It’s a given Alabama fans will keep a close watch on the Oregon-Stanford game and the Kansas State-Baylor game tomorrow night but, in an ironic twist, the Crimson Tide players told the Montgomery Advertiser this week that they aren’t all that interested in the race to see who ends up in the national championship game in Miami Jan. 7.
Oregon is the top-ranked team in the country and Kansas State, also unbeaten, is No. 2. With No. 4 Alabama playing early Saturday against Western Carolina, you would think the Tide players would be in front of TV sets for the pair of 8 p.m. games tomorrow night. But running back Eddie Lacy said he’s not a fan unless he’s wearing a uniform. “We’re just focused on now and what we have ahead, not on Miami. If we take care of everything, Miami will take care of itself.”
Linebacker Nico Johnson agrees. “It’s hard to really with school and the way we do football here,” he said. “It’s always football, football, football. The only way I’d get to see something on TV is on Fridays in the hotel, and there’s really not much on.”
Robert Lester doesn’t worry about Oregon, Kansas State or No. 3 Notre Dame either. At least, not yet. “I definitely don’t want to watch. We need to focus on what we need to do to at least have a chance of getting to what we want to get to. By doing that, we need to focus on winning these games ahead of us, and whatever happens at the end of the season happens.”
Tomorrow’s game against Western Carolina begins at 12:21 p.m. (SEC Network) and the Tide can’t get caught looking ahead to next week’s home game against Auburn (3:30 p.m. CBS). Like Coach Saban always teaches, “I just think our players need to focus on what they need to do to play well.“
That said, here’s how I am picking my Top 10 football games this week:
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IOWA (4-6) at No. 23 MICHIGAN (7-3), 12 Noon (ESPN) – Michigan, tied with Nebraska in the Big Ten’s Legends division, has to win this one and next week’s Ohio State battle for a chance but No. 16 Nebraska, playing Minnesota tomorrow and Iowa next week, will win by a tie-breaker if both the Wolverines and the ‘Huskers win out. The Wolverines are a 1-point pick and Brady Hoke says his guys know what’s at stake. "I think they know we've got to take care of ourselves. To achieve greatness, you've got to put yourself in position and take care of your business." MY PICK? Michigan, 24-14.
ARKANSAS (4-6, 2-4 SEC) at MISSISSIPPI STATE (7-3, 3-3 SEC), 12:21 p.m. (SEC Network) – You might hear an air-raid siren in Starkville with both teams expected to pass like crazy. Razorback QB Tyler Wilson is passing for 300 yards per game and “the other Tyler” – State QB Russell – will try for 250. Both teams need more rushing for balance. State has now lost three in a row but the Bulldogs are favored by 6 ½ because the UA defense is suspect. MY PICK? Arkansas, 31-28.
No. 21 SOUTHERN CAL (7-3) at No. 17 UCLA (8-2), 3:05 p.m. (Fox) – Whew! When was the last time UCLA was ranked higher than the Trojans? Southern Cal is a scary 4-point pick in the annual Los Angeles slugfest but UCLA has scored over 40 points in the last three games and could give defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin fits in this, a disappointing season. "We're not pleased. We've screwed a couple of games up, obviously. None of us wanted to be where our win-loss record is," Lane Kiffin said earlier this week. "At the same time, you want to be alive. A lot of people in the country are not playing for the ability to win their conference, and we are fortunately. We're in a one-game playoff for the South, and then we'll have another game for the conference championship.” MY PICK? UCLA, 35-32.
OLE MISS (5-5, 2-4 SEC) at No. 8 LSU (8-2, 4-2 SEC) 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports) – Ole Miss, passing for around 250 yards a game, blew a 17-point second-half lead against Vanderbilt last week – losing 27-26 – but don’t expect that to phase LSU’s stingy defense tomorrow. The Tigers, favored by 18 ½, have a very slim chance at the SEC championship – if hapless Auburn upsets still-mighty Alabama – but, as Les Miles says, "We understand that you have to win to make yourself attractive to the major bowls. This team wants to play a very good team in a prestigious bowl game. This team will play to that goal." MY PICK? LSU, 41-17.
No. 23 TEXAS TECH (7-3) at OKLAHOMA STATE (6-3), 3:30 p.m. (FSN) – The Cowboys’ 66-6 rout over TTU last year is still in the minds of the Raider players and it’s as though they’ve been waiting all year. "It was an embarrassment, I think, for the entire program. I mean, they were probably the better football team last year, but there was no reason that it should have been that lopsided," said the Red Raiders' Seth Doege, the stellar QB who leads the FCS with 34 TD passes this year. Tech won by 7 over Kansas last week after losing to Texas, 31-22, while the Cowboys chopped up West Virginia, 55-34. State is a 10 ½ point pick and the hunch here is that’s about right. MY PICK? Oklahoma State, 37-24.
No. 6 OHIO STATE (10-0) at WISCONSIN (7-3), 3:30 p.m. (ABC) – Ohio State wide receiver Corey Brown summed up the last two game on the Buckeyes’ schedule succinctly, "I don't want to go on record saying that I hate Wisconsin more than Michigan … but I hate Wisconsin just as much as Michigan." So with OSU a 3-point underdog at Camp Randall, Ohio State’s focus is to end the season undefeated since OSU is bowl-ineligible. As linebacker Zach Boren said, "We need to be 12-0. It's one game at a time. We're not thinking about injuries, polls (or the fact that) we have nothing after the Team Up North game. We've got the two biggest games of the season coming up." (The Team Up North is what Buckeyes say who refuse to say “Michigan”) MY PICK? Wisconsin, 28-24.
TENNESSEE (4-6, 0-6 SEC) at VANDERBILT (6-4, 4-3 SEC), 7:00 p.m. (ESPN2) – Vanderbilt fans will remind anybody that the Commodores have won more SEC games this year that UT’s Derek Dooley has in the three seasons he’s been in Knoxville, as if we needed to turn the heat up in a critical game for both teams. Dooley, you’ll recall, has promised he would never lose to Vandy again and now he’s allegedly in a position where he can’t. Vandy is a 4-point favorite but I’m thinking this is where UT finally puts it together. MY PICK? Tennessee, 27-17.
SYRACUSE (5-5) at MISSOURI (5-5, 2-5 SEC), 7:00 p.m. (ESPNU) – It was revealed this week that Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel is paying $23,000 a month in alimony but if he loses here and then gets clobbered at Texas A&M next week, he may have to ask the court for relief. The Tigers are a 4-point favorite, with QB James Franklin finding sensational frosh Dorial Green-Beckham more readily, but remember Syracuse knocked Louisville from the unbeaten last week with a rousing 45-26 win. By the end of the game, I am thinking Missouri will be bowl eligible. MY PICK? Missouri, 28-21.
No. 2 KANSAS STATE (10-0) at BAYLOR (4-5), 8:00 p.m. (ESPN) – There are two games standing in the way of Kansas State’s Jan. 7 date in Miami where KSU could play for the national title – Baylor tomorrow and Texas next week. So who better to keep Heisman front runner Collin Klein and Co. in check than Bill Snyder? “We're just honored to be there. I'm just going to encourage our guys to not change the way we approach things and try to stay grounded." The Wildcats are favored by 12 against the Bears but folks in Tuscaloosa wonder if that’s enough. MY PICK? Kansas State, 34-20.
No. 14 STANFORD (8-2) at No. 1 OREGON (10-0), 8:00 p.m. – The Ducks have rushed for 620 yards in the last two games against Stanford but that doesn’t mean The Cardinal can expect that in a huge conference game. “I don’t care if we run it or if we pass it. All we are about is the end result,” said Chip Kelly while David Shaw, whose Stanford defense will be the best Oregon’s players have seen, says Oregon is hard to stop. "You don't see them stopped for long. If you're doing something well that can hold them down, they're going to make a tweak and make you pay for it." So, with the Ducks at home and favored by 21, you have to believe UO will be on fire. MY PICK? Oregon, 51-34.
IN OTHER SEC GAMES
WESTERN CAROLINA (1-9) at No. 4 ALABAMA (9-1, 6-1 SEC), 12:21p.m. (SEC Network) – Terrible, terrible, terrible. Alabama will obviously romp in what might be the biggest mismatch of the season but who really cares? Sure, Western gets a fat pay day and a lot of the Tide subs get to play but this is embarrassing. MY PICK? Alabama, 48-0.
JACKSONVILLE STATE (6-4) at No. 7 FLORIDA (9-1, 7-1 SEC), 1:00 p.m. – This yawner is so bad the only way to see it is on pay-per-view. Florida QB Jeff Driskel is the big story here; his ankle is so badly sprained some fear he’ll be hobbled for the Florida State game next Saturday in Tallahassee. MY PICK? Florida, 45-0.
WOFFORD (8-2) at No. 12 SOUTH CAROLINA (8-2, 6-2 SEC), 1:00 p.m. – This is a little better but not much. Wofford has a good team but they are hardly in Carolina’s class. It will be a nice day to sit in the sun but don’t look for anything unusual – the hunch is that Steve Spurrier won’t even throw his visor. MY PICK? South Carolina, 42-7.
ALABAMA A&M (7-3) at AUBURN (2-8, 0-7 SEC), 1:00 p.m. – Get this: A guy named “George P” created a petition on Wednesday on the White House website asking President Obama to take out both coach Gene Chizik and athletic director Jay Jacobs. “Either send military drones to the athletic department and blow the whole thing up or give our boosters a $10 million stimulus package to create new orange and blue jobs. Determine that Jacobs and Chizik are terrorists and get rid of them for Auburn.” MY PICK? Auburn, 34-21.
GEORGIA SOUTHERN (8-2) at No. 5 GEORGIA (9-1, 7-1 SEC), 1:30 p.m. – Nope, Al Michaels won’t be on hand to yell, “Do you believe in miracles?” because the Bulldogs are really peeking right now. The game has great statewide interest, which is better than the usual cupcake, but I agree with Georgia’s premier LB Jarvis Jones: "I hate games like this personally." MY PICK? Georgia, 47-21.
SAM HOUSTON STATE (8-2) at No. 9 TEXAS A&M (8-2, 5-2 SEC), 3:30 p.m. – About the most interesting thing here is how long Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin is going to leave “Johnny Football” Manziel in the game – do you jerk him early so the subs can play or do you leave the dazzling QB in to get more footage for his Heisman Trophy chances. The last time these two played A&M won 59-6. MY PICK? Texas A&M, 48-7.
SAMFORD (7-3) at KENTUCKY (1-9, 0-7 SEC), 7:30 p.m. (CSS) – When Western Kentucky beat UK, 32-31, on Sept. 15, it was so disheartening the Wildcats haven’t won since and Samford, with Coach Pat Sullivan 32-33 in six seasons, believes it has a chance. UK will visit Tennessee next week but the disastrous year will wind up costing Kentucky about $5 million in lost revenue. MY PICK? Kentucky, 24-21.
ARKANSAS-LSU PLAY NEXT FRIDAY
No SEC teams are idle tomorrow but there will be one conference game next Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. Arkansas will play at LSU in a 2:30 p.m. start (CBS) on “Black Friday.”
AND ONE MORE …
ELON (3-7, 1-6 SouCon) at CHATTANOOGA (5-5, 4-3 SouCon), 2:00 p.m. – Perfect weather conditions and an early afternoon start at home bode well for UTC as the Mocs have a chance for a winning season and – after three failed tries – a win over Elon in Finley Stadium. Chattanooga has the best team in years – oh, to have those two overtimes fall their way – and the UTC balance on offense and defense should give The Phoenix the seventh loss in the last eight games. MY PICK? Chattanooga, 37-10.