Tennessee-Martin at Kentucky, SEC Network
Mark Stoops enters his second season at Kentucky, and he has a new starting quarterback, Patrick Towles. The third-year sophomore won the position battle in preseason training camp, and the Wildcats are looking for him to get off to a positive start. Establishing confidence early will be key, and against an FCS foe like Tennessee-Martin, that should be feasible. Stoops says Towles is “not on a short leash,” and that he has confidence in his new signal-caller. Just setting a positive tone with a convincing win would be good for the Wildcats as they continue to try to build depth, increase talent level and work their way up from the SEC cellar.
3:30 p.m. ET
The Maty Mauk era begins at quarterback for Missouri. The Tigers are 13-1 in season openers under Gary Pinkel with 13 consecutive wins, and they’re 13-0 all time against FCS teams. The Tigers don’t have Kony Ealy and Michael Sam but still return several standout defenders such as defensive ends Markus Golden and Shane Ray, who aim to continue the Tigers’ defensive line success. Missouri also has the nation’s longest active turnover streak at 44 games.
West Virginia vs. No. 2 Alabama, ABC/ESPN2
The Crimson Tide open as heavy favorites against the Mountaineers, who were 4-8 a year ago. It sounds like Blake Sims will be Alabama’s starting quarterback today, but expect Jake Coker to play also. It appears this quarterback battle will continue for the time being. Clint Trickett is West Virginia’s starter after eight appearances and five starts last season. The Mountaineers play a pace that Nick Saban isn’t a fan of, so it will be interesting to see if that gives the Crimson Tide any trouble or if they simply impose their well at the line of scrimmage -- on both sides of the ball.
4 p.m. ET
Arkansas at No. 6 Auburn, SEC Network
A meeting of two coaches who are quite fond of each other, Bret Bielema and Gus Malzahn. All kidding aside, this is a contrast of styles (smashmouth football versus hurry-up no-huddle) and a matchup of two teams on the opposite ends of the spectrum last season, with Arkansas last in the SEC West and Auburn winning the SEC. The Tigers are looking to take the division title again while the Razorbacks hope for improvement. This is the start to a tough schedule for Arkansas (the nation’s toughest, according to the NCAA). Jeremy Johnson will start at quarterback for Auburn, but Nick Marshall will eventually see the field. When is unknown, as Malzahn has kept that to himself.
5:30 p.m. ET
No. 16 Clemson at No. 12 Georgia, ESPN
This was an entertaining affair last season, one that Clemson won 38-35. It should be another compelling game this time. After South Carolina’s thrashing at the hands of Texas A&M on Thursday, this would be a good opportunity for Georgia to flex its muscle, since many might now look toward the Bulldogs as the SEC East favorite. Both teams have quarterbacks with big shoes to fill (Cole Stoudt for Clemson; Hutson Mason for Georgia), and this could also be a chance to make an early Heisman statement for Georgia running back Todd Gurley.
7 p.m. ET
Idaho at Florida, ESPNU
Florida trots out its new offense under new coordinator Kurt Roper, and quarterback Jeff Driskel makes his return to the lineup for the first time since a season-ending leg injury suffered against Tennessee last season. The Gators are eagerly looking to start this season and put the past behind them; last season’s disastrous 4-8 campaign was unacceptable. Idaho is coming off a 1-11 year in 2013, so this is a game Florida should look to dominate early and build confidence.
7:30 p.m. ET
Southern Miss at Mississippi State, SEC Network
Mississippi State is looking to take a big step forward this season and returns 83 percent of its letter-winners from 2013 (57 total), which is the third-highest percentage in the nation. That includes quarterback Dak Prescott, linebacker Benardrick McKinney and defensive lineman Chris Jones, all of whom are poised for big seasons. Southern Miss is coming off a 1-11 season, and Mississippi State is looking for its 12th straight home win against a non-SEC team.
9 p.m. ET
No. 14 Wisconsin at No. 13 LSU, ESPN
This is a huge early-season battle between two squads that are strikingly similar. Both have experienced offensive lines and good running games going against inexperienced defensive fronts, and both have been mostly mum on their quarterback situations (though reports have Tanner McEvoy starting for Wisconsin, and Les Miles admitted both Brandon Harris and Anthony Jennings will play for LSU). The running backs will probably be the focus, though. Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon is getting early Heisman publicity, and LSU true freshman Leonard Fournette, the No. 1 player in the 2014 class, is someone everyone is waiting to see.
Sunday, 7 p.m. ET
Utah State at Tennessee, SEC Network
This is one of the most intriguing games of the week, even though it doesn't involved a ranked team. Tennessee begins Butch Jones' second season, and there will be plenty of fresh faces on the field. Jones said Wednesday that between 28-30 freshmen could play on Sunday night. This Utah State team is a good one led by a dynamite quarterback, Chuckie Keeton, who threw for 18 touchdowns before a knee injury robbed him of his final eight games. Tennessee's starter, Justin Worley, earned the job this month and has 10 career starts. The Vols are hoping he can take a step forward, and he has some talented weapons around him to use.
Top Week 1 stories:
Yes, Swinney’s team escaped with a 38-35 win, but Gurley and the Georgia ground game looked dominant. Gurley carried just 12 times but racked up 154 yards and two scores. Overall, the Bulldogs ran for 222 yards in the game and scored five times on the ground. That vaunted Clemson defensive front had few answers.
"It’s like tackling a tree trunk," said Clemson safety Robert Smith.
Finding a way to corral that tree trunk will be Clemson’s top defensive priority Saturday, and it will need to be a team effort.
The strength of Clemson’s defense is its front seven, particularly along the line, and that showed, even during Gurley’s stellar performance a year ago.
Here is a breakdown of Georgia’s rushing performance in last year’s game:
When the Tigers stacked the box and Georgia kept runs between the tackles, a few big plays developed but the Bulldogs’ overall success rate was way down. When Gurley and his cohorts bounced runs outside -- as he did on that 75-yard touchdown sprint -- things got ugly.
The interior of Clemson’s defense remains strong with Grady Jarrett, Josh Watson and Stephone Anthony up the middle, but personnel changes in the secondary and a one-game suspension for defensive end Corey Crawford raise questions about the Tigers’ ability to seal the edges.
That has put an emphasis on fundamentals, defensive coordinator Brent Venables said.
"We didn’t tackle great [last year], gave up too many explosive plays," Venables said. "I know our guys can hold up physically, but your secondary is going to have to tackle well in run support."
Of course, that is easier said than done against a runner like Gurley, whose combination of speed and power makes him tough to catch, let alone bring down.
"Just his combination of size, strength and speed," Jarrett said, "it’s second to none."
Venables likely has a few tricks up his sleeve for this year’s matchup. When Vic Beasley was pressed this week on how much he might work as a stand-up rusher or outside linebacker, he simply grinned.
The line has gotten stronger, too. Clemson’s front seven will feature six senior starters. It’s a unit that led the nation in tackles for loss a year ago.
The other advantage for Clemson this time around is that the Tigers know what’s coming. That can be a double-edged sword, Smith said, but his defense remains confident.
"You can’t let what he did last year affect you this year, but you know what he can do," Smith said. "He’s a tremendous running back. We saw up close and personal. We don’t forget. But we also can’t let that hinder what we’re going to do this season."
ATHENS, Ga. – Two plays will be remembered from what was mostly a forgettable 8-5 season for Georgia in 2013.
In the final seconds of the Bulldogs’ 43-38 loss at Auburn, Georgia gave up a 73-yard touchdown on fourth-and-18 with 25 seconds to play. Georgia defensive backs Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews converged on Nick Marshall’s Hail Mary pass and had a chance to knock it down, but Clemons inexplicably knocked the ball into the air. Auburn’s Ricardo Louis hauled in the tip with his left hand and ran into the end zone for one of the more memorable finishes in college football history.
Then, in Georgia’s 24-19 loss to Nebraska in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl, Georgia’s defense surrendered a 99-yard touchdown pass on third-and-14 late in the third quarter. It was the longest pass play in bowl history by any team.
As No. 12 Georgia prepares for Saturday’s opener against No. 16 Clemson at Sanford Stadium, all eyes are again focused on the Bulldogs’ much-maligned secondary. There’s a new man in charge of UGA’s defense and there are plenty of new faces. Harvey-Clemons and Matthews were dismissed from the team in the offseason and transferred to Louisville and Auburn, respectively.
For the second straight season, Georgia goes into its opener with an overhauled defense.
“The situations are very similar,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “Guys that don’t have a lot of experience are going to be playing. Some of them don’t have any experience, other than in practice. It’s very similar to a year ago.”
If nothing else, Richt hopes his defensive backs will at least be in the right position on the field. Last season, Georgia’s secondary never seemed to be on the same page, and miscommunication and busted assignments resulted in too many big passing plays. Georgia allowed 41 pass plays of 20 yards or longer last season, the most allowed by the Bulldogs in the past 10 seasons. Worse, Georgia surrendered 377 points last season, the most allowed by any defense in school history.
Maybe that’s why the Bulldogs didn’t seem to shed many tears when former defensive coordinator Todd Grantham left for a more lucrative contract at Louisville. Richt was able to hire former Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt to replace him. Pruitt helped the Seminoles win a BCS national championship last season, after serving as Alabama’s secondary coach from 2010-12.
“He’s a very demanding coach,” Richt said. “He’s definitely got a plan. I think he’s a very good teacher and communicator. He’s driven to have a great defense and over time he’ll do a phenomenal job.”
The Bulldogs bring back a deep defensive line and stout group of linebackers, but their secondary very much remains a work in progress. Only senior cornerback Damian Swann has much experience. Pruitt hasn’t settled on a starting lineup for the rest of the secondary, although junior cornerback Devin Bowman, senior strong safety Corey Moore and redshirt freshman Aaron Davis were listed as starters on the depth chart the school released on Monday.
Bowman started one game in 2013 before spending the rest of the season in Grantham’s doghouse. Junior-college transfer Shattle Fenteng, freshman Malkom Parrish, junior Sheldon Dawson and converted receiver Rico Johnson also are in the mix at cornerback. Davis, a former walk-on, hasn’t played since suffering torn knee ligaments in high school in 2012.
Richt said Tuesday that he wouldn’t put too much stock into what the depth chart revealed.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen in Game 1,” Richt said. “There are a lot of moving parts and even the veterans are learning his system. There is a lot of youth on the back end, and nobody likes having youth on the back end.”
Swann said Georgia's defensive backs have worked hard to eliminate the gaffes that plagued them last season.
“That’s one of the things that Pruitt put in, that we’re going to have to communicate if we want to be good,” Swann said. “I think once everybody started learning the system, it wasn’t like we were learning one position. He was teaching it to everybody, where you could line up and play every spot. That’s the thing, knowing what we can do, knowing our assignments and playing fundamental football. That will get us where we need to be.”
We heard the stories about his bazooka arm, how he pushed eventual Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston in the Florida State quarterback race a year ago and how his old coach, Jimbo Fisher, said he would be the most talented quarterback Nick Saban has coached at Alabama.
Who’s to say Coker won’t live up to that billing?
It’s also a reminder that Saban is as bottom-line as it gets. He’s not going to reward a player for potential. He’s going to play whoever gives the team the best chance to win right now.
By all accounts, Sims has outplayed Coker.
That doesn’t mean he has locked down the job. Reports indicate Sims is expected to start against West Virginia in the opener Saturday, but both will get snaps.
Saban’s not nearly as concerned about settling on who his starting quarterback will be for this first game as he is on settling on who it will be for the season. Sometimes, the “process” takes a few games.
Moreover, Coker has been on campus for fewer than four months, since his transfer from Florida State. Sims has been there for more than four years -- sweating, working and sacrificing with his teammates.
The last thing Saban’s going to do is hand the job over to somebody who hasn’t won it, especially when that somebody is new to the program.
The added layer of drama in the quarterback situation this season is that Lane Kiffin is debuting as the Tide's offensive coordinator, their third in four seasons.
However it shakes out, the Crimson Tide would like to add more of a big-play element to their passing game. They ranked 45th nationally a year ago in completions of 20 yards or more (45). A healthy Amari Cooper at receiver should help pad those numbers.
Ultimately, Alabama doesn’t have to figure it out until a stretch against Florida at home on Sept. 20 and Ole Miss on the road two weeks later.
We’re now in the playoff era in college football, so it’s probably fitting that Alabama will have its own little playoff at the quarterback position during these next few weeks.
I’m old enough to remember Herschel Walker’s college football debut and can still see him running over Bill Bates at the goal line in Neyland Stadium. That was 34 years ago.
There was only one Herschel, for sure. But it’s been a while since I’ve been as eager to see a freshman play in this league as I am to see LSU running back Leonard Fournette. He’s built a lot like Walker (6-foot-1, 230 pounds) and has the kind of speed and power the great ones possess.
Rest assured, NFL scouts will be watching, and not just because Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon will be on the other side Saturday night. This summer, I had a longtime NFL coach tell me he’d never seen high school tape of a running back as impressive as Fournette’s.
"I'm not so sure that he's not ready [for the NFL] right now," the coach said. "If he stays healthy, he's everything you're looking for wrapped into one."
Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson feels better about his defense than he did at any point a year ago. The Tigers should be much more physical in the defensive line and plan to play Montravius Adams a good bit at end. “He’s 315 pounds and can flat run,” Johnson said. Johnson said Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost make up the best starting linebacker combo he has ever coached. The big concern is at the hybrid “star” position. There’s no timetable for when the Tigers will get Robenson Therezie back because of an eligibility issue, which means Justin Garrett has to stay healthy. Last season, that was a struggle for Garrett, who has had a terrific preseason camp.
Tennessee’s Curt Maggitt plans to move between end and outside linebacker, as the Vols need him to be a disruptive presence. The concern with Maggitt is whether he can stay healthy. He missed all of last season with a knee injury and has battled a high-ankle sprain in camp. The Vols’ most consistent pass-rusher this preseason has been true freshman Derek Barnett, who will play a key role Sunday night in getting after Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton.
One of the best matchups of the opening weekend will be Georgia’s running game against a Clemson defensive line that’s as deep, talented and experienced as any in the country. Todd Gurley won’t have to go it alone. The word out of the Dawgs’ camp is that Keith Marshall looks as good as new after suffering that nasty knee injury last season. Interestingly enough, they also want to play both true freshmen, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. They are that good, although dividing carries among four running backs gets tricky.
Why does Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen think this is his best team? For one, this is the most depth he’s had, and he also has a quarterback in junior Dak Prescott who’s the best fit he’s had in Starkville for the offensive system he wants to run.
How will it all shake out? This is our first shot at it, so take it easy on us. Like most of you, we will know a lot more about every team in the conference by the time the weekend is through.
But if there is one thing I'm confident in, it's that an SEC team will compete in the inaugural College Football Playoff. Sorry if I'm not buying that two will make it. Maybe next season, when all these inexperienced quarterbacks are a year more mature, but not now.
- CFB Playoff (Allstate Sugar Bowl): Alabama
- Cotton Bowl, Jan. 1: South Carolina
- Orange Bowl, Dec. 31: LSU
- Birmingham Bowl, Jan. 3: Vanderbilt
- TaxSlayer Bowl, Jan. 2: Florida
- Outback Bowl, Jan. 1: Georgia
- Capital One Bowl, Jan. 1: Auburn
- Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, Dec. 30: Missouri
- Belk Bowl, Dec. 30: Mississippi State
- AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl, Dec. 29: Texas A&M
- AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Dec. 29: Ole Miss
Numbers never lie
Let’s start with the most obvious statistic: the number two. Nick Marshall and Jameis Winston, the two quarterbacks in the BCS National Championship Game, were first-year starters last season. And Marshall, of course, was a defensive back a few years prior at Georgia and had the benefit of only three weeks on campus at Auburn before he won the starting job and took the field against Washington State.
Looking at last season alone, almost 20 similarly inexperienced quarterbacks were ranked in the top 50 nationally in QBR. Along with Winston and Marshall, you could find Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott and Baylor’s Bryce Petty.
Remember your history
There was a time, remember, when AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger weren’t the players we know them to be today. It wasn’t all that long ago that Johnny Football was a scruffy, too-short Johnny Manziel.
The departed class of quarterbacks had to start somewhere.
Mettenberger finally got his shot at LSU and led the Tigers to a 10-3 record.
McCarron took over and helped Alabama to a national championship.
Murray slid under center and slung the football for 3,000 yards and 24 touchdowns.
Do we need to recount Manziel’s freshman season? The Heisman Trophy says enough.
QBs aren’t young anymore
There’s a new truth about freshmen quarterbacks: By the time they’ve arrived at college, many of them aren’t the wide-eyed rookies we’ve come to expect.
The rise of spread offenses have asked more of high school quarterbacks. Summer 7-on-7 camps have refined their skills, too. And then there’s the trend toward personal quarterback coaches.
With so many tools at their disposal, quarterbacks have shortened the learning curve.
Ken Mastrole can relate. When he was a freshman at Maryland in the mid-1990s, he said he “had no one teaching me what I was doing wrong.” He had little knowledge of X’s and O’s. He didn’t go to camps and didn’t have a personal coach to mentor him.
Now Mastrole is doing that job himself, having worked with the likes of E.J. Manuel and Teddy Bridgewater. As soon as he gets a new client, whether he’s in college or entering high school, he said he immediately starts working on their footwork and drops, watching film and analyzing their throwing motion.
“Plus, the mental and vision training I incorporate speeds up their decision-making process,” he added. “I have QBs now more than ever that are competing to start as freshmen and sophomores, and it gives them three-plus years of experience which makes them even more ready for college."
He continued: “My former teammate is now a high school offensive coordinator and is running the Air Raid offense. I sit in his meetings and am blown away on how advanced he is. He has his guys mentally ready when they sign a letter of intent.”
Let the vet have his shot
Coaches, at the end of the day, will go with their gut. And more often than not that means going with what they know -- at least to begin with.
At Alabama, don’t be surprised if Blake Sims gets the starting nod against West Virginia. The fifth-year senior has earned his shot, while Jake Coker, who transferred from FSU this summer, is still getting his bearings.
At LSU, Anthony Jennings could be the first quarterback to trot on the field against Wisconsin. The sophomore saw the field nine times last year, starting in a win at the Outback Bowl, while Brandon Harris has yet to attempt a single pass in college.
But talent will always win out. If Sims can’t get the job done, Coker will step in. If Jennings struggles, Harris will take over. The two newbies may not be totally comfortable with their respective offenses yet, but you can teach that. You’d rather have the best guy learning on the fly than the best guy riding the bench.
You would rather be sitting here today with a proven guy, but also you know that there's going to be good players that emerge," said Freeze. "I'm glad we're one that has [a veteran QB], but I fully expect that there will be two or three no one's talking about right now that come out and play and perform really well."
ATHENS, Ga. – With less than a minute left, LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger was standing on his own 24-yard line inside Sanford Stadium. He had already directed the Tigers’ offense to 41 points and five consecutive scoring drives against Georgia’s defense, and was looking to play hero, down three points.
Mettenberger’s right arm had already gashed the Bulldogs’ defense for more than 300 yards and three touchdowns, so successfully directing a two-minute drill seemed imminent.
That was until Leonard Floyd found open space. In fact, thanks to a perfectly executed pick set by defensive end Ray Drew, Floyd flew off the edge and toward the less-than-nimble Mettenberger. Floyd’s eyes lit up, and the closer he came to his target, he said it felt like he was in slow motion.
Before his brain could properly register what was happening, Floyd wrangled Mettenberger to the ground to secure a sack that put the Tigers in a hole they couldn’t climb out of, helping the Bulldogs to a 44-41 victory.
“It was like I was walking on clouds,” Floyd said of the sack. “I woke a lot of people up because they were sleeping on me.”
Few will be sleeping on Floyd in 2014. Last year, Floyd led the Bulldogs with 6.5 sacks and had 9.5 tackles for loss. He was second on the team with 22 quarterback hurries.
With a seasoned pass-rusher in Jordan Jenkins around and Ramik Wilson collecting 10.2 tackles per game, Floyd’s production largely was overlooked last fall. And that’s fine, because the former prep school standout rarely played to his potential last fall.
He and his coaches envision a much more productive 2014 season after an offseason filled with fine-tuning his skill and shedding some of his raw tendencies.
“Leonard Floyd loves football. You can count on that cat every day,” coach Mark Richt said. “… You rarely have to tell him twice on much when it comes to football. He loves it and he understands it, and he has the athleticism to do it.”
Floyd admits that his athleticism got the best of him at times in 2013. After being one of the best players on the field in high school and at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia, Floyd said there were times he couldn’t keep up with the coaching or the other players when he started playing SEC ball.
He estimated “just playing” about 90 percent of the time, leading to subpar technique. He was conscious of what he needed to do, but it was a sloppy transition getting to that point, Floyd said.
So this spring, Floyd worked with linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer to improve his technique. He learned how to set the edge, use his hands more in pass-rushing situations and started staying more level with the quarterbacks he was ruthlessly hunting.
To enhance his pass-rushing skills throughout the spring, Floyd worked with defensive line/Will linebackers coach Tracy Rocker on different hand movements to improve his chopping ability with opposing blockers.
With new defensive line coach Jeremy Pruitt meticulously pushing to develop that raw talent, Floyd is starting to think less and play smarter within Georgia’s defensive scheme. Redshirt freshman linebacker Davin Bellamy even joked that Floyd is moving slower because he’s actually doing his job within the defense.
He might have slowed down some elements, but Floyd's staple is flying off the edge and at quarterbacks. That's what his immediate role will be with the Bulldogs, and what makes him even more dangerous is his ability to drop back in coverage and play in the middle, if needed. Floyd can even play with his hand in the ground, if needed.
“I should be better than what I was as a freshman,” Floyd said. “I’ll do anything to make a play. I’ll run sideline to sideline 100 times just to make a play. I’m trying to be the best player possible, so I’ll do whatever it takes.”
Pruitt has only spent a few months with Floyd, but he’s been impressed. Technically, Floyd could bolt for the NFL after a successful second season in Athens because of his year in prep school, but Pruitt is hoping for another year with Floyd. That’s when Pruitt thinks Floyd could really see him blossom into an early first-round pick in the NFL draft.
“He has a chance to be special,” Pruitt said. “He makes plays.”
And he should make plenty more in 2014.
Football season is finally here. When South Carolina and Texas A&M kick it off tonight (6 ET, SEC Network), the SEC will be back in full swing.
With that in mind, it's time to make some game picks. Each week during the season, our SEC reporters will pick each game on the slate, and we'll highlight the biggest battles and the ones that generated the most disagreement.
Why South Carolina will win: The Gamecocks have a lot of firepower and experience coming back on offense, while the Aggies still have a lot of questions on defense. Texas A&M should put some points up with its own potent group of playmakers, but South Carolina's defense will force QB Kenny Hill into some late mistakes. Feeding RB Mike Davis the ball in the fourth should help put this one away. -- Edward Aschoff
Why Alabama will win: Despite the attention on Alabama's quarterbacks, nearly the only thing that makes this one interesting is how the Crimson Tide's retooled pass rush and secondary will fare against QB Clint Trickett and the West Virginia offense. Whether it's Jake Coker or Blake Sims under center for Alabama, expect him to hand it off plenty and for the Tide to have their way against a Mountaineers defense that finished 101st nationally in total defense last season by allowing 455 yards per game. -- David Ching
Why Georgia will win: Hey, the Bulldogs might make fans nervous with their defense, especially with that incredibly unproven secondary, but the offense shouldn't miss much of a beat with QB Hutson Mason taking over. Clemson's defense has improved, but there are just too many good working parts on Georgia's offense. I have a feeling that some pounding from RB Todd Gurley and a major play from LB Leonard Floyd will get the job done for Georgia on Saturday.
-- Edward Aschoff
Why LSU will win: The Tigers are 9-0 in season openers under coach Les Miles, including four games against ranked opponents and six away from Tiger Stadium. Wisconsin is good in season openers, too (16 straight to LSU's 11), but Houston's proximity to Louisiana and the large number of Tigers fans expected at NRG Stadium should give LSU a slight boost. These teams are similar, but LSU's experienced offensive line against Wisconsin's inexperienced defensive front gives the Tigers a slight edge. -- Sam Khan Jr.
Why Wisconsin will win: If this game were in November, LSU would be in better position. But given that the Tigers lost every key piece on offense (QB, RB, both WRs), it may be too much to ask them to go on the road this early against a top-25 team. Wisconsin may not have experience at QB, but it has one of the best tailbacks in the country in Melvin Gordon and an offensive line that could be special with four returning starters. -- Alex Scarborough
Why Tennessee will win: Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton can't beat the Vols by himself, can he? Even with UT linebackers A.J. Johnson spying and Curt Maggitt providing some pass rush, Keeton won't be stopped, but he will be contained. Coach Butch Jones says the Volunteers will play as many as 30 freshmen in this one, so there are sure to be mistakes. Tennessee has just enough talent to win a squeaker at home. -- Jeff Barlis
Why Utah State will win: This isn't your typical mid-major opponent. The Aggies won nine games last season despite not having Keeton for the second half of the season. Keeton is back, and this is the perfect game to jump-start his Heisman campaign. Tennessee is still a program on the rise, but with no returning starters up front and up to 30 freshmen expected to play, there are just too many question marks. -- Greg Ostendorf
More consensus picks: Ole Miss over Boise State, Vanderbilt over Temple, Florida over Idaho, Auburn over Arkansas, Kentucky over UT Martin, Missouri over South Dakota State, Mississippi State over Southern Miss.
Week 1: Take Your Pick
3:58 2nd Qtr South Dakota State 10 24 Missouri 21 8:32 2nd Qtr West Virginia 10 2 Alabama 10 End 1st Qtr Arkansas 7 6 Auburn 14 5:30 PM ET 16 Clemson 12 Georgia 7:00 PM ET Idaho Florida
7:30 PM ET Southern Miss Mississippi State
- SEC NETWORK/WatchESPN
9:00 PM ET 14 Wisconsin 13 LSU Final Tennessee-Martin 14 Kentucky 59
Final 21 Texas A&M 52 9 South Carolina 28 Final Boise State 13 18 Ole Miss 35 Final Temple 37 Vanderbilt 7