No. 9 Auburn opens with marquee matchup vs. No. 6 Washington
Here are a few things to watch during the opening week of the Southeastern Conference football season:
GAME OF THE WEEK: No. 9 Auburn vs. No. 6 Washington in Atlanta. Auburn opens the season as one of the SEC’s highest-regarded teams , but the Tigers’ schedule is absolutely brutal, starting with the neutral site game against the Huskies. The game features an elite quarterback matchup with Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham and Washington’s Jake Browning. It’s also an opportunity for the Pac-12 to gain some momentum with a big win after going 1-8 in bowl games last year.
MATCHUP OF THE WEEK: LSU QB Joe Burrow vs. Miami secondary. Burrow, an Ohio State graduate transfer, will make his first career start Sunday when the 25th-ranked Tigers face No. 8 Miami at Arlington, Texas. Burrow will face a tough task against a Miami defense that had 31 takeaways last season to tie for third among all Football Bowl Subdivision teams. Miami’s defense features three preseason all-ACC selections in linebacker Shaquille Quarterman, cornerback Michael Jackson and safety Jaquan Johnson.
NUMBERS GAME: The SEC has five new coaches this season: Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher, Mississippi State’s Joe Moorhead, Arkansas’ Chad Morris, Florida’s Dan Mullen and Tennessee’s Jeremy Pruitt. That represents the SEC’s highest total since 1946, when the league had six new coaches. ... Mississippi is the only Football Bowl Subdivision team that returns three receivers who caught at least seven touchdown passes last season: A.J. Brown, DaMarkus Lodge and D.K. Metcalf. ... Fisher is seeking to become the first Texas A&M coach to win his debut game since Dennis Franchione in 2003. Mike Sherman and Kevin Sumlin both began their tenures with losses. ... Auburn’s matchup with Washington marks its fifth meeting with a top-10 team in its last six games, dating back to last season. ... Kentucky has a new starting quarterback to open the season for the fourth straight year. The job this year is going to Garden City (Kansas) Community College transfer Terry Wilson.
UPSET OF THE WEEK: Tennessee is a 10-point underdog against No. 17 West Virginia at Charlotte, North Carolina, but the Volunteers own a 5-0-1 record in season-opening neutral-site games. That mark includes an overtime victory last year over Georgia Tech in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Tennessee will struggle to slow down preseason All-America quarterback Will Grier, but the Vols could run the ball well enough to shorten the game and keep West Virginia’s high-powered offense on the sidelines. Vanderbilt’s a three-point favorite over Middle Tennessee but could have a tough time containing Blue Raiders quarterback Brent Stockstill, particularly now that the Commodores’ secondary has lost some depth with safety Zaire Jones getting suspended indefinitely following an arrest last week.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa. All eyes have been on the quarterback battle in Tuscaloosa, but coach Nick Saban hasn’t given many hints . Jalen Hurts has won a lot of games at Alabama, but it’s hard to believe Tagovailoa stays off the field completely after he threw for 166 yards and three touchdowns in last year’s national championship win over Georgia.
Steve Megargee from Knoxville, Tennessee, and David Brandt from Jackson, Mississippi, contributed to this story.