No. 21 LSU Tigers (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS) vs. No. 18 North Carolina Tarheels (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS), Week 1 College Football, Saturday, September 4th, 8:00PM Eastern, Georgia Dome Atlanta, Georgia
By Jay Horne of Predictem.com
Point Spread: LSU -1/North Carolina +1
The Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Classic has become college football’s premier game for opening weekend highlighting two of the top teams from the ACC and SEC. In fact for the first time in college football history, ESPN Gameday will kickoff their 3rd straight season from the same venue at the Georgia Dome when the No. 21 LSU Tigers battle with the No. 18 North Carolina Tarheels. Now in just their 3rd year of the event, the North Carolina Tarheels look to score the ACC’s first victory over the rival conference in the SEC.
The Tarheels were dominant on the defensive side of the ball in 2009 despite trouble moving the chains. Still, North Carolina will return 9 starters from a unit that ranked 6th in the nation in total defense holding opponents to just 269 total yards per game. Defensive end Robert Quinn is an unstoppable force that recorded 11 sacks and runner-up honors in the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2009. Quinn will be the leader of an extremely talented defensive that will again be among the nation’s best. The defensive has a great opportunity to be even better than their staggering numbers a year ago which should cause major concerns for any opposing offenses they line up against this season.
On the other side of the field, LSU historically produces one of the top defenses in America each year. The Tigers will be led by cornerback Patrick Peterson who received 2nd Team All-American honors in 2009 and linebacker Kelvin Sheppard who has received pre-season All-American honors. Peterson should help anchor down a talented secondary, but their remains concerns on the defensive front.
The Tigers had difficulties getting to the quarterback in 2009 resulting in just 21 sacks on the season. In fact, only one starter returns on the defensive line in DT Pep Levingston. The rest of the defensive front will be hoping that a new group of mostly unproven talent can get some more pressure on opposing quarterbacks and make them a better defensive force in 2010.
As for the offenses taking the field, there are unanswered questions for both teams. North Carolina’s offense returns 10 starters including senior quarterback T.J. Yates. However, that same offense was ranked an embarrassing 99th in the nation last season averaging just 307 yards per game. Yates did manage to put together a solid season completing 60% of his passes for 15 touchdowns and 2,136 yards. Still, Yates 14 interceptions and trend of going through periods of inconsistency causes concern. On the ground, Ryan Houston (713 rushing yards) and Shaun Draughn (567 rushing yards) return to make the Tarheels a solid rushing force. In fact, do not be surprised if Coach Butch Davis puts a big emphasis on running the football to test LSU’s young defensive front especially early in the football game.
The Tigers offense has been slowed over the past two seasons by their play at quarterback. Luckily, QB Jordan Jefferson provided some consistency last season throwing for 2,166 yards with 17 touchdowns and 7 picks. Tigers’ fans hope the Jordan will have another improved year putting him towards the top of quarterbacks in the SEC. However, Jefferson will have to find a new favorite target to replace standout WR Brandon LaFell. The likely candidate to replace LaFell will be senior Terrance Toliver who caught 53 passes for 735 yards and 3 scores in 2009. Still, Toliver is one of the lone proven receivers returning for the Tigers this season. Also, the Tigers will have to replace running back Charles Scott in the ground game. Russell Shepard and Stevan Ridley will try to fill the answers on ground.
However, the Tigers will have a tough time moving the football against such a talented North Carolina defense. Even with that being said that does not give North Carolina the advantage in the game considering their own troubles moving the football. In fact, odds makers have the Tigers favored by a single point in what is expected to be a close hard-fought game. Also, the total for the game is posted at the 39.5 mark in respect to the defenses on the field. Even with a low total, I just cannot see either offense firing on all cylinders in the opening game. I believe the defenses will control the game and keep it under the total. Good luck.
Jay’s Pick to Cover the Spread – Under 39.5.