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College football: Week 8

Razorback football fans finally got a Saturday off, allowing them to sit down in front of the television set and watch two Southeastern Conference showdowns.

On Saturday afternoon on CBS, Alabama returned three interceptions for touchdowns in a 41-23 victory at Texas A&M. A crowd of 105,733 looked on in College Station as Alabama’s Derrick Henry ran for a career-high 236 yards and two touchdowns. The three interceptions returned for touchdowns marked the first time that had happened in the long, glorious history of Alabama football. Alabama moved to 6-1 overall and 3-1 in the SEC while the Aggies fell to 5-1 and 2-1.

On Saturday night on ESPN, the Mad Hatter was back to his mad ways at LSU. A fake field goal with 10:40 left in the game broke a 28-28 tie, and LSU held on for a 35-28 victory over Florida. The play was executed perfectly and was LSU’s only touchdown in the second half. LSU is now 6-0 overall and 4-0 in the SEC. Florida fell to 6-1 and 4-1. Leonard Fournette remained atop the Heisman watch as he ran for 180 yards and two touchdowns for the Tigers. In 2010, LSU also beat Florida on a fake field goal. Someone should have warned the Gators’ new coach about the grass-eating Mad Hatter.

And who knew they played football at the University of Memphis (if you want to make a Tiger fan mad, just continue to call it Memphis State)? Good football. The Tigers’ 37-24 victory over Ole Miss was no fluke. Memphis is 6-0, has won 13 consecutive games and has the nation’s third-longest winning streak. It was the Tigers’ first victory over a ranked opponent since 1996. Ole Miss jumped to a 14-0 lead in the game’s first six minutes, but Memphis then scored 31 unanswered points. The crowd of 60,241 was the most for a game at the Liberty Bowl since 2006.

We were 6-1 on the picks last week to make the season record 44-12.

We have to get the picks out early for Week 8 since Arkansas State has another one of those silly Tuesday night games. So here goes:

Arkansas 27, Auburn 24 — Both teams have failed to live up to expectations. Auburn opened with a 31-24 victory in Atlanta over a Louisville team that has turned out to be weaker than most (certainly Bobby Petrino) were expecting and then struggled to beat Jacksonville State in overtime. That was followed by back-to-back losses of 45-21 to LSU and 17-9 to Mississippi State. The Tigers have improved their overall record to 4-2 since then with wins of 35-21 over San Jose State and 30-27 over Kentucky. Arkansas is the final SEC team to play a conference game at home. With the Hogs having had two weeks to prepare for Auburn, we’ll go with a hunch and give a slight advantage to the home team.

Louisiana-Lafayette 30, Arkansas State 28 — The Red Wolves are 3-3 overall, but they’re 2-0 in Sun Belt Conference play. They rallied at South Alabama last Tuesday night with a 29-point fourth quarter en route to a 49-31 victory. The Red Wolves trailed 31-20 with 13:12 remaining before scoring four touchdowns — including two by the defense — in a 5:17 span. What worries us about the Red Wolves is a lack of consistency. Louisiana-Lafayette is 2-3 overall and 1-0 in conference play. The Ragin’ Cajuns used a 28-point third quarter on Oct. 10 to break away from a halftime tie and beat Texas State, 49-27. The nonconference win was by a score of 44-17 over Northwestern State from the Southland Conference. The nonconference losses were by scores of 40-33 to Kentucky, 35-14 to Akron and 43-14 to Louisiana Tech. We’ll give the edge to Louisiana-Lafayette since it has won the past two meetings (both on Tuesday night) between the two schools, including a 55-40 victory last year.

Jackson State 19, UAPB 17 — The Golden Lions continue to struggle. They fell to 1-5 overall and 0-3 in the SWAC with a 31-24 loss in Pine Bluff last Thursday night to Alabama State. Jackson State isn’t much better — 1-5 overall and 1-3 in the in the SWAC. Jackson State’s lone victory came by a score of 34-20 over Texas Southern in Jackson. The losses have come at the hands of Middle Tennessee State, Tennessee State, Southern University, Grambling State and Alabama A&M. We’ll give Jackson State the nod since it’s the homecoming game in Jackson.

UCA 31, Lamar 22 — The Bears had a chance to be alone in first place in the Southland Conference and played well for three quarters before a crowd of more than 10,000 people in Conway last Saturday night. With UCA leading in the fourth quarter, an errant snap hit a Bear receiver who was in motion. McNeese State scooped the ball up and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown that gave the Cowboys a 14-13 lead that they never relinquished. McNeese went on to win by a final score of 28-13, improving its record to 6-0 overall and 5-0 in conference. UCA is 3-3 overall and 3-1 in conference. The Bears travel this week to Beaumont, Texas, to take on a Lamar team that’s 3-3 overall and 2-2 in conference. Lamar’s wins have come by scores of 66-3 over tiny Bacone College, 49-46 over Sam Houston State and 44-28 over Abilene Christian. The losses have been by scores of 66-31 to Baylor, 30-27 to Southeastern Louisiana and 48-35 to Northwestern State.

Henderson 25, Southern Arkansas 21 — Two weeks ago, there were five teams tied for the Great American Conference lead. They were Henderson, Ouachita, Arkansas Tech, Harding and East Central Oklahoma. Now, Henderson (which won conference titles in 2012 and 2013) stands alone atop the GAC at 6-1. The Reddies, whose defense gets better each week, won 41-3 at 1-6 UAM last Saturday afternoon. Jaquan Cole rushed 16 times for 157 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown run. Henderson had 420 yards of offense and limited UAM to 254 yards. Southern Arkansas, which has its best team in a number of years, improved to 5-2 with a 32-28 win over the defending conference champions from Ouachita in the Murphy USA Classic at El Dorado. The Muleriders have a talented redshirt freshman quarterback named Barrett Renner, who was 23 of 27 passing for 383 yards against Ouachita. Renner threw a 16-yard touchdown pass as the Muleriders took their first lead of the day with just 37 seconds remaining in the game. Southern Arkansas has the talent to beat Henderson. But we’ve been impressed by the Reddie defense, and this game is at home in Arkadelphia. We’re starting to think Henderson will finish the regular season 10-1 and capture its third outright title in four years.

Ouachita 42, UAM 29 — Two weeks ago, the defending champions appeared to be on their way to at least a share of their third GAC title since 2011. Ouachita had just defeated a Harding team that was No. 12 in the country at the time, and the Tigers were 4-1. But the Ouachita defense has been bad the past two weeks in losses to Arkansas Tech and Southern Arkansas. After Southern Arkansas scored with 37 seconds left last week, the Ouachita offense drove to the Mulerider 12 in six plays. A pass into the end zone on the final play of the game fell incomplete. It was the kind of close game Ouachita would have won a year ago when it went undefeated in the regular season. The welcome news for the Tigers, who are 1-3 on the road this season, is that the next two games are at Cliff Harris Stadium in Arkadelphia. Ouachita is 8-0 in regular-season games at The Cliff since the stadium opened at the start of the 2014 season.

Harding 35, East Central Oklahoma 33 — This should be an outstanding game between two 5-2 teams that are trying to stay alive in the conference race. East Central knocked Arkansas Tech out of a share of the conference lead with a 20-19 victory over the Wonder Boys in Ada last Saturday afternoon. Harding started 4-0 before back-to-back losses to the two Arkadelphia schools, Ouachita and Henderson. It was almost a third consecutive loss last Saturday, but the Bisons held on to defeat Southeastern Oklahoma in four overtimes at Durant, 63-60. Harding lost a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter and Southeastern (3-4) tied the game with 12 seconds left in overtime. We’ll give the advantage to the home team. The game is in Searcy.

Arkansas Tech 26, Southeastern Oklahoma 20 — The Wonder Boys started the season 4-0 but have come back to earth a bit with losses in two of their past three games. Southeastern is 3-4 but could just as easily be 5-2 like the Wonder Boys. The Savage Storm is capable of winning in Russellville on Saturday afternoon, but we’ll go with Tech due to a stout defense that’s the best in the GAC along with Henderson.

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