Southern State of Mind

“As you know, the South is known for its hospitality, traditions, football, pageants, and food. Football is almost like a religion here. People say their priorities are faith, family, and then football. People eat, breathe, and sleep it in the South. It’s a huge deal.” — Katherine Webb. Photo courtesy of Auburn Football

There’s something different about football in the South. It just means more down here. For many, college football is more than just a game, its a way of life. It defines you as a person. You’re not just a fan on Saturdays in the fall. You’re a fan all year round. For many, the thought of not having college football this season was just too much to bear. This offseason was filled with so many unknowns and uncertainties. College football fans held their breath as conferences around the country decided to postpone the fall seasons. They wondered if the SEC and ACC would do the same. They feared a fall without college football.

Those fears all went away when the SEC and ACC decided to persevere, to tackle 2020 head on. While the ACC has had a couple of weeks of play already, many here in the South Land were still waiting for their teams to take the field. For so many, this Saturday will feel like no other. The anticipation of this season is unrivaled. Saturday, the boys of the Southeastern Conference finally hit the gridiron and take center stage in the college football world.

For weeks, it seems like the college football world has just been sleep walking, sort of on an auto-pilot mode of sorts. It has felt weird and different to turn on ESPN or CBS and see Group of 5 teams instead of major Power 5 schools (yes I know the ACC and Big 12 have been playing). However, that’s all about to change. While I’m a huge Clemson fan and no SEC homer, I must admit, there’s just something different about SEC football. Without it, college football just hasn’t been the same. I feel rather odd that I’m more excited about this weekend than I have been about my Tigers thus far. From “The Plains” of Auburn to the “12th Man” of Kyle Field. From “Roll Tide” to “Go Vols”. The SEC finally gets back to playing the sport it was made for.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban and his players enter Kyle Field for the Crimson Tide’s game versus Texas A&M on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019, in College Station, Texas. (Photo by Laura Chramer)

The 2020 SEC football season gets underway Saturday at noon with a duo of ranked East teams on the road. #5 Florida travels to Oxford, MS to face the Rebels of Ole Miss. The Rebels will have a new look on offense this year as Lane Kiffin comes to town as the new head coach. John Rhys Plumlee is a huge bright spot and big time playmaker for the Rebels, unfortunately for him, he’ll be facing a vicious defense from Florida, who I believe will be the best team in the SEC East. The Gators have a good quarterback of their own with Kyle Trask. When Dan Mullen inserted Trask into the offense last year, you could see an immediate difference. The play from Trask with the combination of the defense should equal in a comfortable Gators win.

Kentucky, ranked in the Top 25 to start the season, has an opposite challenge Saturday as they have to go on the road to face, in my opinion, an underrated Auburn team. The Wildcats will finally have a healthy quarterback this season which is a plus. Auburn features a dynamic defense and a young quarterback of their own that had a solid freshman campaign a year ago.

Our first 3:30 CBS game of the year will feature the defending national champion LSU Tigers at home against Mississippi State. This LSU team will look a lot different from last season, mainly because like 75% of the starters either graduated or were drafted. Myles Brennan will have the tough task of following up Joe Burrow’s Heisman campaign by taking the reigns on an offense that will have a different scheme from last year. The defense has some big time guys on the back end, but I worry about the Tiger’s defensive line. They were dominant in the trenches last year, but could take a step back this year. They will be going up a new look offense for Mississippi State now that Mike Leach is the head coach. The Air Raid offense is coming to Starkville and I’m excited to see this offense in action. I seriously doubt the Bulldogs will win, but LSU better not sleep walk through this game.

Aug 31, 2019: Baton Rouge, LA: LSU Tigers quarterback Myles Brennan (15) looks to throw against the Georgia Southern Eagles during the second half at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle = USA TODAY Sports

Three of the top ranked teams in the SEC, Alabama, Georgia and Texas A&M, get their seasons started with games against teams in the bottom half of the conference. ‘Bama hits the road to take on Missouri while Georgia travels to Fayetteville to play poor little Arkansas. The Aggies host Vandy at home at the 12th man. Alabama, A&M and Georgia are considered heavy favorites, rightfully so, and will be able to get the cob webs dusted off with comfortable wins.

The first Saturday of SEC football wraps up with a East division rivalry between Tennessee and South Carolina. These two teams come into 2020 on opposite ends of the hype spectrum. There are lots of expectations for the Vols, while Gamecock fans have no expectations. Jeremy Pruitt comes into his third season at the helm of the Vols program and we are finally starting to see the progress he is making. The Vols ended 2019 with a six game winning streak. On the other side, the highlight of South Carolina’s season last year was an upset win on the road at Georgia. Will Muschamp continues making puzzling decisions as he named transfer Collin Hill the starter over Ryan Hilinski, who started 11 games for the Gamecocks last year and was hyped as the future of the program. Not sure how this decision will play out for Muschamp, but I don’t think it will make much of difference who he starts Saturday night. Either quarterback will be going up against a really good Volunteer defense that grew tremendously over the course of last season.

Week Four is setting up to be our first great weekend of games. With the SEC making its return this week, it should start feeling like a somewhat normal college football season.

Week Four Predictions

John and I had just a terrible week in our picks last week as we both went 1-5. We are both still over the .500 average for the season, but not by much. This week, I hope to make a big jump and get back on track. Here are a few of our picks for this week’s slate of games.

#22 Army @ #14 Cincinnati (-13.5) – 3:30 pm – ESPN

Army is really looking like they might just be, not only the best service academy, but one of the best Group of 5 teams in the nation. They have been dominant in their first two wins over Middle Tennessee and UL Monroe. Cincinnati destroyed Austin Peay in their opener a week ago. I really like the job that Luke Fickell has done for the Bearcats. Outside of a blowout loss to Ohio State last year, the Bearcats have been a very competitive team. Quarterback Desmond Ridder is dual threat that Army will have to pay attention too. The Black Knights defense has been solid against bottom of the barrel teams, but they are actually going to have to go up against a good offense. The saving grace for Army is their own offense. They have been piling up the yards on the ground and have only passed for a total of 57 yards through two games. Two scores seems like a little much. I think Army will definitely keep this one close and I predict Cincinnati to win with a walk-off field goal.

John – Army
Cameron – Cincinnati

NC State @ #20 Virginia Tech (-7) – 8:00 pm – ACCN

We finally get our first look at the 2020 Virginia Tech Hokies this week. The Hokies were supposed to open the year a week ago against Virginia, but that game was postponed to later this season. Meanwhile, NC State has already played a game and really shocked me by winning a shootout over Wake Forest last week. The Wolfpack offense looked really good with QB Bailey Hockman running the offense. State has a number of playmakers on that side of the ball, something I was unsure of coming into the year. However, the defense looked rather pitiful and will need to step it up going on the road this week. I have a lot of questions about this Virginia Tech team. They were really bad at times last season, both on offense and defense. Hendon Hooker was a bright spot and gave the Hokies a boost on offense. If he can play a little more consistently, then the Hokies offense might not be that bad. However, I’m going to go with the Wolfpack in the upset this week. I think having already played a game helps NC State. I also just have too many questions about the Hokies coming into the year. I like what I saw from State last week and think they are able to get it done on the road.

John – Virginia Tech
Cameron – NC State

#24 Louisville @ #21 Pittsburgh (-3) – Noon – ACCN

Louisville is still having nightmares of Miami’s offense from last week. Both John and I really felt like the Cardinals were starting to turn a corner on defense. We know they are better on offense, but the defense I saw from Louisville last week doesn’t look any better than the one from a couple of years ago that was one of the worst in the nation. The Louisville offense is explosive. They have speedy playmakers all over the field. From Cunningham at quarterback, to Hawkins in the backfield, to TuTu Atwell at receiver, the Cardinal offense is going to put up yards and points. The issue is whether or not their defense can stop opposing offenses from scoring. Pittsburgh comes in this week undefeated after obliterating Austin Peay and having to pull away late from Syracuse. The Panthers defense has looked fierce and the front seven are going to give Malik Cunningham headaches. The Panthers offense has been explosive at times this year as well. Kenny Pickett has really been playing well and gives the Panthers a legitimate passing game. I believe Louisville will score and put pressure on the Panthers, but ultimately I’m going with Pitt to pull this one out late.

John – Louisville
Cameron – Pitt

#16 Tennessee (-3.5) @ South Carolina – 7:30 pm – SEC Network

2019 was a wild ride of emotions for Volunteer fans. The Vols that started the season last year were absolutely embarrassing. However, after a loss at Alabama in October, it seemed like Tennessee flipped a switch and ended up on a six game winning streak to end the season. The Volunteers are coming into this year with a lot of hopes and expectations. Jarrett Guarantano will lead the offense again this season. At times, Guarantano played really well, but when he’s off his game, he’s really really bad. Tennessee will need him to play a whole lot better this season. The Vols also feature a very talented defense that will be the reason Tennessee wins games this year. For South Carolina, there is absolutely no hope and no expectations for the Gamecocks this year. Will Muschamp is holding on to the reins as tightly as he can, but the flames are starting to really heat up his seat. The bright spot for the Gamecocks last year was Freshman QB Ryan Hilinski. However, Hilinski will be riding the bench to start the year as a transfer from Colorado State, Collin Hill, will be taking the starting job. Not sure this is a great move by Muschamp, but we all know he’s not had a great track record of making decisions. I’m expecting Tennessee to win their opener something like 28-17.

John – Tennessee
Cameron – Tennessee

#23 Kentucky @ #8 Auburn (-7.5) – Noon – SEC Network

This is a really exciting match-up. A lot of folks around college football are not giving Auburn the respect I believe they deserve. I really feel like the Tigers may just be the best team in the SEC this year. I really like quarterback Bo Nix, who only got better as the season progressed last year. Its tough to ask a true freshman quarterback to lead your team in that division, the toughest division in football, and I felt like he did a really nice job. Gus Malzahn should open up the offense a little more for his quarterback. Auburn also features a stellar defense that will be much improved on the back end. For Kentucky, they will finally get to play a game with a healthy quarterback. For most of 2019, the Wildcats were starting a wide receiver behind center, but now QBs Terry Willson and Sawyer Smith are ready to go. Not sure who Mark Stoops is going to start on Saturday, but either way, Kentucky fans will just be happy to see a normal quarterback. I would not be surprised at all if Kentucky knocks Auburn in the mouth early and keeps this game close for two or three quarters, but ultimately I believe the experience and the play of Bo Nix will be the difference. Auburn gets 2020 started with a nice Top 25 win at home on “The Plains”.

John – Auburn
Cameron – Auburn

I am so excited for this week’s slate of games. Should be a fantastic week of college football. Head on over to the podcast page and listen to our Week 4 preview show and see our full list of predictions for this week. Stay tuned for our weekly recap this Sunday evening live on the Podbean app. Make sure to check that out.

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