SEC Football 2011: Week 1 Preview and Predictions Against the Spread
The 2011 season is upon us (finally).
Soon the players will be rushing out of the tunnel to take the field for week one of the college football season!
With huge national games like LSU versus Oregon and Georgia versus Boise State on the slate, and Kentucky and Mississippi State kicking off their seasons on Thursday night, this should be a fun weekend of SEC football!
All season I will post my preview and predictions against the spread on Wednesday, for each SEC game. I will also be held accountable for my picks by posting updating results each and every week (like the example below):
Record Straight Up Week One: 0-0
Record Straight-Up Season: 0-0
Record Against-the-Spread Week One: 0-0
Record Against-the-Spread Season: 0-0
I look forward to an epic season of Southeastern Conference football games!
Click through to see my preview and prediction for each of the SEC games in week one of this 2011 season..
Mississippi State at Memphis
Rick Dole/Getty Images
Game Info: 9/01/11 8:00 PM EST (ESPN)
Key player for Mississippi State: QB Chris Relf (Reports are that Relf has been confident and accurate in off-season practices and is ready for a big Senior season. If so, he needs to start hot against one of the nation's worst pass defenses.)
Key Player for Memphis: WR Marcus Rucker (Even in a bad offense last season, Rucker grabbed 42 catches for 704 yards and eight touchdowns. He will need a huge day to keep the Tigers in this football game.)
Predicted MVP: Mississippi State RB Vick Ballard (Ballard scored 19 rushing touchdowns last season and should muscle his way into the end zone more than once this Saturday.)
Bottom Line: The Bulldogs are 29 point favorites for a reason. Memphis was very bad last season and should be poor again in 2011. State will run the ball at will on the Tigers, and hit on a few big pass plays, and leave with a lopsided road win to start the season.
Predicted Score: Mississippi State 41 Memphis 13 (line: MSU -29)
Western Kentucky at Kentucky
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Game Info: 9/01/11 9:15 PM EST (ESPN2)
Key player for Kentucky: QB Morgan Newton (Coaches are continuing to work to sharpen the passing game and need the new starting quarterback, Newton, to shine against a defense that hasn't been effective against the pass in recent seasons.)
Key Player for Western Kentucky: RB Bobby Rainey (One of the best running backs in the country, finishing 3rd in the nation in rushing yards last season, Rainey will need to have another big game for the Hilltoppers to have a shot at upsetting the Wildcats.)
Predicted MVP: LB Danny Trevathan (Look for double digit tackles from one of the top defensive players in the SEC. He will hawk Rainey and make big stops when Kentucky needs them.)
Bottom Line: This game could be closer than Kentucky fans like. However, even with losing several key stars from last years team, the Wildcats still clearly have more depth and overall talent, and should pull away late. Look for Rainey and the scrappy Western Kentucky offense to hang around in the first two or three quarters and then for Kentucky to pull away late.
Predicted Score: Kentucky 34 Western Kentucky 16 (line: Kentucky -19.5)
Kent State at Alabama
Brian A. Westerholt/Getty Images
Game Info: 12:20 PM EST (ESPN3)
Key player for Alabama: RB Trent Richardson (Richardson averaged over six yards per carry last season and should tear through the Kent State defenders for big yards this Saturday. Alabama will most likely rely on him early as new starting QB A.J. McCarron gets acclimated.)
Key Player for Kent State: DE Roosevelt Nix (The returning starter racked up 10 sacks in 2010 and will need to put pressure on the Alabama backfield, as much as possible, for the Golden Flashes to have any chance of keeping this game close at all.)
Predicted MVP: Alabama LB Courtney Upshaw (Look for Upshaw, who had a team leading 7 sacks a year ago, to rack up key tackles, be disruptive to the Golden Flashes offense all game long, and pick up a turnover along the way.)
Bottom Line: Alabama has a strong defense and a strong running game. Kent State does not. If the Tide avoids turning the ball over in the passing game, this one could get ugly quick. Look for a rout in Tuscaloosa.
Predicted Score: Alabama 45 Kent State 6 (line: Alabama -38)
Utah State Aggies at Auburn Tigers
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Game Info: 9/03/11 Noon EST (ESPN2)
Key player for Auburn: RB Michael Dyer (Dyer ran for 1,093 yards last season as a Freshman and will look to start his sophomore season off with a big day against a suspect Aggie run defense. The Tiger coaching staff could pound at Utah State early in the game with the big and athletic running back.)
Key Player for Utah State: QB Jeremy Higgins (Auburn showed a tendency to give up chunks of passing yards last season. With some new faces in the Tiger secondary in 2011, look for Higgins, a first year starter, to try and connect with Aggie WR Dontel Watkins, who had 42 receptions last season, early and often. They will need some big plays to keep things close.)
Predicted MVP: Auburn RB Onterio McCalleb (After gaining a lead early, look for the Tigers to lean on McCalleb, a co-starter, later in the game. With his speed and ability, and a tiring Utah State defense, look for big yards from the junior back.)
Bottom Line: Utah State is a bit of a tougher opening game than it sounds. They do not have the talent of an Auburn, but they play hard under third year coach Gary Andersen and have put a scare into early-season opponents in recent years (lost just 38-30 at Oklahoma last season and lost just 31-24 at Texas A&M in 2009). I expect Auburn to come out, score early, and take a big early lead, with a mix of Dyer and short passes from new quarterback Barrett Trotter. However, as Auburn coaches look to play as many young players as they can, to gain them experience, look for a bit of sloppy play from both sides in the second half. In the end, the home Tigers win this one comfortably.
Predicted Score: Auburn 44 Utah State 20 (line: Auburn -22)
BYU. at Ole Miss
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Game Info: 9/3/11 4:45 PM EST (ESPN)
Key player for Ole Miss: RB Brandon Bolden (Last season Bolden piled up over 1,300 total yards of offense and scored 17 touchdowns. The Rebels need him to have a big game, and break off big plays this Saturday, if they are going to beat the Cougars)
Key Player for BYU: QB Jake Heaps (The Cougar quarterback will need to play like he did at the end of last season, 13 touchdown passes and two interceptions in five games, as opposed to how he played over the first eight games of 2010, two touchdowns and seven interceptions, if his Cougars want to beat Ole Miss.)
Predicted MVP: Ole Miss RB Brandon Bolden (The versatile back should be able to create big plays against a good, not great, BYU defense.)
Bottom Line: BYU will be much better in 2011 than they were in 2010. They return 10 starters to what could turn out to be a dangerous offense. However, playing on the road against an Ole Miss team that looks to be improved in 2011 as well, is a tall task for the Cougars. It should be a back and forth game with turnovers deciding the outcome.
Predicted Score: Ole Miss 24 BYU 23 (line: BYU -3)
Florida Atlantic at Florida
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Game Info: 9/3/11 7:00 PM EST (ESPNU)
Key player for Florida: QB John Brantley (After a very disappointing 2010, coaches hope quarterback John Brantley can start the season off strong against a suspect Owls defense. His play will be watched closely by everyone.)
Key Player for Florida Atlantic: FS Marcus Bartels (With over 200 tackles over the last two seasons, Bartels is a ball hawk and at only 5'9 172 he is a quick and active free safety. He will need to help with rush defense and create turnovers in the secondary if FAU has any hope of keeping this game close.)
Predicted MVP: RB Chris Rainey (Rainey is healthy and ready for a big season. He averaged over 7 yards a carry in his runs last season, look for a higher average than that versus the Owls.)
Bottom Line: Florida is excited to start the season with a new coaching staff and leaving behind a disappointing 2010. They should come out hyped up and steamroll the rebuilding Owls. This one will be a blow out.
Predicted Score: Florida 47 FAU 6 (line: Florida -35)
South Carolina vs East Carolina
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Game Info: 9/3/11 7:00 PM EST (ESPN3) at Charlotte
Key player for South Carolina: WR Alshon Jeffery (One of the very best wide receivers in college football, Jeffery is bigger and taller than the Pirate defensive backs and should be used all night to create mismatches on pass plays.)
Key Player for East Carolina: QB Dominique Davis (Davis is one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in college football. He can pass and run and accounted for 47 touchdowns last season. If he can create some big plays early for ECU, the Pirates stand a chance to make a bid for an upset.)
Predicted MVP: South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore (Passes to Jeffery will open up the run and the best running back in the SEC will run for a significant amount of yards and points.)
Bottom Line: This is where we will find out if South Carolina players are focused and ready for a championship run. They can not afford to over look East Carolina and look ahead to Georgia next weekend. I look for the Gamecocks to be ready to play, and while there will be a few scores by the Pirates, the offensive weapons for Carolina are way too much for East Carolina to handle.
Predicted Score: South Carolina 38 East Carolina 17 (line: South Carolina -20.5)
LSU vs Oregon
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Game Info: 9/3/11 8:00 PM EST (ABC) at Dallas
Key player for LSU: RB Spencer Ware (With injuries along the offensive line and the suspension of quarterback Jordan Jefferson and wideout Russell Sheppard, the Tigers will need Ware to have a big day running the football to have a shot at victory. Oregon has has to rebuild almost their entire defensive front seven, so Ware will have his opportunity.)
Key Player for Oregon: RB LaMichael James (Many people have listed James as a Heisman candidate. If he wants to win it, this is the game, against a tough SEC defense, that he must shine. If he has a huge game, LSU may be in trouble.)
Predicted MVP: LSU CB Morris Claiborne (The Ducks' leading receiver from 2010 is gone and the Oregon passing attack could struggle. Claiborne will be one of the biggest reasons why.)
Bottom Line: If the Ducks' passing game is limited, look for the Tiger defense to load the box and slow down James and elusive Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas. However, look for the LSU offense to struggle as well. This will turn into a low-scoring nail biter, with the Tigers making just one more defensive play than the Ducks. Even with all of the drama off the field Les Miles and LSU come out victorious.
Predicted Score: LSU 24 Oregon 21 (line: Oregon -3)
Georgia vs Boise State
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Game Info: 9/3/11 8:00 PM EST (ESPN)
Key player for Georgia: RB Isaiah Crowell (The highly touted freshman running back will be counted on to carry the load after attrition at the running back position saw Georgia lose two returning backs this off-season. Crowell has to be ready for a solid Broncos defense and find a way to churn out yards.)
Key Player for Boise State: RB Doug Martin (Boise quarterback Kellen Moore is a big talent and will likely get his yards through the air. The key will be if Martin can run against the Bulldog defense.)
Predicted MVP: Boise State QB Kellen Moore (Look for Moore to make the throws when it counts and avoid turning over the football late in the game, en route to a big victory for the BSU program.)
Bottom Line: Both offenses have the ability to move the football and both defenses are capable of making big plays. It is one of the bigger games of the entire college football season and should be very close. It comes down to which offense will make the mental mistakes that cost them the game. The Bulldog heavy crowd will help Georgia, but I am going with Seniors Kellen Moore and Doug Martin at Boise over Sophomore Aaron Murray and Freshman Isaiah Crowell for UGA, just barely.
Predicted Score: Boise State 28 Georgia 27 (line: Boise State -3.5)
Cream Puff Games
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
I make it a practice to not analyze SEC versus FCS (Div. 1-AA) games.
However, I will always give a snapshot and score prediction:
Montana at Tennessee (9/03/11 at 6:00 PM EST) Vols 51 Montana 10
Missouri State at Arkansas (9/03/11 at 7:00 PM EST) Razorbacks 59 Missouri State 14
Elon at Vanderbilt (9/03/11 at 7:30 PM EST) Commodores 38 Elon 10