SEC Preview – Opening Saturday

Dec 31, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; LSU Tigers quarterback Zach Mettenberger drops back to pass in the first half against the Clemson Tigers during the 2012 Chick-fil-A Bowl at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Toledo at No. 10 Florida

When: Saturday, 12:21 p.m., EST on SEC Network

Line: Florida -24

Reasons to watch: For starters, we finally get to see if certain media members have had any right to hype up QB Jeff Driskel all offseason. Nobody questions the Gators talent on defense, but at least nine new starters will open the game against Toledo. How will they fare in the opener? Florida should win this one going away, but we’ve seen Will Muschamp’s program falter with those situations before.

 

Rice at No. 7 Texas A&M

When: Saturday, 1 p.m., EST on ESPN

Line: Texas A&M -27

Reasons to watch: We will get to pay attention to what should be a fantastic stable of RBs, who should get plenty of chances behind either Matt Joeckel or Kenny Hill in the first half. And then… Johnny Manziel Johnny Manziel Johnny Manziel Johnny Manziel Johnny Manziel Johnny Manziel Johnny Manziel Johnny Manziel Johnny Manziel Johnny Manziel Johnny Manziel Johnny Manziel Johnny Manziel.

 

Mississippi State vs. No. 13 Oklahoma State (in Houston)

When: Saturday, 2:30 p.m., EST on ABC

Line: Oklahoma State -11.5

Reasons to watch: Careful, SEC fans. This one has trouble written all over it. State got throttled by Northwestern in its bowl game last year and now it faces a neutral-site game against an Oklahoma State team picked to win the Big 12. A young Bulldogs secondary needs to mature quickly for any chance to slow down WR Josh Stewart. Mississippi State QB Tyler Russell faces big expectations as a senior. Can he live up to them and start his season with a huge victory?

 

Louisiana-Lafayette at Arkansas

When: Saturday, 3 p.m., EST (no TV)

Line: Arkansas -10

Reasons to watch: Well, it has to be better than last year for Razorbacks fans, right? It will be, but by how much? Arkansas coach Bret Bielema makes his debut with the program. He promises to bring a more physical, hard-nosed style to a Razorbacks team that lacked it in 2012. Remember, though, that this Louisiana-Lafayette program won the Sun Belt and gave Florida everything it could handle in The Swamp last year.  The start to the Bielema era could get rocky.

 

No. 1 Alabama vs. Virginia Tech (in Atlanta)

When: Saturday, 4:30 p.m., EST on ESPN

Line: Alabama -21

Reasons to watch: For the same reason you watch the next episode of Breaking Bad – because you don’t know exactly what’s coming next, but it’s going to be brilliant. Alabama can name its score Saturday afternoon against Virginia Tech. Media members saw Alabama QB AJ McCarron in a walking boot on Friday, but he is expected to play. If McCarron plays, Virginia Tech won’t likely be able to so much as stay in the game. Hokies coach Frank Beamer has said as much, calling the Crimson Tide the best team his program has ever faced.

 

Austin Peay at Tennessee

When: Saturday, 6 p.m., EST (no TV)

Line: Tennessee -50.5

Reasons to watch: Not really sure. It beats reruns of The Big Bang Theory? Not even sure that’s true. That this Tennessee team – which could be a 25-point underdog at Oregon in a few weeks – is a 50.5-point favorite says everything. For Volunteers fans, this is the first chance to see coach Butch Jones’ debut and his new offense, led by QB Justin Worley.

 

Washington State at Auburn

When: Saturday, 7 p.m., EST on ESPNU

Line: Auburn -15

Reasons to watch: Two heralded offensive gurus face off hoping to reverse disastrous results from their respective programs in 2012. Auburn’s Gus Malzahn seemingly has the better chance – especially if QB Nick Marshall is as good as advertised. Washington State, behind coach Mike Leach, wants to see immediate progress from an offense that underwhelmed last season. It shouldn’t take long to measure Malzahn’s impact. His offense paid immediate dividends in 2009 when he took over as offensive coordinator at Auburn.

 

Murray State at Missouri

When: Saturday, 7 p.m., EST (no TV)

Line: Missouri -37.5

Reasons to watch: Hard to find a reason to watch this one, too. Missouri fans should be able to celebrate a season-opening win by halftime. The best reasons to watch this game would be to remember what QB James Franklin and RB Henry Josey look like when they’re healthy.

 

Kentucky vs. Western Kentucky (in Nashville)

When: Saturday, 7:10 p.m., EST (ESPNews)

Line: Kentucky -4

Reasons to watch: First-year coaches in the Bluegrass State square off in – you guessed it – Nashville. The Mark Stoops era begins at Kentucky, where optimism finally surrounds a program that doesn’t play all its games inside Rupp Arena. Meanwhile, disgraced Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino will look forward to facing the Wildcats after the program didn’t strongly consider him for their vacancy. The Hilltoppers knocked off Kentucky last season. While a win tonight wouldn’t mean the Wildcats’ readiness to contend for an SEC East title, it might well provide validation for the hopefulness.

 

No. 5 Georgia at No. 8 Clemson

When: Saturday, 8 p.m., EST (ABC)

Line: Georgia -2.5

Reasons to watch: In the best matchup of the weekend, these two teams with national championship aspirations battle inside Memorial Stadium. QBs Tahj Boyd (Clemson) and Aaron Murray (Georgia) are two of the best players in the nation. Both could launch Heisman campaigns tonight, as could skill-position players such as Bulldogs RB Todd Gurley and Clemson WR Sammy Watkins. Georgia will try to break in several new defensive starters. That could prove disastrous against Clemson OC Chad Morris’ attack.

 

No. 12 LSU vs. No. 20 TCU (in Arlington, Texas)

When: Saturday, 9 p.m., EST on ESPN

Line: LSU -4

Reasons to watch: One of the SEC’s elite programs battles a favorite in the Big 12 in what should be another highly entertaining Saturday night game. First-year LSU OC Cam Cameron has plenty of weapons at his disposal, led by QB Zach Mettenberger. Though Mettenberger disappointed in 2012, he has a big-time arm and some stellar receivers to target. TCU DE Devonte Fields, who was suspended for the game, will suit up. It’s not clear what role he might play. Horned Frogs QB Casey Pachall – a first-team all-Big 12 selection – makes his return to college football after battling demons during the 2012 season. The winner of this game scores major bragging rights for its conference and serves notice to the rest of the nation of being a possible national contender.

Topics: Alabama Crimson Tide, Arkansas Razorbacks, Auburn Tigers, Austin Peay Governors, Clemson Tigers, Florida Gators, Georgia Bulldogs, Kentucky Wildcats, Louisiana Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns, Louisiana State Tigers, Mississippi State Bulldogs, Missouri Tigers, Murray State Racers, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Rice Owls, SEC, TCU Horned Frogs, Tennessee Volunteers, Texas A&M Aggies, Toledo Rockets, Virginia Tech Hokies, Washington State Cougars, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

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