This weekend, it is the National Football League's turn to begin its season after college football debuted last week. The Tennessee Titans will visit the Jacksonville Jaguars in what should be a close game. Playing an afternoon game in Florida in late summer will certainly be a challenge for the Titans, but I believe they will win.
The X-factor in this game will be Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard. He won the job over long-time quarterback Byron Leftwich, and he primarily did so because he brings a lot of mobility to the position. Mix in his athleticism with running backs Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor, and it is obvious the Jaguars have some playmakers.
However, the Titans defense gets a lot of work against mobile quarterbacks in practice every day going against Vince Young. Despite his youth, I'll take Young over a lot of quarterbacks in the league. He has a gift for making the big play. He will need to make several big plays Sunday because Jacksonville's outstanding defensive line (led by former University of Tennessee star John Henderson) will likely stuff the running game.
It's crazy to say that the first game of the year is a “must win” game, but this one has that feel to it. After the Jaguars, the Titans host defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis and then travel to New Orleans. Obviously, these are three tough games to start the year and starting with a loss to Jacksonville could begin a slide toward 0-3.
However, that will not happen. Vince Young will make just enough plays to pull it out.
The pick: Tennessee 20 Jacksonville 17
As for the Tennessee Volunteers, they have several questions to answer this week. Will there be a let down or hangover from last week's loss to California? Will the defense tackle better? Will the kickers be able to get the ball deeper on kick-offs or should we get used to seeing our opponents begin every possession at the 40-yard line?
This would be the perfect week for the Vols to play a creampuff, but this is not the case in playing Southern Mississippi. Like the Titans, the Vols begin the season against three tough teams. Southern Mississippi is the favorite to win Conference USA. The Golden Eagles return eight starters on a stout defense and have an excellent running back.
Damion Fletcher rushed for 1,330 yards last year, and one of the biggest concerns regarding Tennessee's defense is its inability to stop the run. It gave up 230 yards rushing to Cal last week, and if this does not get better, the Vols will struggle mightily once conference play begins. Simply put, the defense has a big challenge this week.
The good news from the Cal game was that quarterback Erik Ainge's broken pinky did not affect his ability to throw. As a whole, the offense looked good against Cal. It put up 31 points against a team ranked in the national top 12. Most weeks that would be good enough to win.
Tennessee better take Southern Mississippi seriously. This will be a close game, but the Vols will pull it out. Then, it's time for Florida.
The pick: Tennessee 27 Southern Mississippi 24
Other SEC picks: Alabama over Vanderbilt, LSU over Virginia Tech, South Carolina over Georgia, Florida over Troy, Kentucky over Kent State, Auburn over South Florida, Missouri over Ole Miss, Mississippi State over Tulane
Last week: 10-1 (.909)