SEC takes center stage; Big Ten gets a MAC-tastic reprieve

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Certainly the schedule says the Big Ten will be out in full force — minus Illinois — and engaging in gridiron “competition” this weekend, but they will be facing the same number of schools from BcS conferences as I will — zero.

Eastern Michigan, Central Michigan, N. Colorado, Bowling Green, Austin Peay, Ball State, Toledo, Akron, Northern Illinois.  Those are nine of the ten schools gearing up to face Big Ten squads, with seven of them calling the Mid-American Conference home.  Perhaps the only intriguing on-paper match-up before conference play begins involves yet another MAC school that beat up on a Big East school last week.

Then there’s the SEC.

Four conference games and one non-conference contest — previewed HERE — highlight this week’s slate for the league, with a top-ten tilt between Alabama and Arkansas looking as arguably the game of the week in college football (apologies to Boise State-Oregon State go here).

Below is a brief glimpse of a few of the more intriguing games involving the two conferences this weekend.  And, for the degenerates in the audience, the record versus the spread that appears at the end of this piece should serve as a warning if you’re looking for a cheat sheet in your gambling endeavors.

Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

No. 1 Alabama at N0. 10 Arkansas (3:30 ET)

THE LINE: Alabama -7

THE PLOT: With easy wins over San Jose State, Penn State and Duke to open the season, Alabama’s revamped defense, replete with nine new starters, has yet to face it’s first real test of the season.  With Ryan Mallett and a cadre of talented receivers on this weekend’s agenda, that will change in short order.  Or, at least, it should.  Not only was the secondary’s inexperience a major concern throughout the Tide’s summer camp, but the lack of depth in that unit did nothing but add to the worries.  With Mallett in charge of the Razorbacks’ pass-happy offense, we’ll know one way or the other whether there was any validity to those preseason concerns.

Of course, the Razorbacks will also be forced to do something about the law firm of McElroy, Ingram, Richardson & Jones when they don’t have the ball.  As Yoda would say, a pretty picture this is not. 

THE PICK: Even given some of the “question marks” that pockmark the untested defense, and the fact that they are playing on the road, there’s simply no way I could in good conscience go against the Tide.  At least straight up.  In the end, ‘Bama will prove to be the better team… but not by much in a thriller of a game.

THE SCORE: Alabama 27, Arkansas 24

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Temple at No. 23 Penn State (3:30 ET)

THE LINE: Penn State -14

THE PLOT: Well, we had to throw a Big Ten game in here somewhere, and this seems to be the most compelling as far as upset potential is concerned. The Owls overwhelmed UConn 30-16 last Saturday in one of the biggest wins in recent school history.  The Nittany Lions are starting a freshman quarterback and, remarkably, have yet to give up a sack, the only school in the nation that can make that claim three weeks in.  You might be chuckling right now, but this is actually a fairly big game for both sides.

THE PICK: Al Golden is a helluva football coach, and will be at a BcS school — hell, maybe even Happy Valley — sooner rather than later, but his program is not to the point yet where it can realistically expect to upend a school like Penn State on the road.  That said, I look for the Owls to cover in a game that’s closer than some might expect.  On any given Saturday though…

THE SCORE: Penn State 24, Temple 14

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Kentucky at No. 9 Florida (7:00 ET)

THE LINE: Florida -14

THE PLOT: If you were told that this game included the second-leading offense in the SEC, it probably wouldn’t come as much of a surprise.  It might raise some eyebrows, however, if it was the Wildcats and not the Gators that’s holding the lofty early-season offensive perch.  While it’s a credit to what Joker Phillips is doing in Lexington, it’s also a telling sign of what’s been the overriding theme of the first three games of the season — a limp Florida offense that’s done more spitting and sputtering than Dr. Lou.  The Gators showed some positive signs of breaking out of their offensive malaise last weekend; whether it was nothing more than a tease remains to be seen.  This should be a solid test of where the Gators stand on that side of the ball as Kentucky is ranked No. 13 nationally in yards allowed and No. 34 in scoring defense.

THE PICK: At some point this year, the Gators will put it all together offensively and match the level where their defense and special teams are currently residing.  This will be that week and unfortunately for the Wildcats, Florida will not be looking ahead to their rematch of the last two SEC title games next week.

THE SCORE: Florida 41, Kentucky 17

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Georgia at Mississippi State (7:00 ET)

THE LINE: Mississippi State -1

THE PLOT: If Georgia loses this game, they will start the season 0-3 in SEC play.  The sale of pitchforks and torches in the greater Athens area will go through the roof with a loss.  Mark Richt will elbow his way to the front of the coaching hot seat line with a loss  There is your overriding plot for this game.

THE PICK: How much will the loss of A.J. Green mean for UGA in this game?  Coupled with the way the road Bulldogs have started the season, enough to take the home Bulldogs outright.

THE SCORE: Mississippi State 23, Georgia 21

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No. 12 South Carolina at No. 17 Auburn (7:45 ET)

THE LINE: Auburn -3

THE PLOT: South Carolina has struggled on the road of late in SEC play, but this is not your nephew’s Gamecocks.  With a punishing defense and a punch-you-square-in-the-face running game, the East Coast USC has seemingly overhauled their style of play in less than a calendar year, making any attempts at predictions based on the past futile.  Auburn thus far has been a bit of a head-scratcher, at least to me.  I was high on the Tigers in the preseason, but they’ve merely been “meh” in the first three games.  Certainly the talent is there on The Plains; now it’s a matter of deciphering whether they’ve merely been idling or coasting through the quarter pole of the season, or if people such as myself had a false sense of what they could be in Year Two of Gene Chizik‘s tenure.

THE PICK: Whatever it is Steve Spurrier‘s selling this year, I’m buying even if I have to pay retail.  Outright on the road, thy name is “Gamecock”.

THE SCORE: South Carolina 26, Auburn 20

LAST WEEKStraight up: 3-2Vs. spread: 1-3-1

OVERALLStraight up: 10-3Vs. spread: 5-7-1

(Odds courtesy of SportsBook.com by way of our friends at NBC Sports.com)

Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson wins the 2016 Heisman Trophy

LOUISVILLE, KY - OCTOBER 22:  Lamar Jackson #8 of the Louisville Cardinals signals a touchdown during the game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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It was his in September and it was his in December.

Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson completed a storybook season on Saturday night in New York City to become the winner of the 82nd Heisman Trophy as college football’s most outstanding player.

Jackson’s numbers were simply overwhelming in 2016 and put him in a class of his own even if the Cardinals faltered a bit down the stretch in losing their final two games. The quarterback accounted for an ACC-record 51 touchdowns on the year and joined fellow Heisman winners Cam Newton and Tim Tebow as only the third player to throw for over 30 scores and run for another 20. In total, he found the end zone more than all but 38 FBS teams this season.

In addition to becoming the first Louisville player ever to win the award (and first finalist, period), Jackson is just the fourth sophomore to capture the honor and the 10th ACC player overall to win the Heisman. The signal-caller also becomes the youngest Heisman Trophy winner ever at 19 years and 337 days old, beating Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston by five days at the time of his win.

All told, he led the Cardinals to a 9-3 record and finished the season with 3,390 passing yards, 30 touchdowns and nine interceptions to go along with 1,538 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground.

Jackson finished with 2,144 points and was the overwhelming choice in the Heisman race, winning every single region of the country and finishing with the sixth-biggest win. Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, making the trip to the ceremony for the second straight season, finished as the runner-up with 1,524 points. Voters were only allowed three choices on their ballot.

Oklahoma teammates Baker Mayfield (third, 361 points) and Dede Westbrook (fourth, 209 points) finished back-to-back behind the two ACC quarterbacks. Fellow finalist Jabrill Peppers of Michigan wound up fifth with 208 points.

Washington quarterback Jake Browning (sixth), Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen (seventh), Texas tailback D'Onta Foreman (eighth) and Stanford all-purpose star Christian McCaffrey (ninth) rounded out the voting while Florida State’s Dalvin Cook and San Diego State Donnel Pumphrey both tied for 10th.

All had incredible seasons but none could come close to the eventual winner in Jackson, who threw, hurdled and stiff-armed his way to the trophy and into college football history.

Former Baylor QB Jarrett Stidham announces transfer to Auburn

STILLWATER, OK - NOVEMBER 21:  Jarrett Stidham #3 of the Baylor Bears scrambles with the ball against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the second quarter at Boone Pickens Stadium on November 21, 2015 in Stillwater, Oklahoma.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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Former Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham has traded ‘Sic ‘Em’ for ‘War Eagle.’

The highly prized quarterback recruit announced on Twitter Saturday evening that Auburn would be his next college destination. Stidham did start three games as a freshman for the Bears last year (12 touchdowns, 1,265 yards) but broke his ankle and missed the remainder of the season. He ended up leaving the program as a transfer over the summer following the firing of Art Briles in Waco and sat out all of 2016.

Stidham will have three years of eligibility remaining and provides a big boost to Gus Malzhan’s offense. The Tigers struggled at the quarterback position when starter Sean White was hurt and were mostly focused on running the ball when he was under center anyway.

Now with Stidham in the fold, Auburn could sport one of the more dangerous backfields in the SEC with the signal-caller providing a threat through the air to go along with tailbacks Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson.

Texas A&M and Florida were other schools reportedly in the mix to land Stidham but, in the end, he is headed to the Plains.

Army ends 14 game losing streak with turnover-filled victory over No. 25 Navy

BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 10: Andrew McLean #58 of the Army Black Knights tackles Zach Abey #9 of the Navy Midshipmen in the first half at M&T Bank Stadium on December 10, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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The streak is over.

After 14 consecutive losses, countless heartbreaks and some of the most amazing moments in college football on either side, Army finally chased away their demons and beat rival Navy 21-17 on Saturday night in Baltimore.

Turnovers were the hallmark in the game for both sides: a whopping seven combined, along with a handful of other close calls that nearly added to that total. Three of the first four drives in the game ended with a giveaway and a pair of fumbles in the third quarter by Army allowed their rivals to quickly get back into a game they had nearly given away early on.

It was still a rough first half for Navy starting quarterback Zach Abey, who was in the stands at this game last year and was the team’s third-stringer most of the season under center. However the signal-caller pressed into starting duty because of injuries picked things up after halftime and helped the Midshipmen storm back to take the lead in the fourth quarter with a 41 yard touchdown to cap a run of 17 straight points.

But Army would not be denied a victory, which included an appearance by President-elect Donald Trump in the stands and in the CBS broadcast booth. The team put together an 80 yard drive over 12 plays that featured a key 4th down conversion before Ahmad Bradshaw (51 yards rushing, one touchdown) plowed through the defense to find the end zone from nine yards out. That helped the Black Knights re-take the lead with just six minutes remaining.

Navy would go three-and-out on the next drive thanks to a big defensive stand and Army milked away the rest of the clock to secure a win that was their first in the series since 2001.

That set off a raucous celebration that included a field storming by hundreds of cadets and, no doubt, plenty of cheers from the armed forces around the world looking on.

Is this the year? Army jumps out to two-score halftime lead over No. 25 Navy

BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 10: Army cadets take the field before the start of the Army Black Knights and Navy Midshipman game at M&T Bank Stadium on December 10, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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There are few traditions in college football quite like the annual Army-Navy game and the pageantry was in full force once again on Saturday afternoon from Baltimore.

Army kicked off the scoring for the third season in a row in this rivalry game after recovering a Navy fumble and marching right down the field with a 14 play, 66 yard drive that culminated in a touchdown.

While the early score was notable, turnovers dominated first quarter play with three of the first four drives from the teams ending in a giveaway. The quarterbacks combined to complete just a single pass to their own team all half but completed three to the opposing defenses in the form of three ugly interceptions. Army’s Xavier Moss forced the first fumble of the season from Navy fullback Shawn White for the first quarter’s other turnover as well.

Army’s triple option looked to be the superior attack for most of the half, with the Black Knights picking up six of their seven third downs and converting the other on fourth down. Andy Davidson punched it into the end zone both times and finished with 15 carries for 50 yards.

There’s still a lot of football left to be played but the best Army team in nearly a decade certainly is looking primed to end Navy’s long winning streak in convincing fashion based on how the first half went.