Auburn @ USC
This is a very ambitious first game for both squads. Auburn usually shies away from such marquee talent this early in the season. Many remember that Auburn weaseled out of the FSU game a while back and replaced them with someone like MUW. This one is a strong test for Auburn. The offense was very vanilla the last half of the season and really wasn't as strong as most expected throughout the season. The defense played exceptional and kept the O in the games. That may happen in this one as well. Carson Palmer will be one of the better QBs the Tigers see. The USC offense returns virtually intact. Auburn won't make a living running the ball out west. If Cobb can get some time, he can challenge the two new starting CBs. They're both seniors, but have been relegated to reserve duty most of their careers. Cobb throws a lot of picks and puts the ball up for grabs a lot. Look for Auburn to be -2 in turnover differential and for the Trojans to make them pay for it in a game that will be better than advertised, but Auburn doesn't have the guns.
USC 28 Auburn 14
Kentucky @ Louisville
The Bluegrass Bowl is almost always played the 1st week of the season. This year expect an exciting finish. The Cardinals have everybody back on defense and their offense features one of the nation's best signal callers in Dave Ragone. The UL O-line needs some work, but putting pressure on the passer has been a difficult task for the Wildcats. Jared Lorenzen should be able to match Ragone for a while, but the UK defense can't keep the Cats in the game. This one will be entertaining, as it almost always is, but Kentucky won't be able to stop anybody and this game should set the tone for Ragone's Heisman campaign.
Louisville 38 Kentucky 24
Clemson @ Georgia
This is great non-conference scheduling. Georgia and Clemson recruit the same kids. The teams are close geographically and the fans probably debate this match-up even in years they don't meet. This game has the fingerprints of Bobby Bowden all over it. Bobby's son vs Bobby's old OC. It's a good draw, and with a win, it will propel Georgia into the national spotlight. Clemson lost the services of Woodrow Dantzler to the NFL. It's a rebuilding year on offense for the Tigers. Only 4 starters return to a unit that was very good at times a year ago and at times was very bad. Georgia should be able to get on these boys pretty good, but it'll be far from a blowout. With David Greene at QB, Georgia is the better team and Clemson has a lot of unanswered questions. This has the makings of a good rivalry down the road. It would be nice to see these two face off annually, but I'm sure Clemson grows tired of SEC teams since South Carolina has replaced them as the best team in their home state. Look for UGA to get up early and run the ball late behind that NFL caliber O-line.
Georgia 27 Clemson 17
New Mexico St @ South Carolina
I am sure Ole Lou has his team convinced that NMSU could probably give defending champ Miami a run for it this weekend. Holtz and his team never overlook an opponent. The Aggies are clearly outmanned in this game as they will be in most games. Four starters return on defense which is clearly a good thing considering how inconsistent they were a year ago. The safeties are good and the corners are experienced. There will be some juco transfers looking to jump in the mix which should help. The Aggies have a solid offensive line which has seniors starting in 4 positions. The O-line averages 340 pounds a man across the front. Buck Pierce is the new QB, but is unproven. The skill positions are a question mark. USC has some questions on Offense as well. Corey Jenkins could use a defense like NMSU to break in as the new Gamecock QB. Jenkins has great scrambling ability, but needs to be more accurate with his passes. The USC defense has a few gaps to fill as well. Look for some anxious moments early, but the USC ground game will wear them down late.
USC 31 NMSU 14
Vanderbilt @ Georgia Tech
I have wondered more than a few times who called who to schedule this one. Surely it was Ga. Tech looking for a game from a lower tier team in a quality conference. Vanderbilt generally hopes to win all their non-conference games in hopes of scratching out a winning season. That's why I am perplexed. If Vandy could pick up 4 wins non-conference then why not do it? This is a no-win situation for Vandy unless the payout is really good. Considering that Vandy shares fully in the conference coffers from bowl revenue, it just doesn't make sense. Vanderbilt could beat Ga Tech couldn't they? Ga Tech features former Tennessee QB A.J. Suggs behind center. The offense is stocked with regulars. The Yellow Jacket D has 9 starters back and should be strong enough to succeed despite the fact that it may take a few weeks for the offense to get rolling. Vanderbilt has to replace their QB and have no offensive punch outside Stricker. Ga Tech will let Vandy hang around, but the Dores aren't used to winning. They'll tank this one late. They have a tendency to let games slip away in the final minutes. This will be another in that vein. Welcome to Nashville Coach Johnson.
Ga Tech 28 Vanderbilt 20
UL Monroe @ Mississippi
By far the worst non-conference opponent in week one. ULM has nothing to lose and everything to gain in this one. The Indians return 10 starters on a defense that gave up big points to some of the best team's in college football a year ago. The ULM offense returns eight starters, but has a new QB at the helm in Adam Gatlin. Head Coach Bobby Keasler, who dominated the Southland conference while at McNeese St, says it's time for his squad to produce. The folks in Monroe have been witness to, are you ready for this, 3 wins over the last two seasons. This school was a national title contender in Div 1-AA. This school also spawned Stan Humphries of San Diego Charger fame. Why they continue to play these games they can't win is beyond me. The reason Mississippi schedules games like this is obvious. They'd rather beat a ULM or ULL or SEMO 56-7 than possibly lose a respectable game like 28-24 to Colorado State or Wisconsin. I guess when you know you can't compete nationally it's better to schedule patsies and say you could. Oh well, another ho-hum day at the office for the Gridiron Mannings.
Mississippi 38 ULM 10
UAB @ Florida
UAB has a soft defense. I don't think you are paying attention. UAB really has a soft defense. That makes this a perfect game to debut your new head coach. Zook can turn Grossman loose in this one and the fans will be giddy again. Despite the fact that the ole ball coach has relocated to Washington, the Gators will throw for 400+ yards in this one and happy days will reign supreme in Gainesville. The Blazers from Birmingham return 2 starters on a squad that looked pretty good a year ago. The Blazers were 1st in the nation against the run in 2001. The Gators will run the football; it'll just be after the catch. Watson Brown is a good coach and deserves a far better fate than what he'll get this year at UAB. The Blazers were at the bottom in nearly all C-USA offensive categories. The good news is they do have a good kicker. You know a good blowout isn't complete without a field goal by the underdog. The Rex Grossman Heisman vindication march begins in earnest.
Florida 56 UAB 3
Wyoming @ Tennessee
To say that UT expects a fast start would be an understatement. I expect Wyoming to put up a better fight than most. The Cowboy offense returns 10 starters and that includes talented QB Casey Bramlet. The Cowboys were 15th in the country last year throwing the football. The defense should improve with several juco transfers. Before we get too carried away, let's remember that this is the 1st game at Rocky Top in a Spurrier free world. UT has a history of starting slow, especially Casey Clausen. UT should have their full stable of tailbacks on display in this one. Look for UT to keep the cards close to the vest, but still win going away. Bramlet will play valiantly, but will need a stronger supporting cast.
UT 31 Wyoming 14
Middle Tennessee @ Alabama
I like MTSU. They'll play anybody anywhere and they'll even scare some of them to death. MTSU has some questions on offense, but return solid performers, especially Dwone Hicks at tailback. The line is solid, but there is a new QB. If Hicks can get going, then the play action can open up. MTSU is soft on the defensive front wall. Bama will run the ball between the tackles until it hurts then they'll run it some more. MTSU won't be able to play from behind and Bama may have the best defense in the conference, especially the front seven. The game will be won and more probably lost with MTSU's offense vs. the BAMA defense. While MTSU will play every down, they're out of there league in this one. Look for nearly 300 yards rushing from the Tide in this one.
Alabama 35 MTSU 10
LSU @ Virginia Tech
This was supposed to be the 1st game for each team. Instead Va. Tech scheduled Arkansas State as a scrimmage caliber 1st opponent. Va Tech looks good. They have big Lee Suggs back. Grant Noel made good decisions, but didn't have to do much against Ark. State. The Hokies always do well on special teams and they proved it again last week. LSU usually struggles on special teams and that plays in to the Hokie's hand. There are several reasons Va Tech should win handily. #1) The most improvement a team makes is between week 1 and 2. #2) The LSU defense has a lot of unanswered questions. A revamped secondary of mostly second-teamers who couldn't beat out one of the conference's worst secondaries last year. #3) This is QB Matt Mauck's 1st game as a starter. Mauck struggled in passing situations in his three chances a year ago. #4) WR Michael Clayton won't have the benefit of Josh Reed to draw attention. #5) They're playing on the road. LSU is a great team at home, but can't get it together on the road. All that being said, at this point Va Tech is the better team. Season's end may paint a different picture, but this week it might get ugly.
Va Tech 28 LSU 13
MSU @ Oregon
The Dawgs have their hands full in this one, but so do the Quackers. Oregon stars tailback Onterrio Smith who split time at tailback a year ago, has it all to himself this season. Smith has been in the dog house on more than one occasion, but manages to hang around despite off-the-field troubles. WR Kennan Howry has been hobbled by injuries since the end of the season. Howry has had shoulder surgery and has tendinitis in his knee and won't be 100%. But even at 80%, Howry is better than most. QB Jason Fife looks to replace the departed Heisman hopeful Joey Harrington. Harrington replaced Akili Smith and many expected a drop off in talent then. Mike Bellotti has a great system and a great program. Their stadium is one of the loudest in the country. Many have drawn parallels to Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge and The Swamp in Florida and can anybody remember the last time we won at either place?............me either! The Dogs must bring their A-game to win this one. The Ducks like to line up way off the WRs and put 7 to 8 people in the box to stop the run. This may actually play into the Dogs hands. If the Ducks back off then Fant can hit Bivines or Jenkins on the quick screen and force the CB to make the play one on one. I can't see either of their corners being physical enough to tackle Justin Jenkins one and one and I can't see anybody being quick enough to tackle Ray Ray one on one in the open field. This will open the box some, which will open up the running game. This one is a tough one to call, because I think our lack of depth on the DL is a liability against Smith, but their new corners are a weakness against Fant. My heart says the Dogs pull this one out, but my head says that's a little too much to expect right now.
Oregon 23 MSU 17
Guys let's have a great weekend and hopefully some of the visitors can do better than I expect especially ULM and MSU. I expect big things from the conference and this is a great chance to prove how strong the conference is, but we've got some tough road games.
Until next week,
Isaiah 40:31 corrected from the other day and Proverbs 28:1
Steve Robertson is a free-lance correspondent who writes The Robertson Report for the premium site portion of Gene's Page. Steve's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.