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Across the South: Games to watch this weekend

Every Wednesday right here you can read Across the South, where we’ll get into a different topic on the SEC, break down the biggest matchups of the previous week, preview the coming week’s slate, and talk about where things stand in the best conference in the land!

In this week’s edition, it’s finally game week! While SEC play doesn’t officially start for a few weeks, there are plenty of exciting matchups to keep your eye on this weekend. Let’s break down some of them here:

Florida at No. 14 Utah (Thursday)

What better way to kick off week one than seeing an SEC team hit the road tomorrow night against a ranked opponent with a star senior quarterback and one of the most underrated coaches in college football?

This will be the second leg of a home and home after the Gators defeated the Utes 29-26 in an opening game thriller where Florida came back to win in the fourth quarter.

Utah got their season back on track after the loss and quarterback Cameron Rising was able to help defeat USC twice and lead Utah to a PAC-12 title. Kyle Whittingham always seems to have a solid team at Utah, and this is going to be quite a challenge for a Florida team that will be starting Wisconsin transfer Graham Mertz at QB.

But, Rising’s health is in question after a torn ACL in the Rose Bowl against Penn State and it’s a question mark whether or not he even plays, but either way, Utah is still the better team.

Virginia at No. 12 Tennessee (Nashville)

On paper, this game should be a beatdown, with the Vols favored by 28 points. Virginia is coming off a 3-7 season after its final two games of 2022 were cancelled in the aftermath of an on-campus shooting that tragically saw three players on the team killed and another wounded.

While Tennessee is the much better team, it is a week one power-five matchup and an opportunity for fans to see the new look offense in Knoxville. All eyes will be on Joe Milton III, who is taking over QB1 duties from Hendon Hooker after Hooker’s marvelous 2022.

Milton III has the strongest arm in college football and was fantastic in the Orange Bowl against Clemson, but thus far is still unproven.

If Milton III can reach his ceiling, there is no limit to how good the Tennessee offense can be this season. He will get a chance on Saturday to display whether or not he has improved his accuracy enough to be a reliable signal caller for the Vols.

No. 21 North Carolina at South Carolina

The Tar Heels and Gamecocks have not played against each other since 2021, with South Carolina winning 38-21. The Gamecocks were able to turn their season around in year two of the Shane Beamer era with back to back wins over Tennessee and Clemson to end the regular season where Spencer Rattler was brilliant in both.

With some momentum headed into year three, a home game against a ranked Tar Heels team offers a great opportunity to start the year.

UNC leads the all-time series 35-20 and has one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Drake Maye.

Head coach Mack Brown has been very impressive in his four seasons in Chapel Hill, leading the Tar Heels to bowl appearances in each season as well as an appearance in the ACC championship last year after a 9-3 year.

This is one of the most fascinating matchups in week one.

No. 5 LSU at No. 8 Florida State (Orlando)

Another rematch of last year’s opener, this was one of the wildest games of the season in 2022. Jayden Daniels struggled all night for the Tigers before leading a 99-yard touchdown drive in the game’s final minutes that should have sent it to OT, but a blocked extra point ended the game in regulation.

Neither team was ranked in last year’s edition, but after great seasons for both teams, this is now a top-10 matchup.

This is the marquee game of week one, and it will be played Sunday night. Even though it is just week one, both teams have playoff hopes, and this game could go a long way towards determining who ultimately will qualify for college football’s Final Four.

Michael Brauner is a staff writer with WNSP Mobile.

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