The football players at Vanderbilt and South Carolina will begin the most wonderful week of the season today and, in the next few days, the euphoria of that last week before the first game will sweep across the South. Every team is undefeated, the practices will ease so the bumps and bruises can heal, and every coach becomes a nervous wreck as the drumbeat of fall’s premier sport gets louder and louder.
South Carolina, according to Las Vegas Insider, will be a 7-point favorite over Vanderbilt next Thursday night in Nashville and while Steve Spurrier’s highly-regarded Gamecocks are ranked ninth in the first Associated Press poll, Vanderbilt’s brash head coach James Franklin has let it be known loud and long that he fully expects his Commodores to embarrass their visitors in the 2012 debut.
So as all of us who love the college game are chomping at the bit for the season to begin, you may be interested to know the time is now ripe for you to make the biggest and best sucker bet of the year. All you have to do is zero in on your most beloved fanatic, one whose love for the Vols or Tide or Tigers blinds his sense of common reason, and you’ve got about a week to set the hook.
Your side of the bet is easy. All you have to do is tell your mark that you’ve been studying the 2012 schedules, looking at the players (particularly on “his” team) and, after your target drinks a few beers, say in a rather nonchalant way, “I don’t think one team in the entire SEC will be undefeated at the end of the year.”
Are you kidding me? He’ll jump at the bait and make him beg a little to swell the pot. You see, he gets every team – all 14 -- and everybody knows the SEC is the most powerful and potent collection of overall talent in the country. Any true fanatic – especially the newbies on the Crimson Tide bandwagon -- will fall for it instantly – but my experience assures me that you will likely win whatever your heart desires by the time the bowl games are played.
Yes, Auburn did in in 2010 and Alabama did it in 2009 but – with Missouri and Texas A&M coming into the league this fall – it will be virtually impossible for an SEC team “to run the gauntlet” in a conference where five teams are in the preseason Top 10 and the experts are predicting as many as 11 of the SEC’s 14 teams will be in bowl games.
Now, a season-long bet takes patience and, chances are, your mark will ride you so hard at the first of the season you’ll have scars on your back from his spurs but – be patient – when Alabama fell to LSU in overtime last Nov. 5 (the score was 9-6) that bunch of Crimson Tide zealots lost the bet and then – when Alabama got is 21-0 revenge in the national championship game – CHA-ching – there wasn’t one SEC team that went undefeated last year!
That said, let’s take a quick peek at next week’s openers:
ALABAMA – The defending national champions, 12-1 a year ago and 70-1 in league play, starts out No. 2 in the AP poll behind Southern Cal. The Crimson Tide is a 12-point favorite over No. 8 Michigan in a game that will be played in Cowboys Stadium (Arlington, TX) and shown at 8:00 p.m. next Saturday by ABC Sports.
ARKANSAS – The Razorbacks, ranked tenth in the AP preseason poll, were 11-2 overall and 6-2 in conference play last year. Arkansas hosts Jacksonville State on Saturday at 7:00 p.m. (ESPN3). There is no early line. Incidentally, Jacksonville State is now coached by Jack Crowe, who was promptly fired by Arkansas in 1992 after he lost the home opener in Fayetteville.
AUBURN – After going 8-5 in 2011 with a 4-4 conference mark, Auburn has a 30-10 record with Gene Chizik as head coach. Chizik will begin his fourth season with the Tigers in the Chik-fil-A game in Atlanta on Saturday, Sept. 1, against No. 14 Clemson at 7 p.m. (ESPN). Clemson is a 3-point favorite.
FLORIDA – The No. 23 Gators, going 3-5 in the SEC last year and 7-6 overall, will host Bowling Green in Gainesville next Saturday at 3:30 p.m. (ESPN). Florida is favored by 29 on the early line.
GEORGIA – Georgia won 10 straight games last year to finish, 10-4, and 7-1 in the SEC. Ranked No. 6 in the preseason, the Bulldogs will play SUNY-Buffalo at 12:21 p.m. in Athens next Saturday on the SEC Network. Georgia is favored by 39.
KENTUCKY – The Wildcats, 5-7 overall and 2-6 in conference play, always play “the state championship” early and UK is eager to atone for the 24-17 loss to Louisville last year that some claim ruined the season. Kentucky will play on Sunday in Louisville at 3:30 p.m. (ESPN) with the Cardinals being a 14-point favorite.
LSU – Tyrann Mathieu’s departure dropped LSU to No. 3 in the preseason poll but the Tigers, 13-1 last year and 8-0 in (regular season) conference play, are still in the mix to win it all. The Tigers will start next Saturday against North Texas in Baton Rouge at 7:00 p.m. (ESPNU) and LSU is favored by 43.
OLE MISS – The Rebels lost all eight conference games last year, going 2-10 overall, so Hugh Freeze will make his debut against Central Arkansas in Oxford at 7:00 p.m. (ESPNU) next Saturday. There is no early line.
MISS. STATE – After going 7-6 last year with a 2-6 conference mark, State’s Bulldogs will open the season by hosting Jackson State in Starkville at 7 p.m. There is no early line.
MISSOURI – The Tigers were 8-5 last year, going 5-4 in the Big 12, and will open against Southeastern Louisiana in Columbia next Saturday at 7 p.m. (ESPN3). Missouri’s first SEC game will also be in Columbia Sept. 8 against Georgia.
SOUTH CAROLINA – The No. 9 Gamecocks, 6-2 in SEC play last year, ended with an 11-2 record and, already noted, will open next Thursday in Nashville against Vandy. Kickoff will be at 7 p.m. (ESPN) and Carolina is favored by 7.
TENNESSEE – The Vols, 5-7 a year ago with a 1-7 SEC mark, play in a rare Friday night game next week when UT will square off against N.C. State in the first game of the Chik-fil-A weekend in Atlanta. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. (ESPNU) and Tennessee is favored by 4 points.
TEXAS A&M – The Aggies, 7-6 a year ago with a 4-5 record in the Big 12, open up against Louisiana Tech in Shreveport at 7:30 p.m. (ESPNU) next Thursday night. Texas A&M is a 7-point favorite on the early line and will play its first SEC opponent on Sept. 8 when Florida visits College Station.
VANDERBILT – The Commodores (yes, for the third time) host South Carolina next Thursday night at 7 p.m. (ESPN) and USC is favored by 7 points. Vandy’s next two games will be at Northwestern before VU will host Presbyterian on Sept. 15.
ONE MORE – If you think four straight days of college football next weekend is great, don’t forget that on Labor Day (Monday, Sept. 3) Georgia Tech plays at No. 16 Virginia Tech at 8 p.m. (ESPN) with VT favored by 7½.