After 11 years of Joe vs. the Pro, the grand experiment has expanded the universe and welcomed a new player into the competition.
Everyone needs a hero to save us from the fear and loathing of 2020, and the great Ben Abercrombie is here for Joe to offer some of his signature courage and strength. Most importantly, the Hero is here to win, and teach Joe about picking football games. Everyone knows he needs the help.
Joe vs. the Pro was a lot of fun, but “Joe vs. the Pro and the Hero” is the new way we’re going to celebrate the game we cherish and the people we care about. No one works harder than the Hero. Nobody. Abercrombie played football at Hoover High School and Harvard, and he’s working every day to regain his ability to walk. He’s a student at Harvard, and an inspiration to all. To thank him, we want everyone to stand up for Ben, and show him some love.
Show Joe no love at all. Besmirch his name at small dinner parties, and troll him on Twitter.
THE GRAND EXPERIMENT
Joseph Goodman is the lead sports columnist for AL.com. What is Joe vs. the Pro and the Hero? 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 and a football expert with a Harvard education? We’re all about to find out. 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 and the Hero.
There’s an old saying around these parts: fade Joe for dough.
MULLEN WEARING BLACK HAT WELL
The way this season is going for Florida Gators coach Dan Mullen, we’re not ruling out anything in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party and that includes Florida Man Mullen stopping the game after the third quarter and declaring victory because he heard Georgia was mailing it in for the fourth quarter.
Mullen turned heel three weeks ago when he wanted The Swamp packed with 90,000 people because he thought Texas A&M had too many fans at Kyle Field for pandemic football. Florida’s coach then got the 'Rona, and his team had to miss a game because of an outbreak. Last week, Mullen appeared to go after an opposing player and then game officials with his team simultaneously brawling with Missouri. His defense responded with its best half of the season.
Mullen’s a smart guy. Is he building a bad-boy culture on purpose? No question about it. Mullen is embracing a role that Steve Spurrier played for years in Gainesville, and maybe even ratcheting it up a notch. Spurrier’s brashness when things were rolling at UF made him public enemy No.1 in the SEC, and he loved that bull’s-eye. Mullen would love for his team to carry that kind of demeanor into the big rivalry game with Georgia and beyond.
Spurrier is one of the smartest people to ever coach football, and Mullen is just as shrewd. The Gators lost to Texas A&M, but a victory against Georgia would throw UF right back into the conversation for the College Football Playoff. Maybe it’s time for Joe to start wearing the black hat. He’s been living in the red. Check out last week!
Joe: 4-2 straight up, 2-4 against the spread
Pro: 4-2 straight up, 3-3 against the spread
Notes: The Pro nailed Ohio State’s victory over Penn State down to the point. Impressive. Joe should be forced to wear a mullet wig for his faith in Oklahoma State, but redeemed himself with Auburn’s upset of LSU.
Joe: 23-13 straight up, 16-20 against the spread
Pro: 24-12 straight up, 20-16 against the spread
Hero: 23-13 straight up, 18-18 against the spread
Notes: Everyone lost big backing Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett against Kentucky. Joe started pregaming for the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party on Tuesday. Things could get messy. On to the picks!
No.9 BYU (7-0) at No.21 Boise State (2-0)
When: 8:45 p.m., Friday
Where: Albertsons Stadium, Boise, Idaho
Series: Boise State leads 7-3.
Spread: BYU by 3.
SUPER STAT OF THE WEEK: Boise State is 462-170-2 (.7303) all-time, which currently is the best all-time winning percentage in the FBS. Ohio State (926-326-53; .7299) is second followed by Notre Dame (914-326-42; .7293).
Joe says: Everyone ready for some Friday night lights on the Smurf turf? I’ve watched most of BYU’s games this season, and the Cougars are impressive. Quarterback Zach Wilson has 19 touchdown passes to two interceptions, and he’s a legitimate first-round NFL prospect. He can make plays outside of the pocket, too, which will help against Boise State’s defense. Is BYU good enough to be that fourth team in the CFP if they run the table? That’s what I want to find out against Boise State, which has two capable quarterbacks no matter who starts. Given the weirdness of this season — BYU has played five more games than Boise State — this line seems like a gift. The Cougs should pull away in the fourth, but don’t forget they’re 0-5 all-time in Boise.
Joe’s pick: BYU 42, Boise State 35
Pro says: This is the strangest college football season in modern times. This game is an example of how unusual it is as BYU has already played seven games while Boise State has only played twice. The Cougars have been tested on the road at Houston while the Broncos played powder puffs Utah State and Air Force. BYU QB Zach Wilson has been masterful this season throwing for 2,152 yards with a 74.6 percent and 19 TDs. The Cougars are also on a 7-1 against-the-spread run on the road. They stay unbeaten and might be in the hunt to get into the College Football Playoff.
Pro’s pick: BYU 35, Boise State 30
Hero says: This is the biggest game of the year for BYU, and their best chance to prove to everyone that they belong in the playoff discussion. Beating Boise on their blue field is not easy, but BYU brings in a very physical team that will challenge the Broncos toughness. I believe the Cougars, led by their Heisman candidate QB Zach Wilson, earns the win in impressive fashion over Boise.
Hero’s pick: BYU 38, Boise State 24
No.1 Clemson (7-0, 6-0 ACC) at No.4 Notre Dame (6-0, 5-0 ACC)
When: 6:30 p.m., Sat.
Where: Notre Dame Stadium, Notre Dame, Ind.
Series: Clemson leads 3-1
Spread: Clemson by 5.5.
SUPER STAT OF THE WEEK: Notre Dame’s current 22-game home winning streak is a modern-era record for the school, and the second-longest in the country. Clemson leads with 27 victories at home.
Joe says: Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book is 26-3 as a starter, but those three losses were against Georgia and Michigan last season and then Clemson in 2018. The loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff exposed the talent gap with ND only managing 248 yards of total offense. Trevor Lawrence was Clemson’s quarterback that night, of course, and he then went on to rout Alabama in the national championship. This pick would be easy if Lawrence were available, but he’s out with COVID-19. Clemson freshman quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei is a capable backup, but the Tigers had some flaws exposed against Boston College. Give me the Irish here as the home underdog. They’ve won back-to-back games on the road and looked dominant against Pitt. Is Notre Dame going to win the ACC in its only season ever to play in a conference? Oh, the irony.
Joe’s pick: Notre Dame 28, Clemson 21
Pro says: Trevor Lawrence’s backup DJ Uiagalelei got the start last week due to Lawrence’s COVID-19 diagnosis. He led his team back from a 28-13 deficit against Boston College, and I expect him to have a decent chance to succeed again. If Notre Dame wants to pull off the upset they need to stay away from negative plays and win some of the battles with their wide receivers against Clemson’s secondary. That could be a tall order as Clemson’s defense averages 9.3 tackles for loss per game, and Notre Dame’s wide receivers seem to get very little separation from most cornerbacks or slot defenders. The Tigers are also on a 15-3 against-the-spread run on the road. It sure is nice to have the number No.1 recruit in the country as your backup when the likely No.1 draft pick misses a few weeks.
Pro’s pick: Clemson 28, Notre Dame 20
Hero says: With quarterback backup freshman DJ Uiagalelei, the Tigers struggled to beat Boston College last Saturday but several defensive starters also missed the game due to injuries. This season Notre Dame has been impressive at times but also struggled. The Irish, led by experienced QB Ian Book on offense and a Top 5 defense, has a great chance to upset No.1 Clemson in South Bend. This game is a toss-up with Clemson again missing Heiman candidate QB Trevor Lawrence and possibly several defensive starters, but Clemson has won so many big games the last several years it is hard to pick against Dabo in this game.
Hero’s pick: Clemson 28, Notre Dame 27
Stanford (0-0) at No.12 Oregon (0-0)
When: 6:30 p.m., Sat.
Where: Autzen Stadium, Eugene, Ore.
Series: Stanford leads 49-33-1.
Spread: Oregon by 10.5.
SUPER STAT OF THE WEEK: Oregon outscored conference opponents 297-153 (16.0 ppg) in 2019 just two years after it outscored opponents 272-270.
Joe says: Welcome to the fray, Pac-12. The conference is salvaging what it can of the football season after following the Big Ten around like a lost puppy. I feel for Oregon coach Mario Cristobal, who was hoping to compete for a national championship this season. Can we take the Ducks seriously with only six games this season? Depends on how dominant they are on the field. Cristobal, just to refresh everyone’s memory, has completely taken over the West Coast in recruiting. Sophomore quarterback Tyler Shough (as big as the hype is around him) didn’t have a spring to prepare for this season, and Stanford returns nine starters on defense. Still like the Ducks based on all their defensive talent, but this one could be close at the end.
Joe’s pick: Oregon 27, Stanford 24
Pro says: Do you really want to lay double digits on a team with a new quarterback and a new offensive coordinator? I don’t at all. I know Stanford finished winning only three of their last eight games, but this team returns nine offensive starters, seven defensive starters and the entire coaching staff. Stanford QB David Mills had six starts last season and completed 66 percent of his passes for 1,960 yards and 11 TDs. The Ducks are just 7-12 ATS as a double digit favorite and there won’t be any fans in one of the best home field advantages in the country, Autzen Stadium. The dog comes barking loudly in this game!
Pro’s pick: Oregon 28 Stanford 24
Hero says: The Ducks are supposed to be the Pac-12′s best shot at the playoffs this year. Oregon returns most of their defense from last year and should be strong again. The Ducks offense has some good skill-position players returning, but must replace quarterback Justin Herbert. Oregon has little experience returning on the O-line. Stanford is coming off a rough season last year, but did gain experience for several young players that should make them more competitive this season. Opening games this season have provided many surprises, but the Ducks defense should provide the foundation they need to get off to a winning start against a rebuilding Cardinal team.
Hero’s pick: Oregon 35, Stanford 20
No.8 Florida (3-1) vs. No.5 Georgia (4-1)
When: 6:30 p.m., Sat.
Where: TIAA Bank Stadium, Jacksonville, Fla.
Series: Florida leads 52-43-2.
Spread: Georgia by 4.5.
SUPER STAT OF THE WEEK: Georgia senior safety Richard LeCounte has three interceptions this year and eight in his career. He is currently tied for first nationally.
Joe says: LeCounte is the player who had a motorcycle accident recently and could be out for the season. He’s lucky to be alive, but after being named SEC Player of the Week for his performance against Kentucky the Bulldogs' secondary is shorthanded for their SEC East showdown with Florida Gators quarterback Kyle Trask. It could make a big difference in a close game. The Gators' defense showed up last week against Mizzou after struggling to begin the season. Florida coach Dan Mullen has had an eventful couple weeks, but he’s going to have his team ready for the biggest game of the season. Kentucky’s defense was a preview for the Bulldogs' struggles against the Gators. Low-scoring game goes to Cousin Eddie’s North Florida All-Stars.
Joe’s pick: Florida 25, Georgia 23
Pro says: I thought at one point early in the season that Georgia might have been the best team in the country. Since that time Alabama took the starch out of them 41-24 and now three defensive starters, including safety Richard LeCounte, will miss this game. Florida QB Kyle Trask has the benefit of facing this defense last season and completing 21-33 for 257 yards and 2 TDs. If he fares well and leads the Gators to an upset win he’ll vault back into the Top 5 of the Heisman race. Even if the Bulldogs hold the Florida offense down, the Bulldogs will have to throw more often than the last three games. You want balance, but only throwing the ball 33 percent of the time with limited big pass plays probably won’t cut it versus another Top 10 opponent. Wrong team is favored here.
Pro’s pick: Florida 27, Georgia 23
Hero says: The Gators showed a fighting spirit last week against Missouri when QB Kyle Trask was hit late right before the half. An inspired Florida team went on to dominate Missouri in the second half. The Georgia defense was as tough as expected against Kentucky last week and helped offset an unimpressive performance by the Bulldogs' offense. I expect the UGA offense to show a little more life against the Gators this week, but the Bulldogs' defense will be missing a few key players like safety Richard LeCounte. This is not a good week to be missing key starters on defense when you face an effective Gator offense led by Kyle Trask and his favorite receiving target, TE Kyle Pitts. I expect the Cocktail Party in Jacksonville will be a close battle but look for former Hoover Buc linebacker Jeremiah Moon to make a big play for the Gator defense, and force UGA QB Stetson Bennett into a critical mistake late in the game that allows Florida to pull away for the big victory.
Hero’s pick: Florida 34, Georgia 24
Tennessee (2-3) at Arkansas (2-3)
When: 6:30 p.m., Sat.
Where: Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville, Ark.
TV: SEC Network
Series: Tennessee leads 13-5.
Spread: Tennessee by 1.5.
SUPER STAT OF THE WEEK: Tennessee’s offense is averaging fewer than four third-down conversions per four quarters in its last three games.
Joe says: At some point, Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt needs to start thinking about benching Jarrett Guarantano and preparing for the future. There is no better time during this mulligan of a season than this Saturday against Arkansas. What does Tennessee have to lose? This season doesn’t even count. The Vols have had two weeks to prepare for a winnable game and there aren’t many more of those left on the schedule. The Vols have Vanderbilt, of course, but other than the ‘Dores Tennessee finishes against three ranked opponents (Texas A&M, Auburn and Florida). They haven’t met since 2015, but Arkansas has won two in a row against Tennessee. Maybe time to find a new quarterback and stop doing that thing that keeps the Vols from ever improving. Arkansas’ ball-hawking defense is poised for another big performance.
Joe’s pick: Arkansas 18, Tennessee 15
Pro says: The Razorbacks made a shrewd move dumping Chad Morris and hiring Sam Pittman as their head coach. He’s led them to two more SEC wins than the Razorbacks got the last two seasons combined! It might help Tennessee getting an off week before this contest, but how do you put your money on a team and a staff that has lost straight up and against the spread. Arkansas has covered all five of their games this season, and increased their offensive rushing totals every week all the way to 222 rushing yards in the last game against No. 7 Texas A&M. This selection is all about momentum.
Pro’s pick: Arkansas 28, Tennessee 24
Hero says: The Vols had an off week to recover from back-to-back losses while the Razorbacks lost to A&M in College Station. This should be a great game with both teams fighting hard to get back in the win column. If the Vols get their rushing game going to take pressure off their unsettled QB situation, then they have a good chance to win this game. Arkansas counters with a well-coached defense and a consistent offense led by QB Feleipe Franks. Even though they only have two wins, the Hogs are still the biggest surprise this year in the SEC. The Arkansas defense will need to stop a late Tennessee drive to win a close game in Fayetteville.
Hero’s pick: Arkansas 31, Tennessee 28
No.7 Texas A&M (4-1) at South Carolina (2-3)
When: 6 p.m., Sat.
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, S.C.
Series: Texas A&M leads 6-0.
Spread: Texas A&M by 7.5.
SUPER STAT OF THE WEEK: Aggies senior quarterback Kellen Mond needs four passing
touchdowns to become Texas A&M’s all-time career leader. He has thrown for three touchdowns in three games this season, including the loss to Alabama.
Joe says: It’s time to revisit Kellen Mond’s senior season. He’s the second-best quarterback in the SEC halfway through the Aggies' schedule with a victory against Florida’s Kyle Trask and 318 yards passing at Alabama. Mond threw three touchdowns against the Crimson Tide, and since that loss has eight TD passes to one interception over three games (all wins). We sold Mond short earlier this season. He’s more than a game-managing quarterback. He’s a game-changer, it turns out, and a season-maker for the Aggies and coach Jimbo Fisher. Texas A&M averaged 7.1 yards per play last week against Arkansas and was 7 of 11 on third down. Those are great numbers. Have a feeling the Gamecocks' defense will have a slight bounce-back game after that ugly show against LSU, but give me a confident Mond and running back Isaiah Spiller to get it done late.
Joe’s pick: Texas A&M 35, South Carolina 28
Pro says: Having an off week like South Carolina had after a loss when your opponent played a tough physical opponent could be a huge advantage. If I’m Will Muschamp I’d use a game plan of running the ball early and often with punishing Kelvin Harris. The 225-pound sophomore has rushed for 535 yards, and averaged 5.8 yards per carry with eight rushing TDs. Texas A&M QB Kellen Mond is having a strong season, but seems to perform much better at home (Florida and Arkansas). This game is in Columbia where the Gamecocks upset Auburn just a couple of weeks ago. Will Muschamp’s teams seem to perform whenever he’s under fire, and after losing their last game by 28 points to LSU the buy sign is on.
Pro’s pick: South Carolina 27, Texas A&M 26
Hero says: The Aggies are coming off a significant victory against Arkansas while the Gamecocks had an off week to recover from their worst performance of the year in Baton Rouge. A&M has gained a ton of momentum since their loss at Alabama, and is still in the hunt for an SEC Championship and a possible playoff opportunity. Will Muschamp is feeling the heat again from Gamecocks fans, who may be pulling for a bad finish to the season so they can move on to another coach. South Carolina has enough offense to keep this game close for a while, but I expect quarterback Kellen Mond and the Aggies' offense to keep rolling this week and pull away late for the victory in Columbia.
Hero’s pick: Texas A&M 35, South Carolina 23