Apologies for the lateness of this. Open thread will post at 11 a.m. ET. We'll be around.
IT'S NEVER EASY, IS IT?
South Carolina at Georgia, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Whether QB Joe Cox plays or not, there is one thing that is a near-certainty about the annual early-season showdown between Georgia and South Carolina: it will be very close. Here are the scores of the game in the Mark Richt Era, from Georgia's perspective: 9-14, 13-7, 31-7, 20-16, 17-15, 18-0, 12-16, 14-7.
You'll also notice the usual outcome there: A Georgia victory, usually narrow, in six of the Dawgs' eight games against South Carolina under Richt.
Last week's appearances by these offenses, following the somewhat shaky notion that they appeared at all, gave little hope that they can make this year's meeting any more of a shootout than the normal game. South Carolina ranks 98th nationwide in total offense; Georgia comes in at 96th. The only major offensive categories in which either team comes in better than 80th are rushing offense (South Carolina, 78th) and passing efficiency (South Carolina, 78th).
Meanwhile, the defenses appear tough enough to keep either offense from having a breakout performance. Georgia's defensive showing came against a quality opponent; and while allowing 24 points is nothing to write home about, doing so against high-octane Oklahoma State indicates your defense is probably not a chief concern. South Carolina's performance against N.C. State looked more dominant, but it came against more suspect competition. We'll likely find out Saturday which one is better.
But all the attention to whether Cox or Logan Gray will start for Georgia is misplaced. This is not a game that will be decided by offense, simply because there won't be much of it.
Georgia 14, South Carolina 13
THE BLABBER BOWL
UCLA at Tennessee, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN
Regardless of what you might think of the large-sized mouths of the coaches involved in this interconference tussle, both of them have something to prove in this game. UCLA's offense last week against San Diego State was perhaps an improvement over last year's dreadful unit, but it was still not much better than mediocre. Meanwhile, Tennessee spent its Saturday waxing a hapless FBS team that only missed dropping the Vols into FCS patsy territory by a year.
So Rick Neuheisel is looking for validation that his UCLA rebuilding plan is working and Lane Kiffin is trying to prove that he can put up points against teams that have more than a passing familiarity with the rigors of I-A football. Say, teams that were I-A football teams when we still called them I-A football teams.
Those of us who recall this game from last year remember it mostly as a bizarre intersection of a "new" UCLA coach and a quarterback having a career game and a veteran Tennessee coach embarking on the nightmare that would be his final year. The result, a 27-24 overtime win for the Bruins, only proved that both teams were borderline awful when UCLA was later blasted by the first good team they faced that year, BYU.
All of that said -- this isn't instant validation for either coach at this point. Neuheisel, after all, defeated Tennessee last year and stil saw his new charges crash to a 4-8 record. And there's no guarantee that UCLA is any "better" this year should the Vols win -- meaning that it could be a clear sign they'll go 6-6 or 7-5, but not much else.
In any case, Tennessee looks from here like it will continue a pattern it established in the Cal series -- drop the road game, when the tilt at home. Not by much.
Tennessee 21, UCLA 20
MAYBE THEY CAN GET TO 10 THIS YEAR
Mississippi State at Auburn, 7 p.m. ET, FSN
Anyone who lived through the trauma of last year's 3-2 debacle is probably wary about turning into this matchup, and with good reason; I doubt the mental scars have healed from an assault on offensive football that would still be shocking were it not for what Auburn and Mississippi State did the rest of the year.
There's no need to relive the awful statistics of this game, and even if there were some reason to go down that lane it would probably still best be avoided. Last year, after all, is last year, and both of these teams have made a concerted effort to leave that season behind.
Both made at least a partial case last week that they had moved on. Mississippi State gained 410 yards of offense against Jackson State, which might not be much for any other team in the league but was a sign that this offensive genius might turn out better than the last one. Auburn, facing better opposition in the form of Louisiana Tech, generated more than 550 yards and saw QB Chris Todd rank among the Top 20 in the nation in passer rating.
I will repeat that to prove that it was not a typo: Chris Todd ranked in the Top 20 in passer rating last week (173.15, 20).
Despite those changes, though, Mississippi State is still working against the arc of history; the last time the Western Division Bulldogs won an SEC opener was back in 1999 against South Carolina. That year's edition of the Gamecocks would go 0-11. That said, the last time Auburn lost their league debut was in 2007 -- against Mississippi State.
Auburn 30, Mississippi State 20
GUT CHECK TIME
Vanderbilt at LSU, 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU
This is a fascinating game that, alas, will not be available to those of us with basic cable. But it's worth following if you can. Vanderbilt comes in after demolishing Western Carolina University in an outing that has some thinking they might just repeat last year's run to a bowl game. LSU comes in after a disappointing defensive outing against Washington, now on a 15-game losing streak.
So both these teams have something to prove. If Vanderbilt wants to continue dreaming postseason, they have to at least be competitive against the Bayou Bengals. LSU wants to hold the Commodores down; Vanderbilt scoring more than 21 or so could be a sign that even John Chavis can't save the defense.
LSU 31, Vanderbilt 14
WHY ARE WE DOING THIS AGAIN?
Troy at Florida, 12:21 p.m. ET, SEC Network
If there were a Sun Belt team that could defeat Florida, it might be Troy. Alas, there is not a Sun Belt team that could defeat Florida. The other Trojans lost 31-14 against Bowling Green State, which should transfer to a margin of victory of something like 83-2 against Florida if the Gators were to go full-speed from start to finish. We know that won't happen.
I wish there was something I could say to make this game at least sound interesting. But Troy last week generated just 41 yards rushing and 263 yards passing. Even if they were somehow able to contain Tim Tebow -- and they won't -- their offense wouldn't be able to move the ball against the Gators.
Florida 56, Troy 3
YES, NICK, THE PANTHERS QUALIFY AS CUPCAKES
Florida International at Alabama, 7 p.m. ET, PPV / ESPN360.com
Nick Saban's protests to the contrary, there's no reason to believe that Florida International can hang with Alabama in anything other than a mixed martial arts competition. FIU is a bad Sun Belt team. Wait a minute. Before you go forward, read that sentence again: FIU is a bad Sun Belt team. The Panthers might be turning the corner, but they have started out 21-59 in their seven years of fooball and lost to the last SEC team they played -- 2007 Arkansas -- by a 58-10 margin.
The one sliver of hope for FIU is that Alabama gained just 172 yards against Tulane last year after clocking Clemson in Atlanta. But, you see, Tulane is a bad Conference USA team. That makes all the difference.
Alabama 42, Florida International 0
BYES: Kentucky, Ole Miss, Arkansas