By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
Aug. 27, 2013
Last season’s record: 94-19 (83.2%)
Welcome back to our weekly SEC previews, our chance to take a humorous (but usually thoughtful) look at what’s going on around the SEC. Last year was a decent showing for the Predictions Dept., not the best we’ve ever done but certainly not the worst, either. We look forward to bringing you our insights and lighthearted humor again in 2013.
TOLEDO at FLORIDA
Florida might have thought it picked a pushover for Week 1 when this game was scheduled, but Toledo is coming off a 9-4 record and Florida’s injury sheet is so long, Jamie Farr is a threat to show up in a dress on the Gator sideline. If Florida can avoid getting kneecapped (and if he does show up, check Farr closely for weapons; he was born in Toledo), the Gators should still win this game, but Florida has gotten out of the gate slowly in recent years against mid-level competition. Helping Florida’s cause greatly is the fact the Toledo defense was gutted by graduation.
ALABAMA vs. VIRGINIA TECH (at Atlanta, Ga.)
The Bulldogs will get a stern test right out of the gate. Both these teams have been tabbed as potential championship contenders, but the dream might end in Week 1 for the loser here – especially if it’s Clemson, which plays in a weaker conference and might have a harder time getting back in the picture. The biggest problem for both teams is rebuilding defenses; Clemson’s secondary is new, while Georgia’s entire defense is practically new. Given that Tajh Boyd and Aaron Murray are quarterbacking this game, it might be time to add a third digit under the team names on the scoreboard.
KENTUCKY vs. WESTERN KENTUCKY (at Nashville, Tenn.)
This game is just strange. The two teams had the game moved to Nashville, while Western Kentucky is replacing former head coach and West Coast devotee Willie Taggart with Bob Petrino. Meanwhile, Mark Stoops makes his head coaching debut for the Wildcats. Both teams have some rebuilding to do, and you can bet Petrino won’t waste a lot of time before transitioning Western Kentucky’s two-back offense to something more akin to what he ran at Arkansas. Western Kentucky linebacker Andrew Jackson is the best player on either team, but Kentucky has better overall talent and is looking for revenge after losing this game in 2012.
W. Kentucky 21
Missouri isn’t the beast of the SEC East by any stretch, but the Tigers should steamroll Murray State. If Missouri looks flaccid in this game, it might be time for Gary Pinkel to start pricing moving vans.
Murray State 7
NORTH CAROLINA at SOUTH CAROLINA
If you’re looking for an upset that could very well happen, look here. If North Carolina can exploit South Carolina’s weakness at linebacker, the Tarheels could very well shock the Gamecocks and the college landscape as a whole. Offensive mad scientist Larry Fedora turned Carolina football on its ear in his first season, and provided the Tarheels can replace Giovani Bernard at running back, this will be a dangerous offensive team once again. South Carolina has been a notoriously slow starter in past seasons, and a slow start here would be deadly.
South Carolina 27
North Carolina 24
AUSTIN PEAY at TENNESSEE
Whatever trouble the Vols might have, Austin Peay is highly unlikely to be able to expose them. The first couple of games figure to boost the Tennessee confidence before Oregon shatters it in Week 3.
Austin Peay 14
Vanderbilt has taken control of this series as of late, but things look a bit different this time around. Ole Miss spent its offseason building up the talent pool and developing a mostly-intact core of experienced players. Vanderbilt had a huge off-field scandal to deal with, and the Commodores also now find themselves in the unfamiliar role of favorite in most of their games. Going from prey to pursuer is something Vanderbilt will have to address, regardless of the fallout from the rape arrests.
Ole Miss 30
LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE at ARKANSAS
This will be an interesting opener for Bret Bielema at Arkansas. Louisiana-Lafayette might be a Sun Belt team, but it’s a team coming off two straight 9-4 seasons, with a budding star at quarterback and an experienced defense. About this same time last year, Arkansas was kicking off the John L. Smith error with a loss to Louisiana-Monroe. If Bielema loses to Louisiana-Lafayette, expect the Arkansas legislature to enact a ban on both former Big Ten coaches and hyphens.
Auburn picked the perfect time to schedule the Cougars, who are in the second year of Mike Leach’s refacing of the program. The Cougars have a new quarterback, but also have most of the rest of the team back – a team that upset rival Washington to end the 2012 season. Unfortunately, this calls into question whether experience is a good thing if the players with the experience are all bad. On Auburn’s sideline, Gus Malzahn is back for Spread Offense v.2.0, but the Tigers have little depth on either side and the quarterback situation is a potential grenade looking for a place to go off. The Tigers should still win this one regardless, but this could turn out to be entertaining.
Washington St. 27
Plenty of national pundits are looking to this game as a potential statement game for Anyone vs. SEC, but the Anyone in this case is one of the smallest and thinnest Big 12 teams. TCU’s discipline, defense and intact-for-decades systems make the Horned Frogs a dangerous opponent for good-but-not-great opponents. Problem is, LSU very well may be a great team. TCU doesn’t have enough athleticism to hold the Bayou Bengals at bay.
The march of neutral-site games continues, as one of the SEC’s most boring teams lines up against one of the Big 12’s most high-flying. Oklahoma State’s defense was a study in ineptitude at times in 2012, but Mississippi State is ill-equipped to make the pass defense pay for mistakes. The injury bug hasn’t been friendly to Oklahoma State this fall camp, but with the Cowboys’ depth at the offensive skill positions, it might not matter. The most interesting part of this game will be watching how fast two new coordinators get accustomed to their new jobs on the Cowboy sideline. If Mississippi State’s defense doesn’t play well over its head, this could be ugly for the SEC.
Oklahoma St. 41
Mississippi St. 24
RICE at TEXAS A&M
Will Johnny Manziel play or won’t he? The Aggies are moving forward as if he will, six-hour interviews with NCAA investigators notwithstanding. Against Rice, it won’t matter. The Aggies could line up backwards with the punter under center and put the Owls away by 14.The Owls may no longer be the doormat they’ve mostly been for the last upteen decades, but the NCAA would have to suspend Manziel and about 20 other players to give them a shot against the Aggies.
Texas A&M 48
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