RTT's Locks & Keys 2012 Week 1: It Starts

No, somebody didn't just call James Franklin a "massive tool." This is Vanderbilt's coach practicing his post-South Carolina look for the cameras. A little chutzpah on my part? Oh yeah, it must be Locks & Keys time!

The anticipation has conquered me.

God never meant for us to have to work on the week before college football season begins -- of that, I'm fairly certain -- and production levels in the South have to be at an all-time low. I'm convinced His will is being broken by bosses everywhere by making us clock in, clock out and act like we're doing something in between. At least our Lord has made amends to us by providing a three-day weekend and five consecutive days of interesting football.

Everyone say "Amen" to that.

Though I think most of us would love for the Tennessee Volunteers to be playing on Saturday as usual, the uniqueness of hearing, "IT'S FOOTBALL TIME IN TENNESSEE!" a day earlier has made the origin of this season feel a little different.

Or maybe that's the hope we normally have peppered with the actual belief that there may be players on our football team capable of making things interesting for a change. Regardless of whether or not that proves to be true, even heartsick Tennessee fans have enjoyed college football the past few years, and everybody can be thankful that it's here again.

Football season is upon us. The Vols have tons of questions -- again -- but while most of the nation is clamoring about Derek Dooley being on the hot seat, our fans are simply asking how good we can be? Why? Because we ain't bad yet. We have talent. We have a full allotment of players. We have a favorable schedule. And we have a ton of hope.

It's football season, and we feel like we can be champions again. We're not listening to anybody who says otherwise. Speaking of championships, THIS GUY! is coming off a Locks & Keys domination last season. Though it was hardly a perfect showing, I took the Rocky Top Talk crown for the three featured pickers last year, going 40-35-1.I put it on cruise control, easing past Incipient_Senescence [33-42-1] by seven games and Kidbourbon [31-44-1] by nine.

This is how the post works -- we each pick six spreads we love each week, and we keep up with our scores. We'll recap how we did in the following week's post and make our picks for that week as well. On top of that, we'll give you Tennessee's five keys to winning the week's games. It's a fun -- and certainly wordy -- post, but the early returns were favorable ...

We had incredible participation in the comments section last year, and we certainly hope that is the case this season. Please continue to comment, and put in your own picks. Though this gets to be a BEAR of a post and we can't keep up with everybody's scores, please keep up with your own and see how you stack up. A glance at our records last season should show you it shouldn't be hard.

Now here we are in Week 1 -- always the toughest on the pick-em weeks. We have no clue who has what, and we're all picking like blind squirrels. This is where you can surge way ahead or fall way behind. So, let's have em, guys. As for me? Since I don't know a lot yet, I'll stick with familiar games. Also, this feature will normally be on Fridays [like last season] but with the Vanderbilt/South Carolina game tonight and the Vols going a day early, we moved it up this week.

Enough blabber...

ONTO THE LOCKS

SHEP'S PICKS

  • South Carolina -6 1/2 over Vanderbilt. Seriously? Like, for real? James Franklin has said this is the biggest home game in school history, and you can still get 10 tickets together for the tilt in Memorial Stadium. No, really. The only people who believe the Vanderbilt hype are Franklin, his players and the 14 fans out there. The Commodores have offensive talent, but they have nobody who can stop Marcus Lattimore. Cocks cover easily.
  • Clemson -3 1/2 over Auburn. The South Carolina version of the Tigers will be without all-world wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who is serving the first of a two-game suspension for an offseason drug arrest. Clemson will do plenty of smoking in his absence, even with a brand new offensive line. I don't buy any of the Auburn hype, as Gene Chizik's bunch searches for anybody who can play quarterback or run the football with authority. This is not a good game to be searching.
  • Oklahoma -31 over UTEP. I hate picking favorites in lines this large. But I love the Sooners this year. I know they're going to be shaky defensively, but they don't have to play defense in this one. With Landry Jones back for his final season, the Sooners will be high-octane on offense. And you know who the Miners' starting quarterback is? Former Vol Nick Lamaison. Yeah, I'll take the Sooners fa shaw.
  • Ohio +6.5 over Penn State. This makes me nervous because the Bobcats are the trendy pick. Still, Ohio is a MAC power and the Nittany Lions are coming off the most tumultuous offseason any program has faced ever. Nobody on that team or on the sidelines had anything to do with the unspeakable tragedy that unfolded before our eyes, so it would be a warm story to see them do well this year. Still, this is the world word, and there are too many questions on the field for that to happen.
  • West Virginia -25 over Marshall. I believe Dana Holgerson is crazy. I believe Dana Holgerson is an offensive mastermind. If for some reason Dooley doesn't work out, bring that man to Knoxville. This line is laughable. With Geno Smith and Tavon Austin, these guys score at will. Especially against Marshall.
  • Arkansas State +37 over Oregon. The Ducks are still good. There's no doubt about that. But they're also breaking in a new quarterback and don't have LaMichael James anymore. There's enough talent to make up for it, and they're justifiably ranked high, but Gus Malzahn inherited a lot of key pieces from Hugh Freeze's Sun Belt champion Red Wolves, including quarterback and conference Player of the Year Ryan Aplin. This game won't be close, but it won't be more than seven scores, either.

KID B'S PICKS

  • Georgia Tech +7.5 over Virginia Tech. The Hokies couldn't cover a point spread over a touchdown against the Akron Zips ... girls intramural runner-up team. #fact. Furthermore, Georgia Tech may win this game outright. Virginia Tech was an exceptionally mediocre team last year that happened to beat a lot of other mediocre teams by 4 points a piece. I expect little improvement. Michael Vick isn't walking through that tunnel while a freaking Metallica song -- talk about the Worst. Tradition. Ever. -- plays over the loudspeakers.
  • South Carolina -6.5 over Vandy. The Vandy hype makes me laugh. It will be short-lived. You can quote me on that.
  • Minnesota -8.5 over UNLV. With the exception of the newbie teams, UNLV might be the worst team in FBS. I mean Division I.
  • Ohio +6.5 over Penn State. Ohio is, by my estimation, the best team in the mighty, mighty MAC. Penn State -- well, we'll see. They couldn't score last year when they weren't playing under the Scandal of the Century. The end zone won't be any easier to find this year. Ohio has a good defensive line. Expect the Bobcats to have success passing throughout the game as well.
  • Troy -6 over UAB. I don't know a ton about this fella named Troy, but I've heard that UAB is pretty much expected to be ho-horrendous this season, and so 6 points doesn't seem like a daunting task from the team that is historically better. I mean, usually better. Historically is probably a stretch.
  • tOSU -23 over Miami-Ohio. The OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY usually runs roughshod through their early MAC tour. And with Urban Meyer and his still-missing chin at the helm, tOSU will try to score as many points as it can.

I_S's PICKS

  • Oregon/Arkansas State OVER 68.5. You know how Oregon scores roughly a jillion points a game? And sometimes when they play an inferior team with a good offense, they also allow some points? Well, Arkansas State has a much inferior defense, Ryan Alpin under center and Gus Malzahn calling the plays and pushing the tempo. I expect this to look a lot like Oregon's 69-20 win over Nevada last year.
  • Clemson/Auburn UNDER 55.5. Clemson graduated its whole offensive line. Auburn upgraded its defensive coordinator. Auburn is installing a brand new offense with players who were recruited for a totally different offense and no quarterback. Clemson upgraded its defensive coordinator. Oh yeah, and Sammy Watkins and whoever plays center for Auburn [Reese Dismukes] are suspended. Yeah, under.
  • Ohio State -23 over Miami-Ohio. Urbz loves running up the margins against bad teams in week one. Miami isn't terrible as MAC teams go, but it's bad enough that he should be able to wear the Red Hawks down. And 23 is lower than their margin of loss against Cincinnati last year.
  • Oklahoma -31 over UTEP. Did UTEP just become Kansas State? Because I'm pretty sure 31 was OU's margin of victory in Manhattan last year. Oh, that was 41? Okay, so UTEP is 10 points better than Kansas State. Gotcha. I know OU is inconsistent on the road, but the Sooners are not inconsistent in crushing mediocre non-BCS schools, regardless of location.
  • Florida -28.5 over Bowling Green. I have as many doubts as you do about Florida's offense.But I have more doubts about Bowling Green's ability to hold up against any team with actual athletes on it. Bowling Green won't make it to double digits, so all UF needs to do is go high 30s, and they can do that even without any offensive ability, just by sheer force of depth, conditioning and Dave Clawson.
  • Cal -11 over Nevada. The first five picks really separated themselves. There are a lot of candidates for #6. Baylor's offense won't fall off as much as people think. GT/VT should be low-scoring. Michigan State and Alabama have big edges in high-profile openers. But I'm not sure any of them are slam dunks, and I always feel good about backing Cal [of the extreme home/road splits rivaled only by Hawaii and UNLV] in Berkeley. And while Nevada has scared [and beaten] some good teams at home, I can't get the 2008 trip to Missouri or the 2009 trip to South Bend out of my head.

FIVE KEYS FOR TENNESSEE

  • Get the Worries Out of the Way. Let's say the Vols come out and run the ball three times on the first series and wind up having to punt. Are you demoralized? Nah, that's football. It happens. You just come back with Bray and the Gang and mix in some runs later. Now, what if you come out and get a couple of first downs? Here comes the swagger back. There's some belief you can actually get it done this year. I say run the ball early, and if you have success and build momentum, it may not be just for that game but for the season. Rajion Neal is ready. The offensive line is ready. Let them prove it.
  • Aggressive vs. Reckless. The Vols' defense wasn't bad last year, but it never made any plays in Justin Wilcox's two seasons. New coordinator Sal Sunseri says UT's switch to the 3-4 will be characterized by a more aggressive nature in which the Vols blitz more and play more man coverage in the secondary. UT isn't good enough in the secondary to gamble and lose too much. Those will go for touchdowns, especially against good quarterbacks. So, the Vols have got to find a way to be aggressive without giving up too many scoreboard plays. Also, it would be nice to see that aggressiveness pay off in some turnovers for a change. Mike Glennon is a savvy senior, though, so that's going to be very difficult.
  • Find Da'Rick's Replacement. Quickly. All this week, I've had two prevailing thoughts: No. 1, the biggest concern I have in replacing Da'Rick Rogers comes on third downs. Who is going to be the go-to guy to get the tough yards on a third-and-6? That's where the big, physical Rogers was so good. Then the second thought is Hunter went down with his season-ending injury on third-and-8 last year. So, while that isn't such a great second thought, it is at least encouraging to remember that Hunter was effective in those situations as well. Tyler Bray has to find a guy he can depend on to sustain drives. Will it be Hunter? Will it be another physical-looking receiver in Patterson? Will it be senior tight end Mychal Rivera? Will it be all three or someone else? It's an answer UT needs to find in a hurry.
  • Take Advantage Where the Advantage Is. Last season, NC State had a ton of blitz packages, and when the Wolfpack's defense was effective, it was because those packages were. While UT needs to pick those up, the Vols also have just the type of running backs who can make them pay dearly. I think UT needs to run a bunch of swing passes, screens, etc., to the running backs. Also, running draws will put an end to that, too. The Vols don't have a true bruiser running back, but they don't need one in this game. Rivera can put an end to those blitzes, too. That comes pre-snap, and with all the talk about how much Bray has improved in that area, he needs to show that immediately. State does a lot of disguising, so it's going to be interesting to see how Jim Chaney -- and Bray pre-snap read -- handles it.
  • Get An Early Lead. It's simple, but it's perhaps the most important thing that can happen in this game. Put last season behind you in a hurry. If we get down, the team may get down. You can't rebuild a psyche overnight. This team needs to come out like gangbusters and leave no doubt.
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