SEC teams get more chances for September statements

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Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) throws under pressure from Oregon defensive lineman Taki Taimani (55) in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

The Southeastern Conference was perhaps one blocked kick away from perfection last weekend, with a few impressive nonconference victories and some no-brainers.

For teams like No. 1 Alabama and No. 24 Tennessee, bigger tests start on Saturday, when they’re among five SEC teams engaging in Power Five nonconference matchups. A league that prides itself on being the best in college football gets a chance for more September statements.

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No. 2 Georgia looked every bit the defending national champion in a 49-3 win over then-No. 11 Oregon. No. 16 Arkansas toppled Cincinnati, a playoff team last season.

Florida upended then-No. 7 Utah, the defending Pac-12 Conference champion, matching the highest ranked team the Gators have defeated in an opener. The first time was over No. 7 Houston in 1969.

“Pretty good football there, huh?” first-year Florida coach Billy Napier said.

The football was solid league-wide, though it’s hard to read much into wins over teams like Mercer (Auburn) and Utah State (Alabama).

LSU fell 24-23 to Florida State on a blocked extra point with no time on the clock in coach Brian Kelly’s debut. That was the SEC’s only loss on the weekend.

No. 12 Florida and Tennessee rode nonconference wins into the Top 25, giving the SEC eight ranked teams. Arkansas moved up three spots in the rankings to start the follow-up to the program's best season in a decade.

“I think that was just an energy booster fire for ourselves to know that we can play like we always can,” Razorbacks safety Simeon Blair said. "We can play and play at a high level against good teams of that magnitude.”

This week, Alabama visits fellow traditional power Texas after a 55-0 win over Utah State that amounted to a tuneup. The Volunteers, who beat Ball State 59-10, are at No. 17 Pittsburgh.

Vanderbilt (2-0) hosts No. 23 Wake Forest seeking its first 3-0 start since 2017. Missouri visits Kansas State and Mississippi State is at Arizona.

— Alabama is making its first trip to Austin since 1922 and is facing former Tide offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. The Longhorns are rebuilding, but they have a 7-1-1 record against Alabama, which won the last meeting to claim the 2009 national championship.

“I think there’s an understanding that us going to Austin this weekend, it’s gonna be hostile, there’s gonna be a lot of noise, there’s gonna be a lot of people,” Tide linebacker Henry To'oTo'o said. "So we’re excited and super juiced about it.”

— Tennessee and Pitt are playing in the Johnny Majors Classic pitting two teams he coached. Pitt won 41-34 last year in Neyland Stadium. The Volunteers get a chance to give further evidence they're an up-and-coming program under coach Josh Heupel, who's more concerned about preparations than any of that.

“Last week has nothing to do with this coming week," Heupel said. “A year ago has nothing to do with what’s going to happen this week. To perform the right way, you have to prepare the right way.”

— Mississippi State has its first meeting with Arizona in a game scheduled to kick off about 10 p.m. Central time. Bulldogs coach Mike Leach went 4-2 against the Wildcats while at Washington State, and his team attempted 84 passes in the 2017 meeting.

"I think we’re all excited to be up late and go play Arizona,” Leach said.

— Missouri faces an old Big 12 Conference opponent. The Tigers and Wildcats meet for the first time since 2011 but the 98th overall. Missouri leads 60-32-5.

— Vandy has won the past three meetings with Wake Forest and actually leads the series 10-6. Commodores coach Clark Lea already has matched the win total from his debut season and was Dave Clawson's linebackers coach in 2016 at Wake Forest.

Lea said Clawson “has built a great program there and it's going to be a fun team to compete against.”

___ AP Sports Writer Teresa Walker contributed to this report.


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