The fact that Auburn had taken the future national champions to the final series seemed almost an afterthought. Clemson’s 19-13 escape from Jordan-Hare Stadium last season was eclipsed by quarterback mismanagement on the part of Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, which incited such an uproar that his seat quickly heated from lukewarm to broil.
No need to employ three different players at the quarterback position this time around, at the ACC’s version of Death Valley. Jarrett Stidham ran for one touchdown, passed for two, and accounted for 202 yards in total offense in his debut last weekend against Georgia Southern. And in the biggest game this week involving an SEC team, he gives No. 13 Auburn a real chance to knock off the defending champions Saturday night.
With Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois out for the season, Auburn suddenly looms as perhaps the biggest obstacle to an unbeaten campaign for the third-ranked Tigers. Auburn has the defense, the running game, the kicker and now the quarterback to get it done — but in Memorial Stadium, it still may not be enough.
On to predictions for Week 2, with all kickoffs listed in Eastern Daylight Time.
No. 13 Auburn at No. 3 Clemson: Behind Jarrett Stidham, Auburn pushes Clemson to the brink
Place Stidham behind center in last season’s game, where Auburn’s offense woes ruined a terrific effort on defense, and maybe the SEC Tigers have a better chance than a desperation heave at the end. Clemson remains spectacular on the offensive line and on defense, and new quarterback Kelly Bryant has almost as many weapons around him as Deshaun Watson did. But Auburn will have a shot here if it can manage the atmosphere — maybe a Daniel Carlson kick attempt at the horn?
READ MORE: Clemson, Auburn feel ‘like cousins’
Kickoff: Saturday, 7 p.m. ESPN
Line: Clemson by 5
Prediction: Clemson 27, Auburn 24
Eastern Kentucky at Kentucky: Benny Snell has a big day for the Wildcats
The best opening weekend in recent memory begets a somewhat underwhelming Week 2, with this being the first of several matchups against lesser-tier opponents that should not be close. Expect the Wildcats to feed running back Benny Snell early and often against the FCS (get used to it) Colonels, setting up a showdown at South Carolina next week.
READ MORE: Freshman linebacker impressing on defense
Kickoff: Saturday, noon, SEC Network
Prediction: Kentucky 41, Eastern Kentucky 10
Tennessee-Martin at Ole Miss: Rebels enjoy another big win before things get real
After routing South Alabama last weekend, Ole Miss continues the “can we forget about last summer?” portion of its schedule with what should be an even easier romp past the FCS (yep) Skyhawks. Enjoy it while it lasts, Rebels — it’s at California, at Alabama and at Auburn the next three weeks, when the shortcomings of this program surely will begin to show.
Kickoff: Saturday, noon, SEC Network Alternate
Prediction: Ole Miss 51, Tennessee-Martin 17
Fresno State at No. 1 Alabama: Tide rolls to one of best offensive days under Nick Saban
Hey, it’s not an FCS opponent! But it might as well be. After manhandling then-No. 3 Florida State last week, Alabama welcomes Fresno State, which went 1-11 last season and opened with a 66-0 rout of Incarnate Word, which might be a high school. You might want to take the 43½ on this one, where quarterback Jalen Hurts and that array of Crimson Tide offensive stars will thrive virtually unchecked.
Kickoff: Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ESPN2
Line: Alabama by 43½
Prediction: Alabama 63, Fresno State 10
TCU at Arkansas: Chase Hayden establishes himself as Razorbacks’ go-to rusher
Freshman Chase Hayden rushed for 120 yards and a touchdown in his debut last week against Florida A&M, sharing time with Devwah Whaley and David Williams. Whaley is listed as the starter again for TCU, but watch for Hayden to gradually assert himself behind center Frank Ragnow and that Arkansas offensive line, and for the Razorbacks’ ball-control offense to make the difference against the Horned Frogs.
Kickoff: Saturday, 3:30 p.m., CBS
Line: TCU by 3
Prediction: Arkansas 27, TCU 24
Indiana State at No. 25 Tennessee: Vols remain turnover-free heading to Florida
Despite a 14-point deficit, coach Butch Jones and his Fighting Trash Cans rallied to take down Georgia Tech in double overtime Monday night, thanks in large part to a timely fumble recovery that helped negate being outgained by nearly 300 yards. The Vols didn’t turn the ball over, despite starting a first-timer at quarterback. Expect more of the same against the FCS (again?) Sycamores, and a turnover-free team heading to Florida next week.
Kickoff: Saturday, 4 p.m., SEC Network
Prediction: Tennessee 51, Indiana State 16
Alabama A&M at Vanderbilt: Ralph Webb goes over 200-yard mark once again
By Vanderbilt standards, winning handily at upset-minded Middle Tennessee last week was progress. Now the Commodores go for their first 2-0 start since 2011 against against FCS (you guessed it) opponent Alabama A&M, which was drilled 38-7 last week at resurrected UAB. Ralph Webb carried the Commodores last week with 211 rushing yards, the third-highest single-game total in school history. Expect more of the same from the senior running back against the outmatched Bulldogs.
Kickoff: Saturday, 4 p.m., SEC Network Plus
Prediction: Vanderbilt 45, Alabama A&M 3
South Carolina at Missouri: Gamecocks’ defense slows Mizzou’s Drew Lock just enough
South Carolina was outgained by more than 250 yards last week, but the Gamecocks defense made the plays it needed to in the second half to beat North Carolina State. Now comes a taller task in Lock, the Missouri quarterback who passed for 521 yards and a school-record seven TDs in a rout of FCS Missouri State. South Carolina won’t shut down Lock, but USC has enough pieces on defense to frustrate the junior, and an offense of its own to keep pace.
Kickoff: Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN2
Line: Missouri by 2½
Prediction: South Carolina 41, Missouri 38
Nicholls at Texas A&M: Aggies will lead by 34 — and this time, not lose
How hot is coach Kevin Sumlin’s seat after last week’s epic collapse in the Rose Bowl? You could fry an egg on it. Now the Aggies are without starting quarterback Nick Starkel due to an ankle injury. Against the FCS (oh, goodness) Colonels, Texas A&M should feed the running game that worked so well for so long against UCLA. And this time, don’t stop feeding it.
Kickoff: Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPNU
Prediction: Texas A&M 38, Nicholls 14
Chattanooga at No. 12 LSU: Tigers defense throws another shutout
The rest of the league surely took notice last week when LSU’s defense dominated BYU, not even allowing the Cougars to run a play on the Tigers’ side of the field. Saturday in its home debut against FCS (enough already!) opponent Chattanooga, expect more of the same from LSU. The Mocs may cross the 50, but the Tigers defense will put up a goose egg for the second straight week.
Kickoff: Saturday, 7:30 p.m., SEC Network
Prediction: LSU 38, Chattanooga 0
No. 15 Georgia at No. 24 Notre Dame: Bulldogs beat the Irish at their own game
It will be an electric atmosphere for Georgia’s first visit to Notre Dame Stadium, but everything the Irish do, the Bulldogs do a little bit better. The absence of quarterback Jacob Eason shouldn’t make a difference for a Georgia team that can control tempo behind its vaunted running game. The Bulldogs will turn back a Notre Dame squad still rebuilding after a collapse to 4-8 last season.
Kickoff: Saturday, 7:30 p.m., NBC
Line: Notre Dame by 4
Prediction: Georgia 28, Notre Dame 20
Mississippi State at Louisiana Tech: Nick Fitzgerald helps Bulldogs avoid upset
Mississippi State visits Ruston, La., for the first time since 2008 in an under-the-radar good game that should be closer than the Vegas line. Louisiana Tech coach Skip Holtz had to replace a number of key pieces on an offense that averaged 514 yards per game last season, but the system remains the same. Yet the best player on the field will be Nick Fitzgerald, whose running and passing will thwart La Tech’s upset bid.
Kickoff: Saturday, 7:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network
Line: Mississippi State by 8½
Prediction: Mississippi State 38, Louisiana Tech 34