Pick 6: Working on the railroad

By Kolby Paxton

For the next eight weeks, I will continue to offer up a Pick Six, exclusive to the readers of Razorback and Jenkins. Concurrent with these selections, I offer the following disclaimers: a) I don’t completely suck at this, but b) keep in mind that gambling is illegal – sort of. Still, in case you’re wondering, c) I do put my money where my mouth is, so to speak.

Last week, we handled the action as it related to the state of South Carolina – winning with the Gamecocks (-10) and Clemson (-14) – took advantage of a grossly overrated Utah club – Arizona State (-7) – and we cashed in on Landry Jones’ big game bumbling, taking Kansas State (+14.5). Meanwhile, I swung and missed on my second consecutive lock – UCLA (-7) – and whiffed on LSU (-20.5) so badly that it has me questioning the Tigers entire offensive make-up.

Season record: 13-11, LOTW: 2-2

What we learned: The only thing more predictable than the John L. Smith face is the Landry Jones face. The Sooners may not be better off with Blake Bell, but they cannot be any worse. Utah stinks – nearly as bad as its fans, it turns out. South Carolina doesn’t stink. Meanwhile, Clemson is developing a nasty habit of showing up for two quarters, but getting lost in the tunnel at halftime.

I considered locking the Dodgers this week, just so I could strike out on the entire city of Los Angeles. As good as the Pac-12 appeared to be early, the conference really needs Stanford to take care of Washington Thursday night. Otherwise, it just looks like Oregon and a bunch of average squads. Meanwhile, what the hell happened in Auburn, Ala.?

  Stanford (-7) over WASHINGTON

According to what we’ve seen over the course of the previous two weeks, the Cardinal are tough as in nails, beef jerky, cowhide, etc., capable of physically dominating the pre-season favorite to hoist the crystal football. Meanwhile, U-Dub is doing its best to extinguish the notion that Steve Sarkisian is an up-and-comer, after receiving a 38-point swirly in Baton Rouge, La.

The likely reality, for both teams, is somewhere in between. Stanford is strong, but Southern Cal played into its hands, what with a weakened offensive line playing straight drop football. Washington isn’t great, but its not awful. At least not offensively. The Huskies need this one, with Oregon, USC, Arizona and Oregon State to follow. They won’t roll over. Ultimately, however, they will sit.

Arizona State (+2.5) over CALIFORNIA

For the Dennis Erickson Sun Devils, this game would’ve been an automatic loss. Losing to a 1-3 Cal bunch after starting 3-1 and blowing the doors off of Utah is just how ASU rolls. Besides that little trend, there’s an argument to be made here (that is clearly being made in Vegas) that Berkley isn’t bad.

Here’s the thing, though: Arizona State should be a football power. Tempe, Ariz., is nothing short of awesome. The females in Tempe, Ariz., well, suffice it to say they’re a better recruiting tool than any trophy case. Undie run, anyone? The Sun Devils’ inability to firmly establish themselves amongst the landscape of the Pac-12 boggles my mind. Lose to Cal and its the same story – umpteenth verse. No more, ASU. Stop it.

  GEORGIA (-13) over Tennessee

At the risk of pushing Doc and Heather completely over the edge, I’m taking the points in this one. I’ve also decided, in spite of her apparent gender-induced short-comings as a sports radio head, that more Heather Harrington is never, ever a bad thing. “Back up!”

The ‘Dawgs have managed to avoid their annual September collapse, and I see no reason to expect a hiccup now. (Though, in the spirit of full disclosure, I thought Baccari Rambo would be back when I made this pick.) Having said that, I don’t think Georgia gives them the Vandy treatment. One second half collapse isn’t reason enough to sound the emergency sirens.

  TEXAS A&M (-13.5) over Arkansas

I think I’ve run out of ways to express my disdain for the John L. Smith administration. I find it entirely conceivable that the Hogs manage only to defeat Kentucky in Fayetteville and – maybe – Ole Miss in Little Rock.

In other news, is anyone sure that the Aggies don’t back out of an agreement to move the Southwest Classic back to Jerry’s World in 2014? I just don’t see the advantage in doing that if I’m A&M. Wouldn’t you rather get the Hogs in College Station, in front 314,000 seats (hopefully filled by fans) every other year, at the expense of playing to the wine and cheesers in the Ozarks? All due respect, of course. Thus, keeping Arkansas out of the Dallas Metroplex at the very same time.

  NORTHWESTERN (-11) over Indiana

A total darkhorse candidate that will probably never be considered, but whom I would like to see hired at the University of Arkansas, is Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald. At a school with no background of success on the gridiron, Fitzgerald has slowly transformed the ‘Cats into Big Ten contenders in 2012. We’ll just forget that this ever happened.

Northwestern is 4-0, with wins over Syracuse, Boston College and Vanderbilt – no big deal for most, but a huge deal in Chicago, Ill., where a road victory in the Carrier Dome, followed by SEC/ACC triumphs constitutes celebration. Fitzgerald’s crew could be 7-0 when it hosts Nebraska on Oct. 20.

LOCK OF THE WEEK:    Texas (-3) over OKLAHOMA STATE

It’s the Meteor Bowl in Stillwater, Okla., Saturday night, as the (possibly back?) Fightin’ Mack Browns travel to Motionless-H20. No one’s quite sure about the mysterious injury that ails Wes Lunt – as apparently withheld by Pat Jones – but it doesn’t appear likely that he’ll play versus Texas.

In any event, the Longhorns defense is fully equipped to handle Oklahoma State, and the Cowboys defense bears a strong resemblance to the Ole Miss unit that was mercilessly shredded by David Ash & Co. two weeks ago. Somebody check the lights in the scoreboard.

On a larger scale, if the Ash we’ve seen thus far is the Ash we’re getting for the next eight weeks – and with OSU/WVU/OU over the next three weeks, we’ll find out in a hurry – Texas could be all the way back.

Pick 6: Better late than never

By Kolby Paxton

For the next nine weeks, I will continue to offer up a Pick Six, exclusive to the readers of Razorback and Jenkins. Concurrent with these selections, I offer the following disclaimers: a) I don’t completely suck at this, but b) keep in mind that gambling is illegal – sort of. Still, in case you’re wondering, c) I do put my money where my mouth is, so to speak.

Last week, as good as we looked capitalizing on the ineptitude of the John L. Smith regime and Garrett Gilbert – winning with Alabama (- as much as they wanted) and Texas A&M (-13.5) – Kentucky (-7), Auburn (-13.5), Virginia Tech (-10) and LOTW Southern Cal (-8) dealt serious body blows to the ego.

Season record: 9-9, LOTW: 2-1

What we learned: The inadequacy of JLS knows no bounds, I should be slapped for uttering the words “Cam” and/or “Newton” in a sentence that included Logan Thomas (unless I was saying, “Logan Thomas is nowhere near the same stratosphere as Cam Newton,” or “I wonder if Logan Thomas likes Fig Newtons…”), and the Fightin’ Pine Trees, in fact, were not all about Andrew Luck. Also, it is utterly reprehensible to bet in favor of anything that requires a respectable effort from Auburn or Kentucky.

I’m not going to lie to you. I’m reeling. I’d ask you to trust me, but that’d be like your girlfriend asking you to trust her after you discovered a condom wrapper in her purse. Still, it could have been a friend’s. Or, perhaps she was just helping to keep Arkansas beautiful. Here we go…

  ARIZONA STATE (-7) over Utah

I didn’t like Todd Graham much during my briefest of brief career with the Golden Hurricane. I liked him less when he left Pittsburgh hanging without so much as an “Eff you,” in order to leap to Tempe, Ariz. Great move. Poor form.

But I really like the Sun Devils in Pac-12 play, in spite of ASU’s loss to Mizzou a week ago. And I really dislike Utah, even more so after its fans’ premature ecelebration (x2) after a one-point victory over Brigham freaking Young. Hey Utes, Ty Detmer doesn’t play for BYU anymore. Maybe I’m wrong (likely) but I think Arizona State wins with relative ease.

  Kansas State (+14.5) over OKLAHOMA

Listen, I’m sorry. I can’t help it. The Sooners just have not looked very impressive offensively. Something(s) doesn’t feel right. Meanwhile, the Wildcats split a couple of uninspired victories over Missouri State and North Texas with a total dismantling of Miami.

The truth, though? This pick has nothing to do with UTEP or the Hurricanes. I don’t trust Landry Jones and his happy feet to handle his business versus a front seven this physical. I definitely don’t trust him laying 14.5. If we’ve learned anything during the mediocrity that is the Jones-era, its that the Sooners are not invincible on any field – including the one called Owen.

  LSU (-20.5) over Auburn

LSU looks really, really good – albeit with Washington as its toughest foe, thus far. Auburn, on the other hand, looks as though it will be hard pressed to score in league play. Like, ever (#TaylorSwiftvoice). Suffice it to say, the Tigers aren’t exactly the best SEC intro course for new starter Kiehl Frazier.

The line is sort of high, and there’s a chance that LSU backs off late. Still, the thought of Frazier slinging it around in catch-up mode sounds lovely.

  SOUTH CAROLINA (-10) over Missouri

Asking the Gamecocks to cover significant spreads of any kind is disconcerting. But at home, versus Mizzou, even with a depleted secondary, smart money is on the the South Carolina defense.

Quarterback James Franklin’s health has left the Tigers unable to solidify the offense to this point. A visit to the other Columbia doesn’t offer much opportunity to do so, either.

  Clemson (-14) over Florida State

Bob Stoops didn’t bring his brother Mike back to Norman out of the sheer goodness of his heart. He did so because the Oklahoma defense was oft-atrocious, and fans/alumni were nearing a breaking point. So, while Brent Venables was a good get for Clemson, Sooner nation wasn’t exactly distraught to see him go.

Still, on the short list of Saturdays when Venables wasn’t being lambasted by crimson-clad critics are two September dates with Florida State. In both 2010 and ’11, the Sooners beat the ‘Noles into submission – the latter of which occurred versus the same personnel that he the Tigers will face Saturday night.

LOCK OF THE WEEK: UCLA (-7) over Oregon State

I may be fashionably late to this party. But, after all, it is LA. I’m buying the hype. Jim Mora Jr. is doing what Rick Neuheisel was expected to do, and he’s doing it with two of the most exciting players in the Pac-12 – if not all of college football.

The Beavers boast an impressive home victory over Wisconsin, but the Badgers have looked like a shell of their former selves to this point. So who knows what that means. Given the Bruins body of work, I don’t expect Oregon State to stand in the way of Johnathan Franklin’s Heisman run.

Four Quarters: Courtesy will get you beat

By Kolby Paxton

Is a rule really a rule if it isn’t actually a rule?

Maybe “rule,” is the wrong word. As it pertains to the world of sports, does there exist a code of conduct? If so, what constitutes the validity of the codes, themselves?

Two weeks ago, during an inter-division baseball game between Texas and Kansas City, Rangers outfielder Nelly Cruz crushed a mammoth home run into the cheap left field seats of Kaufman Stadium. He also preened to some extent, clearly impressed by a feat that was, well, impressive. That is, unless you were Louis Coleman, apparently.

Coleman, its safe to say, was McKayla Maroney-level unimpressed. So much so, that when Cruz made his next visit to the plate to lead off the eighth inning, the Royals’ reliever put a 91mph fast ball in the small of his back. Punishment for excessive admiration, widely accepted as appropriate retribution among baseball traditionalists.

Just don’t count me among them. You don’t like it when a guy pimps a homerun? Don’t serve ‘em up.

Worse than the archaic notion that a failure to sprint out of the batter’s box constitutes assault, is the fact that enforcing this particular unwritten rule often precedes the importance of winning the actual game. When Coleman plunked Cruz, he voluntarily allowed the lead-off man aboard in the eighth inning of a two-run game. The next man up, Michael Young, capitalized with a homerun of his own, and suddenly the game was out of reach.

A few days later, Chicago Cubs bench coach Jamie Quirk instigated a bench-clearing incident by shouting at Washington third base coach Bo Porter after Jayson Werth swung at a 3-0 pitch. Evidently Quirk was irked that Werth had the nerve to take a hack with no strikes, leading by five runs in the fifth inning.

Five runs. In the fifth inning. Of a nine-inning game.

Finally, Sunday afternoon, New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin was irate following the conclusion of his team’s victory over Tampa Bay. Why? Because the Giants, leading by seven with five seconds to play, elected to kneel, but the Bucs had the nerve to fire off the ball in an effort to disrupt the snap.

“You know, obviously, I think its a little bit of a cheap shot,” Eli Manning said. “We’re taking a knee. We’re in a friendly way.”

They were in a friendly way? This was a football game, correct? One that Manning’s Giants led by just seven points – not nine.

I understand trying to prevent unnecessary injury. I also understand that Greg Schiano is the new college guy, and Tom Coughlin is the old Mr. Wilson of the NFL block. Doesn’t matter. I could not possibly be any more squarely positioned in Schiano’s corner on this one.

It isn’t as if Tampa Bay sent linebackers head first over the top of the offensive line. The Bucs merely attacked the line of scrimmage. And it wasn’t a sneak attack, either. There was no secret as to what their intentions were when the teams lined up.

Eli fell down because Eli’s a bit on the clumsy side. Eli moped around afterward because Eli’s a bit of a sourpuss. None of that makes the action any more or less egregious. A one–possession game ends with the last successful snap. If No. 10 loses the handle on the football amid his Weeble wobble onto the MetLife turf, Schiano is being praised for coaching his team to play to the buzzer. Anything can happen with the center-to-quarterback exchange.

1.) Just ask Sequoyah head coach Brent Scott.

Leading 27-0 with 10:41 to play in a game dominated by the Indians, Sequoyah back-up quarterback Ryan Helsley mishandled a snap at his own 10-yard line, never quite delivered it to the back, and a Victory Christian defender scooped up the loose ball, returning it six yards for the score.

Helsley was under center because Scott was trying not to run up the score on a grossly overmatched opponent.

“Last year they cried around (during a 47-21 Sequoyah victory) and said we didn’t pull off because we were still throwing verticals in the fourth quarter,” Scott told me after the game. “So I said, ‘Alright man, I’m not going to do that to (Conquerors head coach Brent Marley) again.”

Instead, following a first half during which the Indians reeled off 341 total yards while allowing only three first downs, Scott played his starters just two possessions into the third quarter before pulling them in mass. A little more than three minutes after the Conquerors broke through for their first points of the evening, freshman quarterback Keats Calhoun found Jacoby Hicks for a 40-yard touchdown and suddenly it was 27-14.

“We had the game in hand and I pulled off,” he said. “I put in my twos, they didn’t get it done. They scored, we put back in our ones and scored on the first play thinking that they would pull off.”

They didn’t.

Instead, trailing by 20 with less than three minutes to play, Calhoun hooked up with Hicks again to cut it to 34-21. Admittedly, I watched it happen from the Sequoyah sidelines – not from the press box. Give me a break. Twenty points in three minutes? Game over, right?

Wrong, courtesy of an errant snap, as the Indians attempted to punt it away from inside the 20 with 1:19 to go. Two plays and ten seconds later, Victory Christian was in the end zone again.

The comeback would fall just short after the Conquerors failed to recover an onside kick, right? Not so much. VC had a cupboard full of timeouts – a fact that seemed utterly irrelevant just 10 minutes prior – and the Indians were 3-and-out.

No problem, though. A well-placed punt pinned Victory Christian back at its own 12 with 48 ticks to go and no timeouts. My game story was safe, save a few obvious changes to the conclusion. Sequoyah would still win. Brayden Scott’s first half performance would still matter. Greydon Elrod’s three sacks would still matter. Ryan Helsley’s motor would still matter.

Then, inexplicably, it didn’t.

Calhoun lit a match to the pre-determined narrative with a 54-yard game-winning touchdown toss, capping an 88-yard drive in 33 seconds. With 35 fourth quarter points – 21 of it coming in the final 2:49 – the wrong team won. All because Scott caved to some undefined code of conduct.

“I learned my lesson,” he said. “I’ll never pull off anybody again.”

Nor should he. Scott’s team was good enough to beat the Conquerors by 50 on Friday night. Instead, they lost to an inferior opponent that was allowed to hang around after he attempted to spare the previously bruised ego of a fellow coach.

A rule is not a rule if its unwritten. How do I know? Because Victory Christian is listed at 3-0.

“Smile,” Arkansas fans. It could be worse. Your ex-coach could be among the hottest commodities on the coaching carousel, while some bozo runs your program into the ground. On second thought, maybe it couldn’t be worse.

2.) Arkansas couldn’t be spared.

No amount of good will amongst men, a running clock, or even the presence of quarterback Tyler Wilson could have saved the Hogs from elephant-sized humiliation at the hands of Alabama on Saturday.

Coaching matters. And the Crimson Tide, for all of its athletic prowess, is embarrassingly dominant thanks to Nick Saban and his uber-competent staff. The polar opposite roams the sidelines for the Razorbacks.

In spite of Brandon Allen’s glaring ineptitude at quarterback – and the permanent deer in headlights expression on his face – offensive coordinator Paul Petrino saw fit to use Brandon Mitchell only twice in the first quarter, once in the second quarter, and twice in the third quarter, before finally unleashing him on Arkansas’ final drive of the game; a drive that ended on downs at the Alabama 22.

The nine play, 54 yard drive was topped only by a 15-play, 55-yard drive early in the third quarter. The latter began with seven straight runs by Knile Davis, before stalling after Davis was pulled. Who knew the Hogs could be effective by simply handing the ball to one of the league’s best backs? What’s that? Everyone? Everyone but Petrino apparently, who only utilized the running game as a retreat tactic after the Tide jumped ahead by 31.

As an added bonus, John L. Smith became the first head coach of the season in college football – a level of football in which every play is reviewed automatically – to challenge the ruling on the field. Even better, the play wasn’t reviewable, meaning Smith burned a timeout for absolutely no reason.

Woo pig sooie.

3. and 4.) In the spirit of Tom Coughlin, I will now run out the clock by taking a knee.

I’m in a friendly way.

Pick 6: Fight On

By Kolby Paxton

For the next ten weeks, I will continue to offer up a Pick Six, exclusive to the readers of Razorback and Jenkins. Concurrent with these selections, I offer the following disclaimers: a) I don’t completely suck at this, but b) keep in mind that gambling is illegal – sort of. Still, in case you’re wondering, c) I do put my money where my mouth is, so to speak.

Last week, Cincinnati (-4), Kentucky (-7), and LOTW Georgia (-3) won big. Unfortunately, Wisconsin (-8), Washington (-23.5) and Arkansas State (-23) each struggled mightily. What’d we learn? Stay the hell away from Wisconsin (Who knows what’s going on in Madison?), the LSU defense (Ridiculous-er than last year?) and Arkansas State (They’re a good Sun Belt squad. I thought they’d be a good college football squad. They’re not, and its not the same thing.)

Season record: 7-5. LOTW: 2-0.

I’m calling my shot, Ham Porter-style. Provided Auburn holds up their end of the bargain, a perfect week is very much in play. As uncomfortable as I was with last week’s picks, I’m that comfortable with the most recent edition.

   KENTUCKY (-7) over Western Kentucky

Is Western Kentucky better than Kent State? Maybe so. Is it close? Yes. Yes it is. We won by taking the ‘Cats (-7) over the Golden Flash a week ago, and we won to the tune of 47-14.

While Kentucky won’t be challenging for an SEC East title, they’re in a class above the Hilltoppers. I am aware that WKU hung with the Wildcats last season. For some reason, I watched that game. Even with Willie Taggert’s best shot, UK covered this year’s 7-point spread. Vegas has whiffed on Kentucky for a second week in a row. Enjoy.

   Texas A&M (-13.5) over SMU

Baylor smashed the Mustangs in Week 1, reminding anyone who may have forgotten that Garrett Gilbert still sucks. The former-Longhorn averaged a whopping 4.8 yards per attempt versus the Bears, followed by a pedestrian 19-of-36, 205/1/1 effort versus the mighty Lumberjacks of Stephen F. Austin.

The Aggies fell apart in the second half versus Florida, but showed flashes of potential brilliance. They’ll rebound in a big way in Dallas on Saturday.

   Alabama (-16) over ARKANSAS

Assuming that Tyler Wilson is not under center for Arkansas – and, for his sake, I hope he’s not – the Hogs are getting roasted at home on Saturday. Regardless of who is at quarterback, Paul Petrino will likely still be allergic to running the football, and Paul Haynes’ defense will still be atrocious.

It will take 40+ to beat the Tide, 30+ to beat the line, and I don’t think Barnum and Bailey have either in them. For the record, however, I’d very much like to be wrong.

  Virginia Tech (-10) over PITTSBURGH

I have no idea what I’m missing with regards to the Panthers. They stunk versus Youngstown State. They were even worse in Cincinnati. While I am a fan of Munchie Legaux, he is but a poor man’s Denard Robinson. Logan Thomas is a middle-class man’s Cam Newton.

Which man would you rather be? More pertinently, if Legaux torched Pitt with 322 total yards, what should we expect from Thomas?

   AUBURN (-13.5) over Louisiana-Monroe

I don’t like Auburn. I don’t like Gene Chizik. I don’t even really like Kiehl Frazier. With Malzahn gone, Frazier is in for a bumpy career, and Chizik would be wise to update his resume’.

Having said that, I like the Tigers to cover the spread on Saturday. If AU doesn’t get by the Warhawks, they’ll be staring down the barrel of an 0-5 start. Unlike Arkansas, who shuffled down the hall in their PJ’s last week, Auburn should be wide awake for this one. The Tigers, like the Razorbacks, are vastly more talented than ULM. With any semblance of defense, the Hogs would have escaped in spite of it all. I’m not trying to convince you that AU is any good – just that they’re 14-points better than Monroe.

LOCK OF THE WEEK:    Southern Cal (-8) over STANFORD

Andrew Luck is not walking through that door, but with a line this low, you’d sure think that he was.

The Trojans weren’t exactly a shining example of defensive aptitude at MetLife on Saturday. But, seriously, if you’re pointing to a cross-country road trip, interrupted by a lightning storm, viewed by a capacity crowd of 841, as evidence that there’s a Stanford-sized chink in the armor, you’re really reaching.

Kudos to the Cardinal for embarrassing Duke at The Farm, thus, adding to the Luck carry-over phenomena. Unfortunately we’re not talking about basketball. The Cardinal don’t have the horses – or should I say horse (singular) – to score with USC. At eight points, they might as well lay this one on a tee and hand you a boat paddle.

Four Quarters: That didn’t take long…

By Kolby Paxton

The list of things that I like about my apartment is short. It includes items like air conditioning and windows.

To say that my living conditions are primitive may be an overstatement – it may not be. Admittedly, I was spoiled by my accomodations in Oklahoma City, Edmond and Fayetteville, Ark. Still, taking into account factors such as neighbors and functioning garbage disposals, one could make a strong argument in either direction, I’m sure.

Anyway, on that relatively brief checklist of pros, is my proximity to a convenience store. I feel confident in saying that I could consistently lob a baseball from my balcony to the back door of this establishment, provided the absence of a headwind. Good news as it pertains to the availability of potato chips and beer. Bad news as it relates to my checking account after a week of Hunt Brothers pizzas.

I’m there all of the time. It’s too easy not to be. Gatorade? Fifty yards away. Caffeine? Fifty yards away. Paper towels, cheese, candy bars, charcoal, all just a few first downs from my front door. Over the course of my frequent patrondom, I have developed a friendly acquaintanceship with an employee named Paul.

Paul reads my column faithfully, and for that I am grateful. He’s a generally knowledgeable fan of sports – particularly football, I’ve noticed. Our conversations routinely last beyond the point of sale, irritating the foot-tapping, thumb-twiddling customer standing behind me. Last week, however, I drew the ire of Paul, an Oklahoma fan, for giving the Razorbacks clock in quarters one and two.

“If I want to read about Arkansas, I’ll pick up a Southwest Times Record,” he told me.

My argument? Simple. The University of Arkansas is nearer to Tahlequah – 57 miles – than any of the in-state schools, including Tulsa.

The truth? I’m an Oklahoma alum. I attended TU, as well. But I was raised in Springdale, Ark., just minutes from the Fayetteville-based campus. My mother has two degrees from the school. My girlfriend will join her on the sidewalk in eight months. Arkansas Media Relations Director Zack Higbee, a Tahlequah-native, gives us far better access than OU – where I was locked out of Notre Dame, and force-fed FAMU and Kansas State (instead of KU and Baylor) in spite of the fact that I’ll be in town for neither.

Gun-to-head, I’d probably have to admit to caring more about the Hogs. This is the Tahlequah Daily Press, not the Times Record, or even the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. But as long as I’m here, Paul is going to have the read about the Razorbacks from time to time.

This week, though, at the urging of the man behind the counter, I will not spend the first quarter on Arkansas. It has nothing to do with losing to someone called Louisiana-Monroe. I’m just taking the feelings of a reader into consideration. I’m not avoiding the subject of John L. Smith, just trying to courteously avoid playing favorites.

Honest.

Wes Lunt was forced into a shootout in Tucson, thanks to a defense that was routinely victimized by the run and gun duo of Rich Rodriguez and Matt Scott.

1.) Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon didn’t play defense.

It doesn’t seem to matter, though. The Oklahoma State coaching staff propped up the defense all summer. The unit was supposed to be talented enough, stingy enough, that the departure of the school’s most accomplished passer and pass-catcher would not mean its departure from the Top 25.

So much for that.

After a 59-38 loss to an Arizona team that averaged 26.2 points per game a season ago, it appears as though the best avenue through which to achieve/maintain national relevance remains rapid pistol firing from the quarterback position – even if that quarterback is a true freshman.

This defense looks to be no different than the one that ranked 104th in 2011. It was supposed to serve as a crutch for Wes Lunt. Instead, it was Lunt – throwing for a Big 12 freshman record 436 yards on 60 attempts – carrying the defense in Tucson.

2.) Justin Brown making early impact

The Penn State transfer has only six receptions for 87 yards through the Sooners’ first two games. He has zero touchdowns. Still, he has left his finger print on both victories.

In the west Texas desert, it was Brown’s effort that stood out. He is Oklahoma’s best blocking wide receiver, evident on multiple occasions, including Damien Williams’ game-clinching touchdown tote.

Saturday, Brown was the recipient of the game’s longest pass play – a 46-yarder – and covered 102 yards on just two punt returns. His performance in the return game triggered comparisons to OU-great, J.T. Thatcher.

“What makes him such a good punt returner, and reminds me of the days of J.T. Thatcher, is he can run through some people,” said head coach Bob Stoops. “He’s not a guy, you get ahold of his jersey and swing him down. He’s got a lot of strength to him.”

Even better, Brown seems to be the consumate teammate.

“Actually my punt return team made the play,” Brown said of his 62-yard return to the FAMU 4. “The return team held them up and made a nice little crease for me to run through. It’s not the returner, its the return team.”

3.) Kenny Stills playing more than he’s Tweeting (finally)

Stills hasn’t Tweeted since Aug. 26. He hasn’t put on a dress since early-July.

Perhaps coincidentally, the Broyles Effect that seemed to hamper the flamboyant receiver every bit as much as his quarterback was a thing of the past through the first two weeks of the regular season.

Stills has effectively been the No. 1 receiver that Sooner Nation fancied him for when Ryan Broyles went down last fall, compiling a team-leading 16 receptions, 241 yards, and two touchdowns.

Nearly half of Landry Jones’ 28 pass attempts were intended for Stills on Saturday; 10 were caught, one was intercepted and one led Stills into the brick wall behind the north end zone.

In other words, when Jones isn’t testing Stills’ durability or firing the ball to the other team, Oklahoma’s mohawked playmaker has portrayed Broylesesque reliability in the passing game.

4.) I hope John L. Smith is renting.

Ah, that’s right. Michigan State fired John L. Smith because he wasn’t a very good head coach. I knew there was a reason that I was uncomfortable about his role as duct tape – you know, other than everything about his general demeanor.

The Razorbacks are totally and completely void of coaching leadership this season; an even more glaring omission in the aftermath of the Bobby Petrino dictatorship. Which brings me to…

Is there any reason that Paul Haynes was hired, other than the fact that he’s one of Bobby’s guys? Would he have been given the job without his time as the Jaguars quality control coordinator? Or without spending those years under Petrino at Louisville? Haynes only had experience as a defensive coordinator because Luke Fickell was busy interiming.

With Urban Meyer in, Fickell was getting a demotion. Haynes was getting a pink slip. Bobby needed to replace Willy Robinson without introducing a personality that might rival his own. Haynes was introduced as the new coordinator in Fayetteville – over the likes of former-Miami head coach Randy Shannon.

Go figure.

And then there’s Paul Petrino. He was good in Louisville – when his big brother called the plays; and during his first stint at Arkansas – when his big brother called the plays.

After the Fighting Illini offense fell flat a season ago, Paul – who left to “pursue a head coaching career” in the first place – was rescued by big brother Bobby once again; allowing him the opportunity to rebuild his fraudulent reputation as a play-caller.

Just one problem: Bobby’s gone, and none of these guys are qualified to do what they’re being paid to do – let alone overcompensate for their former boss’ absence. Instead, Smith – whom Weber State so narrowly avoided – is left staring blankly out onto the field, as Petrino refuses to call a run-play, Brandon Mitchell watches the wrong Brandon play quarterback, and Haynes makes Robinson look like a defensive innovator.

In the history of the Southeastern Conference – and surely in the history of the Razorback football program – this has to be one of the worst coaching staffs ever assembled. Bad enough, even, to lose to a Sun Belt Conference foe, at home, as a 30-point favorite.

It’s going to be a long season in the Ozarks.

The paradoxical world of a Cowboys fan

By Kolby Paxton

Some time in the neighborhood of five decades ago, shortly after oilman Clint Murchison, Jr., outsmarted then-Washington Redskins owner George Marshall with his own fight song, my grandpa adopted the Dallas Cowboys – the only NFL team located south of D.C. – as his favorite professional football club.

Years later, he had a daughter who eventually had a son, and that son developed an unadulterated love for the sport of football moments after emerging from the womb. That son, of course, is me.

As it pertains to favorite teams, I originally chose mine with the most patriotic of intentions, after a brief discussion with my mother regarding team mascots. I was four years old, sitting on a sofa in my grandparents den. The following dialogue is, verbatim, how the selection process played out.

The absence of Randall Cunningham taught me early on that you can’t root for a team based on one player.

Me: “Mom, I need a favorite team. What are some team names?”

Mom: “Well, there’s the Dallas Cowboys… (long pause)… or the New York Giants, or the Chicago Bears, or the Philadelphia Eagles…”

Me: “My favorite team is the Eagles.”

Mom: “Oh? And why the Eagles?”

Me: “Because the eagle is the American bird.”

Seriously. And, no, I have no idea from where this innate sense of country derived.

At some point, in what I assume was the relatively near future, I began to familiarize myself with Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham.

Cunningham, as you’ll recall, was Michael Vick 1.0, in a league full of Jim Kellys. He was electrifying; even captivating enough to occupy the typically non-existent attention span of a pre-schooler. His poster was tacked to my wall, his McFarlane action figure perched atop my headboard, and his kelly green No. 12 jersey was constantly on my back. To this day, he – along with Ken Griffey, Jr., and Deion Sanders – remains one of my all-time favorite athletes.

Still, Rocket Man Randall wasn’t enough to solidify my allegiance to the American birds.

On Dec. 16, 1991, the Eagles and Cowboys were each 9-5 and fighting for a playoff berth. My extended family filled my parents’ home for the game, each of them covered in stars. I, on the other hand, was the lonely green spot in the room; faithfully sporting my Cunningham jersey.

That is, until mid-way through the third quarter. That’s when Kelvin Martin returned a Philadephia punt 85 yards for the go-ahead touchdown, and I made a decision that would forever change my life as a sports fan.

Cunningham was out injured, and with Jeff Kemp under center, I was filled with indifference toward the guys in winged helmets. I wanted to cheer for Dallas like my cousin, whom I idolized, or my grandpa, whom I adored.

As Martin strode down the sideline, I jetted off to my bedroom to change out of my Eagles jersey – and into a Cowboys T-shirt.

Little more than a year later, Charles Haley and Nate Newton were showering Jimmy Johnson with Gatorade, and the Cowboys were the champions of the football universe. Twelve months after that, Dallas knocked off the Buffalo Bills once more for a second consecutive Super Bowl victory. Then, after losing in the NFC Championship in 1994, Barry Switzer led the Cowboys to yet another world championship in ’95.

It was an overwhelmingly euphoric four-year introduction to professional football. Unfortunately, my lack of life experience fueled the ignorant expectation that it would always be like that.

It hasn’t been.

The Cowboys were bounced in the divisional round by the second-year Carolina Panthers in ’96, followed by a 6-10 record and the subsequent resignation of Switzer in ’97. The one and only Chan Gailey succeeded Switzer in ’98, eventually becoming the first head coach in franchise history not to reach a Super Bowl upon his termination two years later.

Seriously. Ryan Leaf.

The astoundingly overmatched Dave Campo took over for Gailey, followed by the equally overbearing Bill Parcells and, finally, the staggeringly incompetent Wade Phillips.

From Campo to Phillips, Dallas attempted to replace Hall of Famer Troy Aikman with each of the following: Cunningham, Anthony Wright, Quincy Carter (who might have actually been a solid pro, were he not railroaded by Parcells), Ryan Leaf, Clint Stoerner, Chad Hutchinson, Vinny Testaverde, Drew Henson, Brad Johnson and Drew Bledsoe.

Ten quarterbacks in five seasons, before finally, mercifully, Tony Romo emerged as a competent option at the position – in principle, anyway. Over that stretch – which also happened to run concurrent with my junior high/high school years – the Cowboys managed to drop 56 of 96 contests; reaching the playoffs only once, in Carter’s lone season as the starter.

Despite a winning record in five of the past seven seasons, Dallas has appeared in only nine playoff games since winning the Super Bowl 17 years ago – winning only twice, and never advancing beyond the divisional round.

Yet, in spite of such relative futility, we embattled Cowboys fans are treated with the same irreverence as front-running Yankees fans.

I don’t get it.

The last time Dallas was consistently good, I couldn’t even write in cursive. And, more importantly, the NFL enforces a salary cap. No doubt, Jerry Jones would love to spend his way to a championship but, unlike the Yankees – or the Red Sox, Dodgers and Angels, for that matter – he cannot; hence the reason Jones & Co. passed on free agent Texas-native Drew Brees in favor of Romo in ’05.

Jones constructed a $1.5 billion football stadium for the world’s third most valuable team to play in. Safe to say that no one at Valley Ranch is voluntarily pinching pennies. But, in the NFL, a large market and/or a willingness to spend separates no team from the pack. Just ask the Miami Dolphins.

At the height of comically un-comical paradox, is the reality that chief among Cowboys haters is “Bandwagon Bob.” You recognize Bob. He’s the guy that became a die-hard Red Sox fan in 2004, only to buy his first Texas Rangers cap two years ago. He “loves” the Patriots, but in January of ’10, he became a Saints fan in the midst of Tracy Porter’s 70-yard interception return. He says things like, “I cheer for players, not teams,” and “I was an (insert team) fan until (insert owner) traded (insert player).

In essence, Bob hates Dallas for everything that he stands for.

Just know that when Tony Romo drops back to throw in tonight’s season opener versus his team’s most hated rival, we will hope for the best, with a late-summer heart filled with optimism – but we will expect the worst, with nearly two decades of seasoning to blame. Our team is not the Yankees of professional football. Hell, its not even the parking-lot-neighbor Rangers. No, we’re the 21st-century Chicago Cubs; complete with high powered executive(s), just enough roster potential to allow for a degree of suppressed ambition, and the endless pre-occupation with next year.

Don’t be a Bob. Let us suffer in peace.

Pick 6: Be careful what you wish for…

By Kolby Paxton

For the next eleven weeks, I will offer up a Pick Six exclusive to the readers of Razorback and Jenkins. Concurrent with these selections, I offer the following disclaimers: a) I don’t completely suck at this, but b) keep in mind that gambling is illegal – sort of. Still, in case you’re wondering, c) I do put my money where my mouth is, so to speak.

Last week, Vanderbilt (+6.5), Notre Dame (-16.5), Arkansas State (+37), and LOTW Clemson (-3.5) were all winners. Virginia Tech (-7.5) and Michigan State (-7) won on the scoreboard, but lost versus the spread – which matters more depends on your perspective, I suppose.

Season record: 4-2. LOTW: 1-0.

There are weeks when I like nine different games and have to narrow it to six. This is not one of those weeks. Any time you’re banking on a Pac-12 team avoiding a blowout in Baton Rouge, and Kentucky winning by any margin, your pennies are anything but secure.

  Wisconsin (-8) over OREGON STATE

The Badgers slept walked to victory over a pesky Northern Iowa squad in Week 1. Don’t worry about it. This is a Top 20-caliber squad, with an enormous offensive line, a running back that gets beat up outside bars, but beats up defenses on the football field, and another uber-efficient rent-a-QB, former-Terrapin Danny O’Brien.

The Badgers coasted to a 35-0 victory over Oregon State last season. The Beavers are the ninth-best team in the Pac-12, and their opening tune-up versus Norfolk State was postponed as a result of Hurricane/Tropical Depression/Rainier-than-average Isaac.

  Washington (+23.5) over LSU

The Huskies started strong versus San Diego State, then the offense fizzled. Still, quarterback Keith Price is a player, and Steve Sarkisian is good enough to avoid a blowout. I said in my Top 12 in ’12 that LSU should be weary of overlooking Washington, so this is me sticking to my guns.

The Huskies’ offense, in spite of a momentary lapse in the opener, is capable of moving the football in this one. The defense is supposed to be this team’s weakness, but it was a strength versus the Aztecs. This will be the biggest game to date of Zach Mettenberger’s career, and if he’s going to hiccup, it will be early.

   CINCINNATI (-4) over Pittsburgh

Admittedly, this line feels like a trick. Pittsburgh just lost its opener to Youngstown State. The Bearcats are at home, on a Thursday night, in front of what should be a raucous crowd. So, what’s the catch? I’m not sure that there is one.

Maybe I like Munchie Legaux too much, just because his name is Munchie freaking Legaux. Maybe I’m not being cautious enough with an unproven team in its season opener. I know Zack Collaros and Isaiah Pead are gone, I’m just not sure I care. Butch Jones likes his team and I do, too. Leggo.

  ARKANSAS STATE (-23) over Memphis

Look, I was still watching when the Ducks took a 50-3 lead. It was brutal. Admittedly, I wondered if my ‘ole ball coach was ready to flee for the talent-rich-er plains of Auburn, Ala.

But, here’s the thing: The Red Wolves kept their heads in what could/should have been humiliating circumstances. Instead of losing 100-6, ASU outscored the Ducks 31-7 over the final 39 minutes, demolishing a 37-point line in the process. Yes, I am aware that this resurgence occurred versus Oregon’s back-ups. But Oregon’s back-ups are a hell of a lot better than any one of Memphis’ starters.

  KENTUCKY (-7) over Kent State

Kentucky didn’t look good versus Louisville, but they didn’t look bad, either. The Cards, unless Chris Petersen interferes, are likely the eventual Big East champions, and UK never had a shot.

Maxwell Smith was reasonably effective throwing the football against a Charlie Strong defense in week one (35-50, 280 yards, two touchdowns). With all due respect, Jon Heacock is not Charlie Strong, and the Golden Flash is not Louisville. Smith shouldn’t have a problem leading the SEC’s second-worst team past a middle-of-the-road MAC squad, at home, by more than one score.

LOCK OF THE WEEK:    Georgia (-3) over MISSOURI

Just know, first and foremost, that this is not the nature of LOTW’s. The lock is meant to be the one game of the week that I would most recommend betting your mortgage on – Disclaimer: I don’t recommend betting your mortgage, or even your rent money, on any one game. If you do that, you’re an idiot, you will lose, and I will laugh at you.

This game isn’t that. This game is personal. I have never liked the Missouri football program. As it pertained to their place in the Big 12 – and now pertains to their position within the SEC – their players and fans have always conducted themselves with comically irrational egotism. That grossly inflated self-image manifested itself once again Monday; this time in the form of misguided defensive end Sheldon Richardson.

Nobody in the SEC can touch the Missouri Tigers? Really? Listen, Sheldon, I realize that Mizzou dominated the Big 12 en route to multiple conference titles, but this isn’t the Big Tw– What’s that? Missouri never won a conference championship, despite playing in the pattycake Big 12 North? Not once? The last time they won their league, Richard Nixon was in office? Mizzou’s best bowl appearance in the last two decades was the 2008 Cotton Bowl?

I can’t wait for this one.