THE PICKS ARE IN: Predictions on games around the country this weekend

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comSeptember 13, 2013 

AUBURN, Ala. — For the second consecutive week, I correctly predicted Auburn's final point total. For the second consecutive week, I didn't pick Georgia's game correctly. And for the second consecutive week, I went 13-2. Given that many of my victories were of the "gimme" variety (Austin Peay vs. Vanderbilt, to provide just one example), I'm going to do a better job of making this more difficult upon myself. Some weeks this can't be avoided — there are a lot of awful games out there — but hence forth, I'll do my best to pick games which, on paper, should be more competitive.

Onward to this week's games! (Please note that all times listed, as per usual, are Eastern. Thanks in advance.)

Strictly SEC

No. 7 Louisville at Kentucky, Noon

Hmm ... let's see, Kentucky had a problem slowing down Western Kentucky's offense in the season opener, ultimately losing 35-26. Louisville's attack, led by possible Heisman candidate Teddy Bridgewater, is 10 times (possibly more; I'm just throwing a multiplier out there) better than the Hilltoppers.

The Cardinals can pick their score here, and they likely will.

Black picks: Cardinals 66, Wildcats 14

Tennessee at No. 2 Oregon, 3:30 p.m.

Tennessee has started the season 2-0. Not that it should be too surprising considering those victories came against Austin Peay and Western Kentucky, respectively. What has been a revelation is how convincingly the Volunteers won both games, especially last week's 52-20 romp over the Hilltoppers, who were riding high after their victory over the Wildcats.

Earlier in the week, I believed Tennessee would be able to keep this close — for a half, anyway. That's before Yahoo broke its story alleging former quarterback Tyler Bray and defensive tackle Mo Couch (still on the team) received impermissible benefits. The Volunteers responded swiftly, ruling Couch ineligible for Saturday's game while it investigates the accusations.

Needless to say, it's the last thing Tennessee needed before a cross-country road trip to face one of the nation's top teams.

Black picks: Ducks 48, Volunteers 14

Vanderbilt at No. 13 South Carolina, 7 p.m.

The loser of this game is essentially eliminated from any hope of making to the SEC title game. Playing at home with a motivated Jadeveon Clowney spells bad news for the Commodores.

Black picks: Gamecocks 31, Commodores 17

No. 25 Ole Miss at Texas, 8 p.m.

As Jay-Z and Too $hort once said, "It was all good just a week ago." And it was for Texas. Then BYU rolled up 550 rushing yards last Saturday — the most Texas has ever allowed in its storied history — and Longhorns defensive coordinator Manny Diaz found himself out of a job a day later. Now the man leading Texas' defense is Greg Robinson, who had been serving as a team consultant.

Ole Miss won't have a problem taking advantage of a program that appears in complete disarray.

Black picks: Rebels 38, Longhorns 21

Other National Games of Some Renown

No. 16 UCLA at No. 23 Nebraska, Noon

While Texas' problems are confined to on-the-field matters, UCLA's turmoil is far more grave. Bruins walk-on receiver Nick Pasquale lost his life last Sunday when a car struck him while walking in San Clemente, Calif.

Having to travel halfway across the country to face another ranked team in front of a rabid home crowd was tough enough. Having to do it while dealing with the death of a player makes it even tougher.

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini knew how to put things in perspective. "That's a lot bigger than any football game," he said of Pasquale's passing. "Obviously, this has got to be a very difficult time for them."

The Bruins have already dedicated the rest of the season to Pasquale, donning a No. 36 patch (his jersey number) on their uniforms. Saturday, however, the Cornhuskers make enough plays to walk out of Memorial Stadium with a narrow win.

Black picks: Cornhuskers 27, Bruins 24

No. 19 Washington vs. Illinois (at Soldier Field in Chicago), 6 p.m.

It's a game that pits a pair of undefeated teams against each other at a "neutral site." Well, as neutral as it can be considering it's still in the state of Illinois. The location won't matter, however. Washington routed Boise State 38-6 in its season opener, and that was without one of their biggest weapons, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who sat out while serving a suspension for a DUI arrest.

The Fighting Illini will appease their fans for one half before the Huskies start to pour on the points.

Black picks: Huskies 41, Fighting Illini 21

No. 4 Ohio State at California, 7 p.m.

There's no reason to think Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller won't play. Yes, coach Urban Meyer has said it's going to be a "game-time" decision, but come on, do you really think Miller won't be on the field the first time the Buckeyes' offense has the ball?

The Golden Bears gave Big Ten foe Northwestern a run for its money in the opener, trailing 27-24 heading into the final quarter before falling 44-30. Expect the same kind of game here, especially if Miller is a bit rusty due to his injury.

Black picks: Buckeyes 45, Golden Bears 31

No. 21 Notre Dame at Purdue, 8 p.m.

Notre Dame's defense didn't play well last week, allowing Michigan to rack up 460 yards of total offense. Purdue provides the perfect remedy to cure some of those defensive ills. The Boilermakers have one of the most anemic offense in the country, averaging 255 yards per game (119th in the country) and a paltry 13.5 points per contest (116th in Division I).

The Fighting Irish won't need any "luck" this week.

Black picks: Fighting Irish 45, Boilermakers 10

No. 20 Wisconsin at Arizona State, 10:30 p.m.

You probably know by now that Wisconsin has outscored its first two opponents by a combined score of 93-0. You probably also know that formidable duo consisted of UMass and Tennessee Tech. But it's not as if Arizona State has been tested yet, either, as it won its only game thus far 55-0 over Sacramento State.

Both teams' shutout streaks will end, but the Badgers will be on the right side of the scoreboard when the clock strikes zero.

Black picks: Badgers 34, Sun Devils 24

Quick Hits

Louisiana-Monroe at Wake Forest, 12:30 p.m.

My upset pick of the week. Well, that's if you even think of this as an upset.

Black picks: WarHawks 37, Demon Deacons 20

Georgia Tech at Duke, 3:30 p.m.

Georgia Tech doesn't score 70 this week, but it doesn't need to. Half of that would suffice.

Black picks: Yellow Jackets 41, Blue Devils 17

Iowa at Iowa State, 6 p.m.

Yeah, Iowa lost to Northern Illinois in the season opener two weeks ago. So what? I'm still taking the Hawkeyes over their bitter in-state rival, who lost to Northern Iowa in its own season debut.

Black picks: Hawkeyes 23, Cyclones 16

Central Florida at Penn State, 6 p.m.

This game will be closer than many might think. Take the home team, though.

Black picks: Nittany Lions 31, Knights 27

The Game You Really Care About

Mississippi State at Auburn, 7 p.m.

Here we go again: Can I make it three weeks in a row picking Auburn's final point total on the nose?

A few things before I get to my pick: While the Tigers enter averaging 298 yards per game on the ground, I say they fail to match that Saturday. However, it's because Nick Marshall will have his first game of 200-plus passing yards. Auburn's defense has had problems getting opponents off the field in a timely manner; the question is, can the Bulldogs take advantage of it when they get in the red zone? Arkansas State couldn't.

If Dee Ford returns, it's a major addition to the Tigers' pass-rush, which has only four sacks through two games. If they can get to Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell and take him to the ground a few times, it will greatly enhance their chances at winning.

And I say they do. With Marshall having a breakout passing game (and scoring his first career rushing touchdown to boot), mark the Tigers down for their first 3-0 start since, well, you know, 2010.

Black picks: Tigers 30, Bulldogs 21

GAME OF THE WEEK

No. 1 Alabama at No. 6 Texas A&M, 3:30 p.m.

At the beginning of the week, I was fairly confident. Alabama would get revenge for its only loss last season. Give Nick Saban enough time to figure out what went wrong, and he'll make sure it's corrected in the next meeting. Then Yahoo came out with its report stating former All-American right tackle D.J. Fluker received money and other items last season, throwing a Molotov cocktail into a game already teeming with storylines.

Saban's final press conference featured no questions about Saturday's matchup, which caused him to storm away from the podium after three questions.

It wasn't before he was able to add in this gem, though: "I appreciate your interest in the game."

Do I think this makes Saturday even more interesting? Of course. How could it not?

That being said ... the only difference I think the Fluker report has is that it takes Alabama a bit longer to get going.

And here's my prediction-within-a-prediction (cue the gong/horn from "Inception"): If the Aggies score 30 or more points, they're winning. If they're held below that, it's a guaranteed Alabama victory.

You heard it here at some point. Maybe not first, but you heard it.

Black’s pick: Crimson Tide 24, Aggies 20

Last week: 13-2

Season: 26-4

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