We've finally made it through our long nonconference nightmare, and you can certainly tell the difference in this week's slate of games. There are great matchups all over the place, nowhere more so that in the nation's top divison.
That is, of course, the SEC West, which has six of its top seven teams in the top 15, and five of them are undefeated. Those six are facing each other in three games this Saturday, which is great except that it's a no-lose situation for the SEC, since basically any result just demonstrated the league's strength and depth.
Try not to think of that national narrative, though, and just enjoy the (hopefully) competitive contests between quality football teams. That's what Jon and I will be doing, at least on paper, For Entertainment Purposes Only.
Last week was kind of rough for both of us, thanks largely to failures by Florida State, Oklahoma State and especially Duke to play up to their potential. Jon went 5-5 to move to 23-17 overall, just one game behind me at 24-16, since I went 4-6 a week ago.
MISSISSIPPI STATE (-1.5) over Texas A&M 11 a.m., ESPN
Davis Wade Stadium, Starkville MS
LT: It seems like the order of names on this stadium should be reversed to honor the best reliever in baseball, but I digress. This is a line absolutely no one would have expected at the beginning of the season, when we all expected it to be another long year for Mississippi State. Instead, the Bulldogs have handled every test, including an upset win at LSU two weeks ago. I jumped on the bandwagon fairly early, plus A&M is a little overrated until they get more of a defense, so I'm saying Mississippi State covers and moves to 5-0 heading into a showdown with Auburn next week.
JM: I, on the other hand, am not sold yet. I think Clanga absolutely CAN win this game, but we've seen this movie before. This is not a pick I would make under normal circumstances; it's exactly the sort of game you should pass on if you're trying to maximize your success. But since I have to go, I'll take the Aggies to cover.
Baylor (-16.5) over TEXAS 2:30 p.m. ABC
Darrell K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium, Austin TX
LT: You may have heard that on Monday Texas wide receiver John Harris suggested the Longhorns are still a superior program to Baylor, despite all the numbers in recent years that would indicate otherwise. I suppose in some broad sense that may be true, but saying it like that simply was not a good idea for Texas right now. The Bears and their explosive offense are clearly at least three touchdowns better than the Longhorns this season, and comments like that will help ensure Bryce Petty and Co. take care of business. Baylor covers.
JM: The following is my reasoned, thoughtful, and in-depth analysis of your position on this matter:
Alabama (-6.5) over OLE MISS, 2:30 p.m. CBS
Vaught Hemingway Stadium, Oxford MS
LT: Make no mistake, Alabama has looked eminently beatable at times so far this year. The defense gave up two touchdowns each to West Virginia and Florida (the Mountaineers added a special teams TD and the Gators got one on D) while the Crimson Tide rushing attack ranks just 19th in the country. The thing is Ole Miss just hasn't done much to impress me and it seems like Bo Wallace rarely makes the plays his team needs on the biggest stage. Alabama has a surprisingly good and efficient passing attack, and I think it's good enough for Nick Saban's squad to cover in this one.
JM: I guess, really, one has to ask themselves what they think Bama would have done to Memphis last week, and I'm not knocking Memphis when I say that. Yeah, you're on the same page as I am now, aren't you? Tide covers.
AUBURN (-8) over Louisiana State 6 p.m., ESPN
Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn AL
LT: At some point, Auburn's luck has to run out, doesn't it? It's not that the Tigers are not a good team, but they also seem to benefit from uncharacteristic mistakes by opponents, dating all the way back to last season. LSU kicker Colby Delahoussaye, who is perfect this season except for one missed extra point, had better be careful. In this one, though, the Tigers might not even need luck against a defense that gave up more than 300 yards on the ground to Mississippi State. Auburn must be excited. They'll cover.
JM: Yeah, teams that can't defend the run are like steroids for Auburn, but I'll be kind and not directly bring back any memories from last year. I don't know that Auburn's going to run wild over the other Tigers here -- Les Miles is insane, but he'll have LSU working on run defense this week for certain. But they'll still run enough to make the offense work, and that's all they'll need in order to cover here.
USC (+11.5) over Arizona State 6:30 p.m. FOX
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles CA
LT: Both of these teams were got embarrassed the last time we saw them. For USC, it was a 37-31 loss at lowly Boston College, who lost to Colorado State last week, and for Arizona State, it was a 62-27 drubbing at the hands of UCLA in Tempe. Tough to say which was worse. It is worth noting ASU quarterback Mike Bercovici still threw for 488 yards, but the problem was two interceptions, one of which was returned 95 yards for a touchdown to put the Bruins ahead 27-17 just before half. Yeah, that hurts.
This week, though, the Sun Devils face a formidable secondary and will have their hands full on defense trying to stop Cody Kessler. I think USC bounces back nicely in this one and maybe even pulls off the upset. Either way, Trojans definitely cover.
JM: Fool me once, shame on you, etcetera. Last week, I expected two things: that Arizona State's offense would still work under a backup quarterback (mostly true) and that the defense could hold off what I still think is an overrated offense (whoops). If you can't stop UCLA, you're not stopping USC. You're especially not stopping them from staying within that spread. Trojans cover.
Tomorrow: Luke took all the good games. See how he treats Jon? That's the sort of DISRESPECT you should all object to. In other words, tomorrow? A bunch of garbage, but maybe Jon will find some value buried in there...