Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week One

"Weak One", & whose in control?

Every Thursday, CFN's Brian Harbach and Russ Mitchell break down the SEC games you need to watch, the SEC questions you want answered, and of course, the SEC Power Rankings. All things SEC from two different SEC writers, with two different SEC points of view. One of 'em always right. Now y'all play nice.

Russ Mitchell covers the SEC for www.CollegeFootballNews.com. He may be reached at russmitchellsec@gmail.com, or on Twitter @russmitchellsec

Brian Harbach covers the SEC for www.CollegeFootballNews.com. He may be reached at harbachcfn@gmail.com, or on Twitter @harbabd


(i) Who has the best SEC performance this weekend (Team or Player)?

Russ Mitchell:

Alabama's Trent Richardson, stepping in for the recently injured Heisman holder Mark Ingram, will shine in the spotlight this Saturday at home against the Trojans. No, not the Men of Troy from LA, but rather the Men of Silicon, USC's neighbors to the north: San Jose State. Yeah, not a stretch, but you asked. Plus you just know Trent wants to make a statement. (Given how light the SEC slate is for "Weak One", the real prediction should be that a whole host of stellar performances are going to make assigning this honor quite difficult.)

Brian Harbach:

There's maybe one game this weekend that's a test for the SEC (not counting the Vandy game of course), however there's no player in the LSU/North Carolina game I can point to that's going to break out. The rest of the games are pretty much blowouts. So out of those games the guy who should have the best weekend is Arkansas' Ryan Mallett. The Razorbacks play FCS team Tennessee Tech in their season opener (RM note: that's not a typo), and Mallett should pass for well over 300 yards and five TDs. The Arkansas receivers are scary talented, and this should be a good starting point to get Mallett comfortable coming off of his injury. It'll be the first of two soft games before Arkansas travels to the hedges.

(ii) Which team is under the most pressure to win opening weekend?


South Carolina. Some will say LSU, arguing now that it appears UNC will be shorthanded that if the Tigers lose, it'll be exponentially detrimental to the fate of Les Miles and his Bayou Bengals. However, UNC is still a top twenty, BCS conference team, and Butch Davis an ex-National Champion, NFL coach. AND it's a road game. We're not suggesting all would be hunky dory down in Red Stick if the Tigers lose, but the Gamecocks are hosting a mid-major, in this a season where low and behold there are actual, realistic expectations of success in Columbia. Yes, the Gamecocks will take the field with suspensions of their own, but these are self-inflicted wounds, for which one rarely gets sympathy. This is a game that SC enters as a favorite – a home game – at night – in the spotlight of a national television audience. Lose this one, and with it go many of the hearts (or minds) of the national media. As for the rest of the season – which starts next week with UGA – should South Carolina lose to Southern Something-or-Another, it's not like they have a recent track record of success (read confidence) to fall back on.


For two very different reasons, LSU and South Carolina are the two teams under the most pressure to win this weekend. Both play prime time games, both play good opponents, and both coaches have something to prove. Either one is a good choice, but LSU is under more pressure to win this game against North Carolina because a loss would hurt them more. If LSU loses to North Carolina, Les Miles is going to be killed for a month. Why a month you ask? Well it'll be a month until the Tigers play a game that has any meaning to it. Even IF they beat their next four opponents (Vanderbilt, MSU, WVU and Tennessee), it won't matter because of a loss to the undermanned Tarheels. Game six is against Florida, and Miles would be under even more pressure to win that one.

Whereas, if South Carolina loses to Southern Miss, the state of Columbia might go into cardiac arrest, but once the paddles have brought them back to life they will remember they have Georgia in a week. Beating Georgia would take away the sting of a loss to Southern Miss, and bring out the comments like "SEC games are all that matter." LSU has to win this weekend; they must take advantage of the likely Tarheel suspensions, the fact they travel so well to Atlanta, and that they are the better team. The SEC has dominated this Kickoff Classic, and LSU should win this one as well.

(iii) What every SEC fan should be talking about in Week One, but isn't?


Well, that leaves out anything to do with suspensions, injured Tide tailbacks, or the heat of Les Miles' seat. We're breaking with form here and picking a single topic. We know that top to bottom the SEC is tough – more so than most conferences. We know how hard it is to travel – and the madness of home crowds. We've visited all our stadiums too many times to count. But this weekend's testament to abject mediocrity is downright embarrassing. We're providing the rest of the CFB world the ammunition that at day's end, all we beat of any substance is our own – and thus, how can we continue to suggest we're the best? True, during the past decade we have had a series of big post-season victories and a high percentage of (non-conference) bowl victories. But beyond that, it's downright cowardly to schedule like this.

We recognize that money is a driving force in these decisions, that an extra home game each season is worth north of six figures, and teams of note will demand a home and home – thereby costing money. But that doesn't change the fact that – long-term – we look like cowards. More importantly, that it does damage to prestige. And in a sport without a playoff, one that's basically a glorified beauty contest, prestige is next to godliness – it's what gets you into the National Championship. And with it, the booty.


I wasn't sure what to talk about at first, but then it hit me: this is the worst opening weekend of SEC games I can recall. Sure there are some good ones – LSU/North Carolina and South Carolina/Southern Miss. But where are the rest of the games? There are some good ones sprinkled throughout the month of September and early October, but what a terrible slate of games for an entire conference the first weekend.

The SEC plays more FCS opponents (3) the first week than they do BCS opponents (2). Last year in the first week we had Alabama vs. Virginia Tech, Georgia at Oklahoma State, LSU at Washington and South Carolina at NC State. One third of the league played in big games! But this year it's one out of twelve, with LSU the only team willing to schedule a challenge for the opening week. It is pretty disappointing that the best league in the country has decided not to show it starting the year.

IN FOCUS: Which SEC Coach/Player is in the Spotlight this week?


LSU's Offensive Coordinator Gary Crowton. This is it. You've had the entire offseason to prepare for this game. You have three of the most dynamic offensive weapons in the country in Toliver, Randle and Shepard. You have a QB that, while young, now has 15 starts under his belt. You have been roundly, and perhaps somewhat unfairly given the last point, criticized. However, you also have a track record of diminishing returns at each of your stops. This is it, Mr. Crowton. And given the weak slate this weekend, it's not just the LSU Faithful that will be glued to the set – it's likely the entire SEC will be watching. Watching with not just your own job on the line, and perhaps the fate of your team, but the pride of an entire conference. Sleep tight.


It is a blessing and a curse to be the first team on national television each season. South Carolina wanted it, and for the third straight year they kickoff the CFB wonderland on a Thursday night. Steve Spurrier has a potential mess on his hands this year with no clear cut starter at QB, a bevy of off field issues, and a Southern Miss team coming in to Williams Brice that thinks it can win. It'll be up to Spurrier to get his team focused and prepared for a battle in their season opener; Carolina has not played great in their first games under Spurrier, and they have never had these kinds of distractions. And this is a decent Golden Eagles team. There are a lot of expectations on South Carolina in Spurrier's fifth season, the defense is stacked, the schedule is manageable, and they have an experienced quarterback. Is this a new year in Columbia or status quo?



1 Alabama – Ouch. Trent might be great, but Lacy's no Ingram
2 Florida – So much talent; based on good coaching and a weak division
3 LSU – Yes. The Tigers. And if not for a brutal schedule, they could be higher
4 Arkansas – A better Offense than Auburn
5 South Carolina – Please don't embarrass the conference; and me
6 Auburn – See Arkansas above
7 Georgia – Only because Miss State is rebuilding
8 Miss State – Yes. Miss State. And that's factoring losses to the W teams above
9 Tennessee – The very definition of a honeymoon
10 Kentucky – Very tough to gauge – could end up ahead of UGA, MSU & UT
11 Ole Miss – Hello Stanley. Check out the LSU offense from 2008; start drinking now
12 Vanderbilt – Will upset Northwestern; highlight of season


1 Alabama – Nick Saban + Kirby Smart = a defense that'll be just fine
2 Florida – Gators are good. No, they're not. Yes, they are. No. Ok, sticking w/ good
3 LSU – Hard to sleep on the Bengal Tigers w/ all their talent; they're loaded
4 Auburn – Only way this team cracks into the top three is if the defense is much better
5 Arkansas – see Auburn (RM note: Wrong.)
6 Georgia – If it wasn't for the O-line, we'd have no faith in Aaron Murray's first year
7 South Carolina – Your program's light when the true freshmen could start game 1
8 Miss State – Addition by subtraction for MSU w/ graduation at the QB position
9 Ole Miss – Wow, that changes things
10 Kentucky –Cobb would be such an awesome QB, but we'll settle for whatever we get
11 Tennessee – Dooley needs to build some mo before the Ducks come to town
12 Vanderbilt – Larry Smith named starting QB, but Vandy fans can't be excited



1) North Carolina vs. LSU; Saturday, September, 4th. How does one accurately forecast a game when just two days before it's unclear who is going to take the field? But that in and of itself is enough. Were this the third or fifth game of the season, UNC would have everything in motion – the players would be set in their weekly routine, and the Tarheels might have been able to avoid this distraction. However, in the dog days of summer, there's little to do. This UNC team is distracted, and the Tigers, boys and girls, are still talking about their SEC brothers in the media picking them fourth best in the West. Who do you think is focused on winning, and just winning?
Pick LSU 31, North Carolina 13

2) Southern Miss vs. South Carolina; Thursday, September 2nd. Steve, you still have one of the country's best defenses. One of its best receiving corps. Plus a stable of offensive weapons. AND even if the Golden Eagles are projected in the hunt for their conference title, it's CONFERENCE USA. Do not lose this game.
Pick South Carolina 21, Southern Miss 13

3) Kentucky vs. Louisville; Saturday, September 4th. As we've written previously, both of the state's flagship programs enter this game with African American head coaches. That's a long road from Nat Northington. The difference though is that Joker Phillips has been with the Wildcats for years, enabling a more seamless transition. That and the cupboards are a bit bare in Louisville. We're big believers in Charlie Strong and think he could break Wildcat hearts in years to come. But not this year.
Pick Kentucky 28, Louisville 17


1) North Carolina vs. LSU; Saturday, September 4th. Aside from one of the more interesting games on the field this weekend, the LSU/UNC game gives us plenty of off-the-field entertainment. Les Miles is already under pressure to win, and now that Butch Davis' team is in a free fall, it is assumed LSU should win. Hello pressure, my name's Les. A loss for the Tigers would be bad; a win for UNC would be amazing considering they don't even know who is going to be eligible to play. Or at least so they say. Bottom line is that LSU plays well against the ACC in the Georgia Dome, and they will again this weekend.
Pick LSU 27, North Carolina 17

2) Southern Miss vs. South Carolina; Thursday, September 2nd. South Carolina has quarterback issues, off-the-field issues, and the pressure is on to win big this season. Even with that stress in the back of their heads, this is a game that South Carolina wins. They are better than Southern Miss, their defense is nasty and they are at home kicking off the 2010 season. All that other stuff will cause this to be a four quarter game, but South Carolina hangs on for a tough win.
Pick South Carolina 20, Southern Miss 14

3) Kentucky vs. Louisville; Saturday, September 4th. Two new coaches starting out in The Governor's Cup, but Kentucky and Joker Phillips have a distinct advantage in this one. The Wildcats are essentially the same team under Phillips, and they have some very dangerous returning pieces. Randall Cobb, Mike Hartline and Derrick Locke should all have big games, as Kentucky takes home the trophy for a fourth straight year. Bet that's gotta sting.
Pick Kentucky 31, Louisville 21

Don't forget to read CFN's Barrett Sallee Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes every Wednesday.

Russ Mitchell covers the SEC for www.CollegeFootballNews.com. He may be reached at russmitchellsec@gmail.com, or on Twitter @russmitchellsec

Brian Harbach covers the SEC for www.CollegeFootballNews.com. He may be reached at harbachcfn@gmail.com, or on Twitter @harbabd

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