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SEC Primer: Week Two

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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Looking ahead to week two in the SEC.

The Vitals

Eastern Kentucky at Kentucky, Noon ET (SEC Network)
Announcers: Taylor Zarzour and Andre Ware

UT-Martin at Ole Miss, Noon ET (SEC Network Alternate)
Announcers: Mike Morgan and Barrett Jones

(23) TCU at Arkansas, 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS)
Announcers: Brad Nessler and Gary Danielson

Fresno State at (1) Alabama, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Announcers: Adam Amin and Anthony Becht

Indiana State at (25) Tennessee, 4 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
Announcers: Dave Neal and Matt Stinchcomb

Alabama A&M at Vanderbilt, 4 p.m. ET (SEC Network Alternate)
Announcers: Mark Neely and Jay Walker

(13) Auburn at (3) Clemson, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Announcers: Steve Levy, Brian Griese and Todd McShay

South Carolina at Missouri, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Announcers: Anish Shroff and Mike Golic Jr.

Nicholls State at Texas A&M, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Announcers: Roy Philpott and Tom Ramsey

(15) Georgia at (24) Notre Dame, 7:30 p.m. ET (NBC)
Announcers: Mike Tirico and Doug Flutie

Chattanooga at (12) LSU, 7:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
Announcers: Tom Hart, Jordan Rodgers and Cole Cubelic

Mississippi State at Louisiana Tech, 7:30 p.m. ET (CBSSN)
Announcers; Carter Blackburn and Aaron Taylor

Northern Colorado at Florida was cancelled due to Hurricane Irma.

5 Things I Want to Know

1. Is Jake Fromm ready for primetime?

Playing at home against Appalachian State is one thing. Playing on the road at Notre Dame is a whole different kind of challenge for Fromm in his first career start. The prized true freshman quarterback has the luxury of a strong running game and an excellent defense, but Georgia isn’t good enough to win in South Bend without effective and protective management from Fromm. Expect Notre Dame to load the box frequently and make Fromm earn his yards. The Fighting Irish aren’t the ’85 Bears by any stretch, so while this is a big ask, it doesn’t feel like Fromm will be swallowed up by either stage or opponent.

2. Can the Auburn defense repeat last year’s performance against Clemson?

Clemson won the national championship last season, but it also wasn’t far from an 0-1 start after surviving a defensive struggle with Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium. There’s no Deshaun Watson for the SEC’s Tigers to worry about this year, but the ACC’s Tigers looked just fine without him last week, albeit against hapless Kent State. The Auburn defense lacks a nationally-known star, but there also isn’t a spot for Kelly Bryant and Clemson to exploit. Unlike last season, Auburn should be able to crack the 20-point mark, meaning a repeat performance of last year’s 19-10 loss could be enough for a monumental road win.

3. Can Arkansas’ offensive line be dominant again?

Last year’s Razorbacks did not resemble what we’ve come to expect from a Bret Bielema team, and last Thursday’s 49-7 win over Florida A&M, despite the Hogs running for 236 yards, did little to validate that 2016 was just a one-year blip. TCU head coach Gary Patterson is one of the sport’s great defensive minds, so Arkansas will have its work cut out for it against a Horned Frogs team smarting from an overtime defeat last season in Fort Worth. It was a terrible Jackson State team, but TCU’s defense held the Tigers to just 24 yards on 42 carries last week.

4. Can either South Carolina or Missouri hold the other under 40 points?

This game has the highest over-under of the week (73), a far cry from their game two years ago in Columbia (Missouri) that featured the conference’s two worst offenses. Quarterbacks Jake Bentley and Drew Lock were brilliant last week – the former against a much tougher opponent (N.C. State) than the latter (Missouri State). The Tigers have the better running game, but the Gamecocks appear to have slightly more of a pulse defensively. Expect plenty of fireworks with an occasional punt.

5. Will Mississippi State avoid a lookahead game?

Mississippi State has a busy week ahead – first on Monday with starting linebacker Leo Lewis’ expected appearance at the Ole Miss NCAA Committee on Infractions hearing, before building up to next Saturday’s huge SEC opener at home against LSU. Before all that comes a dangerous road trip to Louisiana Tech, which has won 27 games over the past three seasons and lost by just a single point last year at Arkansas. The host Bulldogs are young on offense, while the visitors from Starkville held Charleston Southern without a trip into opposing territory last week.

Trivia Time (answers below):

1.     Since the SEC went do divisional play in 1992, what three SEC teams, in the SEC at the time of the game, have played a road game at South Bend?
2.     Who is the last SEC team to defeat a non-SEC defending national champion?
3.     TCU and Arkansas have produced only one Heisman Trophy winner between them. Who was it?

Predictions

Last Week: 11-3 SU, 10-3-1 ATS

Eastern Kentucky at Kentucky (NL): The Wildcats were sluggish offensively in last week’s win at Southern Miss and now get a week to work out the kinks before SEC play begins next week at South Carolina. The Colonels aren’t just an FCS team, but a bad FCS team, going 3-8 last season. Kentucky 38, Eastern Kentucky 7.

Tennessee-Martin at Ole Miss (NL): Ole Miss’ offense looks just as lethal as it did under Hugh Freeze. A visit from the Skyhawks, which went 5-7 last season, won’t do much to lower expectations. Rebels fans should enjoy The Grove, as the team won’t be back in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium until mid-October. Ole Miss 49, Tennessee-Martin 10.

TCU (-3) at Arkansas: This game is flying under the radar, but could be one of the best games of the week. TCU quarterback Kenny Hill is somehow still in college, and he’ll return to an SEC stadium for the first time since leaving Texas A&M after the 2014 season. The Horned Frogs want to avenge last year’s heartbreaking loss at home, and they’ll turn the tables on the Razorbacks in a fun, back-and-forth affair. TCU 38, Arkansas 31.

Fresno State at Alabama (-43): Nick Saban loves to use these games to yell at his team. A row of goose eggs on the scoreboard will give him little ammunition, but he’ll undoubtedly come up with something to annoy him. Alabama 41, Fresno State 0.

Indiana State at Tennessee (NL): A short week for the Volunteers offers the perfect opponent, as Tennessee should be able to get backup quarterback Jarrett Guarantano some work against the Larry Bird-less Sycamores. Break a sweat, avoid injuries, and get ready for Florida. Tennessee 49, Indiana State 14.

Alabama A&M at Vanderbilt (NL): The Commodores were surprisingly dominant last week against Middle Tennessee, and now get a tune-up before a brutal four-game gauntlet that begins next week against Kansas State. The Bulldogs lost 38-7 to UAB last week in the Blazers’ first game back since suspending their program in 2014, so this one is going to get ugly. Vanderbilt 55, Alabama A&M 10.

Auburn at Clemson (-5.5): The defending national champions haven’t lost in September since 2011, when ironically enough, Clemson defeated Auburn. Will the situation be reversed on Saturday night in Death Valley? It will look that way for three quarters, as Jarrett Stidham and the Auburn passing game will use the air to overcome a disadvantage in the trenches. The hearts of the champions will prevail late, however, as Clemson survives a game in which it’ll barely lead. Clemson 27, Auburn 23.

South Carolina at Missouri (-2.5): It’s the wild, wacky shootout that nobody will see because it’s buried in the loaded primetime window opposite four Top 25 matchups. South Carolina was the more impressive team last week, but I really think this Missouri offense could be something special. The Tigers defense will play with fire after being embarrassed last week, forcing a couple critical mistakes from Jake Bentley to swing the game in favor of the home team. Missouri 40, South Carolina 35.

Nicholls at Texas A&M (NL): Like last week, Texas A&M will build a huge lead. Unlike last week, Texas A&M will maintain its huge lead. Nicholls had its shot at an SEC upset last year in a 26-24 loss to Georgia. This time around, forget about it. Texas A&M 52, Nicholls 10.

Georgia at Notre Dame (-4.5): The second monster game of the day in the SEC features two head coaches in desperate need of a signature win. Notre Dame’s defense doesn’t have the talent of its offense, but are Georgia’s unproven offensive line and quarterback capable of taking advantage? Offensively, the Fighting Irish can be dominant on the ground and have a big receiving corps that dwarfs the Bulldogs secondary. This game will swing on Notre Dame’s ability to make some hay in the running game against a nasty Georgia defense coupled with Jake Fromm going through the growing pains that will come with his first road start. Notre Dame 27, Georgia 20.

Chattanooga at LSU (NL): Of the six FCS opponents (gross) for the SEC this week, the Mocs are the most formidable, having made the FCS playoffs in 2016. They won’t be scared of Tiger Stadium after having played at Alabama last November. LSU didn’t reveal much last week against BYU, and this week will be more of the same before the curtain finally comes up next week in Starkville. LSU 45, Chattanooga 6.

Mississippi State (-8.5) at Louisiana Tech: The Bulldogs are no stranger to quirky road games, having gone to Massachusetts, South Alabama, Troy and UAB in recent seasons. Louisiana Tech is a top-tier Conference USA team, but appears to be a notch below the team that beat Navy and Western Kentucky and nearly upset Arkansas last season. After having dominated inferior opponents in his first seven seasons, last year’s defeat to South Alabama was a wake-up call for Dan Mullen and Mississippi State. The visiting Bulldogs will take care of business this time around without too much trouble. Mississippi State 42, Louisiana Tech 24.

Best Bets

Last Week: 3-2

Michigan State -7.5 vs. Western Michigan
Stanford +6 vs. USC
Pittsburgh +21 at Penn State
West Virginia -24.5 vs. East Carolina
Boise State +10 at Washington State


Trivia Answers

1.     LSU (L, 39-36 in 1998), Tennessee (W, 28-18 in 2001 and L, 41-21 in 2005), and Vanderbilt (L, 41-0 in 1995)
2.     1992 Alabama (def. Miami (FL) in 1993 Sugar Bowl)
3.     TCU QB Davey O’Brien (1938)

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.