Week 1 Fearless Predictions - SEC, Part 1

Posted Aug 30, 2013

Week 1 Fearless Predictions - SEC, Part 1 Rice-Texas A&M & More

Rice (0-0) at Texas A&M (0-0) Aug. 31, 1:00, ESPN

Why You Should Give A Hoot: So who'll be under center for the home team?

For those who've been off the grid for the past few months, Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel has had a rather tumultuous offseason, culminating in allegations that the reigning Heisman winner was paid to sign autographs. If true, Manziel would have violated an NCAA rule and put his eligibility in jeopardy, but now he's only going to miss one half - ooooooh. The Aggies' season, which is rife with so much possibility, could boil down to the status and availability of No. 2 going forward – if there's anything else out there to get him in trouble. With him, there's no limit to how far A&M might climb in 2013. Without him, this could be an ordinary team very quickly.

Rice could be catching its old Southwest Conference rival at an opportune time. The Owls house the horses to emerge as a major surprise out of the West Division of Conference USA this season. They return almost everyone from a team that capped a season-ending five-game winning streak by pounding Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl. This is not the kind of non-AQ program to be taken lightly in 2013.

Why Rice Might Win: This veteran program has played in a number of large venues and won't become unnerved by College Station or Kyle Field. The offense has pop, especially when QB Taylor McHargue is at full strength. He's the kind of dual-threat that'll cause problems for an Aggies defense with a couple of new starters at every level. The Owls are capable of picking up where they left off late last year, when they averaged 38 points during the five-game winning streak.

Why Texas A&M Might Win: Half a Johnny or not, A&M will run circles around an overmatched Rice defense. With No. 2 in the saddle, the Aggies will reach the 50-point mark. But even if he's left pacing on the sidelines, they'll get at least into the high 30s. A&M is very deep in the backfield, has one of the nation's best linemen, LT Jake Matthews, and will find a way to get the ball into the big mitts of WR Mike Evans. Head coach Kevin Sumlin has had ample time to prepare for any and all scenarios.

Who To Watch Out For:
- Just in case, Manziel's backup is Matt Joeckel, a junior who attempted 11 passes in his first season of action, or freshman Kenny Hill, a dangerous dual-threat prospect with a world of upside. Sound familiar?
- Both teams boast deep backfields. For the Aggies, Ben Malena is the starter, but Trey Williams and transfers Brandon Williams and Tra Carson would start for a slew of other schools.
- In the unlikely event that this one comes down to the kickers, advantage Rice. Owl Chris Boswell leads all active kickers with 11 field goals of at least 50 yards, while Aggie Taylor Bertolet was wildly inconsistent in 2012.
- Can A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder push all the right buttons, like he did last fall? It won't help that starting DT Kirby Ennis has been suspended for this game, and the status of starting defensive backs Deshazor Everett and Floyd Raven remains up in the air.
What Will Happen: No, Texas A&M won't stumble in its opener, but Rice is not a team that should be looked past. Not only has the Manziel saga created an unneeded distraction, but the Owls will begin 2013 underrated and hungry. Regardless of who's taking snaps, the Aggies will shake free from the Rice challenge, cranking out more than 300 yards on the ground.
Prediction: Texas A&M 42 … Rice 20 …
Line: Texas A&M -27 O/U: 67
Must See Rating: (5 Hard Knocks – 1 ‘N Sync on the VMAs) … 3

Toledo (0-0) at Florida (0-0) Aug. 31, 12:21, ESPN3

Why You Should Give A Hoot: This is a very, very, VERY dangerous game for Florida. The Gators struggled was too much last season with Louisiana-Lafayette, clunked in the Sugar Bowl against Louisville, and now they're banged up, battered and bruised before the season's even starting. Toledo has a dangerous offense and just enough on D to hold up against the run, and there won't be any sort of freak out factor playing a big-time school. The Rockets almost shocked Arizona in last year's opener in an overtime thriller, and while the Gators are far better than last year's Wildcats, they have to be ready for a bit of a push.

Why Toledo Might Win: Toledo's biggest weakness probably won't be exploited. The secondary had a nightmare of a time last season keeping good passing games in check, and while it's a new team and a new campaign, the Rockets should be a little bit vulnerable early on. Florida does nothing – absolutely nothing – to push the ball down the field. If Toledo can hold up against the run, this will stay close throughout.

Why Florida Might Win: Toledo won't be able to hold up against the run. There's potential, quickness and experience on the Rocket defensive front, and there's a rotation to keep everyone fresh, but this group isn't going to get behind the line or generate enough pressure. Florida's offense is about the drip … drip … drip, and it's effective at wearing teams down as the game goes on. The Rockets will have a hard time getting the D off the field.

Who To Watch Out For: There's more than one Mack Brown on the hot seat. Florida's running back will be front and center as the staple of the offense with top running back Matt Jones out for a few weeks recovering from a viral infection. There might be a running back-by-committee approach against Toledo, but it's Brown, the one-time superstar recruit, who'll get the bulk of the work after carrying the ball a mere 11 times so far in his disappointing career.

- The Rocket receiving corps is terrific with almost all the stars back led by Bernard Reedy, a 5-9, 175-pound veteran who upped his game in a big way last season – he might be the best all-around offensive playmaker in this game as a punt returner and runner as well as a receiver.

- Florida needs to come out and throw a few deep balls just to show it can. The receiving corps might not be up-to-snuff, and a No. 1 guy has to emerge, but there's enough speed to take a few chances. No one is going to be afraid of Jeff Driskel until he makes them fear the forward pass.

- This is the first matchup between the two teams. Florida took out Bowling Green from MAC in last year's opener 27-14 and Miami University 34-12 in 2010.

What Will Happen: Everything is going to be alright. Florida's defense will ramp up the intensity early and Toledo will struggle to consistently move the ball. However, it's going to take awhile before the Gator offense gets on a roll, but when it does, the ground game will dominate. Brown will run for 100 yards.
Prediction: Florida 31 … Toledo 13
Line: Florida -23.5 O/U: 56.5
Must See Rating: (5 Hard Knocks – 1 ‘N Sync on the VMAs) … 2.5

Louisiana-Lafayette (0-0) at Arkansas (0-0) Aug. 31, 4:00, ESPN3

Why You Should Give A Hoot: Let's see how this new power Hog offense works out. After all of the drama of a wasted 2012 season, Arkansas has its head man in Bret Bielema, and now it's time to see how things have changed. Last season the Hogs were stunned in overtime by ULM and never recovered – looking past another Sun Belt squad from Louisiana won't be a concern. But will Arkansas be sharp enough early on to do all the things Bielema wants? This is a dangerous Ragin' Cajun team with the talent and potential to not only win the Sun Belt title, but also pull off a big upset. Last year ULL came this close to pulling off one of the biggest stunners of the season at Florida, and the pieces are there to start out the season 1-0.

Why Louisiana Might Win: The Hogs defensive back seven is a bit suspect. The line should be fine and the pass should be terrific, but if the Ragin' Cajuns can get their good, talented backfield into the second level, the big plays should be there. Quarterback Terrance Broadway is a crafty veteran with the efficiency and ability to do to the Hog defense what ULM's Kolton Browning did last year. The ULL offense will move.
Why Arkansas Might Win: Yeah, the Hogs are going to be all about running the ball under Bielema, but this is the game to start out chucking. The ULL secondary was a disaster throughout last season, and now it's even more of a work in progress. There's athleticism and upside, but this group has to prove it can stop the forward pass. As long as Arkansas doesn't come up with a slew of big mistakes through the air, it should get a huge day out of …

Who To Watch Out For: 6-3, 214-pound sophomore Brandon Allen, who got in a little work last season but only completed 43% of his passes for 186 yards with a touchdown and three picks. A pure pro-style passer who led the way to the Arkansas state championship with close to 4,000 passing yards and 42 touchdowns, he can throw. He won't run, but he's not a bad athlete.

- Yeah, yeah, yeah … the Arkansas passing game. Everyone wants to see super-recruit Alex Collins. He might not be the be-all-end-all quite yet, but he might be the most talented running back Bielema has ever coached. Jonathan Williams might be the main back early on, but Collins will get his chances.

- Don't be shocked if ULL's power back Alonzo Harris has the best game of any runner on the field. The 6-1, 220-pounder was fantastic when healthy, and he should be effective early on. He has to be.

- With Samford and Southern Miss up next, Arkansas is 3-0 with a win here before going to Rutgers and diving into SEC play. It's more big game hunting for the Ragin' Cajuns with a trip to Kansas State to follow.

What Will Happen: Broadway and company will give Hog fans flashbacks to the ULM nightmare, but the Arkansas ground game will be effective early and the big play passing game will kick in sometime around the third quarter to let everyone breathe a sigh of relief.
Prediction: Arkansas 34 … Louisiana-Lafayette 21
Line: Arkansas -10.5 O/U: 59
Must See Rating: (5 Hard Knocks – 1 ‘N Sync on the VMAs) … 3

Austin Peay (0-0) at Tennessee (0-0) Aug. 31, 6:00, ESPN3

Why You Should Give A Hoot: The Butch Jones era should get off to a roaring start to get all of the kinks out. The Vols are easing into the season against a Governors team that went 2-9 last season and doesn't appear to be appreciably better to kick things off. Head coach Kirby Cannon was a late arrival on the scene and has a ton of work to do with a team that got torched through the air and failed to score more than 15 points in the first seven games of last year. For Tennessee, all that matters is the next step. This game is about implementing the new styles and system, Western Kentucky is another step next week, and then come the big battles at Oregon and Florida.
Why Austin Peay Might Win: The only chance the Governors have of keeping this close is by getting the ground game going early. Sophomore Reco Williams is an effective back who can tear off yards in chunks, and while Tennessee is a wee bit of a step up from the normal Ohio Valley opponents, there's still a prove-it factor for a Vol defense that was never consistent and is still building.
Why Tennessee Might Win: This is the game to get the Tennessee passing game going. Austin Peay was ripped apart by anyone who could throw overhand, and with little pass rush to worry about, this is going to be more like a live scrimmage. With so much tinkering needing to be done, a game of live target practice isn't a bad thing for ...

Who To Watch Out For: Justin Worley. The 6-4, 213-pound junior is very smart and looks the part, but he struggled when given the chance throwing for 134 yards with two picks in mop-up time last season and had a big problem when thrown to the wolves as a freshman when Tyler Bray was injured. The 2010 Gatorade National Player of the Year threw for 13,385 yards and 157 scores as a high school superstar, has moxie to be a terrific bomber, but he needs to be sharper. This is the game for that.

What Will Happen: Tennessee will ease up late, but first it'll get its ya-yas out with big plays and lots of points early and often. Austin Peay will struggle to keep this within 50 … in the first half.
Prediction: Tennessee 63-3
Line: Tennessee -50
Must See Rating: (5 Hard Knocks – 1 ‘N Sync on the VMAs) … 1

Kentucky (0-0) at Western Kentucky (0-0) Aug. 31, 7:00, ESPNews

Why You Should Give A Hoot: How many times in the history of mankind has an SEC team played a Sun Belt team with two new head coaches and the far, FAR better head man is on the Sun Belt sidelines? Bobby Petrino is paying his year of penance at Western Kentucky before almost assuredly being the No. 1 prospect for every coaching vacancy next year, but Kentucky's Mark Stoops is eager to show that there's life in the Wildcat football program. Considering UK is probably the 14th best team in a 14-team league, it can ill-afford to come up with a clunker in the opener. No, Stoops wouldn't be on any sort of a hot seat in Game One of his career if his team didn't show up, but after a 32-31 loss last year, it certainly wouldn't be a plus for the program. Meanwhile, the Hilltoppers have their sights set on a Sun Belt title, but beating UK would probably be the high point of the season.
Why Kentucky Might Win: Let's get this thing moving. The Kentucky offense is going to be a lot faster with a lot better pace and more pop. The idea is to ramp up the passing game and keep defenses on their heels, and while WKU has a decent-looking defense and should turn out to be fine, the secondary is coming off a season when it gave up way too many yards. Even so, it's a deep, veteran secondary with good potential, but it allowed 200 yards or more in nine games including a 332-yard, two score day against UK's Morgan Newton. Expect the air show to be entertaining.
Why WKU Might Win: The focus might be on the Kentucky offense after such a woeful campaign, but it's the defense that needs a ton of work without a ton of experience to match all the speed and athleticism. This might not be a disruptive D right away and it probably won't get into the backfield on a regular basis. Meanwhile, the secondary will likely be the biggest concern, meaning WKU has to take its shots down the field and not rely solely on …

Who To Watch Out For: RB Antonio Andrews, who came up with a special year coming very, very close to breaking Barry Sanders' record for all-purpose yards in a season. The 6-0, 211-pounder did everything for the offense running for 1,728 yards and 11 scores, catching 37 passes for 432 yards and three scores, averaging 12.3 yards per punt return and a score and 27.4 yards per kickoff return. He destroyed the Wildcats last season with 125 yards and three scores on 34 carries along with 36 yards of catches.
- Stoops is waiting until the last possible second to name a starting quarterback, but no matter what, Jalen Whitlow will be a big part of the equation. At 6-2 and 208 pounds, he has decent size and the best athleticism of all the quarterbacks showing good promise completing 54% of his passes for 801 yards and three touchdowns with two picks. A playmaker, he finished third on the team with 206 yards and three scores. Smart, fast and with a good arm, the tools are all there, but he needs a little more time and polish. However, he'll make up for problems with his quickness.

- Kentucky has far more speed and athleticism, but it all has to come together. WKU should be sound, but that might not be enough if the UK defense can swarm around the ball better than it did in last year's loss. If the UK offense can do anything, the season will quickly be different.

- WKU's Andrew Jackson might be the best linebacker the Wildcats face all season long. He'll be a leading tackler for some NFL team next year at this time.

What Will Happen: WKU really is good. Kentucky has the athleticism and potential to come up with a stronger season, but Petrino will have the Hilltoppers rolling right out of the gate with a sharp, aggressive game plan. Yes, Kentucky will speed things up on offense, but that might mean the O gets off the field faster. WKU dominated in time of possession last year, and it will again.
Prediction: Western Kentucky 31 … Kentucky 27
Line: Kentucky -4
Must See Rating: (5 Hard Knocks – 1 ‘N Sync on the VMAs) … 3