If your family has been begging you to take a weekend trip, this probably is the best time to go. An SEC schedule full of lopsided matchups means there are only four games on the Week 2 slate that could cause you to avoid relatives.
Here’s the catch, though: Those four are going to be damn important.
Along with Hans Heiserer, I covered most of the action on Bud Light’s Predictions Among Friends, which you can view here. This post is a more in-depth look at Week 2.
Let’s get the small-time stuff out of the way first.
- Florida, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, LSU and Texas A&M all play FCS teams this week. All of them will win handily (though I’m a little worried about the Aggies’ psychological makeup). The picks: SEC!
- Skip Holtz has turned Louisiana Tech into a consistent Conference USA threat, as the Bulldogs have won bowl games in three consecutive seasons. But Tech is without its star quarterback and two best receivers from 2016, and the defense was one of the country’s worst last season. Prepare yourself for plenty of Nick Fitzgerald touchdowns. The pick: Mississippi State.
- Alabama welcomes Fresno State to Tuscaloosa, which is a little bit like a hungry grizzly welcoming a squirrel into its jaws. No disrespect to Fresno, but the Bulldogs went 1-11 last season and ‘Bama already took the “other” FSU to task on national television. The pick: Alabama.
Now, the matchups that deserve a little more attention …
No. 23 TCU at Arkansas
Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS)
Last year, Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen looked like a superstar as the Hogs beat TCU on the road. Allen finished with 3 touchdown passes, a touchdown run and a 2-point conversion reception in the upset win. Suddenly, he was getting All-SEC buzz.
That game began a run of four straight without an interception, but his decision-making has fallen off since a big loss to Alabama in October. The senior has thrown 14 picks in his last nine contests (Arkansas is 4-5 in that span) and hasn’t been able to recapture the magic of his Fort Worth performance.
Allen’s counterpart also is looking to turn around his narrative. SEC fans remember Kenny Hill as an inconsistent Texas A&M passer, and he’s kept up a frustrating pattern since arriving in the Big 12. His passer rating plummeted last season as TCU finished 6-7 (though he did play well vs. Georgia in the Liberty Bowl).
Saturday should provide a big boost for the winner, and I think that will be Allen against an improved — but still iffy — TCU defense in a high-scoring game. The pick: Arkansas.
South Carolina at Missouri
Saturday at 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
What’s the SEC record for total points in a regulation game? To my knowledge, it’s 108, set by Auburn and Arkansas in 2010. Missouri-Missouri State resulted in 115 last week, and it’s not outrageous to think the Tigers could set a new conference mark against the right opponent this season.
Part of that equation is a Mizzou offense that brought back plenty of good players and can score from anywhere on the field. But a bigger part is the awful, awful defense Barry Odom continues to trot out. Missouri State, a mediocre FCS team, scored 5 touchdowns in the first half last Saturday. It was easy. Bad reads. Bad angles. Missed tackles.
South Carolina showed some promise in a 35-28 win vs. North Carolina State, with sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley proving he can whip the ball around, Drew Lock-style. Count on Bentley to find Deebo Samuel for more than 200 yards as the Gamecocks run away from the Tigers (and earn a spot in the AP Top 25). The pick: South Carolina.
No. 15 Georgia at No. 24 Notre Dame
Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET (NBC)
The mystique surrounding Notre Dame Stadium hasn’t had much effect on opponents lately. Brian Kelly’s team has lost four of six at home, and is 0-5 against its past five ranked opponents (all venues).
But it’s possible those numbers are a mere blip in the Kelly Era. Remember, he took the Fighting Irish to the national championship game five seasons ago and the Fiesta Bowl two seasons ago. Last year was the first time since 2005 that a Kelly-coached team (any school) failed to win eight games.
And, suddenly, Georgia has a major question mark at quarterback. Can Jake Fromm — who might eventually be the No. 1 overall NFL pick — avoid bad decisions and use his magnificent talents for good instead of evil? Under the lights? In a hostile environment?
Expect a defensive battle in which an untimely pair of Bulldogs turnovers give Notre Dame a lead it won’t give back. The pick: Notre Dame.
No. 12 Auburn at No. 3 Clemson
Saturday at 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Mark it: This is going to be remembered as the breakout game for either Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham or Clemson’s Kelly Bryant. The winner could be on the Heisman Trophy short list as early as Sunday morning. Stidham seems like a perfect fit for Gus Malzahn’s up-tempo offense. Bryant is already reminding fans of recently departed All-American Deshaun Watson. One of them will have a big night.
Based on national rankings and recent history, Clemson would appear to have the upper hand. The Tigers shot up to No. 3 after rival Florida State was derailed in Atlanta. Dabo Swinney’s team has won three straight against Auburn (2011, 2012 and 2016) and has lost just once at Death Valley since October 2013.
The visiting Tigers have the firepower — especially in the running game — to make Clemson fans sweat. Big names will tote the football: Stidham, Pettway, Johnson. But just because the home Tigers are relatively anonymous doesn’t mean they have less talent. Against Kent State, Kelly helped lead Clemson to 300-plus yards passing and 300-plus yards rushing. Swinney has 4-and-5-star skill players waiting to be discovered by a national audience.
Defense will be a major factor, but, as I said earlier, it’ll be Stidham or Bryant who gets the limelight. Count on the more consistent program. The pick: Clemson.
How do you see the games playing out this weekend? Let us know in the comments section below.
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