Thrill of Victory

Previewing the football weekend

So the college season is well underway, but it doesn’t really feel completely like football season until the NFL has kicked off too – and with the Cowboys beating the Giants on Wednesday, that’s here now, too. Here’s a look at what to expect in the slate of games of interest to the locals here in Nashville.

New England Patriots at Tennessee Titans
Things seem to be looking up for the Titans a bit. Talented quarterback Jake Locker makes his starting debut on Sunday, and Tennessee’s front office gave him a nice welcoming gift with the addition of receiver Kendall Wright in the draft. Talk is that Chris Johnson could return closer to previous form than he was last year. The defense looked good at times in the preseason. And with Indianapolis and Jacksonville rebuilding, the AFC South seems to be there for the taking given that Houston is good, but certainly not dominant.

Well, Week 1 offers a bit of a test with Bill Belichick’s bunch invading Nashville. On offense, you know the names: Brady, Welker, Gronkowski, Hernandez, and now the Patriots have added Brandon Lloyd and might even have a bit of a running game with the way Stevan Ridley played in the preseason. Defensively, the Patriots gave up 411 yards a game last year and so the Titans should move the ball some.

As much as I’d love a Titan win, I just don’t see it – Locker may turn out to be the franchise’s savior, but it’s hard to see him matching Brady blow-for-blow in what could be a shootout. Also, Belichick has won his last eight season openers.

Prediction: New England 34, Tennessee 24

Vanderbilt at Northwestern
Northwestern let a late-third-quarter, 35-13 lead slip away against Syracuse before backup quarterback Trevor Siemien threw a touchdown to Demetrius Fields with 44 seconds left. Vandy, on the other hand, experienced its typical close-but-no-cigar heartbreak in nearly knocking off No. 9 South Carolina.

After watching all of the Vandy game and half of Northwestern’s contest, I can say this with near certainty: there’s gonna be some points. The Commodores have a good defense but Northwestern’s starting quarterback Kain Colter and its tailback Venric Mark both have some big-play abilities. Meanwhile, good luck to the Wildcats in containing receiver Jordan Rodgers, who’s gone over 130 yards now in four of his last seven games.

Sometimes, games are decided more by what you can’t do than what you can do. And after what I saw of a Northwestern defense that gave up 596 yards to a team that averaged 348 last year (and lost six offensive starters from that team), I am not sure it can get a stop when it needs it.

Prediction: Vanderbilt 34, Northwestern 24

Georgia State at Tennessee
The Vols looked pretty danged impressive last week in a 35-21 victory over a formidable foe in North Carolina State as receiver Cordarrelle Patterson picked up without Da’Rick Rodgers left off (without the horrible attitude) and turned a lot of heads nationally. UT’s defense is still a work in progress as it switches to Sal Sunseri’s new 3-4 alignment, but the Vols did force four huge turnovers.

The Vols also still have some questions about maintaining consistency in their running game, but when you’re slinging the ball around the yard the way Tyler Bray did last week (27-of-41, 333 yards, two scores, no picks) and your opponent is only in its third year of football and got whipped 33-6 by South Carolina State last week…

Prediction: Tennessee 58, Georgia State 7

Other Southeastern Conference predictions:
Alabama 48, Western Kentucky 3: Coach Nick Saban complained this week that the media had been too effusive in its praise of the Crimson Tide, and not respectful enough of ‘Bama’s opponents. If that’s all the notoriously high-strung Saban can find to complain about, that kind of tells you what kind of year it’s going to be for the rest of the SEC, doesn’t it?

Arkansas 48, Louisiana-Monroe 31: New coach, same story: Arkansas and quarterback Tyler Wilson are going to be blowing out bulbs on the Hawgs’ side of the scoreboard this year. After giving up 21 points in the first half to the FCS’s Jacksonville State last week, the same might be said of the defense, too.

Mississippi State 20, Auburn 14: While waiting for things to come together for Auburn quarterback Kiehl Frazier last week, Auburn’s defense unexpectedly fell apart in giving up over 500 yards to Clemson – which was playing without its best player in Sammy Watkins. Tougher things are ahead for Frazier in having to play against ball-hawks Johnathan Banks and Corey Broomfield – and all those cowbells.

LSU 38, Washington 20: The Huskies can score, but their defense seemed to live by the impression that tackling was optional last season. There was marked improvement there in a 21-12 over San Diego State last week, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here: they’ll be playing in Baton Rouge at night.

Ole Miss 27, UTEP 20: The Miners went into the fourth quarter with a chance to pull a stunner at Oklahoma behind Nathan Jeffery’s 21 carries for 177 yards, but Mike Price’s club couldn’t close. Meanwhile, it was rolling, baby, rolling for Hugh Freeze’s offense last week to the tune of 565 yards, even if it was only against Central Arkansas. Of course this week, it’s only UTEP.

Texas A&M 20, Florida 17: Coach Will Muschamp may be a defensive genius, and may also have a lot of talent on that side of the ball. But have you ever seen an offense that so quickly… well… lost its teeth as quickly as the Gators’ offense seems to have? Meanwhile, there just might be a little excitement in College Station for A&M’s SEC debut.

Georgia 31, Missouri 27: I don’t have a great feel for this one either way, but I found it interesting that Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson said that the Bulldogs play “old man” football. Am I the only one amused by the thought of Richardson lying helplessly on the ground with Rascal tire-tread imprints on his jersey screaming, “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up”?

Kent State 27, Kentucky 17: The Golden Flashes haven’t played much of anyone in their last six games, but they’ve won five of them as they’re getting used to coach Darrell Hazell’s offense. And there are few things that can get a program (ahem!) turned around faster than a trip to Lexington right now.

South Carolina 27, East Carolina 10: South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier is threatening not to play quarterback Connor Shaw if his shoulder is still hurting, but something tells me a gamer like Shaw will manage to sweet-talk the Old Ball Coach into putting him on the field. Either way, Carolina’s bread and butter will be Marcus Lattimore in the running game and its stifling defense, and that’ll be good enough on Saturday.