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Week Two SEC Primer

By Matt Smith
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Matt Smith previews week two in the SEC.

The old football adage is that teams make the most progress from Week 1 to Week 2. I don’t particularly buy into that, but if you do, this should be a most intriguing Saturday in the SEC with 13 games, including the first conference game of the season.

There are plenty of the usual duds that come with early September college football, but this week’s slate, in addition to the conference opener, has some attractive non-conference games that could set tones for the season for many teams.

Let’s roll into Week 2 in the SEC.

This is a Big Week for:
Coach: Sam Pittman, Arkansas
Pittman has won over many Arkansas fans already, but a win over Texas would make him more popular than the Walton family. His team has met every challenge through one season and one game, so there’s no reason to expect the Razorbacks to not play well. There’s a talent gap with the Longhorns, but it’s not so significant that quality coaching can’t overcome it.

Player: Will Levis, QB, Kentucky
All signs were positive about the new-look Kentucky offense in Week 1, but Louisiana-Monroe stinks. Missouri had a shaky Week 1 defensive performance, although the Tigers are still a great test for Levis and the Wildcats. A big performance on Saturday night in Lexington could finally convince Kentucky fans that they have a quarterback capable of carrying a team.

Unit: Tennessee Wide Receivers
The Vols’ passing game wasn’t great last Thursday night, and now they’ll have to face a Pat Narduzzi defense when Pittsburgh comes to Knoxville. What does that mean? Press coverage, and physical play. That requires separation, contested catches and even the ability to sell a pass interference penalty. The Panthers will allow some chances for big plays, and Tennessee must take advantage of them to pull off a mild upset.

Trivia Time
1. What Power Five school did Johnny Majors coach before stints at Pittsburgh and Tennessee?
2. What fellow undefeated team felt shunned by the famous 1969 No. 1 Texas at No. 2 Arkansas game being declared as the national championship game?
3. For how many seasons were Colorado and Texas A&M part of the same conference?

Game Predictions
Pittsburgh (1-0) at Tennessee (1-0), Noon ET (ESPN)
Announcers: Dave Pasch and Dusty Dvoracek
Series History: Pittsburgh leads 2-0
Last Meeting: 1983 – Pittsburgh 13, Tennessee 3
Line: Pittsburgh -3
Over/Under: 54
The newly-named Johnny Majors Classic begins with the first of two meetings over the next two seasons between the Panthers and Vols. Pittsburgh cruised past UMass in its opener on Saturday, showing off a slew of weapons in the passing game for fifth-year senior quarterback Kenny Pickett. Tennessee will have its hands full with Panthers defensive tackle Calijah Kancey. The Vols must get a better performance from Joe Milton, who missed on more than half of his pass attempts last week against Bowling Green. Pitt’s secondary is young, but always aggressive. I’m going with experience here. Pickett has played in a ton of big games, and the attacking defense will make an inaccurate passer pay.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 35, Tennessee 27 (Pittsburgh/over)

South Carolina (1-0) at East Carolina (0-1), Noon ET (ESPN2)
Announcers: Brian Custer and Kelly Stouffer
Series History: South Carolina leads 14-5
Last Meeting: 2016 – South Carolina 20, East Carolina 15
Line: East Carolina -2
Over/Under: 55.5

This game won’t get much notice this week, but it’s a pretty even matchup between the rebuilding Gamecocks and improving Pirates, who fell to Appalachian State last Thursday night, 33-19. South Carolina won’t name a starting quarterback this week, with graduate assistant-turned quarterback Zeb Noland and rehabilitating Luke Doty both options to start in Greenville. The Gamecocks are expected to get standout running back Kevin Harris back after a one-week injury absence. I like the trajectory of East Carolina and quarterback Holton Ahlers, but I think South Carolina is stout enough along both lines to survive and give Shane Beamer a 2-0 start to his head coaching career.
Prediction: South Carolina 30, East Carolina 24 (South Carolina/under)

Alabama State (1-0) at (25) Auburn (1-0), Noon ET (SEC Network)
Announcers: Dave Neal and Deuce McAllister
Series History: Auburn leads 1-0
Last Meeting: 2018 – Auburn 63, Alabama State 9
Line: No Line
Over/Under: N/A

The Hornets make the short drive up I-85 to The Plains for the teams’ second meeting. Takeaways from Auburn’s 60-10 thumping of Akron last week were overwhelmingly positive, and there’s no reason to expect any different this week against an Alabama State team that needed overtime to defeat Division II Miles College last Saturday. The biggest question will be if quarterback Bo Nix records more touchdowns than completions for the second straight week.
Prediction: Auburn 52, Alabama State 7

(13) Florida (1-0) at USF (0-1) 1 p.m. ET (ABC)
Announcers: Bob Wischusen and Dan Orlovsky
Series History: Florida leads 1-0
Last Meeting: 2010 – Florida 38, USF 14
Line: Florida -29
Over/Under: 57.5

This game had some potential sizzle back when it was announced with Florida playing an incredibly rare road non-conference game not in Tallahassee. However, USF has fallen on hard times, winning only one game in 2020 and losing 45-0 to N.C. State last Thursday. The Bulls passing offense is anemic, while Florida’s defense started strong last week against FAU with a relentless pass rush. With Alabama looming, I expect Florida to use its potent running game to limit the number of plays and quickly get deep into its bench.
Prediction: Florida 38, USF 10 (USF/under)

(5) Texas A&M (1-0) vs. Colorado (1-0) (Denver), 3:30 p.m. ET (FOX)
Announcers: Joe Davis and Brock Huard
Series History: Colorado leads 6-3
Last Meeting: 2009 – Colorado 35, Texas A&M 34
Line: Texas A&M -17
Over/Under: 52

Due to COVID, home-and-home was relegated to a one-game neutral site battle at whatever Mile High Stadium in Denver is now called. Colorado was the surprise team of the Pac-12 in 2020, but the Buffaloes haven’t posted back-to-back winning seasons since the mid-2000s. Texas A&M’s offense showed some kinks in its Week 1 win over Kent State with new quarterback Haynes King, but the defense looks pretty terrifying. I expect another week of up-and-down play from King and the offense, but it won’t matter with what this Aggies defense will do to an unproven Buffs offense, as a rare altitude game won’t get the best of Texas A&M.
Prediction: Texas A&M 34, Colorado 13 (Texas A&M/under)

UAB (1-0) at (2) Georgia (1-0), 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Announcers: Mark Jones and Robert Griffin III
Series History: Georgia leads 2-0
Last Meeting: 2006 – Georgia 34, UAB 0
Line: Georgia -26
Over/Under: 44.5

The Blazers and Bulldogs combined to allow just three points in Week 1, albeit against slightly different opponents in Jacksonville State and Clemson respectively. Even a less dialed-in Georgia defense isn’t likely to show any cracks this week, so the intrigue in this game will be whether or not the offense can create some explosion after staying very buttoned up against Clemson. I’m a J.T. Daniels believer, so I’ll call for the ‘Dawgs to hit some deep shots and look like an offense that isn’t just going to be along for the ride this season.
Prediction: Georgia 38, UAB 7 (Georgia/over)

Mercer (1-0) at (1) Alabama (1-0), 4 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
Announcers: Tom Hart, Jordan Rodgers and Cole Cubelic
Series History: Alabama leads 1-0
Last Meeting: 2017 – Alabama 56, Mercer 0
Line: No Line
Over/Under: N/A

Mercer was a 69-0 winner in Week 1, but the poor Bears may still end up with a negative number in net points after its Week 2 trip to Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide were dealt a major blow this week with the loss of starting outside linebacker Christopher Allen for the season, so the edge rushing depth will be one thing to watch in the coming weeks.
Prediction: Alabama 63, Mercer 8

(15) Texas (1-0) at Arkansas (1-0), 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Announcers: Joe Tessitore and Greg McElroy
Series History: Texas leads 56-22
Last Meeting: 2014 – Arkansas 31, Texas 7 (Texas Bowl)
Line: Texas -6.5
Over/Under: 57

Texas makes just its second trip to Fayetteville since Arkansas left the Southwest Conference for the SEC in 1992 on Saturday night. The Longhorns offense looked sharp in Steve Sarkisian’s first game as head coach, led by versatile running back Bijan Robinson. The run defense is my biggest concern for the Longhorns, which could be a factor on Saturday night with the mobility of quarterback K.J. Jefferson. In 11 games under Sam Pittman, the Razorbacks have met the moment and not been overwhelmed by a talent gap. Robinson will be the best player on the field have a scoring play of 50 or more yards, but the Hogs’ coaching staff will rise up and guide Arkansas to one of its biggest wins in recent memory.
Prediction: Arkansas 28, Texas 24 (Arkansas/under)

N.C. State (1-0) at Mississippi State (1-0), 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Announcers: Anish Shroff and Mike Golic Jr.
Series History: Tied, 3-3
Last Meeting: 2015 – Mississippi State 51, N.C. State 28 (Belk Bowl)
Line: N.C. State -2.5
Over/Under: 55

Other than the dangerous trifecta of red, maroon and Adidas making the viewing experience optically challenging, this is a fascinating game. In its narrow escape against Louisiana Tech last Saturday, Mississippi State looked much more like the first half of 2020 team that was stuck in the mud rather than the end-of-season team that won its final two games. N.C. State cruised past USF, 45-0, showing off a powerful running game with Bam Knight and Ricky Person Jr., as well as an athletic defense. I have no idea what I’m getting week to week from Mississippi State, as the Air Raid offense was lifeless for two quarters in the comeback win over Louisiana Tech. The Wolfpack appear to have an identity, and that consistency gives me comfort in calling for a solid road win in a tough environment on Saturday night.
Prediction: N.C. State 34, Mississippi State 27 (N.C. State/over)

Missouri (1-0) at Kentucky (1-0), 7:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
Announcers: Taylor Zarzour and Matt Stinchcomb
Last Meeting: 2020 – Missouri 34, Kentucky 10
Current Streak: Missouri – 1
Current Streak in Lexington: Kentucky – 3
Line: Kentucky -5
Over/Under: 52.5

The SEC’s first conference game of the 2021 season is a doozy. Kentucky had owned Missouri until the Tigers popped them in Columbia last October, but this year game is in Lexington, where a fanbase with always-wavering confidence is fired up about their Wildcats. Will Levis looked strong in his first start for Kentucky last week, while Connor Bazelak and Missouri also had a crisp offensive day in a more competitive win over Central Michigan. I still have some questions about the ‘Cats defense, and while Missouri is susceptible to big plays, I like their ability to create mistakes. I will roll with the steady hand of Bazelak and call for a mild upset and a huge road win for Eli Drinkwitz and the Tigers.
Prediction: Missouri 27, Kentucky 23 (Missouri/under)

Austin Peay (1-0) at (20) Ole Miss (1-0), 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN+)
Announcers: Richard Cross and Ben Hartsock
Series History: First Meeting
Line: No Line
Over/Under: N/A

Lane Kiffin returns to the sideline after a one-game absence for a positive COVID test. The opponent isn’t a good one, but it’s a night game, and The Grove is back open, so expect a charged-up crowd in Oxford. Quarterback Matt Corral looked even more confident than he was a year ago in the Rebels’ blowout win over Louisville on Monday night, while the defense pitched a surprising first-half shutout in the 43-24 victory. With the quick turnaround, expect almost every available player to play. Austin Peay has a promising young head coach in Scotty Walden (only 31 years old) and defeated Chattanooga last week on the road. They should have scheduled Vanderbilt instead.
Prediction: Ole Miss 49, Austin Peay 13

McNeese (0-1) at LSU (0-1), 8 p.m. ET (ESPN+)
Announcers: Mike Morgan and Charles Arbuckle
Series History: LSU leads 1-0
Last Meeting: 2010 – LSU 32, McNeese 10
Line: No Line
Over/Under: N/A

LSU looks to regroup on a Louisiana Saturday night against in-state foe McNeese, who lost to something called West Florida (it’s in Pensacola) in its season opener. It’ll be a second straight abnormal week for Ed Orgeron, who follows a week of preparation away from campus in Houston with one trying to game plan against his son, Cody, who is the Cowboys’ starting quarterback. Establishing a run game would be a good step for LSU after UCLA manhandled the Tigers at the line of scrimmage. A full Tiger Stadium will help LSU locked in despite the overmatched opponent, and the Bayou Bengals will put up a huge number to take out last week’s frustration.
Prediction: LSU 59, McNeese 14

Vanderbilt (0-1) at Colorado State (0-1), 10 p.m. ET (CBS Sports Network)
Announcers: Rich Waltz and Corey Chavous
Series History: First Meeting
Line: Colorado State -7
Over/Under: 48.5

Tens of fans will stay up late for this epic showdown on Saturday night between the Commodores and Rams, who lost by a combined 39 points to FCS teams in their season openers. No one was expecting Clark Lea to come to Nashville and immediately turn things around, but clean play seemed like a solid first step. Vanderbilt was in no way clean against East Tennessee State, as turnovers and penalties were abundant. Colorado State averaged just 3.1 yards per carry against South Dakota State, a damning stat for a Steve Addazio team that wants to physically overpower its opponents. With the altitude and late kick time, I’ll take Colorado State to again show how far the Commodores have fallen.
Prediction: Colorado State 28, Vanderbilt 16 (Colorado State/under)

Best Bets
Last Week: 4-1
Season: 4-1

Rice +8 vs. Houston
Liberty -5 at Troy
Miami (FL) -8 vs. Appalachian State
Washington +6.5 at Michigan
California +10 at TCU

The Best Game I’ve Ever Watched On September 11:
Sept. 11, 1999: No. 1 Florida State 41, No. 10 Georgia Tech 35
An early season duel of Heisman Trophy contenders lived up to the billing, as Joe Hamilton and Georgia Tech came to Tallahassee to face Chris Weinke, Peter Warrick and the top-ranked Seminoles. The trio began with a bang, as a touchdown run from Warrick and a touchdown pass from Weinke were matched by an 80-yard touchdown pass and 19-yard touchdown run from Hamilton.

Long passes from each quarterback to close the half left Florida State ahead 28-21 after 30 minutes, but the fireworks weren’t over. Weinke and Warrick connected for a 26-yard score in the third quarter to extend the Seminoles lead, but Hamilton answered with his third touchdown pass of the day. The Florida State defense clamped down after that, but Hamilton helped close the gap to 41-35 in the final minutes with a 22-yard touchdowns strike to Kelly Campbell. The onsides kick failed, and the Seminoles held on.

Weinke, who would go on to win the Heisman Trophy and lead Florida State to a perfect 12-0 season and national title, finished a modest 16-of-29 for 292 yards and three touchdowns, while Hamilton was a brilliant 22-of-25 for 387 yards and four touchdowns in defeat, along with a rushing touchdown.

Sunday’s Projected Top 10
1. Alabama (1)
2. Georgia (2)
3. Ohio State (3)
4. Oklahoma (4)
5. Texas A&M (5)
6. Clemson (6)
7. Iowa State (9)
8. Cincinnati (7)
9. Notre Dame (8)
10. Penn State (11)
Dropped out: Iowa (10)

Trivia Answers
1. Iowa State (1968-72)
2. Penn State
3. 15 (Big 12, 1996-2010)

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.