By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent
6. Mississippi State
10. Texas A&M
12. South Carolina
13. Ole Miss
Week 1 Previews and Predictions
Saturday, Sept. 2
Game of the Week
Alabama vs. Florida State (+7.5). * Nick Saban is accustomed to playing a marquee out-of-conference game during the first week of the season, but this will be the Crimson Tide’s toughest season opener in the Saban era. Florida State has the talent to contend for a national title and actually might have the better defense in this matchup. Alabama’s offense should be explosive under new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, and sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts has plenty of weapons to work with at running back and at receiver. Nick Saban is 10-0 while coaching against his former assistants and a perfect 10-0 in season openers while coaching at Alabama. Jimbo Fisher is 7-0 in season openers as a head coach, but his Seminoles don’t typically play tough non-conference games to start the season. Prediction: Alabama 23, Florida State 16.
Florida A&M at Arkansas (-48.5). Bret Bielema’s Razorbacks start off a pivotal year in his tenure with an easy win over Florida A&M. The real challenge begins next week as the Hogs host a dangerous TCU team. Prediction: Arkansas 59, Florida A&M 6.
Michigan vs. Florida (+4). ** Both the Gators and Wolverines are in the third year of their current head coach’s regime, and these two schools actually met in a bowl game during Jim McElwain and Jim Harbaugh’s first seasons in 2015. Michigan dominated that game, 41-7, and now the Gators will look for revenge to start the 2017 season. Florida’s quarterback situation is still murky, and star receiver Antonio Callaway is suspended for the game. But Michigan only returns five starters and will rely on young talent to get by Florida. This should be a very physical game, and the defenses will likely dictate the flow of the contest. Prediction: Michigan 20, Florida 16.
South Carolina vs. North Carolina State (-5). *** The Gamecocks weren’t expected to be very good in Will Muschamp’s first season but managed to win six games and make a bowl game. Quarterback Jake Bentley returns for his sophomore season after an impressive start to his career, but he and the South Carolina offense have the difficult task of facing one of the best defensive lines in the country in N.C. State. If the Gamecocks find a way to steal this game, another bowl game is likely this season. Prediction: N.C. State 31, South Carolina 23.
Charleston Southern at Mississippi State (-21). The Bulldogs were upset by an inferior opponent in the season opener last season in at home to South Alabama. But that was before Nick Fitzgerald solidified himself as the primary quarterback. Mississippi State should have no trouble with Charleston Southern on Saturday. Prediction: Mississippi State 45, Charleston Southern 17.
Missouri State at Missouri (-28.5). Missouri’s offense returns 10 starters, and that unit should be one of the best in the SEC. The defense is still a concern, but Saturday’s contest against Missouri State shouldn’t be an issue. Prediction: Missouri 55, Missouri State 23.
Kentucky at Southern Mississippi (+10). Last year, Kentucky led Southern Miss, 35-10, in the second quarter during the first game of the season. However, the Golden Eagles stormed back for a 44-35 win, and there were rumblings about Mark Stoops’ job security. The Wildcats managed to win seven games, however, and this year they have a chance to enact revenge against Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles won’t be a pushover, but the Wildcats should be able to start the year off on a better note than a season ago. Prediction: Kentucky 41, Southern Miss 34.
Appalachian State at Georgia (-14.5). The Bulldogs have a tough Week 2 game at Notre Dame but can’t afford to look a very talented Appalachian State team. The Mountaineers nearly upset Tennessee in the first game last season and certainly are capable of going into Athens and pulling off the upset. Georgia is the preseason favorite to win the SEC East, but this won’t be an easy win. Prediction: Georgia 31, Appalachian State 17.
Georgia Southern at Auburn (-33.5). Auburn hasn’t fared well in the past with high expectations, but this is one of the most talented teams the Tigers have had in years. Georgia Southern’s triple option attack can be difficult to defend, so Saturday’s game might look ugly at times. But Auburn should win comfortably before next Saturday’s showdown at defending national champion Clemson. Prediction: Auburn 41, Georgia Southern 10.
South Alabama at Ole Miss (-23.5). Matt Luke’s first game as interim head coach looks like a win on paper, but South Alabama proved last year that it isn’t scared of playing an SEC team on the road after beating Mississippi State. Ole Miss has one of the most talented offenses in the league but the defense will be a con-cern throughout the season. Prediction: Ole Miss 48, South Alabama 20.
Vanderbilt at Middle Tennessee (+3.5). If Derek Mason’s team intends on making it to back-to-back bowl games, this is a must-win game. The Blue Raiders return a talented offense, and this won’t be an easy win for the Commodores. Vandy running back Ralph Webb should be the difference maker, and his ability to explode for big plays is critical for the success of the Commodore offense. Prediction: Vanderbilt 23, Middle Tennessee 20.
BYU vs. LSU (-16). **** This game was originally supposed to be played in Houston, but the flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey forced officials to relocate the game to New Orleans. The Tigers were expected to have a massive crowd advantage anyway, but playing an hour from Baton Rouge can’t hurt their chances for a slight advantage. BYU looked sloppy in its season opener against Portland State, but the Cougars are catching an LSU team without defensive star Arden Key. BYU might have trouble stopping LSU running back Derrius Guice, who looked more explosive than Leonard Fournette last season. Prediction: LSU 27, BYU 16.
Sunday, Sept. 3
Texas A&M at UCLA (-3.5). After three straight 8-5 seasons, the pressure is on Kevin Sumlin to show progress with the Aggies. Sumlin’s team lost star defensive end Myles Garrett to the NFL Draft, and the quarterback position is unsettled, which makes Sunday’s season opener even more intriguing. Bruin quarterback Josh Rosen is one of the best in the country, and the Aggies’ defense will have its hands full on Sunday evening. Prediction: UCLA 34, Texas A&M 27.
Monday, Sept. 4
Tennessee vs. Georgia Tech (+3). * The Volunteers were picked to win the East Division a season ago before finishing 9-4 for the second straight year, and expectations have lowered for Butch Jones in 2017. UT is still expected to win 7-8 games, but the Vols have not been mentioned as a team that can possibly reach the SEC title game. The schedule is tough, and Tennessee has plenty of new faces in the starting lineup. Monday night’s game against Georgia Tech should serve as a measuring stick for how well the Vols will fare this year. Prediction: Tennessee 27, Georgia Tech 22.
*Denotes game being played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta
**Denotes game being played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas
***Denotes game being played at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte
****Denotes game being played at Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans
In & around SEC football
By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent