Paul Myerberg, a writer for USA Today, declared the Pac-12 Conference has just surpassed the Southeastern Conference as the best in college football in the newspaper’s Thursday editions. He wrote, “Is the quartet of Oregon, Stanford, UCLA and Washington better than the SEC’s foursome of Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M and LSU? Such questions might remain unanswered until January, but it seems like we have an East Coast/West Coast rivalry renewed. ”
His argument is shaky at best. He points to the fact the Pac-12 had four unbeaten teams on the last day of September while the SEC only had two but failed to point out the SEC’s biggest losses were self-inflicted. He also failed to note the SEC has seven teams in this week’s Top 25 poll, according to the Associated Press, while the Pac-12 has five.
Paul points out the Pac-12 is the only conference with two teams in the nation’s Top Five (Oregon and Stanford) but, in fairness, should have included the SEC has four teams in the Top Ten to the Pac-12’s two, and that Alabama got 55 first-place votes to Oregon’s five.
Even better, the SEC has won the national championship for seven straight years and, since 2006, has posted the largest non-conference winning percentage. SEC teams are 333-74 for a .818 percentage since 2006, followed by the Big 12 (262-93 for .738), the Big East (222-95 for .700), the Big Ten (252-115 for .687) and the Pac-12 (196-99 for .631.)
This isn’t to say the Pac-12 teams haven’t improved this year. The writer used the Oregon-Tennessee game as a yardstick, citing the Ducks’ 59-14 win and pointing out it was Tennessee’s worst loss since UT was whipped by 48 against Mississippi State. UT, under new coach Butch Jones, isn't exactly a blue-chip team right now while Oregon is admittedly dazzling.
In reality, it is a meaningless argument, meant only to incite emotion and sell newspapers but it is generally agreed that, from top to bottom, the SEC has dominated college football for long enough to be considered the hardest place to win. That won’t change anytime soon.
That said, here is how I am picking Saturday’s top games:
* * *
No. 25 MARYLAND (4-0) at No. 8 FLORIDA STATE (4-0), 12 Noon on ESPN – FSU’s near-fabled red-shirt sensation – Jameis Winston – will be on stage in ESPN’s early national game and you are going to like what you see. Thus far the confident 19-year-old (6-4, 225) has completed 50 of 64 passes for 718 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception. His passing efficiency of 210.49 ranks No. 2 in FBS. The Terps defense is salty yet untested so it is overall talent that makes FSU a 15-point favorite. Look for “Famous Jameis” to light it up. MY PICK? Florida State, 36-14.
No. 6 GEORGIA (3-1, 2-0 SEC) at TENNESSEE (3-2, 0-1 SEC), 3:30 p.m. on CBS – There are many things I don’t understand but how UT is just an 11-point underdog to high-flying Georgia is today’s mystery. The Bulldogs, having beat three nationally-ranked teams, were magnificent in the 44-41 win over LSU while the Vols have struggled in every game. This isn’t to say UT will not get much better under Butch Jones – it just ain’t going to happen by tomorrow. Georgia’s running backs, the defense … UT can’t handle Aaron Murray and those receivers. MY PICK? Georgia, 42-10.
No. 3 CLEMSON (4-0) at SYRACUSE (2-2), 3:30 p.m. on ABC – Between Clemson and Syracuse, the Carrier Dome will become “A House of Orange” when Syracuse makes its ACC debut but that is where the similarities end. Syracuse lost early games to Penn State and Northwestern while the Tigers put a 38-35 opener on Georgia. With Tajh Boyd clicking, Clemson will be a 14-point favorite in New York and what better place to put on a Heisman-type show. MY PICK? Clemson, 41-14.
GEORGIA TECH (3-1) at No. 14 MIAMI (4-0), 3:30 p.m. on ESPNU – Tech couldn’t catch a break in the 17-10 loss to Va. Tech last week so the thought is tomorrow will be a rough road trip at speedy Miami. The Hurricanes are averaging 45.3 points to rank ninth in the nation and are seventh with 12.5 allowed per game. With such balance UM is off to the best start in nine years. This is the first ACC game for both but with the Yellow Jackets’ option out of whack, it will be hard to run on Mami’s defense. Miami is a 4-point favorite. MY PICK? Miami, 36-13.
No. 10 LOUISIANA STATE (4-1, 1-1 SEC) at MISSISSIPPI STATE (2-2, 0-1 SEC), 7:00 p.m. on ESPN – The Tigers will have their ears laid back after the 44-41 loss at Georgia and MSU can’t handle contain LSU. A 10-point favorite, figure LSU to win bigger than that. “In every game from now on, we just have to execute and play LSU football on offense, defense and special teams," corner Jalen Mills said this week. "We have to get that swagger and play like the guys who were here before us.” MY PICK? LSU, 37-13.
ARKANSAS (3-2, 0-1 SEC) at No. 18 FLORIDA (3-1, 2-0 SEC), 7:00 p.m. on ESPN2 — Florida ranks No. 2 in the NCAA’s Total Defense category so you have to believe the Hogs’ sensational RB Alex Collins (sixth in FBS with 597 yards on 100 carries) may struggle. Gators, a 12-point pick, have far more good athletes and UF is favored by about 13. Gator QB Tyler Murphy is fun to watch and he’s completed 71.9 percent of his passes. MY PICK? Florida, 34-10.
No. 24 OLE MISS (3-1, 1-1 SEC) at AUBURN (3-1, 1-1 SEC), 7:00 p.m. on ESPNU — The 25-0 loss to Alabama last week tumbled Ole Miss back to earth but the loss I look at is Auburn’s 35-21 verdict at LSU – if AU can score 21 on “da other Tigahs,” I’d rather have home-field advantage than the 3 points the Rebs are favored. Auburn was also idle last week so this is one where a good showing might edge Auburn into the Top 25. MY PICK? Auburn, 28-24.
MISSOURI (4-0, 0-0 SEC) at VANDERBILT (3-2, 0-2 SEC), 7:30 p.m. on CSS – Unbeaten Missouri went 2-6 in the SEC last year and suffered a 19-15 loss to Vanderbilt so the revenge factor is strong in this one. “I’d be lying if I said that feeling wasn’t there, because it is,” senior lineman Max Copeland said. “But at the same time, we can’t let vengeance be a distraction. This is about the 2013 season; it ain’t about the 2012 season. At the same time, I’d be lying if I said that feeling wasn’t there at least a little bit.” Vanderbilt is favored by 2. MY PICK? Missouri, 27-21.
No. 4 OHIO STATE (5-0) at No. 15 NORTHWESTERN (4-0), 8:00 p.m. on CBS – College GameDay is already setting up shop in Evanston (Ill), which means all the shouting will be before this Big Ten match-up, not after it. OSU has the nation’s longest winning streak among FBS schools while Northwestern gave up 21 points to Maine last Saturday. Urban Meyer knows what he is doing so a 7-point edge won’t amount to much when you figure the Buckeyes have outscored opponents is the first quarter, 216-21. MY PICK? Ohio State, 38-18.
No. 15 WASHINGTON (4-0) at No. 5 STANFORD (4-0), 10:30 p.m. on ESPN – Stanford QB Kevin Hogan is 9-0 as a starter for the Cardinal and this season has really been effective -- hitting 63.2 percent of his passes for 832 yards and 10 touchdowns with three interceptions. Washington sprung a 17-13 upset over SU last season but hasn’t been nearly as powerful as The Cardinal is early games. The Huskies are a 7-point underdog but this Pac-12 showdown is in Palo Alto. MY PICK? Stanford, 35-23.
* * *
IN OTHER SEC GAMES
GEORGIA STATE (0-4) at No. 1 ALABAMA (4-0, 2-0 SEC), 12:21 p.m. on SEC Network — Let’s get one thing straight; Alabama is the best team in the country but Ga. State isn’t the worst. According to the Sagarin Ratings, GSU is No. 208 while Davidson is 252. And I don’t think Nick Saban will try to beat GSU by 56 points (the line). MY PICK? Alabama, 48-0.
KENTUCKY (1-3, 0-1 SEC) at No. 13 SOUTH CAROLINA (3-1, 1-1 SEC), 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX – South Carolina seemed to sputter in the 28-25 win over Central Florida but with QB Conner Shaw set to start (shoulder) the Gamecocks should get it right in their Williams-Bryce Stadium. Favored by 21, it has been a rough week in Columbia, with the Old Ball Coach accused of slurring his words on his TV show and telling Javeon Clowney to set it up. Winning has a way of curing things and USC knows how to take care of business. MY PICK? South Carolina 37-10.
* * *
IDLE THIS SATURDAY -- No. 9 TEXAS A&M (4-1, 1-1 SEC) will play at Ole Miss on Saturday, Oct. 12 at 8:30 p.m.
* * *
AND ONE MORE …
WESTERN CAROLINA (1-3) at UT-CHATTANOOGA (2-2), 6:00 p.m. – It’s “Take A Kid To The Game” Day at Finley Stadium and any adult can buy up to eight kids a ticket for $5.00 each to see a fun football game. Chattanooga is ranked No. 133 on the Sagarin list (right below Coastal Carolina and just above Richmond) while WCU is 207. The Mocs have a rating of 58.42 while the Catamounts are 41.81. Add the 4-point home field advantage and UTC is favored by 20. That said, if Terrell Robinson can regain his slashing style, Chattanooga can almost pick the score. MY PICK? Chattanooga, 41-10.