SEC Football Predictions: Week 2 Preview, Picks Against the Spread

Jeremy Hillman@@SECpigskinContributor ISeptember 8, 2011

SEC Football Predictions: Week 2 Preview, Picks Against the Spread

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    Week 1 of the season came and went and now it is time for us to look at Week 2 of the SEC football season.

    There are huge games on tap for this Saturday (which also happens to be my birthday, for all of you who want to send lavish gifts), that could decide the wide-open SEC East and begin to create the pecking order in the wild West division.

    Each week I will preview each SEC game and make a prediction against the spread.

    I will also be held accountable for my picks by posting updated results each and every week (my Week 1 picks included below):

    Record Straight-Up Week 1: 11-1

    Record Straight-Up Season: 11-1

    Record Against the Spread Week One: 9-3

    Record Against the Spread Season: 9-3

    That is a good start to the season. Now let me get out my crystal ball and see what is on tap for Week 2.

    Click through the slideshow to see my picks to win each matchup.

Central Michigan at Kentucky

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    Game Info: Sept. 10, 12 p.m. EDT (ESPNU)

    Key player for Kentucky: QB Morgan Newton. The Wildcat QB struggled in the opener. He managed to complete just seven of his 18 passing attempts. While that kind of execution was good enough to beat Western Kentucky, it needs to improve greatly for Kentucky to continue to pull out wins as the season progresses.

    Key Player for Central Michigan: QB Ryan Radcliff. It wasn't beautiful for Radcliff last week, as he threw for just 168 yards and lobbed two interceptions against lowly South Carolina State. He will need to be much sharper to have a chance against a solid Kentucky defense.

    Predicted MVP: Kentucky safety Winston Guy. The Chippewas had issues in the passing game a week ago and now face a ball-hawking Kentucky defense. Guy had two interceptions last week and could have two more in Week 2.

    Bottom Line: This will be a battle of two quarterbacks looking to find their way as starters. Neither will look great this weekend, but expect a little improvement from both now that first-game rust and jitters are out of the way. However, the real story is defense. Kentucky's defense, led by Guy and star linebacker Danny Trevathan, will shut down Central Michigan's offense for most of the day. The Chippewas will run the football here and there but will not score enough to keep pace with the SEC home team.

    Predicted Score: Kentucky 24, Central Michigan 14 (line: UK -11)

Mississippi State at Auburn

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    Game Info: Sept. 10, 12:21 p.m. EDT (SEC Network/ESPN3)

    Key player for Mississippi State: RB Vick Ballard. The Bulldog running back ran for 166 yards on just 10 carries last week against Memphis and is looking for a big day against an Auburn rush defense that looked porous against Utah State. If he can have a big day, it will be tough for Auburn to win this one.

    Key Player for Auburn: RB Michael Dyer. Dyer, who had just 14 carries last week versus Utah State, still ended the game with 57 yards, two touchdowns and a healthy 4.1 yards per carry. He will need to try and match Ballard's rush totals as much as he can for the Tigers to beat the Bulldogs.

    Predicted MVP: Mississippi State RB Vick Ballard. Look for more than 120 yards and at least two touchdowns from the big back as he will pound the young Auburn defense early and often.

    Bottom Line: Look for a ton of running plays from both teams in this big-time SEC West matchup.  Lost in the lopsided Mississippi State win last week was the fact that it gave up 164 rushing yards to outmatched Memphis.

    The talented Auburn backs will be able to run on the Bulldogs defense. Then look for Barrett Trotter and the Gus Malzahn offense to be able to open up the pass and put points on the board. It will be a very close game with a loud Auburn home crowd providing motivation for the youthful Tigers squad. However, in the end, the Bulldogs will run the ball effectively, QB Chris Relf will create big plays with screens and short passes, and Mississippi State will earn an important SEC road victory. 

    Predicted Score: Mississippi State 35, Auburn 34 (line: MSU -6.5)

Alabama at Penn State

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    Game Info: Sept. 10, 3:30 p.m. EDT (ABC)

    Key player for Alabama: QB A.J. McCarron. On the road against a quality team, McCarron must avoid the turnovers that plagued the Tide last weekend. Alabama ended up with five turnovers in the win over overmatched Kent State. That can't happen versus Penn State.

    Key Player for Penn State: WR Derek Moye. The star Penn State receiver is 6'5", 210 pounds and difficult for corners to cover. He will need to have a big game and create big plays by out-jumping smaller defenders for some long balls for the Nittany Lions to have any chance in this game.

    Predicted MVP: Alabama RB Trent Richardson. The Alabama running back found the end zone three times last week and will get the ball early and often versus Penn State. Look for another multiple-touchdown game from the talented back.

    Bottom Line: Penn State is a good football team and the home crowd will be loud. However, the running game and defense of the Crimson Tide will be too much for the Lions to handle. Look for Penn State to keep it close early and try to rattle the Tide quarterbacks with pressure, but then Trent Richardson and the running game will take over and the defense will hold the Penn State offense at bay. Alabama will pull away for a comfortable victory.

    Predicted Score: Alabama 31, Penn State 17 (line: Alabama -10)

Cincinnatti at Tennessee

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    Game Info: Sept. 10, 3:30 p.m. EDT (ESPN2)

    Key player for Cincinnati: RB Isaiah Pead. The dynamic Bearcat running back had 56 yards and two touchdowns on just seven carries against lower-division Austin Peay last weekend. He will need to ground out tough yards against an SEC defense for Cincinnati to have a shot at victory on Saturday.

    Key Player for Tennessee: DB Art Evans. Tennessee gave up 237 passing yards to lower-division Montana last weekend. The bright spot in the secondary was Art Evans, who took an interception to the end zone in the third quarter. With the strong passing game of Cincinnati coming in to Knoxville, Evans will need another big-play performance.

    Predicted MVP: Tennessee QB Tyler Bray. Bray had 293 passing yards and three touchdowns in the win over Montana last week and continues to improve his game. Look for Bray to also eclipse the 275-yards passing mark against the Bearcats.

    Bottom Line: Both of these teams have solid quarterbacks, both teams have good running backs and both teams have talented receivers. However, both teams also have some holes in their respective defenses. Look for a high scoring game and for the loud orange home crowd—and a slight edge in big plays on offense—to give Tennessee a close win at home.

    Predicted Score: Tennessee 38, Cincinnati 34 (line: UT -6)

South Carolina at Georgia

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    Game Info: Sept. 10, 4:30 p.m. EDT (ESPN)

    Key player for Georgia: RB Isaiah Crowell. In his debut for Georgia last week, Crowell ran for just 60 yards on 15 carries. A decent start for a true freshman, but he will need a much bigger day for Georgia to beat Carolina.

    Key Player for South Carolina: QB Stephen Garcia. The senior quarterback came in last week to replace starter Conner Shaw and rallied the Gamecocks to a big come-from-behind win over East Carolina. Garcia will need that same effort and leadership to win on the road in a tough SEC atmosphere.

    Predicted MVP: South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore. While Garcia connects with star receiver Alshon Jeffery for a few big plays, the Gamecocks will steadily hand off the ball to workhorse running back Lattimore. Look for another steady 100-plus yard day from the sophomore back.

    Bottom Line: Georgia has enough talent to compete with South Carolina, especially with quarterback Aaron Murray leading the offense. However, it will be difficult for a Bulldog defense that struggled against Boise State last week to slow down the dynamic Carolina offense. Look for a good game in the first half, with South Carolina pulling away late.

    Predicted Score: South Carolina 33, Georgia 24  (line: USC -3)

New Mexico at Arkansas

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    Game Info: Sept. 10, 7 p.m. EDT (ESPNU)

    Key player for New Mexico: QB Taureen Austin. New Mexico's sophomore quarterback played decent in a loss to Colorado State last week, throwing for 179 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. However, to stay on the field with the Razorbacks, he will need to improve those totals and continue to avoid turning over the ball.

    Key Player for Arkansas: RB Ronnie Wingo, Jr. Last week Wingo only rushed for 43 yards on 11 carries against lowly Missouri State. New Mexico will have a better defense, so Wingo and the Arkansas running game will want to pick things up and begin developing a run game before SEC play begins.

    Predicted MVP: Arkansas WR Jarius Wright. While the running game is worked on, Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson will still be slinging balls down the field to his corps of dominant receivers. Look for Wright, who hauled in 108 receiving yards and two touchdowns last week, to have another huge game.

    Bottom Line: The Arkansas schedule works out really well for the Razorbacks, as they play a tougher opponent each week leading up to the SEC opener against Alabama in Week 4 (Missouri State last week, New Mexico this week and Troy in Week 3). They will use this time to develop a running game, after losing starter Knile Davis to injury just before the season, and build depth with young players. This game won't be close and Arkansas will move to 2-0 with two cakewalk victories.

    Predicted Score: Arkansas 45, New Mexico 10 (line: Arkansas -36)

UAB at Florida

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    Game Info: Sept. 10, 7 p.m. EDT (ESPN)

    Key player for UAB: S Jamie Bender. In a game where UAB will be looking to stop big plays from the Florida running game and the short open-field pass—Charlie Weiss staples—Bender, who has star potential, will need to be sharp and come up to stop the run and get to the ball on screens.

    Key Player for Florida: QB John Brantley. After a nice start to the season last weekend, where Brantley threw for 229 yards and a touchdown, he will need to continue his progression and lead the offense on first-quarter scoring drives to put this game away early.

    Predicted MVP: Florida RB Jeff Demps. Demps ran for 105 yards and two touchdowns last week and is ready for more in Week 2. Look for another 100-yard, multiple-touchdown performance from the explosive back.

    Bottom Line: This is UAB's first game of the season. On the road, at Florida, after a 4-8 2010 season, the Blazers just hope to keep it close and build for the future. Look for tons of yards from the Gator offense and turnovers by UAB. It won't get too ugly because the Blazers do have capable athletes, but it will be over by the second quarter.

    Predicted Score: Florida 42, UAB 13 (line: UF -23)

Connecticut at Vanderbilt

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    Game Info: Sept. 10, 7:30 p.m. EDT

    Key player for Vanderbilt: QB Larry Smith. Last week against light competition, Smith had a great game, throwing for two touchdowns and running for another. He will need another effective performance to put the Commodores in position to win.

    Key Player for Connecticut: RB Lyle McCombs. The athletic running back racked up 141 rushing yards and four touchdowns in a season-opening win over Fordham. If he gets rolling it may be hard for Vanderbilt to contain him.

    Predicted MVP: Connecticut RB Lyle McCombs. The Huskies will feed him the ball consistently on Saturday and hope to wear down the Commodore defense. Look for multiple big runs from the Connecticut back.

    Bottom Line: These two program are both rebuilding and need this victory. Vanderbilt will put points on the board and play capable defense in the game, but Connecticut has the better run game and run defense and will pull out a victory on the road.

    Predicted Score: Connecticut 28, Vanderbilt 24 (line: Vanderbilt -2)

Cream Puff Games

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    Each week there are teams that play lower-division opponents (teams from the FCS). Because I do not like this practice in college football (although most all teams do it), I chose to simply list my score prediction and not fully analyze the game.

    There are two cream puff games in Week 2:

    LSU 52, Northwestern State 3 (Sept. 10, 8 p.m. EDT)

    Ole Miss 41, Southern Illinois 7 (Sept. 10,  6 p.m. EDT)


    It should be another fun day of SEC football this Saturday as Week 2 of the college football season unfolds.

    Which teams will move to 2-0 and which teams will fall to 1-1—or even the dreaded 0-2? The race for the 2011 SEC championship continues.

    How will my picks hold up this week after a strong start in Week 1? Stay tuned!