Johnny Manziel has been the dominant headline in the Southeastern Conference this summer, but now we have football on Saturday. The league has the marquee games and the national stage starting on Thursday and going through Saturday night. It is rare to see league teams on a Thursday, so enjoy it while you can.
The four new coaches in the league are all favored to open up with wins, however three could get really dicey. SEC football is back and I am confident that it will end in Pasadena as one half of the final BCS Championship.
Georgia at Clemson
This has the makings of a track meet with two great quarterbacks in Clemson's Tajh Boyd and Georgia's Aaron Murray. These two guys have had similar careers, just look at the numbers the last two seasons.
- Boyd is 21-6 while Murray is 22-6
- Boyd has completed 63% of his passes while Murray is at 62%
- Boyd is 69/25 and Murray is 71/24 in touchdown to interception ratio
For their careers, Murray has 95 touchdown passes which is first on the NCAA active list and Boyd has 73 which is second.
This game could come down to Georgia's run game versus an improved front seven for Clemson. Todd Gurley finished last season with consecutive 100-yard games against Alabama and Nebraska. I would expect Mike Bobo to try and grind out a win in the second half.
A great run game is your best friend on the road and Keith Marshall is bigger and stronger after averaging over six yards per carry in 2012. Mark Richt has never lost to Clemson as head coach or as an assistant. He is a perfect 11-0.
Clemson stat: Tigers have won 18 in a row when leading after the third quarter.
Georgia stat: Georgia is 10-2 in openers under Richt.
Alabama vs. Virginia Tech in Atlanta
This is not your typical Virginia Tech team as 40 percent of its roster making the trek to Atlanta will be freshman or redshirt freshman. The Crimson Tide will eliminate the Hokies run game forcing them to throw. Last season Kirby Smart's defense held 11 of 14 opponents under 100 yards rushing.
AJ McCarron has as many BCS rings (2) as a starter, as he does losses (2), and he will begin a Heisman campaign this week with a deep receiving corps. Keep an eye on No. 70, center Ryan Kelly. He is a rising star in the middle. The defense should be able to play a lot of young guys in this game.
Virginia Tech stat: The Hokies are 0-7 all-time against the No. 1 team in the country.
Alabama stat: The Tide has won 14 in a row away from Tuscaloosa.
LSU vs. TCU in Arlington
The new and improved offense for the Tigers will make it's debut under coordinator Cam Cameron against the Big 12's best defensive team. I am buying what Cameron is selling and I expect Zach Mettenberger to be one of the most improved quarterbacks in the country.
He is 10-3 as a starter, but has been more of a “manager” than a facilitator. The Tigers ranked No. 11 in the SEC in explosive pass plays in 2012 and they have the skilled guys in Landry, Boone and Beckham Jr. to be much better.
I don’t think it matters if Jeremy Hill plays because Alfred Blue is an explosive runner. It could come down to the new look Tiger defense under John Chavis. LSU's front will be on call to match last year's 91 tackles for loss as they look to pressure Horned Frogs quarterback Casey Pachall. Anthony Johnson will be the difference on the inside for the Tigers at nose tackle.
TCU stat: TCU returns eight starters on defense from last year's team that was ranked No. 16 nationally. However, they wont have their best player in defensive end Devonte Fields.
LSU stat: Les Miles is 31-0 in regular-season, non-conference games at LSU.
Mississippi State vs. Oklahoma State in Houston
The Bulldogs will start three new guys in the secondary against one of the nation's prolific passing teams in Oklahoma State. The pass rush will be key because the Cowboys only gave up 12 sacks all last season.
This is only the fourth meeting between these two schools and Dan Mullen is looking for his fifth straight season-opening win. Tyler Russell must be sharp and take care of the football. Last year he completed just 56 percent of his passes with nine interceptions in the Bulldogs five losses.
Oklahoma State Stat: The Cowboys are 8-1 in last nine meetings with SEC teams.
Mississippi State Stat: The last time the Bulldogs had a 300-yard passer was in 2007.
North Carolina at South Carolina: The Gamecocks will break in some young linebackers on defense against one of the best quarterbacks in the Atlantic Coast Conference in Bryn Renner. Steve Spurrier is 8-2 on Thursday nights at South Carolina. He is also 4-0 all-time against UNC, including three wins win he was the coach at Duke from 1987-89. Look for an improved passing game from the Gamecocks who averaged 238 yards per game and ranked sixth in the SEC.
Ole Miss at Vanderbilt: This is the only conference game on the slate this week as the Rebels look for payback after the Commodores beat them 27-26 last year. Laquon Treadwell, Robert Nkemdiche and Laremy Tunsil will make their debuts as true freshman for the Rebels. Keep an eye on D.T. Shackleford who returns to the Ole Miss defense. Vanderbilt will feature new quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels, who did start a game last season against Presbyterian. The Commodores have the league's longest winning streak at seven games. Vandy is just 3-14 all-time when facing an SEC team in its opener.
This and That...
Florida will host Toledo and continue the trend of forcing turnovers, which was the backbone of their 11-win season in 2012. The Rockets feature one of the top offenses in the MAC while the Gators should have one of the best defenses in the SEC. Florida has won 23 consecutive openers the second longest streak in the country.
Texas A&M will take on a solid Rice team in College Station. Kevin Sumlin faced off with Rice four times at Houston and was 2-2 against the Owls. The Aggies were a remarkable 54.5 percent on third down last season and hope to continue that success in 2013.The Aggie secondary will be tested after only allowing teams to complete 56 percent of their passes last season.
Arkansas will open at home against Louisiana in Bret Bielema's opener. This is one of the three that could get dicey if the Hogs don't take care of the football. Last year Arkansas was (-19) in turnover margin and Bielema's teams in the Big Ten were very good in that statistic. The Hogs have won six straight openers. Keep an eye on freshman tailback Alex Collins as Bielema looks to feature a physical ground game.
Tennessee ushers in the Butch Jones era against Austin Peay with Justin Worley at quarterback. He was 1-2 filling in for Tyler Bray back in 2011. I expect the Vols to establish the run game behind one of the best offensive lines in the country. Volunteer coaches are 19-4 in their debuts at Tennessee.
Missouri will take on Murray State out of the Football Championship Subdivision. The Tigers will look to keep James Franklin healthy with an improved running game behind Henry Josey. Last year's 5-7 campaign snapped the Tigers seven-year bowl streak. The Tigers have won seven straight openers under Gary Pinkel.
Kentucky meets Western Kentucky in Nashville in what is a must win game for Mark Stoops. The Wildcat offense could be the difference under coordinator Neal Brown. His passing offense was seventh in the country last year at Texas Tech and produced 44 passing touchdowns. I think both quarterbacks play, but expect Jalen Whitlow to start.
Auburn opens the Gus Malzahn era against Mike Leach and Washington State. All eyes will be on the offense and Nick Marshall. Look for the Tigers to feature the run and Marshall is very explosive in that area. All of Malzahn's offenses at Auburn averaged at least 184 yards per game on the ground. Ellis Johnson will have his hands full with the Cougar offense, but Saturday marks the debut of freshman defensive end Carl Lawson.