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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

Texas A&M utility Gavin Grahovac (9) throws the ball during A&Ms game against Georgia on Friday, April 26, 2024, at Olsen Field. (CJ Smith/The Battalion)
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The BattalionMay 4, 2024

Around The SEC Week 1

Photo by Photo by Abbey Santoro

In the third week of SEC play, sports writer Michael Horton discusses notable matchups happening around the conference this weekend. 


Over the upcoming week, SEC football returns with 14 games scheduled against out-of-conference foes. This weekend’s top game features the fifth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs at No. 3 Clemson on Saturday night as No. 1 Alabama and Ole Miss kick off their seasons at Atlanta’s Mercedes Benz Stadium against No. 14 Miami, and Louisville, respectively. No. 16 LSU travels out west to Los Angeles for a matchup with UCLA as No. 6 Texas A&M and No. 13 Florida each start things out at home. Vanderbilt, Auburn, Tennessee and South Carolina begin at home as well, beginning new eras with new head coaches. 



No. 5 Georgia @ No. 3 Clemson

Saturday, Sept. 4 – Bank of America Stadium – Charlotte, N.C.

8 p.m. ET on ABC


Georgia quarterback J.T. Daniels returns for a second straight year to lead the Bulldogs offense against sophomore quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei and the third-ranked Clemson Tigers. Daniels, a USC transfer, tossed 1231 yards and ten touchdowns on a 67 percent completion during a season where he fought to win the job. Zamir White and Kearis Jackson look to dethrone the Tigers who replace ACC all-time leading rusher Travis Etienne with Lyn-J Dixon and return the talented receiver Justyn Ross from injury. Dabo Swinney’s defense returns nine of eleven starters from last year as well with sophomore defensive end Bryan Bresee and senior linebacker James Skalski to watch for. Clemson’s defense and home run ability on offense, along with playing close to home, are reasons why the Tigers take this one over Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs by multiple scores. Uiagalelei will also come out hot to begin his first season as Trevor Lawrence’s replacement as starting quarterback to get a quick lead early. 


Prediction: Clemson 30, Georgia 13


No. 1 Alabama @ No. 14 Miami (FL) 

Saturday, Sept. 4 – Mercedes Benz Stadium – Atlanta, Ga. 

3:30 p.m. ET on ABC


The number one-ranked Crimson Tide, 14-3 in 17 all-time matchups against the No. 14 Hurricanes, have a talented new signal caller in Bryce Young to replace Mac Jones. Young was a former five-star recruit and appeared in nine games last season, including the national championship win against Ohio State. He completed 13 of 22 passes for 156 yards and one touchdown over the course of his freshman season. Meanwhile, Miami has a far more experienced quarterback and team captain in D’Eriq King, who tossed for 2,686 yards with 23 touchdowns and only five interceptions a year ago before tearing his ACL and undergoing intense rehab to return this season. He will be returning for their season opener, and has receiver Charleston Rambo and running back Cam’Ron Harris alongside him. Safety Bubba Bolden is one of Miami’s best defenders and playmakers to watch for with Alabama bringing Demarco Hellamns, Jordan Battle, Josh Jobe and Jalyn Armour-Davis to defend King and Co. Alabama ultimately has too much talent to not find a way to beat the Hurricanes, but Young will have to play well or else King and Miami threaten the ability to score quickly and gain a lead. In the end, Nick Saban’s defense and offensive line will lead them to a ranked neutral site win in week one. 


Prediction: Alabama 34, Miami 21


No. 16 LSU @ UCLA

Saturday, Sept. 4 – Rose Bowl Stadium – Los Angeles, Calif. 

8:30 p.m. ET on FOX


Chip Kelly’s Bruins cruised to a 44-10 win in one of the first CFB games of the year last weekend over Hawaii, and host the 2019 national champion Tigers at the Rose Bowl for a late night game on Sept. 4. UCLA’s offensive attack in week one featured Michigan transfer Zach Charbonnet, who rushed six times for 106 yards and three scores, and quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson. He went 10 of 20 for 130 yards and a touchdown as three other rushers combined for 128 yards combined to overwhelm the Rainbow Warriors. LSU’s offensive strength this season lies in its running back room, and perhaps also sophomore quarterback Max Johnson. Myles Brennan had a chance to take the starting job, but broke his non-throwing arm by slipping on a dock during a fishing trip in July and is still sidelined. Johnson returns after the 2020 season’s revolving door between him, Brennan and TJ Finley. John Emery Jr. and Tyrion Davis-Price provide great balance for Ed Orgeron’s offense in the run game as receiver Kayshon Boutte and Brian Thomas will most likely see the most passes from Johnson. If this game was in Death Valley it would probably be an easy win for the Tigers, but in L.A. the Bruins will give them a much bigger fight on the ground. LSU’s offense will put together enough good drives though to get a second-half lead and beat UCLA in the end. 


Prediction: LSU 40, UCLA 30


Louisville @ Ole Miss

Saturday, Sept. 4 – Mercedes Benz Stadium – Atlanta, Ga. 

8 p.m. ET on ESPN


Perhaps one of the more underrated week one matchups comes with the Rebels and Cardinals facing off in Atlanta on Saturday night. Quarterback Matt Corral is, in my opinion, the best quarterback in the SEC entering the season and has Heisman Trophy potential written all over him. The junior threw 3,337 yards and 29 touchdowns on 71 percent completion in 2020 with the fifth-highest yards per game average in the country at 333. Lane Kiffin’s Rebels will have to find a receiving threat to replace Elijah Moore however with guys like Braylon Sanders and Dontario Drummond. Jerrion Ealy will be a suitable backfield threat for Corral. Louisville is fired up for this primetime matchup as they are coming off a four-win season. Head coach Scott Satterfield and his defense will have to create ways to contain Corral from having too much time in the pocket and create pressure from defensive linemen YaYa Diaby and Malik Clark. On offense, the Cardinals have signal caller and RS-Junior Malik Cunningham who has seen increased playing time and improved stats over the last three years. In 2019 and 2020 combined he tossed 4682 yards and 42 touchdowns with an average of 47.5 rushing yards per game. He remains a threat but I predict that the Rebels, led by Corral, will simply outplay Cunningham’s Cardinals on the offensive side of the ball to win a high-scoring game. Ole Miss let up the most points per game in the conference at 38.3 last year, and I expect that to continue this weekend but with an even better offense. 


Prediction: Ole Miss 42, Louisville 30



FAU @ No. 13 Florida 

Saturday, Sept. 4 – Ben Hill Griffin Stadium – Gainesville, Fla. 

7 p.m. ET on SEC Network


The No. 13 Florida Gators come off an 8-4 season a year ago looking to replace QB Kyle Trask with Emory Jones, and have receivers Jacob Copeland and Trent Whittemore emerging as threats after 2020’s leading receiver Kyle Pitts went to the NFL this offseason. Senior running back Dameon Pierce will be the starter, earning 1,232 rushing yards and a dozen scores to his name last season. The Gators’ defense will need cornerback Kaiir Elam and linebacker Ventrell Miller to lead the unit as returning starters. Elam defended 13 passes and grabbed two interceptions last year with three more in 2019. It may be a rocky start for Florida at first, but they find their offensive identity through the air or on the ground late in the first half as their defense shuts down the Owls. FAU will have former Miami quarterback N’Kosi Perry leading the offense for second-year head coach Willie Taggart who led the team to a 5-4 record in 2020. Running Back James Charles will start in the backfield as someone with 862 career ground yards and nine scores on a 5.5 yards per carry average. 



Prediction: Florida 33, FAU 13



Louisiana Tech @ Mississippi State

Saturday, Sept. 4 – Davis Wade Stadium – Starkville, Miss. 

4 p.m. ET on ESPNU


Mike Leach opens Mississippi State’s 2021 season against Louisiana Tech in Starkville this Saturday after a four-win 2020 campaign that ended with a win over Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl. Miss St. will roll out sophomore Will Rogers, who started six games a year ago in an up-and-down freshman COVID season. Fellow sophomore and running back Jo’Quavious Marks is an underrated threat with 580 all-purpose yards in 2020 and three scores. Mike Leach is known for an air raid offense, obviously, so receivers Jaden Walley and Malik Heath need to be able to create separation for Rogers who averaged 5.7 yards per pass attempt and threw 219 yards per game last year. Louisiana Tech got blown out in the New Orleans Bowl 38-3 to end a season that saw the Bulldogs go 5-5 and 4-2 in conference play. Head coach Skip Holtz has had three of his hurlers dueling it out to determine a starter including Luke Anthony, Aaron Allen and JD Head. Anthony is returning from a season-ending injury after playing in nine games in 2020. The Dallas native tossed 1,479 yards and threw 16 scores on C-USA’s fourth-highest passing efficiency of 138.0 before being injured. Austin Kendall is another quarterback in contention and is previously from Oklahoma and West Virginia, along with freshman Caleb Holstein out of Lafayette. I see Mississippi taking this one rather easily with their high-octane offense that LA Tech will not have the answer or conditioning for. 


Prediction: Miss. State 38, LA Tech 21


Akron @ Auburn

Saturday, Sept. 4 – Jordan-Hare Stadium – Auburn, Ala. 

7 p.m. ET on SEC Network+/ESPN+


The Tigers begin the post-Gus Malzahn era against Akron this weekend as Bryan Harsin started his first year as Auburn’s head coach. His team is returning with a lot of experience on both sides of the ball as Bo Nix enters his third straight year as starting quarterback. He also has sophomore back Tank Bigsby alongside him, who was a great player for the Tigers a year ago, before dealing with injuries. The offense has senior experience at the tight end and receiver spots from John Samuel Shenker and Shedrick Jackson with the defense’s secondary being the team’s probable forte. Senior and junior cornerbacks Roger McCreary and Nehemiah Pritchett, and senior safety Smoke Monday are all good players in the defensive backfield. Meanwhile upperclassmen Owen Pappoe and Zakoby McClain will be in the box going to work on Akron’s offensive line and running backs. The Zips’ quarterback is Kato Nelson, who didn’t play in 2020 due to injury, and they have receivers Michael Mathison and Michigan State transfer Anthony Williams. Bubba Arslanian is a name to watch on Akron’s defense at linebacker as well as AJ Watts at cornerback. 


Prediction: Auburn 33, Akron 10



Central Michigan @ Missouri

Saturday, Sept. 4 – Faurot Field – Columbia, Mo. 

4 p.m. ET on SEC Network


This matchup will be the first between the two schools as Central Michigan comes off a 3-3 record and Missouri comes off a 5-5 record. The Tigers were supposed to play in the Great Southern Bank Bowl against Iowa to finish off the season, but it was canceled. Missouri returns Connor Bazelak at quarterback after he threw for 2,366 and seven touchdowns last season with 236 passing yards per game along with running back Tyler Badie. On defense, defensive back Ennis Rakestraw Jr. and linebacker Devin Nicholson are the potential leaders with Rakestraw being CB1, and Nicholson having 69 tackles, 1.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and a game-clinching interception against South Carolina in 2020. The Chippewas will be tough though, and I see them taking Missouri deep into the second half with the game still close. Central Michigan has a good amount of experience, but their defense is not usually good against solid passing teams like Missouri has this season. That is why I ultimately think the Tigers will prevail in a close, physical game.  


Prediction: Missouri 30, Central Michigan 28



Rice @ Arkansas

Saturday, Sept. 4 – Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium – Fayetteville, Ark. 

2 p.m. ET on SEC Network+/ESPN+


Arkansas plays host to the Rice Owls this Saturday afternoon and have won nine of the last 12 meetings between the schools. The Razorbacks, led by head coach Sam Pittman in his second year, went 3-7 last year, but enter 2021 with an established starting quarterback in team captain K.J. Jefferson and All-SEC Second Team talent in Treylon Burks. In 2020, Burks caught 51 balls for 820 yards and seven touchdowns, however, he is dealing with an undisclosed day-to-day injury leading up to Saturday. He is also on the 2021 Biletnikoff Award Watch List. Safety Joe Foucha is a team captain and the unit’s leader along with safety Jalen Catalon, who form a good duo of defenders on the third level. The Owls will go into Saturday with either Wiley Green or Nebraska-transfer Luke McCaffrey at quarterback, but they are very different players. Green has been with Rice for four years and has started ten games for the Owls while McCaffrey didn’t get on campus until June of this year. Last year Rice had the 12th best scoring defense in the nation and hope to continue that with a defense that returns ten of eleven starters. However in this week one matchup the Razorbacks will start out 1-0 after a solid home win. 


Prediction: Arkansas 40, Rice 17



Bowling Green @ Tennessee

Thursday, Sept. 2 – Neyland Stadium – Knoxville, Tenn. 

8 p.m. ET on SEC Network


The only Thursday game this week for an SEC team comes for the Volunteers against Bowling Green at home. Tennessee is beginning the Josh Heupel era against the Falcons and will roll out Michigan transfer Joe Milton III at quarterback. The former Wolverine began 2020 as a starter, but was benched after five games where he threw 1,077 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions. Eric Gray, Tennessee’s leading rusher and biggest threat in 2020, transferred to Oklahoma and Ty Chandler to North Carolina. Therefore Jabari Small and Tiyon Evans will be the team’s new feature backs with upperclassmen Velus Jones Jr. and JaVonta Payton, a Mississippi State transfer, at receiver. Heupel is dealing with a lot of turnover on both sides of the ball, but Bowling Green will be rolling out a young roster with a lot of inexperience. Half of the Falcons’ starting 22 on the depth chart are freshmen or sophomores, and head coach Scot Loeffler said to The Blade that probably 70 percent of the roster will be experiencing a college crowd for the first time at Neyland Stadium. They’ll have a freshman starting at center in Cade Zimmerly and a senior signal caller in team captain Matt McDonald. Defensive end Karl Brooks is also a team captain and player to watch for on the Falcons defense. 


Prediction: Tennessee 35, BGSU 10



Eastern Illinois @ South Carolina 

Saturday, Sept. 4 – Williams Brice Stadium – Columbia, S.C. 

7 p.m. ET on SEC Network+/ESPN+


South Carolina welcomes Shane Beamer to replace Will Muschamp in 2021, and he will have to replace defensive backs Jaycee Horn and Israel Mukuamu who departed this offseason. They do still have Nick Muse at tight end and running backs Kevin Harris and MarShawn Lloyd for new quarterbacks Zeb Noland and Jason Brown. Harris earned All-SEC First Team in 2020 after racking up an SEC-leading 1,138 rushing yards with 15 scores, and averaged 113 rushing yards a game. He will be a huge part of the Gamecocks offensive strategy this fall, so I expect him to get on a fast start this weekend especially due to starting quarterback Luke Doty being out with an injury. South Carolina has a stout defensive front. That will limit Eastern Illinois, but ultimately it comes down to Lloyd and Harris running the ball well. If those two can string together good drives, South Carolina should put this game out of reach by halftime. 


Prediction: South Carolina 40, Eastern Illinois 9


ETSU @ Vanderbilt

Saturday, Sept. 4 – Vanderbilt Stadium – Nashville, Tenn. 

8 p.m. ET on SEC Network+/ESPN+


Vanderbilt is another SEC team with a new head coach, and the Commodores’ new leader is former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Clark Lea who is trying to inject a new attitude in his team for 2021, starting with East Tennessee State at home. Last year, Vanderbilt lost all nine games and struggled with scoring, only getting 17 or fewer points in seven of those games. Lea has not named a starting quarterback but Ken Seals was the starter in 2020 and likely will start this Saturday. The Texas-native was the third SEC true freshman quarterback to start a season opener since 1972 and completed 65 percent of his passes for 1,928 yards with 12 touchdowns. He had a career-high in passing yards with 336 against Miss St. and 319 with two scores against then-No. 6 Florida, so the raw talent is certainly there. The question is whether or not he can take another step forward in his second year with a new coaching staff. It should be interesting to see how Lea’s team performs differently with him at the helm instead of Derek Mason, but obviously ETSU won’t be the same challenge that teams in the SEC will be. 


Prediction: Vanderbilt 30, ETSU 10



UL Monroe @ Kentucky

Saturday, Sept. 4 – Kroger Field – Lexington, Ky. 

12 p.m. ET on SEC Network


The Wildcats come off a 2020 year that saw them go 5-6 with a Taxslayer Gator Bowl win in January. Now Kentucky hosts UL Monroe for a week one game and head coach Mark Stoops has returning receiver Josh Ali, Nebraska transfer Wan’Dale Robinson, and quarterback Will Levis. There is also Chris Rodriguez, a running back that led the team in rushing last year and the SEC in yards-per-carry. The Warhawks will have quarterback Rhett Rodriguez, an Arizona transfer, who has 1,154 career passing yards and four career touchdowns. He is also the son of offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez. On defense they have Ty Shelby, a senior All-Sun Belt selection, who has 44 career games, 108 career tackles and 6.5 sacks. Kentucky will get its first win in this Saturday matchup thanks to Chris Rodriguez’s ground ability and should try to get the ball to Ali and Robinson to get them involved in the passing game early in the season. 


Prediction: Kentucky 37, UL Monroe 13



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