Let the SEC football games with capped crowds begin

Tickets are sold out for Saturday night's football game between Alabama and Missouri at Faurot Field.

All 11,700 of them.

The Southeastern Conference is launching its most recognized and lucrative sport this weekend amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but there will be a very different appearance at league venues. Due to social distancing guidelines that have been implemented by each of the SEC's 14 institutions, the normal packed houses that can exceed 100,000 spectators on autumn Saturdays will instead resemble audiences typically reserved for spring games.

That includes South Carolina's Williams-Brice Stadium, which can seat 80,250 but will hold roughly 20,000 when Tennessee visits.

"It's a great environment, and it's a great setting for college football and for the Southeastern Conference," Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp said earlier this week. "I get excited whether our fans are there or not. I get really excited when our fans are there, but just to be quite candid, there were some days I didn't think we were going to get to this point, and I think we would all agree with that."

Volunteers sophomore linebacker Henry To'o To'o feels the same way after having to spend much of 2020 quarantined back home in California, and it's not as if Williams-Brice will be completely hushed.

"South Carolina is South Carolina," To'o To'o said. "It doesn't matter how many fans they have in there, but we're there to play ball. The environment that we expect to play in is strictly football.

"We're ready for any challenge that comes upon us, and it's going to be fun."

Texas A&M's Kyle Field is expected to hold 27,500 spectators for the Aggies' game against Vanderbilt, which would make it the largest college football crowd of the season. Reigning national champion LSU would be right behind with its capped audience of 25,580 at Tiger Stadium for its opener against Mississippi State and the debut of Bulldogs coach Mike Leach.

Missouri's crowd will be the smallest among SEC schools, and it will be the first Faurot Field audience of fewer than 20,000 since 1959. This season's smallest league gathering will be established next weekend when Vanderbilt, which isn't allowing spectators through at least October, hosts LSU.

The opening lineup contains just two games with single-digit point spreads - Kentucky at Auburn and Tennessee at South Carolina. The Vols are field-goal favorites over the Gamecocks in a pairing of two programs that went in opposite directions at the end of last season.

While Tennessee was winning its final six games, including a 23-22 defeat of Indiana in the Gator Bowl, the Gamecocks were losing five of their last six that followed the stunning double-overtime upset of Georgia in Athens.

"We scored one touchdown in the last three games last year," Muschamp said. "We lost a lot of confidence, which not just affects your offense, it affects your football team. It affected everything."

Uniform update

Tennessee will wear white jerseys and white pants against the Gamecocks, and the Vols will have two new patches on their jerseys. They will have a "45 JTM" patch honoring Johnny Majors, the Vols tailback and coaching legend who died in June at the age of 85, and a "Unity Mark" showing a black hand and a white hand coming together.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.