APTOPIX Playoff Championship Georgia Alabama Football

Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith from Amite celebrates his winning touchdown catch against Georgia during the CFP championship game on, Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, in Atlanta.

If you’ve always wanted more Southeastern Conference games, your wish has been granted, though not under the circumstances anyone could have imagined.

With chin straps snapped tight and fingers firmly crossed, the SEC finally rolls out its 2020 football season Saturday. It is a season of 10 conference-only games spread as scheduled over an 11-week window, hopefully leading up to an SEC Championship Game that has also been pushed back to Dec. 19 in Atlanta.

The first weekend is a relatively tame one, with five of the league’s top six teams opening as double-digit favorites including LSU at home against Mississippi State.

But heavy favorites should not rest easy. With two extra games, it will be difficult for any SEC team to get through unbeaten. Of course this year, SEC fans everywhere simply had better hope to get through it with minimum disruption.

1. ALABAMA

THIS WEEK: at Missouri, 6 p.m. Saturday

TV: ESPN

LINE: Alabama by 27

STORYLINE: Yes, they could hold a College Football Playoff without Alabama, which was shut out in 2019 after making the first five. The Crimson Tide is a strong bet to return, bristling with stars like DeVonta Smith, Dylan Moses, Najee Harris and Patrick Surtain. Missouri will only be a speed bump.

2. GEORGIA

THIS WEEK: at Arkansas, 3 p.m. Saturday

TV: SEC Network

LINE: Georgia by 26

STORYLINE: Though 44-12 at Georgia, Kirby Smart chucked his stodgy offense LSU-style for one led by former LSU assistant Todd Monken. Then QB Jamie Newman chucked the Bulldogs, opting out and opening the door for USC transfer JT Daniels. Eight starters return from the nation’s No. 1 defense.

3. FLORIDA

THIS WEEK: at Ole Miss, 11 a.m. Saturday

TV: ESPN

LINE: Florida by 14½

STORYLINE: The Gators are a fashionable pick to end Georgia’s run of three straight SEC East titles. But they must beat Georgia first, something Florida hasn’t done since 2016. Ole Miss will be crackling for its Lane Kiffin opener, but Kyle Trask and UF should head home 1-0 to await South Carolina.

4. LSU

THIS WEEK: vs. Mississippi State, 2:30 p.m. Saturday

TV: CBS

LINE: LSU by 16½

STORYLINE: The Tigers would be wise to regard Mike Leach and Mississippi State’s new Air Raid offense as a live grenade. But the revised SEC schedule with Vanderbilt and Missouri to follow gives LSU a great chance to polish chemistry and depth before a big road test at Florida on Oct. 17.

5. AUBURN

THIS WEEK: vs. Kentucky, 11 a.m. Saturday

TV: SEC Network

LINE: Auburn by 7½

STORYLINE: Returning starters are scant for the Tigers, who host Kentucky in one of the weekend’s most compelling games. Only seven starters are back, four off of 2019’s proud defense, with several backups opting out. Second-year starter Bo Nix must be even better after setting an Auburn freshman passing record.

6. TEXAS A&M

THIS WEEK: vs. Vanderbilt, 6:30 p.m. Saturday

TV: SEC Network alternate

LINE: Texas A&M by 30½

STORYLINE: Do the words “Put up or shut up” mean anything in College Station this season? Year 3 of the Jimbo Fisher era is supposed to pay big dividends. Pressure is on QB Kellen Mond, especially after top WR Jhamon Ausbon opted out. And the schedule, minus Clemson, is tough again.

7. TENNESSEE

THIS WEEK: at South Carolina, 6:30 p.m. Saturday

TV: SEC Network

LINE: Tennessee by 3½

STORYLINE: Optimism is building once more in Knoxville. The Volunteers return 14 starters from an 8-5 team in 2019 including one of the best names in the game: LB Henry To’o To’o. But baby steps, Vols fans. The schedule is, ahem, rocky: at Georgia, Alabama, Texas A&M, at Auburn and Florida.

8. KENTUCKY

THIS WEEK: at Auburn, 11 a.m. Saturday

TV: SEC Network

LINE: Auburn by 7½

STORYLINE: The Wildcats have found their footing under Mark Stoops, winning 18 games the past two seasons combined. All-purpose star QB Lynn Bowden is gone, but the man he replaced after a torn patella, Terry Wilson, does return. UK is aiming to tie the school record with a fifth straight bowl trip.

9. OLE MISS

THIS WEEK: vs. Florida, 11 a.m. Saturday

TV: ESPN

LINE: Florida by 14½

STORYLINE: Was hiring Lane Kiffin a brilliant or desperate move for Ole Miss? The Rebels are already winning the publicity game. Now they must win real games. The first three tests — Florida, at Kentucky, Alabama — looks like an 0-3 start. John Rhys Plumlee, who ran wild against LSU in 2019, is back.

10. MISS. STATE

THIS WEEK: at LSU, 2:30 p.m. Saturday

TV: CBS

LINE: LSU by 16½

STORYLINE: Out of the west comes Mike Leach and his Air Raid offense. So does his quarterback, K.J. Costello, a Stanford transfer. State boasts a bona fide star in RB Kylin Hill (he led the SEC in regular season rushing yards with 1,350) but, surprisingly, no great wide receiver threats.

11. SOUTH CAROLINA

THIS WEEK: vs. Tennessee, 6:30 p.m. Saturday

TV: SEC Network

LINE: Tennessee by 3½

STORYLINE: Former LSU defensive coordinator Will Muschamp (32-32, four seasons) is on a warm seat. It would be much hotter if not for the financial hit from the pandemic all schools are facing. The Gamecocks really need to upset Tennessee on Saturday if they hope to at least reach .500.

12. MISSOURI

THIS WEEK: vs. Alabama, 6 p.m. Saturday

TV: ESPN

LINE: Alabama by 27

STORYLINE: A 12-1 season at Appalachian State earned Eliah Drinkwitz a battlefield promotion to the SEC. If his Tigers can not get gutted by the SEC’s toughest first three games — Alabama, at Tennessee, LSU — they have a long shot at 5-5. Linebacker Nick Bolton is one of the SEC’s very best.

13. ARKANSAS

THIS WEEK: vs. Georgia, 3 p.m. Saturday

TV: SEC Network

LINE: Georgia by 26

STORYLINE: The Razorbacks enter on an epic SEC skid, 0-19 since 2017, the sixth-longest losing streak in conference history. Still, new coach Sam Pittman has drawn some positive buzz and notched a few recruiting wins. Mark Arkansas down for one SEC victory in 2020, but not much more than that.

14. VANDERBILT

THIS WEEK: at Texas A&M, 6:30 p.m. Saturday

TV: SEC Network alternate

LINE: Texas A&M by 30½

STORYLINE: Derek Mason has just 10 SEC wins in six years. No. 11 isn’t coming Saturday in College Station, as his Commodores are staring 0-10 square in the face mask. It might be curtains for Mason except schools aren’t eager to pay coaches millions for not coaching in this financial climate.


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Email Scott Rabalais at srabalais@theadvocate.com