SEC Week 1 Predictions: LSU Tigers Tamed, South Carolina Gamecocks Grounded

We're inching closer to the college football season so what better time to unwrap the College Football Network SEC Week 1 predictions.

It’s less than two months until Christmas, or the start of the 2023 college football regular season as it’s more commonly known. While Week 0 gets the action underway on August 26, the first full slate of SEC action begins in Week 1, and our team of analysts have predictions for every single game in the conference that prides itself on being the best in the nation.

SEC Week 1 Predictions

The College Football Network SEC Week 1 predictions were painstakingly pulled together from the opinions of our analysts, using the most up-to-date rosters available. They’re straight up only — including a predicted score — with predictions against the spread to be a focus of our 2023 in-season coverage.

Alabama vs. Middle Tennessee: W, 42-13

Middle Tennessee enters the 2023 college football season on a hot streak, winning five of the final six games of the 2022 campaign. Last season, they also proved they were capable of springing a shock when they comfortably knocked off the 25th-ranked Miami (FL) on the road. Several members of the defense that helped cause that upset return, including Zaylin Wood and Teldrick Ross.

The Blue Raiders’ 2022 rush defense was the best in CUSA play, while they tied Penn State nationally for passes defended. The latter might not be so important against an Alabama offense that has a questionable pass game identity. However, MTSU has never beaten Alabama, and Nick Saban’s multi-headed backfield monster might prove too powerful for the Blue Raiders.

Arkansas vs. Western Carolina: W, 47-5

There’s a plethora of “cupcake” clashes among our SEC Week 1 predictions, and as a result, you can expect to see some one-sided clashes in this opening weekend of fixtures. The Arkansas Razorbacks are 160-38-14 against non-FBS opposition (as per Winsipedia) and haven’t lost to a team from outside the level this millennium.

While they’ve had close games in that time, don’t expect this to be another. Sam Pittman’s team loaded up on defense in the transfer portal after having the worst total defense and giving up over 30 points per game last fall. On offense, the return of dual-threat quarterback K.J. Jefferson is a boost, while the Razorbacks have one of the best RBs in the nation in Raheim Sanders.

Sure, the score is unlikely with five points going to WCU, but the sentiment remains for Auburn to easily handle business.

Auburn vs. UMass: W, 39-3

The Hugh Freeze era at Auburn begins with the Tigers welcoming UMass to Jordan-Hare Stadium. The two teams have never met previously, and if our SEC Week 1 Predictions turn out to be accurate, Don Brown’s Minutemen will probably wish that had remained the case.

Freeze’s impact on the roster has been swift and significant. Seven of the projected starting 11 on offense are transfers, while multiple transfers and true freshman Keldric Faulk look set to mitigate defenses losses to the NFL. An offense containing Payton Thorne, Shane Hooks, Jyaire Shorter, Rivaldo Fairweather, and Jarquez Hunter should prove too potent for UMass.

LSU vs. FSU: L, 29-31

Here. We. Go. Nestled in amongst the cupcake clashes in the SEC on opening weekend is a game that has the potential to be one of the games of the entire 2023 college football campaign. FSU and LSU entertained us with an absolute thriller to open last season, and we’re set for a sizzling Sunday night showdown that could have ramifications for each team’s overall success in 2023.

LSU is currently a -2.5 favorite against the spread, and there’s plenty of reason to believe that the Tigers can be a prominent force in the SEC this season and showcase that with a win over their ACC opponents in Week 1.

Brian Kelly’s team has stability on the offensive line, boasts a talented WR room led by the highly-touted Malik Nabers Jr., and in Jayden Daniels, has the most dangerous dual-threat QB in the nation—whose development as a passer last season isn’t talked about enough. Meanwhile, a defense led by Harold Perkins Jr. and Maason Smith added transfer reinforcements.

Yet, this FSU team somehow has an edge while also having the potential to do something truly special in 2023. Led by Jordan Travis, the offense is bursting with playmakers—enhanced by the acquisition of Keon Coleman and Jaheim Bell. Meanwhile, Jared Verse may be the best defensive player in the nation, and Fentrell Cypress II arrives to lock down the Seminole secondary.

Mississippi State vs. SE Louisiana: W, 34-6

It’s been 15 years since Mississippi State and Southeast Louisiana met. While much has changed in that time, the chances of the Lions overturning the 34-10 defeat from that 2008 matchup aren’t high. The Bulldogs are 152-32-9 against non-FBS teams, including that last—and only—matchup between these two teams.

Although Mississippi State faces life without Mike Leach, they’re still capable of being a potent force in the SEC. In Will Rogers, they boast one of the best quarterbacks in the conference, their defense comprises solid and experienced pieces, and Lideatrick Griffin poses a legitimate threat in all phases. The Bulldogs should prove too strong for their talented FCS opponent.

Ole Miss vs. Mercer: W, 43-15

The head-to-head history doesn’t really count for much when the last time these two teams met was in 1911. Nonetheless, the Rebels are 157-47-10 against non-FBS teams, and our SEC Week 1 Predictions don’t forecast another notch in the loss column for Lane Kiffin’s team.

Don’t be fooled into thinking there’s no talent on the Mercer team. WRs Ty James and Devron Harper will trouble the Ole Miss defense, and CB Lance Wise will ensure there are no easy throws for whoever starts under center for the Rebels. However, the SEC team has a noticeable advantage on both sides of the ball, with running back Quinshon Judkins ready to wreak havoc once more.

Texas A&M vs. New Mexico: W, 40-6

Former UAB quarterback Dylan Hopkins arrives in Albuquerque looking to rejuvenate a New Mexico Lobos offense that ranked 130th in scoring last season. They open their 2023 campaign with a tough trip to face Texas A&M, themselves looking to rebound from a difficult 2022 season.

With impressive recruiting classes, the Aggies have all the gear—but do they have any idea how to use it? The season-opener should allow them to maximize the talents of players like WR Evan Stewart and running back newcomer Rueben Owens. The Aggies haven’t lost in five matchups with New Mexico, boasting two shutouts and only one game with less than 30 points scored.

Florida @ Utah: L, 19-26

The Utah Utes have never beaten the Florida Gators in two attempts, including the closely fought 29-26 defeat in Gainesville last fall. However, Florida has never had to cross country to take on the Utes in their own backyard, and home-field advantage may be a factor in what is easily one of the best games involving an SEC team in Week 1.

Quarterback consistency will also play a factor, with Cam Rising still hoping to play in the Utes’ season opener despite rumors to the contrary. Meanwhile, Florida replaces Anthony Richardson with Graham Mertz—a decision that wasn’t met with much enthusiasm from Gator fans. While there’s much more defensive optimism, Utah has the playmakers to get the job done.

Georgia vs. UT-Martin: W, 46-3

The Georgia Bulldogs begin their quest for a historic modern-era “Threepeat” with a clash against UT-Martin that should see Kirby Smart’s team add to their 143-32-8 record against non-FBS teams. Georgia came out of spring camp without a definitive answer to their starting QB battle, and this is the sort of game where they might find answers with live reps for both candidates.

While Bulldog tight end talent Brock Bowers will be the dangerous man to watch, UT Martin has their own tight end troublemaker in the form of D.J. Nelson. Meanwhile, pass rusher Dylan Dotson has the ability to give an inexperienced o-line some issues. However, anything other than a substantial Georgia win would be seen as calamitous in Athens.

Kentucky vs. Ball State: W, 35-12

No Will Levis? No problem for the Kentucky Wildcats as they open their 2023 campaign with a comfortable win at home against Ball State. Last year was something of a disappointment, opening up 4-0 before winning just three of their final games. Ball State had a similarly frustrating season, missing out on bowl eligibility for the first time since 2019.

The return of offensive coordinator Liam Coen and the arrival of transfer QB Devin Leary should weaponize a Kentucky WR room with elite playmakers in Dane Key and Barion Brown. That should prove decisive against a Ball State team that lost their top defensive playmaker from last year, not to mention star running back Carson Steele and starting quarterback John Paddock.

Missouri vs. South Dakota: W, 35-16

When you’re a college football coach on the hot seat—which I think we can all agree that Eli Drinkwitz is—a season opener against an FCS opponent can be a double-edged sword. While a win may boost in-house confidence, you’re expected to win that game, and if you lose, boy does that temperature get turned up just that little bit more.

In Myles Harden and Brock Mogenson, the Coyotes have some defensive disruptors who could cause Missouri some issues. However, the Tigers’ WR duo of Luther Burden III and Theo Wease Jr. will be hard to handle. Defensively, the Missouri secondary contains several playmakers led by Jaylon Carlies and Kris Abrams-Draine, who should limit South Dakota’s scoring.

South Carolina vs. North Carolina: L, 33-34

There are huge expectations on both of these teams ahead of the 2023 college football season, making this South Carolina vs. North Carolina clash one of the most hotly anticipated matchups of the two teams since, well, the 2021 Duke’s Mayo Bowl. Since the Gamecocks left the ACC in 1970, the rivalry lost some of its sizzle, but it’s about to get an injection of heat in Week 1.

Shane Beamer has made South Carolina a team to be reckoned with in the SEC. With Spencer Rattler back under center, Trey Knox and Antwane Wells Jr. catching passes, and two highly-regarded RB additions, they have the talent to trouble the UNC defense. North Carolina has QB Drake Maye, the epitome of a difference-maker in a game we’re forecasting to go to the wire.

Tennessee vs. Virginia: W, 39-20

Some of the parents of the players on the current Tennessee roster weren’t even born when Virginia came into Knoxville and emerged with a win in the last regular-season game between these two teams, but don’t let that stop the Vols’ staff from using that as extra motivation ahead of the Week 1 clash in Neyland Stadium.

Even with the loss of several big-time players from their successful 2022 season, Tennessee should be a force in the SEC once more behind strong-armed quarterback Joe Milton and a defense that is built solidly from front to back. While Virginia added some key pieces in the transfer portal, they’re mismatched in most positions ahead of this game.

Vanderbilt vs. Alabama A&M: W, 35-13

Alabama A&M doesn’t have a strong recent record of success against FBS opponents, losing to UAB and Troy last season while getting shut out by Vanderbilt the last time the two teams met in 2017. While our SEC Week 1 predictions predict a closer game than that 42-0 defeat in Nashville, it would be a surprise to see anything other than a Vanderbilt win.

A&M’s upset potential isn’t helped by uncertainty at the QB position, with starter Quincy Casey sidelined through the spring. No such problems for Vanderbilt, who return QB A.J. Swann while boasting one of the top WRs in the nation in Will Sheppard. Watch out for true freshman RB Sedrick Alexander against an A&M rush defense that allowed 4.39 yards per carry in 2022.