Fun fact: Two of the past four national champions lost a game in September.
So it’s possible to overcome an early setback and play your way into the Playoff. But it’s not the recommended route.
Which SEC teams have the best chance of escaping September unscathed? Let’s take a look.
No need to bore you with laborious details on these eight teams. However, …
Arkansas isn’t going to win at Auburn and beat Texas A&M in back-to-back weeks to close out September.
Kentucky, with a new quarterback, would have to win at The Swamp for the first time since 1979, and then take out dark horse West contender Mississippi State and East sleeper South Carolina all in the first five weeks. A 3-2 September is more likely.
LSU, also with a new quarterback (quite possibly grad transfer Joe Burrow), opens against Miami. That’s tough enough, but two weeks later, the Tigers travel to The Plains to face defending West champ Auburn. Ed Orgeron better win one of those, but it’s difficult to see the Tigers winning both.
Missouri closed strong in 2017, but two teams that contributed to its 1-5 start were Purdue and Georgia. They combined to blow out Mizzou 88-31. Mizzou travels to Purdue in Week 3 and gets Georgia in Week 4.
Ole Miss gets Alabama in Week 3, still trying to shake off that 63-point loss last season.
Tennessee opens against Will Grier and Big 12 contender West Virginia. The game is in Charlotte, which some have deemed a favorable locale for the Vols. It’ll be favorable, all right: Grier set prep records in suburban Charlotte, and his homecoming is the perfect spot to launch his Heisman campaign. Tennessee closes the month against Florida and at Georgia.
Texas A&M is not a national title contender (yet), but the Aggies face the two most recent national champions — Alabama and Clemson — in the first four weeks. Jimbo Fisher would have been wise to use some of that record payday to buy out the Clemson game and replace it with, oh, how about Wofford, in Week 2.
Vanderbilt should be 2-0 when it travels to South Bend for just its third meeting with the Fighting Irish. At least the weather will be splendid in mid-September.
That leaves six hopefuls, and we know all six won’t make it out because several play each other.
They have a shot
In order, here’s the likelihood each has of being undefeated on Oct. 1.
6. South Carolina: The Gamecocks get Georgia, at home, in Week 2. Everybody has it circled. It’s the lead summer storyline regarding Georgia’s potential pitfalls. It’s also a huge opportunity for South Carolina to deliver the program’s biggest win since the Spurrier golden years of 2010-13. Can the Gamecocks do it? The way to attack Georgia this year will be to expose the Dawgs’ young and revamped back seven. Given time — far from a guarantee — Jake Bentley and Deebo Samuel have the tools to do that. How hyped are Gamecocks fans for this game? The get-in price starts at $187 — $130 more than the Tennessee game in late October.
5. Florida: I like everything about Florida’s chances to create some serious drama in 2018. On the field, this time. The Gators have more than enough playmakers to challenge anybody in the East. Even Georgia. Dan Mullen will solve the quarterback issue, one way or another, through skill or with scheme. There are a couple of early tests — against Kentucky in Week 2 and at Tennessee in Week 4 — but neither team has a quarterback capable of scoring 28. Mississippi State, however, certainly does. More troublesome for the Gators: The Bulldogs’ defense will be among the best in the nation, it too, trying to prove it was more than the Todd Grantham Show. The get-in price for Mullen and Grantham’s return to Starkville also is the most expensive on the Bulldogs’ 2018 slate. There will be Egg Bowl-like animosity.
4. Auburn: The Tigers have two formidable opponents in September: Washington and LSU. The Tigers get LSU at home, but to get to that Week 3 matchup unbeaten, they first must knock out Playoff contender Washington in the opener in Atlanta.
It’s hard to find a better Week 1 QB matchup than Jake Browning vs. Jarrett Stidham. Both are sleeper Heisman candidates. Browning, remember, was a sophomore when he faced Alabama in the 2016 Playoff semifinal. These Huskies run it more often and more effectively than the 2016 team.
Auburn struggled last year in games without Kerryon Johnson — or when he wasn’t fully healthy. And now he’s gone.
Bet on it
3. Georgia: For the record, I think Georgia handles South Carolina in Week 2 and outscores Missouri in Week 4. But both games are on the road, and it cannot be overstated how much Georgia leaned on its veterans last season. Yes, D’Andre Swift was magnificent, but he touched the ball 10 times for 28 yards in the two Playoff games. Now he’s the show.
Two years ago, we questioned Alabama’s ability to reload on defense after losing A’Shawn Robinson, Reggie Ragland, Cyrus Jones and Jarran Reed. If it’s fair to question Nick Saban, after his record run of No. 1 recruiting classes, it’s more than fair to wonder whether Kirby Smart’s talented but somewhat unproven understudies are ready for leading roles.
2. Mississippi State: This doesn’t mean these Bulldogs are better than Georgia’s Bulldogs, but the schedule sets up nicely for a 5-0 start. Winning at Kansas State isn’t a lock, but MSU will see at least six offenses better than K-State’s this season.
1. Alabama: Don’t blame Nick Saban because Lamar Jackson left Louisville early, but Jackson took whatever chances Louisville had of pulling off a Week 1 shocker.