In this mix are last year’s national champions, three new coaches and another, whose 10-year contract arouses expectations for a record of more than 17-9.
And there’s also Auburn # 8, where any coach has lost two games when faced with figurative pitchforks and torches. Fortunately for Gus Malzahn, he has two Iron Bowl wins to draw on in the past three years. Even so, Auburn automatically burns craziness.
While the Tigers of the Plains are always in zigzag when they are supposed to zigzag, the Tigers of Death Valley can only go down after the dominant 15-0 run of the LSU. Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow is one of nine offensive starters who disappeared a year ago. That group included three draft picks for the first round and is likely to add a fourth in 2021, with Ja’Marr Chase retiring from this season. Throw in a defense with three returning starters and there’s little continuity in the field for last year’s title winners. In Baton Rouge it will be completely different by default.
Does a non-juggernaut LSU open the door for a breakthrough season at No. 10 Texas A&M? Jimbo Fisher was lured away from Florida state to replicate his success in Tallahassee, but the aggies under him so far are 1-5 against Alabama, Auburn and LSU. That won’t cut it. Don’t look for sweeping conclusions this week. Vanderbilt visits College Station.
Then there are the three new trainers. Sam Pittman is the trainer who first handed over the keys to a job at a four-year school when he was 58. The problem is that the school is Arkansas, which has lost 19 consecutive SEC games and 23 out of 27 overall. Winning a game or two – a game or two – would indicate progress in Fayetteville.
Then there are one or the other pair of Magnolia State. Lane Kiffin, 45, begins his fifth head coaching stint when Mississippi receives Florida. The rebels haven’t set a victory record since 2015, the second-longest drought in the league after Vanderbilt. However things go in Oxford over the next few years, it probably won’t be boring.
Mike Leach, King of the Pirates, took over the state of Mississippi in January and stormed back into the SEC for the first time since serving as Kentucky Offensive Coordinator in the Tim Couch era. His craziness will receive far greater immediate audiences in the SEC than it has ever done in far-flung areas like Texas Tech and Washington State.
What does the change mean? In the short term, Alabama is likely to recapture the division, as long as everyone can actually control a 10-game season. But in the long run, things are unlikely to look like they did with SEC West in 2019.
Five with the most at stake
1. State of Florida. The Seminoles had an open date following their flawed 16:13 loss to Georgia Tech and they’ll have to go without coach Mike Norvell, who tested positive for the coronavirus in the first year, for a 12th place game in Miami. The state of Florida fell to Miami three times in a row for the first time since a six-game skid from 2000 to 2004, and a flat performance would give Florida state fans one more reason to write off this season.
2. Tennessee (and also South Carolina). Trainer Jeremy Pruitt received a two year extension and raise this week, which is very good for him and enviable for many people in the age of Covid. But he also has some immediate expectations to deal with. Tennessee should be the third best team in the SEC East after Georgia and Florida. That means it should deal with a Gamecocks bunch that comes out of a 4-8 season. But Tennessee hasn’t done a lot of things it should have done in the past decade.
3. Cincinnati. Central Florida impressed in their 49-21 loss to Georgia Tech. Now it is the Bearcats’ turn to carry the American Athletic banner. It goes without saying that Army No. 22 in Cincinnati No. 14 is the best game of the weekend.
4. Virginia Tech. Provided the No. 20 Hokies make it onto the field for their late start, they’ll likely face an NC State team that is feeling decent after a 45:42 triumph over Wake Forest. There are many variables in the game for Justin Fuentes team, but this is the kind of game to grab if it’s going to be battling to play an ACC title game.
5. Auburn. One of the great annual puzzles of college football is which direction things will go on the plains. Is it going to be one of those season-for-a-playoff berths or an endless three-loss fear of Halloween? Those crazy tigers leave you guessing … at least until they get an early start at No. 23 Kentucky in Jordan-Hare.
The SEC is taking part this week and on the still young Heisman Watch for another seven days.
1. QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson; 519 yards, four TDs over. After a stress-free 15-minute practice session against The Citadel in the Tigers’ second game, he’s still the favorite. Clemson is gone this weekend. (Last week: 1)
2. QB Sam Ehlinger, Texas; 426 yards, five TDs over. After an open date following a blow to Texas El Paso, Ehlinger and the Longhorns venture into the Big 12 at Texas Tech. (LW: 2)
3. QB D’Eriq King, Miami; 469 yards, four TDs over; 92 meters, 1 TD races. He had his way with Louisville’s limited defense when the Hurricanes improved to 2-0. It gets prime time for a second straight time when the state of Florida comes to town. (LW: 6)
4. QB Brady White, Memphis; 280 yards, four TDs, 1 INT over. White was excellent in the Tigers’ first game against Arkansas State. The problem is that anyone can guess when they’ll play their second. Appointments with Houston (last week) and Texas San Antonio (this week) have been canceled due to concerns about the virus. (LW: 3)
5. RB Travis Etienne, Clemson; 170 yards, 1 TD rushing; 4 receptions, 58 meters. Etienne watches simply because Clemson wears him when he has to. Against Wake Forest and The Citadel, his services weren’t much required beyond the first half. (LW: 5)
6. QB Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma; 290 yards, four TDs over. Now the fun begins for the red shirt newcomer who set FCS Missouri State on fire at the start of the Sooners, but faces Kansas State for both teams in the Big 12 opener. (LW: 4)