The Southeastern Conference knows how to make an entrance in football.
Not every week of the season is loaded with great matchups, but opening week has more than most, and a nice mix of conference games and marquee non-league contests.
With the NFL a week away from its openers, and Labor Day allowing additional work space on the calendar, the SEC has spread its opening games over a four-day period, starting with three games Thursday, including the first on the SEC Network.
That’s Texas A&M at South Carolina. Although two of the game’s biggest stars — Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel and Gamecocks’ defensive end Jadeveon Clowney — have moved on, the matchup is highly anticipated.
The occasion also includes the unveiling of an 85-foot-high banner of South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier on the side of Williams-Brice Stadium.
“I don’t want people coming by there throwing eggs at it, and that could happen,” Spurrier said.
Not this season, if prognostications are on target. Ninth-ranked South Carolina is widely considered a SEC East favorite with Georgia. Dylan Thompson, a fifth-year senior with starting experience, replaces Connor Shaw at quarterback.
The quarterback change is more dramatic for the Aggies. Sophomore Kenny Hill, who has 22 passing attempts in his career, was announced as the starter two weeks ago. But defense is where Texas A&M must show improvement. The Aggies ranked last in the SEC in total defense last season, yielding 476 yards per game,
Also Thursday night, No. 18 Mississippi plays host to Boise State, and the coach Derek Mason era opens at Vanderbilt, which plays host to Temple.
The SEC is involved in three of the highest profile non-conference games on Saturday: No. 2 Alabama meets West Virginia in Atlanta, No. 12 Georgia plays host to No. 16 Clemson and No. 13 LSU meets No. 14 Wisconsin in Houston.
It won’t be like this every week in the SEC, especially when it comes to non-conference competition. But for openers, no conference does it better.
Ranking the SEC
vs. West Virginia (at Atlanta)
QBs Jacob Coker and Blake Sims listed atop depth chart
2. At Auburn
Tigers expected to pick up where they left off, keep rolling
3. At South Carolina
Texas A&M (Thurs.)
Keeping Dylan Thompson healthy a priority
4. At Georgia
Loss won’t knock either from playoff chase
vs. Wisconsin (at Houston)
Tigers have won 45 straight regular-season non-conference games
6. At Missouri
South Dakota State
Mizzou only in SEC to play all non-league games first
7. Texas A&M
at South Carolina (Thurs.)
All eyes on Kenny Hill, Johnny Manziel’s succssor
8. At Mississippi
Boise State (Thurs.)
Rebels’ Bo Wallace is SEC’s most experienced QB
9. At Florida
This time last year, Gators battled numerous injuries
10. At Vanderbilt
The Derek Mason era begins
11. At Tennessee
Utah State (Sunday)
Utah State no gimme with QB Chuckie Keeton
12. At Mississippi State
Southern Miss coming off a 1-11 season
Razorbacks look to control game on the ground
14. At Kentucky
Mark Stoops begins second year with improved team