Get out the grills, pack the coolers and prepare to yell because football starts in less than 24 hours.

Welcome back, SEC fans.

Getting back into the swing of things during game week, myself and Saturday Down South editor Christopher Smith step back into the ring to begin our weekly picks battle. We’ll keep score against the spread (ATS) and straight-up for the remainder of the season, meeting y’all in Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game in December.

RELATED: SEC Preseason Power Rankings

Last season, the final tally was one-sided. Smith torched me. The raw stats were downright ugly — Crawford: 47-53 (against the spread), 76-24 (straight up); Christopher Smith: 58-42 (ATS), 81-19 (straight up).

I’m in it to win it this fall against our gambling master. Readers can make their Week 1 picks here and try to beat the “experts,” if you can call us that.

Thursday’s games

North Carolina vs. South Carolina (-2.5)

Brad: Ah, the first game of the year. The result is often followed by massive overreaction, like last season when the preseason East favorites were punched off the pedestal by Texas A&M and Kenny Hill (remember him?). Texas A&M started the season 5-0 and raced to No. 6 in the country before falling flat. The Gamecocks struggled the rest of the year, stumbling to a 7-6 campaign. Will this year look any different? Perhaps and it has to start defensively. Most are expecting a high-scoring affair in this one and I tend to agree. Take the Gamecocks to cover in Charlotte, but it’ll be close.

South Carolina 38, North Carolina 34

Christopher: Both teams feature new defensive coordinators in Gene Chizik and Jon Hoke (co-coordinator in title). North Carolina and QB Marquise Williams should have no trouble scoring. I expect South Carolina’s defense to improve — the linebackers are above average, the secondary gained experience with Kansas transfer Isaiah Johnson and the defensive line features a host of new players. But until SC proves it can stop a player like Williams, I’m not sold on the Gamecocks defense. Steve Spurrier wins a chess match with Larry Fedora every time. But while we know what Williams can do, Connor Mitch still has something to prove. I’m not sure South Carolina’s offense will be able to keep pace.

North Carolina 31, South Carolina 28

Western Kentucky at Vanderbilt (+2.5)

Brad: For the sake of Derek Mason’s future in Nashville, please Commodores, win the opener. An SEC underdog at home against a non-Power 5 school is a rarity, but it comes with the territory after a dreadful finish in 2014. I really think Vanderbilt’s front seven will get after Hilltoppers star quarterback Brandon Doughty and make things uneasy on the two-year starter and sixth-year senior. The Men in Black find enough offense to muster a much-needed victory.

Vanderbilt 24, Western Kentucky 23

Christopher: This line opened Vandy minus-2 and thus has flipped 4.5 points. That’s a huge move in Vegas. Even the public likes the Hilltoppers, backing them at a rate of 59 percent as of Wednesday night. The reason: Vanderbilt’s offense is going to need at least 28 points to upend Western Kentucky. Brandon Doughty and WKU scored 67 points in a single-overtime win against then-unbeaten Marshall last year. That unit, which returns seven starters, should put up at least 24 points Thursday night — probably more. Vanderbilt has lost its starting quarterback (Patton Robinette), starting left tackle (Andrew Jelks) and No. 1 receiver (C.J. Duncan) since the end of spring practice, from a unit that averaged 17.2 points per game last season. I don’t think Vandy can muster enough offense in this one. Is this the beginning of the end for Derek Mason?

Western Kentucky 31, Vanderbilt 24

Saturday’s games

Louisiana-Monroe at Georgia (-35)

Brad: This is where I pretend to know more about Georgia’s quarterback situation and the reasoning behind Virginia transfer Greyson Lambert being named the Bulldogs’ starter. An average signal caller in the ACC who didn’t win the job in Charlottesville this spring, it’s not a great sign when Lambert can switch programs over the summer and beat out Brice Ramsey, a player with two years experience in Georgia’s system. I picked the Bulldogs as one of my College Football Playoff dark horses this season, but I’m having second thoughts. It won’t matter in Week 1.

Georgia 48, Louisiana-Monroe 7

Christopher: Laugh all you want, but the Bulldogs can’t afford to sleep-walk through the first half against the Warhawks. Louisiana-Monroe came within a play of beating Texas A&M on Nov. 1, falling 21-16 at Kyle Field. The defense is good for a Sun Belt team with six senior starters in the front seven. I don’t, however, have confidence that freshman QB Garrett Smith can lead an average offense to glory in a season opener “between the hedges.” Expect the Warhawks to tire late as Georgia lets its offensive line lean on Monroe. Greyson Lambert won’t have to do much in this one. Expect Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and Keith Marshall all to get carries.

Georgia 45, Louisiana-Monroe 7

Tennessee-Martin at Ole Miss (-40.5)

Brad: At what level will the Rebels’ star-studded defense perform this season? Most of y’all will be focusing in on Chad Kelly and the Ole Miss offense against this cupcake, but I’m more interested in seeing the performances on the other side of the football. Wait until you see cornerbacks Tee Shepard and Tony Bridges, probably the most underrated tandem at their position in college football this fall. I’m projecting 11 interceptions between the two in 2015. This one will never be in doubt for the home team, but covering the spread may be a bit much.

Ole Miss 41, Tennessee-Martin 13

Christopher: The last time Ole Miss faced an FCS opponent, it shut out Presbyterian, 48-0. The Landshark defense wants to prove it is just as tough without its two All-Americans in the secondary. Players like Robert Nkemdiche and Tony Conner are looking to impress NFL scouts. I don’t think the Skyhawks score a point. The question, then, becomes whether Ole Miss can notch six touchdowns. I think the defense will snag a few takeaways and make it easy for QB Chad Kelly. The Rebels also want to make sure the offensive line and running game are improved, and the second half should give Ole Miss a chance to test it.

Ole Miss 42, Tennessee-Martin 0

UTEP at Arkansas (-33)

Brad: I hated to hear the news of Jonathan Williams’ season-ending injury last month. One of the SEC’s senior stars, Williams exemplifies leadership and his absence will undoubtedly be a severe blow to the Razorbacks’ West Division title chances. Maybe Arkansas will surprise me and win more than eight games without its best player, but that would be quite a remarkable feat. In the opener, UTEP scores a late touchdown against second-teamers to cover.

Arkansas 51, UTEP 20

Christopher: Arkansas ran for nearly 6.5 yards per carry against non-conference foes last season. Its retooled offensive line should be more athletic, as players like G Sebastian Tretola lost weight. A motivated Alex Collins, Kody Walker and Rawleigh Williams III will be able to handle production on the ground just fine. I’m more anxious to see whether JUCO transfer WR Dominique Reed can translate his speed into SEC production and give the Razorbacks a deep threat. UTEP’s Aaron Jones is one of the best Group of 5 running backs in the country. He rushed for 1,321 yards as a sophomore in 2014. But, even without the Bermuda Triangle, I think Arkansas’ “Bad News Bears” defense will prove just as impenetrable at the line of scrimmage, rotating eight defensive linemen.

Arkansas 49, UTEP 10

Louisville vs. Auburn (-10.5)

Brad: One of the more intriguing matchups opening weekend, I’ll be tuning in Saturday afternoon on CBS to get a closer look at Jeremy Johnson, a player many have tabbed as the SEC’s Heisman frontrunner. Picking this game based on the spread, the half-point worries me a bit. I could easily see this one being a 34-24 game with the Cardinals making a few big plays against Auburn’s renovated defense under Coach Boom. But what the heck, let’s go with Johnson taking advantage of a Louisville defense that’s replacing some big names at the back end.

Auburn 41, Louisville 27

Christopher: I expect this Louisville team to look more like a Bobby Petrino outfit, as the defense that Charlie Strong built featured six players selected in the 2015 NFL draft. Even without WR DeVante Parker, the No. 14 overall pick in the draft, and with public questions about who the Cardinals will start at quarterback, I still like Louisville to improve on that side of the ball. Petrino is a lot of things, but he’s a heck of an offensive football coach. So is Gus Malzahn. I’m anxious to see how much he tweaks his system, and more specifically, whether Jeremy Johnson can be effective with the read-option. Expect Louisville to come after him hard with blitzes. Will Muschamp is a headliner as Auburn’s defensive coordinator — and for $1.6 million, deservedly so — but the real reason the Tigers are a College Football Playoff contender is the upgraded defensive personnel. The return of Carl Lawson and two power-conference transfer defensive backs make a difference here.

Auburn 34, Louisville 21

Southeast Missouri State at Mizzou (41.5)

Brad: If you’ve followed the reports out of Columbia during fall camp, freshman quarterback Drew Lock’s been all the rage as a gunslinger against Mizzou’s second and third-team units. But we’re forgetting something here. This is Maty Mauk’s team for the next two seasons barring injury or a considerable drop in production. The offense is tailored to fit Mauk’s style, one he’s altered this offseason (he says). Russell Hansbrough will make the most noise Saturday however and wideout Nate Brown flashes some talent we’ll see later this season against better competition.

Mizzou 45, Southeast Missouri State 6

Christopher: We won’t learn much about Missouri here. The Tigers may have lost a groundswell of talent at receiver and defensive line, but Mizzou has become a legitimate SEC program along the line of scrimmage. That’s trouble for SEMO, which didn’t get a single vote in preseason FCS Top 25 polls. Still, I’m skeptical that a Tigers team looking to use this game internally to shore up several question marks will be intentional enough about slaughtering the Redhawks to cover this spread.

Missouri 42, SEMO 3

Bowling Green vs. Tennessee (-20.5)

Brad: No more injuries. The Vols can’t afford for any other contributors to get hurt this season. All of the offseason talk is finally over for a team projected to compete for an East Division title. Joshua Dobbs’ dark horse Heisman campaign starts with a bang and Alvin Kamara — not Jalen Hurd — records a 100-yard game on the ground. Tennessee’s front seven defensively forces the issue against an opponent that won’t be able to match up athletically.

Tennessee 49, Bowling Green 17

Christopher: You football nuts may remember Northern Illinois two years ago — dark horse Heisman candidate Jordan Lynch led NIU to a 12-0 start as a potential BCS buster. Then Bowling Green and QB Matt Johnson upset the Huskies, 47-27, in the MAC title game. Well, Johnson is back after missing last season due to injury. Down two starters in the secondary already, the Vols need to rely on a destructive pass rush against an experienced, tough Falcons offensive line. BGSU’s defense, though, gave up nearly 500 yards per game — and then lost seven starters. Expect Joshua Dobbs and Tennessee to move the football with ease.

Tennessee 42, Bowling Green 20

Arizona State vs. Texas A&M (-3.5)

Brad: I believe the Aggies could win as many as nine games during the regular season this fall, but until I see improvement defensively, I can’t pick them to cover against a nationally-ranked opponent on a neutral field in the opener. Kyle Allen could throw for 400 yards and four touchdowns and it still might not be enough. Rest assured John Chavis will make a difference for this team, even if we don’t notice his presence in the opener.

Texas A&M 42, Arizona State 40

Christopher: Until Texas A&M proves it can at least slow an upper-tier offense, I’m not sold on the Aggies as a Top 25 team. Yes, the pass rush should get better with a maturing Myles Garrett and with John Chavis’ system. But the rest of the defense still needs personnel upgrades that will take at least one more year. The Aggies should be improved on offense with a more physical running game, a confident Kyle Allen and as many passing targets as ever. Still, D.J. Foster may be the most dynamic offensive player in this game, and he’ll wear an Arizona State uniform. I rated Mike Bercovici as the nation’s 15th-best quarterback, ahead of Allen (No. 21). I think the Sun Devils outgun the Aggies.

Arizona State 38, Texas A&M 35

Louisiana-Lafayette at Kentucky (-17)

Brad: Earlier this summer during a national radio appearance I projected two Kentucky receivers to hit the 1,000-yard mark this season — that’s how talented Mark Stoops’ core of playmakers will be in 2015. Patrick Towles isn’t often mentioned among the SEC’s better quarterbacks, but should be. He won a lengthy competition with Drew Barker for the job and has enough weapons around him to reach 3,000 yards in a pass-centric offense. In the opener for OC Shannon Dawson, the Wildcats put the foot on the gas and cover rather easily.

Kentucky 41, Louisiana-Lafayette 14

Christopher: Coach Mark Hudspeth is the best and brightest in lower-tier FBS football. Expect him to land a bigger job soon after four consecutive 9-4 seasons. But the Ragin’ Cajuns are replacing long-time QB Terrance Broadway and normally are a run-oriented team. I’m not so sure QB Brooks Haack can take advantage of a suspect Kentucky secondary. Meanwhile, I think the Wildcats offense could be a Top 25 unit nationally this season. QB Patrick Towles, RB Boom Williams and a bevy of young receivers are ready to become household names.

Kentucky 42, Louisiana-Lafayette 17

McNeese State at LSU (-36.5)

Brad: What’s the over/under for Leonard Fournette’s total plays in the second half? I’ll say 0.5. It’s too bad we won’t get to see one of the league’s most talented teams battle a Power 5 conference squad in the first game, but Brandon Harris needs a breather before the Tigers’ tough SEC stretch this month featuring matchups with Mississippi State and Auburn.

LSU 48, McNeese State 7

Christopher: Normally, LSU would avoid the accelerator against a team like McNeese State. But this offense needs a confidence boost, especially young players like QB Brandon Harris, WR Malachi Dupre and RBs Darrel Williams and Derrius Guice. McNeese State does appear in the preseason FCS Top 25 at No. 21. But Tigers coordinators Cam Cameron and Kevin Steele have too much to prove in this one.

LSU 38, McNeese State 0

New Mexico State at Florida (-37)

Brad: Always the toughest spreads to pick because it seems so high, I’m not sure the Gators can score 37 points, let alone cover in this one. Will Grier and Treon Harris will be do some things right and some things wrong, further complicating the situation under center for the Gators. I do like Florida’s chances at keeping New Mexico State out of the end zone defensively.

Florida 27, New Mexico State 3

Christopher: The Gators named Treon Harris as the starting quarterback Wednesday. I’m curious to see how much Will Grier plays, and if he remains very much a part of Florida’s near future. We’re not going to learn much about the team’s maligned offensive line in this game. The Aggies also were last in the country in rushing defense in 2014. I also am curious to see how All-SEC linebacker Antonio Morrison performs coming off two knee surgeries after what we can only assume was a torn ligament or two in the Birmingham Bowl. He’s expected to start. New Mexico State features a decent Sun Belt offensive line, but that won’t matter here. Coach Jim McElwain needs to run up the score to excite Florida fans and make a statement in his debut.

Florida 42, New Mexico State 3

Wisconsin vs. Alabama (-10)

Brad: The Crimson Tide are often dominant in these games with ample time to prepare for a quality team. There’s been no shortage of motivational factors during camp for an elite that walked off the field in the semifinals last fall wanting more. The biggest storyline will be the ongoing battle under center, but I’m more excited to see a couple new faces on both sides of the ball starring for the first time on Nick Saban’s powerhouse team. Reservations for six, Mr. Calvin Ridley?

Alabama 38, Wisconsin 17

Christopher: Nick Saban is 8-0 in season openers at Alabama. Three of those games came against preseason Top 10 teams. The Crimson Tide has won all of those games by double digits. This is a terrible matchup for Wisconsin. The Badgers are a power running team with a mediocre pass offense that doesn’t ever go uptempo. That plays into Bama’s strengths. Worse, Wisconsin lost Heisman Trophy finalist Melvin Gordon and three starting offensive linemen. The Alabama front seven is one of the best in the nation. I’m more interested to see how offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin’s offense evolves with a new quarterback and no Amari Cooper.

Alabama 28, Wisconsin 17

Mississippi State at Southern Miss (+21)

Brad: Needless to say I’ll be recapping Saturday’s games when this one kicks off at 10 p.m. EST, but I’m still anxious to see who emerges as Mississippi State’s No. 1 tailback for a crowded backfield following the departure of Josh Robinson. And what’s up with the hate the Bulldogs have received defensively during the offseason? The secondary should be better (since that group’s a year wiser) and the defensive line could be one of the SEC’s most productive units. I picked this team to finish 6-6 this year and this is one of the convincing wins.

Mississippi State 45, Southern Miss 14

Christopher: Southern Miss long since has ended its 23-game losing streak that formed under the watch of now-former Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson. The Golden Eagles now are a middle-of-the-pack Conference USA team. This matchup is perfect for a Mississippi State program that loves to play a lot of backups a lot of snaps, and lost a ton of starters last year. What better way to rebuild that depth than to ride Dak Prescott to an early lead and allow a lot of those inexperienced players to get extended run in the second half? But for that reason, I’m skeptical the Bulldogs will annihilate the Golden Eagles. It’s also a tough kickoff — on the road at 9 p.m. CT (local time).

Mississippi State 37, Southern Miss 17