SEC Football: Week 1 Predictions for Every Team in 2013

Sanjay KirpalaniNational Recruiting AnalystJune 11, 2013

SEC Football: Week 1 Predictions for Every Team in 2013

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    College football season is rapidly approaching, and the SEC’s schedule for opening weekend has its share of marquee matchups that are sure to grab the nation’s attention.

    A trio of battles against ACC opponents and another against a Big 12 power highlight Week 1’s nonconference schedule. However, the lone conference game also looms large for two schools that surprised in 2012 and carry significant momentum into 2013.

    How will the SEC fare in Week 1 of the upcoming season?

North Carolina at South Carolina

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    When: Thursday, Aug. 29

    Time/TV: 6 p.m. ET, ESPN

    The first marquee game of the season features a border war between the Tar Heels and Gamecocks. The  teams last met in 2007, with the Gamecocks earning a hard-fought 21-15 win in Chapel Hill.

    Senior quarterback Bryn Renner (3,356 passing yards and 28 touchdowns last year) is one of 15 returning starters on a team that could be a sleeper ACC title contender. 

    The Gamecocks are looking to take the next step coming off back-to-back 11-2 seasons. 

    Steve Spurrier may field his best team since arriving in Columbia. But if the Gamecocks get caught peeking ahead to their conference opener against Georgia the following week, the Heels are capable of derailing their neighbor's season before the calendar turns to September.

    However, with all-world defensive end Jadeveon Clowney getting an opportunity to create a buzz for his Heisman candidacy in front of a national audience, the Gamecocks will rise to the occasion. 

    South Carolina 30, North Carolina 17

Ole Miss at Vanderbilt

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    When – Thursday, Aug. 29

    Time/TV – 9:15 p.m. ET, ESPN

    The only conference game on opening weekend features two clubs hoping to take another step forward after strong seasons in 2012.

    Ole Miss, a trendy pick to make some noise in the West, will travel to face a Vanderbilt club expecting to record back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in nearly 40 years (h/t Greg Pogue, Fox Sports Tennessee).

    This game will feature two of the league’s top wideouts in Rebels junior Donte Moncrief and Commodores senior Jordan Matthews. 

    Vanderbilt squeaked out a 27-26 win in Oxford a year ago, but the Rebels seem to have a bit more firepower returning this season.

    Ole Miss 28, Vanderbilt 24

Washington State at Auburn

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    When: Saturday, Aug. 31

    Time/TV: TBD

    Between Cougars coach Mike Leach and new Tigers coach Gus Malzahn, the season opener on the Plains will feature two of the brightest offensive minds in the game.

    However, both clubs limped to a 3-9 record last year and this year’s opener is critical to both programs hopes of getting back on track.

    While both teams have a lot of issues on both sides of the ball, Auburn appears to have more momentum entering the season with the buzz surrounding Malzahn’s arrival and a stellar incoming recruiting class. 

    That, plus opening at home should give the Tigers the edge.

    Auburn 35, Washington State 20

Louisiana-Lafayette at Arkansas

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    When: Saturday, Aug. 31

    Time/TV: TBD

    Less than a year after being stunned by Sun Belt foe Louisiana-Monroe, new Arkansas coach Bret Bielema will begin his Hogs tenure hosting a tough Ragin' Cajuns squad that has recorded back-to-back 9-4 seasons.

    Junior quarterback Terrance Broadway (3,611 total yards, 26 touchdowns in 2012) is one of the nation’s better dual-threat signal-callers. The Ragin' Cajuns gave Florida all it could handle before losing in the Swamp last season, so they will not be intimidated matching up against an SEC team. 

    Arkansas has nice pieces to build around in sophomore running back Jonathan Williams and the defensive end tandem of Chris Smith and Trey Flowers. 

    This is a must-win game for Bielema if he hopes to turn things around after a nightmare of a season a year ago. With that and the memory of last season’s tailspin after the loss to the Warhawks in mind, I’ll take the Razorbacks in a close one. 

    Arkansas 31, Louisiana-Lafayette 24

Toledo at Florida

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    When: Saturday, Aug. 31

    Time/TV: TBD

    The Rockets went 9-4 a year ago and return 10 starters from an offense that averaged nearly 32 points per game, including senior quarterback Terrance Owens. But the defense, which returns just three starters, needs to be retooled. 

    Last season’s opener against Bowling Green was a struggle for the Gators, so don’t expect them to take another MAC opponent lightly. 

    All eyes will be on a Gators offense hoping to significantly increase its production in its second season under offensive coordinator Brent Pease. 

    Will Muschamp’s defense must replace some key pieces, but rising underclassmen such as defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. and linebacker Antonio Morrison should keep the Gators' defense among the best in the SEC.

    While the Rockets could hang around, the Gators will have too much firepower and should pull away in the second half.

    Florida 38, Toledo 17

Murray State at Missouri

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    When: Saturday, Aug. 31

    Time/TV: TBD

    Gary Pinkel’s club struggled mightily in its first season in the SEC.

    But opening against an FCS squad should help it get a better footing to begin this season. The Racers went 5-6 last season and finished sixth in the Ohio Valley Conference. 

    Getting a defense straightened out that gave up an average of 46 points in the last three games in 2012 has to be Pinkel’s top priority. 

    The Tigers should take a solid step forward in that direction in their season opener. 

    Missouri 45, Murray State 24

Rice at Texas A&M

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    When: Saturday, Aug. 31

    Time/TV: TBD

    The Aggies will kick off their most anticipated season in recent memory against an in-state foe.  

    Although the Owls won five of their last six games to finish 7-6, they simply don’t have the horses to compete with the Aggies. 

    Expect a short afternoon for reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.

    Texas A&M 59, Rice 20

Austin Peay at Tennessee

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    When: Saturday,  Aug. 31

    Time/TV: TBD

    The Butch Jones era kicks off against the Governors, an FCS club that plays in the Ohio Valley Conference.

    The Volunteers will have a number of new faces, but junior and projected starting quarterback Justin Worley has seen valuable playing time in his first two years in Knoxville, which should ease his transition into being the leader of the Vols' offense. 

    Considering that the Governors won only two games last season, this should be a glorified scrimmage and a confidence-building win for the Volunteers.

    Tennessee 49, Austin Peay 10

Mississippi State vs. Oklahoma State

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    When: Saturday, Aug. 31

    Time/TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC

    This nonconference showdown will take place in Houston as part of the inaugural Texas Kickoff Classic.

    The Cowboys and Bulldogs each turned in 8-5 seasons in 2012, and both are hungry to improve their standing in their respective conferences this fall.

    After losing standout corners Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay to the NFL, the Bulldogs' secondary will have its hands full against a team that was held to fewer than 30 points just once last season. Defensive ends Kaleb Eulls and Denico Autry and linebacker Benardrick McKinney will lead a stout group of Bulldogs defenders hoping to impose their physicality against the Cowboys' high-octane offense.

    The Bulldogs' offense has potential difference-makers in quarterback Tyler Russell and running back LaDarius Perkins, but the receiver unit lost its top four pass-catchers from last season’s club. 

    The Bulldogs have struggled in big games recently, and this contest will be a significant test OF the strength of the program that Dan Mullen has built. Ultimately, Mississippi State won't have enough offense to get it done. The Cowboys will win a close one.

    Oklahoma State 38, Mississippi State 30

Alabama vs. Virginia Tech

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    When: Saturday, Aug. 31

    Time/TV: 5:30 p.m. ET, TBD

    These two teams met in the Chick-fil-A Classic in the Georgia Dome in 2009. The Tide’s 34-24 win kicked off their run to Nick Saban’s first title at Alabama.

    This year, the Tide are hoping to capture their third consecutive crystal football, while Frank Beamer’s club is hoping to rebound from its worst season in a decade. 

    Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas and defensive end James Gayle are among the most athletically gifted players at their respective positions in the country. The offense is still a work in progress, but longtime Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster brings back seven starters from a unit that finished in the top 20 nationally in total defense last season.

    But the defending champs are loaded. Quarterback AJ McCarron, running back T.J. Yeldon and receiver Amari Cooper spearhead a Tide attack that could be the most explosive unit in school history. Plus, Saban’s defense is once again poised to be one of the nation’s top groups.

    While the Hokies are a proud program capable of putting up a fight, Alabama’s history in big nonconference season openers is hard to ignore. 

    Alabama 41, Virginia Tech 17

Kentucky vs. Western Kentucky

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    When: Saturday, Aug. 31

    Time/TV: 7 p.m. ET, TBD

    Both teams are rebuilding with new coaches and this game is being played at a neutral site in Nashville, so this has the feeling of a toss-up game.

    The Wildcats lost 32-31 to the Hilltoppers last season, and new head coach Mark Stoops knows that another loss to an in-state rival not named Louisville could derail the progress he’s made since arriving in Lexington. 

    With Bobby Petrino replacing Willie Taggart as the Hilltoppers' head coach, this game will have a little more intrigue than normal. 

    On nothing more than a hunch, take the Wildcats to extract a little revenge.

    Kentucky 27, Western Kentucky 24

Georgia at Clemson

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    When: Saturday, Aug. 31

    Time/TV: 8 p.m. ET, ABC

    The Bulldogs will travel into Death Valley to face the Tigers in prime time in a battle of two likely Top 10 clubs. 

    Both teams are similarly built. Both have strong-armed quarterbacks (Georgia’s Aaron Murray and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd) and top-flight skill talent on offense. Both defenses must be retooled, but each club has its share of promising young talent ready to emerge this season.

    Clemson has the home-field advantage and the most explosive player in wideout Sammy Watkins. Georgia returns all five starters on its offensive line and one of the better running back tandems in the country in Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall.

    Clemson has amassed a 3-4 record against SEC schools in the last three years. But last season’s 25-24 Chick-fil-A bowl comeback thriller over LSU may have been its most impressive win in that streak.

    Georgia's suspension of presumed starting safety Josh Harvey-Clemons could prove to be costly to a secondary already replacing three departed veterans (h/t ESPN.com).

    In the end, the Bulldogs' physicality in the trenches may be the difference in helping them overcome an electric environment. 

    Georgia 35, Clemson 27

LSU vs. TCU

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    When: Saturday, Aug. 31

    Time/TV: 9 p.m. ET, ABC

    For the third year in a row, an SEC power will take the field in the Cowboys Classic, as LSU makes its second trip to Jerry’s World in the last three years to face TCU.

    The Horned Frogs are looking to bounce back from a down year (finished 7-6 in 2012) by toppling an SEC powerhouse in their opener.

    The Tigers must replace seven 2013 NFL draft choices from their defense. But assuming that the cupboard is bare in Baton Rouge would be a mistake. 

    Considering that the Tigers return one of the SEC's most explosive set of skill players, quarterback Zach Mettenberger should continue the strong play he exhibited toward the end of last season.

    Both teams are likely to be without key pieces in the opener. Tigers running back Jeremy Hill has been suspended indefinitely following an arrest related to an offseason bar fight (h/t ESPN).  The Horned Frogs will be without standout defensive end Davonte Fields for the first two games for violating school policy, according to Chip Patterson of CBS Sports.

    While the Horned Frogs are a worthy challenger, LSU’s history in nonconference games (27-2 since 2007) is a testament to the Tigers' ability to get up for big games.

    LSU 24, TCU 14