I joined this site last November and read just about everything that's posted every day (including many of the comments, which I frequently find witty and insightful, so you'll probably see some echoes in this post), but never really comment on anything. So I figured the time is ripe for me to contribute at least a little bit. This being my first FanPost, I'm pretty much resorting to prayer that the formatting comes out looking decent since I've been pressing "preview" button ad nauseum with no result. Enjoy.
SEC & ACC
No. 14 Texas A&M vs. No. 18 Arkansas
You've probably been hearing all week about how this nonconference matchup in JerryWorld is slated to become an SEC divisional matchup in 2012. I'll go a step further: the Aggies will finally supply the Razorbacks with an intense intra-conference rivalry that they've been missing for the last twenty years, and I'm looking for the bad blood to start brewing this week. The former Southwest conference representatives are both coming off tough conference losses, with A&M blowing a huge lead and losing a heartbreaker to Oklahoma State, and Arkansas getting manhandled by a dominant Alabama team that more a result of the strength of the Tide than the weakness of the Hogs. Both are trying to bounce back to save seasons that began with the two teams as popular darkhorse picks to win their respective conferences. Oklahoma State exposed a questionable Aggie secondary in the second half that struggled to contain an explosive passing offense. Look for Bobby Petrino to follow a similar blueprint with his outstanding group of receivers as Arkansas hazes the new guys, winning a shootout and returning to respectability.
Mississippi State at Georgia
Once again we have a matchup of disappointing preseason darkhorse contenders. Dan Mullen's dogs shocked a reeling UGa last year in Starkville last year, establishing them as a force to be reckoned with in 2010. But State has regressed this year, getting beat by a rebuilding Auburn team on a last-second goal line stand and following that up with an offensive no-show at the hands of a physical LSU defensive unit. But their overtime victory against Louisiana Tech exposed the loss of two starting offensive linemen as potentially devastating, as well as a defense that struggles to contain fast skill players. Georgia is very much still in the hunt for an Eastern division title, having drawn the three weakest Western division teams in Ole Miss, State, and Auburn. Mark Richt knows that he's got to win all three interdivisional matchups to stay in contention and keep his job, and his players will be very aware of this fact. The fact is, State is reeling right now while Georgia is improving in all phases of the game as its young players continue to get more comfortable playing at a high level. Look for the "Dream Team" freshmen Isaiah Crowell and Malcolm Mitchell to have big days as the Dawgs beat the Dogs between the hedges.
Kentucky at No. 1 LSU
This one doesn't require too much thought or analysis. LSU is fielding one of their best squads in years while Kentucky is fielding one of their worst. Kentucky QB Morgan Newton's ineptness has become YouTube fodder while reserving a weekly spot on SportsCenter's Not Top Ten. LSU will probably be looking ahead to Florida next week, but it still won't be enough to keep this one close. LSU rolls and rests its starters in the fourth quarter.
Auburn at No. 10 South Carolina
Vengeance. It's going to be a common theme this year against the defending national champions, and nobody wants it more than the Gamecocks (except maybe Alabama), who blew a lead in the fourth quarter at Auburn last season before getting pummeled by the Tigers in the SEC title game. Still, Stephen Garcia remains an enigma that keeps USCe one-dimensional for long stretches of time, only to occasionally explode as the five-star talent he was recruited as. Auburn still has weapons on offense, chief among them Mike Dyer, to whom coaches have vowed to give more touches. Turnovers will likely play a factor in this game (Auburn is +2 on the season, USCe is +1, but with 11 lost), but I don't see how an Auburn defense that thinks tackling is a sin will be able to contain Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery. South Carolina wins, but the final score will resemble the game in Auburn last year more than the one in Atlanta.
No. 21 Georgia Tech at North Carolina State
Paul Johnson appears to have decided that this forward pass thing is actually pretty nifty. Good thing for him the learning curve for his team is apparently pretty shallow; his quarterback Tevin Washington is averaging an otherworldly 20 yards per attempt and a lists a passer rating of 286.6 on the season. Along with their traditional triple-option offense that features no less than five highly capable backs, the Yellow Jackets have essentially become the least predictable offense in college football today. Tom O'Brien's Wolfpack however, is a completely different story. The Pack are 2-2 on the season, with both victories coming against non-FBS teams, and the most recent loss a 44-14 shellacking at Cincinnati last week. The Wreck rambles all over NC State, and then possibly all the way until they play Clemson and Virginia Tech back-to-back in Atlanta starting in late October.
No. 13 Clemson at No. 11 Virginia Tech
Sportswriters all over the country devoted countless hours trying to determine which team was going to be this year's version of Auburn. They had to look no further than Clemson, another land-grant school which also takes its name from its city, wears orange, has a tiger mascot, a Tiger walk (among a series of inane pre-game rituals), and employs a former high school coach as its offensive coordinator running a no-huddle spread. They even displayed a little of the famous Auburn hoodoo last week winning a close game against a team with superior overall talent and despite some pretty egregious mistakes early in the game. Clemson is a surprising 4-0, while the Hokies are a ho-hum and untested 4-0, their toughest opponent being an ECU team they beat by a touchdown. Everything in my head says take the defending ACC champion Hokies, with their consistency, superior defense, home-field advantage, and Hall-of-Fame jowl-bearing coach, but my gut says don't pick against the Fightin' Dabos. Clemson wins a close one, as Coach Swinney takes Gene Chizik's ex-mistress Lady Luck back to his house on the lake.
No. 3 Alabama at No. 12 Florida
The national perception of this matchup intrigues me. The line started with the Tide as 5 point favorites, but has dwindled down to 3.5. This is also one of the three times in the last 20 years that the Gators have been underdogs in the Swamp, a testament not only to their incredible staying power as a prestige program, but the advantage that their jort-sporting fans provide at home. Their stats are just gaudy as well, leading the league in rushing with top-5 rankings in total and scoring defense. There's no shortage of talent either after years of Urban Meyer's top-rated recruiting classes, and with Michelin Man Charlie Weis (without whom the Kansas City Chiefs have reverted to cellar-dwelling status in the AFC) and Saban protege Will Muschamp providing a "decided schematic advantage" there's no way the Gators fail to "shock the world," right? Just don't spill your Kool-Aid all over your denim cutoffs. That talent was recruited to run a completely different offense, and while Brantley was the square peg in the round hole last year, the rest of that small, speedy unit now have to fit their round peg selves into the square hole of the pro-style offense. Don't forget that growing pains are requisite for new systems.
These Gators' impressive statistics came against Florida Atlantic, UAB, Tennessee, and Kentucky, so while it tells us a lot about the strengths of this Florida team, don't look into it too much. Alabama is bigger across the board on offense and defense, which bodes well for the Tide offense and poorly for their Gator counterparts since the 'Bama D is essentially tailor-made to rein in a pro-style offense with sound fundamentals, confusing blitz-schemes, and heavy bodies that resist smashmouth run-blocking (that 'Bama defense also plays against a similar offensive scheme every week in practice). Not to mention they boast better defensive statistics against better competition. Offensively speaking, Brantley and AJ McCarron look like carbon copies of one another, though McCarron's numbers are slightly better again, against better competition.
This Florida offense runs through track star Jeffrey Demps and ladies' man Chris Rainey, but neither is more than 190 pounds soaking wet. Both speedsters practice in non-contact jerseys. While this may be a precaution, what does it say about the Florida coaches' thoughts regarding their durability? Against a front seven as big and hard-hitting as Alabama's, Rainey's ex-girlfriend might finally get a little closure after his textual transgressions around this time last year. Look for Florida to try to put their offensive playmakers in space against the 'Bama D, but with the kind of closing speed of this swarming unit (which actually has better numbers through 4 games than its '09 counterparts) I don't anticipate they'll move the ball with much success as the game wears on. Same as when Alabama is on offense. An inordinate amount of the Tide's rushing yards come in the 4th quarter which testifies to the ability of this unit to grind down opponents, though it has only just last week demonstrated the knock-back ability to dominate opposing defenses. If Trent Richardson can carry the Tide through this trial against his home-state Gators, the Heisman hype will begin to gain momentum rather than merely percolate as it is now. The Tide has already proven itself fairly resilient against homefield advantage as well, and Beaver Stadium houses more than 20,000 more screaming fans than the Swamp.
Essentially, Florida will play its best football if it plays with a smashmouth mentality, and that's what they aim to do. Unfortunately for them, smashmouth football is also when 'Bama is at its best. Florida has already vowed to throw "the kitchen sink" against Alabama; gimmicks and emotion will keep the game close for a half, but look for Saban's Tide to pull away from Saban, Jr.'s in the fourth quarter, and for Floridians to curse Urban Meyer's name for letting Richardson out of the state. And for God's sake, take the Tide to cover 3 and a half points.
Detroit at Dallas
Detroit. The image of Stafford-to-Megatron will be burned into Jerry Jones' mega-jumbotron and his nightmares.
Carolina at Chicago
Tennessee at Cleveland
Chris Johnson returns to form as the Titans romp. (This prediction may have been affected by CJ2K's presence on one of my fantasy teams)
New Orleans at Jacksonville
Blaine Gabbert returns the Jags to respectability, but the Saints win.
Washington at St. Louis
St. Louis. Jackson's back, right? I'd like to pick the 'Skins, but Rex Grossman has broken my heart more times than As the World Turns.