COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Things to watch in Week 1 in the Southeastern Conference:
GAME OF THE WEEK
No. 11 Oregon visits No. 3 Georgia in one of two games in which an SEC team faces a ranked opponent. The juicy part of this matchup is on the sidelines where first-year Oregon coach Dan Lanning faces the team which, as defensive coordinator, he helped win a national championship less than 10 months ago. Lanning said he’s exciting seeing a team he molded to win a title. His job, though, is focus on beating the Bulldogs. That’s easier said than done. Despite Georgia losing several of its top defenders off Lanning’s incredible 2021 defense, the Bulldogs are still loaded with players like defensive tackle Jalen Carter, linebacker Nolan Smith and cornerback Kelee Ringo. Meanwhile, Lanning, hired when Mario Cristobal left the Ducks for Miami, brought in 15 transfers from Power Five programs to help boost his program. At least Lanning won’t be cowed by the atmosphere. There should be a full house at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, most of them going crazy for the Bulldogs.
Take at look at No. 23 Cincinnati’s opener at No. 19 Arkansas. The Bearcats made history a season ago as the first Group of Five team to reach the College Football Playoff. Cincinnati lost in the semifinals to Alabama, then lost several of its best players like cornerback back Ahmed “Sauce” Gardner, receiver Alec Pierce and safety Bryan Cook in the NFL draft’s first two rounds. Also gone are quarterback Desmond Ridder and tailback Jerome Ford. The Razorbacks started 4-0, including a 20-10 win over Texas A&M. But Arkansas lost its next three to fall from contention in the SEC West. The team rebounded down stretch to win five of final six, including a 24-10 victory over Penn State in the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day.
CAN’T NOT LOOK
It could be Florida State at LSU, who have not played each other since 1991. Each program has won a national title in the past decade: the Seminoles after the 2013 season and the Tigers six years later. But, oh, that seems so long ago for the pair of one-time power programs who’ve fallen way off their championship past. Florida State is in its third year with coach Mike Norvell after two bumpy seasons. LSU lured longtime Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly — a headline in the team notes called him, “The Most Accomplished Hire in LSU History” — to take over. One thing’s for sure, the losing fanbase after this one will scream loudly and point fingers.
New Florida coach Billy Napier will need lots of good fortune to pull off a win in his debut game against No. 7 Utah. Sure, the Gators are playing in The Swamp and its frenzied fans desperately want to believe that Napier’s hire is the missing piece back to its championship past. The Utes, though, are a trendy pick for the College Football Playoffs. It should be a good show just watching the quarterbacks. Utah’s Cameron Rising was first-team Pac-12 Conference selection after throwing for 2,493 yards, 20 touchdowns and just five interceptions. Florida’s Anthony Richardson is a projected NFL first-rounder who had an 80-yard rush and a 75-yard pass last season.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
Tailback Devon Achane of No. 6 Texas A&M was 11th in the Football Bowl Subdivision at 7 yards per carry. … LSU’s Brian Kelly looks to continue a streak of Tigers head coaches who won in their debuts. He’d follow Ed Orgeron in 2016, Les Miles in 2005 and Nick Saban in 2000. That trio all won national titles at LSU. … Tennessee receiver Cedric Tillman has a school record streak of seven straight games with a TD catch. … No. 1 Alabama opens against Utah State and looks for its 21st straight home-opening win. Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban is 15-0 in home openers. … Auburn tailback Tank Bigsby ran for 1,099 yards last season, the team’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Kerryon Johnson in 2017. … No. 20 Kentucky coach Mark Stoops starts his 10th season. He’s two wins away from surpassing Bear Bryant’s 60 victories for most in school history. … No. 21 Ole Miss, which opens against Troy, brought in 28 transfers this offseason, including former Southern Cal QB Jaxson Dart, to offset roster losses after last year.
Alabama quarterback Bryce Young is the defending Heisman Trophy winner and is expected to make quick work of Utah State in the home opener this weekend. Young threw for 4,872 yards, 47 touchdowns and just seven interceptions as the Crimson Tide won another SEC title and reached the CFP championship game.
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