Heavy is the head that wears the crown.
That’s not just something you heard growing up as a kid. The SEC found that out last year, as Florida State took home the final BCS trophy. A few national types laughably began to wonder if that occurrence was the beginning of the end of the SEC’s dominance. In full disclosure, I grew up in ACC territory, despite currently living in (mostly) SEC territory. As with much of today’s consumable media, there’s very little room between calling Finebaum every day and yelling about the SEC and making constant protests about how the conference is overrated. We’ll attempt to walk that fine line here in 2014.
On a serious note, I’m glad you’re all back. The fact that you read what I write each week is extremely cool, but the cooler thing is that you’re supporting Kevin and this site. We won’t always agree in this space and that on the ACC, and that’s fine, but the greater thing to remember is that we all love college football and this is one of the better sites on which to share that love. Now, before we get too sappy, it’s trivia time!
SEC Trivia, Week 1, Part 1 (answer at the end of the column): Since we talked about the SEC’s dominance on the national stage…
Since 2006, the SEC has the highest winning percentage in bowl games (49-24, .671 winning percentage) of any FBS league. Which league has the second-highest bowl winning percentage in that period?
Top of the Ratings
#21 Texas A&M (9-4, 4-4 SEC) at #9 South Carolina (11-2, 6-2 SEC)
6pm ET (Thursday), SEC Network
Last year’s season finales: Texas A&M 52, Duke 48 (Chick-fil-A Bowl); South Carolina 34, Wisconsin 24 (Capital One Bowl)
Program guide: Everyone knows the storylines here. It would take forever to recap them.
A&M faces the season without new ESPN addiction Johnny Manziel, but equally important are the losses of Mike Evans and new Falcon offensive line anchor Jake Matthews. The Aggies are suddenly really young on the offensive side of the ball after these losses. True freshmen Speedy Noil and Frank Iheanacho are in the wide receiver rotation, with sophomore quarterback Kenny Hill (16-for-22, 183 yards, 1 TD in ’13) joining receivers Josh Reynolds, Jeremy Tabuyo and Edward Pope among those likely to see a lot of action. Pope (6’4″), redshirt freshman Ricky Seals-Jones (6’5″), Iheanacho (6’6″) and Reynolds (6’4″) provide a lot of the size — and, hopefully for the Aggies, ability to win matchups downfield — that Kevin Sumlin’s club lost with the departure of Evans. Stalwart Malcome Kennedy will provide stability to the receiving corps.
Bruising running back Tra Carson will join with Brandon Williams to run behind an offensive line composed of two seniors, two juniors and a sophomore. Matthews’ loss is gigantic, but the left side of the line returns to join center Mike Matthews in forming a solid nucleus to protect Hill as he puts his own stamp on the Aggie offense.
This is not to say that the Gamecocks are without their impactful losses. Jadeveon Clowney will look to cause the same havoc with the Texans that he caused in the SEC, while wideout Bruce Ellington, cornerback Victor Hampton, quarterback Connor Shaw and defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles leave large voids for Steve Spurrier’s club.
South Carolina at least has a veteran under center in Dylan Thompson (52-for-89, 783 yards, 4 TD, 3 INT in ’13), along with a seasoned crew of receivers in Shaq Roland, Nick Jones, Damiere Byrd and Pharoh Cooper, among others. Running back Mike Davis will likely split carries — assuming he is able to play on Thursday, that is — with upperclassmen Shon Carson and Brandon Wilds. Observant fans will remember Wilds for his star turn (such as it was) while filling in for injured star Marcus Lattimore. Wilds, from nearby Blythewood, South Carolina, rushed 107 times for 486 yards and three scores in the 2011 season. Whether this offense can take advantage of an A&M defense that finished last in the SEC in total defense by greater than a thousand yards last season and returns just five starters from that unit on the two-deep will likely tell much of the story in this one.
Carolina’s defense will look to bookend mammoth defensive tackles J.T. Surratt and Gerald Dixon, Jr. in Spurrier’s 4-3 defense with sophomore defensive ends Gerald Dixon and Darius English. English’s size (6’6″, 241 pounds) and speed will be desired attributes in replacing Clowney’s ability to pressure the quarterback. Three of the four starters in the Gamecock defensive backfield are freshmen or sophomores, so their ability to jam the Aggies’ physical receivers and get over-the-top help will be items to watch.
This is also, of course, the first football game on the SEC Network. Despite the panic campaign directed toward DIRECTV and cable subscribers by network and Dish officials throughout the summer, many eyes will be focused on Columbia, as the new season opens with what looks to be quite the interesting matchup.
Boise State (8-5) vs. #18 Ole Miss (8-5, 3-5 SEC)
Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, Atlanta, GA
8pm ET (Thursday), ESPN
- Feels like the first time: Boise and Ole Miss have never played each other. The Broncos’ lone victory against the SEC came in their last outing against the conference, a 35-21 defeat of Georgia on September 3, 2011. Georgia, South Carolina and Arkansas (twice) own victories over Boise. Ole Miss is 1-2 against the Mountain West, with losses to Wyoming in 2004 and 2005 and a 43-40 overtime victory against UNLV in 2000 on the Rebels’ ledger.
- Even more firsts: Ole Miss has never played any game in the Georgia Dome, as you’ve probably read elsewhere on this site. They have also never started a season on a neutral field.
- Pulling rank: It’s been six seasons since the Broncos opened a season without being ranked in the Top 25. Boise State finished the 2008 regular season undefeated, losing 17-16 to TCU in the Poinsettia Bowl. That season was former Bronco head coach Chris Petersen’s third year running the club. His then-offensive coordinator, Bryan Harsin, now coaches the team.
Temple (2-10) at Vanderbilt (9-4, 4-4 SEC)
9:15pm ET (Thursday), SEC Network
- Passing fancy: Sophomore quarterback P.J. Walker only started seven games for Temple in 2013, but ended up in the school’s top five all-time in single-season passing yards (2,084) and touchdowns (20). Temple publicizes that Walker is on the watch lists for the Maxwell, Manning and Davey O’Brien awards, among others, in 2014.
- Rubber match: Temple and Vanderbilt both own a win against each other. Temple defeated Vanderbilt 6-3 on October 12, 1935. Vanderbilt notched a 43-14 victory against the Owls on September 30, 2006. Temple’s last victory against an SEC club came in a 20-12 win over Florida on December 3, 1938.
- Troublesome opening acts: One Vanderbilt head coach (Fred Pancoast in 1975, who went 7-4) has a winning record in his first season in the last 65 years. Derek Mason comes from Stanford to take over the Commodores in 2014. Vandy also owns one season-opening win in this decade, defeating FCS-level Elon 45-14 in 2011.
UT Martin (7-5) at Kentucky (2-10, 0-8 SEC)
Noon ET, SEC Network
- A familiar name under center: Though UT Martin has not decided upon their starter at quarterback, fans will recognize one of the men in the rotation. Dylan Favre (Brett’s nephew and former Mississippi State player) will see some snaps for the Skyhawks. Favre started five games last season, sharing time with Jarod Neal.
- Zeroes on alternating sides: UT Martin is 0-3 all-time against SEC competition (Aubnrn, Tennessee and Mississippi State). Kentucky is 6-0 against OVC competition (Eastern Kentucky three times, Jacksonville State, Murray State and Tennessee Tech).
- Big Blue Nation is growing: The first season of Mark Stoops’ tenure at Kentucky may not have been the best on the field for the Wildcats, but an average attendance of nearly 60,000 per home game at Commonwealth Stadium in 2013 shows that fans are clearly energized with the new-look club. Only Washington had a larger jump in crowds last season.
West Virginia (4-8) vs. #2 Alabama (11-2, 7-1 SEC)
Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game (#2), Atlanta, GA
3:30pm ET, ABC/ESPN2
- Unfamiliar foes: West Virginia has played 49 games against current SEC teams (24-23-2). Interestingly, none of those games have come against the Crimson Tide. Alabama has a sub-.500 record (13-17-2) against the current composition of the Big 12.
- Take me home, country roads: Alabama coach Nick Saban is a West Virginia native. He has coached for the Mountaineers (1978-79), but never against the Mountaineers.
- Getting off to a great start: West Virginia has not lost a season-opening game in their last ten. Their most recent win was a 24-17 victory over William & Mary last season. Nick Saban has never lost a season-opening contest in his seven tries as the leader of the Crimson Tide.
South Dakota State (9-5) at #24 Missouri (12-2, 7-1 SEC)
3:30pm ET, ESPNU
- Jackrabbit start: SDSU opens the season as a top-10 (FCS) club. The Jackrabbits earned a 26-7 FCS playoff victory at Northern Arizona last season, prior to a 41-17 season-ending loss at the hands of Eastern Washington.
- Success against the FCS: Missouri has never been defeated by an FCS opponent in 13 outings. Meanwhile, South Dakota State has never earned a victory against an FBS squad. SDSU battled Minnesota in their closest game against FBS competition (2009), before eventually falling 16-13 to the Gophers.
- Mauk trial: With the departure of former quarterback James Franklin (recently waived by the Lions), the Tigers become Maty Mauk’s team. Mauk completed 68-of-133 passes last season as a redshirt freshman, throwing for 11 scores and just two picks. Mauk earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors three times in 2013. Mauk faces a challenge, though, as his top three receivers (L’Damian Washington, Dorial Green-Beckham and Marcus Lucas) have all moved on. The trio accounted for 167 grabs, 2468 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2013.
Trivia answer: I asked earlier: Since 2006, the SEC has the highest winning percentage in bowl games (49-24, .671 winning percentage) of any FBS league. Which league has the second-highest winning percentage?
The American Athletic Conference has a .651 winning percentage (28-15) during that time.