Wednesday, September 2, 2009

2009 SEC Football Picks: Week 1

There are no words to describe how good it felt to just type that post title. While the blog may have changed, the process has not. Each Wednesday, I'll still list every SEC game including Wednesday's betting lines, kick-off times, where you can watch it, which SIRIUS/XM station you can catch it on, and predictions both straight up and against the spread. This year, when relevant, I’m also linking to Phil Steele’s website where he has statistics from the last 12 years in the series. A little extra attention will be paid to the Rebel games - in most cases at least. I'm not breaking down the NAU offense for you.

It's finally here. SEC football officially starts tomorrow. Let that sink in for a minute... now on to the picks.

Thursday. September 3rd

South Carolina (0-0) at NC State (0-0)
6:00pm CDT, ESPN, Sirius 218
All-time series: Tied 26-26-4
Last 12 Years Results
Wednesday's Line: NCST -4.5

SEC Football kicks off tomorrow night when the South Carolina Gamecocks head across state lines to tangle with the NC State Wolfpack. After three listless blowouts to close out the 2008 season, USC will try to get something going against a veteran NCST team looking to improve on last year's 6-7 record. The Gamecocks have won 9 straight season openers.

South Carolina returns just 5 starters from a mediocre offense in 2008 and is breaking in a new place kicker. The reins have officially been handed to Stephen Garcia, who is apparently not that far off from Tim Tebow. The RBs on the Gamecock roster have 84 total carries between them. They'll match up against an NC State defense returning 7 of its top 10 tacklers from last year, including 4 senior starters on the DL and a trio of talented, experienced LBs. The secondary has some questions, but no more than the Gamecock passing game does.

While the Wolfpack improved throughout the season, sporting a late 4-game win streak, the Gamecocks regressed. South Carolina embarrassed NCST 34-0 to open last season. While the score won't be as lopsided as that, NC State will kick off the 2009 campaign with a win over the Gamecocks. Unfortunately, this will set the ACC fans who think a conference full of mediocre teams parity makes the ACC stronger than the SEC into a frenzy.

Straight Up Winner: NC State
Against the Spread: NC State

Saturday, September 5

Kentucky (0-0) vs Miami (OH) (0-0) (at Cincinnati)
11:00am, ESPNU, XM199, Sirius 214
All-time series: 6-4-1
Wednesday’s Line: Kentucky -15

This game pits a stagnant Wildcat offense against a pitiful Redhawk defense. The Wildcats churned out less than 300 ypg in 2008, while the Redhawks were gouged for nearly 400 ypg. The UK attack should be bolstered by more experienced QB play and the return of speedy RB Derrick Locke from injury. It never hurts to have a guy like CB Travard Lindley patrolling your defensive secondary either. With the unfortunate situation surrounding Jeremy Jarmon, Lindley and MLB Micah Johnson will lead a stout UK defense against a Redhawks team that relies on the pass.

Some interesting notes about UK from UK enters the 2009 season with a streak of 14 consecutive non-conference wins which is the nation’s second-longest active streak behind LSU. It is the longest for UK since a 17-game non-conference win stretch from 1954-60. That streak gets extended with a sloppy victory Saturday, though I’ll need to see this offense in action before I give up two TDs against anyone.

Straight Up Winner: Kentucky
Against the Spread: Miami (OH)

Jackson State (0-0) at Mississippi State (0-0)
2:30pm CDT, ESPNU, Sirius215
All-time series: First Meeting
Wednesday's Line: No Line

The Dan Mullen Era kicks off this weekend with the Bulldogs taking on the Jackson State Tigers. There's certainly some historical significance to this game as it’s the first meeting between the SEC and the SWAC. There's no way a first year coach in the SEC would lose to an FCS oppone... oh... right. If this was the Jackson State teams from the 90s when they won the SWAC year in and year out, this would be more interesting. Really, the only question Saturday is how many times Mullen can bring up Ole Miss in his post-game press conference.

Straight Up Winner: Mississippi State
Against the Spread: N/A

(#13, #13)Georgia (0-0) at (#9, #11)Oklahoma State
2:30pm CDT, ABC, XM201, Sirius212
All-time series: Georgia leads 3-0
Wednesday’s Line: Oklahoma State -5.5

In the days leading up this, possibly the biggest opening day in Stillwater history, the Cowboys continue to be plagued by off-the-field distractions. Mike Gundy can spin it how he wants, but this is going to hurt this Cowboy team. the Cowboys need only to look across the field Saturday afternoon to see a prime example... The 2008 UGA 'Dawgs were the preseason toast of the town but arrest piled on top of distraction on top of arrest. Georgia suffered some embarrassing losses last season in finishing 10-3, certainly not a bad season, but not what it could've been with a focused group of players.

Georgia has one of the top OLs in the country and its play will be pivotal in easing in new starting QB Joe Cox and new featured RB Richard Samuel. AJ Green is every bit as good – if not better – than OKSt WR Dez Bryant, but that promises to be an exciting duel of top-notch WRs against statistically porous secondaries.

A game of this magnitude, particularly this early in the season, comes down to the coaches. Mark Richt has thrived in game like this, particularly on the road. Under his direction, the Bulldogs are a ridiculous 30-4 in true road game and a sparkling 34-3 against non-conference opponents. They’ve won 10+ games in 6 of the last 7 seasons. Mike Gundy is most notable for his “I’m a man, I’m 40 tirade.” Gundy is a good coach and definitely has this program on the rise, but you can almost see the steam about to burst from his ears with the current shenanigans and distractions in Stillwater.

For Oklahoma State, this is being touted as the biggest season opening game in school history. For Georgia, it’s another in a long line of tough road trips into hostile environments. The pressure is sorely on the Cowboys here. The Bulldogs will be much looser and probably possess the psychological advantage knowing that these ’09 Cowboys are in a very similar situation to the ’08 Dawgs. All this points to a mild upset at T. Boone Pickens stadium.

Straight Up Winner: Georgia
Against the Spread: Georgia

Charleston Southern (0-0) at (#1, #1) Florida (0-0)
6:00pm CDT, FSN, XM199/Sirius215
All-time series: First Meeting
Wednesday’s line
: No Line (aka, Florida by eleventy billion)

Florida wins. By a whole lot. If you need a breakdown to know why, please go look for it somewhere else.

Straight Up Winner: Florida
Against the Spread: N/A

Missouri State (0-0) at Arkansas (0-0) (in Little Rock)
6:00 CDT, PPV, XM197, Sirius211
All-time series: Arkansas 5-0
Wednesday’s line: No Line

The Hogs will get their first chance to see how improved they are with Saturday’s tussle against the Missouri State Bears. The Hogs’ victory is not in question, it’s how sharp Uber-hyped QB Ryan Mallett will be against an experienced secondary and how sharp the Arkansas D will be against multi-talented QB Cody Kirby. The Hogs will roll to victory in this one, but should get a feel for where they are in a few key areas. This is their 33rd time to open a season in Little Rock (24-7-1 all-time).

Straight Up Winner: Arkansas
Against the Spread: N/A

Louisiana Tech (0-0) at Auburn (0-0)
6:00pm, ESPNU, Sirius216
All-time series: Auburn leads 10-0-1
Wednesday's line: Auburn -14.5

Louisiana Tech is coming off an 8-5 season that culminated with a win in the Independence Bowl. They opened the season at home against Mississippi State and sent the MSU bandwagon spiraling out out of control. The Bulldogs are lead by RB Daniel Porter who rushed for 1,164 yds last season. Meanwhile, Auburn is coming off a drama-filled disappointing season and is now led by a guy with a 5-19 career head coaching record.

I'm not sold on this Auburn team yet. I know that a lot of people - including college football guru Phil Steele - expect a vastly improved AU team but I'm not buying it yet. This LTU returns 16 starters, including 9 off a productive offense in 2008 and thrived in close games, sporting a nifty 5-2 record in games decided by 8 points or less. Auburn showed a knack for playing itself out of games. I believe the first noteworthy upset of the 2009 season happens in the Loveliest Village on the Plains.

Straight Up Winner: Louisiana Tech
Against the Spread: Louisiana Tech

Western Carolina (0-0) at Vanderbilt (0-0)

6:30pm CDT, CSS, XM198
All-time series
: First Meeting
Wednesday’s Line
: No Line

There’s a lot of excitement in the air in Nashville as the Commodores return 19 starters from last year’s team. The only issue is that they weren’t very good last year on either side of the ball, particularly on offense. Their punter was the MVP of the Music City Bowl. Give Vandy credit for taking advantage of opportunities when they presented themselves, but let’s not go crazy here.

That said, this veteran squad will have no issues dispatching WCU. The Catamounts weren’t particularly good last year – 3-9 in the FCS – and lost a couple of key guys off that team. This will give the Commodores a chance to work out some kinks in their offense and see how RB Jared Hawkins’ foot responds to live action play. Vanderbilt wins big and starts 1-0 for a 3rd straight season.

Straight Up Winner: Vanderbilt
Against the Spread: N/A

(#5, #5)Alabama (0-0) vs (#7, #7)Virginia Tech (0-0) (Atlanta)
7:00pm CDT, ABC, XM201, Sirius212
All-time series: Alabama leads 10-1
Wednesday's Line: Alabama -6.5

In the biggest game of opening weekend, 2 Top10 teams with strong defenses but offensive question marks will take to the field in what should be a hard-hitting, low-scoring game. To invoke the power of the sports cliche, whichever team makes the fewest mistakes will win this game.

This game took a turn for the worse for the Hokies when starting RB Darren Evans suffered a torn ACL. VTU had very high aspirations this season, returning 17 starters from last year's (10-4) team before Evans' injury. Now they'll be forced to rely on an unproven array of RBs against a Tide D returning 10 starters from last year's squad, which plays heavily in the favor of the Tide.

The Tide aren't without questions as well though. New starting QB Greg McElry appears to be in the mold of JPW: a steady QB who isn't asked to do too much... just don't lose the game. How he handles the pressure of the Hokie D - which returns 7 starters from last year's Top10 unit - and the hype will go a long way to determine how effectively the Tide moves the ball Saturday night. My guess is that Alabama uses their size and quickness to wear down the Hokie front of both sides of the ball, opening up opportunities for some big plays in the second half. It reamins to be seen whether McElroy can make the throws when need be, but having WR Julio Jones as his bailout option will be a nice plus.

Like the UGA/OkSt matchup, this game is all about the coaches, and VTU's Frank Beamer and UAT's Nick Saban are two of the best in the business. With the loss of Evans, the pressure will all be on Taylor to move the ball against what should be one of the toughest defenses in the country. While Taylor is a capable QB, he and the Hokies won't be able to sustain enough drives to score the points needed to win this game.

The Hokies are just 1-4 against Top-10 opponents the last 4 seasons. They'll drop to 1-5 with a close, frustrating loss to the Tide. Alabama dominated Clemson from the opening kick last season in the Dome. While the score won't be nearly as lopsided, the Tide open up 1-0 with a win over a highly-ranked ACC squad.

Straight Up Winner: Alabama
Against the Spread: Virginia Tech

(#11, #9)LSU (0-0) at WASHINGTON (0-0)
9:30pm CDT, ESPN, XM200, Sirius219
All-time series: LSU leads 1-0
Wednesday’s line: LSU -17.5

LSU travels to the Pacific Northwest to open the 2009 campaign. UDub was pitiful last year as the only FBS program to fail to register a single win. There is some talent on the roster though. Jake Locker is a nice QB with too little help and DE Daniel Te’o-Nesheim is tough to block one-on-one, but, like Locker has little help around him.

This is a perfect game for LSU to break in QB Jordan Jefferson as full-time starter. The big Tiger OL should give Jefferson and RB Charles Scott plenty of room to work, and a mediocre defense from 2008 will get a chance to strut its stuff under new DC John Chavis. This one will be over by half time.

Straight Up Winner: LSU
Against the spread: LSU

Sunday, September 6th

(#8, #10) Ole Miss (0-0) at Memphis (0-0)
2:30pm, ESPN
All-time series: Ole Miss leads
Last 12 Years Results
Wednesday's line: Ole Miss -16.5

Alright Rebel fans, it's time to strap on your Kevlar and head to the Liberty Bowl for the final game for the foreseeable future against the Memphis Tigers.

In yesterday's Commercial Appeal, Memphis coach Tommy West laments the fact that this series is ending. This is, of course, coming from the belligerent buffoon who cussed at Ole Miss fans before the game started 2 years ago. I'm in the majority that it's good that this series is ending. There is far too much unnecessary hatred between two schools that just aren't rivals, no matter how a small percentage of either fan base wants to spin it.

Sure, the schools are only 80 miles apart, but the similarities end there. Speaking specifically about athletics, Memphis and Ole Miss have always gone in different directions. The Rebels focused on football, the Tigers on basketball. The animosity between the two schools reached its peak a few years back when the Rebels won 3/4 games from the Tiger basketball team and the Tigers took 2 straight on the football field. Now that that proper order has been restored, Pete Boone is right that the series is "stale." An extended hiatus is just what the doctor ordered.

As for the game itself, this one really shouldn't be overly competitive. The Tigers sport some big, dangerous receivers in Carlos Singleton and Duke Calhoun and QB Arkelon Hall is a big, strong-armed guy who can make some plays when given time. He threw for 159 yds against Ole Miss last year, which statistically was far below average for the early season for opponent passing yards. RB Curtis Steele is a big bruiser who rushed for more than 1200 yards last year.

While the Tigers’ offense poses some potential matchup difficulties, they compare to the issues the Tigers’ lackluster D will have trying to slow down the Rebel attack. Jevan Snead and crew will have an easy time putting as many points on the board as they want.

With an actual off week next week and a virtual off week after that (vs SELA), it'll be week 4 in Columbia before we get to see the full offensive package. There will be some Wild Rebel sprinkled in and some trickeration, but don't expect anything too fancy. The Rebels will win and cover, though unless the defense gets in on the scoring action, won't cover by much. Rebels win 37-17.

Straight Up Winner: Ole Miss
Against the Spread: Ole Miss

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