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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, August 29, 2012 at 9:47 AM

Hey, school's in session, so let's start off our mid-week Jim Sez column with a Jeopardy approach to things here:

The answer is the Texas Longhorns.

Okay, Alex, so what's the question?

Who is the last non-SEC team to win a national championship in College Football (see the 2005 season)?

It's amazing that the SEC has indeed reeled off six consecutive championships and as stated in previous Jim Sez columns lately the best conference in the country has an unbelievable five teams in the top 9 of the season-opening Associated Press Top 25 and that -of course -includes the defending champion Alabama Crimson Tide who stand at attention behind top-ranked USC in this debut poll.

The 'Bama bunch will set sail on their 2012 campaign on Saturday night with a tilt against double-digit dog Michigan (a game being played at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington) but there's another one of those high-powered SEC teams in action on this Thursday Night/Opening Night and we'll dig into what the #9 South Carolina Gamecocks have in front of 'em along with another key TV tilt on this next-to-last night in August.

 

THURSDAY NITE KEY TV COLLEGE PREVIEWS

#9 SOUTH CAROLINA at VANDERBILT -7 p.m. ET, ESPN
You could call it the season of "great expectations" for the here-and-now South Carolina Gamecocks: After all, this does mark the program's first-ever season-opening appearance in the top 10 and there's lots of reason to smile including the fact that star RB Marcus Lattimore is back after missing the last six games of 2011 with a severe knee injury (he still rushed for 818 yards and 10 TDs while averaging 5.0 yards a pop a year ago).

No doubt Lattimore is ready for a heavy workload -eighth-year Gamecocks' coach Steve Spurrier said he'll carry it "25-to-30 times" in this game -but South Carolina must mix in some downfield chucks against a Vanderbilt defense that figures to play eight men in the box for much of this prime-time battle.

Keep in mind also that SC has a new defensive coordinator this year after Ellis Johnson left to become the head coach at Southern Miss. New DC Lorenzo Ward is calling the shots now on this side of the ball and remember the Gamecocks ranked third nationally in defense last year behind -you got it -powerhouses LSU and Alabama.

One major key for the home-underdog Commodores here:

Quarterback Jordan Rodgers -yes, the little brother of Green Bay Packers great Aaron -is looking to improve on last year's 9-TD/10-INT campaign and play-action fakes could lead to some deep throws to WR Jordan Matthews here (he averaged a whopping 19 yards a catch on 41 receptions last year).

Spread Notes -South Carolina has gone 7-5, 7-6 and 7-6 spreadwise the past three years and did you realize that the Gamecocks have failed to cover seven of their last 11 SEC away games? On the flip side, the Vandy Commodores banged out a nifty 9-4 ATS (against the spread) mark a year ago and that included a five-game spread winning streak. Last year 15-point home favorite South Carolina whacked Vanderbilt 21-3 on Sept. 24th.
 
WASHINGTON STATE at BYU -10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
This all-Cougars matchup from Provo is chock full of storylines including the main one: Washington State head coach Mike Leach is back along the sidelines after a two-year absence following his not-so-amicable departure from Texas Tech and he just so happens to be going up against his alma mater here.

Still, it's the host BYU Coogs who enter this clash a near two-TD betting favorite and all reports indicate BYU will be more about its ole downfield passing game behind lefty QB Riley Nelson who threw for 1,717 yards and 19 TDs last year. Now that one-time BYU slinger Jake Heaps has transferred to Kansas -the new home for Charlie Weis' passing offense -Nelson no longer has anyone looking over his shoulder pads and here he will attack a W-State defense that ranked a lowly 93rd nationally against the pass in 2011.

Meanwhile, note that the Pac-12 guys from Pullman do bring a neat one-two punch into this game as QB Jeff Tuel and WR Marquess Wilson -who caught 82 balls and scored 12 TDs last season -are ultra-dangerous but if the road pups want to have any shot at landing the shocking win here than bottling up Nelson is critical and that includes closing off his running lanes as well.

Spread Notes -Believe it or not, the BYU Cougars are a collective 16-5 against the prices in their last 21 overall games while dating back to midway of the 2010 season (folks, that's a .762 winning rate). Last year BYU banged out a 9-4 ATS log that included a cover versus a Pac-12 team as the Coogs topped 3 ½-point home fav Oregon State 38-28 (but did lose 54-10 against 4-point road dog Utah). Since the start of 2010, BYU is a tasty 6-2 versus the vig when laying a twin-figure price tag. Washington State, on the other hand, is coming off a 7-5 ATS campaign and so the Wazzu bunch is a neat 14-9 vig-wise overall the past two seasons. Note that W-State is a money-toasting 2-8 spreadwise in on-the-board openers the past 10 years.

In other NCAA Football News & Notes ...
As you know by now, Thursday's Texas A&M versus Louisiana Tech tilt in Shreveport has been postponed until Oct. 13th thanks to Hurricane Isaac.

Too bad 'cause there has been lots of folks anxious to see how the Aggies perform under first-year head coach Kevin Sumlin. The College Station gang -which figures to fall somewhere from the middle to near the bottom of the SEC West this season -will be led by redshirt frosh QB Johnny Manziel. The 6-foot-1, Kerrville (Tx.) native has big shoes to fill after the NFL departure of Ryan Tannehill but Sumlin isn't expecting any early-season miracles and now A&M must wait till their Sept. 8th home game against #23 Florida to find out how Manziel handles the heat. Hmm, it would have been real nice to get Manziel into game action before than but that's the breaks! ...

Finally, one other Thursday Night game to check out includes Minnesota at UNLV. Strangely enough, this marks the fourth consecutive season that the Minny Golden Gophers will open up on the road but note the Big 10 team won 23-20 at Syracuse back in 2009 and copped a 24-17 win at Middle Tennessee in 2010 before getting nipped 19-17 last year at 23 ½-point fav USC. Word is Minensota will host season-opening games the next four years at its TCF Bank Stadium, so stop complaining already!

NOTE: Catch all our season-opening NCAA Football Game Previews this week./weekend  right here at Jim Sez!

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