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THE SEC 'TAKES IT EASY'
No. 13 Georgia at No. 10 Oklahoma State, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
No. 5 Alabama vs. No. 9 Virginia Tech, 8 p.m. ET, ABC
For those who question the willingness of SEC teams to take on talented nonconference foes from across the country, here is your answer. Georgia journeys to Stillwater to take on the Cowboys, while Alabama stays closer to home (Atlanta) to face off with another dark horse national title contender, Virginia Tech.
What makes it hard to predict exactly what will happen in these games, or in almost any other game except the bouts with undermanned FCS teams, is that we don't know what these teams are capable of. After all the preview magazines and sifted numbers, we're still left with an unclear picture of how this new starter or that injured backup will affect each team.
But of these four teams, the largest questions follow Georgia. The Dawgs, in case you haven't heard, have to replace QB Matthew Stafford or RB Knowshon Moreno, both of whom apparently had some measure of success in Athens. Then again, it's impossible to tell exactly who will take the field for Oklahoma State on Saturday, with the latest relevation being that departed TE Jamal Mosley has been accused of rape.
The Cowboys players are also being reminded every time they turn around that this is "arguably the most important game in the history of the program." No pressure. This is one of those games where you have to weigh those kinds of intangible factors along with the actual X-and-Os and on-field analysis.
The same is probably not true of Alabama's meeting with Virginia Tech. Sure, there are subplots, as there are with any games. But aside from the Brandon Deaderick situation, few of them are emotionally charged or come with the potential to distract a team, though Virginia Tech would like to know how they're going to gain yardage on the ground without RB Darren Evans.
That game, though, will be decided by defense. That's the calling card of both these teams, particularly with Alabama returning only a few offensive starters and the Hokies lacking their most productive player.
Oklahoma State 34, Georgia 31
Virginia Tech 17, Alabama 15
TRAVELING A LONG WAY FOR AN EASY WIN
No. 8 LSU at Washington, 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
And this is a reaction to those who scoff that the SEC doesn't travel very far when it does play nonconference opponents. While Alabama is taking on a Top 10 team in Atlanta, LSU will travel all the way across the country that seemed determined not to win a game last year. And if that was indeed their goal, they succeeded.
Washington does return 18 starters -- to a team that lost all 12 games it played. But they're experienced! You probably have heard of Jake Locker, and he's a good player. But he is on one of the true misfit programs of the last decade, its last nonlosing season coming in 2003 and its last season with fewer than six losses coming two years earlier; the Huskies have lost nine or more games in four of the last five seasons.
Jet lag or no, I challenge any objective observer to explain with a straight face how they expect Washington to win this game.
LSU 48, Washington 10
THEY ARE GOING TO WIN -- RIGHT? NO
Auburn vs. Louisiana Tech, 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU
Ladies and gentlemen, this is your upset special of the week. Louisiana Tech is a program on the upswing, head coach Derek Dooley turning his Dogs -- a different breed than father Vince's Dawgs -- into WAC contenders. Last year, he took Louisiana Tech to its first bowl game in seven years and defeated Northern Illinois, 17-10.
Auburn has Gene Chizik. He took an Iowa State program that was slipping and drove it nosefirst into the ground. He is trying to piece together a working team out of the rubble left behind by the collapse of the Tuberville regime.
This isn't just to bash Auburn and Chizik. I believe he's got a chance to turn this around sooner or later. But all the elements are here for a stunning outcome.
Louisiana Tech 17, Auburn 10
HOUSTON NUTT WILL MEET EXPECTATIONS
No. 11 Ole Miss vs. Memphis, 3:30 p.m. ET (Sunday), ESPN
All of you who hope I'm wrong about Houston Nutt not meeting expectations this year at Ole Miss will have to find another game. Memphis is a nice midmajor team, but not the kind of program that can knock off a Top 15 program. Or a program posing as a Top 15 team, if you prefer.
The last time Memphis beat a BCS team -- and it was Ole Miss -- was in 2004. That's right; they couldn't even beat Orgeron once.
Oh, and they're replacing four starters on the offensive line. I hope QB Arkelon Hall is in good shape.
Ole Miss 48, Memphis 14
BIG BLUE DEFEATS A FORMER BIG RED
Kentucky vs. Miami (Ohio), 12 p.m. ET, ESPNU
You know Miami. Sure, they're not the team based in South Florida, but they are the team that gave us Ben Roethlisberger. Yeah, he's not there any more.
In fact, in the last three years, the Redhawks have gone 10-27. They have become one of the consistently worst teams in the MAC. At least the game is being played on a neutral field.
Kentucky 24, Miami 3
WELCOME TO THE REAL WORLD
Tennessee vs. Western Kentucky, 12:21 p.m. ET, SEC Network
Congratulations to Western Kentucky on finally being a full-fledged member of the FBS. Excuse while we shake our heads at Tennessee for managing to find the function equivalent of an FCS team without getting the bad PR. A new Sun Belt team that went 2-10 last year and 0-10 against FBS teams.
But this is Boy Wonder's first game, and so it is an object of some fascination around these parts: What crazy thing might he say to the sideline supporter? Will he spit in the face of the opposing coach? Will he wear an orange fur coat?
If only things were going to be half that interesting.
Tennessee 34, Western Kentucky 9
ALSO PLAYING | Because if you play an FCS team, you don't deserve more than a sentence
Mississippi State vs. Jackson State, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU It's nice to know that Dan Mullen will easily get his first win of the year as head coach of the Western Division Bulldogs; hopefully, it won't be his last. Mississippi State 21, Jackson State 10
No. 1 Florida vs. Charleston Southern, 7 p.m. ET, FSN This is just a joke. Florida 77, Charleston Southern 3
Arkansas vs. Missouri State, 7 p.m. ET, PPV / ESPN360 Bobby Petrino's "year" starts out with a win. Arkansas 56, Missouri State 24
Vanderbilt vs. Western Carolina, 7:30 p.m. ET, CSS Vanderbilt now is also worthy of scorn now because they've been to a bowl -- play someone already. Vanderbilt 28, Western Carolina 0