Monday, August 27, 2012

SEC Previews: Week 1 • Including TV Schedule and Vegas Spreads

By: @LivingCrimson

Alabama Michigan Dallas logo

AP and Coaches Poll rankings courtesy of ESPN. Betting lines courtesy of Vegas Insider consensus picks (blue, in parentheses) Over/under at the link. 2011 conference standings may be found at USAToday.

Marquee Matchup: SATURDAY, SEPT. 1
(#2) (-13.5) vs. Michigan (#8)
8 p.m. ET / 7 p.m. CT • ABC
Arlington, TX • Cowboys Stadium (86,798)

SEC vs. the Big Ten. An underrated quarterback who ain’t nothing but a winner vs. a Heisman darling. Can Alabama do to Michigan what it did to Michigan State?

True the Tide defense lacks returning starters, but it in no way lacks playing time. Most of the players were in the rotation for the history-making 2011 squad that allowed only 9 touchdowns. The defensive line has led the nation or been in the top ten for the past four years at stopping the run, and this year’s configuration looks to continue the tradition. The linebacking corps is so deep, there are no true “starters.” Players rotate in based on their strengths in the situational defense. Opposing quarterbacks never really see what hits them. New-again starting cornerback Dee Milliner ranked in the SEC and nationally last year in passes defended. Veteran safety Robert Lester and ball-hawk linebacker C.J. Mosley have also ranked nationally for passes defended. (The Wolverines were fifth worst in the nation last year for throwing interceptions.)

The really intimidating factor for this year’s Bama defense? Nick Saban says this is the most physically conditioned group he has ever put together in Tuscaloosa, and all of them can play. Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart says it has been hard to pick the starters because the players are even in skills, “The ‘two’ is as good as the ‘one’. Sometimes, the ‘three’ is as good as the ‘two’.” Sixty minutes of big, monstrously strong – and fresh – players for the Tide.

Michigan returns most of its starters from a stellar season – except in the trenches. A young and inexperienced defensive line benefits from its strong Wolverine coaching staff, but has very little real game knowledge. It faces an Alabama offensive line considered the best in the nation, featuring four returning starters and three preseason All-Americans. Running behind the Bama bulldozers is SEC-leading yards per carry and top ten scorer Eddie Lacy, along with a full contingent of bruising, speedy backs to keep him fresh. Unless Michigan starts a DeLorean, it will be tough to prevent the Tide from controlling the clock.

Just for extra style points, Alabama returns its SEC-best completion percentage and national championship MVP quarterback A.J. McCarron. The Tide receivers are a blend of game experience with blazing speed, and Saban expects them to stretch the field vertically and horizontally. He thinks there is “probably the best chemistry that we've had in a long time between the quarterbacks and the receivers.” Did we mention ZERO quarterbacks in SEC history have thrown fewer interceptions in +200 passes than McCarron? While he played almost the entire season with a dislocated labrum in his right shoulder which required surgical repair after the BCS title game? Well, now we did. The Michigan secondary returns intact and wasn’t even a blip on the national radar for passes defended.

The Michigan offensive line is a work in progress as well, and the middle may be especially vulnerable to pressure. So it’s a good thing quarterback Denard Robinson hasn’t discovered the Zen of pocket passing since he’ll probably lack the real estate. Then again, Shoelace doesn’t need protection to turn scrambles into broken plays for big yards, so there’s that. (Love that picture!) The Wolverines have so few players in the receiving corps, they have been practicing backup QB Devin Gardner exclusively at wide receiver. So even if Robinson stands steely in the tackle box, his chances of finding consistently open receivers en route against a stingy Alabama D are about as good as quickly sinking an opponent in Battleship.

All of the preceding was just a lead-up to the simple statement: I agree with Vegas. However, I beseech you not to take your money and run with my prognosticating, such as it is. In all fairness, the last time I was this upbeat about a Crimson Tide game, November 5th happened. Beyond the Bets says Alabama “owns the betting market right now,” going 17-9 against the spread over the last 26 games. Welp, carry on then.


SEC 2012 media guide coverThe entire slate of SEC games, in order by broadcast times. All other CFB games this week are listed on the ESPN schedule for TV listings.

South Carolina (#9) (-6.5) at Vanderbilt
7 p.m. ET / 6 p.m. CT • ESPN
Nashville, TN • Vanderbilt Stadium (40,550)

The million dollar question for South Carolina fans is the recovery of running back Marcus Lattimore's knee, not only for this game but for the season. To expect him to be at full strength only nine months after such a severe injury is a little unrealistic. South Carolina also lost some key play-makers on both sides of the ball, however South Carolina's talent is simply far superior to Vanderbilt. Vandy made the school's fifth bowl game ever in 2011 and returns 18 starters, including Aaron Rodgers’ little brother Jordan at quarterback. There is no doubt this game is a much bigger deal to Vanderbilt playing at home, where they were extremely competitive in 2011. – Vegas Insider

*Update: Final...South Carolina 17, Vanderbilt 13

Texas A&M at Louisiana Tech (WAC)
7:30 p.m. ET / 6:30 p.m. CT • ESPNU
Shreveport, LA • Independence Stadium (49,147)

The Louisiana Tech athletic director said a number of options are on the table if the game must be moved due to weather conditions from tropical storm Isaac. He said a decision would be made on Tuesday. – Shreveport Times

*Update: The game has been postponed to Saturday, Oct. 13.

Tennessee (-3) vs. North Carolina State (ACC)
7:30 p.m. ET / 6:30 p.m. CT • ESPNU
Atlanta, GA • Georgia Dome (71,147)

QB Tyler Bray’s favorite target, WR Da’Rick Rogers, was “suspended indefinitely” and today his transfer to Tennessee Tech became official. “These two teams match up particularly well, but Tennessee should come out on top. They are the most desperate team.” (Saturday Down South)

*Update: Final...Tennessee 35, North Carolina State 21

Georgia (#6) (-38) vs. Buffalo (MAC)
12:21 p.m. ET / 11:21 a.m. CT • ESPN3, SEC Network
Athens, GA • Sanford Stadium (92,746)

This could be a contest of which team has more players suspended. Right now, it’s Georgia. Buffalo has suspended Nagurski Award nominee, star LB Khalil Mack. “Buffalo played Tennessee in Neyland Stadium last year, losing 41-10.” (AJC) That’s pretty much all we need to know.

*Update: Final...Georgia 45, Buffalo 23

Florida (#23) (-28.5) vs. Bowling Green (MAC)
3:30 p.m. ET / 2:30 p.m. CT • ESPN
Gainesville, FL • Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field (88,548)

Florida will alternate quarterbacks in the first and second quarters. Bowling Green can't exactly be thrilled that Florida is treating this game a lot like an intrasquad scrimmage. – Dr. Saturday

*Update: Final...Florida 27, Bowling Green 14

Arkansas (#10) vs. Jacksonville State (FCS)
7 p.m. ET / 6 p.m. CT • ESPN3, Arkansas PPV
Fayetteville, AR • Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium (72,000)

Running back Knile Davis is back. Woo-pissy! And interim head coach John L. Smith promptly criticized him. “The first time they tackled him all the way to the ground, he coughed the ball up. But the ground caused the fumble, so it would not have been a fumble. ... He's ready to go, though.” (CBS)

*Update: Final...Arkansas 49, Jacksonville State 24

Auburn (#25) (Coaches) vs. Clemson (#14) (-2.5) (ACC)
7 p.m. ET / 6 p.m. CT • ESPNU
Atlanta, GA • Georgia Dome (71,147)

This is the second best the ACC has to offer against the 7th or 8th best the SEC has to offer and the line is only a field goal. Clemson's QB Tajh Boyd is the key to this game. If he plays like he did to start 2011, then Clemson should be fine. If he plays the way he ended 2011, they are in trouble. The bad news for Tajh is that he'll be without wide receiver Sammy Watkins (suspension). Quite frankly, this is a must-win game for the ACC. – Vegas Insider

*Update: Final...Clemson 26, Auburn 19

LSU (#1/#3) (-44) vs. North Texas (Sunbelt)
7 p.m. ET / 6 p.m. CT • ESPNU
Baton Rouge, LA • Tiger Stadium (92,542)

This game may be moved due to tropical storm Isaac. (Times-Picayune)

On the heels of losing star player Tyrann Mathieu, LSU’s leading rusher Michael Ford may be academically suspended along with backup linebacker Tahj Jones. Its second leading rusher Spencer Ware has also missed practices and scrimmages. (USAToday) Suspended New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton delivered a motivational speech to the North Texas team. (Times-Picayune) Yes, that’s not a typo – Payton is anti-Louisiana this weekend.

*Update: Final...LSU 41, North Texas 14

Mississippi State vs. Jackson State (FCS)
7 p.m. ET / 6 p.m. CT • Fox Sports South, EPSN3
Starkville, MS • Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field (55,082)

Jackson State is an in-state FCS school for Mississippi State. (Clarion-Ledger) One can judge how challenging is the opponent by how many billboards Dan Mullen places near their campus. In this case we’re guessing on a scale of 1-10 about, oh, a zero. This is not the FCS team that took down Ole Miss, though it sometimes is mistaken for Jacksonville State.

*Update: Final...Mississippi State 56, Jackson State 9

Missouri vs. SE Louisiana (FCS)
7 p.m. ET / 6 p.m. CT • ESPN3, Missouri PPV
Columbia, MO • Memorial Stadium / Faurot Field (71,004)

Not only will this game represent the first ever Mizzou game in the SEC, it will also feature new field turf being debuted at Faurot Field and new uniforms for the Tigers. (SBNation) Those are your highlights, folks. Now we know why Vegas doesn’t care, unless we want odds on games won or lost while wearing new unis, in the SEC, in the rain, on new turf…

*Update: Final...Missouri 62, SE Louisiana 10

Ole Miss vs. Central Arkansas (FCS)
7 p.m. ET / 6 p.m. CT • ESPN3, Ole Miss PPV
Oxford, MS • Vaught-Hemingway Stadium (60,580)

Brand new coach Hugh Freeze’s first mistake was using the Auburn phrase “All In.” Is it any wonder the biggest storyline is Ole Miss attrition? For those interested in just how much attrition, the Press-Register obliges. Don’t be surprised if this game could be déjà vu back to the Ole Miss season opening upset in 2010.

*Update: Final...Ole Miss 49, Central Arkansas 27

Alabama (#2) (-13.5) vs. Michigan (#8)
8 p.m. ET / 7 p.m. CT • ABC
Arlington, TX • Cowboys Stadium (86,798)

The best the SEC has to offer against the best the Big 10 has to offer. We've seen this movie play out countless times over the last 10 years and it usually ends poorly for the Big 10. It's like going to see Titanic and hoping they don't hit the iceberg this time. Brady Hoke has done a great job turning Michigan around in his short time. Last year the Wolverines won 11 games, including a Sugar Bowl win over Virginia Tech. But Hoke is not Nick Saban and Michigan just doesn't have the speed, strength, depth or talent that Alabama does. Alabama did lose quite a bit of talent on the defensive side, and while they will simply replace them with even more talent, they are still young and this is the first week. For that reason and that reason only I think Big Blue QB Denard Robinson will actually be able to give a young, inexperienced Alabama defense some problems. If Robinson has success early and often throwing down field on the young Bama secondary they could shock the world, if he doesn't this could get ugly. – Vegas Insider

*Update: Final...Alabama 41, Michigan 14

Kentucky at Louisville (#25) (AP) (-14) (BigEast)
3:30 p.m. ET / 2:30 p.m. CT • ESPN
Louisville, KY • Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium (55,000)

The only preview of Sunday’s game you need…clicky for funny. Otherwise, the focus of this game seems to be on how hot the seat could be for Joker Phillips. (Courier-Journal) I predict lukewarm, the same as Kentucky fans attitude towards football.

*Update: Final...Louisville 32, Kentucky 14

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