1 thing I want to see from every SEC team in Week 1
My goodness, it’s finally here.
A season that was once in jeopardy is now upon us. That’s worth celebrating.
If you’ve been a little bit sidetracked with non-football things for the past few months and you need a refresher, well, you’re in luck. Consider this an SEC Week 1 primer of sorts. If there was ever an offseason to be a bit delayed on storylines, this is it. You’re forgiven.
Now if we’re still having this conversation in November … for shame. I don’t know if I’ll be able to help you at that point.
Heading into Week 1, there are a ton of things I’m look forward to. I feel like I still don’t know who’s starting at quarterback for the majority of the league. I’m not sure which teams will look like they haven’t tackled in 9 months, or which prepared new coordinator looks like he did nothing but watch tape during quarantine.
Let’s dig into the 1 thing I want to see from each SEC team in Week 1, and no, I won’t apologize for loving offense and having a slanted list:
Alabama — Pete Golding’s opening statement
The much-scrutinized Alabama defensive coordinator needs to be better this year. Injuries or not, it’s as simple as that. The good news is that his defense is much healthier than it was at this point last year with Dylan Moses and Joshua McMillon back. Consider that one less excuse. Against a first-year SEC coach, Golding would set himself up well with a single-digit performance in the opener.
Arkansas — The trenches
I disagree with the notion from anonymous coaches that Arkansas looks like a team hit by NCAA sanctions. Why? At the offensive skill positions and in the back end of the defense, I think there definitely some All-SEC candidates. But it’s in the trenches where I’m really interested to see Sam Pittman’s squad. That’s where the Hogs needed the most work on both sides of the ball. Can Pittman, with his expertise on the offensive line, expedite that learning curve? Time will tell. But in a Week 1 matchup against as good of a front 7 as Arkansas will see all year, this is a good barometer for how far away the Hogs are up front.
Auburn — The offensive play-calling
In other words, yeah, I want to see the Chad Morris experiment. Does he put Bo Nix in too many tough spots with 1 returning starter on the offensive line? Are their more designed quarterback runs? Are there more wrinkles to get Anthony Schwartz in space? Is Seth Williams being highlighted in single coverage? These are the things we’ll find out about Morris’ offense against what should be one of the SEC’s best defenses in Kentucky.
Florida — A more confident Kyle Trask
After a season as the starter and an entire offseason in Dan Mullen’s system as QB1, I would hope that we see the Florida signal-caller take over a game even more. Ole Miss is about as favorable of a matchup as Trask could have asked for to start the year. Will we see him put his foot on the gas and take over a game in the third quarter? Will he be even more decisive in his reads? Will we even see him flash some of that willingness to run like he showed in the Orange Bowl? I’d expect Trask to look like a better version of his 2019 self, which seems like a pretty good place to start.
Kyle Trask — One of the best quarterbacks in the 2021 NFL Draft Class
▪️Timing ▪️Accuracy▪️Touch pic.twitter.com/92i8iFv1dd
— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) May 14, 2020
Georgia — Todd Monken’s new offense
Lost in the shuffle of this quarterback drama is that Georgia totally revamped its offense (finally). Monken’s Air Raid principles don’t exactly make him Mike Leach, but they do suggest we’ll see a Georgia team that’s more willing to stretch teams out with the passing game. What does that mean for ball-carriers like George Pickens and Zamir White? One would have to think a scheme that’s less predictable will benefit any and all. While Arkansas might not be the best barometer for how successful the offense will be, it’ll at least give us some idea as to what its identity will be.
Oh, and yes, I cannot wait to see what plays out at quarterback. Duh.
Kentucky — How healthy Terry Wilson looks
Coming off his season-ending injury last year, Wilson has become a bit of a forgotten guy in the SEC. With all the talk about Joey Gatewood, it’s Wilson who remains the trusted leader in that locker room. That’s not in question. What is in question is how he’ll look in his first live action in what’ll be more than a year. That’s wild. Is Wilson confident calling his own number on the RPOs? Will Eddie Gran draw up deep passing plays wherein Wilson could potentially take a hit? One would assume that dominant ground game will do the heavy lifting in Week 1, but a healthy Wilson is the only way Kentucky will beat a Kevin Steele defense.
LSU — The backfield breakdown
We spent a lot of time talking about replacing guys like Joe Burrow, Justin Jefferson and most recently, Ja’Marr Chase. But what about who replaces Clyde Edwards-Helaire? That’s no small task after he had one of the best all-around seasons by an SEC running back of the 2010s. Reports suggest that we’ll see the trio of Chris Curry, John Emery and Tyrion Davis-Price. Could it be a hot hand situation? Perhaps. At this time last year, nobody thought that Edwards-Helaire would have 270 touches and become an immensely important player on the best offense in college football history. In other words, anything can happen.
Mississippi State — Kylin Hill’s role
We know it’ll obviously be more receiver-heavy than what we saw under Joe Moorhead or Dan Mullen. We don’t know if Hill will be used quite like Max Borghi was in Mike Leach’s offense at Washington State. Against a new-look LSU defense, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Leach put Hill, MSU’s best player, all over the field. Will he be targeted 20 yards downfield? Or will Hill be used mostly to catch passes out of the backfield as an extension of the running game? Whatever the case, Hill’s versatility is going to be highlighted all year.
Mizzou — Eli Drinkwitz’s offense
It’s mysterious. It really is. I say that not because Drinkwitz refused to name a starting quarterback, but because he’s used a variety of looks during his stops as a play-caller at Boise State, NC State and Appalachian State. The only thing I’m confident in as that Drinkwitz will use a lot of tempo, and that he’ll want to get both Larry Rountree III and Tyler Badie significantly involved. I’d expect that to be the case even if the game gets out of hand. I’m not sure that Drinkwitz’s close-to-the-vest approach will matter when Alabama lines up, but at the very least, we should get some much-needed insight as to what the first-year SEC coach’s offense will look like.
Ole Miss — John Rhys Plumlee’s usage
I’m in the pro-Plumlee camp, so believe me when I say that the thought of him not playing quarterback sort of bums me out. It does. I just think with the ball in his hands, he does some things that you can’t teach. But I concede that there’s a good chance Matt Corral starts against Florida. If that happens, I can’t imagine that someone with Plumlee’s skills would be relegated to the sidelines all night. Will Lane Kiffin use him as a wild cat quarterback? Will he put Corral and Plumlee in the backfield together? Will Plumlee be in the Tim Tebow red-zone role? All of those scenarios are better than not seeing any of that playmaking ability … but man, I really wish I knew he was locked in as QB1.
Can’t stop watching John Rhys Plumlee highlights. pic.twitter.com/v5zlcDXSu9
— Brandon Zimmerman (@BZSEC) November 18, 2019
South Carolina — Will Muschamp’s front 7
I say this because we’re going to have a handful of 5-star players in the trenches for that opener in Columbia. That’s a good sign for Muschamp and Jeremy Pruitt. I’m interested to see Zacch Pickens and Jordan Burch, obviously, but it’s not just the 5-star talent who will determine whether South Carolina can have its best defense of the Muschamp era. Aaron Sterling and Ernest Jones are coming off prolific, somewhat underrated seasons for the Gamecocks. I want to see how that group, in its first game without Javon Kinlaw, performs against a decorated offensive line like Tennessee’s.
Tennessee — Eric Gray’s volume
For once, Tennessee isn’t trying to start from scratch on offense. Cheers to that. Cheers to Gray hopefully getting the workload that he got down the stretch when he averaged 19.5 carries in Tennessee’s last 2 games. Obviously the Vols aren’t going to completely deviate from giving the more experienced Ty Chandler his work, but Gray is the more talented back. Can he give Tennessee the home-run threat it’s been lacking in recent memory? Perhaps. One would think that Jim Chaney understands how good Gray can be after the way last year finished. It’ll be telling what kind of a backfield split we see against South Carolina.
Texas A&M — Kellen Mond’s new go-to targets
All 3 of his top receivers are gone. And that’s not including season-ending injuries to Camron Buckley, tight end Blake Smith and former No. 1 tight end Baylor Cupp. The Jhamon Ausbon opt-out news wasn’t ideal for a team that already struggled to get separation in the passing game against good defenses. Now, one would have to think breakout tight end Jalen Wydermyer is going to be an even bigger part of the passing game than he was as a true freshman last year. But who else emerges? Now would be a good time for a sophomore like Caleb Chapman or Dylan Wright to step p. Whatever the case, Mond needs some new targets in a hurry if A&M is going to stay competitive in the West.
Vanderbilt — Some defensive improvement? Maybe?
Barely finishing inside the top 100 in scoring defense isn’t the best look for a defensive-minded SEC coach in Year 6. It’s just not. So, against an A&M team with an aforementioned situation developing at the pass-catcher positions, will we see some improvement? It’s hard to say. While the Commodores certainly came into spring with a ton of experience — they were No. 4 in percentage of returning production on defense — 2-year starting safety Tae Daley opted out. With Mason and the arrival of new defensive coordinator Ted Roof, will we really see defensive improvement with a conference-only schedule? I don’t know. All I know is surrendering 36 points per SEC game ain’t gonna cut it in 2020.