SEC Football: Picks for Every Week 1 Game

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterAugust 29, 2012

SEC Football: Picks for Every Week 1 Game

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    Game week is upon us.

    The 2012 college football season will kick off in the same way that the 2011 one closed—with good, ole-fashioned SEC football. 

    South Carolina and Vanderbilt get things kicked off on Thursday night, which will be the start of four straight days of SEC football.

    With an SEC game to open the season and two big-time, out-of-conference tests at neutral sites on Saturday night, we are in for some fun this weekend.

    Here are my picks for Week 1. (lines via VegasInsider.com)

South Carolina (-6.5) at Vanderbilt

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    Thursday, Aug. 30 at 7 p.m. ET

    South Carolina heads to Nashville to kick off the 2012 season in a game that is very dangerous for the Gamecocks.

    This will have that "Game of the Century" feel for Vanderbilt, so it's imperative for South Carolina to get off to a good start and try to limit any home-field advantage that might exist in Nashville.

    The way to do that is to use a solid rushing attack with Heisman candidate Marcus Lattimore and quarterback Connor Shaw. 

    If the Gamecocks can do that, this one could get ugly.

    They won't, though.

    Vanderbilt will keep things close with star running back Zac Stacy, and this one comes down to the final minutes.

    Score prediction: South Carolina 21, Vanderbilt 17

Tennessee (-3) vs. N.C. State (in Atlanta, Ga.)

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    Friday, Aug. 31 at 7:30 p.m. ET

    This game won't determine the fate of Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley, but getting a win would certainly cool that seat, which has been blazing hot this offseason.

    That will be tough, though.

    Even without wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers, the strength of the Vols still rests in their passing attack thanks to quarterback Tyler Bray and wide receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson.

    That plays into the strength of N.C. State, which boasts one of the best secondaries in the ACC led by cornerback David Amerson and safety Earl Wolff. The absence of cornerback C.J. Wilson will hurt, but not enough for Tennessee to get the win.

    Score prediction: N.C. State 24, Tennessee 21

Buffalo at Georgia (-37.5)

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    Saturday, Sept. 1 at 12 p.m. ET

    Georgia kicks off its SEC East title defense by hosting the Buffalo Bulls between the hedges at high noon on Saturday.

    While this one shouldn't be close, it's still important for Georgia to work on a few specific things vs. the Bulls—particularly at running back and cornerback.

    Ken Malcome will be the starter, but easing freshmen Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall into the mix will be important for the Bulldogs this week, before they go on the road to Missouri next weekend.

    Malcolm Mitchell will play primarily at cornerback early in the season, and getting him acclimated to game speed will be important. 

    Georgia can play dial-a-score with Buffalo, and it will dial up an easy victory.

    Score prediction: Georgia 38, Buffalo 6

Bowling Green at Florida (-29)

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    Saturday, Sept. 1 at 3:30 p.m. ET

    Florida has a perceived cupcake to open the season, and the Gators are using it to their utmost advantage.

    Neither Jacoby Brissett nor Jeff Driskel emerged from fall camp as the No. 1 quarterback for head coach Will Muschamp, so the second-year head coach is using the Bowling Green game as an audition for the sophomores.

    One quarterback will play in the first quarter, the other in the second quarter, and the second half will be determined at halftime.

    This one may be closer than Florida fans would like, but it will be for good reason. Consider this an open scrimmage for the Gators to work on their new offense.

    Score prediction: Florida 31, Bowling Green 3

North Texas at LSU (-43)

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    Saturday, Sept. 1 at 7 p.m. ET

    LSU kicks off its SEC title defense by hosting the North Texas Mean Green under the lights at Tiger Stadium.

    Everyone will be paying attention to Jalen Mills, who is stepping in to replace Tyrann Mathieu in the Tigers secondary. Can Mills handle the pressure? If he can't, Jalen Collins will be nipping at his heels for playing time.

    On offense, all eyes will be on first-year starter Zach Mettenberger. I doubt you will see much from him, though.

    LSU is confident in his ability to stretch the field, so it will give him a few things to work on and then get him out of there and let Stephen Rivers and Rob Bolden get some snaps.

    LSU can name its score in this one.

    Score prediction: LSU 55, North Texas 7

Central Arkansas at Ole Miss (NL)

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    Saturday, Sept. 1 at 7 p.m. ET

    Ole Miss has a tough schedule in 2012, and if the Rebels are going to be competitive this season, a strong showing vs. Central Arkansas would be a good start.

    The Rebels are still searching for a starting quarterback, and whether it's Barry Brunetti or junior college transfer Bo Wallace taking the snaps on Saturday, expect new head coach Hugh Freeze to open the playbook and test his players in a live game situation.

    Keep an eye on C.J. Johnson and Channing Ward at defensive end for the Rebels.

    Johnson moved down from linebacker this offseason, and Ward was cleared late by the NCAA. Both were highly recruited and could make a big impact this season.

    Score prediction: Ole Miss 31, Central Arkansas 17

Jackson State at Mississippi State (NL)

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    Saturday, Sept. 1 at 7 p.m. ET

    Mississippi State has the schedule to make an early-season run and perhaps post a 7-0 record heading into the Alabama game.

    But in order to do that, the Bulldogs must get over their Week 2 hurdle vs. Auburn, and figuring things out against Jackson State will be on the top of head coach Dan Mullen's mind.

    Expect Mississippi State to experiment with the offensive line and find out what it has in backup running back Nick Griffin.

    Griffin is behind LaDarius Perkins on the depth chart, but Perkins is more of a changeup back, so Griffin's role will be more prominent than your average backup running back.

    Defensively, seeing how junior college transfer Denico Autry performs at defensive end will be very interesting.

    Score Prediction: Mississippi State 45, Jackson State 10

Jacksonville State at Arkansas (NL)

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    Saturday, Sept. 1 at 7 p.m. ET

    All eyes will be on Arkansas running back Knile Davis on Saturday night, as the junior will see game action for the first time since the 2011 Sugar Bowl following the 2010 season.

    Davis led all SEC running backs with 1,322 yards on the ground in 2010, but he had to talk Razorback head coach John L. Smith into letting him take full contact in practice last Friday.

    Davis will get in the game and test out his ankle, which he fractured in August of 2011.

    On defense, keep an eye on defensive end-turned-linebacker Tenarius Wright. He moved back to middle linebacker this spring, which is a position he played in high school.

    Between Wright and outside linebacker Alonzo Highsmith, the Hogs will be solid at linebacker.

    Score prediction: Arkansas 55, Jacksonville State 17

Southeastern Louisiana at Missouri (NL)

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    Saturday, Sept. 1 at 7 p.m. ET

    SEC newcomer Missouri will tune up for its Week 2 matchup vs. Georgia with a visit from Southeastern Louisiana.

    James Franklin will test out his injured throwing shoulder, and expect talented true freshman Dorial Green-Beckham to be the target of those tests early and often.

    Getting the 6'6", 220-pound wide receiver accustomed to college football in a hurry will be job No. 1 for head coach Gary Pinkel and the Tigers staff.

    Other than that, Missouri needs to stay healthy and establish some depth, because the SEC portion of the schedule is looming in Week 2.

    Score prediction: Missouri 49, Southeastern Louisiana 17

Auburn (+3.5) vs. Clemson (in Atlanta, Ga.)

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    Saturday, Sept. 1 at 7 p.m. ET

    Clemson and Auburn will play for the third time in three years this Saturday, when the two square off in the second of two Chick-fil-A Kickoff Games in 2012.

    Questions are numerous on both sides.

    For Auburn, seeing how sophomore Kiehl Frazier handles the transition to Scot Loeffler's offense will be the most important factor for Auburn.

    The Tigers think they have a committee that's capable of handling the job, but Frazier's ability to make things happen through the air is a critical component to making that running game click.

    This game will be decided up front, with a deep Auburn defensive line going up against a Clemson offensive line that's littered with uncertainty. If Auburn can force Tajh Boyd into some mistakes, it can absolutely spring the upset.

    This one comes down to the final drive.

    Score prediction: Auburn 31, Clemson 28

Alabama (-13.5) vs. Michigan (in Arlington, Texas)

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    Saturday, Sept. 1 at 8 p.m. ET

    The biggest game of the weekend takes center stage at Cowboys Stadium on Saturday night, when No. 2 Alabama takes on No. 8 Michigan in the Cowboys Classic.

    This game will define the season.

    The winner will have a jump start on the competition for the national title, while the loser will need help from other teams in order to play for the crystal football.

    Alabama is looking to fill a lot of holes on defense, but it's filling them with relatively experienced players, for the most part. But inexperience oftentimes leads to a lack of discipline, and that's something that Alabama desperately needs against a quarterback like Denard Robinson.

    Alabama's offensive line will have its way with Michigan, and talented running backs Eddie Lacy, T.J. Yeldon, Dee Hart and Jalston Fowler will prove that this is a committee to be reckoned with.

    The Crimson Tide will leave no doubt that they're the more talented team, but Robinson will do enough to keep Michigan in the ballgame.

    This one's a little more high-scoring than people expect, but the game won't be as close as the final score suggests.

    Score prediction: Alabama 35, Michigan 28

Kentucky at Louisville (-13.5)

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    Sunday, Sept. 2 at 3:30 p.m. ET

    Kentucky travels to Louisville on Sunday to close out the SEC Week 1 slate. It's a game that the Wildcats really need to win.

    Sophomore Maxwell Smith outlasted a challenge from senior Morgan Newton for the top spot atop the depth chart at quarterback, and Smith needs to find another weapon opposite wide receiver La'Rod King.

    Defensively, the key for Kentucky will be to put pressure on Cardinals quarterback Teddy Bridgewater with Collins Ukwu, Donte Rumph, Mister Cobble and the rest of the front seven.

    You never know what will happen in rivalry games, but Kentucky won't have enough in this one.

    Score prediction: Louisville 23, Kentucky 14