Now that South Carolina and Tennessee escaped with the SEC’s first wins, it’s time to look at the best of the weekend.
This slate has the potential to be among the best in football history. Five SEC teams play against ranked opponents, with three occurring between a pair of top 25 teams. By Monday night, 11 of the top 25 teams will have played in an SEC game.
With those numbers in mind, here are the top five SEC games of the opening weekend.
Texas A&M vs. No. 16 UCLA
3:30 p.m. Saturday in College Station, Texas (CBS)
The Trevor Knight experiment begins Saturday afternoon at Kyle Field. This game pits new Aggies offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone against his former team and a roster of players he helped recruit to Los Angeles.
Blue-chip quarterback Josh Rosen leads the Bruins. As a true freshman, Rosen threw for 3,670 yards and 23 touchdowns while leading UCLA to an 8-5 record. The outcome will rest on line play, as the Bruins replace three starters up front.
Although UCLA is ranked, Texas A&M has the upper hand. The Aggies return more starters and own a perfect 12-0 record against non-conference opponents under Kevin Sumlin. Perhaps the only disadvantage is playing at Kyle Field – Sumlin has just one home ranked win in seven tries.
No. 5 LSU vs. Wisconsin
3:30 p.m. Saturday in Green Bay, Wis. (ABC)
Less than a year after LSU brass tried to fire Les Miles, the Mad Hatter is back with title aspirations. Star running back Leonard Fournette is the ultimate mismatch and should be a Heisman finalist. Miles also added Dave Aranda to the staff at defensive coordinator, and he’ll face off against his old team this weekend.
Wisconsin is the Big Ten version of LSU – just worse. The Badgers lost Corey Clement for the season in 2015, which derailed their chances of capturing the division. Wisconsin and Paul Chryst now have a major opportunity in front of a sea of Wisconsin fans at Lambeau Field.
LSU is good enough to take a lead, but Wisconsin does not go away easy. Keeping a foot on UW’s throat will be LSU’s top priority. Quality quarterback play from Brandon Harris wouldn’t hurt either.
No. 18 Georgia vs. No. 22 North Carolina
5:30 p.m. Saturday in Atlanta (ESPN)
From a rankings perspective, this is the tightest matchup of college football’s opening weekend. But more importantly, Saturday marks Kirby Smart’s head coaching debut. UGA is in a great spot, returning star RB Nick Chubb to the lineup in time for a porous run defense.
North Carolina replaces star quarterback Marquise Williams, but the coaching staff is high on Mitch Trubisky. He’s accumulated more than 1,000 passing yards as a reserve. UNC also boasts Elijah Hood, one of the nation’s most underrated running backs.
This game will come down to North Carolina’s rush defense. The last time we saw them, the Tar Heels were getting bulldozed by Baylor for 645 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in the Russell Athletic Bowl. If the front seven hasn’t improved, it will be a long day in Atlanta.
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 20 USC
8 p.m. Saturday in Arlington, Texas (ABC)
Alabama begins its title defense with one of college football’s traditional powers. Despite replacing 11 starters, Alabama returns some of the most disruptive playmakers in the nation, including defensive end Johnathan Allen and linebacker Tim Williams.
USC is searching for answers across the roster. Wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster has accumulated 2,178 yards in a young career and will take his place as an All-American in 2016. He will be important as head coach Clay Helton breaks in longtime QB Max Browne as the starter.
USC is a difficult matchup, but Alabama should be able to decimate the Trojans on the lines.
No. 11 Ole Miss vs. No. 4 Florida State
8 p.m. Monday in Orlando, Fla. (ESPN)
Quarterback Chad Kelly is a signature player in the SEC, but can he perform against a College Football Playoff contender? All eyes will be on this Monday night matchup, as the Rebels try to prove their success under Hugh Freeze is sustainable.
Running back Dalvin Cook headlines a Florida State team determined getting back to the playoff this season. This game also marks the debut of FSU freshman QB Deondre Francois. Hailing from IMG Academy, Francois hopes to make an impact in his first start.
Though both Kelly and Cook are Heisman contenders, expect this matchup to be a defensive struggle.