Thursday, October 23, 2003

SEC Week 9 picks

Yes, an early rollout for my weekend football picks (not that anybody really cares). With the move on tomorrow, I wanted to get this out of the way.

So this is it. LSU / Auburn. Saturday Night in Tiger Stadium. The big showdown for the SEC West.

LSU is ranked 9th, Auburn 17th or 22nd, depending on what poll you believe. But there's so much to the story of this game, those rankings mean nothing.

Auburn was the pre-season star, found itself in deep trouble after two opening losses, and now looks again like a major SEC powerhouse.

LSU saw 2003 as its year to move up into the big leagues. We've looked great, except in the one game against Florida. The Crocs game could have broken our spirit, but we came back strong against S. Carolina.

Last week against the Cocks, LSU gave up zero yards rushing, and played better against the pass than the Cocks' 254 yards passing would indicate.

Meanwhile, Auburn rang up 405 yards on the ground against MSU and Coupe DeVille scored 6 times. The Tigers only gained 148 yards in the air, but didn't need any more than that.

A win for Auburn Saturday means they are for real and have the inside track for the West title. They would still have to beat Georgia and Ole Miss, of course. But a win in Tiger Stadium would help erase a lot of the pain of the club's 2003 start.

A win for LSU Saturday means they have the easiest path to Atlanta, with just Alabama, Ole Miss and Arkansas in the way (we've already beaten Georgia, of course). A win would also mean something like 7 straight weeks in the Top 10 and another big win for a program that is getting in a nice habit of collecting big wins.

It's shaping up to be a hell of a game. Old-style, ground-game, low-scoring physical SEC football.

LSU gives up an NCAA-low 9.9 points per game, and Auburn only gives up 12.4 a game.

Auburn averages 202 yards rushing a game; LSU has given up just 53 yards a game. LSU averages 155 rushing yards a game; Auburn gives up 92. But Broussard and Vincent looked like Dalton Hilliard and Garry James last week. The LSU ground/ball control game was in peak form vs. the Cocks.

Both teams are average through the air, and both are average on pass defense. LSU has the advantage at QB with the mature, level-headed Mauck. Auburn's QB can be rattled into some very, very bad decisions.

At the time when I began writing this, I was set to pick Auburn to win this game, as I did in the pre-season. And they have a good shot at it. But after my careful analysis, and putting aside all "homer" feelings toward LSU, I like our chances in a grind-em-up, down-and-dirty, for-all-the-marbles Saturday night home game on ESPN.

LSU, 17 - 14


Elsewhere in the SEC:

• Tennessee at Alabama - This year's Hillbilly/Redneck matchup is devoid of the kind of significance it typically holds. Tennessee has to hope for both Georgia and Florida to crumble if it's to win the SEC East, and Alabama has to hope for Jesus (or maybe Trot Nixon) to intervene if it is to win the SEC West (see, they're on probation). And neither team looks that good this year. I'll go Vols, 20 - 13

• Arkansas at Ole Miss - Two ways to look at this game from the LSU perspective. If Arkansas loses, they are completely out of the SEC West picture. Scratch that opponent and take the pressure off if we meet the Hogs with one SEC loss the last weekend of the season. Ole Miss has yet to lose in the SEC, so a loss for the Rebels puts them on par with LSU in the West race. I think I'd rather get Arkansas all the way out of the picture now and look forward to LSU vs. Ole Miss and Ole Miss vs. Auburn in the coming weeks to really settle the West. And I think Ole Miss will win this one, anyway. Rebels, 31 - 20

• UAB at Georgia - Oh how I'd love UAB to pull an upset here. Georgia is No. 3 in the BCS after Va. Tech blew it, and is within reach of playing for the national title if they win out (no easy feat for an SEC team). So if they stumbled against the Blazers, it would be a classic fold. But I'm not counting on it. UGA, 45 - 10

• Miss. State at Kentucky - This game has less impact on the SEC race than my desire for Katie Holmes has on her plans for next Saturday night. Cats, 42 - 3

• Vanderbilt at South Carolina - Slightly less significance than my crush on Katie. Cocks, 3 - 0

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