Every Saturday you’ll hear tales of how dedicated this team’s fans are, or how “die hard” the other bunch is, but last Saturday three Alabama fans and an Auburn buddy may have won the grand prize. After crashing their private plane in a cotton field outside of Selma, they said “a prayer to Jesus,” hitch-hiked to Montgomery where they rented a car, and still got to Tuscaloosa by kickoff!
It seems the four football fans were flying from Mobile to Alabama’s home game against Ole Miss last week when one suggested they touch down in Selma, eat a barbecue lunch, and then fly on north to Tuscaloosa. “That’s when things started going south,” said the Auburn rider, John White-Spunner.
It was about 20 miles from the Selma landing strip – Grant Field – when one of the motors on the twin-engine plane sputtered and quit. They were flying about 100 knots when the other engine conked. The plane, quickly losing altitude, began to dip badly, both wings hitting trees. A bigger tree on the starboard side ripped off a gas tank. But then John saw a red-clay service road between two cotton fields and somehow the pilot aimed true.
He was able to land the plane and slow it, just enough, before he swerved into a soft cotton field and stopped the aircraft among the white bolls of cotton. The men jumped out of the plane, formed a circle and got on their knees to thank Jesus for His mercies and His deliverance.
A nearby family heard the racket and came on the run. Provisions were quickly made to hitch a ride to Montgomery, where the zany foursome rented a car and made a hurried three-hour drive to Bryant-Denny Stadium. There they thoroughly enjoyed watching top-ranked Alabama take a 33-14 measure of Ole Miss.
In the meanwhile, Dallas County Sheriff’s deputies found the plane in the cotton field but could find no one who knew anything about it. It was reported FAA officials recovered the wreck on Tuesday. It was also reported the only injury was that one of the passengers lost a tooth but authorities discounted a rumor that the dental injury reduced the total number of teeth between the three Alabama fans to seven.
That said, here is how I am picking this week’s Top Ten games:
* * *
VIRGINIA TECH (3-2) at NORTH CAROLINA (3-2), 12:30 p.m. – UNC has outscored two cupcakes, 93-6, in the last two weeks so the Tar Heels have some speed as they resume ACC play. Va. Tech has lost two of the last three, the 27-24 loss to Cincinnati a bitter pill and causing VT to be a 3 ½ point underdog. UNC will wear all white tomorrow – the white helmets returning for the first time since the 1960s – and the emphasis is to make the “white out” a “shut out” – Carolina has not allowed a touchdown at home all year. MY PICK? Virginia Tech, 24-21.
No. 4 LSU (5-0) at No. 10 FLORIDA (5-0), 3:30 p.m. (CBS) – There is no denying that Florida coach Will Muschamp has done a great job with the Gators this year but LSU’s Less Miles, in his eighth season, has recruited like a bank robber in Baton Rouge. Unbeaten LSU has dropped in the polls for the last two weeks after lackluster play but here’s where I think the Tigers get well. In fairness Muschamp is just in his second year but it is big games like this where inexperience and lack of talent show up the most. MY PICK? LSU, 38-17.
No. 17 OKLAHOMA (2-1) at TEXAS TECH (4-0), 3:30 p.m. (CBS)– It has been ten years since the Sooners won in Lubbock and that, coupled with UO’s 24-19 loss to Kansas State two weeks ago, makes for a shaky 5 ½ point edge over TTU. OU coach Bobby Stoops downplayed any Red Raider edge. “There's common threads any time you lose a game, whether it's Tech or anywhere else," Stoops said Monday. "Usually, there's turnover issues, injury issues, execution issues. So, no, there isn't anything spiritual or spooky about it. It's just playing ball. Sometimes you play better. Other times you play better than you do at other times. So it's just how it is. Any time you can play it can be different." So I’m thinking, no, Texas Tech still isn’t ready for the Top 25. MY PICK? Oklahoma, 27-21.
GEORGIA TECH (2-2) at No. 15 CLEMSON (4-1), 3:30 p.m. (ESPN) – GT’s dismal 49-28 loss to MTSU last Saturday has ‘em jumping off the bandwagon in Atlanta, some sure that def. coordinator Al Groh has lost his grip, so no wonder the Tigers are licking their chops. CU is favored by a solid 10 and, despite the 12-point blemish at Florida State, you’ve got to think this one will further wreck Tech before the Jackets take a badly-needed break next Saturday. MY PICK? Clemson, 38-13.
No. 5 GEORGIA (5-0) at No. 6 SOUTH CAROLINA (5-0), 7:00 p.m. (ESPN) – It all boils down to who has the most talent and while there is a bunch at Carolina, I’ve got to believe the balance at Georgia is overwhelming. UGa’s 7-point win over UT was unsettling but Carolina gave up 17 to Kentucky last week. Gamecock QB Connor Shaw’s shoulder is worrisome and I am still thinking UGa – a 1-point underdog --keeps getting better and better. MY PICK? Georgia, 34-27.
No. 8 WEST VIRGINIA (4-0) at No. 11 TEXAS (4-0), 7:00 p.m. (Fox) – Geno Smith, after throwing eight TDs in WVU’s 70-63 thriller over Baylor, is at the top of the Heisman heap right now but here is a game – mark my words – that will be decided on defense. I don’t see the Longhorns giving up 63 to anybody so let’s figure UT QB David Ash, who threw for over 300 yards in last Saturday’s 41-36 triumph over Oklahoma State, will hold his own tomorrow in sold-out Austin. Texas is a 7-point favorite but if the UT defense can corral Smith, it will be worse. MY PICK? Texas, 35-24.
MIAMI (4-1) at No. 9 NOTRE DAME (4-0), 7:30 p.m. (NBC) – Who would have ever believed that tradition-steeped ND would dare wear new helmets when the paint recipe for the historical all-gold model is still a national secret? But the Irish will sport a leprechaun on the sides of a new headgear tomorrow and it could haunt them against a speedy Miami. The Hurricanes, behind frosh runner Duke Johnson, will not be intimidated by this rare Chicago appearance at Soldier Field so I’m thinking 13 points may be too much for the Irish to cover. MY PICK? Notre Dame, 27-24.
No. 21 NEBRASKA (4-1) at No. 12 OHIO STATE (5-0), 8:00 p.m. (ABC) – The Buckeyes’ 17-16 win over Michigan State wasn’t flashy but coach Urban Meyer made a good observation afterwards. "It's been a team that's been pushed around for a while. A lot of things have happened, a lot of things I'm probably not even aware of. But I could tell that it wasn't a close team. It was a team with a lot of excuses. But (the togetherness) materialized over the weekend. I'm not saying we're a great team. We at least have a chance of going to do some good things together." That’s telling with Nebraska coming to town a 3-point underdog. UN beat Wisconsin by 3 last Saturday so, with OSU still unbeaten, I’ll dot the “I” at halftime. MY PICK? Ohio State, 27-21.
No. 3 FLORIDA STATE (5-0) at N.C. STATE 3-2), 8:00 p.m. (ESPN2) – Everybody knows FSU needs to win real big to keep the No. 3 ranking so don’t fall for the 15-point spread. NCSU lost by 7 to Miami last week and the Seminoles have won by at least 13 in every game this season. FSU’s EJ Manuel is rated as one of the Top 10 QBs in the country and N.C. State is 100th right now in pass defense. MY PICK? Florida State, 41-14.
No. 23 WASHINGTON (3-1) at No. 2 OREGON (5-0), 10:30 p.m. (ESPN) – Before you start quacking about UW’s 17-13 upset over then No. 8 Stanford last Thursday, let’s remember the No. 2 Ducks have scored over 50 points in four of five games. Oregon is a 24-point favorite in this one and while the Huskies have played well in the first half for the past two years, look for Oregon to try to impress the East Coast voters in the polls. Oregon, winning by 17 against UW a year ago, is clearly a second-half team so the swarthy spread is a little scary. MY PICK? Oregon, 41-24.
IN OTHER SEC GAMES
ARKANSAS (1-4) at AUBURN (1-3), 12 Noon, (ESPN) – Auburn’s 12-10 loss to then 3rd-ranked LSU was almost the biggest upset of the year last week so you know why the Tigers are a solid 10-point pick over a stumbling Arkansas. Some thought one-year coach John L. Smith would be ousted at midweek after A&M beat the Hogs by 48 last Saturday but the reality is Arkansas now faces four unranked opponents in a row with a bye next week. MY PICK: Auburn, 35-14.
No. 20 MISS. STATE (4-0) at KENTUCKY (1-4), 12:21 p.m. (SEC Network) – Kentucky has no choice but to split time between two freshman quarterbacks after a rash of injuries so MSU is going into Lexington with confidence. State is a 10-point favorite and the surprising Bulldogs will host both Tennessee and MTSU before the Oct. 27 game against Alabama. MY PICK? Miss. State, 28-7.
TEXAS A&M (3-1) at OLE MISS (3-2), 7:00 p.m. – They call freshman QB Johnny Manziel, a gunslinger out of Kerrville, Tex., “Mr. Football” in College Station and – no wonder – last week he set a SEC record with 557 total yards in the 58-10 win over Arkansas. A&M is playing hot, wanting to bump into the Top 25 with a win here, and while Ole Miss has dramatically improved under new coach Hugh Freeze, last week’s bruising 33-14 loss to Alabama should have made the Aggies a bigger favorite than just 11 points. MY PICK? Texas A&M, 35-10.
VANDERBILT (1-3) at MISSOURI (3-2), 7:00 p.m. (FSN) – The difference between Vandy coach James Franklin and UM QB James Franklin is that just one of them will play tomorrow so go with Mizzou. Vandy was idle last week but the ‘Dores are still small, which is why the hosts are favored by 7. UM fought well against Georgia and South Carolina so look for the Tigers to get the school’s first SEC victory in this one. MY PICK? Missouri, 31-17.
SEC TEAMS IDLE THIS SATURDAY
No. 1 ALABAMA (5-0) will play at Missouri next Saturday at 3:30 p.m. (CBS)
TENNESSEE (3-2) will play at Mississippi State next Saturday at 9:00 p.m. (ESPN2)
JUST ONE MORE …
LOUISIANA-MONROE at MIDDLE TENNESSEE, 3:30 p.m. – How can you resist picking between MTSU, which just throttled Georgia Tech last week, and La-Monroe, a team that whipped Arkansas and took Auburn to overtime. The winner in Murfreesboro tomorrow will become the favorite in the Sun Belt Conference race but don’t forget a third member, Western Ky., beat the SEC’s Kentucky this year. The Warhawks are favored by 3 over the host Blue Raiders but if Middle’s Ben Cunningham can score 5 TDs like he did against GT last Saturday, I like MTSU. MY PICK? Middle Tennessee, 31-24.
CHATTANOOGA ALSO HAS A BYE
The Mocs, heroic with the 28-10 victory over favored Citadel last week, are idle this Saturday before playing at Furman next Saturday at 1:30 p.m. UTC then has back-to-back home games against Samford (10/20) and Georgia Southern (10/27).