SEC Fearless Predictions, Aug. 30
Alabama C Antoine Caldwell
Alabama C Antoine Caldwell
Posted Aug 5, 2008

The season kicks off with a big statement battle when Alabama takes on Clemson in Atlanta. Can Antoine Caldwell and the Tide line hold up against the Tiger D line? Check out this and all the previews and predictions for the Week 1 SEC Games.

News ACC | Big East | Big Ten | Big 12 | C-USA
| M-West | Pac 10 | SEC | Sun Belt | WAC
ACC | Big East | Big Ten | Big 12 | C-USA
| M-West | Pac 10 | SEC | Sun Belt | WAC
ACC | Big East | Big Ten | Big 12 | C-USA
| M-West | Pac 10 | SEC | Sun Belt | WAC

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

Alabama vs. Clemson (in Atlanta), 8:00 EST, ABC
Why to watch: Depending on where you call home, this is arguably the most intriguing game of the opening weekend, and for the ACC, it could be the league's make-or-break date. Alabama and Clemson meet in the Georgia Dome in a game that’ll have all of the electricity of a BCS bowl game, or an SEC title tilt, and while the Tide is expected to be improved enough to pull off the win, Clemson, considered the class of the ACC by far, has to win for its league to get any semblance of national respect. Plenty more is at stake for both schools. It’s been years since the Tigers began the season with so many expectations and so much established talent, not to mention legitimate national title aspirations. A top 10 team and the consensus favorite to win the ACC, this is the type of must-win game to shake the perennial underachiever tag. ‘Bama begins its second campaign under Nick Saban with heightened expectations of its own. Forget last year’s 7-6 record and second-half collapse, Tide fans are thinking big again after Saban assembled one of the nation’s premier recruiting classes. Although the program is still a year away from being a legit contender for an SEC crown, a high-profile upset of Clemson could shake up the timetable.   
Why Alabama might win: Depending on how well QB John Parker Wilson plays, the Tide offense has a chance to be real good in Jim McElwain’s first season as the coordinator. It all starts up front with an outstanding line that features stars in LT Andre Smith and C Antoine Caldwell. The front five should be good enough to neutralize the tremendous Clemson defensive front, while giving Wilson the time needed to expose the unproven Tiger linebackers on intermediate routes. Glen Coffee and Terry Grant form a nice one-two punch in the running game that’ll keep the chains moving, and the Clemson offense off the field.
Why Clemson might win: At least in the first month, the Tigers’ Achilles’ heel will be the rebuilt offensive line. Alabama, however, doesn’t have the linemen to take advantage. Even if it’s a stalemate at the line of scrimmage, Clemson will still be able to turn loose it’s wide array of weapons. Bama's offensive stars are young and unproven, while the Tigers skill guys should be in NFL camps right now. On the ground, James Davis and C.J. Spiller form the best backfield tandem in America. Through the air, Cullen Harper is a top talent surrounded by a fantastic collection of receivers. Saban's boys will get there, but he doesn’t have quite enough stoppers on defense to contain an offense with so many different options.
Who to watch
: Two of the nation’s five best recruits of 2008 will be in the Georgia Dome playing important roles for their respective schools. Bama WR Julio Jones has an amazing blend of size and speed, fortifying a corps that lost its top three receivers to graduation, and he's expected to show off all his skills right away in what could be a national coming out party. Clemson DE Da’Quan Bowers already looks the part, participating and promptly dominating in his first spring out of high school. Neither will waste any time showing the nation why every major university wanted their signature.            
What will happen: Alabama has an edge on the sidelines. After that, it’s all Clemson. The Tide will always be dangerous with Saban, but the Tigers are as loaded as they’ve ever been under Bowden. The concerns about the offensive line won’t materialize enough to be a death blow, but they'll be a problem. The issues at linebacker will be erased by a front four and back four that’s among the best in the ACC. The difference in a tight game will be the running of Davis and Spiller, who’ll combine for more than 200 yards on the ground.
CFN Prediction: Clemson 23 ... Alabama 10 ... Line: Clemson -5.5
Must See Rating: (5 90210 - 1 90210, at least what you’ll say among your friends) … 4.5

Thursday, August 28

Vanderbilt at Miami Univ. 7:30 PM ESPNU 
Why to watch: Can the best of the MAC beat one of the worst in the SEC? If the MAC wants to make a nice statement early on, this might be the chance to do it. It's a loaded year for the league with teams full of veterans from top to bottom, but Miami has the make-up and the talent to be the class of the conference after winning the MAC East last season. The linebacking corps is the best in the MAC, and legitimately among the best in America, and it has to come through with a big performance to pull off the win over a Vanderbilt team that'll desperately need this win to be in the hunt for a bowl game. The Commodores are rebuilding a bit, especially on offense, but the secondary might be the best in the SEC and among the best in America.
Why Vanderbilt might win: The Miami passing game was an issue last season, finishing 12th in the MAC in efficiency, but it appeared to be better this off-season. Even so, the Commodore secondary should be able to make the RedHawks one-dimensional. MU will have to rely on its defense and ground game to win, and if the Commodores can somehow get up early and make the RedHawks have to throw to come back, that'll feed into Vandy's strength.
Why Miami Univ. might win: The Commodores should have problems getting pop out of the backfield. The Vandy offense is at its best when the quarterback is on the move, but the MU linebacking trip of Clayton Mullins, Joey Hudson and Caleb Bostic aren't going to allow too many yards on QB runs. The Commodore offense has hardly been sharp throughout the off-season and it should need a game or three to jell. This isn't the D to warm up against.
Who to watch: Each team has quarterback issues. For Miami, the question was whether or not it was Clay Belton's time to take over the program. While he should be a major factor this season, incumbent Daniel Raudabaugh, a big veteran, will run the show early on. While the MU situation is still murky, at best, Vandy's quarterback controversy is even more of a fog. Chris Nickson and MacKenzi Adams are still in a battle for the starter spot and could end up rotating. Even backups Jared Funk and Larry Smith still have an outside shot at early playing time. For both teams, the starter needs to rock out of the gate or there could be an early hook.
What will happen: Chalk one up one for the little guys. Miami will take advantage of the rare BCS team appearance in Oxford as the defense will control the game forcing several Vandy mistakes. The RedHawk offense won't be impressive, but it'll do just enough to pull off the win. This might not be pretty, but it'll be a good game.
CFN Prediction: Miami Univ. 23 ... Vanderbilt 17 ... Line: Miami -3.5
Must See Rating: (5 90210 - 1 90210, at least what you’ll say among your friends) … 3

NC State at South Carolina, 8:00 EST, ESPN
Why to watch: After three seasons of mediocrity, South Carolina has its best team yet since Steve Spurrier arrived. At least that's the hope for antsy Gamecock fans, and while the big goal is to come up with a huge year in the SEC East, a loss to NC State would hardly sit well. Although the talent has been upgraded, the school is just 21-16 under the ball coach, collapsing down the stretch last year after raising expectations with a 6-1 start. Ironically, considering who the head man is, it’s been the play of the quarterback that’s hamstrung the program’s ability to get over the hump. Facing a crossroads season, the Gamecocks are giving the ball to untested junior Tommy Beecher, at least for the time being, who’s thrown all of two dozen career passes. NC State is entering its second season with Tom O’Brien at the helm as it looks to take another step closer to stability. The Pack has a long way to go before narrowing the talent gap to be a major national player, so the staff will continue preaching fundamentals and limiting unforced errors to try to make some noise in a down year for the ACC. State is a year or two away from contention, or at least until it produce more plays from the quarterback spot, but a win in Columbia might kickstart the expectations for a big season.
Why NC State might win: The Pack will keep things cozy by controlling the line of scrimmage when South Carolina has the ball. State enjoys an edge in the trenches, turning loose DE Willie Young and DT Alan Michael Cash on a flimsy Gamecock front that underachieved in pass protection all throughout last year. South Carolina’s attempt to supercharge the offense will fail if Beecher has no time to throw and the running game doesn’t get rolling.
Why South Carolina might win: The Gamecock defense is going to be nasty, especially now that LB Jasper Brinkley and DT Nathan Pepper are back from season-ending injuries. With the uncertainty NC State is facing at quarterback, South Carolina can use most of its resources to stack the line and stop Jamelle Eugene, Andre Brown, and Toney Baker. Facing constant pressure, newly anointed starting QB Russell Wilson will have no chance of navigating an aggressive ‘Cock secondary that’s anchored by CB Captain Munnerlyn and SS Emanuel Cook.
Who to watch: Brinkley instantly makes the South Carolina defense far better than it was when he was sidelined last fall. He’s an impact defender with tremendous instincts and the ferocity to create turnovers. With the Wolfpack determined to stay conservative and work the area between the tackles, he’ll make a statement return with at least 10 tackles and a couple of bone-jarring sticks if he's able to fight through ankle and foot problems that kept him at less than 100% this off-season. 
What will happen
: The Gamecocks might be vulnerable if they were opening against a team with a pulse on offense. The Wolfpack, however, are one-dimensional, which will make it tough to score into the double-digits. South Carolina will pick up its first victory, but the lingering questions about the offense and the quarterback play will remain unanswered.       

CFN Prediction: South Carolina 23 ... NC State 10 ... Line: South Carolina -11.5
Must See Rating: (5 90210 - 1 90210, at least what you’ll say among your friends) … 3

Saturday, August 30

Hawaii at Florida  12:30 PM GamePlan
Why to watch: This might have made for an interesting Sugar Bowl matchup last year considering the problems Florida had against the pass, but this is a new year and things have changed in a big way for both programs. Hawaii is kicking off the Greg McMackin era with one of the toughest road games possible, and while few are expecting fireworks in Gainesville, the Hawaii attack will still be chucking it around providing an excellent early test for the much-maligned Gator secondary. Florida is on the short list of national title contenders and it needs to act like it from day one. Will there really be more of a running game outside of Tim Tebow? Will Tebow be more of a passer and give up some of the overall workload? Hawaii isn't awful, but this is a tune-up for the Gators. More importantly, this will be a good indicator or where things are at with Miami and Tennessee up next. 
Why Hawaii might win: Thanks to all the big offensive numbers and all the pyrotechnics from Colt Brennan and the June Jones era, the play of the defense was completely glossed over after finishing second in the WAC overall, behind Boise State, and first in both sacks and tackles for loss. The Warriors will keep bringing the house and should provide decent pressure on Tebow thanks to pass rushing terror David Veikune. It's not an overstatement to say that the Hawaii linebacking corps will be the best the Gators have to face until the mid-October date with LSU.
The Warriors are 21-1 in their last 22 regular season games, and they haven't lost on the road since September 23rd of 2006, but ...
Why Florida might win:
Florida hasn't lost a non-conference home game since a loss to Florida State in 2003 and hasn't lost to a current non-BCS conference team since a 17-11 loss at Memphis in 1988. Talk about Hawaii fighting history, since a 27-20 loss to Villanova in 1946, Florida has lost just one game in Gainesville, a 27-20 loss to Tulsa in 1979, against a current non-BCS conference team. This season, the biggest issue for Hawaii early on will be pass protection. The 2008 Gators might not be the 2007 Georgia Bulldogs when it comes to getting to the quarterback, but the linebacking corps, even with Brandon Spikes injured, should be able to pin its ears back and blitz whenever it wants to. Keeping the Warrior quarterback upright should be an issue.
Who to watch: After an off-season of shuffling and auditioning for Brennan's spot as the star of the Warrior offense, JUCO transfer Brent Rausch pulled ahead late in the game and will get the nod despite having a bit of arm trouble. It was supposed to be a battle between Tyler Graunke, the most experienced option, and Inoke Funaki for the job, but Funaki is the No. 3 man and Graunke isn't even making the trip. Top JUCO transfer Greg Alexander is the second option and could step in early if Rausch's arm isn't right.
What will happen: Hawaii will have a few good moments to annoy Gator fans and give the rest of the SEC hope that the Florida pass defense hasn't improved enough. And then Mr. Heisman and company will drop the hammer with a big run that'll put the game well out of reach. The Warriors will get well over 300 passing yards, but most will be meaningless.
CFN Prediction: Florida 52 ... Hawaii 20 ... Line: Florida -35.5
Must See Rating: (5 90210 - 1 90210, at least what you’ll say among your friends) … 2.5

Georgia Southern at Georgia 12:30 PM GamePlan
Why to watch: Georgia will engage in a light scrimmage before moving on to bigger, better things. If Georgia Southern didn't have a big enough mountain to climb against the nation's No. 1 ranked team, it'll have to go on without eight suspended players who got the hook for the dreaded violation of team rules. Only two of the eight were supposed to start, but it's not like the Bulldogs were going to be threatened by a full GSU squad. Georgia is going through a progression over the next few weeks before dealing with road trips to South Carolina and Arizona State, playing a good Central Michigan squad next week, but it has some suspensions of its own to deal with. While they won't matter in this game, they could be a little bit of an issue as the team tries to come together for the big dates ahead.
Why Georgia Southern might win: The only chance the Eagles have of keeping this in the ballpark is if they somehow get their ground attack going. The nation's leading FCS team in rushing last season, averaging 326 yards per outing, might not be able to crank out that many yards on the Dawg defensive front line, but they could keep the clock moving and control the tempo for a few stretches.  
Why Georgia might win: This is a young, young, young GSU team that'll be throwing a slew of freshmen to the Dawgs. The Bulldog defensive front seven will be way too athletic and way too good for the Eagles to do much consistently on the ground, and there isn't enough of a GSU passing game to make a difference. Forget about mounting any sort of a comeback through the air on this Dawg secondary.
Who to watch: Georgia lost a huge piece to its national title puzzle when starting left tackle Trinton Sturdivant was knocked out for the year with a knee injury. Now the spotlight will be on Kiante Tripp, who'll step in on the left side, while it'll be up to the other four starters center Chris Davis, right guard Cordy Glenn, right tackle Josh Davis, and left guard Vince Vance, to pick up the slack early on. Games like this one are used for cohesion up front, and Georgia will need it.
What will happen: This won't be a brutally ugly blowout only because Mark Richt won't let things get out of hand. Georgia will do what it needs to do to get the work in, and then it'll be about getting the backups some meaningful playing time in the second half. 
CFN Prediction: Georgia 48 ... Georgia Southern 7 ... Line: No Line
Must See Rating: (5 90210 - 1 90210, at least what you’ll say among your friends) … 1.5

Appalachian State at LSU 5:00 PM ESPN
Why to watch: Appalachian State's stunner at Michigan to open the 2007 season was one thing, but beating the defending national champions in Death Valley would be another. ASU is a defending national champ itself having won the FCS/D-IAA title three years in a row, and it's expected to be the lead dog in the race to make it four in a row. Meanwhile, LSU isn't even considered the favorite to win the SEC with Georgia and Florida getting a bit more national love early on. Even so, considering this is a bit of a reloading season, the Tigers are still more than talented enough to be in the national title hunt throughout the season. But there are a few question marks, like at quarterback and when it comes to finding new leaders on defense. Nitpicking to be sure, but anything less than a dominant performance will send off panic sirens.
Why Appalachian State might win: The longer ASU can keep this close, and if it can come up with a few good drives early and crank out a few scores, thoughts of Michigan could start to creep in for both sides. If you're going to pull off an upset like this, it'll most likely come in the opener before there has been much of a chance to jell, and LSU is in need of some work to be fully operational. Armanti Edwards and the crew will be confident and won't wilt under the pressure of playing on a big stage; all the pressure is on LSU. The longer this is a game, the more it swings towards the Mountaineers.
Why LSU might win
: Talent. Yeah, Michigan was the far more talented team than ASU last year, but the Tigers aren't going to take this game as lightly as it would've had the Wolverine upset not happened. LSU should be able to dominate on the lines and it has the speed and athleticism in the back seven to keep the Mountaineers from cranking out too many big plays with the ground game. Edwards and the passing game can be effective, but ASU has to run to keep things balanced. That will be a huge problem.
Who to watch: It was the big question throughout the off-season. Andrew Hatch or Jarrett Lee? Lee or Hatch, Hatch or Lee, or a combination? Hatch, a walk-on transfer from Harvard, appears to be the early choice, but that doesn't mean Lee, the more dangerous option, won't see plenty of playing time ... or vice versa. True freshman Jordan Jefferson is also in the hunt, but in a perfect world he doesn't see the field this year. LSU would like to make this a laugher early to give everyone some work, but in the end, the O line is so good that whoever is under center should be fine.
What will happen: ASU will come up with a few big moments early to make everyone nervous, and then the LSU defense will turn into the LSU defense again and end the drama with a dominant second quarter. However, the Tigers won't be sharp.
CFN Prediction: LSU 38 ... Appalachian State 17 ... Line: No Line
Must See Rating: (5 90210 - 1 90210, at least what you’ll say among your friends) … 2

- SEC Fearless Predictions, Week One, Part 2