What do you say when the University of Tennessee football team, after playing so admirably in the first half against Florida, falls apart in the second? What do you say when Auburn, playing well against Clemson, turns sour as milk ever since? What do you say when nationally-ranked Arkansas withers with such dispair they lose to Monroe before giving up 52 unanswered points to Alabama?
In search for words, we turn to the dean of all sports writers, the Murfreesboro-born and Vanderbilt educated Grantland Rice, maybe the most prolific writer ever. The grandson of a Confederate Major, Mr. Rice died in 1954 but – once in New York – penned the greatest opening paragraph of a college football game story in history.
Minutes after Notre Dame beat Army at New York’s Polo Grounds, Grantland wrote: “Outlined against a blue-gray October sky the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as famine, pestilence, destruction and death. These are only aliases. Their real names are: Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds this afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down upon the bewildering panorama spread out upon the green plain below.”
So how does that relate to college football today? Just this – Mr. Rice wrote a famous poem called “The Answer” and – to me – as I survey the college landscape of the day, it fits perfectly …
* * *
By Grantland Rice
When the battle breaks against you and the crowd forgets to cheer,
When the Anvil Chorus echoes with the essence of a jeer;
When the knockers start their panning in the knocker’s nimble way,
With a rap for all your errors and a josh upon your play.
There is one quick answer ready that will nail them on the wing;
There is one reply forthcoming that will wipe away the sting;
There is one elastic come-back that will hold them, as it should,
No matter where you finish in the mix-up or the row,
There are those among the rabble who will pan you anyhow;
But the entry who is sticking and delivering the stuff,
Can listen to the yapping as he giggles up his cuff;
The loafer has no come-back and the quitter no reply,
When the Anvil Chorus echoes, as it will, against the sky;
But there’s one quick answer ready that will wrap them in a hood,
* * *
That said, here are my Top Ten Picks for tomorrow’s college games:
MISSOURI (2-1, 0-1 SEC) at No. 7 SOUTH CAROLINA (3-0, 1-0 SEC), 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports) – Mizzou’s 41-20 loss to Georgia and the fact Arizona State lost by only four to UM last week tells us that USC, with Steve Spurrier’s SEC brand of football now ranked 7th in the country, doesn’t bode well for the Tigers in “the other” Columbia. UM coach Gary Pinkel handled his star QB James Franklin badly last weekend while USC won its second straight game by over a 38-point margin. Carolina, a 10-point pick, should waltz with the Gamecocks' linebackers paving the way. MY PICK? South Carolina, 38-14.
MIAMI (2-1) at GEORGIA TECH (2-1), 3:00 p.m. (ESPN3) – The Hurricane’s 39-point loss to Kansas State was ridiculous, especially with sensational frosh RB Duke Johnson’s 638 all-purpose yards through three games. GT has been untested after the close loss to Va. Tech in the opener but a top WR quit the team in Atlanta this week and the notion is UM owns GT after winning the last 3 games between the two. Tech is a 14-point favorite so the logical thinking is that’s too heavy. MY PICK? Miami, 22-20.
No. 2 LOUISIANA STATE (3-0) at AUBURN (1-2, 0-1 SEC), 7:00 p.m. (ESPN) – LSU is a 21-point favorite over a floundering Auburn, this because AU had to go OT to beat Monroe after giving up 28 points last Saturday. So as the Bayou Bengals dip their toes into SEC waters, the feeling here is that LSU will romp on The Plains. AU will be idle next Saturday so the true litmus will come out against Arkansas Oct. 6. Look for LSU to win easily until the Alabama game in Tiger Stadium Nov. 3. MY PICK? LSU, 42-13.
RUTGERS (3-0) at ARKANSAS (1-2, 0-1 SEC), 7:00 p.m. (ESPNU) – Let me make this real simple. The Scarlet Knights beat Tulane by 12 and South Florida by 10 so they are hardly Alabama. UA was “embarrassed” last week so with a fiery QB Wilson returning and RB Knile Davis determined, Arkansas is much stronger than the 7 points the bookies claim. Look for UA to use speed and pride in Fayetteville, where there is now more unrest than I can remember. Everybody knows a big win here will help immeasurably. MY PICK? Arkansas, 31-14.
No. 18 MICHIGAN (2-1) at No. 11 NOTRE DAME, 7:30 p.m. (NBC) – ND has just allowed 30 points in three games – the biggest 3 coming in the 20-3 upset over then No. 10 Michigan State last Saturday – so the Irish are very real. Trouble is, ND doesn’t have the brawn to snuff UM’s Denard Robinson like Alabama did so look for this to be a thriller. Notre Dame is favored by 6 and coach Chip Kelly is trying to snap the stranglehold that UM holds, winning five of the last six between these two. "You want your team with confidence and you want people to talk about your team in the sense that this is a big game," Kelly said. "Those are the kind of things that coaches want to try to balance.” MY PICK? Notre Dame, 28-24.
No. 15 KANSAS STATE (3-0) at No. 6 OKLAHOMA (2-0), 7:50 p.m. (Fox Sports) – In the best game of the night, the Sooners are a 14-point favorite but who can forget last year when K-State, 7-0 before the game, got warped 58-17 by Bobby Stoops and Co.? Landry Jones can tie Steve Davis as the winningest QB in UO history in this game but the better focus will be on KS QB Collin Klein who ranked 9th in the country right now. OU has won the last five in the series. MY PICK? Oklahoma, 38-18.
VANDERBILT (1-2, 0-1 SEC) at No. 5 GEORGIA (3-0, 1-0 SEC), 7:45 p.m. (ESPN2) -- The ‘Dores are not in the same league with Georgia – of the two it’s the Bulldogs that are playing the “old man” brand of football that separates the haves and have-nots in the SEC. UGa, a 16-point favorite, is playing with greater strength and intensity every week and has the balance between the pass and the run to stifle VU. The ‘Dog defense is giving up too many points – averaging 21 per game – but Vandy didn’t score more than 13 in either of the first two games against like opponents. UGa is favored by 16. MY PICK? Georgia, 37-15.
No. 10 CLEMSON at No. 4 FLORIDA STATE, 8:00 p.m. (ABC) – The ‘Noles are a 14-point pick and Clemson’s Dabo Sweeney understands why. “On the outside looking in, I’d probably pick them too,” Sweeney said this week. “But I’m not on the outside. I’m on the inside. It’s ESPN College GameDay, a top-four team in the country and playing well with a great quarterback. It might be a lack of respect on people looking at it from the outside, but they’re a really good team. Outside of Alabama or LSU, I don’t know of anybody that would be favored going to Tallahassee.” My point precisely. MY PICK? Florida State, 37-21.
ELSEWHERE IN THE SEC
OLE MISS (2-1) at TULANE (0-2), 12 Noon (FSN) – The Rebs gave up 66 to Texas last week – which spoke volumes – but Tulane is still in college football purgatory and can’t compete with a much-improved Ole Miss. For the record UM is a 17-point favorite but the Rebels will enjoy the SuperDome and have a chance to show off a little before next week’s come-uppance in Tuscaloosa. MY PICK? Ole Miss, 28-10.
KENTUCKY (1-2) at No. 14 FLORIDA (3-0, 2-0 SEC), 12:21 p.m. (SEC Network) – Florida is favored by 24 but some think the Gators had a big growth spurt during the second half of last week’s 37-20 win at UT so this could really get out of hand in a hurry. UK just doesn’t have the heart for “The Swamp”after the Western Ky. loss so look for this to be a rout. MY PICK? Florida, 45-9.
FLORIDA ATLANTIC (1-2) at No. 1 ALABAMA, 4:00 p.m. – There was a special “revision” on this week’s Top 20 that the jokesters were sending each other on the Internet this week and the Top 5 looked like this: 1. Alabama; 2. Alabama’s B-Team; 3. LSU; 4. Alabama’s C-team; 5. Florida State. So now you know why Alabama is picked by 51 in this one. MY PICK? Alabama, 45-0.
SOUTH ALABAMA (1-2) at MISS. STATE (3-0, 1-0 SEC), 7:00 P.M. – This is a laugher, despite the fact State only beat Troy last week by 6. But what makes it interesting is that MSU will be idle next week before playing at Kentucky. In theory, State could be unbeaten when the Bullies host UT on Oct. 13 before the Vols go back to Neyland for the annual “Third Saturday in October” festival. MY PICK? Miss. State, 45-13.
S.C. STATE (1-2) at TEXAS A&M (1-1, 0-1 SEC), 7:00 p.m. (FSN) -- The visitors have a big appearance guarantee here so this is the Aggies' last tune-up before resuming the Arkansas rivalry next week. Keep an eye on A&M in the weeks to come – they could be a spoiler in the LSU-Auburn-Miss. State-Alabama gauntlet if they continue to improve. MY PICK? Texas A&M, 45-10.
AKRON (1-2) at TENNESSEE (2-1, 0-1 SEC), 7:30 P.M. – UT will “Zip” past Akron but will still be a heavy underdog at Georgia. The Vols folded like a jack-knife against Florida after playing a respectable first half so tomorrow Tyler Bray will sling it around a lot and the running backs will be pretty yet the question will linger – when will UT finally win a big one? MY PICK? Tennessee 35-14.
AND ONE MORE ….
No. 17 APPALACHIAN STATE (1-2) at CHATTANOOGA (1-2), 7:00 p.m. – It’s Homecoming at UTC and, as the Mocs play in the 105th season, it is high time UTC snaps a seven-game losing streak to Appy State. UTC has the best football team ever assembled here, as last week’s 35-0 rout proved, but the cure for snake-bite, as evidenced in the Jacksonville State game’s final second, is still evasive. With good crowd support, there is no foreseeable reason UTC should not win every remaining game – quite a tribute to what Russ Huesman has done since returning to coach his alma mater. MY PICK? Chattanooga, 34-24.