We are back for another season of predictions and bets!

This year it’s news desk editor Michael Bratton (@MichaelWBratton) and SDS Podcast co-host Chris Marler (@CMarlerSDS) making the weekly SEC picks.

The first weekend on the SEC schedule features several dud games, including six games against FCS opponents. That means we won’t even bother picking the Arkansas, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Florida, Georgia or Missouri games this week — as those games don’t have nationally recognized point spreads.

As for the games that matter, here’s how we see them playing out:

Ole Miss +2.5 vs. Texas Tech (in Houston)

Michael: This game strikes me as one that turns out much differently in the opener than many assume it will after mulling it over all offseason. The Over/Under for this game is off the charts at 67 thanks to Texas Tech’s history of terrible defense and explosive offense. In reality, the Red Raiders were one of the most improved defenses in the nation last season and return nearly every single defender of significance.

Ole Miss may manage to move the ball at will against poor defenses, but I don’t anticipate that being the case here. As far as Texas Tech’s offense, that unit regressed last season and features a new starting quarterback this season. The best bet in this game will be the under and I like Ole Miss to not only cover but win the game outright.

Ole Miss 31 Texas Tech 24

Chris:  I hope there are a million points scored in this game. I picked Ole Miss as my surprise team in the SEC this year. Texas Tech does return 10 starters on defense, but that was a unit that game up almost 300 pass ypg. Ole Miss has the best WR corps in the country, and I think QB Jordan Ta’amu is going to be a stud.

Ole Miss 38 Texas Tech 34

South Carolina -29.5 vs. Coastal Carolina

Michael: Any doubts I had regarding South Carolina faded this week when I saw Will Muschamp cutting up and joking with the media during his start of the week presser. Of course, the Gamecocks were never going to be tested in this matchup, but Muschamp’s program seems to be embracing the high expectations heading into the season with ease. Nearly a 30-point spread is tough for any team to cover against an FBS opponent but I have a feeling the Gamecocks are due for a point explosion to start the season.

South Carolina 48 Coastal Carolina 13

Chris: South Carolina is the Mississippi St of the East heading into the 2018 season. And, by that I mean they are the media darling and everyone’s favorite preseason cinderella pick. This line worries me because it hasn’t moved, and anything with a hook (half point) always concerns me. However, CCU gave up 34 ppg last year. Plus they’re mascot is named after something from The Canterbury Tales. Gamecocks by 100.

South Carolina 38 Coastal Carolina 7

Kentucky -17 vs. Central Michigan

Michael: Central Michigan may have stood a better chance (the Chippewas went 8-5 last season) before the team’s running back went and shot off at the mouth, calling out Kentucky’s defense (which may be fair) and Benny Snell (not fair at all). The CMU running back just wrote a check his defense can’t possibly cash. These comments also came after Snell personally promised Big Blue Nation a special season was coming.

The only hope for CMU here may be that Terry Wilson proves to be a bust at quarterback and costs Kentucky the game. Otherwise, Snell may manage to carry his team on his back by himself in this one. I’ll take the Wildcats to win but CMU to cover.

Kentucky 30 CMU 20

Chris: I love MACtion just as much as the next guy, and Central Michigan has beaten a Power 5 team three years in a row. However, they only return 10 starters from last year’s team. I think Kentucky has a lot to prove this year after giving away a win vs. Florida, a win vs. Ole Miss, and subsequently a 9-3 season. Kentucky wins and covers in their first home game of the season where they are 11-1 in their last 12 openers.

Kentucky 44 CMU 17

Auburn -2.5 vs. Washington (in Atlanta)

Michael: I’ve gone back and forth on this game all offseason. I could honestly see either team winning it, and the biggest advantage in the game will likely be Auburn’s defensive front going up against Washington’s offensive front. Despite that disadvantage for the Huskies, I predict Chris Petersen and his staff will manage a gameplan that negates that advantage and schemes up ways to have success against the Tigers. While I’m high on Jarrett Stidham, I think he’s the best returning quarterback in the SEC heading into the season, the fact that so many pieces around him have been shifted or placed in significant roles for the first time will come back to haunt Auburn in this game against such a quality opponent.

Washington 23 Auburn 21

Chris: I’ve been saying all summer that if you are gambling man/ woman then jump all over Washington +4.5. Washington has one of the best defenses in the country, and Auburn returns only one O-Lineman from the 2017 team. Auburn is going to be a very good football team this year. However, Washington returns a QB who has thrown for 62 TD’s in the last 2 seasons and a RB that has rushed for at least 1,300 yards in each of his first 3 seasons. The real play is the under (48.5), but I like Washington to not only cover but win outright as well.

Washington 20 Auburn 17

Tennessee +9.5 vs West Virginia (in Charlotte)

Michael: Optimism is high on Rocky Top heading into the season opener. It’s a new era with competent coaches and a roster full of talented players that were never properly developed. All that could be true but it’s not going to equal much success for the Vols in this one. West Virginia isn’t a world beater by any means, they look to be fairly over ranked heading into the season, but the issues on Tennessee’s roster will catch up to them against the Mountaineers.

Jeremy Pruitt may know more than most about coach defensive backs, but he can’t take the defensive backs he inherited and turn them into a top-notch unit in a single offseason. While two or three promising players may be roaming the backfield for Pruitt’s defense, all it’s going to take is a single breakdown for West Virginia to score. Those defensive issues are compounded by the fact Tennessee may not have any effective pass rushers. I like the Mountaineers big in this one.

West Virginia 35 Tennessee 20

Chris: It’s the first game of the Jeremy Pruitt era, and I expect Vol nation to have a good turnout in Charlotte. West Virginia is loaded on offense though, and their defense will be much improved. I think Tennessee will keep it close in the first half, but the Mountaineers will pull away in the 2nd half behind Will Grier and a fanbase that will most definitely be jacked up on Mountain Dew.

West Virginia 34 Tennessee 20

Vanderbilt -3.5 vs. Middle Tennessee

Michael: This game represents MTSU’s final opportunity to get a win over Vanderbilt in the current four-game series between the two Tennessee programs. The Commodores nearly dropped the first game in the series but have decisively won the previous two matchups. If Vanderbilt can’t win this one coming off a 5-7 season, Derek Mason may as well resign after in his postgame press conference. Look for Vanderbilt to finish the 2018 season much like the team did 2017, with a strong start. The next step is finding a way to keep the momentum heading into conference play.

Vanderbilt 27 MTSU 14

Chris: The Blue Raiders return 17 starters from the 2017 team, and it’s a bit worrisome that this line has dropped a full point and a half in the last 3 days. However, Vandy is 15-3 all time vs MTSU, and has won by an average of 16 points in their last 3 meetings. Derek Mason needs wins where he can get them, and this is one he can’t afford to lose.

Vanderbilt 28 MTSU 24

Alabama -25 vs. Louisville (in Orlando)

Michael: I’m never a fan of taking this many points to start the season, regardless of how good Alabama may be. All it’s going to take is a breakdown or two for Louisville to put some points on the board and while Lamar Jackson may no longer be suiting up for the Cardinals, Bobby Petrino knows as well as anyone how to get a quarterback ready to play. I like Jawon Pass to put up some impressive numbers in this game, just enough to give Louisville the win — against the spread, that is.

Alabama 34 Louisville 17

Chris: Bobby Petrino is a good offensive coach and flame away, but I’m not entirely sure I like Alabama’s indecisiveness at the QB position. I would take Louisville to cover this massive spread, but for some unknown reason they cannot stop giving Alabama bulletin board material by talking trash about Bama’s secondary and D-Line. What’s that old saying? Don’t poke the bear/ Saban? Oh, and Bama is 9-1 ATS in their last 10 Week 1 openers.

Alabama 41 Louisville 13

LSU +3 vs. Miami (Arlington)

Michael: Upset special here, not only do I like LSU to cover but I’ll take the Tigers for the outright win on Sunday evening. Miami had a magical run last season, but it was due in fact to gaining so many turnovers — the Hurricanes ranked No. 3 in the nation with 31 forced turnovers. If that fortune doesn’t continue, I suspect this will be an easy win for the Tigers as Dave Aranda’s defense won’t be giving up much in this one.

Not sure how LSU is going to run its offense but based on the comments from his teammates during training camp, Joe Burrow appears to have won over his teammates in Baton Rouge. He won’t be asked to win this one for the Tigers but will show enough to prove he was the right man for the job.

LSU 24 Miami 16

Chris: Three things I don’t trust: lawyers, women with two first names (sorry Mary Beth), and anytime there’s preseason hype for a Mark Richt coached team. LSU hasn’t had a great Fall camp, and it’s well known that Coach Orgeron is on the hot seat. I still like LSU and Jeaux Burreaux to not only cover, but to win outright.

LSU 23 Miami 20