Joseph Goodman, the sports columnist for AL.com, and Lee Sterling, a professional college football handicapper, are back for the 11th season of Joe vs. the Pro.
What is Joe vs. the Pro? Consider it a service to society.
What happens when a sportswriter picks some of the toughest games of the week and goes head-to-head against a sharp? So far, the Pro has beaten Joe every year except two. The Pro features his best picks on his website, ParamountSports.com, but he fearlessly picks the most difficult college games of the week against Joe. There’s an old saying around these parts: fade Joe for dough.
WEEK 3 IS UPON US
Gus Malzahn is such a jokester these days about kickoff times and stuff, but it’s time to get serious about something. No joking around, OK? Is SEC college football going to be the thing that saves the earth from climate change? All over the Southeast, our favorite teams are suffering from oppressive September heat. Even night games are brutal now. ESPN isn’t changing their TV schedule, so that’s out. Maybe it’s time to go green for football, Greg Sankey. It just means more. Joe vs. the Pro is always about the green. Check out last week!
Joe: 5-1 straight up, 3-2-1 against the spread
Pro: 5-1 straight up, 3-2-1 against the spread
Notes: Both Joe and the Pro nailed BYU’s upset of Tennessee. Joe missed his risky pick of Texas A&M over Clemson, but improved against the spread. There might be no improving the Volunteers this year.
Joe: 12-2 straight up, 5-8-1 against the spread
Pro: 10-4 straight up, 9-4-1 against the spread
Notes: The Pro is churning along through the first two weeks of the season. He’s 2-0 with Alabama against the spread. Onto the picks!
Kansas State (2-0) at No.23 Mississippi State (2-0)
When: 11 a.m., Sat.
Where: Davis Wade Stadium, Starkville, Miss.
Series: Mississippi State leads 2-1.
Spread: Mississippi State by 7.5.
SUPER STAT OF THE WEEK: Mississippi State’s defense hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown at home in 14 consecutive quarters.
Joe says: Good luck with the humidity and the cowbells, Kansas State. This will not be a pleasant experience no matter the outcome. Tough break for Mississippi State last week losing quarterback Tommy Stevens. Stevens is questionable and the backup is a freshman (Garrett Shrader). The heavy lifting will fall to Doak Walker Award candidate Kylin Hill, who leads the SEC and Power 5 and is second in the FBS in rushing yards (320). Hill has 179 yards rushing after contact through two games, so he can move the pile. This is the first test of the season for Kansas State, which is under new coach Chris Klieman. The Wildcats’ defense returns eight starters, so they could give Shrader some trouble if the freshman has to play.
Joe’s pick: Mississippi State 28, Kansas State 17
Pro says: The 31-10 win last season for Mississippi State was even worse than the score. It might have been the straw that broke the Camel’s back and sent him into retirement. The beat down was bad. Kansas State is playing with more energy this season under first-year head coach Chris Klieman. They also settled on quarterback Skylar Thompson, and Ball State transfer running back James Gilbert is a nice addition. Kansas State’s run defense also looks elite with six of seven starters returning from last season. If that’s not enough the boys from Manhattan love playing the spoiler role going 15-5 against the spread the last three seasons as an underdog.
Pro’s pick: Kansas State 28, Mississippi State 26
No.9 Florida (2-0) at Kentucky (2-0)
When: 6 p.m., Sat.
Where: Kroger Field, Lexington, Ky.
Series: Florida leads 51-18.
Spread: Florida by 8.
SUPER STAT OF THE WEEK: Florida leads the FBS with 15 sacks, or three more than anyone else.
Joe says: This is a revenge game for Florida, which lost to Kentucky last season for the first time in 31 games. The Gators haven’t lost back-to-back games against Kentucky since 1976 and 1977. Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson is out for the season after injuring his knee, but backup Sawyer Smith is obviously capable. He played at Troy with coach Neal Brown, and transferred to Kentucky after graduating when Brown bolted for West Virginia. He’ll find it tough going against the Gators’ in his SEC debut, but could develop with more experience. Gators will be looking to make a statement after that sloppy game three weeks ago.
Joe’s pick: Florida 24, Kentucky 14
Pro says: Tough to judge Kentucky after playing two MAC opponents, but Toledo was moving the ball with easy on offense until quarterback Mitchell Guadagni got hurt in the third quarter. One thing we know for sure after watching the Florida-Miami game is they have a talented front seven. They are allowing a paltry 2.2 yards per carry this season. I think the Gators will use their talented running backs out of the backfield in the passing game to exploit Kash Daniel in coverage. Gators start a new winning streak on Saturday.
Pro’s pick: Florida 28, Kentucky 17
No.5 Oklahoma (2-0) at UCLA (0-2)
When: 7 p.m., Sat.
Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.
Series: Oklahoma leads 4-1.
Spread: Oklahoma by 23.
SUPER STAT OF THE WEEK: UCLA is 17-15 all-time against teams from the Big 12. My how the Bruins have fallen.
Joe says: Is Chip Kelly flaming out of Westwood? The job of resurrecting UCLA might be too tough for even him. UCLA notes that the Bruins have the most freshmen and redshirt freshman of any team in the country (64). Kelly has been cleaning house, and there’s little offensive talent left. Oklahoma doesn’t have that problem. Jalen Hurts’ movie-script career is headed to Hollywood, y’all. Hurts is the only player in the country with more than 500 passing yards (591) and more than 200 rushing yards (233) this season, according to OU’s notes. He leads the nation in passing efficiency rating (252.3; next highest is 219.1) and paces all quarterbacks in rushing yards. Since the start of his sophomore year at Alabama, Hurts has 31 touchdown passes and three interceptions (10.3-to-1 ratio). Expect some big numbers.
Joe’s pick: Oklahoma 56, UCLA 20
Pro says: This Sooners’ offense could be one for the ages. Alabama transfer quarterback Jalen Hurts already has completed 83 percent of his passes after two games with a combined nine passing and rushing TDs. If you think UCLA might be able to slow down their offense, then think again. San Diego State, which is considered a land-locked team, had their starting quarterback, Ryan Agnew, throw for a career high 293 yards. The pressure is on UCLA second-year head coach Chip Kelly as this is the second-straight year they have started 0-2. He’s known for his productive offenses, but they are throwing for a weak 5.8 yards per attempt and neither of the two opponents they played this season are even power 5 opponents. This one could get ugly.
Pro’s pick: Oklahoma 52, UCLA 21
Memphis (2-0) at South Alabama (1-1)
When: 2:30 p.m., Sat.
Where: Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Mobile
Series: Memphis leads 1-0.
Spread: Memphis by 19.
SUPER STAT OF THE WEEK: Memphis is the only member of the American Athletic Conference that South Alabama has faced since starting football 11 years ago.
Joe says: The Jags can make a statement here with an upset, especially with a trip to UAB up next. USA played tough against Nebraska in Week 1, and then rushed all over Jackson State last week. Can South establish the run against Memphis? If so, they can keep it close by keeping the Tigers’ potent offense off the field. I’m excited for South’s new stadium, and for the potential of this program under second-year coach Steve Campbell. Memphis held Ole Miss to 10 points, but this game will be closer than expected.
Joe’s pick: Memphis 35, South Alabama 24
Pro says: I’m not going to try to tell you South Alabama has a good defense, but they are making baby steps on that side of the ball. They held an explosive Nebraska offense to just 276 total yards on the road and just 21 points. Nebraska’s defense scored two TDs, and the 35-21 score was deceiving. The Jaguars did lose 52-35 on the road last year to Memphis but this year won’t face the running back duo of Darrell Henderson and Tony Pollard. The Tigers are also on a weak 7-13 against-the-spread run in the last 20 games on the road. I’ll take the points and hold my nose.
Pro’s pick: Memphis 38, South Alabama 23
No.2 Alabama (2-0) at South Carolina (1-1)
When: 2:30 p.m., Sat.
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, S.C.
Series: Alabama leads 10-4.
Spread: Alabama by 25.
SUPER STAT OF THE WEEK: Alabama has held 31 of its last 61 opponents to 10 or fewer points.
Joe says: Nick Saban is famously 16-0 against his former assistant coaches. He’s about to make it 17-0. South Carolina quarterback Ryan Hilinski began the season as the backup, but received a field promotion when Jake Bentley went down for the season. That was a tough break for Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp, who is facing one of the most difficult schedules in the country this season. I do think South Carolina has enough talent on defense to keep this thing closer than expected. Should we be slightly concerned with Alabama’s running game to this point in the season? Muschamp will try to disguise some things against Tua and force him into bad decisions. Good luck. Wrong team from the Palmetto State for that.
Joe’s pick: Alabama 48, South Carolina 10
Pro says: Some people might have forgotten this, but the last time the Crimson Tide rolled into Williams-Brice Stadium in 2010 the Gamecocks pulled off the stunning upset. I kid. The main difference is Steve Spurrier was the coach that day and Will “The Clock Is Ticking” Muschamp is the current head coach. I’d actually consider the Gamecocks for about two seconds if Jake Bentley was the quarterback, but he’s out for the season and an inexperienced quarterback is facing Alabama’s sophisticated blitz schemes. There is little chance for success. If North Carolina rushed 52 times for 238 yards, then you can be pretty sure bet the Alabama game plan will center on a lot more runs. Sometimes you gotta lay it to play it.
Pro’s pick: Alabama 45, South Carolina 10
Kent State (1-1) at No.8 Auburn (2-0)
When: 6 p.m., Sat.
Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn
Series: First meeting.
Spread: Auburn by 35.
SUPER STAT OF THE WEEK: Auburn defensive lineman Marlon Davidson is ranked second in the FBS in consecutive starts (41). He’s only one behind Louisiana Tech’s Ethan Reed.
Joe says: Kent State needed overtime to survive Kennesaw State last week. The Golden Flashes returned nine starters on offense this season, so this team is underperforming. That’s bad news against this Auburn defense. A shutout is possible. I’m starting to have some major concerns about Auburn’s running game. Does this sound familiar? Last season, I expressed those same concerns, and said Auburn could lose to Tennessee, and Auburn in fact lost to Tennessee. Bo Nix and Boobee Whitlow need to make some progress against Kent State, so expect them to run up the score here and figure out what works.
Joe’s pick: Auburn 52, Kent State 3
Pro says: If you think Kent State is a really bad football team you would be 100 percent correct. The thing is, even bad teams cover almost 50 percent of the time. They are rotating quarterbacks because Auburn transfer Woody Barrett hasn’t seized the job. They also can’t run, pass the football or play a lick of defense. All that being said, if Barrett does start he knows Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele’s schemes and possibly their defensive signals. I also think Gus Malzahn goes totally vanilla with Texas A&M on deck next week.
Pro’s pick: Auburn 44, Kent State 10
Joseph Goodman is a columnist for the Alabama Media Group. He’s on Twitter @JoeGoodmanJr.