Don't Bet On It: Around the S.E.C.

Last season, while I was still doing business as Kyle on Football, I posted my picks for each week's games, offering my prognostications to a waiting world.

Earth, shown here anxiously anticipating the first of my college football predictions.

This weekly weblog feature was derived from a segment Travis Rice and I used to do on each broadcast of "The Dawg Show" during the six years that we aired on local cable television in Henry County. On every episode during the season, we would try to predict the winners of all of the games involving S.E.C. teams, plus a few key national games of interest.

This year, I will be breaking the weekly picks section up into pieces. Below are my Southeastern Conference forecasts; my nationwide picks will follow later. However, the caveat I invariably provided last year still applies: I pick the winners straight up, not against the spread, partly because I, as a good Methodist, do not condone gambling, but mostly because I am bad at predicting the outcomes of football games.

That's why, each week, I will warn you . . . Don't Bet On It!

Here are my S.E.C. predictions. Unless otherwise noted, all games will be played on Saturday, September 2:

Louisiana-Lafayette at Louisiana State---Let's go ahead and get the shame game out of the way first. The Bayou Bengals are playing the second-weakest opening opponent of any team in the league . . . and I will be in Sanford Stadium on Saturday to watch the Bulldogs take on the weakest of the lot. The Ragin' Cajuns used to be known as either Northeast Louisiana or Southwest Louisiana, but I'm not going to take the time and trouble to look it up, because it couldn't possibly make any difference. Yeah, yeah, yeah . . . I know: U-La-La returns 16 starters from a squad that ended 2005 on a five-game winning streak, tied for the conference championship, and led the Sun Belt in scoring offense. Last year, the Cajuns were 2-0 against in-state opponents, but those wins came against Northwestern State and Louisiana-Monroe. The Tigers represent a big step up in weight class and I'm picking L.S.U. to romp in this laugher.

"Pick me up at the stashawn and take me to the stadiawm, where I will face annihilashawn."

Washington State at Auburn---Cougars and Tigers at Auburn, oh, my! In the last three seasons, Tommy Tuberville has gone 3-0 against teams who count Mike Price among their ex-coaches and I expect that trend to continue. Perhaps more so than any other squad in the N.C.A.A., Wazoo is a feast-or-famine team; for 11 consecutive years, the Cougs have either posted 10 wins (1997, 2001, 2002, and 2003) or had a losing record (1995, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2004, and 2005). I don't know into which category Washington State's 2006 campaign will fall, but I know their road opener will go into the "L" column as Auburn rolls at home.

Southern Miss at Florida---You've already read up on the Gators and Sunday Morning Quarterback has offered a comprehensive breakdown of the Golden Eagles. I wish I could say I believe U.S.M. is up to the challenge of pulling off another of the sort of upsets the Eagles registered against Florida State in 1989, Alabama in 1990 and 2000, Auburn in 1990 and 1991, L.S.U. in 1994, Georgia in 1996, and Nebraska in 2004 . . . but it simply isn't going to happen. Florida wins in a walk.

Hawaii at Alabama---Nico has asked his readers if they think the Crimson Tide will cover the 17-point spread. I think they will . . . if Alabama's defense holds the Warriors to minus-eight points. (Hey, with that defense, I wouldn't rule it out entirely.) One team is coached by the son of Don Shula, whose 1972 Dolphins went undefeated, led by Jake Scott, one of the three former Georgia football players to have been named the Super Bowl M.V.P. The other team is coached by June Jones, who previously coached the Atlanta Falcons, the sorriest franchise in professional sports. I think I'm going with 'Bama to win this one.

I make it a point never to pick a team coached by someone with the same first name as my mother. (Photograph from E.S.P.N.)

Vanderbilt at Michigan---The Wolverines' last losing season came in 1967. The Commodores' last winning season came in 1982. It's too bad the Maize and Blue don't have to return the game, because I'd love to see what Jefferson Pilot would do with a Michigan game in the Music City. Alas, Jefferson Pilot is no more and, if Vandy couldn't beat U.M. a hundred years ago when the 'Dores were good, they certainly aren't going to defeat Michigan now.

Memphis at Ole Miss---Lately, this has been a more exciting series than it has any right to be. In the last three seasons, the Tigers have won twice, by margins of 44-34 in 2003 and 20-13 in 2004, and the Rebels eked out a 10-6 road win last year. Ed Orgeron's recruiting has made Ole Miss more competitive and there's no way Tommy West's squad can overcome the loss of DeAngelo Williams. I'm inclined to say that the team from the state where Elvis Presley was born will beat the team from the city where Elvis Presley died, but I'm not too sure about that . . . about Elvis being dead, that is. I'm sure Mississippi will win.

For which team will the King be rooting . . . and will he attend the game or watch it on T.V. at Graceland?

Kentucky at Louisville---As I recently reiterated, Auburn, not Georgia Tech, is Georgia's traditional season-ending rival. Because I am a firm believer that the Yellow Jackets should not be given pride of place as the final opponent on the Bulldogs' regular-season slate, I take every opportunity to point out in-state rivalry games that are played earlier in the year . . . which brings me to the Wildcats' showdown with the Cardinals. 12 of the last 13 series meetings, dating back to 1924, have taken place in the season's initial outing. Since Papa John's Cardinal Stadium opened in 1998, Louisville has hosted Kentucky four times and the Wildcats have scored fewer points in each successive game at U. of L. I doubt that U.K. will fare worse than the 'Cats did in their 2004 trip to face the Cards, when Kentucky absorbed a 28-0 drubbing, but the result should be the same as Louisville begins its march through the season many prognosticators expected the Cardinals to have last year.

South Carolina at Mississippi State (Thursday, August 31)---This is going to be more of a battle than many folks think. The Bulldogs are better and, in many respects, the Gamecocks are worse. Add to that the fact that Steve Spurrier has never won in Starkville and you have the ingredients of a game that will make many folks at the Worldwide Leader in Sports nervous, seeing as how the "S." in "E.S.P.N." often seems to stand for "Spurrier." If this game were being played in late October, I might have the gumption to call the upset, but, as it stands, Mississippi State will play hard and enjoy my full-throated support yet still go down to defeat to South Carolina.

Southern California at Arkansas---Quick . . . name a starting tailback in this game. Reggie Bush? Gone. LenDale White? Gone. Herschel Dennis? Out for the season with torn knee ligaments. Darren McFadden? You don't even want to know. The Trojans' losses on offense and the Razorbacks' improved depth on defense might give the Hogs a shot at slowing U.S.C. down, but, without McFadden, there's no way Houston Nutt's bunch can score enough points to win. An Arkansas squad that lost four games by four or fewer points last year should improve in 2006, but they'll be off to a rough start as Southern California wins comfortably.

 

Neither Bush nor McFadden will play Saturday. (Photograph of Gates McFadden from a website even I consider geeky.)

Cal at Tennessee---This is, by far, the most intriguing matchup of the weekend involving any Southeastern Conference squad. The Volunteers are coming off of their first losing season since 1988 and they are unaccustomed to starting the fall against top-drawer competition; Tennessee has played a major conference opponent in the initial outing of the autumn just once since 1998 and the Big Orange has won eight of its last 11 openers by 18 points or more. How will the Vols respond to being punched in the mouth? Well, let's just say that I hear that Davy Crockett killed him a bear when he was only three . . . and I think it's time the Bears get their revenge.

My even more unreliable national picks will follow soon. In the meantime, remember, whatever you do . . . Don't Bet On It!

Go 'Dawgs!

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