In & around SEC football: Week 1 previews and predictions

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By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent 

SEC East predicted order of finish
1. Georgia (12-0, 8-0)
2. Kentucky (9-3, 5-3)
3. Tennessee (8-4, 4-4)
4. Missouri (7-5, 4-4)
5. South Car. (6-6, 3-5)
6. Florida (5-7, 3-5)
7. Vanderbilt (4-8, 0-8)
SEC West predicted order of finish
1. Alabama (11-1, 7-1)
2. LSU (10-2, 7-1)
3. Texas A&M (9-3, 5-3)
4. Ole Miss (8-4, 4-4)
5. Arkansas (8-4, 4-4)
6. Auburn (7-5, 3-5)
7. Miss. State (5-7, 2-6)
SEC Championship: Georgia over Alabama

Week 1 Previews and Predictions
Game of the Week: LSU vs. Florida State (+2.5). The most highly anticipated game of the opening weekend takes place this Sunday night, as a pair of top 10 teams and playoff contenders square off. The Seminoles defeated the Tigers in a classic to start last season, and both teams should be even better than they were in 2022. Jayden Daniels led LSU to a West division championship in Brian Kelly’s first season, and the Tigers are expected to contend for the SEC title again this year. Jordan Travis helped restore Florida State to national prominence a season ago, and this should be a shootout in Orlando, Fla. Prediction: Florida State 38, LSU 34
Virginia at Tennessee (-28). The Volunteers produced their best season in over a decade in 2022, and despite losing quarterback Hendon Hooker, the hype has continued into 2023. Joe Milton takes over Josh Heupel’s offense, and expectations are high for UT after an 11-win campaign. Prediction: Tennessee 49, Virginia 13.
Ball State at Kentucky (-26.5). Kentucky might be the most underrated team in the SEC entering the 2023 season. Liam Cohen returns as offensive coordinator for Mark Stoops, and the Wildcats landed North Carolina State transfer Devin Leary to replace Will Levis, which might be an upgrade. Kentucky doesn’t have the talent to match Georgia, but the ‘Cats are certainly capable of finishing runner-up in the SEC East. Prediction: Kentucky 40, Ball State 12.
Western Carolina at Arkansas. K.J. Jefferson and Rocket Sanders lead what should be an explosive offense unit for the Razorbacks, and Sam Pittman’s squad will be a tough out every week in conference play. Dan Enos replaces Kendall Briles as offensive coordinator, and he inherits a very talented backfield. Prediction: Arkansas 48, Western Carolina 17.
Mercer at Ole Miss. Lane Kiffin opted to stay in Oxford rather than bolt for Auburn, so the Rebels will be a thorn in the side for West Division opponents for the foreseeable future. Ole Miss will have one of the most explosive offenses in the country thanks to star running back Quinshon Judkins, and if the Rebel defense can improve, they can contend in the division. Prediction: Ole Miss 56, Mercer 13.
Southeast Louisiana at Mississippi State. Zach Arnett begins his first season at the helm in Starkville after the tragic loss of former head coach Mike Leach. Arnett is moving away from Leach’s air raid offense, and the Bulldogs will be a defensive-minded team in Arnett’s tenure. Prediction: Mississippi State 41, SE Louisiana 10.
Tennessee-Martin at Georgia. The two-time defending national champs have perhaps the easiest schedule in the SEC, so it would be shocking if the Bulldogs lost in the regular season. No college football team has completed a successful three-peat since the 1930s, but Georgia has a great opportunity to get back to the playoffs and contend for another title. Prediction: Georgia 51, UT Martin 0.
New Mexico at Texas A&M (-38). Jimbo Fisher signed one of the most exorbitant head coaching contracts in history when he took over the Aggies, but last year’s losing record likely has some influential people in College Station regretting that decision. The Aggies are loaded with talent, however, and Fisher brought in play-caller Bobby Petrino to revitalize the offense. If A&M plays up to its potential, the Aggies can beat anyone in the SEC. Prediction: Texas A&M 52, New Mexico 3.
Alabama A&M at Vanderbilt. The Commodores started the season with a 35-28 win over Hawaii in Week 0 and have a good opportunity to begin the season 4-0. Clark Lea is trying to rebuild Vanderbilt, and the Nashville squad made progress a season ago.
Middle Tennessee State at Alabama (-38.5). For the first time in several years, Alabama has been surpassed in the preseason discussions among the title contenders. Georgia has won two straight titles and is the top dog in college football, while LSU is receiving as much preseason hype as Alabama. Nick Saban probably prefers it that way, and regardless of who’s at quarterback, Alabama will be in the mix for the national championship in 2023. The Crimson Tide will cruise past the Blue Raiders this week before next week’s showdown with Texas. Prediction: Alabama 55, MTSU 6.
North Carolina vs. South Carolina (+2.5). South Carolina was among the biggest surprises in the SEC a season ago, as Shane Beamer’s team finished with upset wins over Tennessee and Clemson, knocking both teams out of the playoff hunt. The Gamecocks are now on everyone’s radar, and USC starts the season against one of the top quarterbacks in the country in Drake Maye. It’s a tough opener for South Carolina, but one it is capable of winning on a neutral field. Prediction: North Carolina 34, South Carolina 31.

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