Games of the Week:
By Erich Hilkert
Alabama vs. Wisconsin
In recent years, the SEC has dominated the Big 10, although last season the two conferences split four bowl games. The two more memorable games went in favor of the Big 10, with Ohio State defeating Alabama in the inaugural College Football Playoff semifinal and Wisconsin beating Auburn in overtime in the Outback Bowl.
Wisconsin returns an experienced defense that performed well statistically last season. The Badgers should challenge a less experience Alabama offense. At the center of the picture for Alabama’s offense is All-SEC candidate Derrick Henry. However, the biggest question mark is at the quarterback position, where the Crimson Tide, with one week until kickoff, has three quarterbacks competing for the starting role.
Jake Coker appears to be the likely choice, although fans shouldn’t be surprised to see Cooper Bateman spell Coker during the game because Bateman, while he lacks Coker’s arm strength, possesses tremendous athleticism.
With Coker’s previous experience at the position and Alabama’s heavy reliance on the running game, Alabama should prevail.
On the other side of the field, Alabama has fielded strong defenses since Saban’s arrival in Tuscaloosa, and this season the Crimson Tide has one of the best defensive lines in the country. Wisconsin’s offense doesn’t appear particularly inspired this season on paper.
Score: Alabama 27, Wisconsin 10
Arizona State vs. Texas A&M
This game is a little more difficult to predict. Both teams won their respective bowl games to close out last season. A&M returns much of the same talent on offense with last season’s starter, sophomore Kyle Allen, fending off the competition to earn the starting role again this season. Factor in the former Oregon transfer Tra Carson starting at running back and Speedy Noil at wide receiver and it is easy to see why the Aggies routinely put up 40-plus points on the scoreboard.
The Aggies’ defense should be greatly improved with new defensive coordinator John ‘Chief’ Chavis installing a more aggressive defense with defensive lineman Myles Garrett being one of the team’s defensive stalwarts.
Meanwhile, Arizona State maintains a great deal of continuity from a team that finished with a No. 12 ranking at the end of last season, earning double digit wins for a second consecutive season.
Don’t be surprised if Arizona State wins, but the pick here is A&M, who may surprise a number of people with a strong showing in the stacked SEC West division.
Score: Texas A&M 35, Arizona State 27