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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

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Around the SEC: Week 1

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Of the 14 teams in the SEC, eight are in the AP Top 25 Poll — B1G and PAC 12 teams not included — as of Sept. 20. Arguably the toughest conference in college football, the SEC has more ranked teams than any other conference, trailed by the ACC with six ranked teams.
Saturday marks the opening of the delayed 2020-2021 football season for the SEC in its conference-only play. The SEC’s Week 1 takes things relatively easy, only seeing one ranked teams’ clash in the seven upcoming games. A quartet of new SEC head coaches looks to prove themselves by facing against top-10 opponents.
No. 5 Florida at Ole Miss
Saturday, Sept. 26 — Vaught-Hemingway Stadium — Oxford, Miss.
12 p.m. on ESPN
A strong 2019-2020 showing of 11-2 from the Gators have led to their No. 5 ranking this year. One of Florida’s most important questions will be their rushing game, which was notably weak last year, sitting at No. 102 in rushing offense. A significant amount of gained experience and returners on their offensive line should improve their ground game, particularly against a weakened Ole Miss defensive line missing all of last season’s starters. Florida’s strength will likely be shown through the air though, with a returning near-3,000 yard passer in Kyle Trask as QB1, accompanied by vital targets wide receiver Trevon Grimes and tight end Kyle Pitts that went for 1,140 combined receiving yards and eight touchdowns in 2019. The Rebels’ hopes are high for new head coach Lane Kiffin, coming off of a three-year stint with Florida Atlantic and has led the Owls to two C-USA titles. This game will serve as the proving ground for Ole Miss starting quarterback Matt Corral, who neared 1,400 passing yards in 10 games played with just four starts. It is time to see if he can stand up against the “big dog” defenses of the SEC, or if he will be replaced by backup John Rhys Plumlee, who proved to be a dangerous running quarterback in 2019 with 1,023 yards on the ground in eight starts. The Rebels’ inexperienced defense makes Ole Miss’ best chance at winning on Saturday to be via a shootout. However, a stiff Gators’ defense that has gained experience with few losses makes it a challenging task.
Prediction: Florida 41, Ole Miss 20
No. 2 Alabama at Missouri
Saturday, Sept. 26 — Faurot Field — Columbia, Mo.
7 p.m. on ESPN
Last year was fairly underwhelming for Tuscaloosa. An unrivaled LSU team, an injured Tua Tagovailoa and a missed field goal in the Iron Bowl kept Alabama from the College Football Playoffs for the first time since its adoption. Quarterback Mac Jones stepped up to the task well despite coming short of Alabama’s standards, throwing for 1,500 yards in 11 games, at an almost 70 percent completion rate. His return, now with more experience under his belt, accompanied by Najee Harris returning to running back, and wide receiver DeVonta Smith returning from a 14 touchdown year in 2019, makes Alabama poised to come out on top of the SEC East in 2020. Within the last decade, Alabama has proved to be a team that can handle losses well because of tremendous recruiting power and depth. Where depth will prove the biggest challenge is the secondary: the Crimson Tide lost four of its best starters, and newcomers will miss out on tune-up games due to COVID-19. The veteran coaching staff should make any transition for the powerhouse team as easy as possible, however. For Missouri, new head coach Eliah Drinkwitz, who led Appalachian State to a 12-1 record in 2019, steps up looking to improve upon a program that has only beaten one AP Top 25 team in the last three years. Drinkwitz will be assisted by a solid, but not deep, returning defensive unit and coaching staff that will surely be this team’s highlight. The quarterback situation is unknown, as Missouri is down 12 unspecified players due to COVID-19. The outlook is bleak for a reliable performance this season and the chances to notch a win against the Crimson Tide seems to be slim-to-none. Assuming the 12 players are not defensive pieces, Missouri may slow down a potent Alabama offense, but offensive shortages will prevent a win.
 Prediction: Alabama 35, Mizzou 6
No. 23 Kentucky at No. 8 Auburn
Saturday, Sept. 26 — Jordan-Hare Stadium — Auburn, Ala.
12 p.m. on SEC Network
The 2019 Tigers — not the Tigers that brought home a Heisman and the National Championship, and no, not the runners-up either, but the Auburn Tigers — performed well with one of the most robust schedules in college football. They look to do the same this year, having gained experience in a solid performing quarterback Bo Nix, but taking a big hit in losing their leading rusher JaTarvious Whitlow to a Western Illinois transfer. The 2019 Tigers proved their defensive strength by giving the unstoppable LSU squad its closest game, losing by only one field goal and holding LSU to 15 points below its season average. Auburn lost six starters from that defensive squad, four in the secondary. New players stepping into the starting lineup and filling their shoes will be the key for Auburn. This team might be affected by COVID-19 more significantly than others, as missing tune-up games for new talent can cause growing pains. For Kentucky, things are looking almost the opposite as they are for Auburn. The only significant question is if starting quarterback Terry Wilson will return to his role as a true dual-threat quarterback, as he missed most of 2019 with a left knee injury. Wilson has a 12-3 record as a starter with the Wildcats and went for nearly 2,500 total yards in 2018. Kentucky’s most significant offseason loss was running back Lynn Bowden. However, the Wildcats return three other rushing weapons. Each had six touchdowns in 2019, led off with Saturday’s starting running back Asim Rose, who looks to take advantage of Auburn’s weakened defensive line. That sort of depth from returning contributors exists throughout the Wildcats’ squad. If Wilson makes a return to form, keep this game on upset watch.
Prediction: Kentucky 34, Auburn 31
Mississippi State at No. 6 LSU
Saturday, Sept. 26 — Tiger Stadium — Baton Rouge, La.
3:30 p.m. on CBS
The 2019 LSU Tigers, in perhaps the most dominant college football season of all-time, outscored their opponents by 398 points. The 2019 squad took out the top four preseason-ranked teams led by a long list of departed talent such as Heisman quarterback Joe Burrow, running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire and wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase. These are huge hits to their roster, especially considering that the Tigers lost an additional 14 starters. The departures do not end there, as they also lost passing game coordinator Joe Brady and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. These major hits make a return to the 2019 dominance near impossible. However, against a weaker opponent in Mississippi State and some promising offensive recruits such as the Gatorade High School Player of the Year tight end Arik Gilbert and five-star wide receiver Kayshon Boutte, the Tigers look to remain competitive in the SEC. The Tigers also return some significant secondary talent in cornerbacks Derek Stingley Jr. and Cordale Flott. They stand to stifle the new pass-heavy Mike Leach Mississippi State offense. On Saturday, Leach will start quarterback K.J. Costello, who passed for 3,500 yards and 29 touchdowns in 2018 with Stanford. Returning to Mississippi State is running back Kylin Hill, who rushed for 1,350 yards on a 5.6 yard per carry average. However, if Leach’s coaching past is any indication, he will be underutilized. Many shoes need to be filled on the defensive side of the ball for the Bulldogs. That will likely be their downfall, mainly since Leach will take a couple more years to recruit more to his football brand.
Prediction: LSU 38, Mississippi State 24
No. 4 Georgia at Arkansas
Saturday, Sept. 26 — Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium — Fayetteville, Ark.
4 p.m. on SEC Network
Georgia football seems to be a sort of experiment this year. Losing quarterback Jake Fromm, running back D’Andre Swift and four starting offensive linemen, the Bulldogs might seem to be in trouble. However, their lineup is bolstered by having signed the No. 1 recruiting class this year and, more significantly vital, recruiting in years prior. Georgia’s new offensive coordinator hire, perhaps inspired by LSU’s Joe Brady in 2019, Todd Monken from the Cleveland Browns looks to establish a real spread offense and a dominant scoring team. Redshirt freshman quarterback D’Wan Mathis has come forth as the likely starter for Saturday over USC transfer JT Daniels. On defense, the Bulldogs lost five significant producers from their squad that saw the 4th-fewest yards allowed per game; however, they have a deep roster that should make up for these losses. The defense should prove to be no issue for Georgia due to returning talent, depth and quality recruiting. The big question will be if Mathis can live up to the offseason hype. As for Arkansas, they have a new coach in Sam Pittman, a former assistant coach at Georgia, so he knows them well. Returning for the Razorbacks, most notably, is Rakeem Boyd, who rushed for 1,133 yards on a 6.2 yard per carry average in 2019. Arkansas’ QB1 is the talented and experienced Feleipe Franks, who threw for nearly 2,500 yards and 26 touchdowns in 2018 for Florida. The downfall for the Razorbacks will likely be their inexperienced defensive line and a lackluster secondary. This game has the potential to be the biggest blowout in the SEC this week.
Prediction: Georgia 45, Arkansas 10

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