The first week of action in the SEC features an interesting slate of games. South Carolina-Vanderbilt open conference play on Thursday night, while Auburn and Alabama have a chance to earn key non-conference victories on Saturday. Tennessee takes on NC State on Friday night, and Kentucky travels to in-state rival Louisville on Sunday.
SEC's Top Storylines to Watch in Week 1
1. What can Alabama do to slow down Denard Robinson?
Robinson will be the most dangerous offensive player Alabama will face this season. But Michigan’s senior quarterback has struggled throwing the ball against elite defenses — he completed 9-of-24 against Michigan State and 9-of-21 against Virginia Tech last season — and Alabama will make the man called Shoelace prove that can he move the ball by throwing it downfield. I would expect Nick Saban, Kirby Smart & Co. will make it very difficult for Robinson to pick up large chunks of yards on ground. Sure, Robinson will make some plays scrambling out of the pocket, but I’d be surprised if he has much success on designed running plays.
2. Can Tennessee get its ground game going?
Recently, much has been made about the dismissal of All-SEC wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers, but the focus for Tennessee has to be on the running game. Last season, the Vols ranked last in the SEC in rushing and averaged an anemic 2.3 yards per carry vs. conference foes. That simply has to improve. It’s very difficult to beat good teams if you can’t run the ball — no matter how potent you might be in the passing game. There is talent on the offensive line, but the group has underachieved in recent years. New position coach Sam Pittman, formerly of North Carolina, must get his linemen to play with more physicality if the Vols are to show significant improvement in the running game.
3. Kiehl Frazier makes his first start for Auburn
Frazier was hand-picked by former Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn to run Malzahn’s no-huddle attack. Well, Malzahn is now the head coach at Arkansas State, and Scot Loefler — who runs a pro-style offense — is calling the plays at Auburn. Frazier played in every game last year but was used almost exclusively as a runner. He attempted only five passes (completing two) while running the ball 76 times for 327 yards. It will be interesting to see how much Frazier is asked to do Saturday night vs. Clemson at the Georgia Dome.
4. Florida’s quarterback derby
Will Muschamp announced earlier this week that both quarterbacks — Jacoby Brisett and Jeff Driskel — will play Saturday vs. Bowling Green. One will play the first quarter and the other will play in the second quarter. At the half, Muschamp and offensive coordinator Brent Pease will decide who plays the rest of the way. This doesn’t sound promising, but don’t forget that Alabama was in a similar situation last season. AJ McCarron and Philip Sims both played against Kent State in the opener, allowing the staff to get a look at each quarterback in game situations. McCarron was tabbed the starter for Week 2 and went on to enjoy an outstanding season. Could it happen in Gainesville?
5. James Franklin’s right shoulder
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel has assured us that Franklin, his standout junior quarterback, will be completely recovered from surgery on his throwing shoulder in the spring. Franklin has looked good in preseason camp and is said to be making all the throws. Still, he needs to prove he can get it done in a real game, so it’s important that Franklin plays well Saturday night against Southeastern Louisiana. Missouri will no doubt win the game and roll up a ton of yards, but keep an eye on Franklin. If he is truly 100 percent, the Tigers will have an opportunity to knock off Georgia in the program’s first-ever SEC game in Week 2.
6. Kentucky’s rushing yards
How important is it for Kentucky to run the ball well vs. Louisville? Well consider the following: The team that has won the rushing battle has won the last 13 Kentucky-Louisville games. Also, the Wildcats are 8–0 under Joker Phillips when rushing for 200-plus yards. UK ranked 90th in the nation and 11th in the SEC in rushing last season, but the coaching staff believes the 2012 Cats will be much-improved on the ground thanks to the return of veterans CoShik Williams, Raymond Sanders and Jonathan George.
7. Zach Mettenberger’s first start
When he signed with Georgia as a 4-star recruit in 2009, Mettenberger probably didn’t think it would be four years before he would be starting his first game in the FBS ranks. But that is the reality for the 6-5, 230-pound fourth-year junior who arrived at LSU after a stop at Butler (Kan.) Community College. The strong-armed Mettenberger could be the missing link on an offense that struggled to throw the ball against quality competition last season. The Tigers boast one of the nation’s top offensive lines, are loaded at tailback, and feature some quality young weapons at wide receiver. If Mettenberger plays well, this offense will be very difficult to stop.
8. Georgia starting a true freshman at right tackle
The Bulldogs are the popular pick to repeat in the SEC East, but this still a team with some issues heading into the 2012 season. The biggest concern could be on the offensive line, where Georgia must replace three seniors. This weekend, all eyes will be on John Theus, a true freshman who will get the start at right tackle. There will obviously be more difficult tests down the road, but Buffalo features some decent talent on defense, especially on its front seven. It’s a safe bet that UB defensive coordinator Lou Tepper — yes, the former Illinois head coach is still around — will try to confuse Theus and the Dawgs’ offensive line.
Week 1 SEC Predictions
Week 1 SEC Predictions
South Carolina (-8) at Vanderbilt
South Carolina 28-14
South Carolina 31-21
South Carolina 27-24
South Carolina 28-24
Tennessee (-3) vs. NC State (Atlanta)
NC State 17-14
NC State 31-27
Buffalo at Georgia (-38)
Bowling Green at Florida (-29)
SE Louisiana at Missouri
Jacksonville State at Arkansas
Clemson (-3) vs. Auburn (Atlanta)
North Texas at LSU (-43)
Central Arkansas at Ole Miss
Ole Miss 24-13
Ole Miss 24-7
Ole Miss 38-10
Ole Miss 30-7
Jackson State at Mississippi State
Mississippi State 28-10
Mississippi State 35-10
Mississippi State 40-10
Mississippi State 41-10
Michigan vs. Alabama (-13.5) (Arlington)
Kentucky at Louisville (-13)
by Mitch Light
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