Almost Perfect Picks Faces Challenging Games

There are some intriguing season-opening games as the Southeastern Conference football weekend gets started Thursday. There are two SEC vs. SEC matchups and a few others pitting conference teams against challenging competition. Alabama is not in one of those games, but it’s not the Crimson Tide’s fault.

Our weekly football presentation of Almost Perfect Picks gets off to an early start as the SEC staggers a dozen season-opening games over four days with games on Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Alabama will meet West Virginia at 3:30 p.m. EDT (2:30 central time) at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta with television coverage by ABC/ESPN2. It is the first meeting in history by what Alabama’s media relations office called “the storied history of the two programs.” The only story we can think of to West Virginia football is “Yes, Santa Claus, there is a West Virginia.”

When this game was made, West Virginia was coming off a 70-point Orange Bowl output against Clemson. But that seems like a long time ago. True, the Mountaineers scored 42 points on Baylor last year, but WVU gave up 73 to the Bears in a 4-8 season.

After back-to-back losses to end last season, Alabama principals insist they can’t wait to get back on the field. A new winning streak begins Saturday. Bama 48, West Virginia 7.

But we’ve gotten ahead of ourselves. Here’s a look at other games this weekend involving SEC teams:

THURSDAY

Texas A&M at South Carolina (5 p.m. CDT, SEC Network) – Is there life in College Station after Johnny Manziel? Well, there wasn’t much before. Still, we have a sneaking suspicion that Texas A&M Coach Kevin Sumlin hasn’t forgotten how he piled up points coaching Houston and without Manziel. Sure, the self-proclaimed Ball Coach has a more respected team, but could this be the first upset of the 2014 season? It could be, but it won’t. South Carolina 41, Texas A&M 38.

Boise State vs. Ole Miss at Atlanta Georgia Dome (7 p.m. CDT, ESPN) – The Boys from Boise have a history of having excellent opening games, but those games were under a different coach, now departed for the Pac-12. Mississippi is thinking that maybe this will be the year that revives memories of John Vaught and those powerhouses of 60 and 70 years ago. This could be a rough opener for the Rebels. Ole Miss 31, Boise State 27.

Temple at Vanderbilt (8:15 p.m. CDT, SEC Network) – Vanderbilt partisans may still be in shock over losing Coach James Franklin to Penn State. They can’t imagine leaving the Commodores for the Nittany Lions. The good news is they won’t be shocked by the opening week visitors from Pennsylvania. Vandy 31, Temple 10.

SATURDAY

Tennessee-Martin at Kentucky (11 a.m. CDT, SEC Network) – Did we say there were some intriguing opening games? This isn’t one of them. Last year Kentucky lost its season-opener to Western Kentucky, so the Wildcats lowered the bar. Speaking of bar, a loss to Tennessee-Martin could send many in search of Kentucky’s finest product. Kentucky 48, UTM 14.

South Dakota State at Missouri (2:30 p.m. CDT, ESPNU) – Worse, still. Worse than Temple at Vandy, worse than Tennessee-Martin vs. Kentucky. Last year Missouri opened the season against Murray State. One could say this is a bit of an improvement in that at least most Missouri fans will know which state South Dakota State comes from. Missouri 42, SDS 14,

Arkansas at Auburn (3 p.m. CDT, SEC Network) – One might think that Auburn, regularly bathed in the aroma of its Swine Research Center, might have a place in its family for the Razorbacks. Nothing could be further from the truth. Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn, a legendary high school coach in Arkansas, and Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema hate each other. And who can blame them? Bielema doesn’t like Auburn’s hurry-up offense and really didn’t like it when he got a coaching film last year that seemed to have been doctored. Doesn’t matter. By hook or by crook, Auburn 49, Arkansas 14.

Clemson at Georgia (4:30 p.m. CDT, ESPN) – What does Dabo Swinney have in common with Frank Howard, Hootie Ingram, Charley Pell, and Danny Ford? All are former Alabama football players who became head football coach at Clemson. Meanwhile, Georgia has Mark Richt. Both teams are breaking in new quarterbacks, but both teams have a lot of good players. Georgia probably has more. Bulldogs 31, Clemson 17.

Idaho at Florida (6 p.m. CDT, ESPNU) – Florida is on the minds of Alabama partisans because most think both Bama and the Gators will be undefeated when the teams meet in Tuscaloosa on Sept. 20. Not only should Will Muschamp’s team be unbeaten, it seems unlikely to be beaten up, which was the downfall of Florida last year. Gators 51, Spuds 0.

Southern Miss at Mississippi State (6:30 p.m. CDT, SEC Network) – Once upon a time, Southern Miss was a staple of non-conference opponent for SEC teams. But there was a suspicion that the Golden Eagles weren’t playing by the same rules, and SEC teams began dropping them off the schedule – teams like Ole Miss and Mississippi State and Alabama. But the Bulldogs (and Bama) have put USM back on the schedule. This is a big game for Mississippi State, and the Bulldogs don’t have a great record in big games. This, however, is big only because it’s an in-state contest. Bulldogs 35, USM 0. p>

Wisconsin vs. LSU at NRG Stadium, Houston (8 p.m. CDT, ESPN) – If Wisconsin can beat LSU, the Badgers may go undefeated since they have a relatively easy Big Ten schedule. The Bengal Tigers have some big names to replace (as seems to be the case every year), but they have very good players to work with. Our thinking is that LSU won’t lose but one game, and this isn’t it. LSU 31, Wisconsin 20.

SUNDAY

Utah State at Tennessee (6 p.m. CDT, SEC Network) – The luster has been off Tennessee football for several years now, but that hasn’t stopped the Vols from playing a tough schedule. Last year UT was trounced by Oregon. This year Tennessee will probably lose badly at Oklahoma. Utah State isn’t one of those big names, but the Vols will have to win games like this to get back to even a minor bowl game. Tennessee 28, Utah State 13.