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Around the SEC: It’s finally here! Season begins for the nation’s best conference

Around the SEC: It’s finally here! Season begins for the nation’s best conference

The Southeastern Conference football season is finally upon us. Here is our unique look at this week’s slate of games. Are You Ready?!

 THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 2

Bowling Green at Tennessee, 7 p.m., SEC Network 

The Josh Heupel era kicks off the 2021 SEC season three days earlier than most of the rest of the league. The Vols finished 3-7 a year ago and that prompted the change in coaches in Knoxville. Heupel hopes to bring the winning he enjoyed at UCF to Neyland Stadium with Michigan-transfer Joe Milton III under center. 

A new coach and a new quarterback. Tennessee is so intent on putting its recent past behind them, it is shocking they haven’t renamed their tailgating the “Vol Coast Guard.” 

UT opens the slate against Bowling Green, a team that finished winless in five tries in the shortened 2020 season. The Falcons boast 15 percent of their athletes earning a 4.0 grade point average and 80 percent of its athletes with a GPA of at least 3.0. Too bad instead of football, BGSU didn’t challenge the Vols to a battle of logarithms. 

 SATURDAY, September 4

UL-Monroe at Kentucky, 11 a.m., SEC Network 

Kentucky gets the first SEC Saturday underway by welcoming Terry Bowden back to an SEC venue as Louisiana-Monroe comes to Lexington.

Mark Stoops has hopes high in the Commonwealth as the Wildcats’ fan base fully expects UK to compete with Florida and Georgia in the SEC East. Kentucky will have a new-look offense under offensive coordinator Liam Coen, who comes to UK from the Los Angeles Rams and quarterback Will Levis, who transferred from Penn State. Perhaps a former Ram and Lion can help the Cats take the next step. 

The Warhawks were winless in 2020, but the new coaching staff has a history of winning with Bowden at the helm and former West Virginia, Michigan and Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez serves at the ULM offensive coordinator. Unfortunately, Monroe has the same players as a year ago. 

Rice at Arkansas, 1 p.m., SEC Network, ESPN+ 

Arkansas begins its second season under Sam Pittman. The Razorbacks finished 3-7 a year ago and six Hogs were named to the coaches’ pre-season All-SEC team.

Receiver Treylon Burks looks as if he will be the Arkansas main playmaker this season as he is on the watch list for the Biletnikoff and Maxwell Awards and the Walter Camp Player of the Year. He’s been limited due to injury, and Coach Pittman said Monday his star is “day-to-day.” 

The best thing for both teams in this one is the game is in Fayetteville and not at that pit in Little Rock. 

Rice finished 2-3 in an abbreviated 2020 schedule, but one of those wins was an impressive 20-0 win at No. 15 Marshall. Jordan Myers will bring a versatility to the Owls as the senior led Rice in receptions last season and scored a rushing touchdown. That touchdown run was the ONLY one Rice had last season. 

No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 14 Miami at Atlanta, 2:30 p.m., ABC 

Easily one of the best games of the first weekend in college football and it could be in the running for the game of the year. Alabama, coming off its 1,074,734th national championship takes on Miami who won a boatload of titles before falling on hard times. 

Alabama will start Bryce Young at quarterback and sponsors will find out soon if the California native is worth $1 million in name, image and likeness money. Bama lost many of its playmakers to the NFL Draft, but in Tuscaloosa, they just ask the next five-star recruit to step up. 

Miami quarterback D’Eriq King has been vocal about his team’s chances against the Tide. Spoiler alert, he thinks the Canes will win. But come on kid, don’t just stop there and go the full Namath and guarantee a victory. That is probably not a good idea – Namath played at Alabama. 

Louisiana Tech at Mississippi State, 3 p.m., ESPNU 

Mississippi State opened last season against a team from Louisiana and in Mike Leach’s debut, the Bulldogs beat the boudin out of LSU. As is turns out, apart from winning a brawl against Tulsa after their bowl game, it was State’s highlight of the year. 

Louisiana Tech is the latest of the mediocre stops for Lou’s boy Skip Holtz after being the head man at UConn, East Carolina and South Florida. The Bulldogs did finish 5-5 last season but dropped their last two games by a combined score of 90-13.

Now, Tech is hoping upon hope the Big 12 will call them to take either Texas’ or Oklahoma’s spot when they defect to the SEC. That is kind of like wishing that you could finally get to the grown-up’s table at Thanksgiving only to find out the turkey is dry, and the pumpkin pie tastes like cardboard. 

Central Michigan at Missouri, 3 p.m., SEC Network 

Missouri opens the season with the first of four games against directional schools. After Central Michigan, the Tigers will later play Southeast Missouri State, North Texas and South Carolina. Western Kentucky and East Carolina must’ve already been booked this year.  

Last season was a sister-kisser if nothing else for Mizzou. There was the break-even record of 5-5 and then a Music City Bowl bid to play Iowa. The bowl was cancelled and the Tigers stayed at home instead of visiting the Country Music Hall of Fame. 

Who is the Central Michigan athletic director, the Marquis de Sade? The Chippewas go to Missouri in week one and to LSU in week three. Poor Robert Morris is the sacrificial meat in this horror sandwich to start the year. 

Akron at Auburn, 6 p.m., SEC Network, ESPN+ 

Welcome to the Terry Bowden Bowl. A team that fired Bowden recently against a team that fired him more than a few years ago. 

Speaking of firing coaches, Auburn did again last year and now Bryan Harsin comes to the Plains from Boise State. From the blue turf to the blue bloods in a way. Auburn does lead the league in cool NIL endorsements it would appear. The starting quarterback has a deal with a sweet tea company (a staple in the South), the backup QB has an agreement with an underwear company and the kicker has signed with a landscape lighting company. 

Akron not only visits Jordan-Hare Stadium, but also Ohio Stadium in Columbus to play the Buckeyes. The combined capacities of those two venues is 192,395. The population of Akron, Ohio is just 198,051. 

Eastern Illinois at South Carolina, 6 p.m., SEC Network, ESPN+ 

South Carolina’s new coach is Shane Beamer, the son of college football hall of fame coach Frank Beamer. The elder Beamer had a career coaching record of 280-143-4. The pair’s combined record is 280-143-4. Well, this will be Shane’s first game as a head coach. To add to that win total, Beamer has entrusted the Gamecocks’ offense to quarterback Zeb Nolan. Up until fall camp, Nolan was a graduate-assistant coach. South Carolina may have improved on Texas A&M’s 12th Man. 

Eastern Illinois has actually already played a game this season. Of course last week it lost to a team with a tree for a mascot (the Indiana State Sycamores beat EIU, 26-21). Say what you will about the Panthers, but last week the pass defense refused to give up runs after catch. ISU caught 13 passes for 87 yards. That is fewer than seven yards per catch. 

No. 5 Georgia vs. No. 3 Clemson at Charlotte, 6:30 p.m., ABC 

So much for easing into the 2021 season. Georgia and Clemson – who should play every year – highlight the first weekend of SEC games. Actually, a loss won’t kill Georgia’s chances for the playoffs as it has a great shot if it wins the SEC East and will certainly get in with a conference title. 

Clemson? Not so much. A loss to the Dawgs and one other slip up would keep them out of the playoffs. If the Tigers get blown out Saturday there will not be many, if any, quality ACC wins for them. 

This will be the best chance for J.T. Daniels to show off his skills as pretty much the entire football-watching country will be tuned in for this one. A big UGA win and you will hear Daniels’ name mentioned in the Heisman conversation. Should he throw a few picks, he will be lumped in with the Eric Zeiers and D.J. Shockleys in Athens folklore. 

Florida Atlantic at No. 13 Florida, 6:30 p.m., SEC Network 

Hey, at least the Gators are keeping that game check in state. The only question for Florida is focus. Sure, FAU has players that were recruited by Lane Kiffin and a Miami-transfer quarterback, but it is still Florida Atlantic.

Next week will pose the same dilemma when the Gators make the short drive to Tampa to play South Florida. For the first two games, Dan Mullen will have to keep his team from thinking ahead to game three against, wait for it, ALABAMA. 

The Owls did go 5-4 in the first year post-Kiffin and even made it to a bowl game where they lost to Memphis 25-10 in the Montgomery Bowl. FAU’s last win came last November when it topped UMass 24-2. 

Kent State at No. 6 Texas A&M, 7 p.m., ESPNU 

The Aggies have not had the success they have hoped for against Alabama, so why not do the next best thing and beat the hell out of Nick Saban’s alma mater.

Texas A&M missed out on the playoffs (again) a year ago, but did beat North Carolina in the Orange Bowl, but is that enough to satisfy the College Station fan base? If not, A&M still can’t really have coach Jimbo Fisher on the hot seat – there are literally millions of (dollars) reasons why that is. This week, the Aggies gave Jimbo a raise to $9 million a year…with a 10-year contract.

Give the Golden Flashes credit, they ain’t scared. After heading to SEC country this week, Kent State will also head to the Big Ten to play Iowa and Maryland. And if the KSU offense is anything like last year, there will not be a goose egg on the scoreboard. In their four games (a 3-1 record), the Flashes put up 27, 62, 69 and 41 points. 

East Tennessee State at Vanderbilt, 7 p.m., SEC Network, ESPN+ 

It is hard to believe it, but this one is big for Vandy. Last year the Commodores were winless and that sent coach Derek Mason to Auburn as a coordinator this year. Vanderbilt gets ETSU, Colorado State and Stanford in its first three games and it sure would be nice for them to be 2-1 heading into the SEC opener against Georgia.

The week after the game against the Dawgs, Vandy plays UConn before heading into the conference gauntlet. Should the Commodores be 3-2 heading into the crux of their schedule, the fans might play attention to football instead of Vandy fall baseball. 

But first, East Tennessee State comes calling. The Bucs were 4-2 in the always-tough Southern Conference in the Football Championship Subdivision. One of those losses was to a ranked Furman team, 17-13. East Tennessee’s roster is filled with freshmen and redshirt freshmen and that could mean some bad news for Vandy – the Bucs are too young to realize they are not supposed to beat an SEC team. 

LSU at UCLA, 7:30 p.m., FOX 

The Tigers left Baton Rouge early to escape the wrath of Hurricane Ida, but now they are headed into another storm in the Rose Bowl. Now LSU gets UCLA in the all-initial school game of the week.

LSU started the fall camp with solid competition for its starting quarterback position, but Myles Brennan broke his arm, so now it is up to sophomore Max Johnson to lead the offense. Johnson paced the Tigers to an upset win over Florida in The Swamp a season ago, but he may have had a little extra motivation in that game – his dad, Brad, was a quarterback at Florida State. 

UCLA dismantled Hawaii last week, 44-10 as Zach Charbonnet ran for 106 yards and three touchdowns. One of his scores was a run of 47 yards and the only reason it was 47 yards is that is as far as he had to go. His other two scores were each from 21 yards. In contrast, Hawaii ran for 26 yards total. 

Last year, LSU laid an egg in its opener against Mississippi State. A loss here would be more understandable, but it might still light a Bunsen burner under Ed Orgeron’s desk chair. 

MONDAY, September 6

Louisville vs. Ole Miss at Atlanta, 7 p.m., ESPN 

This is a game of the known and unknown for Ole Miss. It is a fact Lane Kiffin’s offense can score against practically anyone. It remains to be seen if the Landshark defense has figured out that tackling is legal. Last year, the offense scored almost at will and put up the most points against Alabama than any other team. But the defense did not help its offense much, forcing Ole Miss to score as often as possible. If the defense shows improvement, the SEC might want to look out. 

Louisville has a weapon that will test that Ole Miss defense. Ladies and gentlemen, meet quarterback Malik Cunningham. Just think of this guy as Lamar Jackson 2.0. He can throw, he can run, he can make a defense wonder where he went on his way to the end zone. 

Tuesday morning, either the Ole Miss Landshark defense or Cunningham will be in the headlines of most newspapers. 

About The Author

Steve Barnes

Steve Barnes joins The Rebel Walk staff as a senior writer and brings a trifecta of journalistic experience. As a writer, he has covered college sports for Rivals.com, Football.com and SaturdayDownSouth.com as well as served as a beat writer for various traditional newspapers. He has been a broadcaster for arena football and several national tournament events for the National Junior College Athletic Association as well as hosting various shows on radio. A former sports information director at Albany (Ga.) State University and an assistant at Troy and West Florida, he has helped host many NCAA conference, regional and national events, including serving five years on the media committee of the NCAA Division II World Series. Barnes, a native of Pensacola, Fla., attended Ole Miss in 1983-84, where his first journalism teacher was David Kellum. The duo has come a long way since that time. He will bring a proven journalistic track record, along with a knack for finding the out-of-the-ordinary story angles to The Rebel Walk. Barnes continues to reside in Pensacola a mere ten minutes from the beach because he does have taste and a brain.

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