There is so much hype and hysteria over Saturday’s college football showdown between top-ranked Alabama and giant-killer Texas A&M that not long after CBS announced it will have one camera totally devoted to Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, ESPN said it would show live coverage of “The Cheer” at College Station tonight. Are you kidding me!
A great tradition at A&M is that precisely at midnight before a home football game, the Yell Squad – what the Aggies still call cheerleaders from the days when A&M was an all-male school – gathers the students for a raucous pep rally of sorts. How many people do you think are going to stay up until 1 a.m. eastern time to watch college kids yell on live TV? I’ll just take their word for it, thank you.
While the hoopla is a little much – former Auburn basketball great Charles Barkley said he’s heard so much about “Football Johnny” he’s almost ready to yell “Roll Tide! – the game is all that is wonderful and fun about college football.
How’s this! The aura of “The 12th Man,” a Texas A&M fable about old-time coach Dana X. Bible calling a player out of the stands, is glorious. Now “The 12th Man” is collectively the students, who stand throughout games, and this week a high-profile lawyer paid the state of Texas a whopping $115,000 to have a special 10-year license tag with the moniker 12THMAN affixed to his vehicle.
It is believed to be the second-highest amount ever paid for a vanity tag and is a record in Texas, where since November 2009 more than 156,000 vanity tags have generated over $18.4 million in the state's general fund. The runner-up in Texas was $25,000 paid for a tag that said, HOUSTON. The world record? A heavy roller who lives in the United Arab Emirates paid $14.2 million for a tag that reads, “1”.
That said, here is how I am picking the big games tomorrow:
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No. 7 LOUISVILLE (2-0) at KENTUCKY (1-1), 12:00 Noon on ESPN – Some think Louisville will go through the regular season undefeated but because they play such a weak schedule, the Cardinal with ace quarterback Teddy Bridgewater won’t get near the national championship. The Cats took a 41-7 win over Miami of Ohio but due to a lack of talent, Louisville is favored by 12 in Lexington. Incidentally, Bridgewater tried to wave the punting team off the field on a 4th-and 2 call last week in the 44-7 win over Eastern Kentucky and coach Charlie Strong quickly told Teddy, “We have enough coaches on this team.” MY PICK? Louisville, 42-15.
No. 16 UCLA (1-0) at No. 23 NEBRASKA (2-0), 12:00 Noon on ABC – Anybody who saw last year’s game between these two bullies will remember the Huskers gave up 653 yards - the second-most ever against a Nebraska defense -- in the 36-30 loss. What do you imagine UN coach Bo Pellini has been talking about all week and this game is in Lincoln. Jim Mora has worked wonders with the Bruins, taking a 58-20 win over Nevada before being idle last week so the fact the Huskers played two lightweights is why UCLA is favored by 4. MY PICK? Nebraska, 27-24.
No. 1 ALABAMA (2-0) at No. 6 TEXAS A&M, 3:30 p.m. on CBS — The fact Heisman winner Johnny Manzell will get his own TV camera is more than enough to trigger the contempt of the Crimson Tide in this our first-of-many Games-Of-The Year. There is no question “Johnny Football” is fabulous but the difference here will be that Alabama has far more overall talent than Texas A&M. Some feel UA QB A.J. McCarron is every bit as good at what he does, throwing to the best collection of receivers in the country, and the Tide defense is loaded with stars. Numbers? Alabama is favored by 8 and is 12-6 “against the spread” on the road since 2009. The Tide is 6-4 ATS after a bye. Under Kevin Sumlin, the Aggies are 4-4 ATS in College Station. They’re 0-1 ATS as a home underdog. (On TiqIQ.com, tickets to see this game are selling for an average of $763 on the secondary ticket market, believed to be the highest average price ever.) MY PICK? Alabama, 31-17.
TENNESSEE (2-0) at No. 2 OREGON (2-0), 3:30 p.m. on ABC – The line for the over-under, a bet where you wager against the total points scored, is set at 70 for this game, which is the highest in the country for this week. So you can be guaranteed some Duck feathers will fly when the Big Orange comes to the West Coast. Oregon is a 25-point favorite but I am thinking Tennessee is better than that and, if the defense can contain against the big plays, you pick the “under” and take the Vols with the points. One more thing: after facing the No. 2 Ducks, the Vols’ next four games are against No. 18 Florida, No. 9 Georgia, No. 13 South Carolina, and at No. 1 Alabama. MY PICK? Oregon, 42-28.
BOSTON COLLEGE (2-0) at SOUTHERN CAL (0-1), 3:00 p.m. on Pac-10 – After last week’s shocking 10-7 loss to Washington State, Southern Cal fans are ready to lynch Lane Kiffin. Not only did the Trojans fall out of the Top 25, USC has yet to complete a pass for over 20 yards. A revived Boston College has already won as many games as the Eagles did in 2012 so here is a case where a wise man takes BC and 13 points over the troubled Trojans, which have lost six of the last eight games. MY PICK? Southern Cal, 23-20.
GEORGIA TECH at DUKE 3:30 p.m. on ESPNU – Tomorrow will be the first day of the “most important month” in Georgia Tech’s season and the Duke game will mark the start of a four-week march that could decide the season. The next three weeks find the Yellow Jackets facing North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Miami, all crucial in the ACC’s Coastal Division. Tech is favored by 8 over the Blue Devils, which seems about right after Duke’s ho-hum win over Memphis. MY PICK? Georgia Tech, 34-21.
MISSISSIPPI STATE (1-1) at AUBURN (2-0), 7:00 p.m. on ESPN2 — Tyler Russell, State’s starting QB for the last two years, has lingering problems with a concussion but the bigger factor is that Auburn’s defense seems to be regaining its swagger. The Tigers haven’t faced a team as good as MSU, on purpose, but Gus Malzahn knows this is the first SEC test of his era and he’s really excited about it. Auburn goes to LSU next week so being a one-TD favorite is big right now. MY PICK? Auburn, 27-18.
VANDERBILT (1-1) at No. 13 SOUTH CAROLINA (1-1), 7:00 p.m. on ESPN — Vanderbilt played a great opener against Ole Miss, losing a 39-35 heartbreaker, and, while the Commodores have no doubt polished some areas, they aren’t at the level South Carolina is, nor do they have the impetus the Gamecocks bring into Williams-Bryce Stadium after falling to Georgia last week, 41-30. Carolina knows this is crucial in the SEC East and Steve Spurrier will have them set to explode by gametime. USC, favored by 12, will be cocked and loaded. MY PICK? South Carolina, 34-17.
MEMPHIS at MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE, 7:00 p.m. – Middle coach Rick Stockstill has a 44-45 record with the Blue Raiders over the last eight years and this is a good chance to pull even. MTSU’s Logan Kilgore is starting for the fourth year at quarterback and handles the team well, while Memphis, losing 28-14 to Duke last week, doesn’t have players like Middle’s Jordan Parker, a shifty runner who has rushed for over 100 yards in five of the last six games. MTSU is favored by 7. MY PICK? Middle Tennessee, 31-14.
No. 25 OLE MISS (2-0) at TEXAS (1-1), 8:00 p.m. on Longhorn Network — After Texas surrendered a school record 550 yards rushing to BYU in a 19-point loss, embattled head coach Mack Brown fired defensive coordinator Manny Diaz on the spot. Insiders say such an act showed “desperation” by Mack to keep his job. So here comes Ole Miss, fresh from earning a sport in the Top 25, and the feeling here is that Hugh Freeze and his Rebs have Texas exactly where they want them. UT is a 4-point pick but with turmoil in Austin, the timing couldn’t be much better for an upset. MY PICK? Ole Miss, 31-21.
IN OTHER SEC GAMES
ARKANSAS at SOUTHERN MISS, 12:21 p.m. on SEC Network — Get this, after this one the Razorbacks will travel to Rutgers, causing wide speculation Arkansas will be 4-0 when A&M comes to town Sept. 28. The noise in Fayetteville has been about freshman runner Alex Collins. The kid from Ft. Lauderdale is averaging 151.5 yards per game (6th best in NCAA) so with the Razorbacks picked to win by a hefty 21 points, maybe it will be fun to watch Collins become the first freshman in school history to break the 100-yd per game barrier in his first three games. MY PICK? Arkansas, 35-10.
KENT STATE (1-1) at No. 8 LOUISIANA STATE (2-0), 7:00 p.m. on ESPNU – Had it not been for the erupting scandal at Oklahoma State, where Les Miles coached in the tumultuous years, the Louisiana sports pages would have been blank this week. C’mon, LSU is favored by 38 and will probably win by 10 more in one of those gross mismatches where the lone goal is not to get anybody hurt. The Tigers host Auburn next week but the first big hurdle will be in Athens on Sept. 28. MY PICK? LSU, 49-0.
IDLE THIS WEEK: No. 18 FLORIDA (1-1) hosts Tennessee next week, No. 9 GEORGIA (1-1) hosts North Texas next week, and MISSOURI (2-0) travels to Indiana next week.
AND ONE MORE
AUSTIN PEAY (0-2) at CHATTANOOGA (1-1), 6:00 P.M. – According to this week’s Sargarin computer ratings, UTC is listed at No. 133 out of 251 college teams while Austin Peay is No. 210. Hypothetically, the margin-of-victory is achieved by taking the rating – not the numerical listing -- of each team and adding 5.72 points to the home team. The Mocs’ rating this week is 58.21, or 63.93 with the Finley Stadium advantage, while the Govs are rated 42.37 after both UT and Vanderbilt whipped our Clarksville cousins. So there you have it, the Mocs a 21 ½ point computer favorite. MY PICK? Chattanooga, 37-10.