The games are just about here. In a couple of hours, we can stop the guessing and finally let play speak for itself.
But what’s football season without a little fun? Here are last-minute predictions for every one of the SEC’s Week 1 matchups, almost all of which are sure to be wrong, plus a score prediction.
Let’s get this final primer started.
All kickoff times ET unless otherwise noted.
Appalachian State at No. 9 Tennessee: App State beats the spread
Most betting sites have Tennessee favored by 20.5 points, but the Mountaineers are not your average Sun Belt team.
Obviously, there’s the upstart pedigree: A perennial FCS champion that has quickly found success at the FBS level. App State won 11 games in 2015, and its only two losses were to national runner-up Clemson and Arkansas State, which itself swept the Sun Belt.
App State’s top three running backs, who combined for 2,596 yards and 17 touchdowns last year, all return, as does talented dual-threat passer Taylor Lamb.
These are the types of games players don’t always give full attention or effort. Tennessee should be well-prepared in theory, but this is the same program that didn’t exactly steamroll Bowling Green (59-30) and North Texas (24-0) in 2015.
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m., SEC Network (Thursday)
Prediction: Tennessee 41, App State 27
South Carolina at Vanderbilt: The Commodores hold the ‘Cocks to 10 points or fewer
Last season, Vanderbilt was South Carolina’s lone SEC victory, a 19-10 snoozefest in which Pharoh Cooper caught seven passes for 160 yards and a touchdown. This time around, Perry Orth won’t have Cooper to target, and he’ll likely split drives with freshman quarterback Brandon McIlwain.
The Commodores return eight starters on defense, including standout linebackers Zach Cunningham and Oren Burks, and every single projected starters is either a junior or senior. South Carolina has a ton of youth at receiver and fielded a pretty uninspiring rushing attack last year.
So, yeah, don’t expect much offense here.
Kickoff: 8 p.m., ESPN (Thursday)
Prediction: Vanderbilt 20, South Carolina 7
South Alabama at Mississippi State: Damian Williams plays more snaps than Nick Fitzgerald
The only storyline of any interest in this one is Dan Mullen’s quarterback battle, which is down to two.
Despite neither player taking many meaningful college snaps, most have assumed Fitzgerald (last year’s backup) would claim the starting job with ease.That not happening can only mean Williams is putting up a fight.
Mullen has already indicated that both will play against South Alabama, and that he isn’t afraid to let the competition drag on for a few more weeks. Williams will get his shot, has more experience and clearly isn’t giving up.
Kickoff: Noon, SEC Network
Prediction: Mississippi State 41, South Alabama 3
Missouri at West Virginia: The Tigers don’t record a sack
Mizzou returns a stout defensive line anchored by Charles Harris, who recorded 7.0 sacks last year and has his eyes on the Missouri record, and a handful of other dangerous pieces.
But this matchup won’t favor the Tigers. West Virginia returns four starters from last year’s offensive line and averaged more than 48 rushes per game last season.
Dana Holgorsen & Co. will call a high volume of plays, and Missouri’s struggling offense isn’t likely to offer the defense much respite. That will wear Barry Odom’s defense down to the point where it’s hardly generating pressure at all, which in turn plays right into West Virginia’s hands.
Kickoff: Noon, Fox Sports 1
Prediction: West Virginia 33, Missouri 13
No. 5 LSU at Wisconsin: Leonard Fournette gets shut down
“Shut down” is a relative term here, and for Fournette, it amazingly means somewhere between 70 and 90 yards rushing. Recall that only two teams (Alabama and Arkansas) held No. 7 below the century mark last season.
The reasons are obvious. Wisconsin knows what’s coming, returns a talented front seven and historically prides itself on stopping the run. Derrius Guice may tack on a good 50 yards or so, but it’s silly to assume the LSU rushing attack will just run free in Lambeau.
Whether the Badgers score many points of their own is another question entirely. The Tigers could net a third of their points on a pick-six.
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m., ABC
Prediction: LSU 21, Wisconsin 13
No. 16 UCLA at Texas A&M: Trevor Knight throws three interceptions
Knight receives an awful lot of credit for beating Alabama in bowl season, but he’s fairly limited as a passer and tends to make mistakes.
Look at his career line: 57 percent completion and 19 interceptions on 490 attempts. That means four out of every 100 Trevor Knight throws will result in an interception.
On the other side, UCLA returns all four of last year’s starting defensive backs, including a pair of all-conference safeties in Jaleel Wadood and Randall Goforth. The Bruins tied for ninth in the nation with 79 passes defended, and with all that talent back there, you have to think that those will turn into more interceptions at some point.
The Aggies have a boatload of talent at wide receiver. But they need Knight to get the ball there, which he might not do in tough matchups like this one.
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m., CBS
Prediction: UCLA 31, Texas A&M 21
Louisiana Tech at Arkansas: Jeremy Sprinkle leads SEC tight ends in receiving
Louisiana Tech has to replace eight starters from last year’s defense, including all three linebackers, and this was a unit that already struggled to defend the pass.
Razorbacks offensive coordinator Dan Enos is a wizard, and he’ll use Sprinkle to help new quarterback Austin Allen find a rhythm in his first start. Expect Hunter Henry’s successor to have a field day, and for Arkansas to drop big points.
Kickoff: 4 p.m., SEC Network
Prediction: Arkansas 52, Louisiana Tech 17
No. 22 UNC at No. 18 Georgia: “Starting” quarterback Greyson Lambert plays two or three drives
Though it looked like the Bulldogs might go with uber-hyped freshman Jacob Eason right away, last year’s starter Lambert gets the Week 1 nod.
But given Lambert’s game manager profile and Eason’s potential, can we truly expect the Bulldogs to keep him on the bench?
It’s a safe bet that both quarterbacks play against UNC on Saturday, but if Eason steps in and starts outperforming the incumbent, well, Kirby Smart’s decision is made for him.
Kickoff: 5:30 p.m., ESPN
Prediction: Georgia 27, UNC 24
UMass at No. 25 Florida: The Gators pull their starters at halftime
There’s not a whole lot to say about this game. Quarterback Luke Del Rio will get precious reps with the offensive starters. Jim McElwain will get his PB&J sandwich-making skills a warm-up. And, as far as we know, the Gators won’t suspend any more of their players.
UMass has won seven games over the past three seasons, and now that it’s independent, the school has scheduled several games like this to boost athletics revenue (South Carolina and Mississippi State are also on the 2016 schedule).
Florida hopes that this will be a nice little tune-up that allows the offense to develop better chemistry and wipe the Treon Harris days from its memory.
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m., SEC Network
Prediction: Florida 49, UMass 10
Southern Miss at Kentucky: The game will be decided by a last-minute score
Southern Miss is another non-Power Five team with some sneaky firepower. The Golden Eagles went 9-5 last season, but three of those losses came at the hands of Mississippi State, Nebraska and Washington.
Kentucky, meanwhile, lost six of its last seven games in 2015. Three of those were by 24 points or more. The lone win was Charlotte, a team playing its first ever season in the FBS.
The quarterback battle pits Kentucky young gun Drew Barker (two career starts) against Southern Miss senior Nick Mullens, who passed for 4,476 yards and 38 touchdowns last season. The Golden eagles know they can pressure UK offensively, and defensively they can sell out to stop the run. If Barker shows any jitters or shakiness, that could be big trouble.
Even with home field advantage, the Wildcats have a battle on their hands here.
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m., ESPNU
Prediction: Kentucky 31, Southern Miss 28
No. 20 USC “at” No. 1 Alabama: Lane Kiffin fools everyone and unleashes Blake Barnett on the Trojans
Nobody plays the role of college football’s Troll-in-Chief quite like Kiffin.
So get yourself in the mindset of someone like that and imagine: How would it feel to torch the school that fired you with a prized quarterback prospect you snatched from their backyard?
Barnett hails from Corona, Calif., nestled some 50 miles away from the USC campus. It’s against the Nick Saban Way to not roll with last year’s backup/the most experienced quarterback on the roster, but Kiffin is an unconventional guy and Barnett is his hand-picked prospect. Sorry, Cooper Bateman.
Kickoff: 8 p.m., ABC
Prediction: Alabama 38, USC 24
No. 2 Clemson at Auburn: The mercy rule is enforced
OK, not really. But even with an incredibly stacked defensive line — maybe the deepest in the country — Auburn does not have the firepower to hang with Clemson.
Deshaun Watson deservedly draws a ton of praise, but the entire offense is full of proven contributors: 1000-yard rusher Wayne Gallman, last year’s leading receiver Artavis Scott, All-ACC tight end Jordan Leggett and one of the country’s best centers in Jay Guillermo.
More importantly, the Auburn offense may sputter early, giving Watson & Co. more possessions and tiring its defense, and things would simply spiral from there. The ACC’s Tigers should roll.
Kickoff: 9 p.m., ESPN
Prediction: Clemson 45, Auburn 17
No. 11 Ole Miss at No. 4 Florida State: The Seminoles record four sacks
This is a pretty evenly-matched game. Ole Miss has the better quarterback. Florida State has the better running back. Both squads have great receivers, difference-maker pass rushers and respectable back ends on defense.
The obvious mismatch is the Ole Miss offensive line — featuring four new starters — against the Seminoles D-line, spearheaded by All-ACC defensive end DeMarcus Walker (58 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 5 pass breakups, 4 forced fumbles in 2015). Former 5-star stud Josh Sweat received plenty of experience last year, too and should be poised to make big strides as a sophomore.
Playing in Orlando makes this a de facto home game for the ‘Noles, and that may be too much for an Ole Miss O-line that hasn’t gotten much chance to jell.
Kickoff: 8 p.m., ESPN (Monday)
Prediction: Florida State 34, Ole Miss 28