I'm going to break down the first week of games for the SEC in order of their likelihood of winning. I will start with the SEC team with the lowest chance of pulling out a victory and end with the SEC's easiest "gimme." I will also include some pertinent information regarding both teams and finally give you a prediction.
Alabama vs. Clemson (35 percent)
8:00 pm Saturday, Aug. 30; Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA (Cap. 71,228)
LAST YEAR: Alabama: 7-6 (4-4); Clemson: 9-3 (5-3)
LAST MEETING: Alabama won @ home 56-0 in 1975
PRESEASON RANK: Alabama—24th(AP); Clemson—9th
EARLY LINE: Clemson by five
ALABAMA OFFENSE: B, ALABAMA DEFENSE: C
CLEMSON OFFENSE: B, CLEMSON DEFENSE: A
Except for a questionable offensive line, on paper Clemson looks to have all the pieces. Playmakers at the skill positions combined with a stout defense will give Alabama trouble.
Alabama looks to circle the wagons after last year’s debacle in the second half of the season. Nick Saban’s defense is not where it needs to be yet, but his offense can be pretty good this year—just not in this game. Alabama hopes these will be the only Tigers they lose to this year.
What it would take for Alabama to win: Some leaders to step up quickly on the defense. Limited mistakes from John Parker Wilson.
Vanderbilt @ Miami (OH) (40 percent)
7:30 pm Thursday, Aug. 28; Yager Stadium, Miami, OH (24,386)
LAST YEAR: Vandy: 5-7 (2-6); Miami: 6-7 (5-2)
LAST MEETING: Vandy won @ home 24-13 last year
PRESEASON RANK: Vandy—anywhere from 55-78; Miami—anywhere from 70-92
EARLY LINE: Miami (OH) by three
VANDY OFFENSE: F; VANDY DEFENSE: B
MIAMI OFFENSE: F; MIAMI DEFENSE: C
This should be a competitive game. There's very similar team makeup here—both offenses don’t look to be any better after last year’s were simply anemic. Both teams' playmakers are on the defensive side of ball. The game ought to be a defensive battle with Vanderbilt’s defense the player of the day.
What it would take for Miami to win: Pedestrian play from its offense. Home field backing.
Kentucky @ Louisville (40 percent)
3:30 pm Sunday, Aug. 31; Papa John's Stadium (The Oven), Louisville, KY (42,000)
LAST YEAR: Kentucky: 8-5 (3-5); Louisville: 6-6 (3-4)
LAST MEETING: Kentucky won @ home 40-34 last year
PRESEASON RANK: Kentucky—anywhere from 52-66; Louisville—anywhere from 46-64
EARLY LINE: Louisville by four
KENTUCKY OFFENSE: D; KENTUCKY DEFENSE: C
LOUISVILLE OFFENSE: C; LOUISVILLE DEFENSE: D
Louisville tries to bounce back after last season's struggles, and Kentucky is trying not to take a step back this year. If played on a neutral field, it’s pretty much a pick’em game. I’ll cowardly take Louisville with the home field advantage, and I’ll take a slice of sausage and mushroom.
What it would take for Kentucky to win: Their defense to play like it can as long as their quarterback (whoever it’ll be) doesn’t stink up the joint completely.
Tennessee @ UCLA (70 percent)
8:00 pm Monday, Sep. 1; Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA (91,136)
LAST YEAR: Tennessee: 10-4 (6-2); UCLA: 6-6 (5-4)
LAST MEETING: Tennessee won @ UCLA 30-24 in 1997
PRESEASON RANK: Tennessee—18th, UCLA—anywhere from 37-54
EARLY LINE: Tennessee by seven
TENN OFFENSE: B; TENN DEFENSE: B
UCLA OFFENSE: D; UCLA DEFENSE: B
UCLA’s quarterback situation is dire. Last season’s offense was not that great to begin with, so their defense is going to have to give Tennessee’s new system all it can handle.
If the Vols can adapt to their new offensive attack, the rest of their team looks solid. The only reason not to pick Tennessee in this game is their cross-country trip to foreign land. I don’t think that will make a bit of difference.
What it would take for UCLA to win: An offense that looks nothing like last year’s or this past spring’s.
Memphis @ Mississippi (70 percent)
7:00 pm Saturday, Aug. 30; Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Oxford, MS (60,850)
LAST YEAR: Memphis: 7-6 (6-2); Ole Miss: 3-9 (0-8)
LAST MEETING: Ole Miss won @ Memphis 23-21 last year
PRESEASON RANK: Memphis—anywhere from 62-94; Mississippi—anywhere from 53-75
EARLY LINE: Ole Miss by eight
MEMPHIS OFFENSE: C; MEMPHIS DEFENSE: D
OLE MISS OFFENSE: C; OLE MISS DEFENSE: C
In what may be an underrated rivalry, Memphis and Mississippi open the year against each other in Oxford. Mississippi looks to improve under the leadership of incoming transfer Jevan Snead. The players around him have the talent and now the coach in Houston Nutt. Memphis’ defense will be their undoing.
Ole Miss, 33-24
What it would take for Memphis to win: A great day running the football to keep their defense off the field.
Mississippi St. @ Louisiana Tech (75 percent)
6:45 pm Saturday, Aug. 30; Joe Aillet Stadium, Ruston, LA (30,600)
LAST YEAR: Miss St.: 8-5 (4-4); La Tech: 5-7 (4-4)
LAST MEETING: La Tech won @ Miss St. 38-23 in 1996
PRESEASON RANK: Miss St.—anywhere from 29-48; La Tech—anywhere from 87-99
EARLY LINE: Miss St. by nine
MISS ST OFFENSE: D; MISS ST DEFENSE: B
LA TECH OFFENSE: F; LA TECH DEFENSE: D
Mississippi St. makes a scary trip to Ruston to play a Louisiana Tech team they should beat. It’s not what you would call a "gimme" game. The Mississippi St. offense doesn’t look to be any better than the last few years, but their defense remains strong.
The lesser of the Bulldogs, Louisiana Tech, will be entering the game with a new quarterback. That might be a good thing because they were absolutely awful on offense last year. This will be another low scoring game, and those usually go to Mississippi St.
Miss St., 26-14
What it would take for La. Tech. to win: The new quarterback (Michael Mosley) surprises and looks great. This marks the first time Louisiana Tech will be hosting an SEC team, and their crowd will have to provide a big advantage as well.
NC State @ South Carolina (80 percent)
8:00 pm Thursday, Aug. 28; Williams-Brice Stadium (The Cockpit), Columbia, SC (80,250)
LAST YEAR: NC State: 5-7 (3-5); S. Carolina: 6-6 (3-5)
LAST MEETING: NC State won @ home 10-0 in 1999
PRESEASON RANK: NC State—anywhere from 52-68; S. Car—anywhere from 27-47
EARLY LINE: S. Carolina by 12
NC STATE OFFENSE: D; NC STATE DEFENSE: C
S. CAR OFFENSE: C; S. CAR DEFENSE: B
South Carolina, with its better defense and home field advantage, should come away from this game with a win. Both teams' offenses could turn out OK by the end of the year, but right now they look questionable, so I see this game being pretty low scoring.
S. Carolina, 24-13
What it would take for NC State to win: S. Carolina quarterback play continues to be a liability, and NC State’s advantageous defense keeps the crowd out of the game.
Appalachian St. @ LSU (85 percent)
5:00 pm Saturday, Aug. 30; Tiger Stadium (Death Valley), Baton Rouge, LA (92,400)
LAST YEAR: Appy St.: 13-2 (5-2); LSU: 12-2 (6-2)
LAST MEETING: LSU won @ home 24-0 in 2005
PRESEASON RANK: Appy St.—N/A; LSU—6th
EARLY LINE: LSU by 23
ASU OFFENSE: B; ASU DEFENSE: D
LSU OFFENSE: B; LSU DEFENSE: B
This meeting marks the first time the defending FBS and defending FCS national champions meet. While I do not see Appalachian St. duplicating their upset of Michigan against the Tigers, I do see Appy hanging tough and making it closer than people think because of LSU‘s inexperience in a few places. Appalachian St.’s offense will put some points up, but it will not be enough.
What it would take for Appy St. to win: The Mountaineers’ confidence needs to remain strong and keep them in the game early. Appalachian’s skill players must exploit the inexperience in LSU's defense.
Louisiana-Monroe @ Auburn (90 percent)
7:00 pm Saturday, Aug. 30; Jordan-Hare Stadium (Grand Canyon), Auburn, AL (87,451)
LAST YEAR: La. Monroe: 6-6 (4-3); Auburn: 9-4 (5-3)
LAST MEETING: Auburn won @ home 31-0 in 2004
PRESEASON RANK: La. Monroe—anywhere from 82-114; Auburn—11th
EARLY LINE: Auburn by 27
LA MON. OFFENSE: D; LA MON. DEFENSE: C
AUBURN OFFENSE: C; AUBURN DEFENSE: A
Hoping to ride the momentum from last year’s end of the year success (and the win at Alabama), Louisiana Monroe comes into this game with a senior quarterback and some confidence. Auburn will make sure they return home 0-1. There's too much defense for the Tigers. Their offense hopes to open strong with the new spread attack they installed. Auburn will be just fine.
What it would take for La. Monroe to win: Accidentally drive to Tuscaloosa instead of Auburn?
Hawaii @ Florida (95 percent)
12:30 pm Saturday, Aug. 30; Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (The Swamp), Gainesville, FL (88,548)
LAST YEAR: Hawaii: 12-1 (8-0); Florida: 9-4 (5-3)
LAST MEETING: Never Met
PRESEASON RANK: Hawaii—anywhere from 43-81; Florida—5th
EARLY LINE: Florida by 34
HAWAII OFFENSE: C; HAWAII DEFENSE: C
FLORIDA OFFENSE: A; FLORIDA DEFENSE: B
Don‘t expect the Warriors to keep it close. Hawaii is completely rebuilding its offense, so a shaky but talented Gators defense will not be tested just yet. Certainly not great, Hawaii’s defense might be undervalued, but it will not be able to slow down Florida‘s world-class offense. Look for Florida to dominate early and often.
What it would take for Hawaii to win: Make a stop in Dallas on its extended trip from Honolulu to Florida and outfit the entire Cowboys team in green and black and hope nobody in Gainesville recognizes them.
Western Illinois @ Arkansas (95 percent)
7:00 pm Saturday, Aug. 30; Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville, AR (76,000)
LAST YEAR: W. Illinois: 6-5 (3-3); Arkansas: 8-5 (4-4)
LAST MEETING: Never Met
PRESEASON RANK: W. Illinois—N/A; Arkansas—anywhere from 48-61
EARLY LINE: No Line
W. ILLINOIS OFFENSE: F; W. ILLINOIS DEFENSE: F
ARKANSAS OFFENSE: C; ARKANSAS DEFENSE: D
Arkansas opens against FCS weakling Western Illinois. The Razorbacks look to replace only the best backfield they’ve ever had. Casey Dicks looks to...ah, who am I kidding—it’s Western Illinois. ‘Backs big.
What it would take for W. Illinois to win: 13 against 11.
Georgia Southern @ Georgia (95 percent)
12:30 pm Saturday, Aug. 30; Sanford Stadium (Between the Hedges), Athens, GA (92,746)
LAST YEAR: Ga. Southern: 7-4 (4-3); Georgia: 11-2 (6-2)
LAST MEETING: Georgia won @ home 48-28 in 2004
PRESEASON RANK: Ga. Southern—N/A; Georgia—1st
EARLY LINE: No Line
GA STHN OFFENSE: D; GA STHN DEFENSE: F
GEORGIA OFFENSE: B; GEORGIA DEFENSE: A
While I’m not completely convinced the Georgia offense will be a juggernaut this year, against Georgia Southern the unit should look the part. In years past, Georgia Sothern’s offense may have been able to put up some points. However, they lost a lot on offense, and Georgia’s defense should be menacing this year. Southern’s bus driver may want to warm the bus up in the second quarter—this one’s going to be dawg ugly.
What it would take for Ga South. to win: After scoring their first points of the day, a field goal to cut the lead to 21-3, Georgia Southern’s coach orders his whole team to run out onto the field and celebrate. The Bulldogs are left in utter shock, lose focus, and eventually the game, 31-28.
SEC RECORD THROUGH FIRST WEEK: 10-2