The college football season starts for real on Saturday night when the Tennessee Volunteers visit the California Golden Bears out in Berkeley. I have always had a soft spot for Cal because they were Tennessee's opponent the first time I saw the Vols play in person. That was back in 1987 and Tennessee rolled that day 38-12.
However, things have changed a lot for Cal since then. They are the second best team in the PAC-10 conference, trailing only USC, and they have had a dynamite offense the last couple of years. Most importantly, I believe Cal has the psychological advantage heading into the game.
Last year, Cal opened the season in Knoxville in what was billed as a measuring stick in the development of their program. Tennessee dominated that game, winning 35-18, but the game was not that close. The Volunteers jumped out to a 35-0 lead before coasting for most of the second half. Frankly, Cal looked intimidated by the raucous Neyland Stadium crowd.
Obviously, Cal has a lot of egg they want to wipe off their face. In addition, Tennessee has some significant issues, including inexperience at wide receiver and in the defensive secondary. Toss in some shakiness at placekicker, and the Vols still have some big questions that need answering.
Since Cal has the emotional edge, look for them to get off to a fast start, but Tennessee will rally in the second half to make it a close game. After all, it wouldn't be a Tennessee game if they didn't make you chew your fingernails down to the nub. As a Tennessee graduate and a believer in the dominance of the Southeastern Conference, it's tough to pick Cal, but it is the prudent pick in this case.
The pick: California 28 Tennessee 27
Other SEC picks: Vanderbilt over Richmond, Florida over Western Kentucky, Georgia over Oklahoma State, Kentucky over Eastern Kentucky, South Carolina over UL Lafayette, Alabama over Western Carolina, Arkansas over Troy, Auburn over Kansas State, LSU over Mississippi State, Memphis over Ole Miss