Just So You'll Know What To Expect

It is time once again to bring you the weekly edition of Almost Perfect Picks – our advance look at what to expect this week in Southeastern Conference football games. This is one of the more difficult weeks to prognosticate because we haven't seen the 2013 edition of college football teams.

We have seen a smidgen of Alabama in the limited viewing opportunities. And, of course, we know more about the Crimson Tide than other teams because we have watched many of the returning Bama players who have won back-to-back national championships. Moreover, Alabama returns its head coach.

The Crimson Tide, as most SEC teams, will open the season Saturday. Bama will meet Virginia Tech at 5:30 p.m. EDT (4:30 central time) at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. ESPN will televise the game.

We had a very good start to the predictions season by picking South Carolina to be a 27-10 winner over North Carolina and Ole Miss to edge Vanderbilt by 39-35. We are, however, a bit reluctant to claim those prognostication successes since we didn't put them in writing or even tell anyone what we expected. A few of you may be skeptical that we actually made those picks.

But we soldier on.

Fridays have historically been reserved for high school football, and fortunately no SEC teams have a game tonight. It remains to be seen if the long-term agreement between the conference and ESPN will change that status in future years. There is a fear that the network will need programming and have SEC teams playing every day of the week in future seasons.

For now, though, we look at Saturday's games involving SEC teams. There are no more games this week pitting league teams against one another, meaning Ole Miss is on top in the SEC West for at least two weeks, and Vandy is on the bottom of the SEC East, at least for another week.

Georgia at Clemson – Will either team be able to stop the other? Georgia had a bad defense last year and lost their best defensive players, but the Bulldogs have extraordinary offensive talent from quarterback through the offensive line and great running backs. Clemson plays defense ACC style, but has one of the nation's most effective quarterbacks in Tajh Boyd. Mark Richt's Georgia comes up five yards short (have you heard this before?) and Dabo Swinney's Clemson Tigers take a 39-35 win.

Mississippi State vs. Oklahoma State at Houston – This could be interesting. Both teams have a recent history – in fact, a long history – of coming up short in big games. Time may be running out for Bulldogs Coach Dan Mullen to have a competitive team, and this game won't help his resume as the Cowboys take a 35-24 decision.

LSU vs. TCU at Arlington, Texas – TCU Coach Gary Patterson has a reputation of being one of the nation's best. LSU Coach Les Miles also has a reputation, but regardless of what one thinks, Miles puts a good product on the field. The Tigers have a lot of good players to replace, but the new ones come with credentials. There's a temptation to pick the upset, but we'll go with the SEC over the Big 12. LSU 24, TCU 17.

Rice at Texas A&M – Has anyone heard anything about Johnny Manziel lately? Rice had some decent teams a few years ago. Well, the early 1950s. Texas A&M 14 (first half), 35 (second half), total 49, Rice 0 (total).

Toledo at Florida – There are probably more people from Ohio living in Florida than their are native Floridians. Well, that might be a stretch. In any event, it wouldn't help Toledo. In fact, the only thing that might help the Rockets would be if it was 1990 again, when Nick Saban was Toledo head coach. Florida 49, Toledo 7

Austin Peay at Tennessee – New Tennessee Coach Butch Jones gets to enjoy the first two weekends of the season before the Vols start a murderous schedule that includes Oregon, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama in a seven-week period. Tennessee 31, Austin Peay 6

Murray State at Missouri – So far, Missouri hasn't brought much excitement to the SEC. Last year's lightning storm game against Bama, a 42-10 Tide win in Columbia. There are those who think we have at least two too many teams named "Tigers" in the SEC. Missouri 31, Murray State 9

Kentucky vs. Western Kentucky at Nashville – Both teams have new head coaches. Kentucky made a change because the Wildcats were so lousy; and they brought in Mark Stoops. Western Kentucky lost their coach because he had done such a good job and built up the program, and they replaced him with Easy Rider Bobby Petrino. Kentucky isn't going to get a lot of wins this year, perhaps none in SEC games, but this is one of a couple where victory may be possible. Kentucky 24, Western Kentucky 21

Louisiana-Lafayette at Arkansas – No team could have made a more dramatic improvement in coaching than did the Razorbacks. After the disaster of Volleyball Fan Bobby Petrino and the John L. Smith fiasco, Arkansas brought in three-time Big 10 championship coach Bret Bielema from Wisconsin. Arkansas may still be a bit short of players, but they'll have enough in the opener, provided they aren't looking ahead to Samford in Week 2. Arkansas 21, Louisiana-Lafayette 10.

Washington State at Auburn – Auburn gets the perfect opponent, a team that sounds like it might be decent, but which really isn't as good as the cupcakes that will be played by other SEC teams. Washington State does have an experienced head coach in Mike Leach and will have an entertaining offense, but Auburn – even with a new quarterback and a new head coach – should provide its fans with a reason to buy toilet tissue. Incidentally, many in the Auburn camp wanted to hire Pugilist Bobby Petrino as head coach, but the Tigers went to Arkansas State to get Gus Malzahn, who has one year of college head coaching experience. Auburn 49, Washington State 14

And, of course, Alabama vs. Virginia Tech at Atlanta – This is not 1973, when Alabama defeated the Hokies 77-6. Nor is it the end of the 1998 season, when Virginia Tech drilled Bama 38-7 in a freezing rain at the Music City Bowl in Nashville. It's not even 2009 when the Tide had to come from behind to beat Tech in this same Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Classic in the same Georgia Dome in Atlanta. That 34-24 win was the first of 14 Alabama victories in that national championship season.

This year's Crimson Tide team could be said to be on a par with that 2009 squad. It could also said to be much better. After two consecutive national championships and three in four years, Alabama is the overwhelming choice of pollsters to be the nation's best team this year.

You can't win them all if you don't win the first one. Alabama 42, Virginia Tech 6

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