The college football season is officially here! I am excited to bring back my weekly SEC Storylines Column which will be posted every Saturday morning before all the action starts! With that said, let’s get to the biggest storylines around the conference in Week 1.
1. The Implications of Auburn vs. Washington
The biggest game in all of college football this weekend features the ninth-ranked Auburn Tigers as they faceoff with the sixth-ranked Washington Huskies in Atlanta.
This game will have huge playoff implications.
If the Huskies win, they would have defeated the best team on their schedule. A win over one of the best teams from the supposed best conference in football would do a lot in the selection committee’s eyes. In fact, Washington would be favored to go undefeated throughout the rest of the season.
On the flipside, this is a must win for the Tigers. They still have Georgia, Mississippi State, and Alabama left on their schedule which means they cannot afford to drop a non-conference game before SEC play begins.
The Pac-12 also badly needs a big-time victory on the national stage after the conference embarrassingly went 1-8 in bowl games last season. If the Huskies lose, I just don’t see the Pac-12 getting a team in the playoff this year which means the odds would increase for two SEC teams to do so once again.
Of course, a lot can happen in the next four months. But for the time being this game will help determine how the 2018 college football season will play out. You will not want to miss out on what should be a great matchup. Also, Expect either Jarret Stidham or Jake Browning to start their Heisman candidacy on Saturday.
Current odds to win via @LVSuperbook
Bryce Love +500
Jonathan Taylor +800
Tua Tagovailoa +400
Jake Fromm +2000
Justin Herbert +2000
Khalil Tate +1200
D’Andre Swift +3000
Jake Browning +2500
Jarrett Stidham +2500
J.K. Dobbins +4000
Kelly Bryant +5000https://t.co/YQn2MoJrRS
— SportsLine (@SportsLine) August 21, 2018
2. Alabama’s Quarterback Battle
Every college football fan has annoyingly been hearing about the Crimson Tide’s quarterback controversy all summer long. And yeaaaaaaaaaa…that is not going to change on Saturday night when Alabama takes on Louisville.
The real story is not the game as the Crimson Tide should very handily take care of the Cardinals. Anything less than a 25-point win would be a surprise to me. The story will be who will get the most reps at quarterback: Tua Tagovailoa or Jalen Hurts?
Because Head Coach Nick Saban let this competition drag all the way into the season, that’s what everyone will be watching. Quite frankly, I think that Tagovailoa is by far the better overall quarterback. However, he would completely change the way Alabama plays football.
I’m just not sure that Saban is ready for that kind of change especially since his current system has worked so well for him. Conservative, run-based football has been the name of the game for most of his time in Tuscaloosa, and Tagovailoa would be anything but a conservative quarterback.
Hurts is a great kid who has represented the Crimson Tide well. However, I really do think that its Tua’s time to shine. It really will be a shame if Saban doesn’t allow his brightest star to shine just because he is different.
"If I see Tua (Tagovailoa) trot out there for the first snap, I'll just say to everyone 'I'm sorry' because it's going to be a long year and they're going to score literally 45-50 every game" – @KirkHerbstreit pic.twitter.com/ZUip858cZw
— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) August 28, 2018
3. Can LSU’s New Offense Pull Off the Upset?
Auburn/Washington isn’t the only top-25 matchup featuring an SEC team this weekend. The 25th ranked LSU Tigers will do everything they can to get a victory against the eighth-ranked Miami Hurricanes on Sunday.
Despite being picked to win, odds makers have Miami as just a 3.5 favorite over the Tigers. This wouldn’t necessarily be a huge upset, but I think that’s an extremely kind spread for LSU. I really think Miami should win this game by double digits even if it will be a low scoring affair.
I’m not that down on LSU, however. They absolutely have the defense to win this game with players like Greedy Williams and Devin White on that side of the ball. However, the offense is in complete rebuilding mode.
Stars don’t lie? #LSU may be unproven, but there’s no lack of talent. Only ONE of LSU’s defensive starters didn’t rank as a blue chip recruit. The offense doesn’t have the star power of the defense, but the cupboard isn’t bare. pic.twitter.com/CnXZN9aGRD
— Cameron Roberson (@LSUbeat) August 30, 2018
Gone is quarterback Danny Etling. Gone is Derrius Guice. And gone is D.J. Chark. Head Coach Ed Orgeron will need more than one offensive player to emerge and have a huge game if they want this victory.
The bad news is that the Hurricanes have a completely revamped and dangerous defense that will make LSU fight for every yard.
If new starting quarterback Joe Burrow can find a groove early and get settled down against the “Turnover Chain” defense of Miami, then LSU might just pull off the upset. However, that might just be easier said than done.
4. Does Tennessee Stand a Chance Against No. 17 West Virginia?
No. No they do not.
In all seriousness, can we talk about the line on this game? The Mountaineers are only favored by 9.5 against a team that went 4-8 overall and 0-8 in the SEC last season. And oh yea, the Volunteers also only return 12 of 22 starters from 2017.
How on earth is West Virginia not a bigger favorite??? I get that their defense isn’t all that great, but their offense is outstanding. And why is Tennessee’s defense being talked about as being “stout?” They gave up an average of 413 yards and 29 points per game in 2017.
Heisman Trophy candidate Will Grier will demolish the Volunteers on Saturday. I guarantee it.
The best arm in College Football ~ Will Grier? pic.twitter.com/6skLiVTTrG
— College Town™ (@CollegeT0wn) August 22, 2018
I’m really high on new Head Coach Jeremy Pruitt. I think he will do some good things in Knoxville. However, this is just a brutal first game. I’ll take West Virginia 42-17.
5. Upset Alert from the Mid-Majors?
I’m looking at two games in particular on Saturday in which mid-major programs can realistically sneak up and defeat their SEC opponents. These matchups are Vanderbilt vs. Middle Tennessee State and Kentucky vs. Central Michigan. Let’s go over the Kentucky/Central Michigan matchup first before you all go crazy on me.
For the record, I’m picking the Wildcats to win on Saturday. I just think that this game will be more competitive than everyone thinks.
This has everything to do with the Chippewas being undervalued. Vegas has them as a 17-point underdog which I think is a bit high for a team that returns a 1,000-yard rusher, most of its defense, and will feature an athletic quarterback.
Touchdown, Central Michigan!
Backup quarterback Tony Poljan enters the game and earns a three-yard rushing touchdown. Central Michigan leads Kent State, 28-10. pic.twitter.com/lG7GG61IcU
— Evan Petzold (@EvanPetzold) November 15, 2017
Kentucky has struggled mightily against Southern Miss the past two years early in the season, and they are pretty similar talent-wise to Central Michigan as far as mid-majors go.
I don’t think the Chippewas pull off the upset. However, I expect them to cover the spread as the Wildcat offense will spend most of the game finding its groove under new quarterback Terry Wilson.
When it comes to the Vandy vs. MTSU game, I think that the mid-major here has a much, much better chance at winning. With quarterback Brent Stockstill back, the Blue Raiders should be the second-best team in Conference-USA.
Just how good a season Vanderbilt has will depend heavily on Kyle Shurmur.
Coach Derek Mason believes the senior quarterback is ready. And the showdown with MTSU QB Brent Stockstill has Mason excited.
— AP Top 25 (@AP_Top25) August 28, 2018
Besides their quarterback, nothing in particular stand out on Vanderbilt’s team. The fact that this is being played in Nashville isn’t even a huge advantage considering that no one really shows up for the Commodores’ games, and MTSU is just a short drive down the road.
This will be a very close game that should come down to the final minutes. For Derek Mason’s sake, he better hope his team can pull off the victory or his team will be in for a very long season in the SEC.