Missouri charges into SEC play this week.
The second week on the college football season is when we traditionally see the first big conference games. Oh sure, they may not match the big rivalry games played later in the year, but they set teams on their paths. The winners get to walk proudly on the path to glory, and the losers must face the dark, shadowy path of disappointment. SEC championships aren't won in Week 2, but they most definitely can be lost. An 0-1 start in conference play leads to a season of digging out of that hole, and it's awfully tough to make it back out. Vanderbilt and South Carolina may have tussled last week in Nashville, but when fans think of the first major SEC weekend, they're thinking of this one.
This season, we have two brand-new matchups to fawn over. Missouri and Texas A&M make up this season's SEC pledge class, but somehow, they were given the gift of home games to open their respective conference slate. Because of that, Mark Richt's Georgia Bulldogs and Will Muschamp's Florida Gators are taking trips to places most SEC teams have rarely visited: Columbia, Mo., and College Station, Texas. Mizzou and A&M have officially been members of the conference since the beginning of July, but now, they get to find out what life in the SEC is really like. At the end of the year, if they're battered, bruised and sporting 6-6 records, they may wish they would have stayed home in the Big 12. Will that happen? Maybe, maybe not. But wherever the Tigers' and Aggies' final destinations lie, they both start down the paths to those places on Saturday.
No. 7 GEORGIA at MISSOURI
6:45 p.m. CDT, ESPN2
This may very well be the toughest game on Georgia's schedule. Yes, the Bulldogs travel to a top 10 South Carolina team in October and have a rivalry date at Auburn in November, but Missouri is a solid team, and will have a big home-field advantage Saturday night. Since Georgia was anointed as most experts' SEC East champ before the season even began, it's possible that the Dawgs could have felt a little too good about themselves and overlooked their new conference brethren. That likely isn't the case, though, since Missouri defensive end Sheldon Richardson decided to provide some bulletin board material.
Asked if he watched Georgia's opener against Buffalo earlier in the day -- a 45-23 Georgia victory -- Richardson replied, "I watched that game. I turned it off, too. ... It's like watching Big Ten football. It's old-man football."
"If we execute," he added, "nobody in this league can touch us. Period."
If there was any chance of Georgia overlooking Missouri, it's gone. The Bulldogs may have struggled at times against Buffalo, but that can be chalked up to season-opening rust. They feature one of the top defenses in the SEC led by linebacker Jarvis Jones. Georgia's offense isn't too shabby, either, with Aaron Murray at quarterback and freshman running back Todd Gurley, who ran for 100 yards and two touchdowns and added a 100-yard kickoff return TD last week. Missouri's offense is explosive, too, as it showed in a 62-10 win over Southeast Louisiana in Week 1. The Tigers have major playmakers -- quarterback James Franklin, running back Kendall Lawrence and wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham -- but their defense isn't on the same level as Georgia's.
With help from its crowd, Missouri will give Georgia everything it can handle. But the Dawgs are just a little too talented and will escape their first trip to Columbia with a win. Georgia 28, Missouri 24.
No. 24 FLORIDA at TEXAS A&M
2:30 p.m. CDT, ESPN
Florida is a ranked football team. That is a fact. And that fact proves that, sometimes, facts don't make sense. The Gators defeated Bowling Green last week, and that's where we run out of compliments for Muschamp's team. Florida managed 27 points, 365 yards and 14 -- 14! -- first downs against a Falcon defense that allowed 29 points, 408 yards and 21 first downs per game last season. Jeff Driskel received the bulk of the snaps at quarterback and completed 10 of 16 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown, but the real and only bright spot in the offense was running back Mike Gillislee, who rushed for 148 yards on 24 carries and two touchdowns. Florida has a strong defense and the best secondary in the conference, but if the Gators' running game is stopped, they'll have a hard time moving the ball.
Texas A&M's opening game was washed out by Hurricane Isaac, so we don't really know what the Aggies are capable of. We knew head coach Kevin Sumlin will ask his team to throw and throw and throw some more, and that A&M will give Florida's secondary one of its toughest challenges this year. The Aggies had a hard time stopping other teams last year, but when facing an offense as bad as Florida's that may not matter.
This one will be a little ugly. Florida will be able to keep A&M's offense from going crazy, but the Gator offense will be stuck in neutral for most of the afternoon. Texas A&M 24, Florida 16.
EAST CAROLINA at No. 12 SOUTH CAROLINA
11:21 a.m. CDT, SEC Network
Last year, East Carolina gave the Gamecocks a scare, taking a 10-point halftime lead before eventually losing 56-37. Against Vanderbilt last week, Steve Spurrier made some interesting decisions, like calling on the injured Connor Shaw to carry the ball multiple times. East Carolina returns 15 starters from the 2011 team, and Carolina looked shaky against the Commodores. Nevertheless, Marcus Lattimore should get plenty of carries this week, and the Gamecocks should win comfortably. South Carolina 38, East Carolina 14.
WESTERN KENTUCKY at No. 1 ALABAMA
2:39 p.m. CDT, SEC Network
Alabama will beat the living hell out of Western Kentucky, and Nick Saban will still be furious with his players and the media after the game. This one should be over by the end of the first quarter. Alabama 56, Western Kentucky 6.
GEORGIA STATE at TENNESSEE
3 p.m. ESPN Gameplan/ESPN3
Tennessee's passing game is great. Tyler Bray and his impressive receiving corps will put up fine numbers against GSU, but Derek Dooley may want to use this game as an opportunity to work on the rushing attack. Either way, the Vols will win in a walk. Tennessee 60, Georgia State 21.
UTEP at OLE MISS
6 p.m. CDT, FS South
It's hard to imagine an SEC non-conference game that we could possibly care less about. The Rebs' offense looked good in a 49-27 win over Central Arkansas. Bo Wallace was 20 of 24 for 264 yards, two TDs and an interception, and three running backs picked up 50 or more yards. Then again, what offense wouldn't look good against Central Arkansas? (Well, probably Florida's.) Defense is still a concern in Oxford. The Rebels had the worst D in the SEC last year, and they won't be much better this year. UTEP stayed with Oklahoma for much of their Week 1 game, and they'll do the same against Ole Miss. Ole Miss 42, UTEP 35.
WASHINGTON at No. 3 LSU
6 p.m. CDT, ESPN
A few years ago, Tyrone Willingham turned the once-proud Washington Huskies into the worst major program in the country. The Huskies went winless in 2008, but since the hiring of Steve Sarkisian in '09, they've slowly improved and become a competitive team again. Keith Price returns at quarterback after a 2011 season in which he threw for 3,063 yards, 33 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Washington also returns eight of its top 11 tacklers from last season. Unfortunately, none of that matters this week. LSU's run game and defense are dominant, and the crowd will be fully lubricated and thirsty for blood as the sun sets at Tiger Stadium. LSU 41, Washington 10.
LOUISIANA-MONROE at No. 8 ARKANSAS
6 p.m. CDT, ESPNU
Louisiana-Monroe plays its first of two consecutive games against SEC West opponents -- the Warhawks play at Auburn next week. With Alabama up next, Arkansas may overlook this team a bit. Even if that's the case, Tyler Wilson, Cobi Hamilton will make sure the offense flies high. All eyes should be on Knile Davis, who didn't look very comfortable last week in his first game back from a broken ankle. Arkansas 52, Louisiana-Monroe 17.
KENT STATE at KENTUCKY
6:30 p.m. CDT, CSS
Regarding that Ole Miss-UTEP game, maybe we found one that we care less about. Kentucky's defense is awful, but it's probably not bad enough to lose to Kent State. Kentucky 38, Kent State 17.
VANDERBILT at NORTHWESTERN
7 p.m. CDT, Big Ten Network
NERD ALERT. Northwestern has been on the up and up for a few years, and it looks like Vanderbilt is heading in the right direction, too. Vanderbilt had a pretty good quarterback in Jordan Rodgers, and running back Zac Stacy is legit. But the crown jewel of the Vandy offense is wide receiver Jordan Matthews. Matthews caught eight passes for 147 yards and a touchdown against South Carolina and proved that he may be the best receiver in the SEC. Vandy's defense did a nice job of keeping Carolina in check, and the 'Dores forced two turnovers. Against Syracuse, Northwestern blew a big lead and then came back to win despite being outgained 596-337. The Wildcats weren't the better team all afternoon, but they were able to capitalize on three Orange turnovers. They may not be the better team this week, but playing at home should give them enough of an advantage to come out on top. Northwestern 28, Vanderbilt 20.