Neutral is a Positive for SEC in Week One
By Jeremy Hillman
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The SEC has the best record of any conference in the nation in games played at neutral sites over the past decade.
In four of the opening weekend games for the 2012 SEC football season you can throw home field advantage out the window. These games are at a neutral site; made for TV games that are sure to entertain. However, there is nothing neutral about the importance of these games to the teams in them. An out of conference loss to start the year could spell trouble, while a win could leap frog you to a special season.
For Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee and Texas A&M, the 2012 season starts out in neutral....with a season kickoff game at a neutral site, that is. In contrast to most other conference teams (not counting South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Kentucky) that play creampuffs at home in week one, these four Southeastern Conference programs scheduled big out-of-conference matchups to start off the schedule.
So then, how have SEC teams fared in previous neutral site games over the years?
Major conference’s records in neutral site games the past 10 years:
1. SEC: 80-54 (60%)
2. Big 12: 78-59 (57%)
3. Pac 12: 47-43 (52%)
4. ACC: 50-57 (47%)
5. Big 10: 45-61 (42%)
While the SEC has obviously succeeded in neutral site contests in comparison to the rest of the nation, each of the four games to open the 2012 season will be a tough challenge. Even so, look for the SEC to be undefeated in these week one neutral site matchups:
Alabama vs Michigan
Dallas, TX (Saturday, September 1st)
You will hear buzz of a Michigan upset as the game nears. However, do not believe what you hear. Michigan has a good football team and a dynamic quarterback in Denard Robinson, but just doesn’t have the depth or talent that Alabama has at each position. The Crimson Tide is 19-2 over their last 21 season openers, including big recent wins over ranked Clemson and Virginia Tech teams, and have won each of their last five neutral site ball games (Michigan is 0-1 in neutral site games in that same time frame). Alabama will dominate the lines of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and, similar to most SEC versus Big 10 matchups, the Southeastern Conference team will end up the victor.
Early Score Prediction: Alabama 31 Michigan 19
Auburn vs Clemson
Atlanta, GA (Saturday, September 1st)
Look for Auburn, along with Florida, to be the most improved and surprise teams in the SEC this season. The first glimpse of that surprise will come when the SEC Tigers defeat the favored ACC Tigers in week one. Auburn is a ridiculous 10-1 in neutral site games over the past ten seasons, while Clemson is a paltry 5-8. Not to mention, the Georgia Dome is familiar territory for Auburn, as they will be playing their third game in the Dome in just the past 21 months. The bad news for Clemson is Auburn won the previous two Dome games by a combined score of 99-41 over South Carolina and Virginia. Clemson star Sammy Watkins being sidelined due to suspension helps Auburn’s cause, but the ACC Tigers still have talented QB Tajh Boyd and talented RB Andre Ellington to test Auburn’s defense. However, it will be Clemson’s defense that has the most trouble in Atlanta, with Auburn showcasing its cast of talented offensive skill position athletes, including TE Phillip Lutzenkirchen, WR Emory Blake and a slew of dynamic running backs and slot receivers. Look for a very close battle, with Auburn taking the win.
Early Score Prediction: Auburn 30 Clemson 27
Tennessee vs N.C. State
Atlanta, GA (Friday, August 31st)
This may be one of the very best matchups of the first week of the season. A Friday night clash, as an appetizer to the two Saturday games discussed above. Both programs are rebuilding under new coaches and could really use a win in this game. N.C. State has a good team with a capable senior Mike Glenon at quarterback. However, they return just six starters on both sides of the ball and may lack big-play threats at the offensive skill positions. Conversely, Tennessee returns nine starters to both sides of the ball and will have one of the more dangerous pass attacks in the entire nation with QB Tyler Bray and freakishly good wide outs Da’Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter. The last time the Wolfpack played an SEC team, in 2008 and 2009, they lost two games to South Carolina by a combined score of 41-3. Much like those games, big pass plays and scoring offense will be the difference in this one, as the Volunteers earn a much needed victory.
Early Score Prediction: Tennessee 27 N.C. State 16
Texas A&M vs La Tech
Shreveport, LA (Friday August 30th)
This may look like a mismatch at first glance, but this game made my “Upset Alert” list earlier this month, as this is one of those odd season openers where it seems like anything can happen. The Aggies will be focused on joining the SEC, but can’t afford to get ahead of themselves and overlook the Bulldogs in week one. With a new quarterback, a new coach and new schemes, the Aggies will have a challenge to get things going in La Tech’s home state. Texas A&M is just 2-8 over the past ten seasons in neutral site games. Not to mention, the Bulldogs have some bite and are the favorites to win the WAC this season. All that being said, the Aggies will overpower Tech along the offensive line and defensive front seven and should be focused and ready to start their new era of football. It could feel like an upset early, but it will be a blowout late.
Early Score Prediction: Texas A&M 37 La Tech 13