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The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference

Barnhart's burning questions for Week 1

35 days ago
Tony Barnhart | SEC Network

It was March 12 and SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey had just announced from Nashville that the remainder of the men's basketball tournament had been canceled because of concerns about COVID-19.

Only a few minutes later I received a text message:

"Is this going to affect football season?"

Today, more than six months later, we are still trying to answer that question.

An SEC football season like no other in our lifetime begins on Saturday with seven-that's right-seven conference games. The 14 SEC members will each play a 10-game, conference-only schedule where literally every game counts. And since March, Commissioner Sankey and the league's athletics directors have been working to get every team safely to the starting line on Sept. 26.

Fingers crossed. We are almost there.

"If we get seven completed games on Saturday night that will be a success," he said.

As is the case with the start of any SEC football season, we have lots and lots of questions. Here are just five to get us started for 2020:

How is Lane Kiffin going to handle his quarterbacks against Florida?

Kiffin is one of four new head coaches who will make their debuts on Saturday. The others are Eli Drinkwitz (Missouri), Mike Leach (Mississippi State) and Sam Pittman (Arkansas).

Kiffin has a couple of talented quarterbacks to choose from as the Rebels get ready to play the Gators.

John Rhys Plumlee led the SEC in rushing among primary quarterbacks last season and is one of the fastest players in the SEC. Matt Corral out of California has the arm talent to take shots down the field, which is something Kiffin has always liked to do in this offense.

Kiffin has not named a starter but said this week he expects both will play.

You can count on it. And you can bet the Florida Gators are counting on it.

Who is Collin Hill?

After dropping to 4-8 last season, South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp had to shake up his staff.

Muschamp brought in Mike Bobo as his new offensive coordinator. Bobo, a teammate of Muschamp's at Georgia, brought quarterback Collin Hill with him from Colorado State, where Bobo was head coach for five seasons. Because of his familiarity with Bobo's system and his consistency in practice, Hill was named starting quarterback over sophomore Ryan Hilinski, who started the Gamecocks' last 11 games in 2019.

Hill has a compelling personal story. He has had an up-and-down career because of injuries. He has recovered from three ACL surgeries.

But he has talent. Bobo recruited him to Colorado State out of Dorman High School in Roebuck, S.C., about 80 miles from Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia. Now he is the starting quarterback for the Gamecocks in a prime-time game against Tennessee.

How many passes will Mississippi State throw against LSU?

Mike Leach, the new head coach of the Bulldogs, has logged time in the SEC, as he was Hal Mumme's offensive coordinator at Kentucky in 1997-1998. Since he became a head coach, Leach has found success with an offense that throws, throws and throws, and then throws some more.

Leach left Washington State, where he was 11-2 in 2018, to take his high-wire act to Mississippi State. And he found just the right quarterback to execute it.

K.J. Costello played in 29 career games at Stanford, throwing for 6,151 yards and 49 touchdowns. He is a big man (6-5, 225 pounds) with a big arm.

Costello makes his SEC debut at Tiger Stadium, the home of the defending national champions. I say he throws at least 50 passes.

One caveat. Mississippi State has one of the best running backs in the SEC in Kylin Hill. How will Leach use him?

What will the Auburn offense look like with Chad Morris calling the plays?

Morris, the former head coach at SMU and Arkansas who helped build the Clemson offense we know today, answered the call from his old friend, Gus Malzahn.

Malzahn offered Morris the chance to work with sophomore quarterback Bo Nix, who put up respectable numbers last season (2,542 yards passing, 16 TD, 6 INT), but really struggled against the better defenses in the conference. In losses to Florida and LSU, Nix completed only 42 percent of his passes with four interceptions.

Nix has some weapons in wide receiver Seth Williams (59 catches, 830 yards and eight touchdowns) and Anthony Schwartz, who may be the fastest receiver in the conference.

But look out for the Kentucky defense. The Wildcats return seven of the nine top tacklers from a unit that finished No. 12 nationally in scoring defense (18.4 ppg). The Wildcats are going to be a tough out for everybody they play.

Who's going to start at quarterback for Georgia?

The Bulldogs are fielding a new offense under OC Todd Monken and thought they had their man when Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman enrolled in January.

But Newman opted out of the season earlier this month and now the focus is on USC transfer JT Daniels and redshirt freshman D'Wan Mathis.

Mathis, 6-6, 205, is a superb athlete who signed with Georgia after originally committing to Ohio State in December of 2018. He did not play in 2019, when he had surgery to remove a cyst from his brain.

Daniels was the starter as a true freshman at USC in 2018, throwing for 2,672 yards. Technically, he has not been cleared to play after recovering from a knee injury he suffered early in the 2019 season, but Coach Kirby Smart said he expects that to happen.

It will be interesting to see how Georgia uses its quarterbacks at Arkansas, which has lost 19 straight SEC games. Georgia hosts Auburn next week.