Tennessee football coach Butch Jones, taking advantage of an off-week, spoke to the Macon (Ga.) Touchdown Club earlier this week and when the first-year coach finally thanked the cooks for a ham-and-fried chicken feast, he left an overflow crowd of believers in his wake.
He had gotten the state of Georgia’s attention two days before, inspiring his Vols to shake a 17-3 Georgia lead and go up 31-24 against the No. 6 team in the nation before losing in overtime. “An undermanned football team right now, going into overtime with the No. 6 team in the country,” Jones said. “We did anything and everything to win the football game, and we were one play away.
“But, like I pointed out to our football team, inches make champions, and you’re searching for those inches. And you never know what two to three plays will make the difference between winning and losing,” he said in his enthusiastic manner. “Losing will never be accepted at Tennessee but Saturday night was one of the greatest venues and environments I’ve ever been a part of.”
Jones was asked if the thrilling Georgia game means UT has finally turned the corner in its effort to realign with the country’s elite. “The building of this football team really occurred a couple weeks ago in Gainesville, when we lost to Florida,” he replied. “I’m walking in the locker room, and I can finally see remorse. I can finally see hurt in our players’ eyes. I didn’t see anybody giving up. That’s really where this team started to take off.”
But he warned the climb is still a process. “In society today, everyone wants to focus on the end results. Everyone wants to crown who’s going to be the next national champion and who’s going to be the next conference champion,” he said, mindful of the fact the Vols will play the defending national champions in Tuscaloosa after next Saturday’s game against South Carolina
“What we have to do is focus on the process of each and every day. We have to continually work to be a better football team, a better football program, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, week by week, month by month. If we just do that, we’ll like our body of work at the end of the day,” he pledged and, when he did, Big Orange hopes soared.
That said, here is how I am picking the big games this week:
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No. 25 MISSOURI (5-0, 1-0 SEC) at No. 7 GEORGIA (4-1, 3-0 SEC), 12:00 Noon on ESPN – Georgia whipped Mizzou by 21 last year but after the overtime escape in Knoxville and the injured list almost larger than the roster, this one could be fierce. UGa, picked by 9, still has plenty of superstars but what about Tiger QB James Franklin? He had four TDs and 341 yards passing in the 51-28 win over Vandy last week and UM is still undefeated. Somehow I think Georgia is tougher. MY PICK? Georgia, 41-29.
No. 12 OKLAHOMA (5-0) vs. TEXAS (3-2) in Cotton Bowl Stadium, Dallas, 12:00 Noon on ABC – Instead of the “Red River Shootout” this could be “Gunfight at High Noon” with Texas coach Mack Brown squarely in everyone’s sights. A referee’s error won last week’s Iowa State game for the Longhorns but the early losses to BYU and Ole Miss are what caused the calls for the coach’s scalp. Unbeaten OK is all about business, the 35-21 Notre Dame win the most notable, but this is “the game” for players on both sidelines and the Sooners, favored by 14 and winning the last three in the rivalry, have much better athletes than Texas does. MY PICK? Oklahoma 37-17.
PITTSBURGH (3-1) at No. 24 VIRGINIA TECH (5-1), 12:00 Noon on Fox – It is a good thing this is a noon start because when these two get “all likkered up” this becomes a brawl game versus a ball game. Pitt has won three straight since the Florida State loss but the 58-55 footrace win over Duke is worrisome. 55 points to Duke? VT ain’t much better, a 7-point win over Ga. Tech before squeaking past UNC by 10. Pitt is a 9-point underdog so the savvy play involves the points. MY PICK? West Virginia, 27-24.
No. 14 SOUTH CAROLINA (4-1, 2-1 SEC) at ARKANSAS (3-3, 0-2 SEC), 12:21 p.m. on SEC Network – I can’t begin to decipher the mess Jadeveon Clowney finds himself in but I’m afraid he’s wrapped up his thinking in his newspaper clippings. So let’s focus on the fact Connor Shaw is a great QB and that USC runner Mike Davis is 14th in the nation in all-purpose yards. The fact Steve Spurrier has won two SEC games while Bret Bielema has lost two trumps home-field advantage and Carolina is favored by 6. They’ll do fine without Jadeveon. MY PICK? South Carolina, 31-14.
No. 17 FLORIDA (4-1, 3-0 SEC) at No. 10 LOUISIANA STATE (5-1, 2-1 SEC), 3:30 p.m. on CBS – The worst thing you can do is out-think yourself on this one. Florida beat Tennessee by 14 in maybe the worst game ever played and then whipped Kentucky by 20. LSU’s signature games are a 14-point win over Auburn, a 3-point loss to Georgia in one of the best games ever played, and a 33-point massacre over Miss. State. LSU is favored by only 7 at home with Les Miles calling the plays. What’s the question? (If you go to the Home Depot website and type “Les Miles” in the search line, three kinds of grass seed will appear!) MY PICK? LSU, 39-20.
BOSTON COLLEGE (3-2) at No. 3 CLEMSON (5-0) , 3:30 p.m. on ABC/ESPN – BC lost to Southern Cal when Lane Kiffin was still the coach and then got burned, 48-34, by Florida State. Unbeaten Clemson, a 24-point favorite, has beaten three teams by an average of over 36 points since the 38-35 triumph over Georgia. With QB Tajh Boyd on a Heisman-like roll, I am thinking the Tigers will carry the spread in Death Valley. MY PICK? Clemson, 42-10.
No. 19 NORTHWESTERN (4-1) at WISCONSIN (3-2), 3:30 p.m. on ABC – Northwestern has played a cheap schedule before losing the 40-30 game to Ohio State last week while Wisconsin was robbed at Arizona State (32-30) and threatened the Buckeyes (31-24). Now you think you know why the unranked Badgers are a surprising 10 ½ point pick but it is really because this one is at Camp Randall. MY PICK? Wisconsin, 34-21.
No. 2 OREGON (5-0) at No. 16 WASHINGTON (4-1), 4:00 p.m. on Fox -- In five games, the Ducks are averaging 59.2 points per game (second best in the NCAA) and allowing just 11.8 points (second best in the NCAA) to be scored against them. So if Washington, a 14-point underdog, were to get close in this one, they may lose by less than the 48-point difference and still miss the spread by a mile. MY PICK? Oregon, 40-14.
No. 1 ALABAMA (5-0, 2-0 SEC) at KENTUCKY (1-4, 0-2 SEC), 7:00 p.m. on ESPN2 – The best bet last week, other than the Georgia “lock” over UT, was Georgia State and the points against No. 1 Alabama. Saban has far too much class than exploit tiny GSU. Kentucky, on the other hand, is floundering but scrappy (South Carolina just won by 7) so for those who didn’t think the 25-0 rout over Ole Miss was a “complete game,” take the Tide, give the 27 points, and then if you lose you can nail the early trifecta at Keeneland on Sunday to get square. MY PICK: Alabama, 42-7.
No. 9 TEXAS A&M (4-1, 1-1 SEC) at OLE MISS (3-2,1-2 SEC), 8:30 p.m. on ESPN – I am sure you saw where the big tackle, Kirby Ennis, is out with a knee for the rest of the year. But did you notice 42 points is the smallest amount Texas A&M has scored in five games? Yes, Alabama beat the Aggies, 49-42, before the Tide throttled Ole Miss two weeks later but get off your apples-vs-oranges kick! Texas A&M at minus-6 ½ can put a child through college! MY PICK? Texas A&M, 45-17.
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IN OTHER SEC GAMES
WESTERN CAROLINA (1-5) at AUBURN (4-1, 2-1 SEC), 2:00 p.m. – If Auburn were to vault into the Top 25 with a stirring win over a school that just got walloped by UT-Chattanooga then there is still room for justice in the Deep South. We ought to lynch SEC athletic directors who “help” little schools in “casket games” that actually and honestly help big schools become bowl eligible, i.e. cha-ching. To look up the line is too embarrassing. MY PICK? Auburn, 45-9.
BOWLING GREEN (5-1) at MISSISSIPPI STATE (2-3, 0-2), 7:30 p.m. (FSN) – Bowling Green, still without a signature victory, dropped a 42-10 loss to Indiana a month ago so now comes time to see if they can cash a check. State is playing for a far bigger sum – word around the campfire is that if coach Dan Mallen loses this game State will probably decide to hire a new coach and begin a quiet search. MSU has some good players, and is favored by 10, but this is the truth – once beaten Bowling Green wants a signature win in Starkville, MY PICK: Miss. State, 32-18.
IDLE THIS WEEK – TENNESSEE (3-3, 0-2 SEC) will host South Carolina on October 19 at 12 Noon (ESPN); VANDERBILT (3-3, 0-3 SEC) will host Georgia on October 19 at 12 Noon (CBS).
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AND ONE MORE
FURMAN at CHATTANOOGA (3-2), 6:00 p.m. -- The last time UTC beat Furman in Chattanooga was in 1993 and most of the Mocs were just beginning to walk back then. Now they are hiccup quick and the Paladins, winning two before last Saturday’s 28-25 loss to Elon, don’t have the speed or the strength to match the Mocs. Furman’s Duncan Fletcher, in his first-ever start, was named as the SoCon’s Freshman of the Week after throwing 25-of-38 passes for 255 yards and a TD against Elon so the Mocs' secondary can expect a test. MY PICK? Chattanooga, 34-24.