Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Week 1 Predictions

Ahhh... opening week in the SEC. Where every teams' dreams of bowls and championships are still alive and everyone's undefeated. While a lot of SEC teams are opening at home against lesser opponents, a few are playing other BCS schools, and LSU and Mississippi State get a head start on their respective finishes in the SEC West tomorrow night.

Here's a look at this week's games:

(NOTE: As the season progresses, the previews will get better. There's only so much effort I can put into Western Kentucky @ Florida... :) )

LSU (#2AP, #2USA Today) @ Mississippi State
7:00 CST, ESPN
Wednesday's Line: LSU -18.5

Every team has questions headed into the first week of the season. Will LSU QB Matt Flynn be a suitable replacement for #1 pick Jamarcus Russell? Can Les Miles shed the “winning with Saban’s players” image? Will Mississippi State’s offense continue to put up numbers like it did at the end of last year? Will fragile MSU QB Michael Henig be able to survive 4 quarters of LSU’s NFL-quality defense?

I'll be as nice as I can here. This series has not been close lately. LSU has won the last 7 in this series by an average score of 42-12. The last 3 games in Starkville have produced a 110-13 scoring differential (37-4) in favor of LSU. Mississippi State has beaten LSU just 3 times since 1984. Their talent is at its highest level since Croom took over, but so is LSU's. Even with this game being the opening game for both teams, I can't see LSU stumbling here or MSU keeping it close. MSU is 1-9 in the last 10 against LSU against the spread, and this is one of smallest lines in recent memory. Anything less than 3 TDs in this one is a bargain.

Straight Up Winner: LSU
Against the Spread: LSU

Western Kentucky @ Florida (#6, #3)
11:30 CST, LFS
Wednesday's Line: No Line

The defending national champs will serve as Western Kentucky's initiation to DI football. After 11 consecutive winning seasons in 1AA, the Hilltoppers have joined the Sun Belt for the ‘07 season. This will be a good game for Florida to not only get the Tebow Show rolling, but also try to figure out who will replace the 9 defensive starters lost off their tenacious D from last year.

Straight Up Winner: UF
Against the Spread: --

Ole Miss @ Memphis
2:30 CST, CSS
Wednesday's Line: Ole Miss -2.5

Although the Rebels own this series all time, it has become too close for comfort in the minds of many Rebel faithful in recent years. HC Ed Orgeron is 2-0 against the Tigers, but they've won the two games by only 7 points - combined. The Rebels are a mere 2-4 against the spread the last 6 games against the Tigers. This game looks to be another tight one between the two.

Ole Miss - as usual - has major questions at QB. Former walk on Seth Adams has been named the starter for the Memphis game, but last year's savior to be Brent Schaeffer may see some PT if Adams struggles. Whoever the QB is, their main focus will be to not lose the game, as the Rebels will ride All-SEC RB BenJarvis Green-Ellis as far as he’ll take them. This will be a tough game against the retooled Tigers, who are looking to rebound from a dismal 2-10 season last year.

I think it will be a close game throughout, but with an established RB and a clear advantage in all aspects of special teams, I think the Rebels squeak it out in the end.

Straight Up Winner: Ole Miss
Against the Spread: Ole Miss

Eastern Kentucky @ Kentucky
5 CST, No TV
Wednesday's Line: No Line

This one could get really ugly, really quickly. UK QB Andre Woodson heads one of the most explosive offenses in the country. The Cats are looking to build on their first winning season since 2002 with the triplets - Woodson, RB Rafael Little, and WR Keenan Burton. Look for UK to strike early and often in this one.

Straight Up Winner: UK
Against the Spread: --

Oklahoma State @ Georgia (#13, #13)
5:45 CST, ESPN2
Wednesday's Line: UGA -6.5

Oklahoma State brings a talented, but inexperienced team to Athens to line up against the Dawgs. UGA returns only 11 starters, but brings back the major pieces of an offense that progressed under true freshman starting QB Matthew Stafford last season. A more experienced, confident Stafford looks ready to roll this season for UGA.

While OK St will most likely keep this one close early on, look for UGA to pull away late. OK St is loaded on offense, ranking as one of the highest scoring teams in the country last year, but their defense isn’t strong enough to hang with UGA’s offense for 60 minutes. UGA is 25-2 under HC Mark Richt against non-conference opponents, and has won 10 straight season openers. This year looks to be no different.

Straight Up Winner: UGA
Against the Spread: UGA

West Carolina @ Alabama
6:00 CST, No TV
Wednesday's Line: NL

New HC Nick Saban will be eased back into college football as the Tide host DIAA Western Carolina. These teams played in '04 and 'Bama squeaked out a 52-0 win. Look for more of the same this year, as the Tide Nation will be expecting the Saban-led Tide to make a statement early on.

Straight Up Winner: Alabama
Against the Spread: --

Troy @ Arkansas (#21, #20)
6:00 CST
Wednesday's Line: Arkansas -24

No one in the country will be happier when the opening kickoff is booted that Arkansas HC Houston Nutt. He can finally put the offseason behind him and concentrate on football. Troy is coming off an 8-5 season that saw them trounce Rice in the NOLA Bowl, but they'll be outmatched here. Troy is 1-5 in their last 6 road openers, and that will drop to 1-6 after Saturday. Darren McFadden's Heisman campaign should get off to a running start, and the Hogs defense should contain Troy. The spread is bigger than I'd like, but I think the Hogs should barely cover.

Straight Up Winner: Arkansas
Against the Spread: Arkansas

Richmond @ Vanderbilt
6:00 CST, No TV
Wednesday's Line: NL

Hope springs eternal (or at least in 2007) in Nashville that Vandy could break through for their first bowl appearance since an 36-28 loss to Air Force in the 1982 Hall of Fame Bowl. With 18 starters returning, Bobby Johnson has an experienced team that has been through the rigors of the SEC before. The question remains as to whether they can find ways to win the games they're supposed to win. This one shouldn't be a problem against the IAA Spiders.

Straight Up Winner: Vanderbilt
Against the Spread: --

Louisiana Lafayette @ South Carolina
7:00 CST, No TV
Wednesday's Line: USC -29.5

South Carolina has all the pieces in place to win their first SEC Eastern division title. With 17 starters returning - including 10 on defense - the Gamecocks will look to jump on the Ragin' Cajuns early in this one. RS Freshman Chris Smelley draws the start as senior QB Blake Mitchell is serving a 1-game suspension for skipping too many classes. It really shouldn’t matter though. ULaLa's record is 0-48 against current SEC teams and an avg loss of 5 TDs per game. No reason to think this one stays close.

With a back up QB playing and a huge divisional showdown next week against UGA, I think Spurrier runs something of a vanilla offense here. Unless the Gamecock D steps up and scores a TD, I think the spread is too big for USC to cover.

Straight Up Winner: South Carolina
Against the Spread: Louisiana Lafayette

Kansas State @ Auburn (#18, #14)
6:45 CST, ESPN
Wednesday's Line: Auburn -13.5

While Auburn has established itself as one of the most consistent programs in the country, opening games have not been their friends recently, as evidenced by a 2-3 record in their last 5. Granted 2 of those losses were against Southern Cal, so it's not like they lost to middle of the road Big 12 teams at home.

KSU brings back 15 starters from a team that won 7 games last year, so they'll have confidence in this game. Auburn only returns 5 starters on offense, but one of those is the steady - if not spectacular - QB Brandon Cox. Unfortunately though, they return only one starter from an average offensive line, so Cox may have to rush some throws. The Tigers will have to replace Kenny Irons and his 900 yards rushing. And while the game may be closer than the Tiger fans want, the home field advantage should be just enough for Auburn to open the season 1-0.

Straight Up Winner: Auburn
Against the Spread: Kansas State

Tennessee (#15, #15) @ California (#12, #12)
7:00 CST, ABC
Wednesday's Line: California -6

In one of the biggest non-conference tilts of the season, the Vols trek 2500 miles west to Berkeley, CA, where an angry team of Bears awaits their arrival. Tennessee throttled Cal last year in the season opener 35-18, and has won 12 straight season openers.

This year could very well see the end of that streak though. Tennessee will be without their leading rusher from last year, the oft-troubled LaMarcus Coker, who despite being finished with his recent "indefinite" suspension, is not making the trip to Cal. The Golden Bears will be chomping at the bit to prove that last year's debacle in Knoxville was an aberration. Vols’ QB Erik Ainge will struggle through the air, trying to find targets to replace his top 3 targets from last year, even against a rebuilding Cal defense.

The Vols could also be one of the first teams to be really affected by the new kickoff procedures, as All-Pac-10, All-America, All-Everything wide receiver/kick returner DeSean Jackson will probably be returning kickoffs this year too. The Vols special teams will have to be extra sharp to prevent short field for Cal all day long.

While this game won't be as lopsided as last year's Vols' win, Cal will prevail by a touchdown or more.

Straight Up Winner: California
Against the Spread: California

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