that makes it even more important than it might have been.
Both offenses are potent and if running on all cylinders can be extremely hard to stop, with veteran QBs in UT’s Joshua Dobbs and A&M’s Trevor Knight. Both defenses have big-time stars, with the Vols’ Heisman candidate DE Derek Barnett and the Aggies’ potential overall #1 draft pick Derek Barnett. Both have outstanding special teams units, with UT’s All-American Evan Berry and A&M’s preseason first team SEC Christian Kirk in the return game.
So what does this come down to? First, coaching. Both Butch Jones and Kevin Sumlin entered the season looking at put-up-or-shut-up judgements on their jobs. Jones has broken three streaks in seven days: to Florida, at Georgia, and against ranked teams in away games. Sumlin hasn’t had the chance to do that so far, and this is his first major test.
But then, intangibles come into play. The Vols’ charmed season has them believing in themselves, and that’s huge. But Texas A&M has entered the past two Octobers ranked 5-0, and lost game six by double digits. College GameDay has been at six A&M games, five in College Station, and the Aggies are 0-6 in those games. And let’s be for real here: The resilient Volunteers are relishing being the underdogs. We’ll lean toward a battle-tested supremely confident team in a contest that could be the craziest shootout of the season so far, but it’s a tossup.
Tennessee 48 Texas A&M 45
#1 Alabama versus #16 Arkansas
While this isn’t the glamor matchup of the other big SEC game, it might be more important. The Tide is on the first of a four-game horrorfest of a stretch, with Arkansas, Tennessee, Texas A&M, and LSU in a row. The scrappy Razorbacks have lost only to Texas A&M in one of the best games of the season so far. But they also beat TCU in a double-overtime slugfest, where their size and power eventually overcame the Horned Frogs’ air power.
Both teams have big, powerful lines. The real key to this game lies in the quarterback position. Hogs’ QB Austin Allen has an unbelievable QB rating of 167.69 and only two interceptions on the year. The Crimson Tide’s QB Jalen Hurts has been more effective on the ground than through the air, being the second leading rusher for the team on the season but throwing for fewer than 200 yards per game on average. Allen will challenge the slightly thinner Bama defense through the air as a legitimate downfield threat, while Hurts has the ability to wound a Razorback defense that has already proven vulnerable against a mobile quarterback. Keep in mind, too, that this game is annually a strange one and the last time the Tide came calling in Little Rock, they barely scraped by with a 14-13 win.
This is a dangerous game – a trap game for Bama, who might be looking ahead to that showdown with bitter rival Tennessee on the third Saturday in October. But this is the second Saturday, and the Razorbacks are not a good team to overlook. This one will be much closer than the oddsmakers have it.
Alabama 24 Arkansas 21
We’re really hoping to get our predictions percentage back above 70 percent this weekend. But if we don’t, blame Hurricane Matthew. We had every intention of picking LSU to devour a passel of Gator fritters in the Swamp on Saturday. Now it doesn’t matter if that game is rescheduled or not – the two teams that would have met are not the same teams that might yet meet. In the end, though, wouldn’t it be amazing if universities on the southern and eastern coasts had contingency plans in place in case of hurricanes?
But that would be too much common sense and not enough focus on the profits, and profit is the bottom line for these Power Five schools. Sadly, that is fact.