In just 34 days, Arkansas will host Florida A&M in what amounts to the soft opening of the 2017 SEC football schedule. The real action begins two days after that, with a tantalizing 11-game slate set for Saturday, Sept. 2.
College football is close. So, so close.
As we inch through fall camp and toward Week 1, SEC Country will post a weekly round-up every Friday packed with news, storylines, players to watch, game previews and plenty more that’ll interest football fans.
Here’s what you need to know this week:
Rank ’em: Teams that could topple Alabama
Perhaps more than any other year, 2016 showed just how wide a gap exists between the Crimson Tide and their conference brethren. Nick Saban has built a juggernaut in Tuscaloosa, and in 2017, the biggest important question for the SEC is whether any team can stand in the fiery coach’s way.
Alabama is not unbeatable; we know this. On paper, however, only a few teams seem to have any real shot at pulling off the upset.
No. 5, Mississippi State: Dual-threat quarterbacks have given Saban defenses trouble before, and Nick Fitzgerald — for better or worse — received plenty of offseason attention after his breakout sophomore campaign. Fitzgerald could very well be an All-SEC quarterback, but his offensive teammates need to give him support. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, meanwhile, inherits a unit that confounded MSU fans all too often last year.
No. 4, Florida: Jim McElwain is 0-for-2 against his former boss. Unless Malik Zaire or Feleipe Franks are actually the second coming of Tim Tebow, don’t expect Florida to have enough firepower to snap its six-game Alabama losing streak. The defense should be good once again, even with several high-profile departures, but can the real Gators quarterback please stand up?
No. 3, LSU: The Tigers haven’t beaten the Tide since Nov. 5, 2011. That’s six long years for the LSU faithful. Ed Orgeron might be more motivator than master strategist, but he has two of the country’s top coordinators on staff in Dave Aranda and Matt Canada. That Derrius Guice guy is pretty good, too. And yet, many say this about LSU every year. The Tigers still lack a threat at quarterback. Elite pass-rusher Arden Key underwent offseason shoulder surgery. The receiving corps features DJ Chark and … who else?
No. 2, Georgia: The Bulldogs are the last SEC East team to actually give the West a run for its money in Atlanta, where they nearly upset Alabama in 2012. Now, in just Kirby Smart’s second season at the helm, the media has picked Georgia win its first division crown since that loss. The big concern here: Offensive line overhauls don’t happen overnight. Smart has recruited some big bodies up front, but it’s anyone’s guess how many of them are game-ready. Still, there’s undeniable star power on this roster (see: Nick Chubb), and if QB Jacob Eason taps into his 5-star potential, Georgia can make a run.
No. 1, Auburn: Hugh Freeze’s resignation leaves Gus Malzahn and Kevin Sumlin as the only SEC coaches to have beaten Saban, and the Gus Bus needed a miracle to make that happen. Yet there’s little doubt at this point that Auburn looks like the conference’s clear No. 2. The offense returns serious difference-makers like Kamryn Pettway, Kerryon Johnson, Braden Smith and several promising wideouts. The defense loses Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams, but has potential stars to replace them. The only missing piece last year was quarterback. If Jarrett Stidham can be the guy, Alabama should watch out.
Opening week spotlight: LSU-BYU
- Kickoff time: 9:30 p.m. ET (Sept. 2)
- Location: NRG Stadium (Houston, Texas)
- Last meeting: Never
LSU player to know: Devin White. With Duke Riley and Kendell Beckwith both gone, White, the sophomore linebacker, is an obvious choice to start. He’s listed at 255 pounds, has a 4-star pedigree and sounds like an absolute thumper — which is just what LSU needs.
BYU player to know: Tejan Koroma. The 6-foot, 290-pound center joined the Cougars as a 3-star recruit, but he emerged as one of the best linemen in the FBS last year, when Pro Football Focus named him one of the country’s four best centers.
Key matchup: BYU O-line vs. LSU D-line.
Quote of note: “Let me say this about BYU — 24-, 25-, 26-year-old guys. A lot of them married. Don’t have to worry about curfew. They’ll have 4-year-old sons walking into the game. Have a lot of respect for them.” — Ed Orgeron, via The Advocate.
2 true freshmen to watch: OL
Isaiah Wilson, Georgia: You remember when we mentioned Smart was recruiting big bodies? Enter Wilson, the 6-7 behemoth from Brooklyn who showed up on campus around 350 pounds (he has since shed some weight). He is a 5-star, the No. 16 overall prospect in the 2017 class, and should factor into the competition at right tackle. Which, by the way, is a position where Georgia desperately needs some help.
Trey Smith, Tennessee: Butch Jones may claim to want “5-star hearts,” but he’s probably OK with signing a regular ole’ 5-star, too. Smith, the top-rated recruit from Tennessee’s home state, enrolled early and could also start at tackle for the Vols this fall. Jones has been effusive in his praise of the 17-year-old — yes, he can’t even vote yet — and with the way UT’s O-line struggled last year, fans must be eager to see him succeed.
Hitting the links: Hughbie Doobie Doo, where are you?
SEC Country news you don’t want to miss …
- Don’t judge Hugh Freeze unless … (Alex Smith)
- Father of Shea Patterson discusses son’s future, ‘gutless’ Houston Nutt (Alec Shirkey)
- Nearly 20 years later, Nick Saban’s impact being felt at Michigan State (Christopher Walsh)
- Zion Williamson must be seen to be believed, and Kentucky fans might be seeing a lot of him (Kyle Tucker)
- Gators set at QB for years to come with 5-star commit Matt Corral on board (Zach Abolverdi)
- Freeze’s downfall reminiscent of Jeff Long firing Bobby Petrino (Jason Kersey)
- Auburn 5-star Calvin Ashley will be ready for camp following ‘minor procedure’ (Lauren Shute)
- Ultimate SEC Road Trip: Travel to all 14 stadiums and more (Alex Smith)
- Georgia gets its late addition: JUCO wideout is ‘a go’ to join Bulldogs (Seth Emerson)
- Tennessee football staff gets lift from respected, well-liked Brady Hoke (Mike Griffith)
SEC BBQ spot of the week: Fargo’s Pit BBQ
Fargo’s, located about four miles down the road from Texas A&M’s Kyle Field, is a wonderful little stop if you’re in College Station. When I ate there last November, a line had already stretched out the door just 15 minutes after Fargo’s opened. The wait was worth it: Fargo’s brisket was some of the best I’ve had.
— ShopBrazos.com (@shopbrazos) June 1, 2013