2009 SEC Fearless Predictions
Week 3 ... Sept. 19 Games
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SEC Fearless Predictions
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Game of the Week
Tennessee (1-1) at Florida (2-0), 3:30 EST, Saturday, September 19, CBS
Why to watch: There are games that test the character of a young head coach and a program looking to rebuild, and they don’t come more challenging than this one will be for Tennessee. Ever since Lane Kiffin took over the sleeping superpower he has done a great job of poking the 400 pound gorilla in the room. Urban Meyer’s team might be the unquestioned No. 1, but Kiffin and Tennessee have managed to annoy the kings of the college football world with brashness, bluster, and accusations while doing everything possible to pick a fight.
Kiffin accused Florida of ticky-tack recruiting violations, he bragged in his first press conference that his team would be singing Rocky Top all night long after they beat Florida, and he has taken every opportunity to make jabs at Meyer and Florida. Now he needs to find a way to get his offense moving after an ugly 19-15 home loss to a severely-challenged UCLA. It’s going to take a little while for Tennessee to become Tennessee again, but the recruiting has been strong and there’s an excellent defense in place to quickly change the momentum around if the offensive attack can be a little more productive. However, Florida, Meyer, Tim Tebow, and the Gator Nation are going to bring the A+ game in an attempt to squash the annoyance, at least for the time being.
It’s not like Florida wouldn’t be trying if the Kiffin factor wasn’t involved. The Gators are openly trying to come up with an all-timer statement of a season, and Kiffin or not, this is Tennessee week. Tebow could switch sides and be the Vols head coach and Florida would still want to win by 50. But it’s not like Tennessee is going to lie down and let Florida provide the beating. This isn’t a bad Tennessee team and it has just enough talent on each side of the ball to keep this from being a coronation. There’s another side that isn’t being brought up: what if the Vols win? Crazy things have happened in the series (most notably the Tennessee win in Gainesville at the end of the 2001 regular season despite being an 18-point underdog), but a Vol win this season would be an all-timer. No matter what happens, for both programs, both fan bases, both coaches, and the SEC, it’s game on.
Why Tennessee might win: The pressure is completely and totally on Florida. It’s not going to be enough to simply win the game; the Gators have to win in an ugly blowout. They’re supposed to be the No. 1 team in America, while Tennessee is struggling and sputtering. They’re supposed to be making a run for the short list of all-time great teams. They’re supposed to be all jacked up and hell-bent on teaching the new guy a lesson. But Tennessee plays a little defense. Even last year when everything was going into the tank, the defense kept games close. The longer this stays tight, if it’s close at all after the first few Gator possessions, the more the Vols can play loose. No one thinks Tennessee can win this game, and few think this will stay within four touchdowns. Considering the program is in rebuilding mode, any outcome outside of 100-0, along with a few deaths and dismemberments, won’t be that big a deal. Tennessee is about 2010 and beyond, and anything that happens this season is gravy. On the field, Florida, considering it leads the nation in total offense and scoring offense, hasn’t exactly been razor sharp (by the ridiculously high standard set for a team of this caliber). The pass rush has been shockingly mediocre, Tebow has misfired a bit too often, for him, and last week, Troy was able to hang around for a quarter. Tennessee’s D can keep this close, but …
Why Florida might win:… the offense is a whole other issue. After opening up the season with an onslaught of points and yards in the 63-7 win over Western Kentucky, there appeared to be hope that an immediate change had taken place. QB Jonathan Crompton threw five touchdown passes, the ground game rumbled for 380 yards and four scores, and all of a sudden, Tennessee looked like a living, breathing team again. And then came the UCLA debacle and Crompton couldn’t make anything happen, he threw three picks, and the running game was shut down gaining just 115 yards. Florida’s defense is better than UCLA’s, and in an emotional game like this one will be, a jacked up D can feed off the energy and provide the knockout blow early on. It’s not like the Gator defense went through the motions in the first two scrimmages, but it’s not like it was flying around with the extra bounce in its step that it had at the end of last year. This has looked like a defense, and a team (outside of the perpetually peppy Tebow), that had no interest in doing anything more than win the first two games easily before moving on. This is the game that Florida has been waiting for, and this is when the real No. 1 team in the land might be unleashed. The offense might have problems at times, but the defense and special teams should be able to make up for it.
Who to watch: Note to the new Tennessee coaching staff: No. 25. Do NOT let him have the ball. Lost in the seemingly easy 30-6 Florida win over the Vols last year was how the offense was mediocre. Tebow was fine, but hardly special, the passing game didn’t click, and the running game struggled for long stretches. However, Brandon James made the game a rout with two punt returns for 92 yards and a score and three kickoffs for 82 yards. It’s not like this came out of the blue, he returned three punts for 91 yards and a touchdown against the Vols in 2007, while adding four kickoff returns for 102 yards, and he exploded as a freshman averaging 16.25 yards per punt return in the 21-20 Gator win. He has been bottled up so far this year on punt returns, but he came up with an 85-yard kickoff return for a score against Charleston Southern. Tennessee will have enough problems on offense and defense; it can’t get clobbered on special teams, too.
What will happen: This will be tighter than Florida fans might like … for a quarter. The Vol defense will do its part, but the offense will be too inept allowing Tebow and the Gator offense too many short fields and too many chances. The final score will be a blowout, but Florida will be in for a battle. Tennessee and Kiffin don’t do anything quietly; they’ll show up.
CFN Prediction: Florida 38 … Tennessee 8 ... Line: Florida -28.5
Must See Rating: (Melrose Place 5 … Toddlers & Tiaras 1) … 4.5
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Louisville (1-0) at Kentucky (1-0),12:00 EST, ESPNU, Saturday, September 19
Why to watch: Louisville and Kentucky meet for the 22nd time for the Governor’s Cup, a budding rivalry that always creates a stir around the Commonwealth. The Wildcats have recovered nicely from a four-game losing streak in the series, taking the last two for a measure of redemption. Despite having question marks on both sides of the ball, they impressed before the bye week, hammering Miami (OH), 42-0, the school’s first shutout in 13 years. Although no one wants to get carried away this early, it was an uplifting performance, especially for the maligned offense. The Cards have also won their only game of the season, but the vibe is not quite as intense in this part of the state. Louisville played inconsistently in its 30-10 defeat of Indiana State, fueling concerns about the direction of the program under Steve Kragthorpe.
Why Louisville might win: You can beat the Kentucky defense on the ground, which is exactly what the Cardinals will be aiming to do. Two of their best offensive weapons, Victor Anderson and Bilal Powell, happen to be seasoned backs, who combined for 169 yards and three touchdowns in Week 1. They form a nice complement, motoring behind a veteran line that does its best work when run blocking. The ‘Cats will need more time to adapt to a defensive line breaking in three new starters.
Why Kentucky might win: What happens if the Wildcats stack the line with linebackers Micah Johnson and Sam Maxwell? It’s not as if there’ll be much risk. Louisville’s Justin Burke was awful in his first start at quarterback, throwing no touchdowns and two picks against a feeble Indiana State D. You can pretty much predict what’s going to happen in his first road game versus a Trevard Lindley-led secondary that was brilliant in the opener. The always-key turnover battle will favor Kentucky on this afternoon.
Who to watch: Is it too early to get on the Mike Hartline bandwagon? The Kentucky quarterback was sharp two weeks ago, throwing for two scores and no picks, while getting on the same page with junior college transfer Chris Matthews and converted quarterback Randall Cobb. Although it was against the RedHawks, it remains to be seen whether this week’s visiting birds are any tougher in pass defense.
What will happen: Even in a 30-10 victory, you can see something is wrong at Louisville. Unlike a bad FCS team, Kentucky will shine a spotlight on those shortcomings, blasting its in-state rival to the delight of the home fans. While the Cards stumble on third down, the ‘Cats will flourish, keeping drives alive behind Hartline and underrated backs Alfonso Smith and Derrick Locke. If given an opening, Kentucky won’t pass on a chance to make this game ugly in the second half.
CFN Prediction: Kentucky 37 … Louisville 14 ... Line: Kentucky -12.5
Must See Rating: (Melrose Place 5 … Toddlers & Tiaras 1) … 2
North Texas (1-1) at Alabama (2-0), 12:20 EST, Saturday, September 19, ESPN360
Why to watch: All of a sudden, this doesn’t look like the complete and utter blasting it was originally supposed to be. Well, it probably will be, but at least North Texas isn’t totally awful like it has been the last few years. The Mean Green ran well in the first two games in a win at Ball State and a tough overtime loss against Ohio looking like a team that could challenge for a top three spot in the Sun Belt. But there will be a bump in the road, a well compensated bump, with a lamb-to-the-slaughter date at Alabama. The Tide has been fantastic so far, and now it gets to finish up its tour of the Sun Belt after rolling past FIU last week 40-14. The SEC season kicks in next week against Arkansas, and with several banged up players, Bama would love to get this over with quickly. It shouldn’t have a problem doing that.
Why North Texas might win: The Bama win over FIU wasn’t quite the walk in the park the final score makes it out to be. FIU had several chances to turn the game around, but it couldn’t convert on key third downs. The Golden Panther passing game did a nice job of keeping things moving, but the running game was shut down. UNT has thrived on the ground so far, but now it has to revert back to two years ago when the air attack was rolling. With a near-perfect balance this year, 206 rushing yards and 201 through the air, the Mean Green could make the Tide work a little bit.
Why Alabama might win: North Texas can forget about running the ball. Cam Montgomery has stepped up his game and has grown into a key piece to the team’s resurgence. His running has eased the inexperienced quarterbacks into the season, but against a Tide run defense that has given up just 65 rushing yards so far, and has come up with ten sacks and 20 tackles for loss in two games, Montgomery might as well be sitting on the bench. Throwing the ball could be a problem, too, because ...
Who to watch: … Riley Dodge is out with a shoulder injury. He could’ve gone to Texas, or just about anywhere, but he chose to go to UNT to play for his dad, head coach Todd Dodge. The knock on him was that he couldn’t stay healthy, and after starting the season hot, he got knocked out with a shoulder injury and will miss the Bama game, at least. It’s not serious and he should be back in three weeks at the latest, but there’s a big drop-off from Dodge to junior Nathan Tune, who’s not nearly the same runner and completed 9-of-15 passes for 69 yards and a key interception when thrown into the fire against Ohio. He’ll have to be phenomenal for the Mean Green to have a chance, but he’ll have to survive against a killer Tide pass rush.
What will happen: The Mean Green played well over the first few weeks, but after spotty performance against FIU, Alabama will show up and come up with a rock of a defensive effort in an easy win.
CFN Prediction: Alabama 41 … North Texas 9 ... Line: Alabama -27
Must See Rating: (Melrose Place 5 … Toddlers & Tiaras 1) … 1.5
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Louisiana-Lafayette (2-0) at LSU (2-0), 7:00 EST, Saturday, September 19, ESPNU
Why to watch: Kansas State isn’t any good this year and needs a ton of work, but beating a Big 12 team is still a really, really big deal for Louisiana. The Ragin’ Cajuns are in a rebuilding mode and need plenty of work in lots of areas, but they’ve won three straight going back to last year and have looked solid offensively so far. But reality might quickly hit with a trip to Nebraska next week to follow up this week’s battle in Baton Rouge. LSU has been fine, and wasn’t pushed too hard in a SEC-opening win over Vanderbilt last week, but it hasn’t looked national-title good needing too long to put Washington away while not coming up with a smooth offensive performance against the Commodores. With road games against Mississippi State and Georgia ahead, followed up by showdowns against Florida and a resurgent Auburn, and tuning up that needs to be done has to happen this week.
Why Louisiana-Lafayette might win: The LSU run defense has hardly been the LSU run defense of old. Vanderbilt ran for 122 yards and Washington took off for 157. While that’s not bad, the Tigers haven’t been the brick wall of past years. ULL doesn’t have the dangerous rushing attack of past years, but it’s good enough to get by with Undre Sails running well so far, averaging 96 yards per game, while QB Chris Masson has just enough mobility to give the Tiger front seven a few problems.
Why LSU might win: The LSU offensive line should be able to flatten the ULL defensive front. While there are some good players across the Ragin’ Cajun front line, it’s not doing a thing to get into the backfield with just five tackles for loss and no sacks in the first two games. LSU QB Jordan Jefferson needs time to work, while the backs, Keiland Williams and the shockingly average-so-far Charles Scott, haven’t found enough room to move so far. This should be the game when the Tiger running game gets going and controls the game for a full sixty minutes. This needs to be the game when the LSU line plays like one of the best front fives in the country, which it’s supposed to be. On the flip side ...
Who to watch: LT Kyle Pirtle, LG Brad Bustle, C Chris Fisher, RG Ian Burks, RT Jonathan Decoster. Those five veterans make up the best offensive line in the Sun Belt, and it has played like it so far. With key replacements being made in the offensive backfield, and with the defense needing help and needing to be off the field as much as possible, the Ragin’ Cajun offensive line has been the star for the team this year with no sacks allowed while doing a decent job for the ground game. It has to be phenomenal and has to control the LSU defensive front all game long.
What will happen: LSU will have another uneven game, but the running game will crank out 250 yards and shouldn’t have a problem coming up with a few big plays when absolutely needed. With enough time to bomb away, Jefferson will come up with two home runs to his terrific receivers to keep the Tigers comfortably ahead.
CFN Prediction: LSU 27 … Louisiana-Lafayette 13 ... Line: LSU -26
Must See Rating: (Melrose Place 5 … Toddlers & Tiaras 1) … 2
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Mississippi State (1-1) at Vanderbilt (1-1), 7:00 EST, Saturday, September 19, ESPN GamePlan
Why to watch: Normally this would be the anti-SEC Championship with the two bottom-feeders in the conference divisions, but it’s a bit different this season. Vanderbilt and Mississippi State could finish at or near the basement in their respective divisions, but they’re far better than they were a few years ago. Vanderbilt wants to get back to a bowl game and it desperately needs this win to have an honest shot. The Commodores fought hard in last week’s loss to LSU, but there wasn’t any passing game when the ground attack wasn’t working. With Rice and Army, both road games, coming up in the next few weeks, wrapped around a date with Ole Miss, a win here might mean a 4-2 start to the season … at least. For MSU, the Dan Mullen era suffered a setback last week after getting steamrolled by Auburn. Like Vandy, MSU has no passing game and lives off of anything it can get on the ground. These are two relatively similar teams when it comes to major offensive flaws, but it should be a competitive battle for a full sixty minutes.
Why Mississippi State might win: The Vanderbilt special teams have been awful. For a team as one-dimensional as the Commodores are, field position is a must. While it’s only been two games, Vandy is 119th in the nation in punting averaging 23.77 yards per game and is averaging just two yards per punt return and 14.88 yards per kickoff return. On the other side, MSU is second in the nation in punting, averaging 45.38 yards per punt, and has been terrific in the return game averaging 18 yards per punt return and 26.56 yards per kickoff return.
Why Vanderbilt might win: The MSU run defense got flattened and blown past by Auburn last week, giving up 390 yards and five touchdowns. The Vanderbilt offense is all about running the ball, and while MSU will sell out to stop the run, it’s not likely to have as much success as it needs to. Zac Stacy has been a nice find as a true freshman, running for 222 yards in the first two games, and the mobility of QB Larry Smith should occupy the Bulldog linebackers the entire game. If Auburn’s Kodi Burns could run for 32 yards and three touchdowns when lined up under center, then Smith could have a huge game. It should also help that …
Who to watch: … Jared Hawkins might be back. Vandy’s leading rusher last season missed the first two games with a foot problem that plagued him throughout all offseason. His tough style adds another element to a rushing mix that has already worked well so far. On the down side, the defense loses a star in safety Ryan Hamilton. A rock in the defensive back seven over the past few years, Hamilton made 104 tackles last season and started the season well before getting knocked out for the year with a torn pectoral muscle. Trying to replace him is Micah Powell, a promising prospect, but a green one. For the moment, this is a major drop-off.
What will happen: It should be an entertaining battle, if not always an aesthetically pleasing one. The Vanderbilt running game and defense will be a bit stronger in a game that will only be about running and defense. Larry Smith ran for 66 yards against Western Carolina and -6 against LSU. He’ll come up with a 75-yard rushing day and will be the difference.
CFN Prediction: Vanderbilt 23 … Mississippi State 17 ... Line: Vanderbilt -8
Must See Rating: (Melrose Place 5 … Toddlers & Tiaras 1) … 2.5
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