SEC 2013 Games To Watch │Week 1

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Spor

I'm accustomed to the first week being a snoozer, but apparently the college football world has watched Alabama open with a tough opponent every year and then . . . hey! Let's do that too! Consequently we have as good a slate of first-week games as have come down the pike in quite some time, if not ever. IT'S FOOTBALL SEASON, PEOPLE!

It's football season and Alabama is ready, health-wise. Nick Saban has done a lot of things well in Tuscaloosa, but - even though our luck caught up with us a bit in 2012 - one of the things he has done best is keep his team healthy.

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Absolutely the only injury that concerns me at all is the one to Amari Cooper's foot. Sometimes foot injuries don't heal that rapidly - after all, the foot is the part of the body that gets repeatedly stomped on the ground.

But speaking of things Saban is known for, being forthcoming and straightforward about team injuries is not one of them. Don't be shocked if somebody we haven't heard about at all misses the game or is severely limited by injury.

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via www.terezowens.com (with permission)

Probably nothing else the NCAA could have done with the Johnny Manziel flap would have opened it up to as much ridicule as suspending the returning trophy-toter for half a game against Rice. Face it, the NCAA is not much more popular than, say, the Sith, and any time they open the ridicule door, the whole world barges in. Here, they looked like they didn't have the cojones either to let Manziel walk or to punish him, opting instead for the namby-pamby middle road.

But you know what? They probably got it right. The NCAA doesn't have an investigatory staff, and the information in the public domain is not really sufficient to prove that Johnny F. Football took money for signing autographs. No proof of that, and all they're left with is signing autographs with the knowledge they will be used for profit: an infraction for which no player has ever been penalized. Under those facts, a slap on the wrist is exactly the right result.

And personally, I'm damned glad he will take the field on September 14. No more Colt McCoy-esque excuses, please. Line 'em up and let 'em go at it.

Games To Watch, Week 1

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North Carolina at South Carolina -12.5

The game kicks off at 5:00 p.m. CT tonight on ESPN.

These teams are kind of mirror images of each other--two workmanlike offenses with plenty of veterans, and two defenses that tag decent coverage on to a strong pass rush, with nary a star veteran linebacker in sight for either team. Mirror-image-wise, though, the Heels are more the funhouse version of the Gamecocks, so don't expect this one to be close.

It says here that Clowney Watch gets off to a fizzle. He will be matched up against a potential first-rounder, UNC left tackle James Hurst, and with all the Clowney hype I'm expecting Hurst to get a lot of help. Don't be surprised if the other end, Chaz Sutton, gets more sacks.

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Alabama -19.5 vs Virginia Tech at Atlanta

The game kicks on at 4:30 CT on ESPN.

About the only thing Virginia Tech has going for it is a possible psychological edge based on the large spread. But that kind of sword can have two edges when a little fear gets mixed into the underdog's preparation. Beamer's Monday presser might lead one to conclude that fear has made an appearance in Blacksburg. Gobbler blood will flow. Lay the points if you can find a sucker.

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LSU -4.5 vs TCU at Cowboys Stadium

The game kicks off at 9:00 p.m. ET and can be viewed on ESPN.

After offseason controversy and heavy losses to the draft, the #12 LSU Tigers start with a doozy against the #20 TCU Horned Frogs in a "neutral site" game played a few miles from TCU's campus. Each coach has flim-flammed by including a player previously announced as suspended for this game on his depth chart--LSU's Jeremy Hill and TCU's Devonte Fields.

Fields is a disruptive defensive end and TCU's best player. If he actually plays--which isn't expected--I've got TCU in this one. The purple horney toads were 4-0 last year before tailspinning while starting quarterback Casey Pachall spent three months in rehab after an October DUI arrest, and Pachall returns, as do 8 starters from the Big 12's top defense. I still see TCU mounting a challenge even without Fields, but not enough to keep LSU from going home 1-0.

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UGA -2 at Clemson -

The game kicks off at 8:00 p.m. ET and can be viewed on ABC.

The 63rd meeting between the Dogs and Tigers will be the first in 10 years, and the rivalry will be temporarily renewed with one of the biggest matchups in its history. Offensive stars Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins (Clemson), and Aaron Murray and Todd Gurley (Georgia) highlight the festivities.

The questions for both teams are on the other side of the ball. Neither team was very good on D in 2012--especially Clemson--and both teams took heavy losses to graduation and the draft--especially Clemson (who mostly lost players to graduation, NOT the draft). This game will certainly be a circus of touchdowns, but Clemson also has to rebuild the OL, so expect the Dawgs to play ringmaster.

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Ole Miss -3 at Vandy -

The game kicks off at 9:15 p.m. ET TONIGHT and can be viewed on ESPN.

You know why Ole Miss starts the season unranked? Because the pollsters are too clueless to realize how much the, uh, Rebel Black Bears return and how much they added. Sure, Vandy is making its run at big-boy status, but starting with big-boy type off-season controversy isn't a great opening move. Only over-confidence can cost the, uh, Rebel Black Bears this game. Vandy, everybody loves a lovable loser, so just try to be lovable, um-kay?

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Mississippi St. vs Oklahoma St. -12.5 at Houston

The game kicks off at 3:30 PM ET on Saturday and can be viewed on depending on your area ABC/ ESPN2.

Oklahoma St. may be a trendy Big 12 pre-season favorite, but is it a good thing or a bad thing that the 'Boys, who gave up an average of 47.2 points a game in their 5 losses, plan to start 7 seniors on defense? The Bulldogs were scarcely an offensive juggernaut last year, but quarterback Tyler Russell has a year of starting experience under his belt now and is complemented by the return of four offensive linemen and tailback LaDarius Stewart. It's not at all clear who Russell will throw to, but all he needs is somebody who can just catch the ball, and the Bulldogs will likely rack up points against these guys.

The problem is on the other side of the ball, where the loss of Johnathan Banks and Darius Slay are likely to leave State vulnerable through the air, not a good place to be against Mike Gundy's Cowboys. OSU is rightfully favored, and while 12.5 may initially seem too large a spread for a relatively well-matched game, 12.5 ain't so much when you're looking at basketball-type scores.

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Kentucky -4.5 vs Western Kentucky at Nashville

The game kicks off at 7:00 p.m. ET and can be viewed on ESPN News.

Take the points in a heartbeat. I'm actually quite surprised that Kentucky is favored in this game. The Wildcats can only be better this year than 2012--that's because they were stone cold horrible last year. Better won't be enough to take on Bobby Petrino, Antonio Andrews, and an astonishingly veteran offensive line on the road. I wouldn't be surprised if this one is a rout.

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Washington St. at Auburn -16

The game kicks off at 6:00 p.m. CT and can be viewed on ESPNU.

At first blush that point spread is mighty wide to favor a team as lackluster as Auburn was in 2012. But Washington State was even worse, that's a mighty long road trip, and the cupboard is not bare for the Gus Malzahn regime. My druthers would be not to bet on this one, but if I did I'd lay the points.

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