Let me just start by saying this: We have one HELL of a football weekend coming up here.
Auburn-Alabama is a Shakespearean epic, LSU-Arkansas is like a weekend at Carowinds, and the undercard is full of solid games between teams that hate each other. Let the Big Ten or Pac-10 put up a slate of games like this -- ever -- and then maybe we can talk about who has the best conference. Until then, you other boys sit back and watch how it's done.
Auburn at Alabama: This is potentially the most drama-soaked college football game in years. I'm not sure what would hurt Auburn worse: To lose this game and get knocked out of the national championship, or to win out and have to forfeit everything because of Newtongate. But like a prophet, I told Mr. Gordon at the beginning of the season that I thought Alabama would lose three times this year. Like a typical non-believer, he looked at me like I was crazy. Sometimes you should listen to the prophet. Auburn, 33-27.
Georgia Tech at Georgia: Not the second-best game of the weekend, but these are my picks so it's here. This Georgia team unfortunately reminds me of the Eric Zeier teams -- loaded with talent, fun to watch, but you look up at the end of the year and they're 5-6. The good news, part 1: Aaron Murray gives us hope for next year. The good news, part 2: Eric Zeier went 4-0 against Tech. Dawgs, 31-17.
LSU at Arkansas: Ryan Mallett is driving the Razorbacks for the game-winning score. He drops back to pass, glances toward the sideline, and sees Les Miles gnawing on a handful of grass. The distraction is just enough to throw off his timing, Patrick Peterson makes the pick... and Crazy Les smiles once again. LSU, 24-21.
South Carolina at Clemson: For the first time in USC history, Clemson is a trap game -- sandwiched between the Florida beatdown and the rematch with Auburn in the SEC championship game. I've been leaning Clemson all week. But now I get the feeling that Spurrier will have just enough left in the visor to pull this one out. Cocks, 19-17.
Florida at Florida State: Let's see, FSU is the second-best team in the ACC... Florida is maybe the sixth-best team in the SEC. So Florida should be a solid touchdown favorite. Then again, it's in Tallahassee. Then again, FSU lost to TWO teams from North Carolina this year. Gators, 20-13.
Kentucky 26, Tennessee 16
Mississippi State 32, Ole Miss 18
Vandy 28, Wake 21
I'll be writing about one game only this week. "The Dawg Prophet" can handle the rest.
When I was young, I thought Alabama and Auburn people were just alike. They came from the same towns, attended the same churches and high schools, worked in the same offices, dated and married and were buried in the common ground they had always shared. Little did I know that some dormant genetic mutation roared to life when it came time to pick a college football team.
I made my first trip to Auburn when I was a freshman at Alabama. Went to a football game. Watched Pat Sullivan throw a bunch of touchdown passes. Drank beer with a bunch of my high school friends who were settling in on The Plains. That night, Alabama played LSU on ABC, and I remember the noise rolling off the television screen out of Death Valley, and how it mixed with the roars from the parking lot below as crowds of chanting Auburn students told Alabama to go to hell.
Later, an Auburn guy almost twice my size nearly pushed me off a third-story balcony when he found out where I was from and I refused to accept house arrest in my friend's apartment. Later that night, he and his friends came back and kicked open the apartment door. They didn't know me. But they hated me, because of where I went to school.
That was a very long time ago. Yet the older I get, the meaner this game seems to be, where the joy of winning takes a seat farther and farther removed from the joyless relief of not losing.
On most matters, Alabama and Auburn people mostly get along. But the most socially skilled in both camps politely tip-toe around the rivalry, then take to the chat boards to release their bile and fulfill every stereotype imaginable for a football-mad state. By kickoff, millions of fans on both sides see the 48 minutes as nothing short of a battle of Good vs. Evil, fearing a year in psychological leg-irons if the wrong team wins. The fact that Auburn's best player appears to be the subject of a growing NCAA investigation that includes the FBI has only heightened the moral -- and mythic -- implications surrounding the outcome.
Does that make this the best rivalry in college football, or the worst? Either way, it's exhausting, and kickoff is still a day away.
Aw kickoff. Up to now, I believed Auburn would win by 4-7 points. I believed that only the NCAA could slow down Newton, and that the window for that happening by Friday has long since closed. I believed Alabama is good at just about everything, but not good enough at anything to counter the Tigers' offensive power.
But I woke up this morning and something felt changed. Maybe it's a holiday insight. Maybe it's wishful thinking. Maybe it's my refusal to give the Dawg Prophet the satisfaction of admitting his 3-loss prediction is right.
Alabama, despite what the bookies say, will be the underdog for the first time all season, and it will relish the role. Let's get this over with. Tide, dammit, 27-24
Wednesday, November 24, 2010