by Bob Epling
The Campus Game
The long wait for the shortest season in sports is finally over.
Nowhere are fans, players, and coaches more ready for toe to meet leather with the start of a new college football season than in the Southeastern Conference.
2009 holds the potential to be a groundbreaking year for the SEC in many areas.
Here are story lines worth watching in Week One:
Can Alabama cope with the recent off-field news? Fish stories with the potential to sideline a couple of star players. A player shot and wounded in a robbery attempt days before the opener. It's doubtful that any SEC team is more eager to get between the white lines than the Tide.
Will 2009 be yet another installment of last season's Big 12 vs SEC debate? We'll get a preview of the two conferences, and early bragging rights will be on the line, when Georgia travels to Oklahoma State.
Is the head ball coach headed into the sunset (and Florida retirement sunshine)? South Carolina and Steve Spurrier kick off the whole season with the Thursday night game against N.C. State. A win might kick start the lethargic Gamecock program ... a loss might have the visored one thinking about cleaning up his golf clubs.
Which new SEC coach will be most successful? Dan Mullen of Miss State was the most well-received among his school's faithful; Lane Kiffin earned kudos for putting together a stellar staff of recruiters, but put his foot in his mouth so many times that the taste of shoe leather still lingers; Gene Chizik's hiring at Auburn garnered the most skepticism, but he warmed to the job by also hiring a top-notch staff and making some recruiting noise with the limo-powered Tiger Prowl. From now on, wins and losses will determine which school made the best hire.
Check back soon to read the full section of Professor's Picks for this weekend's SEC games and selected national tilts too.
Here is my Thursday prediction for South Carolina-NC State.
South Carolina at NC State
Sept. 3 - 7 p.m. ET
Raleigh N.C.Carter-Finley Stadium (57,583)
LIVE TV: ESPN [Sean McDonough, play-by-play; Craig James, color analyst; Jessie Palmer, color analyst; Erin Andrews, sidelines]
Comment: SC QB Stephen Garcia is unpredictable, the running backs are unproven, and we are not sure whether the team has game-breaking potential at WR. The Gamecock defense better be good because Tom O'Brien's Wolfpack should be improved.
Professor's Pick: NC STATE
See you at kickoff!