SEC Week One Fearless Predictions
Posted Aug 30, 2006

SEC Week One Fearless Predictions, Previews and Analysis

East  Florida | Georgia | Kentucky | South Carolina | Tennessee | Vanderbilt 
West Alabama | Arkansas | Auburn | LSU | Ole Miss | Miss State

SEC Fearless Predictions, Week One, Part 2

SEC Game of the Week

California at Tennessee  5:30 pm EST  ESPN  Saturday, September 2nd 
Why to Watch: Florida State vs. Miami is the marquee game and everyone will be watching Notre Dame battle Georgia Tech, but this will likely be the most important battle of week one. If the Pac 10 really wants to be taken seriously by everyone east of the Rocky Mountains, this is a must win for Cal. The Bears are better than the Volunteers. They have more offensive firepower, better running backs, better linebackers, and the all-around talent to be in the hunt for the national title. However, Cal hasn't won a really, really big game since USC half-assed it in the 2003 loss. Jeff Tedford's program could use a splashy victory to get the national respect it's been so close to cementing for the last few years. If you believe everything you read, Tennessee is being considered just a shade better than Temple after an overblown 5-6 season, but it has to come up with the opening day home win to ease the pressure off Phil Fulmer and his staff with the Florida showdown in two weeks. A win by the Vols would show that things are back to normal in Knoxville. 
Why California Might Win: It's the better team. Tennessee can be back to being Tennessee and it still might mean the Bears will come away with the win. The jury is still out on Vol QB Erik Ainge and whether or not he can be a consistent enough passer to be a difference maker in a game like this. He'll be under pressure from the start with the Vol offensive line still a work in progress after trying to get tougher and more physical with a stepped up off-season regimen. The improvement might not matter with All-America DT Brandon Mebane and the the Cal line good enough to control the trenches. There's also rebuilding being done on the Vol defensive front seven. That's not a plus with Marshawn Lynch and the Cal running game certain to be solid right off the bat.
Why Tennessee Might Win: Cal's most impressive road win in the Tedford era came against, uh ... there were a few nice victories against average Arizona State teams, and that's about it. The Bears have gone a mediocre 14-8 on the road over the last four years with most of the wins coming against the basement Pac 10 teams. Is the team ready to step up to the big boy table and win in a place like Neyland Stadium? This is still Tennessee at home, and it's still full of pro prospects and enough talent to beat anyone in America.
Who to Watch: Is Ainge really going to be better now that David Cutcliffe is the offensive coordinator? Yeah, but he'll also get help from an improved receiving corps that should struggle a bit after losing starting corner Tim Mixon for the year with a knee injury. There's no plan B this year if Ainge stinks, so if he's not on, the panic sirens will go off. ... Cal's backup situation is far better. Nate Longshore was finally announced as the starter on Tuesday with the broken leg suffered in last year's season opener fully healed. That doesn't mean he'll play the whole game with last year's starter, Joe Ayoob, improved enough to be in the hunt for playing time.
What Will Happen:  This should be fantastic. Tennessee will play far better than it did over the second half of last year, but Cal will be too consistent and too strong on both sides of the ball with the ground game taking over late.
CFN Prediction: California 27 ... Tennessee 24 ... Line: Tennessee -2
Must See Rating:
(5 skip the birth of your first born - 1 Pants Off, Dance Off) ... 5
Final Score: 

South Carolina at Mississippi State  8 pm EST ESPN  Thursday, August 31st 
Why to Watch:  The SEC season kicks off with an interesting Thursday night game that might make or break each team's conference season. Yeah, it's a bit dramatic, but Mississippi State needs every win it can possibly get, especially at home in SEC play. South Carolina closed last season on an ugly note losing close games to Clemson and Missouri to sour Steve Spurrier's first season in Columbia. With a showdown with Georgia next week, the Gamecocks can't afford to start out with a loss against one of the teams projected to finish near the SEC's basement. Will the USC Cock 'n' Fire offense be a bit more explosive? Will the Bulldog offense show a sign of life after averaging a mere 13.9 points and 276 yards per game? SEC fans will see if things have changed over the last nine months.
Why South Carolina Might Win:  The MSU offense can't be any worse, but that still doesn't mean things are appreciably better. This isn't an attack built on making a stirring comeback, so it shouldn't take too many points to put things away early. There will be more balance this season with an improved running game. However ...
Why Mississippi State Might Win: ... the Bulldog defense is good enough to keep things tight. Nine starters return to the nation's 29th ranked defense with a strong secondary and a fantastic star linebacker in Quinton Culberson and banged up but ready running mate Gabe O'Neal. The USC offensive line was shaky at best last season and will need a little while before everything comes together. The Bulldog defense will take advantage.
Who to Watch:  Is Michael Henig going to be able to hold on to the MSU starting quarterback job? He hasn't been lights out in practice and has to prove he can be more accurate and far more consistent. If he's not, the Tray Rutland era will kick off. The redshirt freshman has size, mobility, and a rifle arm, but he's not quite ready yet. Even so, he might turn out to be the better option than Henig, who should have issues with All-America candidate Fred Bennett and the Gamecock secondary that'll turn out to be fine despite losing Ko Simpson, Johnathan Jackson and Tremaine Tyler.
What Will Happen:  If South Carolina throws a few early haymakers, it's over. However, the MSU defense will keep things tight and force at least two big mistakes that the inept offense will capitalize on. USC QB Blake Mitchell will either be lights out or will struggle so badly that he might be pulled. Whichever one shows up will determine the outcome.
CFN Prediction: Mississippi State 17 ... South Carolina 16 ... Line: South Carolina -6.5
Must See Rating:
(5 skip the birth of your first born - 1 Pants Off, Dance Off) ... 3
Final Score: 

Vanderbilt at Michigan  12 pm EST  ESPN  Saturday, September 2nd 
Why to Watch:  It seems like years ago since Michigan tight end Tyler Ecker just missed getting in the end zone on an improbable kickoff return in the Alamo Bowl loss to Nebraska, and now head coach Lloyd Carr are on double secret probation needing a big year or else more major changes will be made. The Wolverines seem to be everyone's sleeper team in the BCS race with enough talent and experience to do some big things, but they have to prove they can be more consistent on both sides of the ball. Vanderbilt is in the first year after the Jay Cutler era and no one is expecting more than a lousy year. This is still a plucky team with most of the non-Cutler key pieces back, especially on defense. It'll be a monster upset if the Commodores pull off the win, but it should be more competitive than most Maize and Blue fans would like.
Why Vanderbilt Might Win: Call this a feeling out process for Michigan with new coordinators Mike DeBord and Ron English getting their feet wet. There's isn't one screaming Vandy weakness with a decent enough run defense to keep the slimmed down Wolverines from dominating on the ground. Consider the Michigan O line a big question mark early on. If it doesn't dominate, this might be close.
Why Michigan Might Win: Does Vanderbilt have enough big play playmakers to win a game like this in The Big House? Everything needs to go right for the upset, and that's asking an awful lot considering the Commodore quarterback situation is still up in the air. It's a three man race to replace Jay Cutler with sophomore Chris Nickson holding the slight edge. That's not a good thing when compared to Michigan veteran Chad Henne running a Michigan offense that has a healthy Mike Hart back. The Wolverines are 10-2 when Hart gets 20 carries or more.
Who to Watch:  The NFL scouts will be watching with key interest how Michigan senior corner Leon Hall handles Vandy's burgeoning star receiver Earl Bennett. Many though Bennett's breakout freshman season and unbelievable final four games (49 catches for 545 yards and nine touchdowns) was because Cutler was slinging it, but he's the real deal. If Hall is the best corner in the nation and a first round pro prospect, he keeps Bennett in check when matched up on him.
What Will Happen: Michigan will dominate. This isn't your button-down, corporate Michigan team that you're used to. This is a lean, mean, fighting machine that's looking to make an early statement.
CFN Prediction: Michigan 38 ... Vanderbilt 14 ... Line: Michigan -25.5
Must See Rating:
(5 skip the birth of your first born - 1 Pants Off, Dance Off) ... 2.5
Final Score: 

Western Kentucky at Georgia  12:30 pm EST  GamePlan  Saturday, September 2nd 
Why to Watch: When last we saw Georgia, it was getting its doors blown off by West Virginia's ground game in an improbable Sugar Bowl loss. Now the defending SEC champions are getting as much respect as Vanderbilt or Mississippi State in the conference race with plenty of key players needing to be replaced. With the SEC opener at South Carolina next week, the Bulldogs have to work out all the kinks against a Western Kentucky team coming off a decent 6-5 season. This should be a better team than the one that lost 37-14 at Auburn early last year and should be a bit more than a speed bump for at least a quarter.
Why Western Kentucky Might Win: It won't, but if the Georgia offense is as inconsistent as it was last year and the new offensive line isn't playing well, this might not be the walk in the park that Dawg fans are hoping for. Unlike Georgia, the WKU quarterback situation is settled and solid with senior Justin Haddix almost certain to become the school's all-time leader in touchdown passes midway through the season.
Why Georgia Might Win: New quarterback or not, the Bulldogs should be able to pick apart a Hilltopper defense that sells out to stop the run and doesn't do much against the pass. s good as Haddix might be, he won't have room to breathe with the Dawg defensive line certain to be camped out in the backfield from the opening snap. WKU was mediocre in pass protection last year and won't have a prayer against Quentin Moses and Charles Johnson.
Who to Watch: Georgia senior Joe Tereshinski is the starting quarterback, but it's almost universally acknowledged that he's just keeping the seat warm until super-recruit Matthew Stafford is ready. Stafford isn't even the number two man, for now that's Joe Cox, and he didn't get nearly enough meaningful work with the starters in summer practices to suggest he's ready to take over. There's still the possibility of redshirting the franchise passer, and that'll be far easier to do if Tereshinski is sharp from the start.
What Will Happen:  Georgia won't be sharp, but it won't have to be.
CFN Prediction: Georgia 44 ... Western Kentucky 10 ... Line: No Line
Must See Rating:
(5 skip the birth of your first born - 1 Pants Off, Dance Off) ... 1
Final Score: 

Southern Miss at Florida  6 pm EST GamePlan  Saturday, September 2nd 
Why to watch: The beginning of year two of the Urban Meyer era signals the end of the honeymoon in Gainesville.  There were rough patches in 2005, but Gator fans are now expecting the school’s first SEC title in six years, and maybe more if the offense takes a quantum leap running Meyer’s spread option.  The defense has no such issues and will contend all fall for the honor of being the nastiest unit in America.  Southern Miss has long had a reputation as a giant killer, and will be a nice opening day test for Florida. The Eagles are fast and well-coached on defense, but this year’s group lacks star power, and on offense, unproven Jeremy Young takes over at quarterback for three-year starter Dustin Almond. If the Gators are the real deal, it wins this without much of a problem, but the Golden Eagles are more than good enough to make this interesting.  
Why Southern Miss might win: The Golden Eagles led Conference USA in sacks last year, return top pass rusher Robert Henderson and will be facing a Florida offensive line that’s the Gators’ biggest mystery.  To have a shot, Southern Miss must attack that weakness, and find a way to force Chris Leak into turnovers. If Leak struggles early, will the mumbling start about getting Tim Tebow in? The last thing the Gators need two weeks before the Tennessee showdown is more talk about the quarterbacks, and USM is good enough to force the issue.   
Why Florida might win: This is about the last defense a first-time starting quarterback wants to see.  From front to back, the Gators are loaded with size and speed and will suffocate an Eagle offense that has a rookie under center and is short on game-breakers.  A superb Florida defensive line will neutralize linemen George Batiste and Travis Cooley, two of USM's’ most valuable players.
Who to watch: He won’t change the outcome of the game, but Southern Miss LB Marcus Raines bears watching for having one of the most unique debuts of anyone suiting up this weekend.  He’s the former star recruit, who saw his offers evaporate when it was learned he played a role in the May 2000 death of a high school student.  Only time will tell how Raines will pay back USM for their confidence and controversial second chance. 
What will happen: For the first of many times in 2006, Florida will win, and the defense will get most of the attaboys.  The offense will produce more than 400 yards and a couple of Leak touchdown flips, neither of which will satisfy critics.

CFN Prediction: Florida 34 ... Southern Miss 10 ... Line: Florida -20
Must See Rating:
(5 skip the birth of your first born - 1 Pants Off, Dance Off) ... 2.5
Final Score: 

Hawaii at Alabama  7 pm EST GamePlan  Saturday, September 2nd 
Why to Watch:  No game is better than one that pits two so distinctly different styles against one another.  Similar to last year’s Cotton Bowl when Bama had to face the high-powered Texas Tech attack, the Tide has to face another pass first, pass last offense, but this will be on their turf.  On their terms. And, Hawaii doesn’t play nearly as well when they jump across the pond, so it’ll be exciting to see how it responds to the trip to the deep south. The Warriors have one of the nation's most exciting offenses and should push the Tide in a fantastic battle.
Why Hawaii Might Win:  For all of the great quarterbacks in the nation, primarily those named Quinn, Smith and Leak, Hawaii's Colt Brennan throws it with the best of them.  His quick release and ability to make reads rapidly make him a perfect fit in this offense, but he also has excellent mobility and one of the best group of receivers anywhere in the nation highlighted by Ryan Grice-Mullen and Davone Bess.  If UH gets up early, does Alabama have the type of offense to come back? Not if it plays like it did last year.
Why Alabama Might Win:  Alabama RB Darby is one of the nation's most underrated, unnoticed backs could be on pace for a 1,500-yard season as the centerpiece of the offense.  He can do a little bit of everything – run with power, make people miss and catch the ball out of the backfield.  The defense suffered some graduation casualties, but it still has pressure players like DE Wallace Gilberry and OLB Juwan Simpson to keep things rolling after a phenomenal 2005.  The latter will be the key to how deep into the defensive playbook defensive coordinator Joe Kines can dig. Simpson's speed and ability to blitz off the edge and make plays in space should allow Kines the opportunity to get very creative against Brennan and crew.
Who to Watch:  Bess is an electrifying receiver who's as explosive a threat as anyone Alabama will play this season.  He had 89 catches last year, but he faces two good Bama corners in Ramzee Robinson and Simeon Castille.  Alabama WR D.J. Hall has had his moments in his first two years, but he needs to take the next step, especially with new quarterback John Parker Wilson taking snaps this season. If Wilson and Hall aren't clicking, then the Hawaii defense can tee off against the run.
What Will Happen:  Kines will throw every different look possible at Brennan not allowing him to throw in rhythm.  Either Kines will show eight at the line of scrimmage and then drop eight into coverage to try to get Brennan to throw into coverage, or he’ll bring eight and not allow the Hawaii signal caller to set his feet to throw.  Darby should get the ball 25 times, and that will be enough to keep the time of possession battle in the favor of the Crimson Tide.
CFN Prediction: Alabama 31 ... Hawaii 18 ... Line: Alabama -17
Must See Rating:
(5 skip the birth of your first born - 1 Pants Off, Dance Off) ... 3
Final Score: 

SEC Fearless Predictions, Week One, Part 2