I’m following the lead of Nick Saban this season in our SEC picks contest.
I’m not defending anything. Sure, I dusted the ATL Kid (Edward Aschoff, in real life) last year to win the title. But this is a new year with new teams, new players and new opportunities. Every season stands on its own.
Last year was a lot of fun, especially with our battle coming down to the bowls. I was on top of my game, and the Kid simply wasn’t ready for that kind of stage.
But hey, that was last year. This is this year, and I’m sure he’s learned from some of those questionable picks he made in the postseason. He went 3-5 in his bowl picks, including a major whiff in the BCS National Championship game.
For the season, I was 89-16 (84.8 percent), and the Kid was 85-20 (80.9 percent). At one point in late October, he held a three-game lead over me and was crowing.
It reminded me of a fan who starts talking trash late in the third quarter only to forget that there is such a thing as the fourth quarter.
My esteemed colleague learned the hard way that the finish always trumps the start, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re picking games or playing in them.
I don’t take him lightly this year at all. He’s motivated and tired of me ragging on him all offseason about taking second place, which according to the late Dale Earnhardt, is nothing more than first loser.
The Kid’s no loser. He’s actually a pretty swell dude and a treat to work with. Just don’t bring up soccer or politics.
On that note, let’s dive into our Week 1 picks:
SOUTH CAROLINA at VANDERBILT
Chris Low: Both defenses should again be outstanding, and this is a chance for Vanderbilt to make the most convincing statement yet under James Franklin that it’s a real player in the East. The Gamecocks’ strength up front on defense will allow them to pull away in the second half. … South Carolina 27, Vanderbilt 21
Edward Aschoff: The Gamecocks have the talent to make a run to Atlanta, while Vandy is looking to prove that 2011 wasn’t a fluke. The Commodores have some good playmakers on offense, but South Carolina’s defense will be too much. Plus, Jadeveon Clowney could line up everywhere and cause all sorts of problems. … South Carolina 24, Vanderbilt 13
TENNESSEE vs. NC STATE
Chris Low: The Vols haven’t been too good against ACC teams over the last decade, and they’ve been even worse in the Georgia Dome. It’s about time for Derek Dooley’s luck to change, though, and he has an offensive line that’s finally ready to push some people around. … Tennessee 33, NC State 24
Edward Aschoff: The Vols are down Da’Rick Rogers and NC State is down C.J. Wilson. It's Tyler Bray versus Mike Glennon. NC State’s up-and-coming offense against Tennessee’s revamped defense. Justin Hunter might be rusty and who knows what we’ll see from Cordarrelle Patterson? But the Vols have more to lose with a loss. … Tennessee 27, NC State 23
BUFFALO at GEORGIA
Chris Low: Unless the Buffalo Bills show up, Georgia will win this one without breaking a sweat. The real drama surrounds who all will be suspended for the Bulldogs and how long those suspensions will last. … Georgia 42, Buffalo 6
Edward Aschoff: The Bulldogs could be without Bacarri Rambo and Alec Ogletree, but Mark Richt is waiting until game time for that decision. It really won’t matter. Georgia has too much talent, with or without them. This is a chance to fine-tune the offensive line and get a better grasp on the direction of the running game. … Georgia 48, Buffalo 6
BOWLING GREEN at FLORIDA
Chris Low: It’s not only the opener for the Gators, but also an extended quarterback competition to pick the starter. Even though the quarterbacks will be the story, Florida’s defense and an improved running game will decide the outcome. … Florida 34, Bowling Green 10
Edward Aschoff: We’ll see a two-headed quarterback monster throw to a lot of unproven talent behind a line that is supposed to be better. While we don’t know much about Florida’s offense, that defense could be special and it should look really good Saturday. … Florida 38, Bowling Green 6
CENTRAL ARKANSAS at OLE MISS
Chris Low: It’s been a long time since the Rebels have won a football game. They closed last season by losing their last seven games and haven’t won since defeating Fresno State last Oct. 1. It’s time they take out some frustration and kick off the Hugh Freeze era in style. … Ole Miss 31, Central Arkansas 13
Edward Aschoff: Freeze makes his debut with the Rebels and doesn’t really know what to expect. He has a quarterback battle on his hands and a questionable offensive line, and he still doesn’t know if he has enough SEC-caliber players. Not all of those questions will be answered, but Freeze will have a better feeling about things Saturday. … Ole Miss 30, Central Arkansas 17
JACKSONVILLE STATE at ARKANSAS
Chris Low: A Hollywood ending would have Jack Crowe returning to Fayetteville and shocking the Hogs. He’s the former Arkansas coach who was fired by Frank Broyles nearly 20 years ago after the shocking season-opening loss to The Citadel. This isn’t Hollywood, though, and Crowe’s Jacksonville State team is no match for this bunch of Hogs. … Arkansas 47, Jacksonville State 14
Edward Aschoff: Knile Davis is back after a year away from the field with a fractured ankle. He’s good to go, and so is this offense -- even without former coach Bobby Petrino. This is a good chance for Arkansas’ defense to make a statement with all the criticism surrounding it. … Arkansas 51, Jacksonville State 13
JACKSON STATE at MISSISSIPPI STATE
Chris Low: There has to be an air of uneasiness at Mississippi State with all the rumblings concerning the NCAA investigation and what that could entail. These things don’t usually affect the team, and this group has a chance to be one of Dan Mullen’s best yet. … Mississippi State 38, Jackson State 14
Edward Aschoff: This is finally Tyler Russell’s team and he’s been itching for the season to start. He’s got some weapons around him that should help calm any nerves. He should get plenty of time to get more comfortable with a defense that will make sure the offense is on the field more than the defense is. … Mississippi State 45, Jackson State 7
NORTH TEXAS at LSU
Chris Low: The Tigers open the season on the heels of yet another hurricane tearing across the state of Louisiana. Most eyes will be on quarterback Zach Mettenberger and what he brings to the LSU offense. This figures to be nothing more than a tune-up for Washington’s visit next week. …. LSU 45, North Texas 3
Edward Aschoff: Yet again, the Tigers are dealing with early-season distractions. Running back Michael Ford might be out, but LSU has a slew of talent at the position and shouldn’t have any problem pounding the ball on the ground. Plus, we’ll get to see what Zach Mettenberger is made of at quarterback. I think he’ll do just fine. ... LSU 38, North Texas 3
SOUTHEASTERN LOUISIANA at MISSOURI
Chris Low: It’s not an SEC game, but it’s Missouri’s first game as a member of the SEC. The real fun starts next week when Georgia comes to down, but the Tigers get a chance to roll up some big numbers and work out the kinks in an easier opener. … Missouri 41, Southeastern Louisiana 10
Edward Aschoff: The Tigers are banged up, especially on the offensive line, but more than enough is left for the SEC to get a good look at what Missouri’s offense has to offer. James Franklin is looking to become more of a pass-first quarterback and he’ll have every chance to try that out with a handful of talented receiving targets. … Missouri 48, SE Louisiana 10
AUBURN vs. CLEMSON
Chris Low: The Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game Part II could go a long way toward shaping both teams’ seasons. Neither team will be at full strength. Clemson is missing receiver Sammy Watkins, and Auburn is missing center Reese Dismukes. The ACC’s Tigers get the edge based on more experience on defense and Auburn quarterback Kiehl Frazier’s lack of experience. … Clemson 24, Auburn 17
Edward Aschoff: So many questions still remain just about everywhere for Auburn. The good news is that the quarterback battle has been settled, so it’s time to really get Kiehl Frazier comfortable on the field. Watkins isn’t playing, but Clemson still has a lot of offensive firepower to keep Auburn’s unproven defense busy. But Clemson’s defense has just as many questions. Expect a lot of points. … Clemson 30, Auburn 24
ALABAMA vs. MICHIGAN
Chris Low: It’s never an easy task chasing around an athlete like Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who’s been known to light up some teams. But Alabama is athletic enough and disciplined enough to keep Robinson contained, and he’s not a good enough passer to beat the Crimson Tide throwing the ball. Once in the second half, Alabama’s offensive line will take matters into its own hands. … Alabama 28, Michigan 10
Edward Aschoff: Everyone is waiting on this game. SEC against Big Ten. The defending champs are trying to repeat, while the Big Ten is trying to become relevant on a national scale again. Flashy offense against smash-mouth defense. Alabama’s defense is a little younger and Michigan’s Robinson will make things tough. But Nick Saban thrives in these games and the Tide will take control in the second half. … Alabama 27, Michigan 17
KENTUCKY at LOUISVILLE
Chris Low: This is always an important game in the state of Kentucky, but it’s especially important this season for the Wildcats. They need to give their fans and themselves a reason to believe. The problem is youth in key spots and lots of it, and that’s never ideal when you go on the road to start the season. … Louisville 24, Kentucky 14
Edward Aschoff: This is almost a must-win for Joker Phillips. The Wildcats can’t afford to lose any nonconference games this year. But too many questions persist on defense and Louisville is a very solid team. The Cardinals could be in line for the Big East title and will just have too much offense for the Wildcats to stop. … Louisville 27, Kentucky 17