1 thought on every SEC game in Week 1
We made it, y’all.
Week 1 is finally upon us, and if that doesn’t give you chills, then I hope this column will.
The week, while anticipated, is filled with matchups against relatively foreign teams for the SEC. We have 7 of the 13 SEC teams in action playing away from their home fields. That means for many, we should get an interesting test of where these programs are at to start 2019.
I have many thoughts on these games, but I limited myself to 1 on each:
No. 2 Alabama vs. Duke (in Atlanta): Take it easy on Steve Sarkisian
I can already see Alabama fans trashing the new/old offensive coordinator if Alabama is up by anything fewer than 3 touchdowns at halftime. The thinking will be “oh brother. Sarkisian is back in Atlanta, where he once again can’t dial up offense.”
My wishful thinking? Take it easy on Sarkisian to start. The building is familiar, but he’s working with new personnel, which consists of plenty of mouths to feed. It might not look like a well-oiled machine from the jump, and that’s OK. But obviously, Alabama’s offensive talent is off the charts and this game shouldn’t be close.
Arkansas vs. Portland State: Will Arkansas have an offensive identity?
If there were ever a game for that to happen, it’s this. A matchup against a lackluster FCS team should allow Chad Morris to really test if this squad can play the up-tempo style he wants. But beyond that, who will be the guy leading the attack? Even though Nick Starkel led the 1st-teamers in the final scrimmage, Ben Hicks is believed by many to be the Week 1 starter. Or could we see both? Either way, this should be a game in which Arkansas’ speed overwhelms Portland State.
No. 16 Auburn vs. No. 11 Oregon (in Dallas): Expect Auburn’s defense to do heavy lifting early
Cole Cubelic came on our podcast a couple months ago and brought up an interesting point about the Tigers’ difficult early schedule. That is, why can’t this experienced, talented defense lead the way while a new starting quarterback figures things out? I’m on board with that.
Bo Nix would love nothing more than a defense that forces 3-and-outs so that he can get more snaps and establish that run game to wear down the Oregon front. If Derrick Brown and Co. can force some obvious passing situations like Florida did against Miami, the Tigers will have plenty of chances to pick up another huge neutral-site opening win against a Pac-12 contender.
No. 3 Georgia at Vanderbilt: Time to step up, UGA receivers
All offseason, you’ve heard all about the Dawgs’ inexperience on the outside. On the road against an inexperienced Vandy secondary, this has all the makings of a burst-onto-the-scene performance from someone like George Pickens or Demetris Robertson. If one of those guys looks like a star in Week 1, I think Georgia fans will breathe a bit easier about the team’s biggest overall weakness heading into 2019.
Kentucky vs. Toledo: You want respect? Run it up on a Group of 5 team
In Kentucky’s past 4 season openers, it hasn’t exactly been blowout city:
- 2015: Kentucky 40, Louisiana-Lafayette 33
- 2016: Southern Miss 44, Kentucky 35
- 2017: Kentucky 24, Southern Miss 17
- 2018: Kentucky 35, Central Michigan 20
That’s an average margin of victory of +5 — and a loss. You’ll notice those are 4 Group of 5 schools. If Kentucky wants to be considered a yearly Top 25 team, it would help to look like it against inferior foes. Toledo struggled mightily on defense last year. The Cats should be able to impose their will at the line of scrimmage and roll past that 11.5-point spread. Besides, Toledo ranks No. 107 in percentage of returning production. Mark Stoops’ offseason of disrespect could come to an end with a loud Week 1 statement.
LSU vs. Georgia Southern: A slow LSU start wouldn’t surprise me at all
Wait, but didn’t I argue that LSU was a top 5 team to start the year? Yep. Why? Well, it’s more than just the triple-option offense that’ll be tricky for a relatively new-look front 7 to operate. I believe LSU will have to work out some kinks in Joe Brady’s new run-pass option offense. Also, the Tigers know they play Texas is the following week. Will there be a desire to protect Joe Burrow and all of the Tigers’ offensive secrets? Possibly. That could result in a too-close-for-comfort start.
Mississippi State vs. Louisiana (in New Orleans): Louisiana has some running weapons to test MSU in a post-Montez Sweat/Jeffery Simmons world
Elijah Mitchell and Trey Ragas combined for over 2,700 scrimmage yards and 26 touchdowns last year. For an MSU d-line that replaces a couple of All-Americans, that’s quite the start to the season. The good news? There’s still plenty of talent in that front 7 with Chauncey Rivers, Erroll Thompson and Willie Gay Jr. Even without Simmons and Sweat, I’d be surprised if MSU couldn’t find an answer for the Louisiana rushing attack a season after finishing 3rd in the country against the run.
Missouri at Wyoming: What strange circumstances for Kelly Bryant’s Mizzou debut
And I’m not just saying that because it’ll take place in Laramie, which is exactly the type of place you’d expect an SEC team to start the season (kidding). I say that because in a not-so-surprising development, the NCAA still hasn’t responded to this Mizzou bowl ban appeal. Granted, that shouldn’t impact how Mizzou plays in this weird Week 1 matchup. But when Bryant hit the transfer market last year, I highly doubt that anyone predicted he’d be starting on the road at a Mountain West stadium with a looming bowl ban.
Ole Miss at Memphis: Show us what you got, Mike MacIntyre
Can an Ole Miss defense that’s been woeful the past couple of years improve under MacIntyre? Something tells me this Week 1 matchup will be a good test. An explosive Memphis offense will be every bit as dangerous as most SEC offenses. That’s why the Tigers are nearly touchdown favorites to take care of the Rebels. Memphis has experience and skill players galore even without departed RB Darrell Henderson. If Ole Miss contains Memphis on the road, I’d have a much better feeling about the defense finally not getting gashed on a weekly basis in SEC play.
South Carolina vs. UNC (in Charlotte): I want to see a 2-headed rushing attack from the Gamecocks
Everyone is looking forward to the debut of Clemson transfer Tavien Feaster, myself included. But I want to see Feaster and Rico Dowdle make a major impact on this game. It shouldn’t all fall on Jake Bentley to move the chains. This is a running game that simply must improve in order for the Gamecocks to navigate arguably the most daunting schedule in America.
Against a UNC defense that ranks No. 76 percentage of returning production after finishing No. 111 against the run last year, there’s no reason Bryan McClendon can’t rely more on the ground game to control the tempo in this one.
Tennessee vs. Georgia State: Flex on ’em, Jim Chaney
What a perfect way for Chaney to return to Knoxville. The Vols’ offensive coordinator will make his 2019 debut against a defense that ranked No. 122 in scoring last year. A 2-10 Sun Belt team is the juicy way for this new offense to shine. What’s the value in that, you ask? Tennessee hasn’t won a game against an FBS team by more than 28 points since the 2015 Outback Bowl against Northwestern. If there were ever a time for Jarrett Guarantano and Co. to light up the scoreboard early and often, this is it.
No. 12 Texas A&M vs. Texas State (Thursday night): Next step Kellen Mond? Let’s see it
Sure, it was Northwestern State, but Mond’s progression in his first offseason with Jimbo Fisher was evident in last year’s opener. He looked significantly more poised and capable of dominating inferior competition. Against a Texas State squad that lost to Rutgers by 28 points last year, I want to see Mond’s next step.
He made waves this offseason by saying he thought he was the SEC’s best quarterback. There’s nothing Mond can do in Week 1 to double down on that, but if he is one of the nation’s elite signal-callers, this is the type of defense he should absolutely shred. Let’s see him get rid of the ball quickly and effectively to his loaded group of returning receivers.
Well, at least enough for him to spend most of the second half with a headset on.