Saturday in the SEC Week One: Welcome back, football


Claire Barnett

The Vanderbilt football team plays at Middle Tennessee State University on Saturday, September 2, 2017

Betsy Goodfriend, Senior Writer

Saturday in the SEC covers all 14 teams in the SEC with analysis, previews, and predictions for each game.

After over 230 long days without college football, it’s almost back. A few teams have played their opening games already, and a few more will play before Saturday, but the real college football season starts when 12 SEC teams play on September 1st. While most squads are playing overmatched non-conference opponents, Auburn and LSU face top-10 teams in neutral-site games.

Five SEC teams are ranked in the preseason AP Top 25 poll, including three in the top 10. Alabama opens the season as the top-ranked team in the country, and Georgia is right behind them at No. 3. Ninth-ranked Auburn, 18th-ranked Mississippi State, and 25th-ranked LSU also made the season’s inaugural poll.

Jimbo Fisher and Texas A&M host Northwestern State Thursday night. Quarterback Kellen Mond recently beat out Nick Starkel in a heated position battle. Running back Trayveon Williams has the potential to shine in Fisher’s pro-style offense, and the Aggies’ defensive front could have a field day against an FCS offensive line.

Prediction: Texas A&M 52, Northwestern State 13

South Carolina faces off against in-state opponent Coastal Carolina on Saturday morning. Star wide receiver Deebo Samuel was one of the most explosive players in the country before he suffered a season-ending leg injury in the Gamecocks’ third game last year. South Carolina’s defense led the SEC in takeaways in 2017, but linebacker Skai Moore, who had 14 career interceptions, has moved on to the NFL.

Prediction: South Carolina 62, Coastal Carolina 14

Ole Miss plays Texas Tech in Houston in the other early game. Ole Miss is barred from playing in a bowl game this season as a result of recruiting violations that occurred during previous head coach Hugh Freeze’s tenure. The Rebels are led by wide receiver A.J. Brown, who caught 75 passes last season. Ole Miss only returns two linebackers from a defense that allowed almost 3,000 yards rushing in 2017.

Prediction: Ole Miss 24, Texas Tech 42

Defending SEC champion Georgia hosts Austin Peay as quarterback Jake Fromm hopes to build off of a successful freshman season. Fromm’s backup Justin Fields is expected to see the field as well in special packages. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel are in the NFL, so the Bulldogs will turn to D’Andre Swift, Brian Herrien, and Elijah Holyfield to replace the unstoppable running back duo.

Prediction: #3 Georgia 48, Austin Peay 7

Auburn and Washington meet in Atlanta in one of the most anticipated games of college football’s opening weekend. Auburn’s high-powered offense is directed by Heisman contender Jarrett Stidham at quarterback and running back Kam Martin, who averaged over six yards per carry in limited action last year. Defensive tackles Derrick Brown and Dontavius Russell lead one of the most talented defensive fronts in the country, and they will be challenged by a veteran Husky offensive line.

Prediction: #9 Auburn 27, #6 Washington 31

Tennessee travels to Charlotte to take on No.17 West Virginia. New head coach Jeremy Pruitt has not announced a starting quarterback yet. Whoever is under center will need to improve an offense that was last in the SEC in scoring in 2017. Tennessee’s defense faces one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Will Grier and an explosive wide receiver in David Sills.

Prediction: Tennessee 21, #17 West Virginia 38

Kentucky faces Central Michigan in Lexington. Gunnar Hoak and Terry Wilson are still battling for the starting quarterback spot, but star running back Benny Snell should help out whoever wins the starting job. The secondary was one of the worst in the conference last year and has to improve for Kentucky to compete in the SEC East.

Prediction: Kentucky 35, Central Michigan 17

Missouri and quarterback Drew Lock take on Tennessee-Martin at home. Lock threw 44 touchdowns in 2017, and the offensive line rarely allowed him get sacked. The secondary is young, but it likely will not be tested much against UT-Martin.

Prediction: Missouri 70, Tennessee-Martin 13

Chad Morris is another recent hire in the SEC, and his Arkansas Razorbacks host Eastern Illinois. The team’s top three wide receivers and tight ends all return, and they should see more opportunities in Morris’ up-tempo offensive system. Defensive coordinator John Chavis is installing his 4-3 defense in Fayetteville to help the defense test opposing SEC offensive lines.

Prediction: Arkansas 31, Eastern Illinois 27

Keytaon Thompson will lead Mississippi State against Stephen F. Austin because starter Nick Fitzgerald was suspended for the game for a violation of team rules. Head coach Joe Moorhead was hired from Penn State this offseason, and he will install his fast-paced offense in Starkville. Jeffery Simmons anchors a tough defensive line for the Bulldogs.

Prediction: #18 Mississippi State 41, Stephen F. Austin 21

Florida also has a new head coach for this season in Dan Mullen, the former Mississippi State head coach. Florida takes on Charleston Southern on Saturday night. Five starters on the offensive line return, but they will need to improve their protection to avoid another disastrous season. Cece Jefferson and a talented group of defensive ends should pressure opposing quarterbacks often.

Prediction: Florida 38, Charleston Southern 17

Vanderbilt hosts in-state foe Middle Tennessee to kick off Derek Mason’s fifth year at the helm. Kyle Shurmur is on pace to break many of Jay Cutler’s school passing records. Running back and Nashville native Ke’Shawn Vaughn is eligible after sitting out last season due to transfer rules. Cornerback Joejuan Williams and linebacker Charles Wright lead a new-look defense under coordinator Jason Tarver.

Prediction: Vanderbilt 45, Middle Tennessee State 24

Alabama, the defending national champions, faces off against Louisville in Orlando. Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts will continue their competition for the starting quarterback spot into this game. Both could start at any school in the country, and the coaching staff is hoping one can pull away from the other on Saturday. The defense lost a few key players to the NFL Draft, but Alabama has always been able to reload with former top recruits easily.

Prediction: #1 Alabama 42, Louisville 10

LSU plays Miami on Sunday night in Dallas. Ohio State transfer Joe Burrow will take the reins at quarterback for the Tigers and looks to be the first truly talented quarterback in Baton Rouge in five years. Burrow has a bevy of quick receivers to rely on. Linebacker Devin White is back after leading the team in tackles last season.

Prediction: #25 LSU 31, #8 Miami 16