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Kickoff Week gives SEC a chance to make early statement

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Bama and LSU the two most favored to win SEC (0:33)

The College GameDay crew is split between LSU and Alabama winning the SEC. (0:33)

Can you hear that?

It's the clanging of propane tanks and the plopping of charcoal bags in the back of pickup trucks. It's the thud of packaged meat being tossed in carts at the local grocery.

Soon, those sounds will turn into scintillating smells, as grease and gristle take their rightful places on the fall's list of basic food groups.

The college football season is back, and Kickoff Week is setting up to be the greatest opening week the sport has ever offered. As the SEC sets its sights on Kickoff Week, the league has an opportunity to soar or flounder with the entire country watching.

It's not as if the SEC needs any more validation after winning eight of the past 10 national championships and finishing 65-32 in bowl games during that span. However, a new year brings new critics and new ways to boast about being the best. Last season, the SEC registered an NCAA-record nine postseason wins (9-2).

That means squat during Kickoff Week.

ESPN Stats & Information ranked the SEC the No. 1 FBS conference.

Yeah, none of the armchair quarterbacks care.

In the past eight years, the SEC has 58 wins against ranked nonconference opponents.

No one will remember that on Saturday morning.

When you're top dog, like the SEC has proudly been the past decade, and so polarizing, the haters are everywhere and always looking to knock you down. How do you make sure you're on solid ground -- come out swinging by beating five ranked FBS partners.

That's right, the SEC, which has notoriously played overwhelmingly overmatched opponents at the start of the season, is scaling back the cupcakes. The SEC is adding some extra protein to its diet this year with five ranked opponents and four neutral sites.

Just check out this lineup:

  • Missouri at West Virginia

  • No 16. UCLA at Texas A&M

  • No. 5 LSU vs. Wisconsin (in Green Bay, Wisconsin)

  • No. 18 Georgia vs. 22 UNC (in Atlanta)

  • No. 20 USC vs. No. 1 Alabama (in Arlington, Texas)

  • No. 2 Clemson at Auburn

  • No. 11 Ole Miss vs. No. 4 Florida State (in Orlando, Florida)

Clear those DVRs, America!

Thanks in large part to the creation of the College Football Playoff, conferences are more inclined to schedule tougher nonconference opponents. The SEC is getting in on the fun, and it means the conference has a chance to quiet its annual naysayers early, but it also presents the conference with the possibility of stumbling out of the gate.

A losing record in those seven games won't end the SEC's season, but it would call into question our perception of this year's version of the league. It would eat into the conference's overall strength, which perception-wise and playoff-wise is a big deal these days. And it would give the anti-SEC fringe more to snicker about for months.

It's petty, but it's football.

Right now, the SEC is favored in four of those games, with Alabama and LSU taking their lines into the double digits. A 4-3 record from the SEC is the least it can do to rid itself of a healthy helping of trolls.

However, a couple of these games in which the SEC is favored aren't close to being guarantees. Are you really comfortable saying Texas A&M, which was bombarded with self-inflicted offseason controversy and will be sporting a new-look offense, will beat possible Pac-12 champion UCLA? Can Kirby Smart really start his Georgia coaching career with a win against a very talented -- and offensively impressive -- UNC team, with the possibility of a true freshman starting at quarterback for the Bulldogs? Would we be shocked if LSU, which has had a lot on its mind since the end of last year's drama-filled season, stumbled at Lambeau?

Ole Miss and FSU have the talent to be playoff contenders, but FSU is the No. 1 team in ESPN's FPI (Football Power Index) and is projected to be about 27 points better than an average FBS team on a neutral field. The Rebels are good, but they aren't FSU good right now.

And let's face it, Missouri isn't beating West Virginia, and Deshaun Watson will have to miss the bus for Auburn to beat Clemson. Those other five games are crucial, and just imagine the outrage if the often disrespected ACC goes 3-0 against the SEC.

Yikes.

One way or another, Kickoff Week won't make or break the SEC's 2016 season. There's just too much football left. But in a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately sport, if the SEC wants to put its stamp on being the best, it has to come out strong. You want to continue to be the best, win like the best.

You want to quiet the haters, don't give them a reason to open their mouths.