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August 31, 2004
With the help of RB Jerious Norwood, The Croom Era is up and running in Starkville.
Well, the college football season is finally upon us. While many of these games appear to be mismatches, these games are often more important than conference games later in the year. These are the games that help determine the strength of opponent components for the BCS forumla later in the year. These are also the games where the schools will fine tune their offensive and defensive schemes in preparation for the coming in-conference battles. Only one game takes place in conference this week, and both South Carolina and Vanderbilt desperately need to win their Saturday affair as they are both considerable underdogs in the SEC East. While it isn't the end of the season, the loser of the lone SEC game this weekend will have a long and difficult task ahead of them if they want to contend in the East. With less than a week to the kickoff of 2004 SEC football, let's take a look at this weekend's matchups.

Alabama vs. Utah State

This game is in Tuscaloosa, and the 2004 Tide looks to get an early jump on a winning season this year. Utah State returns 10 starters from a team that went 3-9 last year. Utah State has a much more seasoned defense than offense this year and will look to their defense to try and keep things close with the Tide and give them a chance to compete. Alabama should start this one off a little slow, and things might be close until late into the second quarter, but the talent in Tuscaloosa will be too much for the Aggies to overcome as Alabama wins 31-17.

Arkansas vs. New Mexico State

New Mexico State travels to Fayetteville for one of their yearly money games against big conference opponents. The roll of whipping boy might not be in the Aggies cards this year, as the Razorbacks are having to almost completely rebuild their team. New Mexico State will definitely be the more experienced team in this game, if not the more talented. Experience does count for a lot, but I don't think it will be enough for New Mexico State to pull the upset in Fayetteville. Close...but no cigar for the boys from Las Cruces as Arkansas wins it 24-21.

Auburn vs. Louisiana-Monroe

This is a Louisiana-Monroe squad that is returning largely intact after a 1-11 season. It's never good for a small school like ULM to go on the road and open up the season in SEC country...particularly against Auburn and Carnell Williams. The Indians gave up nearly 200 yards on the ground last year, and that does not spell success for their first game this year. This will be the most action we'll have seen involving a Cadillac since the freeway chase sequence in The Matrix Reloaded. Bust out your good clothes and roll with the Cadillac while Auburn wins it 42-6.

Florida vs. Middle Tennessee State

MTSU travels to Gainesville to start out the season against the Gators. After returning 12 starters from last year's 4-8 team, the Blue Raiders start things out with a new SEC East opponent (having played Tennessee and Vanderbilt in the last couple of years). MTSU wasn't very good against the pass last year, and Chris Leak will look to get familiar with his new WRs in a hurry this year. Coach Ron Zook is supposed to be running a more "Fun N Gun" oriented offense this year, which doesn't sound too good if you're from Murfreesboro. Florida rolls to a huge win by a final score of 48-10.

Georgia vs. Georgia Southern

If you're reading this column, and this spot, your probably not here for the Georgia Southern commentary. There isn't really much to say about this one. It should be ugly. The main thing the Bulldogs are looking for is keeping everybody healthy and working out the offensive and defensive kinks. The Dawgs might be looking past Georgia Southern, as their second game is in Columbia, but it won't matter. The starters may only play until midway through the third quarter. Georgia looks to get their return trip to Atlanta started on the right foot as they send Georgia Southern packing, 38-0.

Kentucky vs. Louisville

No other SEC squad opens up their season with a rivalry game. Kentucky and Louisville have given the nation some classic week one battles in the last few years, but unfortunately for the Cats, and the nation, this one will not be one of them. The Cardinals return 16 starters from last year's 9-4 team, while the Wildcats are retooling the offense and defense. NCAA sanctions haven't helped out Kentucky, who will probably be near the bottom of the SEC East standings yet again. CUSA gets a feather in their caps with a win over the mighty SEC as the Cardinals blast Kentucky by a score of 31-13.

LSU vs. Oregon State

The Bayou Bengals begin their national title defense against a respectable Pac-10 opponent in Oregon State. The Beavers should have another winning season and another trip to a bowl game, as they return 12 starters from last year's 8-4 team. During the off-season, the Beavers dropped their game against Temple and replaced it with LSU. This will probably end up in the L column now for the Beavers instead of a sure W, but it will give them a test against a top level opponent. LSU wins this one, but not by as much as some might think....LSU wins 34-17.

Mississippi vs. Memphis

Last year Memphis pulled off one of the biggest early season upsets when they knocked off Eli Manning's Rebels. This year the Rebels look to even the score in Oxford, but without Eli. The Tigers are returning 16 starters, with 10 of those being on the offensive side of the ball. This is not a good thing to hear in The Grove, as the Rebs are replacing seven starters on defense. Mississippi is out for revenge in this one, but will find it hard to hold the Tigers by the tail. Memphis takes a bite out of the Rebels for the second straight year, 34-20.

Mississippi State vs. Tulane

Things weren't good for either of these two programs last year. Mississippi State comes into this season with a new head coach for the first time in almost 15 years. Tulane is looking to replace J.P. Loseman and also replace the school's all time leading rusher. Both teams were pretty bad last year and hope to be better this year. This one is too close to call, but someone has to win it. When it's too close to call, always pick the home team. The Croom Era starts with a W in Starkville as State wins this one 24-21.

South Carolina vs. Vanderbilt

The SEC's only conference game during week one features the Gamecocks going to the Music City to tangle with the Commodores. This should be a good barometer for what both teams will bring to the table this season. Both teams return a ton of starters, and this will probably be a pretty close facsimile of last year's contest, which the Gamecocks won by a score of 35-24. This game is in Nashville, but Dudley Field is not exactly known for being a hostile road environment. Lou Holtz begins the season with a W as the Cocks win a nailbiter 31-30.

Tennessee vs. UNLV

This season marks the first time in Tennessee history that a true freshman will start the season opener. Tennessee looks to play both of its freshmen QBs, Brent Schaeffer and Erik Ainge, in this game against the Runnin' Rebels. Tennessee returns a seasoned front seven, and this is not what the Rebels want to hear as they are looking to control the ground this year on offense with their deep and talented backfield. Factor into the equation that they will be playing in one of the most hostile environments in the nation, and it will get ugly early and often for the boys from Sin City. Tennessee rolls in the debut of their next QB by a tally of 42-3.

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