Game week is here: 1 question I have about every SEC team's opener
Y’all. We made it.
It’s officially game week in the SEC. What a beautiful sentence that is.
While we did indeed survive the offseason, we didn’t get answers to all of our questions. Some of those won’t happen in the season opener, either. But let’s pretend that’ll actually happen.
Here’s 1 question that I have about each SEC opener.
Alabama: Do I really have to ask?
It’s the quarterbacks. What will Nick Saban do with Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts? Will Tagovailoa get the start and Hurts come in when Alabama is up 4 touchdowns on Louisville in the third quarter? Possibly. It seems like the odds of any rotation are out the window (as they should be). Still, all eyes will be on what the G.O.A.T. decides to do at the most important position.
Arkansas: How fast will it be?
The offense, that is. Chad Morris’ offense is going to be cranked up, but given the personnel he has, how fast will it go? Fortunately, the Hogs can work out the kinks against an FCS defense. There shouldn’t be much that can slow down the Razorback attack in the opener.
Auburn: Who stops Myles Gaskin?
The Washington tailback somehow still has eligibility. That’s not a good thing for Auburn or the Pac-12. Gaskin enters his senior season with over 4,000 rushing yards and 49 total touchdowns. The question is, who will be the driving force behind slowing him down? Auburn’s loaded in the front seven with guys like Deshaun Davis and Marlon Davidson, but it’ll take someone with some serious wheels to prevent Gaskin from getting to the edge and busting loose.
Florida: Kyle Trask or Feleipe Franks?
I’ve been saying all offseason that I think it’ll be Trask. I’ll stick to that prediction based on the belief that Trask is the more accurate quarterback and better capable of executing Dan Mullen’s offense. Mullen said that he’ll know who his starter is going into game week. Does that mean we’ll get to know, too? Probably not.
Georgia: How much Justin Fields will we see?
No, I don’t think it’s a quarterback battle. Yes, I do think we’ll still see plenty of Fields in the opener.
The 5-star freshman has been getting rave reviews in camp, which still isn’t enough to unseat Jake Fromm, but it’s a good sign nonetheless. Against an FCS foe to kick things off, I wouldn’t be surprised to see at least 20 minutes of Fields in action.
Kentucky: What’s the deal at quarterback?
Terry Wilson or Gunnar Hoak? I imagine that Mark Stoops has an idea who his starter is, despite the fact that neither of them have an FBS snap. Otherwise Stoops wouldn’t have said that he feels like he has his best team yet. The quarterback situation is still a complete unknown (to us, anyway). There’s a chance that we could see both in the opener, especially if one gets off to a slow start against a team like Central Michigan.
LSU: How much of a defensive struggle will it be?
My question isn’t about Joe Burrow starting, believe it or not. I know that’s going to happen. What I don’t know is how he or Miami’s Malik Rosier are going to look against what many expect to be two of the nation’s top defenses. There are first-team All-Americans in the secondary, which could be an unfriendly sight for a pair of quarterbacks with a lot to prove. I feel like this one has 17-14 written all over it.
Mississippi State: How different is MSU in Joe Moorhead’s debut?
There will be some tweaks. I don’t think we see the full arsenal, but I think we see a few more deep shots, and we’ll see Aeris Williams get more involved in the passing game. By season’s end, I think we see MSU hit on more home run plays than it did under Mullen. Against FCS Stephen F. Austin, there should be no shortage of those.
Mizzou: How different is the Derek Dooley version of Drew Lock?
Speaking of offenses looking different under new coaches, what will we see from Lock in Dooley’s system? Will he be more accurate in the intermediate passing game? Will we see those tweaks with the footwork? Will UT Martin keep Mizzou under 60? Am I capable of writing a sentence that isn’t a question?
Ole Miss: First team to 100 wins?
Points on points on points. I’m here for it. I saw over/unders for Ole Miss-Texas Tech in the high-60s. These teams might have that by the end of the first half. I know I’ve already used the “Texas shootout” cliché about 6 times this offseason, but I’ll probably use it 6 more times in the next week. Jordan Ta’amu and Co. shouldn’t have any problems lighting up the scoreboard in Houston.
South Carolina: What does Bryan McClendon’s offense look like?
Perhaps one of the SEC’s most intriguing offseason questions will finally get an answer. Is this up-tempo, spread-it-out style going to maximize Jake Bentley’s skill set? I tend to think it will, considering how much he struggled to go through his progressions last year. But with Deebo Samuel, Bryan Edwards and Rico Dowdle, the Gamecocks have talented skill players galore who’ll get the ball in space. I still wouldn’t expect to see the full bag of tricks against Coastal Carolina with Georgia arriving in Week 2.
Tennessee: How prepared is Jeremy Pruitt’s defense to slow down Will Grier?
I tend to believe that 8 months isn’t enough prep time for Pruitt to get the Vols ready to shut down a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate. I’m not sure that 2 years would be enough. With the way the 2017 season ended and how the spring game unfolded, there’s not a lot to suggest that the Vols will have the answer to stop preseason All-Americans like Grier and David Sills. But hey, it’s not like Pruitt is used to failing.
In five seasons as a defensive coordinator, Jeremy Pruitt’s defenses have …
• Finished No. 1 in the nation in scoring defense three times
• Ranked No. 1 in total defense twice
• Led the nation in rushing defense twice
• Led the nation in passing defense twice pic.twitter.com/6SEdZyWxam
— Tennessee Stats & Info (@Vol_Stats) August 20, 2018
Texas A&M: Does Kellen Mond or Nick Starkel get Jimbo Fisher’s blessing?
I know that a lot of these questions are quarterback battle-based, but I’m honestly more stumped about this one than any other. Fisher really hasn’t tipped his hand at all, and based how last season went, it wasn’t like there was an overwhelming difference in the two signal-callers. I thought Starkel gave A&M the best chance to win down the stretch, but that doesn’t mean that he’s performed best with Fisher watching. This will actually be the first question on this list that we’ll get an answer to because the Aggies have the first SEC game next week.
Vanderbilt: What goes the new-look ground game look like?
I got torched for saying this in my Vanderbilt Crystal Ball — it might not be wise to look if you’re a Commodores’ fan — but I have serious questions about an offense that just lost its most productive running back in school history in Ralph Webb. Let me rephrase that. I have serious reservations about an offense that just lost the guy ranked No. 6 in SEC history in career rushing yards … and even he struggled playing behind that offensive line. But in Week 1, Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Khari Blasingame will have a chance to do what Webb did throughout his career. That is, torch Middle Tennessee.