SEC loads up on big games in opening weekend

BY foxsports • August 31, 2016

Here are a few things to watch in the Southeastern Conference during college football's opening weekend.

GAME OF THE WEEK: No. 11 Mississippi vs. No. 4 Florida State in Orlando, Florida. The Rebels are involved in one of the nation's premier games this week, facing the Seminoles on Monday night at the Citrus Bowl. Ole Miss returns QB Chad Kelly, who threw for more than 4,000 yards last season. Florida State will counter with redshirt freshman Deondre Francois, who will be making his first career start under center. Francois will have help on offense: RB Dalvin Cook returns after running for 1,691 yards last season.

MATCHUP OF THE WEEK: UCLA offensive tackle Conor McDermott vs. Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett: McDermott, a fifth-year senior, earned second-team all-Pac-12 honors last season as part of an offensive line that yielded only 14 sacks. McDermott will have his hands full Saturday lining up against Garrett, arguably the nation's premier pass rusher. Garrett recorded 11 + sacks as a freshman in 2014 and followed that up by delivering 12 + sacks and 19 + tackles for loss last season.

NUMBERS GAME: The SEC owns a 496-110 record and an .818 winning percentage since 2006. That's the highest nonconference winning percentage of any league during that stretch. ... No. 5 LSU owns an FBS record 52 consecutive regular-season nonconference victories heading into Saturday's game with Wisconsin. LSU hasn't lost a regular-season nonconference game since falling 26-8 to Virginia Tech in its 2002 opener. ... No. 9 Tennessee is in the top 10 for the first time since it was ranked eighth on Oct. 29, 2006. ... Missouri's visit to West Virginia marks the first time the Tigers have opened the season with a true road game since a 40-10 loss at Texas in 1996. .... No. 25 Florida has the lowest preseason ranking ever of a defending SEC East champion. Missouri was ranked 24th to start each of the last two seasons as a defending East Division champion.

LONG SHOT: Wisconsin vs. No. 5 LSU: LSU should be really good this season, but it's still surprising to see Wisconsin as a 10-point underdog, especially when it's essentially a home game for the Badgers at Lambeau Field. LSU has one of the nation's best running backs in Leonard Fournette, but needs improvement from junior quarterback Brandon Harris, who threw for 2,165 yards and 13 touchdowns last season.

IMPACT PERFORMER: Georgia quarterback Jacob Eason: This true freshman from Lake Stevens, Washington, is competing with graduate student Greyson Lambert for the right to start No. 18 Georgia's season opener Saturday against No. 22 North Carolina in Atlanta. Eason, who enrolled at Georgia in time to participate in spring practice, went 19 of 29 for 244 yards and a touchdown in the Bulldogs' spring game.


AP Sports Writers Steve Megargee in Knoxville, Tennessee, and David Brandt in Jackson, Mississippi, contributed to this story.


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