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Week 1 in the SEC

Each week throughout the season, we’ll give you a brief preview and pick for the five most intriguing games on the SEC schedule. It was tough to narrow down the field with all the good matchups on opening weekend, but here goes.

N.C. State (-6) vs. South Carolina (in Charlotte) – 2 p.m. on ESPN

This is a big opener for these two teams, both of whom made a bowl game last year and are looking to make a splash in their respective conferences this year. South Carolina’s offense, with rising star Jake Bentley throwing to All-SEC targets Deebo Samuel and Hayden Hurst, should be vastly improved over last season, when the Gamecocks scored the fewest points in the SEC. It might be hard to tell, though, against N.C. State, which returns eight starters—including stud pass-rusher Bradley Chubb—on a defense capable of causing all sorts of problems up front.

South Carolina’s O-line, which allowed the most sacks in the SEC last year, will be in the crosshairs.

The Pick: N.C. State 24 South Carolina 21

Michigan (-4) vs. Florida (in Arlington) – 2:30 p.m. on ABC

With two defensive-minded teams and an over-under of just 45 points, don’t expect a lot of fireworks at AT&T Stadium. Michigan lost 17 starters from last season, and Florida is replacing a boatload of NFL talent on defense. Still, both teams should be excellent on the defensive line, which could make for a long afternoon for both offenses.

The Gators and transfer quarterback Malik Zaire will miss top receiver Antonio Callaway, one of seven players Florida suspended for the opener.

The Pick: Michigan 20 Florida 16

Alabama (-7) vs. Florida State (in Atlanta) – 7 p.m. on ABC

This one seems pretty cut and dried. If Florida State’s shaky offensive line, which yielded 36 sacks last season, can block the Tide up front, we should have a ball game. If they can’t, then quarterback Deondre Francois will spend the evening getting acquainted with the brand new turf at Mercedes Benz Stadium, and it’ll get ugly.

Given the tough schedule that awaits them, a loss here—particularly a blowout loss—would place the Seminoles’ playoff hopes in serious jeopardy. Should Alabama suffer an upset, they’re in a better position to run the table the rest of the way and still make the top four. Nick Saban’s track record with the Tide in these season-opening showdowns suggests that won’t be an issue.

The Pick: Alabama 31 Florida State 17

LSU (-13.5) vs. BYU (location TBD) – 8:30 p.m. on ESPN

Flooding from Hurricane Harvey forced this game out of Houston, but, as of Monday morning, no alternate site had been chosen. Wherever it’s played, expect a defensive struggle. BYU is stingy on that side of the ball, and the next time we see the LSU offense go up and down the field against an above-average defense will be the first.

On the other side of the ball, the Cougars’ O-line could have a hard time trying to block the LSU defensive front—but not quite as hard with stud pass-rusher Arden Key sitting this one out due to injury. That could give veteran quarterback Tanner Mangum just enough time to make an extra play or two down the field that might keep BYU in the game.

The Pick: LSU 24 BYU 14

Texas A&M at UCLA (-3.5) – 6:30 p.m. Sunday on FOX

Finally, a game where we can expect to see some points on the board. This feels like a prove-it game at the outset of what feels like a prove-it season for UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen; it’s time for him to deliver on the hype and be great. A&M would be well advised to run the football with Trayveon Williams and Keith Ford and keep Rosen on the sidelines.

Both head coaches are on shaky ground coming into the year and could use a win here.

The Pick: UCLA 31 Texas A&M 27

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