It’s the last week of September, the weather has been fallish since the hurricane last week, and finally, the SEC starts playing ball. Oh, and we passed 200,000 Americans dead from the coronavirus last week, too. That is equivalent to approximately every soul in Montgomery, where I live. If you don’t think that’s a lot of people, try driving south from downtown on I-65 at 5 p.m. Or north.
Wake Forest and Notre Dame postponed their game this week because seven Irish are down with the sickness. Why do they get to do that? Last year, Tua Tagavailoa broke his hip and Alabama had to play all the rest of its games. He was worth seven Notre Dame players, at least. If we’re going to play in the midst of a pandemic and you get a few sick ones, go to war with what you’ve got left. That’s what I say.
But Notre Dame and Wake Forest say they’ll play next week, probably, so we’ll see.
Missouri had 12 guys who missed practice last week because of various COVID afflictions, either contact tracing (SEC rules, you sit 18 days) or positive test (SEC rules, you sit 14 days). They got good news this week that they have only seven guys out because the tests last week were messed up and wrong. And it may be fewer, because they’re going to test several more times before kickoff.
Don’t look for Missouri’s governor at the Bama game. Gov. Mike Parson, who opposed mandatory masks in his state, has COVID-19 and so does his wife, who apparently gave it to him. He says he feels fine. But he canceled all his meetings and rallies and stuff, so I guess he’s not against quarantining.
Nick Saban announced that Alabama has zero COVID-stricken guys who’ll miss Saturday’s game, which should come as no surprise, really. If Nick Saban got COVID, COVID would die.
The SEC guidelines for playing are, if you have 53 scholarship players who can go, you play. If all your quarterbacks have sniffles and a fever, and you have to play a nose tackle QB, you better put in a lot of running plays. We may see the single wing make a comeback.
There’s a good idea Alabama will do that anyway this weekend – they can just hand it off to 6-foot-2, 230 pound running back Najee Harris who returned for his senior year instead of going to the draft after gaining 1,200 yards last season. They have four offensive linemen back from last year and the fifth one is probably better than they are, and they’re playing Missouri. Why throw? The guy might drop it.
Mac Jones took over for Tua last year after the broken hip, and did, well, he did all right. He started at Auburn and put up 59 points, only 14 of them were for Auburn because he threw two pick-sixes. It was his first true start, and the playoff was on the line, and it was at Auburn, and they had a top-five passing defense, and he still threw for 335 yards and four touchdowns for his own team, and Alabama scored 45 points, which is supposed to be enough to win, even if you do throw two touchdowns to the other guys. Oh, and of course, Alabama missed a short field goal that would have tied it late in the game. Alabama’s kicking game was horrible, as usual, and in an atypical development, Alabama’s defense was awful last year, and gave up 5.6 yards a carry to Auburn’s usually abysmal running game.
So, the big question is, does Mac, who has a really good arm, settle in as the starter or does five-star freshman boy king Bryce Young come in and do wondrous things, like Jalen Hurts did that time, or like Tua did after him? Or, will Alabama incorporate a 1-A and 1-B quarterback system so that both play? Nah. Probably not.
Alabama’s defense will be better because Dylan Moses is back at linebacker. He suffered a season-ending injury in preseason practice and didn’t play a snap in 2019. If he had, Alabama probably would have beaten LSU and Auburn because he’s good enough to blow up a game plan all by himself.
Alabama’s a 25.5-point favorite. Take it and give the points.
Florida at Ole Miss
The funnest thing about this game is that it’s Lane Kiffin’s return to SEC coaching. His turbulent career has been marked by leaving Tennessee high and dry to go to Southern Cal, where he got fired in the airport parking lot after giving up 62 points in a loss at Arizona State. He underwent career rehab as offensive coordinator at Alabama and did time in Group of Five purgatory before getting the shot at Ole Miss, a program trying to come out of a tailspin after scandal, fired coaches and sanctions.
Florida, under the less flashy but better coach Dan Mullen, is one of the favorites to win the East Division after going 11-2 last year. Their no-frills quarterback Kyle Trask is back, along with plenty enough weapons to outscore the Rebels. The Florida defense is supposed to be really good. We’ll see.
Mississippi State at LSU
Well, OK, this game might be funner than Ole Miss because the Bulldogs have Mike Leach as their new head coach, and overall, he’s funnier than Kiffen. He’ll throw it around and score some points, but probably doesn’t have enough talent yet to beat the defending national champions.
LSU QB Myles Brennan doesn’t have the marquee value of last year’s star Joe Burrow, but neither did Joe Burrow this time last year.
LSU lost 13 guys to the draft last year, including Joe Burrow, without whom they’d have gone 7-4 even with 12 other NFL players on the roster.
But can Mississippi State roll up into Tiger Stadium and win? Nah. Probably not. Even though Tiger Stadium will be limited to about 15,000 fans and its fearsome reputation as a hard place to play is out the window.
Kentucky at Auburn
Auburn. Come on. It’s Kentucky.
Tennessee at South Carolina
Tennessee is nationally ranked at No. 16, which is pretty high. At last report, Tennessee was a 3.5-point favorite. You’d think it would be more, or I would. The Vols have a linebacker named Henry To’o To’o, the greatest name in American sports.
They also have a quarterback named Jarrett Guarantaro who has been really inconsistent, to put it mildly. But he’s got two pretty good running backs, and if he can just hand off to them and not fumble, that would be nice.
South Carolina was pretty awful last year, winning just 4 games and losing to Tennessee 42-21. I doubt they’ll be a lot better this season.
Tennessee ought to cover 3.5, unless the Vols fall into their old habit of being godawful in the first few games of the season.
Troy at BYU
Troy beat the snot out of Middle Tennessee last week. Gunnar Watson, the quarterback, goes for the jugular.
I don’t know if BYU is any good or not. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Troy won.