The University of Tennessee’s football team will fight tooth-and-nail to keep the Vols’ bowl hopes alive when Vanderbilt comes to Neyland Stadium tomorrow night, but help is on the horizon. According to ESPN, Tennessee is second to Alabama in this fall’s search for incoming talent. UT, now 4-6, must defeat Vandy tomorrow and win next week at Kentucky to be eligible for a post-season bowl game, but it is no secret first-year coach Butch Jones and his staff are recruiting around the clock.
Alabama is having another banner year with high-profile commitments and the top-ranked Crimson Tide now has 21 players who say they’ll attend Alabama. But Tennessee, in second place, has 31 “promises” and is followed by Miami with 28 commitments, Florida State (25), and Georgia (17) in the Top Five.
Rounding out the Top 10 are Texas A&M (17) , Michigan (15), Texas, (24), Ohio State (17) and Florida (15.) Other SEC schools in the Top 40 – as of today – are No. 11 LSU (15), No. 14 Auburn (18), No. 15 Ole Miss (22), No. 17 Kentucky (25), No. 26 Vanderbilt (20), No. 29 Mississippi State (19), No. 30 South Carolina (14), No. 31 Misouri (26), and No. 36 Arkansas (17).
Due to a new NCAA rule, high school and junior college players who will report in January can stay in contact with the schools they plan to attend while “commits” are unable to speak to coaches. Techically athletes cannot sign until February, but athletes who can enroll in January do so with “an understanding” that allows college to pay their tuition before signing day occurs.
That said, here is how I am picking this week’s top college football games:
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No. 22 OKLAHOMA (8-2, 5-2 BigXII) at KANSAS STATE (6-4, 4-3 BigXII), 12:00 Noon on Fox– K-State is seeking its fifth straight win after a sluggish 2-4 start so the Sooners, still smarting from the 41-12 loss to Baylor two weeks ago, are a 3 ½ point underdog in Bill Synder Family Stadium. Wildcat QB Jake Waters and the two backs, Sams and Hubert, are really good, but the Sooners remember last year’s 24-19 loss to KSU and, after dominating this series 71-18-4, another loss is unacceptable. MY PICK? Oklahoma, 31-27.
No. 25 DUKE (8-2, 4-2 ACC) at WAKE FOREST (4-6, 2-5 ACC), 12:00 Noon on ESPN2 –Duke’s three linebackers are the 1-2-3 in the ACC statistics and Chattanooga junior David Helton, at No. 2, is averaging 9.7 stops per game. The Duke defense is a big reason the Devils have not lost since Sept. 21 and Wake, after last week’s 59-3 whipping at Florida State, is so banged up Duke is favored by 4 ½. Wake is trying to get bowl eligible so this is a must win before Vandy comes calling next week. MY PICK? Duke, 32-14.
MISSISSIPPI STATE (4-6, 1-5 SEC) vs. ARKANSAS (3-7, 0-6 SEC) at Little Rock, 12:21 p.m. (SEC Network) – State put up a brave front in the 20-7 loss to No. 1 Alabama last week, but this is where the Bullies need to make a move. A win here and then an upset over Ole Miss next week would mean a bowl game. Ole Miss beat the Razorbacks by 10 and, with this one in Little Rock, State is favored by only 1½ and starting a freshman quarterback. MY PICK? Miss. State, 26-17.
No. 5 OREGON (9-1, 6-1 Pac12) at ARIZONA (6-4, 3-4 Pac12), 3:30 p.m. on ABC – Ducks’ QB Marcus Mariota now has 2,819 yards passing and RB Byron Marshall has 991 yards rushing so both will join the Pac-12’s premier lists in this one. But all eyes will be on Arizona runner Ka’Deem Carey who is second in the country with a 150.3 yards per game average. Carey, just a junior, is just 117 yards of breaking Trung Canidate’s career mark at UA. MY PICK? Oregon, 36-24.
NEBRASKA (7-3, 4-2 Big10) at PENN STATE (6-4, 3-3 Big10), 3:30 p.m. on BTN – Nebraska coughed up five turnovers during last week’s 41-28 loss to Michigan State, but Bo Pellini didn’t lay it on QB Tommy Armstrong. “I don’t feel any different toward Tommy Armstrong than I did going into the game," Pelini said. "I think he's a heck of a football player, a tremendous young man, a leader, a competitor and that hasn't changed. He made some mistakes. He'll learn from them. He'll be a better football player down the road because of (it.)” PSU is favored by 2 in Happy Valley, but watch Armstrong. MY PICK? Nebraska, 28-22.
No. 9 TEXAS A&M (8-2, 4-2 SEC) at No. 18 LOUISIANA STATE (7-3, 3-3 SEC), 3:30 p.m. on CBS – Johnny Manzell deserves another Heisman, completing 295 passes thus far for 3,706 yards while throwing for 26 TDs and running for 21 more, but the A&M defense scares more people; the Aggies rank 99th in the country against the rush. With LSU a 4-point pick, the reasoning is LSU has the overall balance to overcome Johnny, and the fact this one is in Baton Rouge really helps, too. One more: do you realize Mansell has never lost a road game in his A&M career? MY PICK? LSU, 35-29.
KENTUCKY (2-8, 0-6 SEC) at GEORGIA (6-4, 4-3 SEC), 7:00 p.m. on ESPNU – After last week’s heart-breaking loss at Auburn, Georgia is hoping for a big day to improve its bowl destination. The Bulldogs, a 24-point favorite, had a fabulous second half against Auburn, which only makes you wonder why UGa seemed flat early. Kentucky will end a tough season with UT next week after the Bulldogs play in Atlanta versus Ga. Tech at 3:30 p.m. MY PICK? Georgia, 35-7.
No. 19 ARIZONA STATE (8-2, 6-1 Pac12) at No. 14 UCLA (8-2, 5-2 Pac12), 7:00 p.m. on Fox – The winner here goes to the Pac-12 title game so you can figure this will be fun to watch. State, favored by 3, is led by senior RB Marion Grice who just became the third Sun Devil to score 20 TDs in one season. Last year these two combined for over 1,000 yards in offense so it will be dicey for UCLA to end up 6-0 at home. MY PICK? Arizona State, 35-32.
No. 3 BAYLOR (9-0, 6-0 BigXII) at No. 11 OKLAHOMA STATE (8-2, 5-2 Big XII), 8:00 p.m. on ABC – Of the six unbeaten teams in the BCS, Baylor leads “biggest margin of victory” with an average of 43.8 points in nine games and the Bears are grinding out 684.8 total yards a game. The rub is Baylor didn’t play very good teams early, but with November wins over Oklahoma (41-12) and Texas Tech (63-34) you can understand why BU is a 9-point pick. State has won its last six, the stirring 38-13 win over Texas still fresh, so do I dare smell an upset in Boone Pickens Stadium? You bet. MY PICK? Oklahoma State, 37-35.
VANDERBILT (6-4, 3-4 SEC) at TENNESSEE (4-6, 1-5 SEC), 7:00 p.m. on ESPN2 – Vanderbilt has never beaten UT two years in a row so VU coach James Franklin says the game is hardly a rivalry. “I don’t think it’s at that point. It hasn’t been as competitive as it needs to be to be considered a rivalry. But I know a lot of people are excited about this game.” Whew, I’ll say. The Vols must win to stay bowl eligible and the Commodores need another year of bragging rights for recruiting. Tennessee is favored by 3, but with UT’s porous defense and so many freshmen wearing “smoky gray,” I’m saying Vandy makes history after beating UT last year. MY PICK? Vanderbilt, 27-17.
No. 8 MISSOURI (9-1, 5-1 SEC) at No. 24 OLE MISS (7-3, 3-3 SEC), 7:45 p.m. on ESPN – Mizzou QB James Franklin is back, but this one is at Ole Miss where the Rebels whipped LSU this time last month. Hugh Freeze’s kids have won three more since then and, with QB Bo Wallace sparking an offense averaging 462 yards per game, Ole Miss will be tough to beat at home. The Tigers are favored by 3 with guys like WR Dorial Green-Beckham anf RB Henry Josey clicking, but here’s another nod at an upset. MY PICK? Ole Miss, 30-27.
IN OTHER SEC GAMES
COASTAL CAROLINA (10-1) at No. 12 SOUTH CAROLINA (8-2, 6-2 SEC), 1:00 p.m. – One of college football’s best stories is that the head coach of CC – Joe Moglia -- is CEO of TD Ameritrade and has a net worth of $150 million. His once-beaten Chanticleers are having a great year and it is great fun to wait to see what happens to Joe’s career next. USC should win easily and then cheer for Ole Miss for a chance to win the SEC East. MY PICK? South Carolina, 31-20.
UT-CHATTANOOGA (8-3, 6-2 SoCon) at No. 1 ALABAMA (10-0, 7-0 SEC), 2:00 p.m. on ESPN3 – As you might suspect, the Mocs are a 49-point underdog to mighty Alabama so what will be interesting is who will actually play; Alabama doesn’t want a starter to get hurt before next week’s Iron Bowl versus Auburn and Chattanooga doesn’t want to lose a soul with a possible playoff berth coming on Sunday. So let’s hope nobody gets hurt. MY PICK? Alabama, 42-7.
GEORGIA SOUTHERN (6-4, 4-4 SoCon) at FLORIDA (4-6, 3-5 SEC), 2:00 p.m. -- Skyler Mornhinweg. That’s the name of the redshirt freshman QB that injury-ridden Florida will play tomorrow against Georgia Southern in what could be a David-Goliath game. UF is so battered a strong Georgia Southern has high hopes against the Gators, but Florida’s skill level is simply too great. Embattled Gator coach Will Muschamp can hardly afford to lose this one before facing Florida State next week. MY PICK? Florida, 28-17.
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SEC NOTES AND HOLIDAY SCHEDULE
No. 6 AUBURN (10-1, 6-1 SEC) is idle tomorrow and will host Alabama on Saturday, Nov. 30 at 3?:30 p.m. (CBS)
ON THANKSGIVING DAY (Thursday, Nov. 28) Ole Miss will play at Miss. State at 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)
ON ‘BLACK FRIDAY’ (Nov. 29), Arkansas will play at LSU at 2:30 p.m. on CBS.