SEC Week One Preview: A New Year Starts Now
The only thing better than the return of college football is the return of SEC football.
Football is king in the Southeastern Conference and for good reason. The conference is responsible for nine of the last 13 national titles and, going into this season, has six teams ranked in the preseason top 25.
It will be a few more weeks before we see these SEC teams slugging at each other, but, for now, there are plenty of top notch non-conference games to fill your weekend with plenty of excitement.
It is safe to assume that their will be plenty of big time finishes and surprises as this week will set the tone for what is sure to be another excellent season in the SEC. Either way, let us all rejoice that football is back!
Remember in 2007 when Appalachian State traveled to Michigan and knocked off the Wolverines in what is still considered one of the biggest college football upset of all-time? Could that happen again only this time in Knoxville?
Anything can happen, but it is highly unlikely. The offensive firepower of Joshua Dobbs, Jalen Hurd, and Alvin Kamara will likely be too much for the Mountaineers to handle.
This game should give Tennessee an opportunity to show off its talent. It will still be a few weeks before we see if this team is the real deal.
The lone conference game in week one does not have too much hype surrounding it. After all, Vanderbilt and South Carolina are both projected to finish at the bottom of the SEC East.
Still, this could be one of the best matched games of the week. Vanderbilt is still looking to figure things out in Derek Mason's third year at the helm, while South Carolina tries to make it in the post-Steve Spurrier era.
The Commodores will rely on offensive weapons like running back Ralph Webb to get things rolling; however, Mason's duties as defensive coordinator may be the deciding factor.
Meanwhile, Will Muschamp has his work cut out for him as he returns nine starters from a team that went 3-9 last season. Both sides of the ball need addressing, but at least South Carolina opens with a team that is on its talent level. In fact, this game could decide who finishes last in the SEC East.
South Alabama head coach Joey Jones has done an excellent job of building the Jaguars' football program. You can expect South Alabama to be one of the best teams in Sun Belt very soon.
Unfortunately, they still do not have enough talent to take down an SEC team on the road.
Mississippi State will struggle to get through the season without Dak Prescott, but they should not have any trouble putting the Jaguars away. The Bulldogs better enjoy it while it last because their schedule only gets tougher from here.
Missouri travels to Morgantown in what is one of the more underrated games of the weekend. This matchup is particularly interesting because it will come down to a battle of Dana Holgorsen's offense versus Barry Odom's defense.
This will be Odom's first game head coach of the Tigers although he has been an assistant in this program for several years. He returns a majority of his defense from last season including Charles Harris, who was second in the SEC in tackles for loss (18.5).
Missouri's defense will have to stop a potent West Virginia offense that returns eight starters from last season. The Mountaineers will rely on senior quarterback Skyler Howard to air the ball out to receivers Shelton Gibson and Daikiel Shorts, who combined for 1,415 receiving yards.
The Tiger's offense likely won't have the firepower to score points at a fast pace, so it could be a rough start to Barry Odom's coaching career.
It is not often that an SEC team with home field advantage is an underdog heading into the first week. That will be the case when UCLA travels to College Station to take on Texas A&M.
There are plenty of reasons to think that A&M should not be an underdog in this matchup. The Aggies will be starting transfer quarterback Trevor Knight. He has the best wide receiving corps in the country to throw to in Speedy Noil, Christian Kirk, Josh Reynolds, and Ricky Seals-Jones.
The Bruins have a pretty good offense of their own as they expect big things out of sophomore quarterback Josh Rosen. Rosen will likely be under pressure quite often from guys like Myles Garrett.
On paper, the Bruins should beat A&M. However, this is still the SEC, and the Aggies have won its last three season openers by a combined score of 142-76.
Les Miles narrowly avoided getting fired last season, and he could not ask for a better team to help him prove that keeping him was a smart decision.
The Tigers return 17 starters including running back Leonard Fournette. Fournette will once again be the focal point of this team; however, a team can only go so far without a quarterback. Brandon Harris will have to step up his play if they want to win against teams like Wisconsin.
The Badgers do not carry quite the firepower from last season, and they lost defensive coordinator Dave Aranda to (ironically) LSU. They still should have one of the better defenses in the conference even though they will have their hands full in week one against Leonard Fournette.
The Tigers should have no issue with the Badgers despite the hype around this game. It should be noted that this game is being played in Green Bay, which is essentially a home game for Wisconsin. Don't forget: Anything can happen in college football.
A tough schedule means that Arkansas may struggle to repeat the same success they saw last season. On top of that, the Razorbacks are replacing their leading rusher and passer.
Fortunately, Arkansas should start the 2016 season with a win over Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs are just not as deep in talent, and they also have to replace their leading rusher and passer.
It should be noted that Louisiana Tech did finish with a 9-4 record last season, but none of their victories came against a team from a Power-5 conference.
The Kirby Smart era begins with a difficult matchup against the defending ACC Coastal division champion.
Smart is immediately having to deal with high expectations especially since it was announced that he would likely be starting true freshman quarterback Jacob Eason. It is hard to imagine that Eason can do too much in his very first collegiate start. Good thing running back Nick Chubb is back to get a majority of the workload.
North Carolina's defense (led by former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik) will not fold to Chubb and company easily. The Tar Heels showed significant improvement last season, and they will be even more dangerous this season if quarterback Marquise Williams begins to show more consistency.
This will be yet another matchup to keep an eye on between two top-25 teams that are looking to get back to the top of their respective conferences.
Kentucky has steadily improved under Mark Stoops' watch. The Wildcats should finally have the pieces needed to get back to bowl eligibility. The biggest piece will be running back Stanley Williams, who will have to lead the way for an offense that has uncertainties at quarterback.
Of course, becoming bowl eligible means beating teams like Southern Miss, a feat that will not be easy. The Golden Eagles went 9-5 last season, and will be operating under new head coach Jay Hopson. The talent is still there, however, so Southern Miss is a favorite to win the C-USA West division.
It would be fair to say that Kentucky is on upset alert even though they should win this game without issue. This is a game that could end up going down to the wire.
Florida exceeded all expectations by making it to the SEC Championship last season. Fans expect big things this season due to that success.
The Gators should without a doubt open up the 2016 season with a dominating win over Massachusetts. With all due respect to the Minutemen, they only recently became an FBS team.
Under no circumstance should an SEC team lose a game against an opponent like Massachusetts. Expect a blowout in this one.
One of the most highly anticipated games in week one pits two teams that arguably have the greatest traditions in college football.
Alabama, fresh off a national championship, will look to repeat as champions despite mounting pressure and not having a starting quarterback nailed down yet. The Tide is still ranked number one in the AP for one reason: their defense. Led by players like Jonathan Allen and Tim Williams, the Tide will have one of the most best defenses in the country.
USC, like many of the schools on this list, will be operating under a new coach but a familiar face. Clay Helton has a ridiculous amount of talent on the offensive side of the ball. It will still be difficult to score, but if the Trojans' defense can help keep the Tide's offense off the field then they will have a chance.
The Trojans have won 17 consecutive season openers, while the Tide has won 14 consecutive season openers. Something has to give on Saturday. It is not easy to take down Alabama, but USC has the talent to do it.
On one side of the field, there will be arguably the best college quarterback in the country. On the other side, there will be a quarterback who may not even finish the season as a starter.
Clemson has high hopes after making it to the National Championship Game last season. They lost some important players, but they kept the most important player of all in DeShaun Watson. He, alone, will make it difficult for any team to beat Clemson.
This is not to say that Auburn does not stand a chance. Gus Malzahn's fast paced, unorthodox offense is very hard for defenses to stop. The question is whether or not Sean White is the right quarterback to run this offense. If not, then Malzahn could be in for a long day.
In what may be the only game of opening weekend that features two teams with playoff potential, Florida State and Ole Miss meet in Orlando for an epic showdown.
Ole Miss has had to deal with plenty offseason issues, but that should not effect its play in this game. Chad Kelly will once again lead a dangerous passing attack. But will their defense be able to stop Dalvin Cook?
Cook will get plenty of carries in this game as Jimbo Fisher gets ready to break in a new quarterback. Fisher may be able to air the ball out since the Seminoles return receivers like Travis Rudolph and Jesus Wilson. If the passing game is established early then the Rebels will be in trouble.
No other team has a tougher opening three weeks than Ole Miss. The Rebels have to play two top-5 teams within their first three weeks. If they manage to pull off a win against the Seminoles then they will instantly sky rocket into the playoff conversation.