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For Whom the Cowbell Tolls "Lock of the Week" Game One

Who is the most likely SEC team to cover the spread this week?

If you count the North Dakota State vs. Montana game yesterday, and I do because it was entertaining, college football season is upon us.  Now that the offseason is over, it is finally time to discuss upcoming football games, instead of recruiting, which players got in trouble, all the lawsuits the NCAA is involved in, preseason predictions, and other drama that happens off the field.  Every week, I will post a poll to give you the opportunity to vote on the best gambling opportunity in SEC games.  The poll is at the bottom of the article.  Best case scenario, this poll will be accurate enough to pay off your car, house, or whatever it is you people buy.  However unlikely this is to actually work, it is worth a try.  I will give MSU and Southern Miss their own poll later in the week, because 68% of our voters picked MSU the last time I did a poll, so we weren't really able to see what MSU fans thought about the rest of the SEC.  The spreads are from  Teams playing FCS schools will not be included in the poll, and will be briefly mentioned.

South Carolina vs North Carolina, in Charlotte (USC -3.5)

ESPN's statistical ranking system actually has UNC winning by two points, but all of the other rankings I've seen like USC more.  Connor Mitch won their QB battle, and is a North Carolina native, so he gets to start off his career in his home state.  Both teams had good offenses and very bad defenses last year.  UNC scored over 30 points 8 times, and went 5-3 in those games.  Spurrier is trying to fix his defense by hiring Jon Hoke, who was a defensive backs coach in the NFL.  Fedora is trying to fix his defense by hiring Gene Chizik.  UNC is very unpredictable.  Besides the obvious reason of being the first BCS level game this year, Pharoh Cooper and Marquise Williams should make this game entertaining.

Western Kentucky at Vanderbilt (VU -1)

It is safe to say Vanderbilt fans were hoping for more than being barely favored at home over Western Kentucky when Derek Mason was hired.  If the game was at a neutral site, Western Kentucky would be favored by two.  QB Patton Robinette might have started for Vandy, but he decided start medical school this summer (this sentence may be the best summary of Vandy football ever).  Derek Mason has completely taken over the defense, which makes sense because he was a good defensive coordinator at Stanford, but also makes him look like a control freak because even Nick Saban has a defensive coordinator.  Western Kentucky is a contender for Conference USA.  There won't be an excessive amount of future NFL players on the field, but it should be a close game.

Louisiana Monroe at Georgia (UGA -35)

All three rankings I looked at have Georgia winning by around 30, so among the projection systems, there is consensus that Georgia won't cover the spread despite winning easily.  Georgia's SB nation site picked UGA to win by 31, so this might be a reasonable bet.  LA Monroe is supposed to be an average Sun Belt team, with several starters coming back from a good defense.  However, their offense is supposed to be bad.  UGA will be inexperienced at QB, but with Nick Chubb in the backfield, that shouldn't be much of a concern in week one.  The possibility of Chubb getting a few hundred yards on LA Monroe makes me hesitant to think the Warhawks will cover the spread, but it is also possible that Richt won't want to give Chubb too many carries against them, especially if UGA gets up by a few touchdowns early.

Tennessee Martin (FCS) at Mississippi

Is Dylan Favre going to start for UT Martin?  I have no idea, but that could make this game worth watching for a few series.  Also, the Chad Kelly era begins.

UTEP at Arkansas (Main campus, not Little Rock) ARK -33

Like the UGA game, the stat nerds seem to think Arkansas won't cover their massive spread, but will win easily.  However, they are more confident in Arkansas covering than UGA.  Arkansas has a really good RB in Alex Collins, and their offensive linemen are so big that Bret Bielema said they keep him from feeling self conscious about his size.  They also have Brandon Allen, who isn't great, but improved a lot last year.  Allen is also very good at not turning the ball over, which is a valuable skill some of the new QBs in the SEC won't have.  Arkansas did lose a few very talented defensive players.  UTEP should be an average Conference USA team.  While they aren't much of a threat to beat Arkansas, they have a lot of experience coming back on their offensive line, and have a good chance to cover the spread.

Louisville vs Auburn, in Atlanta (AU -10.5)

At a glance, Auburn seems favored too heavily.  Petrino may have a lot of people who understandably dislike him, but he is a very successful football coach, and Louisville did go 9-4 in his first season.  However, this game has a lot of questions for both teams.  Devonte Fields, Big 12 defensive player of the year at TCU, was kicked off of TCU's team, and is eligible to play at Louisville after playing at a JUCO for a year.  Josh Harvey-Clemons is another transfer who was kicked off of UGA's team, and will probably start for them.  We don't know who their QB, but their options aren't bad.  This game is Jeremy Johnson's first opportunity to live up to his preseason hype.  He had amazing stats as a backup and appears to be very good, but QBs don't always live up to the hype.  With Malzahn in charge, Auburn's offense should be good.  Roc Thomas should be a very good RB for Auburn, and Duke Williams is good.  Auburn's defense will be interesting to watch with Muschamp's arrival.  They should have a very good defensive line.  Their secondary will depend on how much UGA transfer Tray Matthews (who oddly enough, tipped the Hail Mary pass in Auburn's win over UGA in 2013) and Blake Countess can contribute.  Jonathon Jones is another good player to watch in the secondary.  If for some reason you are required to pick a spread in this game, pick Louisville, but with all the new transfers who will be counted on, I'm staying away from this one.

Southeast Missouri State (FCS) at Missouri

Is the winner of the last two SEC East division titles underrated again?  This game won't really answer that question.

Bowling Green vs Tennessee in Nashville (UT -20)

Considering Butch Jones wasn't Tennessee's first choice as their head coach, he was a good hire by Tennessee.  This might be the year he starts to pay off.  Highly ranked recruiting classes and the emergence of aerospace engineering major Josh Dobbs last season has led to top 25 expectations for Tennessee.  They have 17 starters coming back.  Returning starters is usually a questionable stat for various reasons, but 17 is a large number.  With Dobbs running ability, and RB's Jalen Herd and Alvin Kamara, Tennessee will run the ball as well as anyone in the SEC East, besides Heisman candidate Nick Chubb.  The biggest question on defense is how they adapt to not having AJ Johnson.  Bowling Green is an above average MAC team.  Their offense returns some good players, but their defense will be very inexperienced.  I'm leaning towards Tennessee on this one, especially if the line setters are counting Nashville as a "neutral" site.

Arizona State vs Texas A&M in Houston (TAMU -3)

This game made most entertaining game of the week.  It is another neutral site game that happens to not be neutral at all.  Texas A&M has one of the best passing offenses in the SEC with Kyle Allen and experienced receivers such as Josh Reynolds and Speedy Noil.  Will stealing Chavis away from LSU make their defense good?  They do have one of the best defensive lineman in Myles Garrett, but other than that I'm not sure how good their defense will be.  Despite having a couple of potential All Pac 12 linemen, their offensive line isn't supposed to be very good, but the rest of their offense is.  Most of ASU's defense returns.

Louisiana Lafayette at Kentucky (UK -16)

Like most FBS teams, the fighting Hudspeth's are starting off with a difficult road game.  The projection systems like ULL to cover.  ULL winning the Sun Belt is a realistic possibility.  Their offensive line is decent, and their RB won Sun Belt player of the year last season.  However, they lost their starting QB and best receiver.  The defense is a little questionable, and it will partially be up to former MSU coaches Charlie Harbison and Melvin Smith to fix it.  Kentucky has an underrated QB in Patrick Towles, (but I feel like I've read that comment enough this season to where it may not be true anymore).  Kentucky lost 6 games after starting out 5-1, and that was due mostly to having a much more difficult schedule in the second half of the season.  Their offensive line has a lot of experience.  They lost some very good defensive ends, but should still have a decent defense.  ULL shouldn't beat Kentucky, but this one might be close.

McNeese State (FCS) at LSU

All eyes will be on whoever plays QB for LSU, except for any MSU fan who feels like watching this one and wants to watch former MSU RB Derrick Milton.  Maybe I'm biased by the terrifying comeback Brandon Harris led against MSU in Baton Rogue last year, but I think Harris could exceed the low expectations LSU has at QB.

New Mexico State at Florida (UF -36)

New Mexico State is supposed to be really bad.  The Sagarin (he contributed to the BCS rankings) ranking system includes every Divison I team, and he ranked NMSU 167th in the nation.  I tried to count how many FCS schools are ranked higher than that, and I quit because it took too long.  They are ranked behind William and Mary.  That is enough brutal analysis of NMSU.  Despite how bad NMSU is supposed to be, none of the projection systems think that Florida will cover the spread, and that is because Florida has offensive issues.  There are six offensive linemen on scholarship.  Treon Harris or freshman Will Grier will start.  Treon Harris is a good runner who didn't turn over the ball very often as a freshman, which is very impressive.  However, Harris has shown little evidence that he is an accurate passer, which is why Will Grier may eventually start.  Former MSU coordinator Geoff Collins has a lot of talent in the secondary.  Florida's defense should be good.

Wisconsin vs Alabama at Arlington (UA -10)

Do we finally have a real neutral site game?  For various reasons, Saban has historically dominated these neutral site games in the past, beating Clemson, West Virginia, Michigan, and Virginia Tech.  This should be a low scoring game.  Wisconsin has a good defense, and Alabama has yet to name a QB.  Alabama also has to find replacements for Amari Cooper, who saw a ridiculously high number of targets last season.  Alabama always has exceptional defensive linemen and linebackers, and their secondary should be improved after some younger players received significant playing time last year.  The best way to score on Alabama is to throw downfield, and Wisconsin's QB situation is not good.  This game looks like a favorable matchup for Alabama.

Mississippi State at Southern Mississippi (MSU -23)

Mullen's only loss to an FBS school is Houston in 2009, so MSU fans are understandably not expecting to lose to Southern Miss.  It is possible that he could sub in second teamers a lot like he did in the UAB game last year, and that could mess with the spread.  Former TCU QB Tyler Matthews transferred to Southern Miss because he was blocked on the depth chart by Trevone Boykin.  Boykin is very good QB, so even though Matthews left due to not getting to play, he might be good.  If Mullen doesn't try to get the second teamers in early, and Matthews doesn't wind up being an unpleasant surprise for MSU fans, MSU should cover the spread.  However, those are two big assumptions.

A Quick Summary

A general philosophy to take this week is to bet on underdogs supposed to lose by 30 or more.  This week, I'll bet my internet credibility on Alabama, MSU, and La Monroe.  The most entertaining games are Auburn vs. Louisville and Texas A&M vs. Arizona.