Let's be real: the first three weeks of the 2020 college football season were nice, but nothing compares to Week 4 when the undisputed best league in the sport kicks off. Ah, yes … SEC football is back. It's safe to say that this is going to be a wild three months. Four out-of-conference games have been replaced with two conference tilts to make this a 10-game, conference-only sprint to Atlanta and beyond.
No. 6 LSU's quest to repeat as SEC and national champions will begin against Mississippi State at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday in the SEC on CBS Game of the Week. First-year starting quarterback Myles Brennan is charged with picking up right where 2019 Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow left off, and will have to do so without former passing game coordinator Joe Brady. That, coupled with massive player departures due to opt outs, graduation and early entry make the Tigers the most intriguing team in the nation.
Let's get you prepared for the first real weekend of the season with the first edition of SEC Smothered and Covered.
Don't focus on Georgia's QB spot: Jamie Newman left the Bulldogs high and dry, but buzz around Athens over the last month has been centered around redshirt freshman D'Wan Mathis. Is the 6-foot-6, 205-pounder with the big arm and plenty of tread on the tires ready to lead the charge toward a fourth-straight SEC East title? Don't be surprised if he's the one taking the majority of the snaps in the opener against lowly Arkansas. Whoever is under center, watch with the bigger picture in mind. It's all about first-year coordinator Todd Monken finding all of the right pieces ... not just one.
It's Jimbo's time: Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher signed his 10-year, $75 million contract in 2018 with one thing in mind: the national championship. Heck, they even made a national title plaque for him with the year left blank. If not now, when? Alabama, Auburn and LSU have plenty of questions. The Aggies have the most experienced quarterback in the league in senior Kellen Mond and a stout defense led by defensive lineman Bobby Brown and linebacker Buddy Johnson. A national title is probably a lofty goal, but it should be in the back of Aggies fans' minds. They should be contending for the SEC West title at the end of November, at the very least. Anything less would be a disappointment.
Battle in the trenches: The showdown between Auburn and No. 23 Kentucky will be fascinating, most notably in the trenches. The Tigers have to replace star defensive linemen Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson, and have to square off with Drake Jackson, Darian Kinnard and a Wildcats defensive line that is one of the best in the nation. Auburn has a ton of questions on offense, so it is going to have to rely on its defense, especially early in the season. Look out, Tigers. This could get sketchy.
Trask to the top: Florida quarterback Kyle Trask hasn't been a starting quarterback in the offseason ever. Not in college or high school, where he was behind Miami (FL) quarterback D'Eriq King on the depth chart. This was by no means a normal offseason, but it was still a chance for Trask to forget about fighting for a job and focus more on fighting for a title. The Gators get things going at high noon at Ole Miss in Lane Kiffin's debut for the Rebels. Don't be surprised to see Trask come out hot and set the tone for what could (and should) be a run toward SEC East title contention.
Keep it simple: LSU has a luxury that most SEC teams don't have this year -- time. The Tigers start off against Mississippi State, at Vanderbilt and at home against Missouri. Coach Ed Orgeron couldn't hand-pick a better slate to help him overcome massive attrition on the roster and coaching staff. Orgeron doesn't need to prove to the world that his team has the goods. We all know that his roster is stacked, so there's no need to let it all hang out knowing that the meat of the schedule won't be served until mid-October.
Why peruse the menu when we already know that you're going to order "the usual?" Alabama will enter the season as the favorite to take home the crown and will travel to Missouri on Saturday night. Experience matters during this season more than most, and Alabama has it in droves. Running back Najee Harris, offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood, wide receivers DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, linebacker Dylan Moses and defensive lineman LaBryan Ray are just a few of the start-studded cast in Tuscaloosa.
It's College Football Playoff or bust for the Tide.
That goal isn't unusual for this program, but it isn't just an expectation this year -- it's a demand. Why? Anything short would signify regression, something that hasn't happened in the program since it dropped three games in 2010 after taking home the national title the previous season.
Missing out on the division title last year was acceptable. It wasn't desirable, obviously, but 2019 LSU might be the best team in college football history. That's something that can be explained away, even if it's a little painful.
Mac Jones will get the start at quarterback, but I'm more interested in true freshman Bryce Young. Coach Nick Saban was dealt a great hand this season when the NCAA announced this is a freebie year in which no player will lose a year of eligibility. It's time for Young to shine instead of being cautious with him and inserting him into spots to help him grow while not putting a redshirt in jeopardy. You'll see both in action on Saturday, and it won't be only mop-up duty for the hot-shot freshman. Get your popcorn ready. Jones is the guy who can get Alabama to the CFP, but Young has the upside to be the guy who can win it.
Cinderella?: There is plenty of buzz surrounding Tennessee this year due to a stellar offensive line and the six-game winning streak to end last season. Believe it. This team's ceiling might not be as high as other teams, but its floor isn't low, either. It's going to be the biggest pest in the division.
True power in Mississippi: Speaking of pests, Ole Miss is going to annoy top-tier teams to no end. When you combine Kiffin with running back Jerrion Ealy, wide receiver Elijah Moore and either quarterback John Rhys Plumlee or Matt Corral (or both), you have the college football equivalent of a July 4 firework show. Some will be duds, but expect some beautiful explosions as well. Sorry Mississippi State, Mike Leach isn't enough to keep you on top in the Egg Bowl rivalry for long.
New game plan: No, Sam Pittman, you can't run Rakeem Boyd every play. Defenses would figure that out. Although it might be Arkansas' only option against the stout Bulldogs defense.
Game of the Week
Tennessee at South Carolina (7:30 p.m. ET on SEC Network): The Vols and Gamecocks will square off in Columbia on Saturday night in a sneaky-good game that will tell us a lot about both teams. Tennessee is the one with all of the buzz, but Collin Hill beating out Ryan Hilinski for the for the starting quarterback job at South Carolina should make this one extra spicy. Did the Gamecocks catch lightning in the bottle with the Colorado State transfer?