2009 SEC Fearless Predictions
Week 1 ... Sept. 6 Games, Part 2
Conference Page, Picks, Roundup, Standings & More
SEC Fearless Predictions
Week 1, Part 1
Georgia (0-0) at Oklahoma State (0-0)3:30 EST, ABC and ESPN GamePlan, Saturday, September 5
Why to watch: The Alabama – Virginia Tech tussle is supposed to be the best matchup of the opening weekend with both teams ranked in the top seven, but don't believe it. The showdown between the Bulldogs and the Cowboys, the Big 12 and the SEC, is far more important on a national scale, at least it will be as the season rolls along, and is a huge moment for the two best conferences in college football (at the moment). For Oklahoma State, this is a chance to show it has arrived. It was strong throughout last season with its high-octane offense and a solid win at Missouri, but it got its doors blown off by Oklahoma (61-41) and Texas Tech (56-20) along with a 28-24 heartbreaker to Texas. Making matters worse was the loss to Oregon in the Holiday Bowl that fed fuel to the fire that OSU was all show and no substance. Beating Georgia would provide the one really, really big win the program needs to show that it belongs among the elite of the elite.
This is a statement game for the Big 12. If Oklahoma State can't win at home against, arguably, the fourth best team in the SEC, then it'll be hard for the league to get much in the way of national respect in the SEC vs. Big 12 debate.
For Georgia, this is a chance to show that the loss of Knowshon Moreno and Matthew Stafford really wasn't all that big a deal. For a team that came into last season as the "it" squad, complete with a preseason No. 1 ranking, it had a disappointing year, even though it was a solid season by almost anyone else's standards. Now the Dawgs get to fly in under the radar with Florida getting all the preseason respect, Lane Kiffin hogging the spotlight at Tennessee, and with several West teams, most notably, Ole Miss, being touted as players for the SEC title. Georgia has the talent to not just win the SEC, but to win it all if everything breaks the right way. However, just getting through the first half of the season will be a challenge with games against Arizona State, LSU, at Tennessee, at Arkansas, and against Florida as part of the slate after the trip to Stillwater. On the plus side, Georgia has been one of the nation's premier road teams since Mark Richt took the reins as head coach and it will know how to handle the hostile environment and a frothing-at-the-mouth team looking to put a monster number on the board.
Why Georgia might win: Pound … the … rock. The big question mark will be the hamstring of No. 1 tailback, Caleb King, but he has been able to practice and could be a gametime decision. Even if he's able to go the Dawgs have a slew of excellent runners, led by the slick Richard Samuel, to shine behind one of the nation's best offensive lines. The Dawgs are deep, talented, and still improving up front helped by the return of NFL prospect Trinton Sturdivant from a knee injury. The OSU defensive front seven put up decent numbers against the run last season, but when push came to shove, it got flattened by Oregon and Oklahoma. Now it'll be without starting LB Orie Lemon, who suffered a torn ACL, that'll take away a key run stopper. Georgia needs to run for over 200 yards and control the game to win, and it should be able to.
Why Oklahoma State might win: Fine, so Georgia might end winning the time of possession battle, but that might partly be due to some quick strikes from the OSU offense. Georgia has NFL-caliber offensive weapons, but this isn't likely to be an explosive attack from the get-go. QB Joe Cox is more of a move-the-chains type of passer and the Bulldog offense might have to rely on being opportunistic early on. If the defense isn't forcing big mistakes, or if it's not doing enough for the Dawgs to win the field position battle, Cox and the offense could be in comeback mode for most of the game. Considering the secondary could be Georgia's shakiest unit coming into the season, at least compared to the rest of the loaded team, it could be bombs away.
Who to watch: The NFL scouts will watch this game dozens of times over the next several months with the keenest eyes likely to be on the superstar wide receivers. Last season was supposed to be all about the arrival of top receiver prospect Julio Jones at Alabama, but Georgia then-freshman A.J. Green had the better year. He has the size, the speed, and the hands to make big play after big play to keep drives alive and to give the mediocre OSU secondary a nightmare of a day. On the other side, the spotlight will be on Dez Bryant, the breakout star of last season who's being talked about as a possible top five overall pick if he comes out next season. The knock on him, unfair as it turned out to be, was that he was terrific against the mediocre teams and struggled against the elite. He lit up Oregon and scored twice against Oklahoma, but the top scouts will scratch their heads a bit if he's held under wraps by the Bulldogs.
What will happen: The Cowboys will get their yards and their points, but the Dawgs will pull away in the fourth quarter. This will be a shootout by necessity for Georgia, with OSU getting up early and setting the tone with some home runs to fire up the base, but the Dawg O line and the running game will slowly lead the team back. The Georgia defense will come up with a few key turnovers, and a few bigger stops, to allow the Dawgs to escape from Stillwater after winning a classic.
CFN Prediction: Georgia 37 … Oklahoma State 35 ... Line: Oklahoma State -6
Must See Rating: (Mad Men 5 … NYC Prep 1) … 5 … Free Expert Football Predictions
Louisiana Tech (0-0) at Auburn (0-0),7:00 EST, ESPNU, Saturday, September 5
Why to watch: Look out. Look … out. Auburn is desperate to restore the glory after a mediocre end to an underappreciated run by Tommy Tuberville, and controversial new head coach Gene Chizik (who's actually not controversial, but his hiring was) has got to come out right away and show that he can actually win at the FBS level. He was a disaster as the Iowa State head man, and while he has a nice base to work with and a tremendous coaching staff around him, it'll all fall on his head if the Tigers don't get off to a hot start. And that could be an issue. Louisiana Tech is a strong WAC team that should be in the hunt for the conference title all season long. Derek Dooley's Bulldogs beat Mississippi State to start last year and they're not going to be fazed by playing in an SEC stadium. All the makings are there for an upset, and Auburn and Chizik will be in for a 60-minute fight.
Why Louisiana Tech might win: Can Auburn score? New offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn has done a lot more with a lot less than he has to work with at Auburn, but the attack doesn't have many sure-thing playmakers, it doesn't have a proven passing game, and it has to deal with D'Anthony Smith, an NFL caliber tackle, and the nasty Bulldog defensive front that should be the best in the WAC. This is a good, sound Tech team with an aggressive defense and a decent enough offense with a few playmakers to come up with some game-changing plays. Auburn might play extra tight with all the pressure on, while Tech will be able to throw caution to the win and play for the upset.
Why Auburn might win: It's not like the points were flying on the scoreboard for Louisiana Tech last year, and while nine starters are returning, it's not going to be easy for the Bulldog offense to get much going with the passing game. The Ted Roof Auburn defense should be even more aggressive and it should be far better at bringing the big hits and forcing turnovers, even though last year's defense didn't need a whole bunch of help. As long as the Tiger offense doesn't make a slew of big mistakes to put the D in bad positions, Auburn might be able to get away with the win in a war of attrition.
Who to watch: Auburn hasn't been able to find a steady quarterback ever since Jason Campbell's time was done. Brandon Cox was mediocre, at best, and there was a revolving door last year in an attempt to find something to jump start a passing game that finished 99th in the nation and 106th in passing efficiency. With Kodi Burns going from spread quarterback to wide receiver, Chris Todd is getting the nod, and he won't have it easy. This was going to be a challenged passing game to begin with, and making things worse will be the loss of Tim Hawthorne to a foot problem and Montez Billings due to academic issues.
What will happen: This isn't going to be a shootout, and it'll more likely be an ugly slugfest between two decent running games and two nice defenses. Louisiana Tech will get one big play out of Philip Livas and will get a huge performance from its defensive front four down the stretch to pull off its second straight season-opening win over an SEC team.
CFN Prediction: Louisiana Tech 20 … Auburn 16 ... Line: Auburn -12
Must See Rating: (Mad Men 5 … NYC Prep 1) … 2.5… Free Expert Football Predictions
Missouri State (0-0) at Arkansas (0-0), 7:00 EST, ESPN GamePlan, Saturday, September 5
Why to watch: Call this a near-perfect opening act for an Arkansas team that's still trying to work out all the kinks under Bobby Petrino and needs to get in some live action for starting QB Ryan Mallett before the following game against Georgia in two weeks. The Hogs have enough talent in place to have the SEC's best passing game (which isn't really that big a feat), and now they'll have a chance to show off against a Missouri State team that'll battle to be out of the lower half of the Missouri Valley standings. The Bears have a not-that-bad secondary, but the pass defense numbers were skewed last season because everyone spent so much time running wild on the bad defensive front. It should be more of the same this year, and while Mallett and company shouldn't have a hard time moving the ball, they will have a few moments where they'll be tested.
Why Missouri State might win: Arkansas did a fantastic job of playing down to its competition last year. It took everything in the bag to get by Western Illinois and UL Monroe to start out the season and a late November loss to Mississippi State showed how things didn't quite progress the right way. The Missouri State spread offense should be able to generate a few good drives against an improved Hog defense that has athleticism, but not a lot of proven production.
Why Arkansas might win: MSU shouldn't lay a finger on Mallett. The Arkansas offensive line was second-worst in the country in pass protection, but it'll look like a brick wall against a Bear front line that struggled mightily throughout last season and doesn't appear to be significantly improved going into this season. Mallett might have his down moments as he tries to get used to live action again, his last game was for Michigan two years ago, but he should have plenty of time to find the right target.
Who to watch: Mallett, Mallett, Mallett. Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino is known for getting the most out of his passers, even Casey Dick put up some decent numbers last season, but Mallett could be the best talent he has ever had to work with, and that includes his brief stint with the Atlanta Falcons. Very big, very strong, very, very confident, and with a live arm, Mallett has all the basics to be a big-time passer, and now he has the knowledge of the offense after sitting on the sidelines for the past year. He's one of the biggest X factors in the SEC race, and his progression all starts with what needs to be a great performance against the overmatched Bears.
What will happen: There won't be any of the heart-skipping moments of early last year. The Hogs will take care of business right away with a nice offensive balance, while the defense will do just enough in the first half to allow the team to coast in the second.
CFN Prediction: Arkansas 45 … Missouri State 10 ... Line: No
Must See Rating: (Mad Men 5 … NYC Prep 1) … 1.5… Free Expert Football Predictions
Western Carolina (0-0) at Vanderbilt (0-0),7:30 EST, ESPN GamePlan, Saturday, September 5
Why to watch: Coming off a bowl season complete with a nice season-ending win over Boston College, Vanderbilt is looking for 2008 to be a jumping off point rather than an aberration. There's plenty of work to be done on both sides of the ball and there's a lot of improvement needing to be made offensively. This is the game to try to work some kinks out and a game to try to experiment with various twists to the attack. Western Carolina isn't just an FCS team; it's a bad one. The Catamounts have experience, but there's a long way to go after struggling with a 3-9 record last season with no offense and no luck against the run. With LSU coming up next week, the Commodores have to take advantage of the easy week one and win with ease.
Why Western Carolina might win: There's supposed to be a big improvement in the Vanderbilt offense with better play from the line, an improved receiving corps, and enough experience to do far more after finishing 117th in the nation in total offense … in theory. This will never be a wide open attack and it'll still need help from the defense to make things easier. Vandy lived on turnover margin last year, but Western Carolina, for all its faults, was relatively stingy and ended up finishing second in the SoCon in turnover margin.
Why Vanderbilt might win: Western Carolina isn't going to generate any semblance of a pass rush, and that's fine by a Commodore offense that needs to give its backfield time to work. The Catamount secondary is supposed to be a relative strength based on last year's numbers, but that was a mirage; few teams threw because they had so much success on the ground. Vandy will try to get its passing game going, it has to, but it'll rely on the running game early on just to get the offense's feet wet. That could be a problem because …
Who to watch: … so many key players are hurt. Starting RB Jared Hawkins will try to give it a go with a bad foot, but he'll be on a pitch count; he needs to be healthy for LSU. Larry Smith got the starting quarterback nod after an offseason battle, but he doesn't have the best of receiving corps to work with after losing Justin Wheeler for the season with a torn ACL and Terrence Jeffers to academic problems.
What will happen: Vandy won't be pretty, but it'll be effective on defense and will do just enough offensively, with Smith having a nice game, to get the win. However, this isn't going to be the type of performance that'll inspire confidence going into the LSU showdown.
CFN Prediction: Vanderbilt 45 … Western Carolina 10 ... Line: No Line
Must See Rating: (Mad Men 5 … NYC Prep 1) … 1
… Free Expert Football Predictions
LSU (0-0) at Washington (0-0), 10:30 pm ET, ESPN
Why To Watch: In the proverbial baptism by fire, rookie head coach Steve Sarkisian pops the cork on his tenure at Washington by hosting perennial SEC power LSU. Welcome to the bigs, young man. The former BYU quarterback and USC assistant has brought instant energy and enthusiasm to Montlake, a refreshing turn of events at the program. Can he, however, engineer a turnaround at a once-proud school that has no business going winless, like last year? Neither Rome nor Seattle was built in a day, but it does help getting QB Jake Locker back from the IR. The Tigers, too, are trying to rebound from a disappointing season. Of course, in Baton Rouge, that meant an 8-5 campaign and a 38-3 bowl rout of Georgia Tech. Still, for a team accustomed to competing for league and national championships, it made for a long offseason on the Bayou. As road trips go, this is one of the furthest in school history for LSU, though a return to the West Coast in January is also on the Bengal to-do list.
Why LSU Might Win: As always, the Tigers have a plethora of speed and stars at the skill positions. And against a leaky Washington D, they're likely to shine even brighter. RB Charles Scott and WR Brandon LaFell, especially, are prominent NFL prospects and contenders for all kinds of postseason awards. The 233-pound Scott will enjoy holes bigger than his thighs, as the massive LSU offensive line treats the Huskies like rag dolls. While Washington has a nice set of linebackers and all-star DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, it lacks the inside pillars to anchor the line against quality opponents.
Why Washington Might Win: Getting back Locker is impossible to quantify for Washington. The physical and emotional pulse of this program, he gives the Huskies a chance to do the improbable. He's also surrounded by a talented group of untapped skill position players, like RB Chris Polk and receivers D'Andre Goodwin and Jermaine Kearse, who should blossom with the help of a better triggerman. They'll be facing an LSU defense that isn't as nasty or impenetrable as in recent years. The Tigers sprung countless leaks during the regular season, prompting Les Miles to hire former Tennessee coordinator John Chavis.
Players To Watch: When peeling the onion on Washington's recent troubles, a noxious offensive line is revealed. It's the one area that's haunted the Huskies most, and will continue to plague them on opening night. LSU won't go easy on its host, especially after having problems of its own mounting a pass rush in 2008. One exception was Rahim Alem, a reserve with a starter's resume, who racked up a team-high eight sacks. Locker will need all of his quickness and escapability to avoid the pursuit of No. 84.
What Will Happen: Washington will score first. LSU will score often. The Huskies will ride the wave of Locker's return and Sarkisian's debut for a while, but their lack of consistency on both lines will prematurely end the celebration. Too much Scott and too many whiffs from the offensive line will squelch hopes for a defining Week 1 shocker.
CFN Prediction: LSU 35 ... Washington 17
Line: LSU -17
Must See Rating: (Mad Men 5 ... NYC Prep 1) .... 3...
Free Expert Football Predictions
Ole Miss (0-0) at Memphis (0-0), Sunday, September 6, 3:30 pm ET, ESPN
Why To Watch: Neighbors separated by only 90 miles, Ole Miss and Memphis have become a staple on the opening weekend. This year's meeting is going to get a little more national attention than normal thanks to the national buzz being created by the Rebels. Coming off an impressive 9-4 campaign in Houston Nutt's debut, they'll begin the season ranked inside the top 10 and a trendy sleeper in the SEC title chase. In QB Jevan Snead, the program has a genuine Heisman contender and a popular topic of discussion among NFL scouts. Naturally, Memphis would love nothing more than to spoil its rival's momentum with a program-defining upset. Under Tommy West, the Tigers have been one of Conference USA's more consistent teams, bowling in five of the last six years, but have been unable to get over the hump and win a league title. At the least, there's enough returning talent to compete for the East Division.
Why Ole Miss Might Win: Snead is just getting started, two years after transferring from Texas. He has a pro-caliber arm, a year under his belt, and an outstanding supporting cast at the skill positions. A Memphis defense that has problems with balanced offenses will have a hard time containing the running of Cordera Eason and Brandon Bolden, speed of WR Shay Hodge, and big play ability of all-purpose star Dexter McCluster. This is also not a good match up for a Memphis offensive line that lacks experience or a true anchor. The unit is liable to get schooled by a stacked Rebel D-line that features talented rush ends Greg Hardy, Marcus Tillman, and Kentrell Lockett.
Why Memphis Might Win: If the Tigers have any chance of breaking through against Ole Miss, it'll happen on offense. The Rebels are vulnerable in pass defense, which could open things up for Arkelon Hall, who enters his second season out of junior college. In Carlos Singleton and Duke Calhoun, he has a pair of big and physical pass-catchers, who are good enough to solve an SEC secondary. Plus, 1,000-yard rusher Curtis Steele is back to keep the chains moving, while making sure Ole Miss can't devote too many resources to stopping the pass.
Players To Watch: Now that Michael Oher is a Baltimore Raven, everyone will want to see how his successor, Bradley Sowell, performs in the starting lineup. The 6-7, 310-pound sophomore isn't likely to get exposed by the Memphis defense, but tougher tests are just around the corner. If he plays with confidence and can get a little more physical, the entire program will breathe a temporary sigh of relief.
What Will Happen: With something to prove to a somewhat dubious nation, Ole Miss will put on a show in front of throngs of fans making the short trip north. The Memphis defense got abused in this game a year ago, long before the Rebels really started to click on offense. Snead will again get little resistance from the Tigers, deftly distributing the ball to his talented playmakers.
CFN Prediction: Ole Miss 37 ... Memphis 17 ... Line: No Line
Must See Rating: (Mad Men 5 … NYC Prep 1) … 2.5
… Free Expert Football Predictions
Week 1, Part 1