SEC coaches are ready to play one of the most anticipated seasons in recent memory.
Games begin this week as Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Tennessee play Thursday night. This week is about new starters finding their place and determining the true national championship contenders.
Here is what every SEC coach has to say about their first game of the year:
Nick Saban, Alabama
Matchup: vs. No. 20 USC in Arlington, Texas
On evaluating first game performance: “I think that is really important for our football players and our football team, especially at this point, because there is no identity at all. Regardless of what has been said, voted on or anything else, it means nothing in terms of what we need to try and create an identity as a football team.”
Bret Bielema, Arkansas
Matchup: vs. Louisiana Tech in Fayetteville, Ark.
On Austin Allen at QB: “I think he’s ready. I tell you, the guys have really rallied around him. He’s showed me a lot more composure, a little bit more maturity, this year in the fall than at any other time.”
Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Matchup: vs. No. 2 Clemson in Auburn, Ala.
On heading into the first game: “First games are always about adjustments. You got the whole offseason to develop a plan in all three phases and usually after the first quarter you have a good idea and you got to be able to adjust to win first games.”
Jim McElwain, Florida
Matchup: vs. UMass in Gainesville, Fla.
On bouncing back after a loss to Michigan in the Citrus Bowl: “It’s time to go play. It’s been a long time. We left the field with a really bad taste, really bad taste and it’s time to go play.”
Kirby Smart, Georgia
Matchup: vs. North Carolina in Atlanta
On reading for his head coaching debut: “The amount of pressure that I’ve put on myself as a defensive coordinator for the last 10, 11 years, I really believe there’s a lot more decisions that go into that position than the head coach. Not week to week, absolutely not. How we practice, who plays quarterback, all that’s a whole different story. But when it comes to game day, I think the confidence in what we’ve done up to this point allows me to be comfortable with where we are.”
Mark Stoops, Kentucky
Matchup: vs. Southern Miss in Lexington, Ky.
On what’s different this year: “We are mentally much more focused than we have been. I think we are a much more disciplined football team and much more focused. That comes from all the things that I have talked about all year of putting them in more stressful situations and pushing them harder so they have more maturity about them. It is nice to play with a football team that has some experience and has some maturity about them.”
Les Miles, LSU
Matchup: at Wisconsin in Green Bay
On playing at Lambeau Field in Green Bay: “We will go to Lambeau Field. I have not been there, only heard of, and I am hearing from professionals what a wonderful place it is to play and what a great venue and how much it will be enjoyed.”
Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
Matchup: vs. South Alabama in Starkville, Miss.
On preparing for game week: “The transition for our guys is what you work for. You get 12 opportunities a year, and our guys have worked hard. I am excited to see how our guys will handle it. Not the guys that have played a lot of football, but the younger guys. Last week was that transitional week where you are transitioning between camp and game week, but now it’s going on the field.”
Barry Odom, Missouri
Matchup: at West Virginia in Morgantown, W.Va.
On being an underdog this season: “Yeah, I’ll be honest: I really like it. I’d like the opportunity to go prove people wrong. That’s the way I was brought up.”
Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
Matchup: vs. No. 4 Florida State in Orlando, Fla.
On dealing with the distractions: “I didn’t know we had adversity. I just pay attention; I have said this a hundred times, our players are the priority. They have zero to do with whatever the noise is. They should be the focus, and they should be the priority and that is what motivates me…I think about what I owe them to get them ready to play.”
Will Muschamp, South Carolina
Matchup: at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn.
On how players respond to their first game: “You never know how some of these guys are going to respond when they run out of the tunnel. You don’t know how a young man is going to respond when they haven’t been in that situation. You have an idea, and you try and simulate game day as much as you can. That’s what’s exciting and fun about it. That’s part of the adjustments as a staff.”
Butch Jones, Tennessee
Matchup: vs. Appalachian State in Knoxville, Tenn.
On college football kicking off: “I know there’s an excitement in the air right now. College football got off to a start last night and everyone’s excited. Everyone’s optimistic. For the first time Thursday night, we’ll put our initial football identity on video. We’re responsible for what we create so we’re looking forward to that.”
Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
Matchup: vs. No. 16 UCLA
On the opening weekend: “Few years ago fans were clamoring about opening weekend and how boring things were early. Don’t think they can be upset about this weekend. Some great football games. We’re very fortunate to be right in the middle of that on CBS. Weekend is great for college football.”
Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
Matchup: vs. South Carolina in Nashville, Tenn.
On opening against an SEC opponent: “Let’s make no bones about it – we’re playing to win. When it’s all said and done, we’re working towards a great end product and this is a great start that we’re looking for. We’re looking to play South Carolina at our place against a common opponent in conference. Let’s do what we do. That end result will tell us exactly what we want to know.”