The picks are in: Predictions on college games around the country this weekend

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comOctober 18, 2013 

AUBURN, Ala. — It was bound to happen. Post a 14-1 record three weeks ago, and get worse each ensuing week, dropping to 11-4 and then 10-5 with last weekend's slate of games. Much like Maryland proved me wrong when I consistently picked against them, Texas has become my new foil.

I like to think the Longhorns were motivated by me doubting them, which in turn led to getting Mack Brown off the hot seat. (For now.)

Yes, I'm rambling and connecting dots that don't exist in an attempt to distract your attention from my showing last week.

Let's just get to the picks. (As per usual, the times listed below are Eastern. Please schedule accordingly.)

Strictly SEC

No. 15 Georgia at Vanderbilt, Noon

Georgia could lose every other player on offense who isn't on the line and isn't named Aaron Murray, and I still would likely pick the Bulldogs in this game. Heck, they could start Uga at one of the receiver spots, and I'm still not sure it would help Vanderbilt all that much. (And again, the Bulldogs are close to reaching a point injury-wise that Uga might have to get in a game at some point. Rest assured, it probably won't lead to this.

The point is, the good vibes of back-to-back bowl bids has worn off for Vandy. And with Kentucky still non-competitive, the basement of the SEC East seems like it's starting to return to the condition it was in a decade ago.

Black picks: Bulldogs 30, Commodores 17

No. 11 South Carolina at Tennessee, Noon

The last time we saw Tennessee, it was close to knocking off Georgia at home. The Volunteers had the benefit of a bye last week to get over the tough 34-31 overtime loss to the Bulldogs. The question is, will the week off help Tennessee all that much?

I'm leaning heavily toward "no."

Black picks: Gamecocks 38, Volunteers 24

No. 22 Florida at No. 14 Missouri, 12:21 p.m.

James Franklin won't play for Missouri. Matt Jones was the latest entry added to Florida's list of players lost for the season.

Two backup quarterbacks are leading the teams in this one, and I want to lean toward the Gators given how good their defense is. But then I have second thoughts. "Ryan, don't you remember how bad this Florida offense is? It's really, really bad."

It's a pick I have about as much faith in as Democrats and Republicans do in each other, but I'll take the Tigers in a mistake-filled contest at home.

Black picks: Tigers 21, Gators 17

No. 6 LSU at Ole Miss, 7 p.m.

The Rebels are reeling. Losers of three straight, that 3-0 start to the season seems like it happened 20 years ago.

An LSU team that still has a lot to play for is the last thing Ole Miss needs this week.

Black picks: Tigers 41, Rebels 24

Arkansas at No. 1 Alabama, 7 p.m.

On Monday, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema called Nick Saban's Alabama program "second to none." Funny, that might not be the last time "none" is mentioned by Bielema this week. The Razorbacks were drop-kicked 52-0 in Fayetteville, Ark., by the Crimson Tide last season, and lost to South Carolina 52-7 one week ago.

Alabama posting back-to-back shutouts of Arkansas is a real possibility.

Black picks: Crimson Tide 45, Razorbacks 3

Other National Games of Some Renown

No. 21 Oklahoma State at TCU, Noon

Under normal circumstances, I would pick Oklahoma State and call it a day. But I just can't get Oklahoma State's game against West Virginia out of my head. One week after the Mountaineers get destroyed by Maryland 38-0, the Cowboys roll into Morgantown, W.V., and leave with a 30-21 loss.

Meanwhile, a TCU squad defined by its formidable defenses under coach Gary Patterson righted itself after the season opener. TCU allowed 37 points in its season debut against LSU, and no team has broke the 20-point barrier since.

But Okie State is at home, so I'll go with hosts. Barely.

Black picks: Cowboys 27, Horned Frogs 24

No. 16 Texas Tech at West Virginia, Noon

There is no truth that everything Kliff Kingsbury touches turns to gold.

It just seems that way.

Black picks: Red Raiders 52, Mountaineers 27

No. 9 UCLA at No. 13 Stanford, 3:30 p.m.

Stanford hasn't lost back-to-back games in four years. To wit: Andrew Luck was a freshman. An ominous sign for the Cardinal, though: their defense has allowed 400-plus yards of total offense in consecutive games for the first time since 2011. With defensive end Henry Anderson likely out for a few more weeks with a knee injury, things don't look to be getting much better for Stanford in the immediate future.

It doesn't help that it has to face a UCLA team playing the best it has since Jim Mora Jr. became head coach.

Black picks: Bruins 35, Cardinal 24

No. 20 Washington at Arizona State, 6 p.m.

After facing Stanford and Oregon the past two weeks, Arizona State will seem like a walk in the park for Washington. The home team will keep it competitive into the third quarter, but Washington will prove to be too tough in this important Pac-12 tilt.

(Yes, I'm totally glossing over the fact Arizona State has won the last seven meetings between these two as well as Washington not winning in Tempe, Ariz., since 2001.)

Black picks: Huskies 34, Sun Devils 23

No. 25 Wisconsin at Illinois 8 p.m.

Hmm ... Wisconsin is fifth in Division I in total defense and ninth in total offense. Illinois, on the other hand, has lost 15 Big Ten games in a row.

This is a pretty easy pick, no?

Black picks: Badgers 48, Illini 17

UNLV at No. 17 Fresno State, 10 p.m.

UNLV is 2-0 in Mountain West Conference play and have ripped off four victories in a row after dropping its first two games — to Minnesota and Arizona, respectively — by a combined 73 points.

There's only one problem: Fresno State is also 2-0 in the conference and has yet to lose this season. Derek Carr and the Bulldogs are playing at too high a level offensively to expect the Rebels to pull off the upset.

Black picks: Bulldogs 59, Rebels 34

Quick hits

Minnesota at Northwestern, Noon

Much like Washington in the Pac-12, Northwestern is coming off a pair of tough games in back-to-back weeks, losing to both Ohio State and Wisconsin.

While Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill is reportedly back after spending time at a epilepsy center in Michigan, he's not expected to travel for Saturday's game. Either way, the Wildcats won't have any problem getting back in the win column this week.

Black picks: Wildcats 44, Golden Gophers 20

Nevada at Boise State, 8 p.m.

Boise State opened the game as 21-point favorites. The line has barely moved, so that should say a lot.

Black picks: Broncos 52, Wolf Pack 28

The Game You Really Care About

No. 24 Auburn at No. 7 Texas A&M, 3:30 p.m.

The stage is set for yet another SEC shootout.

Texas A&M has shown it is going to give up its fair share of points. However, Alabama is the only team that has made Texas A&M pay for that lack of defensive punch this season.

Auburn's best chance is to stake itself out to an early lead and dominate in the time of possession. Forcing a few turnovers wouldn't hurt, either. The experience of playing at LSU earlier this season will help the visitors here, but I just don't think it will be enough to hold Manziel and the Aggies' offense under wraps long enough to walk away with a road victory over a top-10 team.

(I'm already preparing myself for the derision this pick will incite.)

Black picks: Aggies 48, Tigers 38

GAME OF THE WEEK

No. 5 Florida State at No. 3 Clemson, 8 p.m.

It's nearly impossible to overhype this game. The winner of this matchup has won the ACC Atlantic division the last four years. The stakes are obviously even higher this year with the contest serving as a de facto national championship eliminator.

Florida State is averaging more points per game (53.6 to 40.8) and giving up less (12 to 16.2). Clemson owns the better win to this point, though, as its 38-35 victory against a full-strength Georgia in the season opener trumps Florida State's win over Pittsburgh in its own season opener as well as its 63-0 thrashing of Maryland two weeks ago.

And look, I think Jameis Winston is only going to get better as the season goes on and as his career at Florida State unfolds. He's already a fantastic player, but to ask him to lead the Seminoles to a victory in Death Valley in just his sixth career start? That's unreasonable to ask of anyone.

Further, I can't see the more-experienced Tajh Boyd blowing this kind of opportunity, knowing that the Tigers have a very good shot at playing for the national championship game provided they win out.

It should be a slobberknocker, but I'll cast my lot with the Tigers.

Black’s pick: Tigers 41, Seminoles 35

Last week: 10-5

Season: 84-21

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