Power Ranking the Week 1 SEC opponents
With Week 1 of the season looming, it’s time to see whose schedule is brutal and whose is cupcake city. Exempting the USC/Vandy in-conference matchup, here’s a quick power ranking of the other 12 week 1 SEC opponents.
1. Clemson (Auburn)
You have to hand it to Auburn. They certainly didn’t take it easy out of the gate. Heisman contender QB Deshaun Watson and his playmaking offense virtually promise to make this opening week game a tough opener for the SEC’s Tigers. The ACC’s Tigers had 48 sacks in 2015, so Sean White (and perhaps some backups) will need to be sharp and smart, or this one could get ugly.
2. Florida State (Ole Miss)
Ole Miss’ Sept. 5 Monday night matchup with the Seminoles in Orlando promises to be some must-see TV. Running back Dalvin Cook, who had 1,691 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns last year, leads the Seminoles, but Chad Kelly and the Ole Miss passing attack may well hold their own in what looks to be a shootout.
3. UCLA (Texas A&M)
UCLA comes to A&M in a matchup of great passing games. Sophomore Josh Rosen was superb as a freshman, and A&M will begin the Trevor Knight era (against OC Noel Mazzone’s former offense, no less). A&M is regarded as a dark horse in the West race, and this game gives them a shot to make an early statement.
4. USC (Alabama)
Two of college football’s blueblood programs face off in Arlington, Texas to open the season. USC will be breaking in a new quarterback but has a solid ground game that they will lean on heavily. That usually doesn’t work against Alabama. Ask LSU. Alabama looks better, but kudos to the Tide for not taking the easy way out on the schedule.
5. North Carolina (UGA)
The Tar Heels averaged more than 40 points per game last year and will have upset on their mind when they take on the Bulldogs in Atlanta. UNC will have a new starting quarterback in Mitch Trubisky and a star running back in Elijah Hood. Tar Heels defensive coordinator Gene Chizik knows a thing or two about the SEC, but can anybody stop the UGA running game?
Challenging, But Not Impossible
6. Wisconsin (LSU)
This one has the name power, but the Tigers are catching a Badgers team that is somewhat down this season. Wisconsin led the nation in scoring defense in 2015 (just 13.7 points per game), but coordinator Dave Aranda left for — wait for it — LSU. Advantage, Tigers.
7. West Virginia (Mizzou)
Missouri hosts a West Virginia team led by dual-threat QB Skyler Howard that is nearly a two touchdown favorite. In the past few years under Dana Holgorsen, the Mountaineers have played very tough against weaker teams and not terribly well against stronger ones. Guess that make Week 1 something of a put-up-or-shut-up time for the Tigers.
8. Southern Miss (Kentucky)
The Golden Eagles were 1-23 in 2012 and 2013, but are coming off a 9-5 season that makes them only a touchdown underdog at UK. QB Nick Mullens, who threw for 4,476 yards and 38 scores last year, is likely to end up as the school’s all-time leading passer. He already passed some guy named Favre on the yardage list. Against a Golden Eagle team that averaged almost 40 points per game in 2015, UK may find itself in a shootout.
Light, But Not Embarrassing
9. Appalachian State (Tennessee)
If you don’t think Appalachian State can be a giant-slayer, well, you must not remember that 2007 upset of No. 5 Michigan. Nowadays, the Mountaineers are an FBS team and a relative favorite in the Sun Belt. They won 11 games last season, including the school’s first bowl. The Mountaineers scored 36.7 points per game in 2015, but then, they weren’t playing against Tennessee, either. UT is a three touchdown plus favorite.
10. Louisiana Tech (Arkansas)
Skip Holtz has won nine games each of the past two years at Tech. They are replacing former Florida QB Jeff Driskel, and indeed lose much of their offensive firepower. Defensively, their line is tough, but they are inexperienced in the back seven. Arkansas should roll.
11. South Alabama (Mississippi State)
The Jaguars added football in 2009, but made a bowl in 2014. That said, there’s no reason to think that they’re capable of beating State. They did lose to Tennessee by only seven points in 2013, but when a close loss is the highwater mark for your hopes, it doesn’t bode well. The Jaguars allowed 37.3 points per game last year. Mississippi State is a huge favorite.
12. UMass (Florida)
UMass has won eight games in four seasons as an FBS program, and none can be described as a marquee win. For that matter, the closest that UMass has played a ranked team was a 16-point home loss to Toledo last year. Suffice it to say that we won’t learn much about how good Florida — or QB Luke Del Rio — will be in this game.