Bulldogs Beat

Picks column: Smile

ATHENS - Every so often you need a gentle reminder that it's just football. And for that we have John L. Smith.

Earlier this week, the Arkansas head coach, already the source of derision, got more of it after opening his weekly press conference by imploring reporters: "Smile!" And doing so in such a way that came off very ... eccentric.

Then we found out on Friday that Smith's brother, just 53 years old, had died on Monday. And it put the press conference in a whole new light.

It was also just the latest news for an Arkansas program that, other than Penn State, has seen the most tumult over the past six months.

Let's just quickly review: Back in the spring Arkansas was coming off a top 10 season and was poised to make a national championship run. And then head coach Bobby Petrino had his motorcylce accident. Since then:

- Petrino was fired after it was revealed he was having an improper relationship with an employee.

- He was replaced by Smith, who had been head coach at his alma mater, Weber State, for just a few months.

- Smith filed for bankruptcy, thanks to some bad real estate investments.

- At SEC media days, Smith came off as your well-meaning uncle who you'd love to invite over for Thanksgiving dinner, but in no way would want to entrust with your top 10 football program.

- Arkansas lost at home to Louisiana-Monroe.

- Playing at home again, Arkansas was clobbered by No. 1 Alabama, 52-0.

- Afterwards, quarterback Tyler Wilson said some players quit. There wasn't a whole lot of disagreement.

- Smith was revealed to be in debt by well more than $20 million.

Here's when you know the program is in trouble: SEC commissioner Mike Slive felt compelled to praise Arkansas A.D. Jeff Long for having the courage to fire Petrino. Slive told The Birmingham News: "That decision stands on its own two feet. Obviously, it was clear that would have an impact on his program."

Yeah, apparently so.

This week Arkansas gets Rutgers, in a game that's important to the Razorbacks if they merely want to be bowl eligible this year. And just think, if Petrino was as good at riding a motorcylce as he was at calling plays, how different a world would exist at Arkansas right now.

Here are this week's picks. The usual provisos: The lines are via Vegasinsider.com. The comments are mine, occasionally analysis, occasionally some humor, and occasionally smart. But rarely.

VANDERBILT at GEORGIA (-14): This week Todd Grantham was asked if he had watched any tape of Wyoming. Grantham smiled in confusion. "Wyoming?" Because Vanderbilt QB Austyn Carta-Samuels used to play there, he was asked. "Oh, we just watch this year's tape," Grantham said, and left it at that. It was at this point that it became obvious Grantham had no idea Carta-Samuels had played at Wyoming. Pick: Georgia covers.

MISSOURI at SOUTH CAROLINA (-10.5): For a while the presidents of these two schools were going to bill this as the "Battle of the Columbias", and have a trophy and everything. They quietly called that off after apparently realizing how silly that sounded. But now it's the battle of the quarterbacks with injured shoulders. South Carolina should win this game, but Missouri is capable of keeping this close and perhaps putting up more points than expected. Pick: Missouri covers, South Carolina wins.

LSU (-20.5) at AUBURN: When offensive mastermind Gus Malzahn left for Arkansas State after last season, Auburn coach Gene Chizik decided to hire a coach who runs a different kind of offense. Now the Tigers rank 104th in the nation in scoring offense, and have a total of one touchdown against teams from BCS conferences. Well, good call Gene! Pick: Auburn covers, LSU wins.

KENTUCKY at FLORIDA (-23): Former Kentucky QB Jared "Hot Plate" Lorenzen has been criticizing Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease, because Lorenzen didn't like the way Pease left Kentucky in the early 2000s. (Pease was Lorenzen's quarterbacks coach under Guy Morriss). You know, while I have a certain respect for a guy who carries a grudge like that for that long, I'm not sure this game is gonna leave Lorenzen feeling much better. Pick: Florida covers.

AKRON at TENNESSEE (-33): Akron is coached by Terry Bowden. Yes, that Terry Bowden. The last time he brought a team into Neyland Stadium, Tennessee won 17-9. Call me crazy - or call me, maybe - but I don't think the game will be that close this time. Pick: Tennessee covers.

FLORIDA ATLANTIC at ALABAMA (-49.5): I mean ... wow ... Ooh boy ... Yikes ... Hoo ... Wow ... Pick: FAU covers, Alabama wins.

MIAMI at GEORGIA TECH (-14): So ... Al Golden was supposed to be the big turnaround artist at Miami, right? That, uh, gonna happen soon? Pick: Georgia Tech covers.

CLEMSON at FLORIDA STATE (-14): An actual top 10 matchup between ACC teams ... in football! The battle between the FSU defense and Clemson offense will be fascinating. But while I think Clemson has some things going for it, I can't help but remember it had trouble the opening week against Auburn. Not a good sign. Pick: Florida State covers.

MICHIGAN at NOTRE DAME (-6): This is quite a tell-tale game. On the one hand you have Notre Dame, which has looked very impressive despite low preseason expectations. On the other you have Michigan, which was embarrassed by Alabama - but is it possible that's more a reflection on Alabama? I'm going with the latter, but not enough for the Wolverines to win in South Bend. Pick: Michigan covers, Notre Dame wins.

KANSAS STATE at OKLAHOMA (-15.5): The Sooners haven't been very impressive so far, but Landry Jones is still around - he has been since the Clinton Administration - and junior college transfer Damian Williams is giving a lift at tailback. I think Oklahoma is in great position; keep in mind, the Sooners don't gag in September. They gag in November. Pick: Oklahoma covers.

OLE MISS (-19) at TULANE: How bad is Tulane if it's almost a three-touchdown underdog at home to Ole Miss? Well, there's an even starker example to come. Pick: Tulane covers, Ole Miss wins.

ARIZONA at OREGON (-21.5): Rich Rodriguez is off to a good start out west, but the first hiccup comes here. Oregon is now the top alternative to another all-SEC championship game. (Unless you buy that Oklahoma won't gag again. Which I don't.) Pick: Oregon covers.

CALIFORNIA at SOUTHERN CAL (-16.5): That poor Lane Kiffin. Everybody back East is wishing him well, of course. We're all confident that if he just keeps staying as classy as he always has been, things'll turn out just peachy in the end! Pick: USC covers.

SOUTH ALABAMA at MISSISSIPPI STATE (-34): OK, this is the part where I gently chide my fellow AP voters. Mississippi State entered the poll this week simply because voters saw an SEC team that was 3-0. Well, those wins came over Jackson State, Auburn and Troy. Folks, can we get a bit more evidence first? And no, this week doesn't count. Pick: Mississippi State covers.

MEMPHIS at DUKE (-23.5): Normally there should be no interest in either of these teams, but this week we thought it was important to illustrate the grease fire that is Memphis football by showing it is a 23.5-point underdog TO DUKE. Pick: Memphis covers, Duke wins.

Last week: 7-8 vs. spread, 10-5 overall.

Season: 20-25* vs. spread, 32-13 overall.

*-I never claimed to be an expert.

**-OK, maybe I did. The season is young.

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