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SEC Weekend Primer

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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LSU and Wisconsin could not be more alike, from their messy quarterback situations to their power running games to their fans’ mastery of tailgating.

The Vitals

Thursday

(21) Texas A&M 52, (9) South Carolina 28

(18) Ole Miss 35, Boise State 13

Temple 37, Vanderbilt 7

Saturday

Tennessee-Martin at Kentucky, 12 p.m. ET (SEC Network); Dave Neal and Andre Ware

West Virginia vs. (2) Alabama (-26), 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC); Dave Pasch and Brian Griese

South Dakota State at (24) Missouri, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPNU); Clay Matvick and Anthony Becht

Arkansas at (6) Auburn (-18), 4 p.m. ET (SEC Network); Brent Musburger and Jesse Palmer

(16) Clemson at (12) Georgia (-7), 5:30 p.m. ET (ESPN); Brad Nessler and Todd Blackledge

Idaho at Florida (-37), 7 p.m. ET (ESPNU); Anish Shroff and Kelly Stouffer

Southern Miss at Mississippi State (-31), 7:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network); Dave Neal and Andre Ware

(14) Wisconsin vs. (13) LSU (-6), 9 p.m. ET (ESPN); Sean McDonough and Chris Spielman

Sunday

Utah State at Tennessee (-6), 7 p.m. ET (SEC Network); Joe Tessitore and Brock Huard

Matchups to Watch

1.  Georgia OT John Theus vs. Clemson DE Vic Beasley

Beasley surprisingly returned to school for his senior season, and now anchors a Clemson defense that could be as good as or even better than its retooled offense after being along for the ride for much of last season. Theus shifts from the right side to the left this season, a move that some tackles handle seamlessly while others struggle with. He could turn out to be an excellent left tackle, but Theus could still struggle with Beasley, who recorded 13 sacks in 2013.

2.  Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon vs. LSU LB D.J. Welter

Welter is the Tigers’ leading returning tackler last season, and he’ll face a stern test in the season opener against Gordon and the potent Wisconsin running game. These teams could not be more alike, from their messy quarterback situations to their power running games to their fans’ mastery of tailgating. The battle in Houston will be decided at the line of scrimmage by whose running game gets contained. Grab a bourbon-battered bratwurst and enjoy an old-school, smash-mouth clash of titans.

3.  Alabama WR Amari Cooper vs. West Virginia CB Daryl Worley

There aren’t many stars on defense for the Mountaineers, but head coach Dana Holgorsen might have one in the sophomore Worley. An impressive freshman season that included five starts has raised expectations for Worley, and he’ll begin the season against perhaps the best wide receiver in college football. Cooper was never quite himself until late last season after a foot injury, but should explode in what is expected to be his final season with the Crimson Tide.

Quotable

“Leonard Fournette. Looks just like him.” – LSU head coach/wordsmith Les Miles, on who freshman running back Leonard Fournette reminds him of.

“We actually played [AJ McCarron and Philip Sims] by quarters [against Kent State in 2011]. It wasn't two series on and two series off. We don't have any plans to do that at this point in this game, but that doesn't mean that whatever pitcher starts the game is necessarily going to pitch nine innings.” – Alabama head coach Nick Saban on how he plans to use quarterbacks Blake Sims and Jacob Coker in the season opener

“He may end up on either edge or coming up the gut, I don't know what they're going to do with the guy, but whoever has the assignment of blocking Beasley has got their hands full and they're probably going to need some help.” – Georgia head coach Mark Richt on blocking Clemson DE Vic Beasley

History Lesson

The Athens Banner describes Clemson as a “strong team” and “the Georgia boys will have to play hard to win”. The newspaper predicts that “the first intercollegiate game of the season will be a hummer” and “the citizens of Athens will no doubt turn out in large numbers to witness the game.”

Sounds like a fairly accurate assessment of Saturday night’s showdown between the hedges of Sanford Stadium, no? Well, those quotes were in fact describing the first Clemson at Georgia game, played all the way back in 1897.

Change some of the linguistics, and that preview 116 years ago sounds pretty much spot on today. More than a century has passed, but so little has changed.

Trivia Time (answers below)

1. Who is the only coach to defeat Nick Saban in the Georgia Dome?

2. Who was LSU’s quarterback the last time it played a Big Ten team in the regular season?

3. Who scored the most touchdowns in the 2002/2003 home-and-home series between Clemson and Georgia (2 players)?

Two-Tweet (280 characters or less) Predictions:

South Carolina 38, Texas A&M 26

Kenny Hill will show something in his debut under center, but the Aggies defense will pick up right where it left off last season. Mike Davis will run for 175 yards despite not being 100 percent as the Gamecocks overcome an early deficit to win by double digits.

Ole Miss 27, Boise State 13

A completely retooled offensive line for the Broncos will be no match for a nasty Ole Miss defense as the Rebels win with relative ease. The numbers for Bo Wallace won’t be great, but it’ll be a clean, crisp performance from the SEC’s most experienced quarterback.

Vanderbilt 24, Temple 12

Derek Mason can coach defense, and the Commodores still have some elite talent on that side of the ball. Vanderbilt will shut the Owls down, but the ‘Dores offense will struggle against a competent Temple defense led by star linebacker Tyler Matakevich. A bit of a late-night snoozer.

Kentucky 37, Tennessee-Martin 10

The Wildcats will have their way with a Skyhawks team that finished 7-5 in the Ohio Valley Conference in 2013. Za’Darius Smith and Bud Dupree will combine for three sacks, while Patrick Towles tosses a pair of touchdown passes in his first career start.

Alabama 38, West Virginia 15

The Mountaineers will move the ball a bit, but won’t be able to finish drives. A dominant Alabama running game won’t have a similar problem. The yardage total will be surprisingly high for West Virginia, but it won’t be enough to seriously threaten the Tide.

Missouri 49, South Dakota State 7

The Tigers have exceeded 50 points in each of their past two openers. They’ll fall just short of 50, but will cruise past the Jackrabbits, who qualified for the FCS playoffs last season. Marcus Murphy will dazzle with a punt return touchdown to help spawn the blowout.

Auburn 41, Arkansas 22

The Razorbacks will run for close to 200 yards, but it won’t matter, as the Tigers will use a rare balance to shred the Hogs poor defense. Nick Marshall’s suspension will last only a quarter, and he’ll position himself as an early Heisman Trophy candidate.

Georgia 28, Clemson 24

It will be more defensive than last year’s 38-35 shootout in Death Valley, but it will also be similarly competitive. A late Todd Gurley touchdown run, his second of the evening, will win it for the ‘Dawgs, who’ll start 1-0 for just the third time in six seasons.

Florida 38, Idaho 0

Idaho produces a lot of spuds, but not many studs, as evident by their 1-11 record in 2013 under Paul Petrino, brother of Bobby. Jeff Driskel will look good in the new offense in three quarters of action, as the Gators end their seven-game skid with a resounding shutout.

Mississippi State 34, Southern Miss 13

The Golden Eagles will be much better than their past two teams that went a combined 1-23, as 16 starters return. They’ll keep it interesting early in the debut of renovated Davis Wade Stadium, but Dak Prescott and the Bulldogs shouldn’t be seriously tested.

LSU 20, Wisconsin 10

Wisconsin is too one-dimensional on offense with the loss of Jared Abbrederis to threaten LSU’s defense. An underrated Tigers secondary will intercept Tanner McEvoy twice to provide some separation between two teams who want to impose their will physically.

Tennessee 28, Utah State 27 (Joe Tess alert!)

Chuckie Keeton and the Aggies will lead for most of the night in front of 100,000 people, but a late touchdown will steal it for the Vols in one of the weekend’s best games. Justin Worley won’t do enough to prove that he can last the season as Tennessee’s quarterback.

Three Non-SEC Predictions:

1.   UCLA gets a major scare at Virginia, but survives by less than a touchdown.

2.   Miami (FL) ruins Bobby Petrino’s return to Louisville with a rare strong defensive performance.

3.   Baylor’s Bryce Petty will be proclaimed the Heisman Trophy front-runner after the Bears hang 60 on SMU.


Trivia Answers:

1. Urban Meyer, in the 2008 SEC Championship Game. Saban is 8-1 in the Georgia Dome.

2. Tommy Hodson. LSU lost to Ohio State, 36-33, in Columbus in 1988.

3. Fred Gibson and D.J. Shockley (2 TDs each)

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.