For those of you playing along at home...
Friday, August 31, 2007
The SEC football season kicked off in a predictable way last night, with LSU's annual domination of Mississippi State. What wasn't as predictable was how LSU's offense - particularly 5th year senior QB Matt Flynn - stalled at times against a fired-up and solid Mississippi State defense.
For all but the last 2 seconds of the first half, the game was very much up in the air. MSU trailed by only 10, despite a dismal first half which saw QB Matt Henig throw 4 interceptions on 7 possessions. The cowbells (aren't they supposed to be a banned item?) were ringing loudly. And, despite positive field position nearly every possession, LSU had mustered only a FG and a TD and held what seemed to be a tenuous 10 point lead. LSU turned Henig's 4th interception into a 1-yd TD run as the 1st half ended, then iced the game with a easy TD march to open the 3rd quarter.
LSU's defense lived up to their preseason hype, thoroughly dominating this game from the opening kick. LSU outgained MSU 347-146, including 198-10 on the ground. Their defense will be tested much more next week, as the VTU Hokies visit Baton Rogue in a battle of Top 10 Teams. And while Flynn threw for 128 yards and 2 TDs, he completed only 12 passes to 5 receivers, and Early Doucet had 8 of those catches. The Hokies will bring a much more balanced attack next week and force Flynn to look to other guys besides Doucet. The extra 2 days of preparation and game film study should help Flynn adjust.
All in all, an easy pick for The Dead Guy both straight up and against the spread. Much like the Fightin' Bengal Tigers, I opened the season 1-0.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
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)
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
Monday, August 27, 2007
By now, most people who want one have probably already Googled "2007 SEC Helmet Schedule," but if you haven't, you're in luck.
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Not surprisingly, I've gotten several emails from Vol and Gator fans questioning my competence having selected HC Steve Spurrier and USC to win the East. Particularly in light of their recent disciplinary issues that I call UT out for.
There's little doubt in my mind that top to bottom, UF has more talent than USC. My concern with picking them was having to replace 9 starters on a defense that won them a NC last year. Tebow has looked great in his limited PT so far spelling Chris Leak, but how will he handle taking all the snaps this year? The fadeaway jump pass to the back of the end zone only works so many times. Seems like Gator fans would appreciate Spurrier's ability to get the most out of a team.
As for the Vols, I have them lower than probably anyone else does, but that's fine. I'll freely admit if I'm wrong, but I doubt the Orange Nation sends me emails doing the same if UT does sink to 5th. First things first... Who is Ainge going to be throwing to? His top 3 targets from his breakthrough '06 season are gone. So is the majority of the defensive line that wreaked havoc last year. RB LaMarcus Coker could prove to be a constant thorn in Fulmer's side. He's the most gifted back on the squad, but his constant suspensions, run-ins with the law, etc. will prove to be a distraction down the road. Fulmer mishandled his team in 2005 back when a lack of discipline ran wild through the team. UT suffered their first losing season since 1988 that season. While there's no way that happens this year, to think that it won't have an effect is ignoring the obvious.
Anyway, I'll be posting my picks all season long. Anyone else who wants to do the same is more than welcome to. If you think I'm wrong, email me (email@example.com). I'm happy to read it.
Friday, August 24, 2007
In recent years, the SEC West has morphed from a group of 6 average football teams to 2 haves, 2 sometimes haves, and 2 have nots. LSU won a title in 2003-04, and Auburn went undefeated and was somehow denied the chance for a national title appearance in 2004-05. This year, the conference's strongest chance for a national champion resides in the West, as do the two worst teams.
Les Miles still has his fair share of detractors despite his 22-4 (2-0 bowl games) record in his 2 seasons at LSU. Even after losing QB Jamarcus Russell as the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, LSU has far and away the most talent of any team in the conference. A favorable schedule should make for a comfortable margin between them and...
Due to a shortage of space, I'll just say the offseason was a tumultuous one for HC Houston Nut and the Hogs. They do return a legitimate Heisman candidate in RB Darren McFadden and possibly the second best back in conference in Felix Jones. If they can get any consistency from the QB slot, Arkansas will again enjoy a successful year.
With such an emphasis on special teams this year with the new kickoff system, it will be hard for Tigers to match their recent success. They return only 5 starters on offense, so senior QB Brandon Cox will be working behind a retooled OLine. The defense should be solid though, with 7 returning starters.
The Crimson Tide are betting the farm that Nick Saban can revive their program in the same fashion he did for LSU just a few years back. The lofty expectations may be a year or two away though, but Saban is expected to win now. With 14 returning starters, the talent is in place to do it, but a 6th straight Iron Bowl loss will drop them to 4th in the West.
5) Ole Miss
Much-maligned HC Ed Orgeron is building this program piece by piece from ground level into one he thinks can compete year in and year out in the SEC. Unfortunately, for Rebel fans, this will not be the year they take the next step. Close losses last year give them some hope in 2007, but they’re still a year away from making some noise.
6) Mississippi State
To date, HC Sylvester Croom’s biggest accomplishment in 3 years at the helm of the Mississippi State’s program is the fact that he was the first black HC in the SEC. (Maybe you read or heard something about that a few years back) He took over a team decimated by probation and an overall lack of talent. While the talent has improved a little each year, it’s hard to see much improvement in the SEC.
Undoubtedly one of - if not - the strongest divisions in all of college football. The defending national champions reside here, as well as other traditional powers UT and UGA. And the ol' ball coach Steve Spurrier. And Vandy and UK are both sporting improved squads. With brutal schedules all around, no team will survive undefeated and the division winner may even have two. So how will it play out?
1) South Carolina
Yup, the old ball coach works his magic and the Gamecocks win their first ever division title. Returning 17 starters, including a senior QB in Blake Mitchell, South Carolina has the pieces in place to survive the brutal SEC East schedule and make it to Atlanta in December.
Few teams are having to replace as much as UF - only 2 starters back on a ferocious D that was the key element of their title run last year - but with a favorable SEC East home schedule, the defending national champs should manage to finish second in the East.
Talent-wise, UGA should finish ahead of UF. They've got 7 starters back on an offense that improved throughout the season and Stafford seems ready to take it to the next level. Unfortunately for them, Florida is still on the schedule, and a 2-15 record the last 17 years says that's bad for UGA.
Oh how the times have changed. While the fan base is still rabidly devoted to the hoops program, Rich Brooks has quietly built an exciting team. With 15 starters back from a team that won 8 games - including a bowl - last year, the triplets - QB Woodson, RB Little, and WR Burton - are poised to make some noise in the SEC.
Academic problems. Legal issues. Substance abuse. Not the things you want to surround your program with during the summer, but that's where HC Phil Fulmer finds himself. Sure the talent is there to win the SEC, but what about the discipline? With a brutal schedule including road games to UF, UK, and Bama, offseason distractions may cost them a few places in the standings.
A long time doormat of the SEC, Vandy has assembled a good team - one of the best in school history - and appears in the eyes of many prognosticators to be bowl-bound for the first time in 25 years. I'll have to see it before I believe it. They do return 10 starters on offense, but teams like Vandy find ways to lose games they should win, like Ole Miss last year. They also closed with 3 straight losses and lost 4 of their last 5. Unless their kicking game dramatically improves from last year, they'll be looking at another season in the cellar of the SEC East.
Welcome to the Dead Guy's SEC site. Throughout football season, each Wednesday, I'll be predicting winners both straight up and against the spread. I'll do the same during college basketball season for the big games and all the conference games.
I've followed the SEC very closely since 1995 and college football and basketball are two of my strongest passions. Feel free to post on this site or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. This should be fun.