Saturday, Sept. 18
Arkansas (2–0, 0–0) at Georgia (1–1, 0–1)
Georgia’s Mark Richt knowingly turned up the heat on himself and his team this week. This is a big one for a coach whose job security could soon become an issue if things go south. But there’s still some leeway. And, fortunately for Richt, there’s still quite a bit of talent on the field for him. Freshman quarterback Aaron Murray looks legit, and Richt has vowed to give him more opportunities. Now, if Georgia could just get go-to guy A.J. Green back from suspension. Washaun Ealey and the team’s tight ends will need to come up big in this one.
The good news for those players, and the rest of the Bulldogs offense, is that they’re going against, in effect, the same defense that surrendered 400 yards per game a year ago. Arkansas’ D, though, has built its confidence early on by scheduling Tennessee Tech and Louisiana-Monroe. In fact, the Hogs are currently fourth in the country in total defense. Even without Green, the Razorbacks should come back down to earth in this one. Georgia’s defense was embarrassed last weekend in Columbia. It’ll want to prove something with legit Heisman contender Ryan Mallett coming to town. But Mallett and his incredible set of receivers might have something to say about UGA’s defensive retribution.
Vanderbilt (0–2, 0–1) at Ole Miss (1–1, 0–0)
11:21 a.m. CT
TV: SEC Network
Boggling the mind, Ole Miss has dropped six consecutive SEC openers. Boggling the brain even more, it’s lost 15 of its last 17 SEC openers. Not strong out of the gate, the Rebels. Good news, Ole Miss fans (no, Ackbar wasn’t approved): The last win in an opener came in 2003, against Vanderbilt. The Commodores try to help the trend again in 2010.
Jeremiah Masoli says he’s pumped to get going in SEC play. (Still wonder if he’s watching Oregon, what it did at Tennessee and thinking of what might have been.) Houston Nutt has turned over the keys to Masoli, for better or worse. Well, come to think of it, it can’t get worse than Jacksonville State. (And last week against Tulane wasn’t much better.) At least the Rebels are easing, ever so gently, into their schedule. Vanderbilt has coach Robbie Caldwell’s fighting spirit, but not much beyond that. It’ll hang around, but not much beyond that.
Florida (2–0, 0–0) at Tennessee (1–1, 0–0)
3:30 p.m. ET
For the second straight week, Tennessee is a double-digit underdog at home — two TDs-plus, to be specific. Oregon had no problem covering. How about Florida? There are fewer reasons to believe the Gators will run roughshod over the Vols the way Oregon did. Perhaps this is a law-of-averages sensation on Vegas’ part? Perhaps the books presume Florida has to get it going at some point, and why not in its SEC opener? Seems reasonable. Again, too much talent for these Gators to stay bogged down. They still need to find a legit running threat, and they might have it in Mike Gillislee, though time will tell.
Tennessee has its showering issues behind it, so the Vols have that going for them. Derek Dooley has coached them up in that regard. The summer brawl matter is also behind the team. Got to find the positives in Knoxville these days. Tauren Poole is one. With Poole running, the Vols will do their best to play keepaway from Florida’s offense and see if they can linger into the third and fourth quarters. It’s important that UT shows some fight; that was an issue last week as Oregon scored the final 45 points.
Alabama (2–0) at Duke (1–1)
3:30 p.m. ET
Struggling to understand why Alabama is playing this one, on the road? You’re not alone. Maybe Nick Saban has a Raleigh-area prospect he’s trying to attract? Maybe he wants to hang with Coach K on gameday eve? Who freaking knows. Mark Ingram could return for this one, but why? Save him until you need him. Oh, that’s right. You don’t need him, really. Trent Richardson is Ingram v. 2.0. Look for Ingram to sit one more week, waiting for SEC play to begin his season. Redshirt freshman Eddie Lacy — the team’s third back — would probably start at most SEC schools. And certainly Duke.
This’ll likely be another starters-play-a-half game for the Tide. Duke gave up 500 yards and 54 points to Wake in a 54–48 shootout that had more fast-break points than some games at Cameron. Of course, the Blue Devils did manage 487 yards and those 48 points. So perhaps they’ll at least have something offensively that Alabama will have to account for, which is more than Penn State could say a week ago. Sean Renfree threw for 358 yards and four scores, while Desmond Scott had 122 yards on the ground.
Akron (0–2) at Kentucky (2–0)
7 p.m. ET
The wait continues for Kentucky to play someone. Cats get half a break for Louisville, since its rival is a bit better. But following with Western Kentucky and Akron? Yeesh. At least Kentucky is doing what it’s supposed to, beating up on these opponents. The UK offense had a little bit of everything in scoring 63 points against WKU. Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke are a terrifically versatile 1-2 punch. Mike Hartline has done nothing to regress and give the job away to Morgan Newton.
But, again, it’s difficult to know much about Kentucky. Defense will be the question mark in the SEC season (it heads to Florida next week), and it’s worth noting that UK did surrender a touchdown in each quarter to the woeful Hilltoppers. Let’s see how the D fares against the equally woeful Zips.
Furman (1–0) at South Carolina (2–0)
7 p.m. ET
TV: South Carolina PPV
The Gamecocks became the nation’s darlings, it seems, with just one win against Georgia. After two games, Marcus Lattimore is on everyone’s radar for the Heisman, even if he’s a faint blip on the corner of the screen. Lattimore did look terrific breaking tackle after tackle against Georgia, but, as Steve Spurrier said Tuesday, one game doesn’t make a career. Still, the sudden presence of a running game — South Carolina had been last in rushing in the SEC in each of the past three seasons — is making people believe in the Gamecocks. Stephen Garcia hasn’t gotten going yet, and that should scare the league. Pair an on-target Garcia with Lattimore, and Spurrier might finally have the offense the South has awaited.
If you think Furman will roll over for the Gamecocks, you might want to think twice. The Paladins are ranked in the FCS poll. Also, South Carolina has been in dogfights in recent years with in-state FCS teams. South Carolina State pushed the Gamecocks some last season, and Wofford has nearly beaten them twice in the past few seasons.
Clemson (2–0) at Auburn (2–0)
7 p.m. CT
This might be the most intriguing game on the docket Saturday. (ESPN’s GameDay evidently thought so.) The programs — and schools — mirror one another. Both Tigers, obviously. Famed writer Lewis Grizzard once quipped that Clemson was “Auburn with a lake.” Apropos. Interesting, too, that Auburn hosts the state of South Carolina’s two top programs, Clemson and South Carolina, in consecutive weeks. Eyes in Columbia, obviously, will be trained on this game.
Cam Newton let his legs again do the work in helping Auburn (barely) get past Mississippi State in the SEC opener. The defense kept the Bulldogs off the scoreboard, but it still has some issues. But, without a playmaker like C.J. Spiller, does Clemson have anything to really frighten Auburn? The Tigers (without a lake) got good news this week: All-SEC tackle Lee Ziemba’s knee is OK and he should play this week. Back Mario Fannin is expected to be good to go, as well. Tigers win a close one … tune in to see which ones.
Mississippi State (1–1, 0–1) at LSU (2–0, 1–0)
7 p.m. CT
Telling at all that LSU has been on ESPNU two consecutive weeks? The Tigers are now third and fourth down the pecking order of the network’s games. Les Miles’ living-on-a-prayer season continues. LSU pulled away from Vanderbilt a week ago, but looked about as bad doing it as the Tigers did the week before in letting North Carolina sneak back into that ballgame.
The game’s in Baton Rouge — LSU’s first home game so far — but Mississippi State could easily come into Tiger Stadium and hush those loyal fans. In guys such as Chad Bumphis, Dan Mullen has speed — something that was a rather foreign concept in Starkville prior to his arrival. The Bulldogs’ defense (and LSU’s mostly sorry offense) will keep Mississippi State in this one. Don’t be surprised if the Fightin’ Cowbells bring home a ‘W.’