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SEC Football Weekend Preview: Week 2 - Conference Play is Underway

You should know your opponent as well as you know yourself. We’ll be previewing and reviewing the SEC weekend each week during the season so Gamecock fans can know what’s going on in the college football world around them.

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South Carolina (1-0) vs. Kentucky (1-0)

Watch: 7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network
Line: South Carolina (-8.5)

The Gamecocks blew three fourth quarter leads last fall and they have their first opportunity for vengeance on Saturday night. USC held a 38-24 lead in the fourth quarter last season at Kentucky but JoJo Kemp's 118 rushing yards in the final six minutes propelled UK to a thrilling 45-38 comeback win. The Wildcats won just one of their final seven games after that victory but hope a deeper team in Mark Stoops' third season can beat a South Carolina team that's already suffering from the injury bug. Connor Mitch (hip), Brandon Wilds (shoulder), Terry Googer (thigh) and Deebo Samuel (hamstring) are all expected to play despite their issues. Dante Sawyer (hamstring) will not start but may play and Chris Lammons (ribs) has been downgraded to doubtful for Saturday's contest. Cody Waldrop suffered an ankle injury that will likely keep him out for the year during last weekend's practices. Spurrier will hopefully be more friendly with the early play calls than he was last Thursday, giving Connor Mitch easy attempts to complete this time around. The Gamecocks should be able to run on the Wildcats, who gave up 197 rushing yards to UL Lafayette at halftime last weekend and 247 total rushing yards by the end of the night. ULL forced a down-to-the-wire game, a comeback that coincided with the play of Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles going from above average to poor. Towles' performance versus a South Carolina defense eager to make another statement will be Saturday night's tipping point. Prediction: South Carolina 20, Kentucky 13

No. 6 Auburn (1-0) vs. Jacksonville State (1-0)

Watch: 12:00 p.m. ET, SEC Network
Line: N/A

Auburn's defense was extraordinary last weekend when Carl Lawson was healthy and penetrating backfields on seemingly every single play. When Lawson went out with an injury, their performance dropped and Louisville made its run. Now that has nothing to do with Saturday's game but Auburn may put up a zillion points so I figured it was a good time to make that observation before a game that matters comes along. Jeremy Johnson was a less than stellar 11-of-27 for 127 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions last Saturday. He'll light up Jacksonville State, which isn't some grand accomplishment, but you shouldn't worry about Johnson the rest of the way - he's a stud. Prediction: Auburn 68, Jacksonville State 3

No. 17 Ole Miss (1-0) vs. Fresno State (1-0)

Watch: 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Line: Ole Miss (-30)

What can't Robert Nkemdiche do? We know he can stop the run and rush the passer. Last weekend, he blocked a field goal and had a 31-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown. I'm scared about what could be in store for Fresno State - the Bulldogs are breaking in at least two new starters on their offensive line. Laremy Tunsil's status is still up in the air after being ruled out just before kickoff last week because of a possible NCAA eligibility issue. Chad Kelly was solid in first start at quarterback and I expect that to continue while the Ole Miss defense overwhelms the Fresno State attack. Prediction: Ole Miss 38, Fresno State 13

Vanderbilt (0-1) vs. No. 10 Georgia (1-0)

Watch: 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
Line: Georgia (-21)

The first conference match-up of the season begins in Nashville at 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS. Like most Vandy home games, it'll feel like a neutral site for the Commodores. Johnny McCrary and the Vandy offense struggled to move the ball last weekend against Western Kentucky until the very end. Any play that doesn't involve running back Ralph Webb should be looked at as a failed play. Webb is the best shot they got and it'll be a fun afternoon as Georgia's menacing linebacking core teams with a relatively unproven defensive line to try and contain him. Greyson Lambert will make his second start for the Bulldogs and looks to continue the mistake-prone football he played last week. Nick Chubb, Keith Marshall and Sony Michel against, what seems to be a much improved ‘Dores defense, should be fun to watch. WKU is no joke on offense and Vandy held them scoreless for 44 minutes last week. Prediction: Georgia 35, Vanderbilt 14

No. 2 Alabama (1-0) vs. Middle Tennessee State (1-0)

Watch: 4:00 p.m. ET, SEC Network
Line: (-35.5)

Another year, another top-25, neutral site win for Alabama to begin the season. The Tide hammered Wisconsin behind leading Heisman candidate Derrick Henry's 147 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Jake Coker seemed very manageable at the quarterback position, playing the majority of the game and finishing 15-of-21 for 213 yards, but more importantly: no turnovers. As their home opener, Bama welcomes Middle Tennessee State after their 70-14 win last weekend against Jackson State. The Blue Raiders are quarterbacked by the coach's son, Brent Stockstill. They also boast the man with the most interceptions (15) amongst all active NCAA players, safety Kevin Byard. The Crimson Tide secondary suffered several blown assignments while allowing Joel Stave to throw for 228 yards and two touchdowns in Dallas. Expect Saban to harp on those as they welcome a respectable MTSU program. Prediction: Alabama 56, Middle Tennessee State 14

No. 18 Arkansas (1-0) vs. Toledo (1-0)

Watch: 4:00 p.m. ET, SEC Network
Line: (-20.5)

A big opening performance from senior Brandon Allen continued the momentum the Razorbacks brought into the season. Head coach Brett Bielema wants more though, telling the media during Wednesday's weekly SEC teleconference that his team needs to be more efficient on second downs and in the red zone while also providing a better tackling performance than the defense showed last weekend. Another concern to watch - just one sack against UTEP. Arkansas lost four players to the NFL off of last year's unit that finished 10th nationally in total defense. Fayetteville welcomes MAC championship contender Toledo this weekend. The Rockets will be without their best player, junior running back Kareem Hunt. Hunt, suspended for a violation of team rules, led the MAC last season with 1,631 rush yards, averaging over eight yards per attempt. Arkansas wide receiver Keon Hatcher may be this year's breakout star, he contributed a pair of touchdowns last Saturday. Prediction: Arkansas 35, Toledo 13

No. 23 Tennessee (1-0) vs. No. 19 Oklahoma (1-0)

*Game of the Week*

Watch: 6:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
Line: Oklahoma (-2)

Despite Mississippi State-LSU also being a battle of top-25 teams, this game is the match-up I'm most looking forward to watching. Is a once prominent power truly on the rise? Are we counting out a perennial contender too soon? It could be a memorable statement for UT and a steadying reminder by Oklahoma. Big picture stuff aside, it'll feature a pair of super sophomore backs in Tennessee's Jalen Hurd and Oklahoma's Samaje Perine. Perine ran for only 33 yards last weekend but the OU offensive was sluggish, only contributing a field goal in its first six possessions in offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley's debut. The Sooners rolled to a 41-3 win over Akron but only ran for a 100 yards on the day. Hurd led a 399-yard Vols rushing show last week against Bowling Green. There may be some deep concern for UT's defense after allowing 557 total yards (443 passing) against the Falcons. Tennessee DBs coach Willie Martinez, a former Oklahoma assistant, was suspended because of an NCAA issue last week but is back this week and acknowledging that mental errors did his group in last weekend. This will be a really fun match-up for many reasons but my favorite is because of the attitudes OU quarterback Baker Mayfield and linebacker Eric Striker hold. They are both extremely excited to send the country a message by beating a hyped SEC team on the road. Prediction: Tennessee 24, Oklahoma 23

No. 16 Texas A&M (1-0) vs. Ball State (1-0)

Watch: 7:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU
Line: Texas A&M (-30)

For the second year in a row, Texas A&M made the biggest statement on opening weekend. John Chavis' impact seems immediate as his gang grabbed 14 tackles for loss, nine sacks and two turnovers against No. 16 Arizona State in Houston. Aggie quarterbacks Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray both provided their moments but one difference separate them for now - Allen is more prepared to do damage with his arm than Murray. A&M's Kyle Field underwent a $485 million facelift over the last two years and they'll finally unveil the finished product when they host Ball State Saturday night. The Cardinals are led by a pair of sophomores, quarterback Jack Milas and running back Darian Green. Milas set career highs for completions, attempts and yards last weekend against VMI while Green did the same in touchdowns, attempts, rushing yards, receptions and reception yards. I'm glad they could get that in because Chavis' defense won't have any of that on Saturday. Prediction: Texas A&M 52, Ball State 10

No. 21 Missouri (1-0) vs. Arkansas State (0-1)

*Upset Alert*

Watch: 7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3
Line: Missouri (-10.5)

Arkansas State has had its share of one-and-dones in football. Hugh Freeze, Gus Malzahn and Bryan Harsin all ran through Jonesboro in a three year span. To stabilize the program, ASU plucked UNC offensive coordinator Blake Anderson in 2013. In his first season, he led the Red Wolves to a 7-6 record and a bowl game. ASU QB Fredi Knighten was one of three FBS players last season that passed for at least 3,000 yards and ran for at least 750 yards. They also boast wide receiver J.D. McKissic, the nation's active leader with 242 career receptions. Their defensive line also has some talent, which could be an issue for a Missouri offense line that could be without All-SEC center Evan Boehm. An ASU offense that returns nine starters from a year ago can be explosive and should be a good test for a Tigers defense that completely dominated Southeast Missouri State in its opener. Mizzou running back Russell Hansbrough says he intends to play after suffering an ankle injury last week. Without Hansbrough, the Tiger offense was sluggish and discombobulated last week. The Red Wolves got trounced last weekend by Southern Cal (55-6), but I like ASU to keep this one close at their house. Prediction: Missouri 17, Arkansas State 14 (Question: can you put someone on upset alert but still have them win?)

Florida (1-0) vs. East Carolina (1-0)

Watch: 7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Line: Florida (-20.5)

Will Grier will get the start over Treon Harris this weekend for the Gators. Harris started last week against New Mexico State but the quarterbacks split snaps about evenly, a strategy I see Jim McElwain using again as he decides his starter. Both performed beautifully last weekend, combining to go 29-of-36 for 379 yards and five total touchdowns. Fourteen different receivers caught passes and the Gators racked up over 600 yards of total offense. Saturday night's game is a rematch of last year's Birmingham Bowl as East Carolina comes to the Swamp. The Pirates were excited about their signal caller Kurt Benkert but he tore his ACL in fall camp. JUCO transfer Blake Kemp stepped in and had a solid outing in ECU's 28-20 opening win over Towson. His yards-per-attempt were very low and I'm sure Ruffin McNeil will keep that the same in order to avoid mistakes against a dirty Florida secondary. Prediction: Florida 38, East Carolina 10

No. 25 Mississippi State (1-0) vs. No. 14 LSU (0-0)

Watch: 9:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
Line: LSU (-4.0)

Mississippi State's win over Southern Miss last weekend was enough to earn them a top-25 ranking, making this a battle between ranked teams. This game last year was Dak Prescott and MSU's coming out party as the Bulldogs beat down the Tigers in Death Valley for three quarters before surviving a late LSU surge. Dak Prescott is as good a college quarterback as there is and LSU, well, doesn't have anything remotely close to that. Brandon Harris is likely to get the start on Saturday night but he leaves a lot to be desired at the position. LSU's opener was cancelled due to severe weather so this will be our first look at the 2015 Tigers. Can LSU communicate properly and stay in their gaps to prevent another memorable Dak performance? He's rushed for over 100 yards in the last two meetings. For the sake of entertainment, let's hope Leornard Fournette and Chris Jones meet a few times but MSU's unproven defense will hope to contain Fournette and LSU's rushing attack while the Tigers seek to limit explosive plays by the Bulldogs on the other end. Prediction: Mississippi State 24, LSU 21