Thursday, August 28th
Vanderbilt at Miami (OH)
Vandy won 24-13 against Miami at home last year. Amazingly, Miami managed to play in the MAC Championship game with a 6-6 record, probably because their decent conference record was overshadowed by a number of beatdowns against high-major out-of-conference opponents. They finished 6-7 after losing that game. Vanderbilt loses a lot from a year ago (including their entire offensive line), while Miami hopes to make a decent run in the MAC (although I'll admit I don't know much about the MAC), so this game won't be easy for the Commodores. A win would indicate that they can continue to play at a relatively high level this year.
NC State at South Carolina
This game has already gotten sufficient press here. Even Kyle King of Dawg Sports, who virulently dislikes Steve Spurrier, believes we will this game. Let's hope he's right.
See Saturday, Sunday, and Monday's games after the jump.
Saturday, August 30th
Georgia Southern at Georgia
Georgia Southern beat Wofford a year ago and may have a decent team this year, but this game will not be exciting. Next, please.
Hawai'i at Florida
Hawai'i loses a lot from the team that Georgia pounded last year in the Sugar Bowl. While this may seem an interesting matchup, it will probably be another dozer. Florida probably just wants to make sure Tim Tebow doesn't get hurt.
Appalachian State at LSU
In an interesting matchup between the defending 1-A and 1-AA national champions, App State will try beat LSU in Death Valley just like they beat Michigan last year in the Big House. Let's face it, though: App State beat Michigan by catching an overrated team by surprise. That probably won't happen again, and since talent-wise App State is far below both LSU and Michigan, LSU shouldn't have too much trouble here. LSU should be very careful, though, because if they do come out listless they could be in trouble. Les Miles needs to plan to put this one away early. These two have actually played recently, with the Tigers beating the Mountaneers 24-0 in 2005. Also, this game will be televised on ESPN. It's not common that a 1-AA team gets on national TV. ESPN must be hoping that they don't miss out if something does happen in this game. I'm sure everyone remembers watching the score tracker for App State-Michigan and wishing they could watch the game.
Mississippi State at Louisiana Tech
Bulldogs vs. Bulldogs. How many teams have this mascot? Miss St returns a number of players from a very solid defense, but there are major questions about what was last year's 113th ranked offense. State does return some solid, experienced offensive lineman and running backs, but needs much better production from its passing game. If they don't get better play from QB Wesley Carroll, this could be a tough year offensively for them, as opposing teams will be able to stack against the run. Meanwhile, Tech may have a decent team this year. They picked up former Georgia Tech QB Taylor Benner (remember him?), who will be eligible to play this fall, and have some decent players returning at other offensive positions. The questions marks are a defense that will break in some new players up front and that lacks depth in the secondary. If this defense can challenge State, and the offense can at least play decently, Tech could pull off the upset. By the way, this game is actually played at Tech, making it a rare game where an SEC team travels to play a mid-major. That will play in Tech's favor.
Louisiana-Monroe at Auburn
Bama fans will be hoping for an upset here. Don't count on it; this will be a snoozer.
Western Illinois at Arkansas
Arkansas lost almost all of last year's offensive production when Felix Jones and Darren McFadden left for the NFL, and the players that remain were recruited for Houson Nutt's run-first system, not Bobby Petrino's high-flying attack. Because of this, Arkansas will have problems this year. But this game shouldn't be a problem.
Memphis at Ole Miss
This game might be interesting. These two teams have played a number of close contests over the past few years, plus lots of SEC fans are eager to see what Houston Nutt has in store at Ole Miss, including Gamecocks fans. Ole Miss will break in talented but inexperienced former Texas QB Jevon Snead. However, as everyone knows, Nutt likes to run the ball, so expect more on the ground than in the air from the speedy Snead. Memphis will also be playing a number of new players at the skill positions. Both of these teams had pitiful defenses a year ago, and can only hope to improve in that department. On the surface, this game looks kind of like a push. If I had to guess, though, I would say that Ole Miss is more talented and that Nutt will better utilize that talent than Ed Orgeron did. Ole Miss wins.
Alabama vs. Clemson (in the Georgia Dome)
One of the games of the week, featuring the team that Gamecocks fans love to hate vs. the team the whole world loves to hate. We all know about Clemson: Davis, Spiller, Harper, great defense, blah blah blah. However, Clemson does have some questions on the offensive line, which could be a problem against Saban, who likes to call it aggressively on defense. Bama, meanwhile, will break in a number of young players, among them super-recruit WR Julio Jones, who figures to be a prime target for John Parker Wilson, one of the SEC's more experienced QBs. Bama only returns a few guys on defense, although having Saban on the sidelines instantly makes any defense better. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say this will be a high-scoring game, with Clemson pulling it out in the end. But I'm not sure about that; this will probably be very close. A Clemson win can actually benefit Carolina this week, as Carolina, ranked 27th in the coaches' poll and 26th in the AP poll, would likely jump Bama into to top 25 (if Carolina wins, of course). Not that that matters; as we learned last year, it's not how high you get, but how high you finish.
Sunday, August 31
Kentucky at Louisville
Louisville will be looking to avenge last season's loss to the Cats. Both teams lose a lot on offense. Kentucky figures to have a good defense, whereas Louisville lost lots on defense, although they do bring in former Michigan DC Ron English, who had some decent defenses in Ann Arbor. Tough one to call, but I would go with the Cats if push comes to shove. Welcome to the sad, sad post-Petrino world, Cards.
Monday, September 1
Tennessee at UCLA
Tennessee figures to have a decent but not great team this year; they have a number of key pieces back from a team that was OK but not as good as its record, but lost QB Erik Ainge and OC David Cutcliffe. Meanwhile, the Bruins are in complete rebuilding mode under new HC Rick Neuheisel. Even out in LA, this shouldn't be a problem for the Vols unless they show up without a good gameplan. The Bruins just have too many question marks at this point.