Picks & Power Rankings: College football is back

Sep. 1—Welcome to a new space where we'll talk college football each week. Specifically, we'll look closely at weekly matchups for Mississippi State and Ole Miss. We'll also have plenty of SEC flavor, while giving out picks for games across the national landscape.

Week 1 will take over Labor Day weekend, so kick back and get ready to watch games through Monday night.

Mississippi State vs. Southeastern Louisiana (3 p.m./SEC Network)

The Zach Arnett era is set to begin on Saturday. Also of note: the Kevin Barbay era gets going. We'll get our first look at Will Rogers running point guard in an offense that will give the Bulldogs' array of versatile playmakers chances to make plays in different ways.

As one of the most experienced teams in college football, the assumption is that Arnett and new defensive coordinator Matt Brock will field a competitive defense. There is experience up front on both sides of the ball and plenty of veteran playmakers in the backend of the defense and in the backfield on offense.

The late news that Geor'quarius Spivey was ruled ineligible could have an impact on how current personnel adapts to a new scheme. Whether or not he can rejoin the team this season could be something to keep a close eye on. The Bulldogs need all of the athletic weapons they can get for Rogers to get the ball to.

My prediction: 48-10, MSU

Ole Miss vs. Mercer (1 p.m./ESPN+)

Which quarterback will take more snaps on Saturday? We're all watching. We'll soon find out.

If things go as expected for the Rebels, presumed starter Jaxson Dart won't take many snaps on Saturday. But it'll sure be weird if Spencer Sanders sees more meaningful snaps than Dart.

Lane Kiffin is going into a second straight season without naming a starting quarterback (ahead of gameday, at least). The difference this year is he has a more experienced Dart and tons of Power Five experience behind him in Sanders. My bet is that Dart is the quarterback, but if not, all bets are off in Oxford this season.

That's not the only question Kiffin and staff will need to answer this season. Can Pete Golding turn the defense around? Are there enough receivers for a rigorous SEC schedule? And can the offensive line be better down the stretch this season?

My prediction: 44-17, Ole Miss

SEC Power Rankings

1. Georgia

The Bulldogs again appear to have the SEC's most talented roster. However, they're breaking in a new quarterback in Carson Beck. I'll have to see someone wrestle this spot away from Kirby at this point.

2. Alabama

All this talk about Nick Saban smiling more this summer got to me. I think the Tide are talented, but they may fit the old saying well that if you have three quarterbacks you don't have a quarterback.

3. LSU

The team I think has the best path to winning the SEC West this season is Brian Kelly's team. Jayden Daniels is a playmaker, but he needs to be healthy and suited up for all of the Tigers' big games this season.

4. Texas A&M

This probably isn't where the Aggies will wind up in my power rankings this year because we all know Jimbo gonna Jimbo. But dang, this team is talented and deep. If Connor Weigman has taken a step, look out because Bobby Petrino knows how to get things rolling.

5. Tennessee

I'm not the believer in Joe Milton that many have become this offseason. I don't care how far he can throw an orange. But there's no denying that Josh Heupel has this program on the rise. Even if they turn to the talented freshman Nico Iamaleava at some point this year, I like the Vols.

6. Arkansas

I'm not sure about the Hogs defense. And losing Barry Odom is bigger than many have pointed out. However, Sam Pittman has been efficient in the portal and I love K.J. Jefferson. He and Rocket Sanders form the SEC's most dangerous backfield.

7. Ole Miss

This is where things get a bit more complicated in the league's pecking order. There's plenty to question about a team that lost five of its last six in 2022. But there's also plenty to like. Quinshon Judkins could be the best running back in college football or he could be the best player in college football. We'll see.

8. Kentucky

Mark Stoops has a knack for grabbing impact quarterbacks from the transfer portal at this point. I love Devin Leary's addition to this program. I think he gives the Wildcats to be more of a factor in the SEC East this season than many believe.

9. South Carolina

Shane Beamer is fun, at least. And most of the time, his team is, too. But then there are those times they're not. Spencer Rattler giveth and taketh for the Gamecocks. However, they loaded up in the portal this offseason and seemingly have momentum going into this season.

10. Mississippi State

Will Rogers is arguably one of the top quarterbacks in college football. But much like the experienced roster of players around him, he doesn't seem to get the respect many in Starkville feel is warranted. First-year coach Zach Arnett and the Bulldogs get a chance to put people on notice this fall.

11. Missouri

Here's another program that really like its roster going into the season, but outsiders aren't as high on. The defense should be good, and there are playmakers there, but quarterback play will tell the tale.

12. Auburn

The roster is bottom quarter of the league talent-wise, but you better believe Hugh Freeze and Co. will steal a game or two this season. Ole Miss fans remember how unlikely a bowl trip was in 2012, but Freeze guided the Rebels to a 7-6 campaign. He was 8-5 in his first season at Liberty in 2019.

13. Florida

Graham Mertz, as many have suggested this offseason, is likely not the answer at quarterback for Florida. Billy Napier is recruiting at an impressive pace in Gainesville, but he'll likely to have grit his teeth through a tough season in 2023.

14. Vanderbilt

The transfer portal era will make it tough for Clark Lea or anyone coaching the Commodores to keep key playmakers in Nashville. A.J. Swann is a good signal caller, but the defense was quite porous against Hawaii in Week 0.

More Week 1 picks

UNC (-2.5) at South Carolina

Taking the Gamecocks to start hot. USC 41, UNC 34

South Alabama at Tulane (-6.5)

I like South Alabama to win outright. USA 27, Tulane 17

Coastal Carolina at UCLA (-14.5)

New regina at Coastal, but the line is big for a UCLA team that is also breaking in new parts. UCLA 38, Coastal 27

LSU (-2) at FSU

The Tigers probably come out focused and locked in. I love Mike Norvell and I believe in FSU ... against ACC contenders but maybe not a legitimate SEC contender this early in the season. LSU 34, FSU 21

Clemson (-12.5) at Duke

Feels like a statement year for Clemson and a potential letdown year for the Blue Devils. We will see. I like Clemson to cover here. Clemson 24, Duke 13

John Luke is the Digital Director for the Daily Journal. You can reach him at