Five burning questions as we head into the first weekend of the regular season:
1. Will South Carolina struggle with Southern Mississippi tonight? For a couple of weeks now nobody has been talking about what’s going to happen on the field when the Gamecocks finally play a game. Thanks to a couple of NCAA investigations, nobody knows exactly who is going to show up tonight at Williams-Brice Stadium against a team that could win its division of Conference USA. The exception to that is tight end Weslye Saunders, who has already been suspended. It’s hard to believe that this is the first time these two teams have ever met. South Carolina needs to get off to a good start because Georgia comes to Columbia on Sept. 11. We also want to know if Steve Spurrier will have a quick hook when it comes to quarterback Stephen Garcia. Freshman Conner Shaw (from Flowery Branch) is waiting in the wings.
2. Who’s going to show up for North Carolina against LSU? We know that defensive tackle Marvin Austin, one of at least five NFL draft choices on the North Carolina defense, will not be in the lineup when the Tar Heels meet LSU in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff at the Georgia Dome. In fact, I don’t think we’ll see old Marvin again in a college football uniform. But there are a bunch of other guys who are involved in a potential academic issue and if the NCAA doesn’t clear them by Saturday then they will not play. This was supposed to be the breakout season for Butch Davis at North Carolina. LSU and coach Les Miles need a win because then the Tigers have a good chance to be 5-0 when they go to Florida on Oct. 9.
3. How will Houston Nutt use his quarterbacks against Jacksonville State? Now that Jeremiah Masoli is out of the mix, Nutt has to be careful how he uses Nathan Stanley, who won the job coming out of spring practice. He can’t afford for Stanley to get hurt or Ole Miss is in real big trouble. JUCO transfer Randall Mackey, who probably didn’t take a whole lot of snaps in August, has to get in the game. Four of the first five games are at home and the one road game in that stretch is Tulane. Ole Miss must have two quarterbacks ready to play by the time it goes to Alabama on Oct. 16.
4. How much of Aaron Murray will Mark Richt show against Louisiana-Lafayette? The No. 1 objective in Georgia’s opener with Louisiana-Lafayette is to win and keep quarterback Aaron Murray healthy. But Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo also have to get the redshirt freshman ready for next week’s huge trip to Columbia and the South Carolina Gamecocks. You wonder if Richt will turn Murray loose or if he’ll hold something back so that Ellis Johnson (the South Carolina DC) won’t see it on tape.
5. How will Tennessee fans feel after Derek Dooley’s debut? Tennessee will certainly win Saturday’s game against UT-Martin. But all summer long Volunteer fans have been hearing how tough a year this is going to be as Dooley tries to clean up the mess left behind by the Boy Wonder, now at Southern California. With Oregon, the defending Pac-10 champ, coming to Neyland Stadium next week, will Tennessee fans feel better about things or worse about things after they see Dooley’s first Volunteer team in action? It will be interesting to hear the talk shows and the read the blogs on Sunday morning.
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**–Wes Durham and I will be doing “The Southern Football Kickoff Show” this morning at 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 790 The Zone are we usually do. We hope to have Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt to discuss the NCAA’s ruling on Jeremiah Masoli.
**– Wes and I will be joining the morning crew at 790 at 8:30 a.m. in order to announce some news. Please check us out. College football fans will find the news interesting.
**–The first regular-season version of “Talkin’ Football, SEC Edition” on CSS is tonight at 6 p.m. Join Bob Neal, Mark Schlabach, Brady Ackerman and yours truly to break down the weekend’s first slate of SEC games. We also debate the NCAA’s decision on Ole Miss quarterback Jeremiah Masoli.
**–Speaking of Mark Schlabach, the former AJC staffer has a new book out with Bobby Bowden. The book begins today No. 27 on the New York Times bestseller list. Congrats to Mark.