The SEC's dominance over college football will extend in Week 1.
With nonconference games scheduled against Clemson, TCU, Virginia Tech and Oklahoma State, the SEC, which somehow gets blasted for scheduling weak nonconference games (never mind Ohio State), will feature big matchups in the opening weekend.
Will the SEC blow out every opponent it faces? Heck, will the SEC defeat every nonconference foe on the schedule in the first week?
Grab some popcorn and gather around, friends, it's time for some controversial picks. It's prediction time, folks.
The forecast for Aug. 29 is "Clowney with a chance of pain."
The college football season begins in the SEC with Jadeveon Clowney taking center stage. Fitting, seeing as though he stole the show during the bowl season with that hit on Michigan's Vincent Smith.
He and the rest of the Gamecocks will welcome a North Carolina squad that won eight games last season, and if South Carolina wants to open up with a victory, Clowney is going to have to pull out his cape for this one.
The Tar Heels have one of the most explosive quarterbacks in the country returning in Bryn Renner. Renner threw for over 3,000 yards and 28 touchdowns in 2012, and he has a talented receiving target Quinshad Davis returning. Unfortunately for North Carolina, the Tar Heels must replace three key losses on the offensive line. Now you see where Clowney comes in. Clowney will disrupt Renner's flow early on, allowing the Gamecocks to never relinquish the lead Mike Davis gives them.
Prediction: South Carolina wins 34-20
Two years ago, Vanderbilt vs. Ole Miss would've been an afterthought. Today, the Commodores vs. the Rebels is about as good as you can get for a Thursday night opener.
Here are two teams that are borderline Top 25 clubs. Which will win a one-on-one matchup though? Give me Ole Miss. Sure, Vanderbilt has talent returning with Jordan Matthews, Chris Boyd, Chase Garnham, Andre Hal and Kenny Ladler returning, but the Commodores are missing Jordan Rodgers and Zac Stacey.
Both of those men were so influential in generating points for Vanderbilt last season, and a new quarterback for James Franklin's Vanderbilt has me hesitant to pull the trigger on Vandy's chances of defeating Ole Miss.
This will be a close contest, no doubt, but Hugh Freeze's luxury of having Bo Wallace as the starting quarterback again will be the difference-maker in this game. Wallace will pick up crucial third downs with his legs late in the game, while Denzel Nkemdiche and company on defense dominate the line of scrimmage.
Prediction: Ole Miss wins 33-24
At first glance, Washington State at Auburn may not produce much interest. Look closer.
This game is interesting for many reasons. The most apparent is Gus Malzahn is back in the driver's seat for Auburn's offense, so it'll be exciting to see what he does with talents like Tre Mason and Trovon Reed this season.
Secondly, this is Mike Leach's first game against an SEC opponent since leaving Texas Tech. Leach served as an offensive coordinator at Kentucky in the '90s and he fell to a great Ole Miss team in the 2008 Cotton Bowl.
Will he fall to another SEC foe? Absolutely. Though Washington State is expected to improve with a strong wide receiver corps for whichever quarterback Leach names as the starter, Auburn's defense should feast on an unimpressive offensive line. Chances are Malzahn has his offense pumping, while his defense contains Leach's traditionally high-flying offense.
Prediction: Auburn wins 38-27
You think this game has Arkansas fans on edge?
Last season, the University of Louisiana-Monroe upset the Razorbacks in Fayetteville. ULM has a knack for that, right, Nick? Enter the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, a team which hails from the same conference and same state as ULM.
Will the Ragin' Cajuns have the same type of success? Not a chance. Granted, Terrance Broadway is good, and when he takes the snap, it's showtime (wink emoji). On a serious note, Broadway's dual-threat presence at the quarterback position may give Arkansas trouble early, but the Hogs defense will most likely settle in. The skills of athletically gifted defensive ends Chris Smith and Trey Flowers should give Broadway happy feet in the pocket.
Bielema will ride his offensive line and Jonathan Williams to a respectable win against a UL-Lafayette team that won nine games last season. Arkansas will avoid repeating a disaster.
Prediction: Arkansas wins 27-17
Toledo has the misfortune of playing the Florida Gators in the first game of the regular season.
Expect a blowout. You see, the Gators are not happy. A bad taste has lingered in the mouths of Florida players all offseason after Louisville jumped all over the Gators in the 2013 Sugar Bowl with a 33-23 victory.
What's the best way to get that nasty taste out of their mouths? A blowout victory over Toledo. The Rockets aren't slackers though. This is a balanced offense that returns Terrance Owens at quarterback, David Fluellen at running back and Bernard Reedy at wide receiver. That's quite an impressive trio, but this is the Gators defense we're talking about. Players like Ronald Powell, Loucheiz Purifoy and Dominique Easley should keep this offense at bay.
And though the Gators offense struggled mightily last season, this Toledo defense is depleted. The loss of Dan Molls and Robert Bell makes this defense vulnerable against the run and that just so happens to be the Gators' strength. The Gators will win this one with their running game and suffocating defense.
Prediction: Florida wins 37-13
Let's try this again.
Most SEC fans are automatically writing off Missouri next year, but there's reason to believe it'll be the surprise team of 2013. Here's a precedent though—the Tigers must be HEALTHY.
If this team remains so, it'll have an experienced dual-threat quarterback in James Franklin leading an offense with Henry Josey, who rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2011, Dorial Green-Beckham and Marcus Lucas.
Not to mention—the Tigers defense has E.J. Gaines, Kony Ealy and Andrew Wilson returning. This is a talented squad folks, and Murray State will find out firsthand on Aug. 31.
Prediction: Missouri wins 45-10
This is a fun one.
Despite having Tyler Russell, LaDarius Perkins and Gabe Jackson returning to the offense, Mississippi State has been overlooked this preseason. It's understandable that folks may get tired of seeing the Bulldogs overhyped each season, but this season Mississippi State will be as good as any other year.
Though the Bulldogs might not win the SEC West, they will still be a strong football team that can compete with most teams in the country. Can they compete with Oklahoma State? You betcha. However, beating Oklahoma State is a different story.
The Cowboys' loaded receiving corps should give Mississippi State's rebuilding secondary fits throughout the game, and though Oklahoma State is still searching for that unchallenged, indisputable leader at the quarterback position, this offense will find success against Mississippi State's defense. Calvin Barnett and Shaun Lewis will limit Mississippi State's physical running attack on the defensive side.
Prediction: Oklahoma State wins 35-27
The Rice Owls gave up 30 points per game last season with most of the Owls' competition hailing from Conference USA. So what in the world do you think Johnny Football and Texas A&M are going to do in the season opener?
Johnny Manziel should get an early start on his 2014 Heisman campaign, as he runs, passes and electrifies in the season opener.
Manziel will combine for 350 total yards and four total touchdowns. He'll also be sitting on the bench by the end of the third quarter.
Prediction: Texas A&M wins 63-17
All right, Butch, what ya got?
The explosiveness on offense is gone, or so we believe. Without Tyler Bray, Justin Hunter or Cordarrelle Patterson dominating the scorebooks, who will step up and become the face of this Tennessee offense?
The safe bet is to pick a running back, considering that Tennessee returns a strong offensive line and Butch Jones' spread opens up the running game quite well. At Cincinnati last season, the Bearcats averaged over 200 rushing yards a game.
Raijon Neal will be the guy that shines early in the season for Jones' offense, and he will get off to a great start against a much weaker Austin Peay squad. Sorry, but any team nicknamed the Governors doesn't stand a fighting chance against any of the teams in the SEC. The quarterbacks may have growing pains, but Austin Peay's defense will offer very little resistance. Tennessee will win big no matter who's at quarterback.
Prediction: Tennessee 41-7
The pieces are in place (AJ McCarron, T.J. Yeldon, Amari Cooper, Cyrus Kouandjio ,C.J. Mosley, Adrian Hubbard, Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix, etc.) for the Tide to repeat as national champions. But first, they must go through Virginia Tech, just like they went through the Hokies in 2009.
A victory is assumed by most, so the only question here is—will it be a repeat of the 41-14 opener against Michigan last season? That's never out of the question when it comes to Saban. When given ample amount of time to prepare for one game, Saban is nearly unbeatable. It's as if he knows what the opposing coach is going to do two plays ahead.
Having nine starters returning on defense for Virginia Tech will help the Hokies battle though. Logan Thomas will also give Virginia Tech a fighting chance, but the lack of playmakers will be the Hokies' demise. The hard running of Yeldon and timely deep passes from McCarron should carry the Tide to victory in this one.
Prediction: Alabama wins 34-16
Where exactly will Kentucky stand in the SEC East next year?
They were a bad punchline in 2012, as the Wildcats struggled to a 2-10 season. But hey, there's reason to be optimistic in Kentucky.
Mark Stoops has arrived on the scene and he has some great tools to work with on defense. Alvin Dupree, Avery Williamson and Miles Simpson form a great linebacker corps, and with Stoops' expertise, this unit could be fierce in the SEC. But can he get any offensive production out of Patrick Towles, Jalen Whitlow or Max Smith?
Whitlow may dazzle the most, but it won't be too often against this Western Kentucky defense. The Hilltoppers return seven of their defensive starters from a unit that led the Sun Belt in total defense last year. Fans can expect a defensive struggle between Kentucky and Western Kentucky.
Prediction: Kentucky wins 20-13
Here's to hoping Mark Richt doesn't make the same mistake Les Miles did.
Behind Jeremy Hill, Miles had tremendous success running the football. For reasons still unexplained, Miles abandoned the run in the fourth quarter, and don't buy into the loading the box excuse either. Heck, the Tigers have been running it with nine players stacked in the box for years now.
So Clemson gets a big win against a major power in the SEC last year, but it also inherits a season opener against another SEC power. Have you met our good friends—"Gurshall."
Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall combined for 2,144 yards and 25 touchdowns last season. Going against a team that gave up 156 rushing yards per game last season, "Gurshall" should introduce itself quite nicely. Aaron Murray will make some key throws at the end of the game to give Georgia the victory over Clemson in a hard-fought, high-scoring affair.
Prediction: Georgia wins 35-31
A lot of questions surround LSU's first game of the season.
Will Jeremy Hill be in the backfield? Will the Tigers find suitable replacements on defense? What will the Tigers' up-tempo offense look like?
Unfortunately we'll have to wait until game time to see these questions answered, but that doesn't mean we can't take a stab at them. Odds are that Hill won't be present in the backfield against TCU, the Tigers will have young freshmen step into major roles and contribute early and the quicker pace should produce a much improved offensive flow.
As for what TCU will do, well, the Horned Frogs have a dynamic quarterback in Casey Pachall returning, and this defense is dangerously good. The defense will force many three-and-outs early in the game, but Zach Mettenberger will settle in and make some big, game-altering plays to Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. After trailing in the first half, the Tigers will pull ahead in the second.
Prediction: LSU wins 28-20