My Five Burning Questions for the first SEC Saturday of the 2014 season:
1. How long before Nick Marshall comes into the game against Arkansas? Auburn coach Gus Malzahn made official what we already knew during his news conference this week. Sophomore Jeremy Johnson will start at quarterback against Arkansas while last year’s starter, Nick Marshall, sits (marijuana citation). But Malzahn also made it clear that Marshall would play in the game. So how long does Marshall sit?
Bet it’s longer than another Auburn quarterback, Jeff Burger. In 1987 Burger accepted a plane ride from a friend in violation of NCAA rules that season and so the school punished him by not allowing him to start against Florida. After the first snap of the game, coach Pat Dye trotted Burger onto the field. He threw for 219 yards and a touchdown in a 29-6 Auburn victory.
2. Does it really matter who starts at quarterback for Alabama? It looks like senior Blake Sims will take the first snap over Florida State transfer Jake Coker when the Crimson Tide plays West Virginia at the Georgia Dome. That’s probably a smart move by Nick Saban because Sims has been in the program for four years and that means something. With West Virginia, Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss serving as the first three opponents Alabama does not have to settle on a quarterback until Florida comes to Tuscaloosa on Sept. 20. Both quarterbacks will play against West Virginia and I bet they both play well.
3. Is John Theus ready for Vic Beasley? Clemson led the nation in tackles for loss (122) last season and Beasley is one of the best rush ends in America. In 864 career snaps, Beasley has 31 tackles for loss, 21 sacks, 20 quarterback pressures, eight pass breakups and five caused fumbles. Beasley was hard to handle in last year’s game against Georgia as the Tigers had four sacks. Now Theus, a native of Jacksonville, moves from right tackle to left tackle just in time to face Beasley. This is the most important matchup of the game. If Georgia can protect the quarterback, it wins. Clemson’s best chance to win is for its defense to create negative plays and turnovers.
4. How big is Tennessee’s opener with Utah State? This big: If the Vols lose to the Aggies of the Mountain West, I don’t think they make it to a bowl this season. Oddsmaker Danny Sheridan has Tennessee as a six-point favorite over Utah State so that’s basically a push because Tennessee is the home team. The Aggies have a special quarterback in Chuckie Keeton and have proven over the years that they can challenge big boy teams on the road. The rest of the Tennessee schedule includes road trips to No. 4 Oklahoma, No. 12 Georgia, No. 18 Ole Miss and No. 9 South Carolina. There are home games against No. 2 Alabama and No. 24 Missouri. How do the Vols get to six if they lose Sunday night?
5. Does Tanner McEvoy start at QB for Wisconsin against LSU? McEvoy began his career at South Carolina in 2011 but after one year with Steve Spurrier transferred to Arizona Western. He then transferred to Wisconsin where he moved from quarterback to safety, where he made three starts last season. Now media reports say that McEvoy, a solid athlete at 6-6, 222, has beaten out 2013 starter Joel Stave for the job. Stave is a conventional dropback quarterback while McEvoy can run out of the spread, which coach Gary Anderson prefers. It presents a new set of problems for LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis, whose defenses like to pressure the quarterback.