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SEC Kickoff Week early look: Alabama-USC tops the list

Who will start at quarterback for Nick Saban's Crimson Tide in Week 1 against USC? Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP

Congratulations, you made it. Kickoff Week has finally arrived.

No more football-less Saturdays to worry about. The dog days of summer have officially ended.

With all 14 SEC teams kicking off their season this weekend, there is much to watch for. Here’s an early look at the first week of the season from an SEC perspective, beginning with the top five games we’re interested in seeing:

1. No. 20 USC vs. No. 1 Alabama (8 p.m. ET Saturday, ABC)

These are two historic programs with championship pedigrees -- but which are in quite different places currently. Alabama is coming off a national championship; USC was 8-6 a year ago and will play its first full season under head coach Clay Helton. Still, there is plenty of mass appeal when two blue-blooded programs meet at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Both will be breaking in first-time starting quarterbacks: Max Browne will start for the Trojans; but coach Nick Saban has yet to name a starter for the Crimson Tide from among Blake Barnett, Cooper Bateman, David Cornwell and Jalen Hurts.

2. No. 11 Ole Miss vs. No. 4 Florida State (8 p.m. ET Monday, ESPN)

Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze probably can’t wait to hit the field at Orlando’s Camping World Stadium a week from tonight so that there can be actual football to discuss, rather than NCAA investigations and related off-the-field matters. The positive? The Rebels have the SEC’s best returning quarterback in Chad Kelly. The negative? Lots of new faces on the offensive line. Florida State will be debuting Deondre Francois, a redshirt freshman, at quarterback in the game.

3. No. 18 Georgia vs. No. 22 North Carolina (5:30 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN)

Kirby Smart’s head-coaching debut comes as a de facto home game for Georgia (it’s at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, instead of Athens), so expect a huge Bulldogs crowd. And the anticipation for who will be the starting quarterback is high: Greyson Lambert (who started last season), true freshman Jacob Eason or Brice Ramsey? The most important question is: How ready or healthy is running back Nick Chubb in his first action since getting injured last season? The Tar Heels, who can pile up the points under coach Larry Fedora, should give the Dawgs a stiff test.

4. No. 5 LSU vs. Wisconsin (3:30 p.m. ET Saturday, ABC)

College football in the frozen (well, not yet) tundra? Sounds like fun. These two teams played in Houston at NRG Stadium to open the 2014 season -- in what turned out to be a come-from-behind victory for LSU -- and now the return game happens in Green Bay, Wisconsin. If Badgers fans can replicate the Camp Randall feel at the Packers’ home, it’ll make it that much tougher on LSU; but the Tigers are coming into the season with College Football Playoff aspirations, so every game is a must-win. It helps LSU to have the best player in college football, Leonard Fournette, who is always must-see.

5. No. 16 UCLA at Texas A&M (3:30 p.m. ET Saturday, CBS)

This one is intriguing for numerous reasons. The Aggies debut a new offensive coordinator in Noel Mazzone and starting quarterback in Trevor Knight. It’s an important season for Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin. And the Bruins come in with probably college football’s best young quarterback in Josh Rosen, whom Mazzone happened to coach last year as UCLA's offensive coordinator.

Quick hits:

Sean White was named Auburn’s starting quarterback after an offseason competition. His reward? An opener versus No. 2 Clemson, the 2015 national championship runner-up and led by Heisman Trophy candidate Deshaun Watson. At least the Tigers get this game at home (although it will be played at Auburn).

• Three new head coaches make their debut at their respective programs: Smart at Georgia, Missouri’s Barry Odom (whose Tigers travel to West Virginia) and South Carolina’s Will Muschamp.

• Speaking of Muschamp, there is one conference game this week -- when his Gamecocks go to Nashville, Tennessee, to take on Vanderbilt. This is a must-win for each team, as both will be hoping to achieve bowl eligibility this season.

• Starting quarterback debuts will occur at Florida (Luke Del Rio versus Massachusetts), Arkansas (Austin Allen versus Louisiana Tech), Mississippi State (a QB still to be named versus South Alabama) and possibly Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.