South Carolina’s trip to Georgia highlights the Week 2 slate in the SEC. Also, Florida heads to South Florida to play at Miami, and Tennessee hosts Western Kentucky in an intriguing battle of first-year head coaches. In addition, two SEC coaches will be facing their former schools — Auburn’s Gus Malzahn plays host to Arkansas State, and Missouri’s Gary Pinkel takes on Toledo.
1. South Carolina (+3) at Georgia (4:30 ET, ESPN)
Georgia received some bad (though not unexpected) news on Sunday when standout wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell was diagnosed with a torn ACL. Mitchell, who played both ways last season, was expected to be a difference-maker on a great Georgia offense. The Bulldogs, however, still have plenty of talent — they averaged 7.8 yards per play in the loss to Clemson, which was higher than their 7.1 yards that led the nation in 2012. Don’t worry: This team will still score plenty of points. South Carolina was efficient in its weather-delayed 27–10 win over North Carolina. The Gamecocks showed some big-play ability — Connor Shaw hit Shaq Roland for 65 yards on USC’s first possession — and were productive on the ground. They will need to be balanced on offense against a Georgia defense that played relatively well in Week 1 against an elite Clemson offense.
2. Florida (-3) at Miami (12 ET, ESPN)
Miami plays host to the Gators for the first time since 2003, when Larry Coker and Ron Zook were roaming the sidelines for their respective schools. Florida was terrific on defense in its 24–6 win over Toledo in Week 1. The Gators limited a very good (and very experienced) offense to 205 total yards and allowed the Rockets to convert only 1-of-13 on third down. Florida was underwhelming on offense, but it was clear the staff chose to keep things pretty basic. Jeff Driskel completed 17-of-22 passes but only threw for 153 yards and did not have a completion longer than 26 yards. Miami had no trouble with Florida Atlantic in its opener, rolling to a 34–6 win over the Owls. Duke Johnson rushed for 186 yards on 19 carries to lead a balanced attack.
3. Western Kentucky (+13.5) at Tennessee (12:21 ET, SEC Network)
There was nothing fluky about Western Kentucky’s 35–26 win against Kentucky. The Hilltoppers, who rolled up 216 yards rushing and 271 yards passing, were the better team. Now, however, the challenge becomes greater for Bobby Petrino’s club. Tennessee is rebuilding but is still far more talented than Kentucky — on both sides of the ball. The Vols feature an NFL-caliber offensive line and have some nice parts on what should be an improved defense. Expect to see heavy doses of tailbacks Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane, who combined for 179 yards on 22 carries against an overmatched Austin Peay team. Western Kentucky struggled to slow Kentucky’s rushing attack, especially in the first half (174 yards on 18 attempts). Tennessee will take advantage of this mismatch and run for 250-plus yards.
4. Arkansas State (+13) at Auburn (7:30 ET, Fox Sports Net)
It’s possible that Auburn’s Week 2 opponent (Arkansas State) has more talent than its Week 1 opponent (Washington State). The Red Wolves are solid at quarterback with Adam Kennedy, a transfer from Utah State, and outstanding at tailback with David Oku, a former Tennessee Vol. The wild card on offense could be Fredi Knighten, who ran for 101 yards (one of four Red Wolves to top the 100-yard mark) and two touchdowns on three carries against Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Knighten is listed as a quarterback but has been used primarily as a tailback. He could see some Wildcat looks this week. Auburn opened the Gus Malzahn era with a 31–24 win over Washington State. Nick Marshall did some good things in his debut at quarterback, but he only averaged 3.0 yards per carry and 5.2 yards per passing attempt. Those numbers will have to improve.
5. Toledo (+17) at Missouri (3:30 ET, ESPNU)
Missouri struggled in the first quarter but dominated Murray State the rest of the way en route to a 58–14 win. It’s dangerous to read too much into a game against an FCS opponent, but Gary Pinkel had to be pleased that his offense had over 300 yards rushing and passing. Despite struggling last week at Florida (against an elite defense), the Toledo offense figures to put some pressure on the Missouri defense. The Tigers ranked near the bottom of the SEC in most defensive categories last season, and it will not be a good sign if they give up a bunch of points to Toledo — a team that failed to score a touchdown against Florida.
6. Miami (Ohio) (+17) at Kentucky (12, Fox Sports Net)
The Mark Stoops era was going about as well as possible — until the games started. Kentucky was humbled by in-state rival Western Kentucky in Nashville on Saturday afternoon. The Cats’ defense had no answer for Western Kentucky’s balanced attack, allowing 215 yards rushing and 271 yards passing. UK went with Jalen Whitlow at quarterback, but he was pulled after throwing for only 78 yards on 15 attempts. Maxwell Smith, his replacement, was named the starter for Week 2. There was one bright spot: UK rushed for 216 yards on 32 carries, led by 98 yards on 14 attempts from tailback Raymond Sanders.
7. UAB (+34.5) at LSU (7 ET, ESPNU)
LSU was one of the most impressive teams, both in the SEC and nationally, in Week 1. The Tigers looked more dynamic on offense, and the new-look defense limited TCU to 259 total yards. Picked by many (including Athlon Sports) to finish third in the SEC West, LSU has the look of a team that can compete for the national title. UAB, on the other hand, lost in overtime to Troy in Week 1. This will not go well for the Blazers.
8. Sam Houston State (+48) at Texas A&M (7 ET, PPV)
Ordinarily this game would have been indistinguishable from the other SEC vs. FCS showdowns (see below), but the fact that Johnny Manziel is involved adds some intrigue to this game. Also, Sam Houston State is a pretty good team. The Bearkats played for the 2012 FCS national title and opened the ’13 season with a 74–0 win over Houston Baptist.
Note: Due to the poor quality of the opponents, it was impossible to rank the final four games on the SEC schedule, so they all tied as the ninth-most compelling game in the league this week.
T-9. Samford (+32) at Arkansas (7 ET, PPV)
It didn’t get much attention nationally, but Arkansas was quite impressive in its 34–14 win over Louisiana-Lafayette. Brandon Allen was efficient throwing the ball (15-of-22 for 230 yards with three TDs and no picks) and two running backs (Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins) rushed for at least 130 yards. This was a very good win over a solid team. The test in Week 2 will not be as great — though Samford did beat Georgia State in Week 1.
T-9. Alcorn State (+43) at Mississippi State (3:30 ET, CSS)
Mississippi State needs to build some confidence after struggling through a 21–3 loss to Oklahoma State in Houston. The Bulldogs managed only 333 yards of offense and failed to score a touchdown for the first time since losing to LSU 19–6 in September 2011. Alcorn State beat Edward Waters 63–12 last week.
T-9. Austin Peay (+46.5) at Vanderbilt (7:30 ET, CSS)
Vanderbilt needs a get-well game after the agonizing last-minute loss to Ole Miss last Thursday night. Austin Peay, which trailed Tennessee 42–0 at the half last week, should provide plenty of comfort. The Governors will be at a huge talent disadvantage at every spot on the field.
T-9. SE Missouri State (+49) at Ole Miss (7 ET, PPV)
Hugh Freeze will remind his team that eight FCS teams beat FBS teams in Week 1. What he probably won’t tell the Rebels is that SE Missouri State lost to SE Louisiana 45–7 last week. This will not be difficult for Ole Miss.
Week 2 SEC Pivotal Players
Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
Not much hasn’t gone well for Aaron Murray in his time at Georgia. He’s been a four-year starter, won a bunch of games and played in the SEC Championship Game twice. But Murray — fair or not — has a label as a quarterback who can’t win the big game. And despite playing well last week at Clemson (20-of-29 for 323 yards, 1 INT), Murray failed to lead his team to victory. With South Carolina coming to town this weekend, the fifth-year senior will be under considerable pressure to play well — and, of course, win the game.
South Carolina’s linebackers
Georgia puts pressure on every part of a defense, but South Carolina’s inexperienced linebacker corps will be under intense scrutiny this week. This group will have to deal with Georgia’s elite tailback tandem of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall and handle the play-action game that can be so difficult to slow down. Also, the Bulldogs feature two outstanding pass-catching tight ends, Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome.
Dominique Easley, DT, Florida
Easley was a key figure on a Florida defensive line that consistently had its way with the Toledo offensive front. The Rockets managed only 205 yards of offense and did not score a touchdown. The challenge will be greater this week for Easley and the Florida defense. Miami boasts an outstanding offensive line and one of the top running backs in the nation, Duke Johnson. If Easley plays well, the Gators’ defense will be productive.
The Vols’ struggles in the secondary last season are well-documented. This week, this unit will be tested for the first time this season. Western Kentucky isn’t loaded with top-flight talent, but the Hilltoppers are good enough to move the ball up and down the field — just ask Kentucky — and are as well-coached on offense as any team in the nation. Two true freshman cornerbacks — Cameron Sutton and Malik Foreman — will see significant time.
Maxwell Smith, QB, Kentucky
Smith, who threw for 280 yards in the opener against Louisville last season, seems to be a better fit for Neal Brown’s “Air Raid” offense, but the UK staff went with Jalen Whitlow in Week 1 because of his ability to make plays with his feet. Smith gets the start this week and will have an opportunity to secure the top job with a solid performance. Miami gave up 591 yards of offense, including 287 through the air, in a 52–14 loss to Marshall last week.
SEC Week 2 Predictions
Florida at Miami
Miami (OH) at Kentucky
WKU at Tennessee
Toledo at Missouri
Alcorn at Miss St.
Miss. St. 35-7
Miss. St. 44-10
Miss. St. 38-0
Miss. State 41-10
South Carolina at Georgia
UAB at LSU
Sam Houston at Texas A&M
Samford at Arkansas
SEMO at Ole Miss
Ole Miss 49-7
Ole Miss 42-13
Ole Miss 52-7
Ole Miss 44-7
Austin Peay at Vanderbilt
Arkansas St. at Auburn
Arkansas St. 27-21