2009 SEC Fearless Predictions - Week 1
NC State QB Russell Wilson & USC QB Stephen Garcia
NC State QB Russell Wilson & USC QB Stephen Garcia
Posted Sep 3, 2009

Finally ... FINALLY. Life begins again with the start of the college football season, and Russell Wilson's NC State and Stephen Garcia's South Carolina kick off Thursday night with a good one. Check out all the Previews and Predictions for the Week 1 SEC Games.

2009 SEC Fearless Predictions

Week 1 ... Sept. 6 Games

East | Florida | Georgia | Kentucky | South Carolina | Tennessee | Vanderbilt 
West Alabama | Arkansas | Auburn | LSU | Ole Miss | Miss State
- SEC Conference Page, Picks, Roundup, Standings & More

SEC Fearless Predictions

- Week 1, Part 2 (LSU vs. Washington, Ole Miss vs. Memphis, and More)

Game of the Week

Alabama (0-0) vs. Virginia Tech (0-0)
8:00 EST, ABC, Saturday, September 5

Why to watch: There are statement games, and then there are battles with the potential to change and redefine the perception of established powerhouse programs, and possibly a conference. Last season, Clemson was coming into the opener in Atlanta against Alabama with a veteran-loaded team and national title aspirations. The Tide came up with a dominant performance in a 34-10 romp that set the tone for a breakthrough season under head coach Nick Saban and set the ACC back another year in terms of national perception. Bama, at the time, wasn't supposed to be special, the program was supposed to be a year away from true greatness, while Clemson was expected to have a coming out party. This year, there won't be any major surprises considering both teams are ranked in the top seven (Bama No. 5 and Virginia Tech No. 7), and the stakes are even higher.

If Alabama can pull this off there will be smooth sailing for a few weeks (with FIU, North Texas, Arkansas, and Kentucky to follow) before dealing with Ole Miss on the road in one of the season's biggest SEC showdowns. While a win would erase many of the memories of a rough final five quarters of the 2008 season (completed with a steamrolling by Tim Tebow and the Gators in the fourth quarter of the SEC Championship and the jaw-dropper from Utah in the Sugar Bowl), more importantly, it would cement the team in the top five and put it on the short list of true national title contenders.

For Virginia Tech, it could be argued that a win would be the biggest and most important since the program announced its arrival on a national scale with a 28-10 win over Texas in the 1995 Sugar Bowl. Oh sure, there have been some terrific moments under Frank Beamer, including the Michael Vick era and last season's Orange Bowl win over Cincinnati, but a win over the Tide would bring more national respect than any of his previous teams were able to gain. Being an ACC superpower is nice, but being in the hunt for the national title with one of the highest-profile national non-conference wins of the season could take Tech and its conference to a whole other level.

Why Virginia Tech might win: Can the Tide handle the pressure generated by the Virginia Tech front seven? In the Sugar Bowl, Utah provided a blueprint for how to disrupt the Alabama offense by sending players from all angles and at odd times (LB Steven Sylvester had three sacks and corner Sean Smith had one of the team's eight), and Virginia Tech has even more speed and athleticism. Bama has to hope the rebuilt O line is ready from the opening snap, even though it could use a tune-up game, and new starting quarterback Greg McElroy has to get his feet wet. The junior might be smart and might know the offense, but he isn't likely to be comfortable early on. Also, there have also been a slew of major distractions for the Tide to deal with from possible NCAA violations surrounding star WR Julio Jones and starting RB Mark Ingram and their involvement in a fishing trip, to top DT Terrence Cody and No. 2 WR Marquis Maze having the flu, to a slew of various injuries and personnel losses over the last few weeks.
Why Alabama might win: This was a bad matchup for the Hokies before their star running back, Darren Evans, was lost for the year to a knee injury, and now it's even worse. Of course it's a new year with several new players taking over in key spots, but it's not like Virginia Tech is going to suddenly start to wing the ball around all over the field. The Hokies might not be as bad throwing it as they were last year, when they finished 111th in the nation in passing and 98th in passing efficiency, they can't win if they don't run effectively. Even with Cody getting over the flu, Alabama should have one of the nation's five best run defenses coming into the season. The Tide has the linebackers to swarm over Virginia Tech QB Tyrod Taylor if he isn't getting any help from his backs.
Who to watch: Running backs, running backs, running backs. It's this easy: the team that runs better will win. Controversy and all, Alabama will have Ingram ready to go as the thunderous No. 1 option, but super-recruit Trent Richardson will get a little bit of work and veterans Terry Grant and Roy Upchurch are expected to seen enough carries to throw different looks at the Hokie front four. On the other side, with Evans gone, Hokie sophomore Josh Oglesby will try to make the most of his playing time and will try to finally shake the injury bug. The hard-luck back should be the team's most reliable runner, outside of Taylor, but he has been struggling to get and stay healthy, most notably being limited by a bad hamstring. Oglesby's issues will allow redshirt freshman Ryan Williams to be in the spotlight early on, while true freshman David Wilson has been strong enough in practices to see at least ten carries sprinkled throughout the game.
What will happen: This won't be a shootout in any form. Both defenses will tee off on the other team's running game, but the Hokie offensive line will have more problems with the Bama front four than the Tide O line will have with the Tech defensive front. Each team will have problems doing what they'd like to, but Bama will get just enough of a passing game going to offset some big plays from the Hokie special teams. Expect a little razzle dazzle from Beamer to try to jump-start his offense, but it won't be enough.
CFN Prediction: Alabama 23 ... Virginia Tech 13 ... Line: Alabama -6
Must See Rating: (Mad Men 5 ... NYC Prep 1) … 5 ... Free Expert Football Predictions

South Carolina (0-0) at NC State (0-0), 7:00 EST, ESPN, Thursday, September 3

Why to watch: Steve Spurrier vs. Tom O'Brien on opening night? It's not the Chick-fil-A Kickoff in Atlanta, but you could do a lot worse for a mid-week offering. After straddling the .500 mark throughout 2008, both programs are hoping to use this game as a launching pad for an eight or nine-win season. In four years, South Carolina hasn't broken through as expected under Spurrier, averaging just seven wins and failing to seriously join the SEC title race. A new season brings new hope and an equal number of question marks for a team at a crossroads. North Carolina State enters 2009 with considerable optimism after finishing last year with four straight regular season wins. With two seasons in Raleigh now behind him and QB Russell Wilson fresh off an All-ACC debut, O'Brien believes he has the Pack on the brink of a breakthrough year.
Why South Carolina might win: The one thing the Gamecocks have consistently been able to do in the Spurrier era is play defense. Even with some losses and a very young secondary, they'll be a swarming bunch that's led by All-SEC LB Eric Norwood. Coordinator Ellis Johnson has a month to prepare for a flimsy Wolfpack offensive line, which is bad news for the home team. He'll throw everything he's got at the unit, forcing Wilson out of his comfort zone. Now that Stephen Garcia is being given a chance to pilot the offense, he'll like what he sees on the other side of the field. NC State struggles mightily in pass defense, which will open things up for WR Moe Brown and TE Weslye Saunders.
Why NC State might win: Wilson. He's the reason the Wolfpack will have a shot in every game this season. Mature beyond his years and able to make plays with his arm and his legs, he has a knack for making everyone around him better and energizing the crowd. Now, the Gamecock D is perennially feisty, but that secondary is going to be a work-in-progress. With three new starters and freshmen playing an uncomfortably large role, WR Owen Spencer and TE George Bryan could both have big nights on the receiving ends of Wilson's throws.
Who to watch: The South Carolina offensive line. Rarely a group that overachieves, this unit needs to give Garcia time and open up some running room for the untested Gamecock backs. That won't come without a challenge. North Carolina State sports a terrific tandem up front that'll bring heat from Willie Young and Alan-Michael Cash on the outside and inside, respectively. If forced from the pocket, Garcia will make costly errors.
What will happen: While Spurrier isn't at the level he used to be in Gainesville, you still don't want to give him or his staff too much time to prepare for an opponent. He's unbeaten in openers with the Gamecocks, including last year's 34-0 shellacking of the Pack. Sure, State has improved greatly since then, but the middling SEC team always rates an edge over the middling ACC team. The defense, specifically Norwood, will be the key for South Carolina, dominating that Wolfpack O-line and winning the turnover battle. While style points will come at a premium, the ‘Cocks will do just enough offensively to get out of Carter-Finley with a win.
CFN Prediction: South Carolina 17 ... NC State 13 ... Line: South Carolina -3.5
Must See Rating: (Mad Men 5 ... NYC Prep 1) ... 3.5 Free Expert Football Predictions

Kentucky (0-0) at Miami University (0-0),12:00 EST, ESPNU, Saturday, September 5

Why to watch: Kentucky has just enough young talent returning to be a dangerous team in the SEC, and while it won't win the East, or even come up with a sniff, this should grow into one of Rich Brooks' most fun squads to watch. For Miami, this is technically a home game, even if it's being played in Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, and it's the beginning of the Mike Haywood era after several disappointing years under former head coach Shane Montgomery. MU has always had enough MAC talent to be a preseason favorite for the title, but bad offenses, injuries, and few breaks led the way to some utter disasters, like last year's 2-10 campaign. With five road games in the next six, and the home date against Cincinnati, it'll be a rough start for the RedHawks, but an upset over an SEC could jump-start the program.
Why Kentucky might win: The Kentucky offensive line should be able to shove around the Miami defensive front. The RedHawks were among the worst in the nation last season at generating pressure, and while new defensive coordinator Carl Reese has vowed that his defensive front will be more aggressive and more effective, that could be difficult against a UK front five that might be the strength of the offense.
Why Miami might win: The RedHawk defense gets everyone of note back in the secondary. The front seven might struggle in rebuilding phase for the linebacking corps and with so much work needed to be done on the line, but the defensive backs should be able to stay with the average UK receivers. MU might not have the best O line, but there are enough weapons to come up with a few big plays needed to stay in the game.
Who to watch: Two very key Kentucky playmakers need to be healthy. Do-it-all wide receiver Randall Cobb has suffered from back problems this offseason, and while he's expected to play, he could be limited. The coaching staff would like to use him in a variety of ways, but if he's not moving like he was able to last year, he just be a wideout. The bigger concern is on the defensive side where All-SEC linebacker Micah Johnson suffered a foot injury in practices. If he's out, and he's doubtful to play, it'll be up to Ronnie Sneed or Mikhail Mabry to take over.
What will happen: The Miami offense will try to push the ball down the field a bit more and will try to open things up compared to last year, but it's not going to matter. Kentucky will come up with a nice balance offensively, and a good performance, especially against the run, defensively to come up with the relatively easy win.
CFN Prediction: Kentucky 30 … Miami 14 ... Line: ?????
Must See Rating: (Mad Men 5 … NYC Prep 1) … 2 Free Expert Football Predictions

Western Kentucky (0-0) at Tennessee (0-0),12:20 EST, ESPN GamePlan, Saturday, September 5

Why to watch: It's football time at Tennessee and there might not be a more interesting team going into the season. Lane Kiffin has certainly kept the Vols on the front-burner with all the bluster and all the controversy, and now it's time to show that this really is a new era and this really is a Tennessee team that will play like Tennessee again. With UCLA up next week and the showdown against Florida to follow, the Vols have to treat this like a preseason game and find something, anything, that might work on offense. For Western Kentucky, this is the official introduction into the world of the FBSers after being a provisional program for the last few years. The expectations are low after an ugly 2-10 season and with massive personnel changes across the board, but if the Tennessee offense sputters and coughs out of the gate, WKU has the potential to make this interesting.
Why Western Kentucky might win: The Hilltoppers didn't get much going on a regular basis offensively last season, and they need to find playmakers who can prove they can come up with big plays, but the offensive line has the potential to be a strength. All five starters return up front and there are a few decent running backs to work with, led by Tyrell Hayden, so if WKU can pound the ball early, the offense might be able to take some control of the game.
Why Tennessee might win: The Hilltopper defensive front is going to have major issues. It's not a good line and it'll be shoved all over the place, so while Kiffin would like to put a charge into his passing game and come up with more vertical big plays, the Vols should be able to put the game away early on by pounding the rock and getting the exciting, talented backs as much work as possible. The potential star of stars could be ...
Who to watch: Super-recruit Bryce Brown. He was a pain in the butt in the recruiting cycle and left Miami out to dry, but there's no denying his talent. Arguably the nation's No. 1 prospect, Brown landed in Tennessee and is expected to not only see time right away, but he could be one of the week one breakout performers on a national scale. While he'll be a lock for a big game, the real question mark will be at quarterback where Jonathan Crompton gets the start and needs to show right away that he's a better, more effective passer than he was last season when he failed to get the offense moving.
What will happen: It'll be a bloodletting. Kiffin will want to establish a new attitude and a new confidence right away, and that will start with a blowout of a rebuilding WKU. Welcome to the big time, Hilltoppers.
CFN Prediction: Tennessee 45 … Western Kentucky 10 ... Line: Tennessee -30
Must See Rating: (Mad Men 5 … NYC Prep 1) … 2Free Expert Football Predictions

Jackson State (0-0) at Mississippi State (0-0), 3:30 EST, ESPNU, Saturday, September 5

Why to watch: It's the start of the Dan Mullen era in Starkville and he believes he has a team that could make a little bit of noise this year. The Bulldogs certainly won't win the SEC title, but they could be strong enough to pull off a few upsets and be more competitive. However, there's a lot of work to be done on the offense and the team desperately needs a preseason tune-up game like this before going to Auburn and Vanderbilt and hosting LSU and Georgia Tech over the following four games. The potential is there, though, for this to be more than just a light scrimmage against a Jackson State team that should be the class of the SWAC.
Why Jackson State might win: The MSU offense has a long way to go to be mediocre, at least compared to last season, and Mullen, as good as he might be an offensive coach, isn't a miracle worker. Making matters worse is the up-in-the-air issues with star RB Anthony Dixon, who was suspended from the team following a DUI and isn't expected to play. Jackson State might be rebuilding a bit, too, but it's a program that knows how to win and could make this more than just competitive for a half.
Why Mississippi State might win: Jackson State doesn't have the horses. The offense was mediocre last year, even though the team was great in SWAC play, and there needs to be a lot more production from a running game that isn't likely to go anywhere against the MSU linebackers. On defense, JSU's calling card, the team's four best players from last year are gone and there should be big-time problems generating any semblance of a pass rush.
Who to watch: Mullen has been big on keeping his secrets this offseason when it comes to personnel and what he plans to do with the pecking order at key spots. While the Dixon suspension is the biggest issue, all eyes will be on the quarterback situation where veteran Tyson Lee is the safest option to run the Mullen spread attack, but Chris Relf will get every opportunity to take the job by the horns. Mullen has been mum on naming a starter, but both players will see action.
What will happen: For one game, Mississippi State will look like a world-beater. The offense will have its problems trying to consistently produce, but the defense will stop the Tigers cold.
CFN Prediction: Mississippi State 40 … Jackson State 3 ... Line: No Line
Must See Rating: (Mad Men 5 … NYC Prep 1) … 1Free Expert Football Predictions

Charleston Southern (0-0) at Florida (0-0),7:00 EST, ESPN GamePlan, Saturday, September 5

Why to watch: Step one in the Year of Florida begins with a light scrimmage that the Gator third team could win with ease. It's leg stretching time with a preseason game in its truest form, but it's an important outing for a Florida attack that's breaking in a new offensive coordinator, Steve Addazio, and has question marks, albeit slight ones, in the receiving corps that's replacing Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy. It's a process for the 2009 Gators with an upgrade in opponent next week against Troy, and then comes the fun when Lane Kiffin and Tennessee come to Gainesville. Charleston Southern will struggle to stay out of the Big South basement and could get blasted by triple digits if Urban Meyer wanted to be a dillhole. The Buccaneers have major problems on the O line and don't have much in the way of firepower.
Why Charleston Southern might win: The Bucs come in on a four game winning streak and with seven wins in their last nine games of 2008. The defensive front four has the potential to be among the best in the Big South and there should be some semblance of a pass rush … but not against the Gators. The only chance CSU has of keeping this reasonably entertaining will be by selling out to hit Tim Tebow at all costs, but the speed at linebacker isn't there to do too many funky, aggressive moves.
Why Florida might win: It's all about getting Tebow on the same page with his receives. If the coaching staff, and more specifically, an NFL-dreaming Tebow, wants to experiment with more snaps under center and want to go with a little bit of I-formation, just to throw off teams looking at game tape, this would be the time to do it. Florida has to treat this like a true preseason game. It'll win by whatever score it wants to make it, but this is the time to take advantage of the opportunity to get some quality live work in.
Who to watch: Welcome to the beginning of the John Brantley era. The sophomore is the future of the Gator program and a near-lock to run the offense once Tebow finally leaves to do whatever it is he's going to do. There are some whispers that Brantley, a superior talent out of high school, has more NFL upside than Tebow, and he should get a chance to show it off after No. 15 exits early in the third quarter. Brantley needs to be ready in case the unthinkable happens to Tebow.
What will happen: There's no need for Florida to make a major statement in the season opener and there's no need to try to win by 70. However, the Gators might not be able to help but win by a monster number. The second and third teamers are going to try, too.
CFN Prediction: Florida 63 … Charleston Southern 0 ... Line: No Line
Must See Rating: (Mad Men 5 … NYC Prep 1) … 1Free Expert Football Predictions