Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
My performance in the regular season a year ago wasn’t too shabby. I finished 73-23 (.760) in my SEC picks, which included the SEC Championship Game between Alabama and Florida. And, yes, I got that one right.
The bottom fell out during the bowl season, though, where I dipped to a dismal 3-5.
So obviously, my goal is to finish better and flirt with the .800 mark during the regular season in 2009. Here goes with Week 1:
South Carolina 28, North Carolina State 24: The Gamecocks will have their hands full with NC State quarterback Russell Wilson, who can hurt you a number of different ways. But Ellis Johnson’s defense gets it done in a game South Carolina absolutely has to have if this is going to be a breakthrough season for the Gamecocks.
Tennessee 35, Western Kentucky 10: The Lane Kiffin era begins in Knoxville with a convincing win. The most exciting part for all the Tennessee fans is how well all the true freshmen play. Watch out for freshman running back Bryce Brown.
Arkansas 44, Missouri State 13: Remember what a struggle it was for the Hogs last season in their opener against Western Illinois? They escaped 28-24. The only drama this time will be whether they hit 40 or 50 points. The Hogs should be the most improved team in the league.
Vanderbilt 31, Western Carolina 7: The Commodores begin their quest to make it back-to-back winning seasons. That hasn’t happened at Vanderbilt since 1974 and 1975. They get No. 1 in the books this season thanks to a strong defensive showing.
Kentucky 27, Miami (Ohio) 13: Rich Brooks has said he thinks this defense has a chance to be even better than the one a year ago, which was his best since taking over the Kentucky program in 2003. If the young players come through at defensive end, the Wildcats should find themselves back in a bowl game for the fourth straight year.
Florida 55, Charleston Southern 3: How ugly will this one get? The Gators can literally name their score. They’ve won their last two openers by a combined 92 points. It’s at least a chance to see some of Florida’s newer skill players on offense.
Mississippi State 21, Jackson State 6: First-year Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen isn’t saying whether or not senior running back Anthony Dixon will play Saturday. He’s likely to sit out as part of his punishment for a DUI arrest this summer. It shouldn’t matter, though, as the Bulldogs open the Mullen era in style.
Auburn 24, Louisiana Tech 10: A year ago, Louisiana Tech took down Mississippi State in the opener, and the Bulldogs never recovered. So Derek Dooley’s Bulldogs aren’t to be taken lightly. Auburn gets them at home in Gene Chizik’s debut and gets enough big plays from the defense to pull away.
LSU 34, Washington 10: It’s never easy to go all the way across the country to play a football game. That said, the Tigers will make this one look easy, as Jordan Jefferson serves notice that he’s one of the best up-and-coming quarterbacks in the league and the defense returns to form under John Chavis.
Georgia 31, Oklahoma State 28: The Bulldogs sort of like being the forgotten team this season. They won’t be forgotten, though, after they go into Stillwater and pull off the upset. The Cowboys have had a couple of key personnel losses in the last week, including linebacker Orie Lemon.
Virginia Tech 21, Alabama 17: Get ready for defense and more defense. Both teams are terrific on that side of the ball, but a few too many growing pains on offense will cost the Crimson Tide, who have weathered one distraction after another leading up to this game.
Ole Miss 31, Memphis 17: Memphis has a couple of bigger receivers who can go get the football that will test the Ole Miss secondary. This is a game that might be close for a while, but the Rebels are too good up front defensively and also have a guy named Jevan Snead playing quarterback.