Now that we’ve gone a week with a slate full of Southeastern Conference football action, there are some things that we can say for certain. One of them is that Alabama doesn’t seem to have suffered a let down from the national championship season of a year ago.
Another is that Tyler Wilson and Knile Davis are ready to terrorize SEC defenses as a powerful one-two tandem one last time this fall.
Only three SEC teams lost in the season debuts a week ago – one being Vanderbilt, which lost to a fellow SEC East comrade, South Carolina. All in all, it was a great start for a league that has been dominating for the better part of the last decade and has no signs of slowing down any time soon.
After a 12-0 showing last week in the Call It Now picks, it is much more difficult this week to figure out the winners. With that being said, let’s take a closer look at the SEC football slate for week 2 in 2012.
AUBURN, MISSISSIPPI STATE
This weekend in Starkville, Miss., a very important game will be contested between Auburn and Mississippi State. The Tigers were another group to fall in the opener, dropping a 26-19 decision to Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic. Meanwhile, Mississippi State cruised to a 56-9 slaughtering of another group of Tigers, these being of the Jackson State variety.
Auburn (0-1) had its chances to win, but Clemson had some key drops that likely would have resulted in big games that could have put the game much more out of hand. Kiehl Frazier made good decisions with his throws in his first start but his stats were average (11-of-27, 194 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) with a few overthrows to wide open targets.
The running game looked great for Auburn when it stuck to it, but AU abandoned it almost completely within the red zone – leading to three field goals on the three trips inside Clemson’s 20 instead of touchdowns.
State (1-0) had an easy night and was able to rest starters almost immediately. Dan Mullen pulled first team offensive linemen after the first two series of the game to get important reps from their backups and to save them for the SEC opener this weekend.
Tyler Russell was 15-of-23 for 175 and a pair of scores against JSU and seems poised to finally lead the MSU offense without looking over his shoulder. The defense added a pair of pick-sixes and limited the Tiger offense to just 265 yards of offense on the night.
Mullen is still searching for his first SEC West win against an opponent not named Ole Miss, and his squad feels confident that this weekend could stop that streak. The problem is that we’ve heard this each of the past three years and MSU has come up short in all three of them.
While Auburn lost to Clemson, it looked much better than in week 1 a season ago against Utah State. The defense for MSU is much more stout than Clemson’s, but the Tigers know what does (and doesn’t) work thanks to playing a much higher quality opponent than MSU in the opener.
This contest has been entertaining and close the past two years where near misses have proved costly for the Bulldogs. Scott Field will be rocking with the cowbells ringing in the early morning hours at the 11 a.m. CT kickoff. Until Mullen gets that monkey off his back, I’m not picking against the SEC West versus MSU.
ESPN will televise this battle to a national audience to kick off the busy SEC slate for the day.
Call it now: Auburn 23, Mississippi State 17
• East Carolina at No. 9 South Carolina (Columbia, S.C., 11:21 a.m. CT, SEC Network)
Plenty of people were calling South Carolina overrated because it didn’t dominate in last weekend’s 17-13 victory over Vanderbilt. Why they’re calling them overrated is beyond me. The Gamecocks did a great job of just getting out alive and with more points than the opponent on the road. That’s the name of the game in the SEC, folks.
This week, the game plan will be to get Connor Shaw off the field as soon as possible and get his backups some valuable snaps with the first team offense. If last week was any indication, Shaw will not hold up over an entire season with the hits he took on the zone read.
Call it now: South Carolina 31, East Carolina 6
• No. 23 Florida at Texas A&M (College Station, Texas, 2:30 p.m. CT, ESPN)
It’ll be an emotional day in College Station as the Texas A&M Aggies enter the next chapter of a storied football history with the regular season and SEC opener against Florida. The Aggies were set to get things started a week ago, but Hurricane Isaac had other thoughts as A&M and Louisiana Tech mutually agreed to postpone the contest until Oct. 13.
Florida coach Will Muschamp finally announced that he had decided on Jeff Driskel to lead the Gator offense, which struggled again in the 27-14 opening victory over Bowling Green. The Gators, again, looked stout on defense – something that should be the norm under Muschamp. The secondary is again deep, talented and experienced – something that should come in handy against a vaulted passing attack like the one Kevin Sumlin looks to employ at A&M.
Defense wins championships – and this game on Saturday.
Call it now: Florida 24, Texas A&M 13
• Western Kentucky at No. 1 Alabama (Tuscaloosa, Ala., 2:30 p.m. CT, PPV)
This is the home opener for the defending national champions, but there were so many Tide fans in Dallas last weekend, it’s hard to really imagine UA having more of a home field advantage in Bryant-Denny than it had in Cowboys Stadium.
I’m kidding. Kind of. This is a game that Nick Saban can name his score, and he likely will.
Call it now: Alabama 56, Western Kentucky 3
• Georgia State at Tennessee (Knoxville, Tenn., 3 p.m. CT, PPV)
How surprised were you by how good Tennessee looked a week ago? Cordarelle Patterson is my pick to be SEC Newcomer of the Year. Any time you can score 16 points in three plays against a Bowl Championship Series opponent, it’s just your day.
Look for Patterson to have a big first half and get some rest after intermission with his counterpart Tyler Bray.
Call it now: Tennessee 42, Georgia State 7
• UTEP at Ole Miss (Oxford, Miss., 6 p.m. CT, FSN South)
Ole Miss fans were sweating a little at halftime a week ago against Central Arkansas, but the Rebels came out after the break and reeled off 35-straight points in a 49-27 triumph in Hugh Freeze’s debut.
UM displayed an identity on offense, something that has been missing for three years in Oxford. The schedule won’t do Ole Miss any favors this year, but it’s still another week before it should start draining on Freeze and Co.’s psyche.
Call it now: Ole Miss 35, UTEP 27
• Washington at No. 4 LSU (Baton Rouge, La., 6 p.m. CT, ESPN)
LSU has done a great job in recent years of scheduling intriguing (but not completely challenging) non-conference opponents, and this meeting with Washington is no different. The Bayou Bengals visited the upper Northwest two years ago and look forward to hosting Steve Sarkisian’s bunch in what could be an entertaining contest.
Too bad Jake Locker is throwing passes in the National Football League this weekend instead of in Tiger Stadium against LSU’s tough secondary.
Call it now: LSU 38, Washington 17
• Louisiana-Monroe at No. 10 Arkansas (Little Rock, Ark., 6 p.m. CT, ESPNU)
#TD2012 got off to a rousing start last week as the Hogs routed Jacksonville State 49-24. Wilson proved himself to be worthy of all the Heisman hype with a 19-of-27 showing that included 367 yards and three scoring strikes.
This is Louisiana-Monroe’s first game of the year. That’s not a good formula to try to get the kinks worked out against as potent an offense as the Warhawks will face Saturday evening in the Rock.
Call it now: Arkansas 56, Louisiana-Monroe 20
• Kent State at Kentucky (Lexington, Ky., 6:30 p.m. CT, PPV)
Kentucky got off to a terrible start, falling 32-14 to arch rival Louisville on Sunday. The Wildcats didn’t have very many bright spots, although Maxwell Smith threw for 280 yards and the two UK touchdowns. However, if the Wildcats want to get back to playing in the postseason, games like last Sunday have to be won.
This week’s opponent, Kent State, isn’t as good as Louisville, but Joker Phillips and Co. cannot take anyone lightly.
Call it now: Kentucky 24, Kent State 20
• No. 7 Georgia at Missouri (Columbia, Mo., 6:45 p.m. CT, ESPN2)
Many are picking this as the top game of the weekend in college football, but I considered Auburn-Mississippi State more important due to the West Division being more prominent to the readership base in Northwest Arkansas than the SEC East. That being said, this one is going to be a game that I’ll be extremely dialed into Saturday evening.
This has been a popular “upset” pick amongst writers and self-proclaimed experts all summer due to suspensions throughout the Georgia two-deep. The atmosphere in the Zoo promises to be unbelievable as the Tigers host an SEC league opponent for the first time. The home team could easily win this one.
However, Georgia has been told by too many people that it can’t win and that it won’t win. The more talented roster belongs to Mark Richt, but his teams have struggled in spotlight games such as these since 2008. Will the SEC veterans give the new kids on the block a rude welcome?
Call it now: Georgia 31, Missouri 24
• Vanderbilt at Northwestern (Evanston, Ill., 7 p.m. CT, Big Ten Network)
At halftime last week with his team tied 10-10 with South Carolina, Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin promised his radio audience that his team would come out and “play our asses off” in the second half.
The Commodores made good on their coach’s promise, but it just wasn’t enough to overcome costly mistakes that have plagued this program for decades. Of course, college football fans like to point out the blatant missed pass interference call on VU’s fourth down attempt in the waning moments of the fourth quarter.
This week, Vandy has to show that it can shake off the close losses like it did a year ago. It won’t be easy against Northwestern, a team that is capable of scoring from anywhere on the field with a high-octane attack that Pat Fitzgerald has perfected throughout his head coaching career in Evanston. The ‘Dores simply cannot let South Carolina beat them twice.
Call it now: Vanderbilt 26, Northwestern 24
OVERALL RUSHING PICKS
Last week: 12-0