Today marks 32 days until the start of the SEC’s 2017 football season. How excited are we for the start of the season?
Well, that depends a lot on which game you’re looking forward to. In the past, Week 1 was mostly a snoozefest, but the fact that we’d been deprived of college football for the past eight months or so made it somewhat tolerable, in much the same way that a meal at McDonald’s is incredible when you’ve just been released from a ten-year stay in prison. (Not that I know this from experience or anything.) There are still some games that fall into that category, but in recent years, the various kick-off games have meant there’s more steak mixed in with the drab tune-ups against overmatched opponents.
So here’s our ranking of how excited we are for the fourteen SEC games on the Week 1 schedule.
(1) Florida State vs. Alabama: The actual preseason rankings haven’t been released yet — but there is a good chance that these two will be ranked #1 and #2 in the preseason polls when they meet in the first regular-season game ever played in Atlanta’s brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. There’s some minor risk of an Alabama blowout — there always is with Saban’s Crimson Tide — but you can’t really go wrong with this one.
(2) Michigan vs. Florida: Another season-opening neutral-site game, this one gets the nod because of the time slot. While most of the intriguing season-opening matchups are evening games, this one figures to be one of the most watchable in the Saturday afternoon time slot. It’s being played in Cowboys Stadium -- which is a worse venue for a college football game than either the Swamp or the Big House, if we’re being honest with ourselves — but it’s also a matchup between two teams that should be in the top 25.
(3) Texas A&M at UCLA: Texas A&M is one of three SEC teams that will open the season with a true road game, and the only one that will do so against a Power 5 opponent. This will be the second year in a row that the Aggies have opened the season against the Bruins, with A&M claiming last year’s matchup in College Station -- and this might be our first chance to see Aggie freshman Kellen Mond, if he wins the starting quarterback job in the preseason. What’s more, this is one of two college football games on Sunday evening, so if you’re still jonesing for football after Saturday this will be one to watch.
(4) Kentucky at Southern Miss: Kentucky has been tabbed as a dark horse in the SEC East, but the Wildcats will open the season with a tricky matchup against Southern Miss — a team that beat them in last year’s season opener in Lexington. The bad news is that if you’re a cord-cutter, this game will be hard to find as it’s being televised on CBS Sports Network — which is rather infamous for being a tough watch for anyone without a cable subscription.
(5) BYU vs. LSU: This game, which will be played at NRG Stadium in Houston, might be a bit underrated: BYU is a team that went 9-4 last year and has generally been solid, while this is the first chance we’ll get to see what new coordinator Matt Canada has done with the LSU offense. But this one gets demerits for its late kickoff — 8:30 PM local time, and 9:30 on the East Coast — and because of the neutral-site kickoff games, this probably has the highest potential to be a blowout. That’s not to say that it will be, of course, but it’s a lot easier to see this one getting out of hand than the others.
(6) Tennessee vs. Georgia Tech: In theory, this is a neutral-site game, as it will be played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and not Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium — but, hey, it’s still being played in Atlanta. Paul Johnson’s offense is always fun to watch, and this is the first chance we’ll get to see Tennessee’s new quarterback — either Jarrett Guarantano or Quinten Dormady. On the other hand, this game will be played on Monday night of opening weekend, and you may be a little drained by then.
(7) NC State vs. South Carolina: This game will be played in Charlotte, and of the five SEC-vs.-Power 5 matchups on opening weekend, this one’s probably the least appealing. Timewise, it’s also up against Michigan-Florida and Kentucky-Southern Miss, too, so there’s a good chance you won’t be watching it unless you’re a Gamecocks fan.
(8) Florida A&M at Arkansas: This would probably be lower on the list if it weren’t a Thursday night game. On Saturday, this game would be buried among lots of other appealing viewing options; on Thursday, though? You’ll take it for at least a quarter.
(9) Appalachian State at Georgia: App State put a scare into Tennessee on opening weekend in 2016, and this year they once again open the season on the road against the presumptive SEC East favorite. It also kicks off at 5:15 PM CT on Saturday -- an awkward time slot that’s sandwiched in between Michigan-Florida and Florida State-Alabama, so if it’s competitive, this will make some good viewing for a while in between those two marquee games.
(10) Vanderbilt at Middle Tennessee: This is the third year in a row that Vanderbilt faces MTSU, and the Commodores won in both 2015 (in Murfreesboro) and 2016 (in Nashville.) MTSU is a solid C-USA team and can put up points, having averaged 39.7 ppg last season... on the other hand, Vanderbilt’s defense has made them look downright pedestrian the last two years. And this game is at the same time as FSU-Alabama and televised on the CBS Sports Network, so unless you’re a hardcore Commodore fan, you probably won’t be watching it.
(11) South Alabama at Ole Miss: South Alabama ruined a Mississippi team’s season opener last year with a 21-20 win over Mississippi State. This time around, they’ll get a shot at Ole Miss in Matt Luke’s first game as head coach. This feels like the kind of season opener that could cause the wheels to fall off if Ole Miss loses.
(12) Georgia Southern at Auburn: Hey, what’s this doing all the way down here? Well, at least for 2017, Georgia Southern’s reputation is a bit out of line with reality: the Eagles are coming off a 5-7 season and at least on paper, they don’t pose much of a threat to Auburn. And in a Saturday evening time slot, you might tune in for a few minutes to get your first look at Jarrett Stidham — but there are just so many more appealing options.
(13) Missouri State at Missouri: This is an 11 AM CT kickoff on Saturday... which, well, of course this is an 11 AM kickoff. It’s also the only SEC game in the early Saturday time slot, which makes it mildly interesting because (a) it’s football and (b) it’s 11 AM on a Saturday, and what else are you going to do, dear reader? And this is one of those salty totally-not-a-rivalry games where the smaller school would love nothing more than to beat the bigger school... but, well, that’s probably not going to happen.
(14) Charleston Southern at Mississippi State: Hey, Charleston Southern is a solid FCS team! But up against some considerably better games in the afternoon timeslot on Saturday, it probably won’t be worth much more than a stray look at the scoreboard and a “oh hey, Charleston Southern’s only down two touchdowns at halftime... interesting.”