This a monster weekend for college football across the dial. We're stoked. Heck, we may start knocking back Co-Colas right now. HICCUP.
1) Are the Tigers ready for prime time, part I?
Auburn may be the most improved team in college football, which is not as hard as it sounds since it was historically bad in 2012. Now the Tigers get a chance to face Johnny Football and the Aggies, who totally torched them last fall. Not the same Tigers, but the same -- if not better -- Johnny Football. Auburn's offense has been much better, as expected since Gus Malzahn returned. The defense, however, also has been much improved under Ellis Johnson. Are they ready for a "Here's Johnny" moment? Hard to know, but every Auburn fan we know is thankful to be looking forward to Saturdays again.
2) Is Tennessee ready for more than getting close?
Hey, did you know that Tennessee almost beat Georgia? Man, the Volunteers' 34-31 overtime heartbreaker two weeks ago has become the most noteworthy loss since "Dewey defeats Truman." Now Steve Spurrier, the longtime burr in the Big Orange saddle, returns to East Tennessee with a South Carolina team that has flipped a switch from "what's going on" to "now that just happened." Quarterback Connor Shaw is gutsy and tough and smart. Running back Mike Davis is a bell cow. Vols all-star tackle Tiny Richardson has done the one thing even the great Spurrier has not been able to do consistently, and that's motivate Jadeveon Clowney. Maybe getting close will be another orange feather in Butch Jones' cap, all things considered.
3) Arkansas goes from frying pan to Tuscaloosa fire
If South Carolina beats you by 45 at your place, how ugly would your trip to Alabama be? That's the question facing Arkansas this weekend. And the Razorbacks' 52-7 home loss to South Carolina was a little misleading, since Arkansas actually scored first before the Gamecocks closed on a 52-0 run. Also misleading was Alabama's 48-7 thumping of Kentucky, considering that was a scoreless tie after one quarter because Alabama fumbled twice inside the UK 5 and dropped a potential TD pass. Karma indeed.
4) Are the Tigers ready for prime time, part II?
If the Auburn Tigers are not the most improved team, the Missouri Tigers certainly are. After an injury-riddled 5-7 2012, Missouri is 6-0. Yes, losing quarterback James Franklin in last week's big win at Georgia hurts. But please do not mention injuries around Florida, which has been ravaged by monster season-ending pains to a slew of its season-bending monsters. So, a new quarterback against Florida's three potential NFL first-round cornerbacks. The official spread (for entertainment purposes only, of course) is Florida minus-3. The unofficial over/under on Florida pick-sixes is 2.5.
5) Which key Georgia player will get hurt this week?
Aaron Murray has played bravely as all of his proven offensive pieces have fallen around him. The Georgia defense has managed to stay healthy, which is a lot easier in tackle football when you avoid contact as much as the Georgia defense has this season. (Side note: Somehow, "Have fun and stay healthy" seems more like a mom's mantra than a defensive coordinator's, no? That Todd Grantham always is thinking outside the box. Here are some more potential defensive chants that Grantham may want to avoid using on his underachieving group:
• 1-2-3, Peace
• Let's hug it out
• Turnovers are overrated
• Like Upward Basketball, we want to make sure everyone gets a chance to score
• We look good getting off the bus
• Who needs preparation?
• Share your feelings
• Brothers in arm-tackling
• I'm better than Sal
Fab 4-plus-1 picks
Even when you have entertainment only on the line, the risk involved with gambling is magnified by the settings and the situations of college football. So it goes.
Last week, the Fab 4-plus-1 picks had the feel of a perfect week. One late score to cover and one fourth-quarter rally that turned a 20-point fourth-quarter lead into a miracle cover, and we finished a disappointing 2-3. We're still better than 60 percent, but the last two weeks have been a challenge.
In truth, we blame ourself for ignoring something we said in September. On Sept. 5, we wrote this as the Ducks flew east: "Oregon minus-21 at Virginia: The Ducks and UCLA are going to be our go-to teams this year. Well, at least until they give us reason not to."
We have underpicked the Ducks and the Bruins all year. They are a combined 11-0 against the number this year. Each is a scary pick this week because the two teams meet next week.
Texas Tech minus-6 at West Virginia: Kliff Kingsbury has become a rock star with the Red Raiders, and for good reason. The former Tech all-star quarterback has energized the offense and helped two quarterbacks throw for more than 400 yards in a game this season. West Virginia has improved since its stink-pants start, and the noon kickoff in the couch-burning capital of the free world is a plus. But Dana Holgorsen is no Kliff Kingsbury. Heck, Dana Holgorsen is closer to Cliff Clavin.
South Carolina minus-7 at Tennessee: Managing the bye week may be the single most underrated part of regular-season college football coaching. Going into the bye on a high can be a great thing for moral. It can also be a difficult thing if your team spends the better part of two weeks hearing how great they did and how close they are to turning it around and how ... well, you get the idea. And yes, there is reason to have pause here: The renewed energy in Knoxville, the fact that South Carolina played as well as it can last week, the rested Vols. But here's the tiebreaking matchup: Connor Shaw vs. Justin Worley. Shaw is 22-4 as a starter; Worley had a good second half against a bad Georgia defense. And Mike Davis, the underrated South Carolina rusher who will be the hammer that Todd Gurley was supposed to be two weeks ago. (Buy the half for safety, of course.)
Alabama minus-28 over Arkansas: Is there anything more pitiful than clubbed baby seals? Yes, yes there is. Opposing offenses that are completely one-dimensional coming to Tuscaloosa to face Nick Saban's Tide. Arkansas completed four passes last week against South Carolina. FOUR. Heck, Arkansas threw only 13 passes against South Carolina, and that was in a game that was 52-7. Wonder if Bret Bielema and those Big Ten folks have heard of this crazy forward-pass thing that all the young kids are talking about. Get off my lawn!
UCLA plus-7 at Stanford: Stanford is good and irked, and UCLA has Oregon on the horizon. You know what? So what. UCLA has lottery picks at quarterback and at linebacker. We have ignored the Bruins for too long, only making entertainment off them twice in a perfect 5-0 start. We're here, we're clear; get used to it.
Oregon minus-38 over Washington State: WSU coach Mike Leach is a pirate. Great. Oregon offensive guru Mark Helfrich is a wizard. OK, if a pirate and a wizard went toe-to-toe, you have to go with the wizard, right? Gandolph against Captain Jack Sparrow? Merlin vs. Blackbeard? Henry Potter vs. Captain Hook? Know this, in a 60-minute football game, Helfrich the Good and the Ducks average just less than a point and just more than 10 yards per minute. Tick, tock, tick, tock.
Last week against the spread: 2-3
This season against the spread: 21-13-1 (62 percent)
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...