I can feel the fall weather in the air, which is a sure sign that we are in conference play mode in college football.
With conference play comes rivalry games and bad blood, which usually means we have a lot of historical matchup data to look at while, at the same time, really having a feel for who these teams are this year. We also see where injuries have kicked in and where preseason expectations have become midseason disappointment. We also see where low expectations have become "the story" and how yesterday's goat that no one wanted has become today's hero and hot commodity.
What we try and do is separate the fluff from the raw data—the perceptions from the real trends—and come up with who is realistically going to cover. As more and more media has become involved in our game, so have the misconceptions, as a simple human interest story can move a point spread several points if delivered in just the right format and on the right right vehicle.
In any event, it's time to take advantage of these flawed opinions and continue marching on to our 11th consecutive winning season picking games against the spread. While the finish line is nowhere in sight, it just means we have plenty of time to build a nice cushion to have a really fun bowl season.
We picked our usual five games in Part One, so let's look at our second set of picks for Week Eight.
LSU -3 at South Carolina (Saturday 10/18/08, 8 EST) 6 out of 10
South Carolina won a physical battle last week at Kentucky and returns home for the first time in three weeks to take on the defending national champions, who are fresh off of an embarrassing 30-point beat down at the hands of conference foe Florida.
The Gamecocks come in at 5-2 and winners of four straight, with most of the credit going to the defense. LSU's loss last week in the swamp was their first taste of defeat this season and they arrive in Columbia at 4-1.
Stephen Garcia came in last week at UK and went 10-of-14, really looking better under center than any SC quarterback all season. The Tigers still have SEC title aspirations and a BCS bowl birth in mind, but a win this Saturday is essential to them achieving that goal.
LSU is traditionally not a great cover team, and South Carolina hasn't been too competitive against the upper-tier of the conference. After winning two national titles within the past five years, the Tigers often find themselves laying gigantic point spreads that are often tough to cover if running up the score isn't on your agenda.
South Carolina always has had trouble getting over the hump; this is a huge game for both teams. While Steve Spurrier is a big game coach, LSU is a big game team, and I'm going with them to cover in Columbia.
Arkansas +9 1/2 at Kentucky (Saturday 10/18/08, 7 EST) 7 out of 10
While we were confident Arkansas would cover last week, we didn't expect them to win outright against Auburn. While the Razorbacks have been at the wrong end of some of the most lopsided games of the season, they come into this game at 3-3 and still very much alive and in bowl contention. Kentucky comes off of two straight losses and sits at 4-2.
Arkansas is one of those teams that is tough to gauge because, while it has lost three games, those losses came to Texas, Florida, and Alabama—three of the top five teams in the country. Kentucky has a very strong defense, but has struggled offensively.
As is the case in most SEC games, the coaches on both sides of the ball are some of the best in the game, with Arkansas' Bobby Petrino and Kentucky's Rich Brooks. Neither of these teams have much positive to speak of in the trends area, and I think the matchup is far too close to justify a spread this large, so I'll take the points with Arkansas.
See the rest of Mitch's Part Two, Week Eight Picks at The College Football Place.