SEC Week 1 Preview — The Season has Arrived
The only thing better than watching a college football game is watching a college football game that has an SEC team playing in it. Although the SEC's streak of 7 consecutive national championships was ended by Florida State, there is still no question that the SEC is the best conference in college football.
Don't believe it? Eight SEC teams were represented in the recently released pre-season AP Top 25 poll, and that number could grow by season's end. Even with the early dominance in the pre-season polls, there are still plenty of question marks within the conference.
Each week, we will preview every conference matchup in order to examine the weekly questions and headlines from around the SEC. After taking a closer look at each game, you can take part in our SEC Pick 'Em contest.
Here is this week's preview:
The post-Johnny Manziel era has officially begun for Texas A&M, and it probably could not have started at a worse time. The Aggies travel to Columbia missing their top quarterback, running back, and wide receiver. Kevin Sumlin also dismissed some of their best defensive players in the off-season. Meanwhile, the Gamecocks lost Jadeveon Clowney, but the bulk of their firepower is back, including running back Mike Davis. South Carolina is more talented, but Steve Spurrier should know not to underestimate Kevin Sumlin. This game will be an excellent start to the new SEC Network.
One thing you never want to do is overlook Boise State (just ask Georgia). This year, however, the Broncos will not have Chris Peterson coaching them. Ole Miss returns SEC veteran quarterback Bo Wallace along with their leading rusher and top five tacklers from last season. Still, opening the year at a neutral site against a team historically known for upsetting teams will be a concern. New coach Bryan Harsin had 15 starters return from last season which is all the more reason for Ole Miss to be careful. Overall, the Rebels are a more sound team and should open the year with a win.
James Franklin did a wonderful job of making Vanderbilt relevant in the SEC. Now he is off to Penn State, and Derek Mason steps in. Mason has his work cut out for him inheriting a team that lost its leading passer, receiver, and tackler. Fortunately, he should have no trouble in his debut as a head coach. Temple has only won six games in the last two seasons. Due to the lack of experience on both sides, you can expect some mistakes and overall sloppy play. The Commodores will have a down year, but should win comfortably in their opener.
In one of the best games of week one, LSU's survival skills without last year's quarterback, running back, and top two receivers will be tested early. The Tigers may seem like the most inexperienced team, but Wisconsin only returns roughly three starters from last year's defense. The Badgers high powered offense, led by running back Melvin Gordon, will keep Wisconsin in the game. LSU's top notch defense versus Wisconsin's high powered offense and LSU's young offense versus Wisconsin's inexperienced defense could make this game one for the ages. The Mad Hatter has his work cut out for him in this one.
It was no surprise that Alabama was the highest ranked SEC team in the preseason. There are few concerns with this year's Crimson Tide. It is likely that this game against the Mountaineers will be used as trial run for both quarterback candidates Jacob Coker and Blake Sims, and that is exactly why West Virginia may cause an early scare. Eventually, the offensive firepower of T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper, along with Saban's smothering defense, will be too much for Mountaineers to handle. The Crimson Tide should start the year with a comfortable victory.
Missouri was underestimated last season early, but it did not take long for people to realize their true potential. This year they are being given a bit more credit by starting out the season in the AP Top 25. The Tigers may struggle this season, especially following the dismissal of their best wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham. While there may be struggles in their near future, they should have no trouble against South Dakota State (not to be confused with FCS powerhouse North Dakota State). Behind the powerful arm of quarterback Maty Mauk, Missouri should cruise to an easy victory.
If there is any person in the country that deserves continuous recognition for the job they did last season, it is Gus Malzahn. Unfortunately, they will be without quarterback Nick Marshall for the first half of this game due to suspension. Arkansas has struggled mightily over the last couple of seasons, but the Razorbacks return their leading passer, rusher, and receiver. Arkansas will have the early momentum, but Auburn's offense will be too much for the Razorbacks. If Arkansas' defense can do anything at all to slow down Auburn, this game could get very interesting.
In one of the best matchups of the year, Georgia hopes to avenge last year's loss to Clemson. The Bulldogs lost Aaron Murray to graduation as well as a few key defensive players due to dismissals. Georgia does, however, return running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. Clemson also lost their quarterback, Tajh Boyd, to graduation. Unlike Georgia, the Tigers will not benefit greatly from returning starters, but both teams will be competitive in their divisions so this game is crucial. Georgia has the advantage seeing as they have the most experience.
Last season, Florida was a disappointment to say the least. The Gators were riddled with injuries and misfortunes on the way to a 4-8 final record. Things need to change in a hurry or else Will Muschamp will be out of a job. Florida is finally healthy and returns Jeff Driskel along with their leading rushers and receivers. Their opponent, Idaho, will struggle to keep up with the Gators because the Vandals are coming off a 1-11 season. We will not completely rule out the Vandals. They do return 17 starters and have a second year head in coach Paul Petrino (brother of Bobby Petrino). Either way, the Gators should win without issue.
Mississippi State will not start the season ranked in the top 25, but do not be surprised if they are ranked by season's end. The Bulldogs return Dak Prescott who was there leading rusher and passer last season. In addition, they also return top four leading receivers. Mississippi State opens up against in-state open Southern Miss who, until Larry Fedora left, was actually a tough team. The Golden Eagles have only won one game in two years. In other words, the Bulldogs should win without issue, but it is worth mentioning that Southern Miss returns 16 starters from last season.
Kentucky will start a new year following a 2-10 record last season. Give Mark Stoops some credit. In his first season as a head coach, he had to try to turn around the worst team in the SEC. This may be seem like an easy victory for the Wildcats, but Tennessee-Martin would love to upset an FBS opponent to start the season especially with the concern at quarterback for Kentucky. Troubles or no troubles, Stoops returns 15 starters and also adds possibly the best recruiting class to ever come to Lexington that wasn't a basketball team. Wildcats should open with an easy win.
In a rare Sunday night college football game, Tennessee will take on a Utah State team that is actually better than they are given credit for. Not to mention the Vols will be testing out virtually a brand new offensive and defensive line. As hard as it is to believe, the Aggies are more inexperienced than Tennessee. That does not mean that this will be an easy game for the Vols. Utah State would love to upset an SEC team in week one, and after going 9-5 last season it is not impossible. Tennessee, overall, is still more talented and should win without too much difficulty.