SEC Football – Week 1: A new SEC era begins

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 134 views 

You’ve yearned for it all year. Its nuisances have been discussed up and down, inside and out, front and back.

It’s finally Labor Day weekend, which means one thing: Saturday is National Bacon Day.

That’s right – Saturday is a day to enjoy the wonderful delicacy that is completely and undeniable proof of God’s love for us.

However, in this column, we are more concerned about the oblong pigskin being kicked, passed and caught on 100-yard gridirons throughout the country instead of the most versatile food product out there today.

It’s time for the games to be played.

Whether you’re caught up in the “noise coming from Nashville” concerning Vanderbilt’s unafraid mantra being preached by James Franklin or you want to watch how particular squads improved or digressed from 2011 to 2012 in the rugged Southeastern Conference, you’re going to get your fill this weekend while the region gets saturated by Hurricane Isaac.

It’s also time for the triumphant return of my fearless predictions in the weekly forecasts here on Call me out on Twitter or leave comments below to let me know how crazy I am or how aligned our thoughts are concerning this week’s slate of contests.

All that being said, let’s get to picking the games.

• Alabama v. Michigan
For the second time in three years, Alabama will enter a new season as the defending national champions and will once again take on a marquee opponent in a neutral-site location to get things started in its title defense. Much like in 2010, the Tide has revamped the defense that was so critical in the previous championship season. Will the depth chart overhaul on that side of the ball lead to enough struggles to give this week’s opponent, Michigan, a fighting chance?

The Wolverines will give Alabama’s young linebacker corps fits with the return of dynamic playmaker Denard Robinson behind center, but I don’t see this being the game that it could be a year from now when Brady Hoke has a little more time to really put his stamp on the Michigan program. The growing pains for Hoke will still be quite evident in 2012 as UM moves further away from the disaster that was the Rich Rodriquez Era.

On paper, this game should be much closer than what I’m thinking the final score will indicate. The talent gap between the two squads is remarkable, and I’m not sure Hoke’s remarkable coaching staff is ready to match wits with the coaching talents assembled by Nick Saban in Tuscaloosa.

Robinson may be good for a big play here or there, but there will not be much consistency shown by the Big Blue offense against the uber-talented Crimson Tide youngsters on defense.

Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit get the call for ABC’s primetime event Saturday night at 7 p.m. from Cowboys Stadium in Big D.

Call it now: Alabama 31, Michigan 13

• South Carolina at Vanderbilt (Nashville, Tenn., 6 p.m. CT, Thursday, Aug. 30, ESPN)
In what has become common practice under Steve Spurrier, South Carolina will once again open up the college football season in front of a nationally-televised audience on ESPN for the network’s Thursday night college football seasonal debut.

Franklin has been telling anyone and everyone who will listen that this isn’t the Vanderbilt of old and that the Commodores are not going to back down from any challenge nor be intimidated by any opponent they face. It’s a heck of a time for Franklin’s team to put up or shut up in week 1 by taking on Spurrier’s best South Carolina squad to date.

The Gamecocks will return a proven signal caller for the first time since 2006 with Connor Shaw directing the offense, and the defense should be the strong suit again. This season’s high expectations in Columbia likely hinge on the answer to the following question: can Marcus Lattimore return from the devastating season-ending knee injury that abruptly ended his tremendous sophomore campaign?

Spurrier quipped this week that the “noise coming from Nashville” is helping to prepare his team and keep them focused for the important season and league opener. When Spurrier’s teams are focused, it’s a much taller task to take them down – no matter the opponent.

Call it now: South Carolina 24, Vanderbilt 10

• Texas A&M at Louisiana Tech (Postponed)
Those wanting to catch Kevin Sumlin’s debut as well as Texas A&M’s first outing as a member of the SEC will have to wait another week as the two sides agreed to postpone this contest until Oct. 13. With the projected forecasts surrounding Isaac, the two sides agreed that it’d be best not to chance the weather and open up their season a week later.

So, A&M fans, congrats on opening 2012 with Florida and taking on the daunting task of 12-straight games without a bye.

Call it now: Isaac 1, College Football 0

• Tennessee vs. N.C. State (Atlanta, Ga., 6:30 p.m. CT, Friday, Aug. 31, ESPNU)
There has been a lot of optimistic talk surrounding the Tennessee program for the first time under Derek Dooley as the Vols open the 2012 season in the Georgia Dome against N.C. State.

Tyler Bray will lead a talented offensive attack that has plenty of returning starters to make noise near the top of the league leaderboards throughout the year. After a disappointing 5-7 season that featured losses to Kentucky and Vanderbilt, the Big Orange needs a good start to potentially cool off that seat that is steadily warming for Dooley.

Will the addition of Sal Sunseri as defensive coordinator in Knoxville be enough to stave off the witch hunt another year? As stated above, the issue with Tennessee in 2012 will not be the offense.

N.C. State is the perfect opponent for Tennessee this weekend. The Wolfpack is good enough to win, but it’s not great enough to intimidate. A victory in this one will go a long way in improving morale throughout the athletic department and fan base up in the Smoky Mountains.

Call it now: Tennessee 24, N.C. State 17

• Buffalo at Georgia (Athens, Ga., 11:21 a.m. CT, SEC Network)
Saturday’s busy slate begins with lowly Buffalo visiting Georgia.

The demands for Mark Richt in 2012 are extremely high. The Bulldogs once again avoid the perceived top three in the SEC West, and the fans are getting tired of almost climbing the mountaintop at UGA. Richt has done plenty of good in Athens, but he has yet to really contend for that coveted national championship while the rest of the SEC rivals seem to have no problem acquiring crystal footballs.

The biggest storyline of this game is which of Richt’s arrested starters will play and which ones will sit – and for how long. Buffalo serves no barometer as to what kind of team Georgia will be in 2012 – and it shouldn’t.

Call it now: Georgia 41, Buffalo 3

• Bowling Green at Florida (Gainesville, Fla., 2:30 p.m. CT, ESPN)
Will Muschamp has made news this week by announcing that he has not decided on a starting quarterback. Neither Jeff Driskel nor  Jacoby Brissett separated himself from the other during fall camp, so Muschamp has chosen to give both signal callers a quarter in the Bowling Green game Saturday to prove who is QB1 for the Gators.

I have seen the musical quarterback game play out before, and it rarely ends well for that team. However, the talent gap between Bowling Green and Florida should be plenty enough to keep this from being a huge factor in the opener. It is a choice that needs to be made quickly, however, with league play looming next weekend for the Gators.

Call it now: Florida 28, Bowling Green 14

• Jacksonville State at Arkansas (Fayetteville, Ark., 6 p.m. CT, PPV)
The offseason from hell officially ends for Arkansas Saturday night as Jacksonville State and former UA head coach Jack Crowe come to town.

The last time Jacksonville State opened on the road against an SEC opponent, the Gamecocks walked away with a double-overtime win in 2010 at Ole Miss. Don’t expect lightning to strike twice.

The Hogs are plenty confident right now, and they should be with arguably the league’s top quarterback coming back in Tyler Wilson and the return of a healthy Knile Davis to boot. Davis will be able to ease back into action these next two weeks before Alabama comes calling as he readjusts to the speed of the game after missing 2011.

The #TD2012 campaign should get off to a rousingly successful start Saturday night.

Call it now: Arkansas 50, Jacksonville State 14

• Central Arkansas at Ole Miss (Oxford, Miss., 6 p.m. CT, PPV)
The Hugh Freeze campaign gets underway under the lights at Vaught-Hemingway Saturday night.

Freeze has been placed in charge of one of the toughest resurrection jobs in the SEC in recent memory. While he attempts to build back Ole Miss’ reputation on the gridiron, he’s having to do so with the toughest schedule in the league and perhaps the country.

Central Arkansas isn’t included in the list of tough opponents, though, and it should provide plenty of excitement for the fans in attendance as Freeze puts on his first show directing the Red and Blue.

Call it now: Ole Miss 31, Central Arkansas 7

• Southeast Louisiana at Missouri (Columbia, Mo., 6 p.m. CT, PPV)
Will Gary Pinkel give the Class of 2012’s most coveted recruit the starting nod Saturday night in the Missouri Tigers’ first game as a member of the SEC?

That’s the biggest question media have been hounding Pinkel with this week. Pinkel’s response has been that it depends on the formation and play call whether Dorial Green-Beckham is on the field for the game’s initial snap or on the sidelines. Something tells me that he won’t be on the sidelines very long.

Call it now: Missouri 38, Southeast Louisiana 17

• North Texas at LSU (Baton Rouge, La., 6 p.m. CT, ESPNU)
The defending SEC Champions will hope to avoid further disruptions from Isaac and plan to keep this week’s contest on as scheduled with North Texas.

LSU will once again play on Saturday night in Death Valley, something that didn’t happen enough in 2011 if you ask LSU supporters. It’ll be a chance for 90,000-plus to check out some of the cosmetic changes made to Tiger Stadium in the offseason and see new quarterback Zach Mettenberger in action.

Other than that, the game shouldn’t feature that much in terms of story lines.

Call it now: LSU 38, North Texas 0

• Jackson State at Mississippi State (Starkville, Miss., 6 p.m. CT, FSN)
Did you know that Jackson State went 9-2 in 2011? Yea, me neither.

Living here in Tupelo, I’ve been surrounded by talk of what food is being prepared at what tailgates this weekend in Starkville and how MSU fans plan to keep having fun despite the rain being forecasted in the Golden Triangle area. If there is a torrential downpour, it will be oddly reminiscent of Dan Mullen’s first game at MSU back in 2009 – a rain-soaked triumph over Jackson State.

Call it now: Mississippi State 35, Jackson State 13

• Auburn vs. Clemson (Atlanta, Ga., 6 p.m. CT, ESPN)
For the third-straight year, the two Tigers from Auburn and Clemson will clash – this time at a neutral site – in the rubber match of the three-game series.

So far, both teams have acquired come-from-behind home victories in the home-home-Georgia Dome agreement with Auburn winning 27-24 in 2010 and Clemson bettering Auburn 38-24 in 2011.

This year, both teams will feature new defensive coordinators while AU has moved away from the high-paced attack of Gus Malzahn to a more conventional approach with new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler. The SEC Tigers will also have a new quarterback for the opener in Kiehl Frazier, the former quarterback at Shiloh Christian in Northwest Arkansas.

Auburn’s starting offensive line features two freshmen tackles and a first-time first-teamer at center in Tunde Fariyike against a seasoned group of defensive linemen at Clemson. The Auburn defensive line should be able to provide plenty of pressure against seasoned CU signal caller Tahj Boyd with a relatively green offensive line for the ACC Tigers.

I expect this game to be very sloppy for the offenses, and I have to lean in Clemson’s favor due to a more experienced quarterback.

Call it now: Clemson 17, Auburn 10

• Kentucky at Louisville (Louisville, Ky., 2:30 p.m. CT, Sunday, Sept. 2, ESPN)
Could this be Charlie Strong’s final season opener at Louisville? Could it be Joker Phillips’ final season opener at Kentucky?

I expect both questions to be answered yes by the end of the 2012 campaign as Strong will get a much-deserved chance at running an SEC program (Arkansas, perhaps?) and Phillips will fall short of reaching the postseason for the second-straight year in Lexington. My fearless predictions will begin to take shape after Sunday afternoon.

The Cardinals are more experienced than the Wildcats and more talented. That doesn’t always equate to victories in rivalries, but UK won the national championship in basketball so UL is due for a victory. Or something like that.

Call it now: Louisville 24, Kentucky 14