A look at things to watch in the Southeastern Conference during Week 1 of the season:
Game of the week
No. 16 Clemson at No. 12 Georgia: One year ago, these two teams provided one of the best opening-weekend matchups in a game Clemson won 38-35. Georgia has the home-field advantage in Saturday’s rematch, which again has as much intrigue as just about any first-week game across the nation. This game could come down to whether Clemson’s defense can slow down Georgia running back Todd Gurley and whether Georgia’s offensive line can keep Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley away from Bulldogs quarterback Hunter Mason. Georgia is 36-1 in home nonconference games since 2001.
Arkansas at No. 6 Auburn: The Razorbacks travel to face the Tigers in a game most notable for the chilly relationship between coaches Bret Bielema and Gus Malzahn. Bielema is an unapologetic basher of the hurry-up offense, claiming it leads to more injuries — while few push the offensive pace like Malzahn. The Razorbacks are clearly long shots in this matchup, coming off an 0-8 record in the SEC last season, but they would love nothing more than to spoil Auburn’s opener after the Tigers played for a national title last season.
Inside the numbers
Only five of the SEC’s 14 members have quarterbacks who started the majority of games for their respective teams last season. Those five teams are Arkansas (Brandon Allen), Auburn (Nick Marshall), Ole Miss (Bo Wallace), Mississippi State (Dak Prescott) and Tennessee (Justin Worley). Wallace’s 6,340 career passing yards lead active league QBs by a wide margin.
Tennessee has more overall talent than six-point underdog Utah State, but the Aggies enter Sunday’s season opener with more experience and the better quarterback in Chuckie Keeton, who is making his first appearance since tearing his anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament midway through last season. “All you have to do is put their film on,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said.
“If you know anything about football, then you say this is a really, really good football team.” The youth of Tennessee’s roster makes this game hard to predict. If Utah State grabs an early lead, how will all the newcomers on Tennessee’s roster respond?
LSU running back Leonard Fournette is only a freshman, but expectations for the highly regarded recruit are through the roof. The 6-foot-1, 230-pounder from New Orleans is already generating Heisman Trophy talk down in Louisiana. While that may be premature, he has a chance to make a big impression when the No. 13 Tigers host No. 14 Wisconsin on Saturday.
Said LSU coach Les Miles: “He’s going to want the opportunity to do everything that he can do. And certainly he’ll play a role in this game.”
AP sportswriters Steve Megargee in Knoxville, Tennessee, and David Brandt in Oxford, Mississippi, contributed to this story.