The SEC season has finally arrived.
College football’s opening weekend is poised to be one of the best in recent memory. SEC teams play seven games against Power Five opponents, five against ranked teams.
Not only will conference bragging rights be on the line — coaching careers will be too.
Here are the SEC coaches with the most to gain and most to lose in the first week of the season.
Gain: Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
No. 11 Ole Miss vs. No. 4 Florida State – 8 p.m. Monday in Orlando, Fla. (ESPN)
Ole Miss opens with a brutal matchup against Florida State. The Seminoles are 7-1 odds to win the national championship and will be playing just 250 miles from campus at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla. All conventional logic points to a comfortable win for Florida State.
But with star quarterback Chad Kelly, the Rebels led the SEC in scoring, passing and total offense in 2015. The season can’t begin soon enough for the Rebels, who faced allegations of NCAA allegations during the offseason. More than anything, this is an opportunity for Hugh Freeze to prove his program has staying power, even after losing three All-Americans to the NFL.
Lose: Les Miles, LSU
No. 5 LSU vs. Wisconsin – 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Green Bay, Wis. (ABC)
Miles could be on the hot seat every week. LSU brass moved to fire him last season, but fans revolted and he held onto his job. Now, every week will be a litmus test.
The Tigers have an opportunity to make a statement against Wisconsin at Lambeau Field. In many ways, the Badgers are a less talented version of the Tigers. The offense changed slightly after losing RB Corey Clement, but the Badgers rely on a power run game. LSU needs to impress, or Miles could quickly lose the administration.
Gain: Will Muschamp, South Carolina
South Carolina at Vanderbilt – 8 p.m. Thursday in Nashville, Tenn. (ESPN)
The Muschamp era is upon us in Columbia. As opposed to 2011, when he took over a Florida team with recent national championships, the expectations at South Carolina are low. Muschamp will have an opportunity to build a program from scratch.
The Gamecocks play an underrated Vanderbilt team in the first week of the season. South Carolina could start freshman QB Brandon McIlwain, and with lower expectations, any flashes of brilliance will be devoured by its fans.
Lose: Kirby Smart, Georgia
No. 18 Georgia vs. No. 22 North Carolina – 5:30 p.m. Saturday in Atlanta (ESPN)
Georgia did not fire longtime coach Mark Richt to take a step back. Richt averaged 9.7 wins per year for 15 years, but it wasn’t enough to save his job. Even in his final season, the Bulldogs won 10 games and beat Penn State in the TaxSlayer Bowl. The message is clear: Smart is expected to win trophies.
Smart’s first game comes against North Carolina, and even though the Tar Heels are ranked No. 22, Georgia fans won’t be happy if the Smart era starts with a loss to an ACC program.
Gain: Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
Texas A&M vs. No. 16 UCLA – 3:30 p.m. Saturday in College Station, Texas (CBS)
After a blazing start to Sumlin’s SEC career, the Aggies have struggled to an 11-13 conference record over the past three years. With a potential battle with Texas for Tom Herman on the horizon, the seat has to start getting warmer.
Sumlin’s greatest failure has been his inability to win games against ranked opponents at home. Since his arrival in 2012, the Aggies are just 1-6 against ranked opponents at Kyle Field. Strangely, Texas A&M is 8-5 against ranked teams away from from home. No. 16 UCLA will be the perfect opportunity to rewrite that storyline.
Lose: Nick Saban, Alabama
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 20 Southern California – 8 p.m. Saturday in Arlington, Texas (ABC)
To be clear, Saban is the most untouchable man in college football. But with the sustained success comes lofty expectations – anything less than a national championship will be seen as a disappointment.
Alabama must replace several key pieces, including Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, SEC Defensive Player of the Year Reggie Ragland and consensus All-American A’Shawn Robinson. A marquee matchup against USC in Arlington, Texas, will test a new wave of playmakers.