KEVIN CARTER BLOG: GOOD TEST FOR TIDE'S MCCARRON
By KEVIN CARTER
ESPNU Sports Analyst
College football has four great matchups this weekend between ranked teams. That includes one of my favorite annual events, "The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" that pits Florida against Georgia in Jacksonville. I'll share some memories from that game, but first let's get this week's picks rolling.
NO. 11 MISSISSIPPI STATE AT NO. 1 ALABAMA
A lot of people think this is where Mississippi's undefeated season comes to an end, and I agree, but I don't think "exposed" is the correct term for what's going to take place.
Mississippi State plays good football. They have defensive backs that really challenge receivers, especially Jonathan Banks. He has an NFL-type body, he jams receivers and he's very aggressive when the ball is in the air. State plays well in the trenches and they stack the box with eight men and say hey, we're going to man up on your receivers and make you beat us throwing the ball.
That defensive style makes this game a good measuring stick for both teams, the kind of game an NFL scout wants to see. Alabama runs a ground-and-pound offense where the quarterback isn't asked to do too much, but now AJ McCarron is going to face more of a challenge. McCarron truly was the difference in last season's national championship game and he's been an absolute dynamo, but now we're going to see his decision-making and the ability to throw downfield tested.
We'll find out what Mississippi State is made of and I'm hoping it's a close game, but for them to win it would be a big-time upset because Alabama has set the bar so high.
NO. 2 FLORIDA VS. NO. 10 GEORGIA AT JACKSONVILLE
I think a lot of people are writing off Georgia because of how badly they were beaten by South Carolina, but that's a mistake. This is still a one-loss team in the SEC and they have a lot of talent.
What's puzzling about Georgia is that this was supposed to be a super defense that would shut people down and win games when the offense didn't show up. They were expected to control the tempo and the line of scrimmage, but it hasn't worked out that way. Kentucky rushed for more than 200 yards on them last week, leaving everyone to wonder where's the defense.
But the Bulldogs still have star-quality players on defense in Baccari Rambo and Jarvis Jones, and this is a game Florida can lose if it isn't careful. Let's be honest about the Gators. They're having an outstanding season but they haven't won impressively at every turn. They've grown into the role of ground-and-pound and wear-you-down, and making those three-yard runs turn into nine-yard gains as the game wears on.
I'm picking Florida, because I just don't think Georgia has enough weapons and maybe fears the Gators. But don't underestimate the effect the atmosphere has on this game. It's like a mid-season bowl game, a game that has its own Hall of Fame, and I was honored to be inducted last year.
Both teams have extra motivation, because this is a historical game and there's so much hoopla. In the end, it's a game that either puts wind in your sails or totally deflates you. People say Jacksonville is a hub for Florida alumni, but I always thought there were just as many Georgia fans there, and that they were just as crazy as the Gators fans.
When I was at Florida we all absolutely loved playing in it, and not just because we went 3-0 in Jacksonville during my time there. It's an extravaganza, with parties everywhere. Steve Spurrier always told us that if we won we were free to stay over in Jacksonville the next day,
so I would always have someone drive my car up from Gainesville and I'd stay one night with my parents.
It was always such a great, great time, and it's one of those things that I look back on and really smile.
NO. 5 NOTRE DAME AT NO. 8 OKLAHOMA
Everyone is sitting up and taking notice of Notre Dame now, but it's as if no one really understands why they keep winning. They're winning close, not blowing out anyone, still having that "Luck of the Irish."
I think that holds true in this game. Notre Dame has won my respect with its core group on defense, a front seven that puts pressure on the opponent's running game and gets the job done. Manti Te'o and Louis Nix have been superb run-stoppers, and when it's third-and-long opponents have to deal with Prince Shembo and Stephon Tuitt.
I look for Notre Dame to wreak some havoc and make Oklahoma throw, and force Landry Jones into mistakes. Oklahoma typically has trouble against high-powered teams, and has a trend of second-half letdowns dating back to last season.
Notre Dame's offense does need to control the clock, but I think they have an offensive line that will pave the way to do that against an Oklahoma defense that isn't terribly stout.
NO. 14 TEXAS TECH AT NO. 3 KANSAS STATE
The best word to describe Texas Tech is "scrappy." They are very well-coached and play extremely physical on defense while staying wide-open on offense. That offense never goes to sleep and scores touchdowns instead of kicking field goals.
I think Tech matches up well, but Kansas State is a team that has really progressed under Bill Snyder. He has built them as the season has worn on, taking a group that no one thought could contend for a BCS title at the start of the season. Other Big 12 teams had a lot of thunder coming into the season, but it's K State that has been winning all its games.
Collin Klein has been a one-man wrecking crew as a running and throwing quarterback, winning game after game against quality opponents. Kansas State probably has the clearest path to an undefeated season, but what will hurt them in the BCS rankings is that the Big 12 doesn't have a conference championship game this season.
But I'm still on their bandwagon, and I think this game will be part of their ongoing validation process.
HOT SEAT: GENE CHIZIK'S PROBLEM AT AUBURN
People are asking whether Auburn would really fire Gene Chizik two years after he won a national championship. The answer is yes. First and foremost, that's because he's in the SEC, where everyone is impatient. In that conference you have a three-year window to get it done, and no more.
Chizik won a title with Cam Newton, but Auburn has had a lack of reloading and teaching, and therein lies the problem that's put the red flag up. To be fair to him, he has lost some high-quality assistant coaches. Guys he really leaned on, which has killed the continuity. Auburn needs to let him bring in the people he needs, but he may not get the chance because the program has taken such a big backslide.
Auburn has the players, but they have no identity, no bread and butter, no centralized plan. That's what people are judging him on, saying he has good players and should be able to make it work, and that it shouldn't be this bad, with Auburn at the bottom and scraping.