The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference
The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference

Barnhart's burning questions for Week 1

21 days ago
Tony Barnhart | SEC Network

There are times during the long, hot summer when you're absolutely convinced that college football season is never going to get here.

Dear friends, I'm happy to announce that the sport we love has returned to us and all is right with the world.

What coach Steve Spurrier used to call "Talkin' Season"- because in the summer all we can do is talk ... and talk ... and talk about college football - has finally ended and we have some real live games to enjoy.

Right now we still have a lot more questions than answers about SEC Football.

We're being told that when the regular season is over, Alabama and Georgia will again play for the conference championship.

We'll see.

We're being told that the quarterback position in this conference is as deep as it has been in a long, long time. I believe that's right.

We're told that the winner of the SEC will be right there when the national championship hardware is handed out. The SEC has won nine of the last 13 titles, so that's a pretty good bet.

The good news today is that we finally have a full slate of games and the questions we've had all summer will finally start to be answered.

Does Auburn coach Gus Malzahn keep it simple for Bo Nix? Or does he throw the true freshman in the deep end of the pool against Oregon?

After a two-year hiatus, Malzahn will again call the plays for the Auburn offense. And to execute those plays he has chosen Nix, who had over 12,000 yards and won a pair of state championships in high school and is the son of former Auburn quarterback Patrick Nix.

"I'm just asking him to play, to be (himself) and we are going to try to do some things he is comfortable with," said Malzahn.

True freshman quarterbacks have won in this league before. Jake Fromm took Georgia to the national championship game in 2017. That Peyton Manning guy was pretty good.

It will be interesting to see how much Malzahn asks Nix to do against a team picked to win the Pac-12.

How many of the 40,550 seats at Vanderbilt Stadium will be filled with folks wearing red?

Georgia, which is going for its third straight SEC East championship, opens the 2019 season with a conference game at Vanderbilt. It is a holiday weekend in Nashville, one of the coolest cities in America. And Georgia fans like to travel. Two years ago the Bulldogs invaded Notre Dame and got their hands on over 40,000 tickets.

"We're hoping that our fans make an away game look like a home game," said Fromm.

Georgia is picked in just about everybody's preseason Top 4 but Vanderbilt has some of the best skill people in the SEC.

How critical is the Ole Miss opener with Memphis?

Very critical. Here's why.

Ole Miss is now off of NCAA probation and is again eligible for a bowl.

"That is our No. 1 goal," head coach Matt Luke told me. "These players deserve a chance to play in the postseason."

To do that the Rebels have to get to six wins and getting to six won't be easy if they lose to Memphis, a very underrated team that is picked to win the West Division of the American Athletic Conference.

Ole Miss has two new coordinators in Mike MacIntyre (defense) and Rich Rodriguez (offense) and a new quarterback in Matt Corral.

Can South Carolina find a running game in its opener with North Carolina?

This will be the best team that Will Muschamp has had in his four seasons at South Carolina. But the Gamecocks - whose schedule includes No. 1 Clemson, No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Georgia, No. 8 Florida, and No. 12 Texas A&M-are not going to improve on a 7-6 record if they don't come up with a running game. South Carolina was 12th in the SEC in rushing last season (152.8 ypg).

Rico Dowdle (5.3 ypc) was the team's leading rusher last season. South Carolina also added graduate transfer Tavien Feaster, who rushed for 1,330 yards at Clemson.

Here is the key stat: The Gamecocks are 10-0 when Dowdle rushes over 53 yards and 6-13 when he doesn't.

What will Alabama's defense look like without linebacker Dylan Moses?

Moses is out for the season after a knee injury in practice. And, outside of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, there could not be a worse injury on the Alabama team.

The linebacker position that Moses vacates is the captain and signal caller for the defense. Moses will be replaced by a very good player but you can't replace the knowledge and leadership Moses had.

And it happens just days before launching a season that many think will end in a national championship.

Alabama plays Duke in Atlanta this week and opens SEC play at South Carolina on Sept. 14.