The No. 20 Mississippi State Bulldogs have set big goals in 2011 after their 9-4 season last year and reaching their goals starts tonight in Memphis and head coach Dan Mullen couldn't be happier.
"We're really excited to get going," said Mullen. "We haven't played since January 1 of this year so it's a nine-month wait between games so the excitement of the first game is upon us. We can't wait to get out there and go play and our guys are ready to get out there and showcase all the hard work they've put in over the last nine months."
One player who has worked hard and earned a starting position is linebacker Matthew Wells.
"Matt is a great athlete," said Mullen. "He has grown in the offseason and gives us an outside linebacker with a safety skill set."
A starting position still up in the air is left tackle. and the competition at the position is a tough one.
"We feel pretty good about the competition and we have a good idea of who is going to start," said Mullen. "My concern is making sure both guys are ready to play."
One position Mullen doesn't have to worry much about is quarterback with Chris Relf being the only returning quarterback starting in the SEC West.
"Right now I'm comfortable with him doing everything," said Mullen. "It's not like we didn't have the whole playbook for him last year, but I think early on we kept it a little simpler for him so he could build up his confidence. Now he's an experienced guy and we can make a lot more in game adjustments because he knows why we are doing those things."
The Bulldogs will face some unknowns against the Tigers and he knows they are just as ready for week one as he is.
"Coach (Larry) Porter is going to have them ready to go," said Mullen. "They have a bunch of new starters and they have a new high tempo offense that we haven't got to see on film and they have two defensive tackles who are SEC quality players. When you have that type of ability up front and throw in some new talented players makes them a very dangerous team."
Mullen thinks Texas A&M
welcome addition to SEC
Early Wednesday morning, Texas A&M broke the news they would be seeking a new conference and many speculations point to the SEC.
"I haven't given it a lot of though." said Mullen about Texas A&M coming to the SEC. "I've been there to coach a game and the excitement, the atmosphere they create is just an SEC game day environment. I think it would be a welcome addition to the league."
Matchup with Oregon
will be challenge for LSU
The No. 4 LSU Tigers are coming off an 11-2 season and a disappointing 41-24 Cotton Bowl loss to Texas A&M. The Tigers 2011 campaign will start where they left off last season, at Cowboys Stadium ass they are competing in the Cowboys Classic against No. 3 Oregon. The Ducks are coming off a season where they fell just short of the national title and will make LSU have to work hard right off the bat.
"Oregon presents a tremendous challenge for us," said Miles. "I think we've prepared the best we can for this matchup and we looking forward to playing in Cowboy Stadium. We enjoyed that environment last time we played there and we are looking forward to returning."
LSU has had to deal with some off field altercations that have cause some distractions and a change at starting quarterback. Jordan Jefferson, who has been suspended indefinitely, will now be replaced under center by Jarrett Lee. Lee didn't start any games in 2010, but played in 13 games where he threw for 573 yards, so Miles won't have a completely inexperienced quarterback in the game.
"I expect a lot from Jarrett Lee," said Miles. "He played in every game last year and certainly his play in some of the key games helped in last year's success. I expect him to operate the offense better than he ever has."
The showdown between the Tigers and Ducks will kickoff at 7 p.m. and with both teams ranked in the top five, the winner will continue their quest for a National Title, while the other has to fight their way back up.
South Carolina has overall
SEC championship as goal
The No. 12 South Carolina Gamecocks plan to win the SEC East again in 2011 but also wants to add the SEC Title to their list of accomplishments. On Saturday, they will take the fist step to achieving their goal when they travel to Charlotte, NC to take on East Carolina, who has own the CUSA title two of the last three years..
"We're looking forward to the ball game this Saturday night," said head coach Steve Spurrier. "East Carolina's a team with very good football tradition and they have one of the best offenses in the country. We've got our hands full trying to slow that down, but looking forward to playing and it should be a heck of a game."
The Gamecocks were led onto the field season by quarterback Stephen Garcia, who was third team All-SEC last year and threw for 3,059 yards and 20 touchdowns, but Spurrier hasn't decided if he will start Saturday's game.
"Stephen has changed a lot of his lifestyle actions and he's done very well, but Conner Shaw has performed a little bit better than him," said Spurrier. "We haven't named a starter yet but we know we're going to play both of them this week."
With the two quarterbacks battling for the starting job, the competition is sure to make both quarterbacks better but that is yet to be seen. The Gamecoks will hit the field at 6 p.m.
Alabama hosts Kent State,
Saban faces alma mater
Nick Saban is entering his fifth year at the helm of the Crimson Tide and they will start the 2011 season against his alma mater Kent State.
"Kent State has a very experienced team coming back," said Saban about Saturday's showdown. "It's going to be a challenging first game but we are looking forward to getting the season started."Â
After weeks of practice and preparation, Saban and his team are ready to hit the field.
"Our players are certainly looking forward to playing a game," said Saban. "We've practiced a lot and have practiced against each other for a long time."
The importance of winning the first game is high as it can set the tone for the season, but the focus of the first game isn't as much on winning.
"I think first games are always about having a mind set of taking care of business," said Saban. "They have to pay attention to detail playing with discipline and effort and that's what we emphasize to our players."
Alabama, who is ranked No. 2 in the preseason AP poll is picked to win the SEC West, will start the season at 11:21 a.m. on Saturday.