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Week 2 SEC Primer

By Matt Smith
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Matt Smith previews week two in the Southeastern Conference.

SEC Week 2 Primer

One week of SEC football is in the books. South Carolina and Tennessee are going to go 1-11 this season, and Alabama’s offense might be the best of all time.

Hyperbole? OK, maybe. The truth is that all of our Week 1 judgments could reverse course this weekend, as teams make adjustments based on playing an actual game for the first time in eight or nine months.

Week 2 brings us two outstanding non-conference matchups along with one SEC West game that won’t affect the race to the top, but should have a major impact on the race to the bottom. Two other SEC West teams are on mild upset alerts, while three 0-1 SEC East teams have winnable but challenging non-conference games.

14 teams. 13 games. Let’s break them down.

5 Things I Want to Know on Sunday Morning

1. Is this actually the LSU offense we’ve been yearning to see?

Joe Burrow tossed five touchdown passes a week ago in LSU’s rout of Georgia Southern, providing some hope for Tigers fans that this is finally the year when their team’s offense emerges from the caveman era when the offense was buttoned up and the head coach ate grass. Now comes the true test on Saturday night at Texas. The Longhorns will stress Burrow with a variety of pressures and held Georgia to just 284 yards of offense in the Sugar Bowl. If LSU hits 30 points, the ceiling for this team will raise even further.

2. How far away is Texas A&M from playoff contender status?

2020 is the big year in Texas. Democrats want to turn it blue, while Aggies fans expect to finally capitalize on their school’s $75 million investment in Jimbo Fisher. But could Texas A&M be ready to take that giant leap a year ahead of schedule? We’ll find out Saturday in Clemson, as the Tigers aim for their 17th straight win. Even just a repeat of last year’s 28-26 Clemson win in College Station would be a terrifying result for the rest of the SEC, Alabama included.

3. Which anemic SEC West offense clicks first?

Arkansas and Ole Miss combined for just 30 points in ugly Week 1 performances, as the Razorbacks slipped by national power Portland State, and the Rebels fell to a Memphis team with players not recruited by Penny Hardaway. Chad Morris’ group is in Year 2, while Rich Rodriguez appears to be having his usual Year 1 struggles so far in Oxford. The loser of this game will have a long road to the postseason, but a victory for either team helps create a navigable path to six wins.

4. Is there a carryover effect from Vanderbilt’s second-half play vs. Georgia?

The Commodores were out of the game early last week, as Georgia jumped to a 21-0 lead midway through the second quarter. However, Vanderbilt didn’t allow another touchdown, and a newly constructed secondary played well. The ‘Dores brutal early schedule now takes them to West Lafayette to face an annoyed Purdue team, coming off a horrible last-second loss at Nevada. The offense has to get going, but Vanderbilt should head north expecting to return to Nashville with its first win of the season.

5. Is there any resolve on Rocky Top?

Week 1’s punchline will be back in action on Saturday night when Tennessee welcomes BYU to Knoxville for the first ever meeting between the programs. The Vols have mostly said the right things this week after the debacle against Georgia State, but any forecasts for the rest of the season hinge on how Tennessee responds on the field. BYU has had two extra days to prepare. The Cougars are physically and mentally exhausting to play against. The crowd will be ornery (and legally consuming alcohol in the stadium for the first time ever). There are plenty of reasons to expect the Volunteers to be 0-2. Can they circle the wagons before the season officially sinks?

Trivia Time (answers below):
1. Who were the starting quarterbacks in Arkansas’ seven-overtime win at Ole Miss in 2001?

2. What two brothers were head coaches at Tulane and Auburn in the same seasons?

3. Tom Herman is 3-1 straight up as a home underdog. Who is the only road favorite to defeat him?

Previews and Predictions

West Virginia at Missouri (-13.5), Noon ET (ESPN2)

Announcers: Roy Philpott and Kelly Stouffer.

Of all the SEC East teams to lose in Week 1, the team I have the fewest concerns about is Missouri. Yes, the Tigers were pushed around in the trenches out in Wyoming, but unlike South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt, Missouri has a legitimate quarterback. Kelly Bryant wasn’t great, but he was pretty good in defeat, throwing for 423 yards a pair of touchdown passes. West Virginia limped past pesky James Madison (an FCS national title contender), as the offense under first-year head coach Neal Brown looks to be a slow build. This is the first of five straight home games for Missouri, and I expect the Tigers to win them all, starting with a comfortable victory on Saturday.

Prediction: Missouri 41, West Virginia 17

Charleston Southern at South Carolina (NL), Noon ET (SEC Network)

Announcers: Dave Neal and D.J. Shockley

True freshman Ryan Hilinksi makes his college debut on Saturday for the Gamecocks under center, as Jake Bentley will miss extended time with a foot injury. The matchup with the Buccaneers allows Hilinksi to ease into his college career before (gulp) Alabama comes to Columbia next week. It’s been a strange week in South Carolina, as the football team suffered a horrific loss to North Carolina, while the coastal region was battling a much tougher foe in Hurricane Dorian. This game will be ugly.

Prediction: South Carolina 34, Charleston Southern 7

Vanderbilt at Purdue (-6.5), Noon ET (BTN)

Announcers: Kevin Kugler and Matt Millen

Black and gold meets black and gold on Saturday in West Lafayette, as both the Commodores and Boilermakers attempt to forget Week 1 ever happened. This game features some future pros at the offensive skill positions, as Purdue sophomore wide receiver Rondale Moore will try to build on his 180 all-purpose yards performance against Nevada. Vanderbilt counters with its own trifecta, but quarterback play was a mess against Georgia, and the competition between Riley Neal and Deuce Wallace remains unsettled. I’m not expecting a lot of points, so I’ll reluctantly take the underdog to cover.

Prediction: Purdue 23, Vanderbilt 17

Southern Miss at Mississippi State (-16.5), 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPNU)

Announcers: Kevin Brown and Andre Ware

For the second straight week, the Bulldogs will battle with a mildly dangerous Group of Five team after last Saturday’s 10-point win over Louisiana. Southern Miss has hopes of a Conference USA title this season with an experienced offense that should have some success against a Bulldogs defense that showed last week how far it’s fallen from last year’s unit that led the nation in scoring defense. The Golden Eagles didn’t allow more than 30 points in any game last season, but that streak will come to an end in Starkville in another game that will never be in doubt but also never gets out of hand.

Prediction: Mississippi State 38, Southern Miss 24

(12) Texas A&M at (1) Clemson (-17), 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC)

Announcers: Sean McDonough and Todd Blackledge

The first of two titanic non-conference showdowns in the SEC takes place in Death Valley. Trevor Lawrence made his fair share of mistakes last week in the Tigers’ rout of Georgia Tech, but the challenge for Texas A&M remains having its secondary hold up against the Clemson passing game, especially without cornerback Debione Renfro still suspended. Kellen Mond might be the most underappreciated quarterback in the country, but that will change after Saturday. He won’t beat Lawrence, but he’ll spread the ball around to a deep group of receivers to keep this game interesting. The champions will produce too many big plays, with Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne showing why they’re likely All-Americans, but this will be a fun game.

Prediction: Clemson 38, Texas A&M 27

Murray State at (3) Georgia (NL), 4 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

Announcers: Beth Mowins and Anthony Becht

Murray, Kentucky is in the far southwest corner of the Bluegrass State. It’s named after former U.S. congressman John Murray. Murray State is nicknamed the Racers – a nod to the importance of horse racing in the state of Kentucky. The Racers have actually played in one bowl game – a 1949 Tangerine Bowl tie against mighty Sul Ross State. I’m sure they have a bunch of great kids on their team, and the school will take home $550,000 for its efforts on Saturday in Athens.

Prediction: Georgia 56, Murray State 6

New Mexico State at (2) Alabama (-55.5), 4 p.m. ET (SEC Network)

Announcers: Taylor Zarzour and Matt Stinchcomb

Alabama looked sluggish for a quarter in last week’s 42-3 win over Duke in Atlanta, but the offense came to life in the second quarter and was nearly flawless for the rest of the game. The Crimson Tide won’t be tested until the trip to Texas A&M in mid-October, so September will mostly be about fine-tuning a defense that is still inexperienced despite not allowing a touchdown last week, and keeping its offense healthy. The Aggies were 58-7 losers last week at Washington State. There is no way that happens again this week.

Prediction: Alabama 58, New Mexico State 7

BYU at Tennessee (-4), 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Announcers: Dave Pasch, Greg McElroy and Tom Luginbill

With daunting schedules ahead, this is one of a handful of games featuring SEC teams this week in which both teams are desperate for wins to maintain hopes of playing in the postseason. BYU doesn’t have the athletes to rattle Tennessee in space, but the Cougars are a nasty, physical group at the line of scrimmage, and that’s exactly where the Vols broke down last week. Tennessee failed to properly deploy its skill position talent against Georgia State, as running back Ty Chandler and wide receiver Marquez Callaway combined for just 10 touches. Like the leg lamp in A Christmas Story, the Volunteers are simply too fragile for me to pick them to win.

Prediction: BYU 23, Tennessee 21

Tulane at (10) Auburn (-17), 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

Announcers: Jason Benetti and Rod Gilmore

These two teams won games in very different manners last week. The Green Wave were expected to be in a 60-minute battle with FIU, but instead they pantsed the Panthers, 42-14. Auburn, as you may have heard, led for only nine seconds against Oregon, but it was the final nine seconds. With Tulane’s option-heavy offense, this will be a challenge for Auburn coming off of an emotional game. The best way to combat that offense is with a great defensive line, and the Tigers certainly have that. I think Bo Nix struggles just enough in his encore act to keep this game under the number.

Prediction: Auburn 30, Tulane 14

Tennessee-Martin at (11) Florida (NL), 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPNU)

Announcers: Mike Corey and Rene Ingoglia

After an idle week, the Gators are back in action Saturday night against a school best known for being the alma mater of women’s basketball legend Pat Summitt. Florida is in the middle of a ten-game stretch of home games dating back to last season’s opener in which four of the ten games are against FCS opponents. That’s not great for attendance for a fanbase that has some fair-weather tendencies. As for the game, Florida must clean up its tackling after a pathetic display two weeks ago against Miami (FL). This is a game to focus on fundamentals before a big test next week at Kentucky.

Prediction: Florida 49, Tennessee-Martin 7

Arkansas at Ole Miss (-6.5), 7:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network)

Announcers: Tom Hart, Jordan Rodgers and Cole Cubelic

These teams, despite spending most of the last half of this decade in the SEC West basement, have played some very entertaining games, including last year’s 37-33 Rebels come-from-behind victory in Little Rock. The Hogs will be looking for their third straight win in Oxford, while the Ole Miss is hoping to end a seven-game losing streak in SEC home games. Both defenses seem somewhat competent, although Arkansas wasn’t really tested against Portland State. The offenses are another story. The line is too high to not take the points in a game where scoring should be at a premium, but I’ll call for Ole Miss to get a win that head coach Matt Luke has to have.

Prediction: Ole Miss 20, Arkansas 17

Eastern Michigan at Kentucky (-15), 7:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network Alt.)

Announcers: Mike Morgan and Hutson Mason

For a while, it looked like the Wildcats would join the large group of SEC East teams losing in Week 1, but Kentucky pulled away from a good Toledo team in the fourth quarter. Another MAC foe arrives in Lexington this week in Eastern Michigan, which 52 weeks ago went to Purdue and upset the Boilermakers. The Eagles are capable of repeating what happened last September, but Mark Stoops’ team has embraced the big moments over the past few seasons. Expect another competitive game, but the ‘Cats will again close strong.

Prediction: Kentucky 33, Eastern Michigan 20

(6) LSU (-6.5) at (9) Texas 7:30 p.m. ET (ABC)

Announcers: Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit

This is as good of a matchup as we’ll see all season in college football. It will be chippy. It will be physical. It will be electric. It also means a whole heck of a lot. Neither Joe Burrow nor Sam Ehlinger is the prettiest passer in the world, but they’re gritty quarterbacks that are going to get up and punch back after every hit. Texas might have discovered a secret weapon last week in wide receiver Brennan Eagles, who caught two touchdown passes in last week’s win over Louisiana Tech after having just one reception as a freshman. The Longhorns now must deal with the nation’s best secondary, however. LSU will start fast before Ehlinger rallies the ‘Horns back in front, but this Tigers team will come through in crunch time and might finally be the one that finally lives up to lofty expectations.

Prediction: LSU 31, Texas 20

Best Bets

Last Week: 0-5, -15 Musburgers

San Diego State +8 at UCLA – 5 Musburgers

FIU -7.5 vs. Western Kentucky – 4 Musburgers

North Texas +3.5 at SMU – 3 Musburgers

Fresno State +3 vs. Minnesota – 2 Musburgers

Bowling Green +24 at Kansas State – 1 Musburger

Trivia Answers
1.     Matt Jones (Arkansas) and Eli Manning (Ole Miss)

2.     Tommy Bowden (Tulane) and Terry Bowden (Auburn), 1997-1998

3.     Oklahoma State (2017)

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.