In & around SEC football: Week 2

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By Cole Frederick/ Sports Correspondent 

Auburn Week 1 recap
The Hugh Freeze era began last week with a resounding 59-14 victory over UMass on The Plains. The Tigers looked like a completely different team than the one that took the field in 2022. Auburn outgained the Minutemen 492-30 and did it with a balanced offensive attack. Michigan State transfer Payton Thorne threw for 141 yards and a touchdown, while Robby Ashford rushed for three touchdowns and 51 yards as the Tigers’ red zone threat at quarterback. Sean Jackson, Damari Alston and Jeremiah Cobb each ran for a touchdown, while Jay Fair hauled in five passes for 56 yards and a touchdown. Auburn (1-0) travels to Berkeley, California this Saturday (Sept. 9) to take on Cal.
Alabama Week 1 recap
The Crimson Tide cruised to a 56-7 win over Middle Tennessee State last week. Jalen Milroe was stellar as the starting quarterback in accounting for five total touchdowns, including three through the air and two on the ground. Milroe, who won the starting quarterback job over Ty Simpson and Notre Dame transfer Tyler Buchner, is one more quality performance away from securing the job for the year. Alabama (1-0) outgained the Blue Raiders 431 to 211, won the turnover battle at 2-0 and was penalized only twice. It was a clean performance, and UA will need an even better one this Saturday when Texas visits Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Week 2 SEC rankings
1. Georgia (1-0)
2. Alabama (1-0)
3. LSU (0-1)
4. Texas A&M (1-0)
5. Ole Miss (1-0)
6. Kentucky (1-0)
7. Tennessee (1-0)
8. Arkansas (1-0)
9. Auburn (1-0)
10. Mississippi State (1-0)
11. Missouri (1-0)
12. South Carolina (0-1)
13. Florida (0-1)
14. Vanderbilt (2-0)
Week 2 Previews and Predictions
Last week: 11-0
Game of the Week: Texas at Alabama (-7). Alabama barely escaped its matchup with Texas in Austin a season ago, and it was a sign of things to come for a team that relied too heavily on Bryce Young to carry the offense. While Jalen Milroe is not as talented as Young, he is capable of running an old-school Alabama offense that tries to bully teams at the line of scrimmage. That’s likely what the Tide will try to do to the Longhorns on Saturday night. Nick Saban will rely on his defense to stifle Quinn Ewers and the Texas offense as long as Milroe and Co. take care of the ball and control the clock. Prediction: Alabama 27, Texas 17.
Vanderbilt at Wake Forest (-10). The Commodores are 2-0 to start the season as Clark Lea tries to build Van-derbilt into a consistent winner. Vandy has a legitimate chance of starting 4-0 if it can pull off an upset on the road. Wake Forest is very well coached under Dave Clawson, but the team lost quarterback Sam Hartman to Notre Dame in the transfer portal, and the Demon Deacon offense is not nearly as explosive without him. Prediction: Vanderbilt 26, Wake Forest 23.
Ball State at Georgia (-42). The two-time defending national champs open the season with a handful of cupcakes before conference play begins, which gives new quarterback Carson Beck a couple of weeks of game experience. Prediction: Georgia 49, Ball State 10.
Eastern Kentucky at Kentucky. It took the Wild-cats a few quarters to wake up, but they eventually pulled away in a season-opening win over Ball State last week. Quarterback Devin Leary looked more comfortable in the second half running the Kentucky offense and has two more weeks of easy competition before SEC games begin. Prediction: Kentucky 55, Eastern Kentucky 13.
Ole Miss at Tulane (+7.5). Lane Kiffin has another high-octane offense, and his Rebels are traveling to New Orleans for a very challenging matchup with the Tulane. Willie Fritz led the 2022 Green Wave to a 12-2 season and Cotton Bowl victory over USC, and quarterback Michael Pratt returns for an encore. Ole Miss led by star running back Quinshon Judkins. This will likely be a shootout in The Big Easy. Prediction: Ole Miss 45, Tulane 34.
Texas A&M at Miami (+4). Both the Aggies and Hurricanes endured disappointing seasons in 2022, and this matchup could go a long way in determining how the year goes for the winner and the loser. A&M eked out a win at home a year ago and has the more talented squad in this matchup. If the Aggies are going to contend for the SEC West Division crown, this is the type of game Jimbo Fisher must win. Prediction: Texas A&M 28, Miami 23.
Kent State at Arkansas (-38). The Razorbacks are easing into the 2023 season with a couple of easy games, but quarterback K.J. Jefferson looked superb in the team’s season-opening win. If Jefferson continues to play at a high level, Arkansas will be a tough out in the SEC West. Prediction: Arkansas 52, Kent State 6.
Austin Peay at Tennessee. UT picked up right where it left off offensively from last year’s record-breaking season, as Joe Milton and the Volunteers dominated Virginia last week. The competition gets much tougher after this weekend’s cupcake game, however. Prediction: Tennessee 59, Austin Peay 16.
Grambling at LSU. Expected to be a playoff contender this season, the Tigers did not live up to expectations in last week’s 45-24 loss to Florida State. Brian Kelly’s team can certainly regroup and contend for the SEC title, but LSU must improve on both sides of the ball to return to Atlanta in December. Prediction: LSU 55, Grambling 9.
McNeese State at Florida. Billy Napier’s team struggled on the road in a season-opening loss to Utah, and the schedule gets even tougher after this week. It could be a long year for the Gators unless Graham Mertz can take the Florida offense to another level. Prediction: Florida 45, McNeese 3.
Arizona at Mississippi State (-9). Zach Arnett won his debut game over Southeast Louisiana last week. The schedule toughens up as an underrated Arizona squad visits Starkville. The Bulldogs should handle the Wildcats at the line of scri-mmage, but this game could quickly turn into a shootout given the potency of both offenses. Prediction: Mississippi State 41, Arizona 34.
Furman at South Carolina. The Gamecocks stru-ggled in a loss to North Carolina last week, but the Tar Heels are a quality opponent, and that defeat does not undo the progress Shane Beamer made at the end of last season. South Carolina will not be an easy out in the SEC. Prediction: South Carolina 48, Furman 17.
Auburn at Cal (+6.5). Hugh Freeze faces his first test as Auburn head coach as the Tigers travel out west for late kickoff on the Pacific coast. Cal has struggled in recent years in the Pac-12, but Justin Wilcox is a great defensive coach who will have his team prepared for the Auburn offense. The Tigers will struggle against teams that can run the ball effectively, and Cal rushed for almost 350 yards in last week’s win over North Texas. This will not be easy for Auburn, and it’s a game Freeze needs to win early in his tenure. Prediction: Auburn 31, Cal 24.

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