Predicting every SEC team's first loss in 2021
Alabama didn’t lose in 2020.
LSU didn’t lose in 2019.
Will the SEC produce a third consecutive undefeated national champion in 2021?
Color me skeptical.
Here’s exactly when every SEC team will lose its first game in 2021.
Alabama: Week 3 at Florida
Let’s start with this: Predicting an Alabama regular-season loss is for fools. I mean, these upsets happen, but they’re rare and always unexpected and typically fluke-induced.
However, this Tide team has holes. You believe in Bryce Young a lot more than I do at this point. I’m not exactly all-in on Florida’s Emory Jones as a passer, either, but I like his playmaking skills. And if you’re going to beat Bama, your quarterback better be a playmaker.
I think Todd Grantham’s NFL-ready defense makes Young look like a young QB making his 3rd career start and Alabama will lose to an SEC East team for the first time since Stephen Garcia’s career-defining upset in 2010.
Arkansas: Week 4 vs. Texas A&M
Texas visits in Week 2, but I like KJ Jefferson and Treylon Burks (with a healthy dose of Trelon Smith) to turn the tide on new coach Steve Sarkisian’s Longhorns, who are starting over at quarterback. It’ll be a mild, fun upset and yet another sign of the SEC’s overall conference supremacy.
The fun will end in Week 4, however, when the Hogs travel to Dallas to face Texas A&M.
The Aggies again have too many offensive weapons and will run their winning streak to 10 consecutive games over the Hogs.
Auburn: Week 3 at Penn State
Bo Nix’s road woes are well-documented — and that was when he had NFL-bound receivers. Auburn is so green on offense, and it doesn’t help that this game is still relatively early in terms of learning Bryan Harsin’s system. If Tank Bigsby goes off for 250 yards, which is possible, the Tigers could pull the mild upset.
Florida: Week 7 at LSU
Obviously this is moot if the Gators don’t upset Alabama in Week 3. But if that happens, we could have a pair of unbeaten rivals meeting in Death Valley. And wouldn’t that be fun to watch.
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Max Johnson and the Tigers ended Florida’s Playoff hopes last season — despite Kyle Trask toying with LSU’s secondary in a way few ever have.
This year, LSU has a chance to match its longest winning streak over the Gators (3 games) since 1980.
Georgia: Hello, 1980
If JT Daniels stays healthy and Kirby Smart stays out of the way, the Dawgs aren’t losing a regular-season game, including the opener in Charlotte against revamped (but still dangerous) Clemson or the Cocktail Party date with Florida.
ESPN’s FPI clearly disagrees with my optimism. Its number-crunchers have penciled in the Dawgs for a 9-3 regular season. My reaction? Check that computer for a virus.
We have plenty of time to discuss the Dawgs’ SEC title game aspirations and Playoff fortunes, but the Dawgs will arrive in Atlanta unbeaten.
Kentucky: Week 5 vs. Florida
Missouri in Week 2 will be tricky, but I expect Liam Coen to keep it simple and lean on Chris Rodriguez until the Cats’ QB (TBA) finds his footing. Mizzou ended a 5-game losing streak to UK last season, a highlight for Eli Drinkwitz in Year 1 — and a motivational opportunity for Mark Stoops, who needs no more of them.
There will be no such luxury against the Gators.
LSU: Week 8 at Ole Miss
As far as I expected LSU to fall in 2020, I am anticipating an equally exciting rebound in 2021.
I like almost everything about this Tigers team. Both sides of the ball are loaded with NFL prospects. Myles Brennan could throw for 4,000 yards and 40 TDs — or lose the starting job to Max Johnson, who throws an even prettier deep ball.
Human nature, however, is undefeated — and facing an explosive Ole Miss offense after an emotional and physical rivalry game against Florida screams letdown.
Mississippi State: Week 4 vs. LSU
ESPN’s FPI loves the Bulldogs — projecting an 8-4 regular season, which is just a tick behind Georgia.
I think the Bulldogs could lose 6 games — including 4 in a row, beginning with their trip to Memphis in Week 3. (And that’s assuming they take care of NC State in Week 2.)
Mike Leach’s offenses always improve in Year 2. But it’s critical to note that his offenses have never encountered the number of NFL prospects that SEC teams face each week.
And the most motivated defense he’ll face will be LSU’s, which allowed Leach and the Bulldogs to break records in a shocking victory last year. So even if the Bulldogs start 3-0, they won’t get to 4-0.
Missouri: Week 2 at Kentucky
Circle this game. It might be Mizzou’s most important. If they can knock off the Cats and pick up a road win, there’s a very good chance the Tigers will be 6-0 heading into their Week 7 game against Texas A&M.
Here’s why I don’t think they’ll make it to 2-0. Mizzou’s defense gave up 35, 41 and 51 points in SEC road games last year. Kentucky won’t threaten that mark, but the Cats’ offense will be much improved from the unit that mustered just 10 points in a loss at Mizzou last year.
Ole Miss: Week 4 at Alabama
It’s fun to dream. And eventually, a former assistant will beat Nick Saban. Twitter will break if Lane Kiffin delivers that signature, initial loss, too.
Can you imagine that handshake?
The rub is Ole Miss can’t stop Alabama. The Tide have averaged 59.6 points in their 5-game winning streak over the Rebels.
South Carolina: Week 3 at Georgia
I’d like East Carolina’s chances of pulling a home upset in Week 2 much better if Lincoln Riley were still calling plays for the Pirates. Alas …
Shane Beamer’s SEC debut won’t be a fun experience once the game starts, especially after the Gamecocks shocked the Dawgs during their last trip to Athens in 2019.
Tennessee: Week 4 at Florida
The Vols haven’t been 3-0 since 2016 (when they reached 5-0).
They host Pitt in Week 2. Pitt’s offense is below average, so while questions about Tennessee’s do-over defense are fair and will determine the Vols’ ceiling in 2021, these Panthers aren’t designed to take advantage of it on the road in Week 2. The key to beating Pitt will be whether Josh Heupel’s offense can connect on enough explosive plays. Pitt plays outstanding defense. Last year they led the ACC in fewest 10+ yard plays allowed but were prone to allowing the really big play (27 plays went for 30 or more yards, and 6 went for at least 60). It’ll be a good chance for Heupel to stretch the field.
Regardless, the Vols will be heavy dogs at Florida.
Texas A&M: Week 6 vs. Alabama
I’m in wait-and-see mode with Haynes King, but I like the Aggies’ other weapons. The o-line deservedly received a lot of credit for last year’s success, but the Aggies have exceptional running backs, too. They’ll go as far as King takes them, but it’s a huge leap of faith to think that he’ll be the first A&M QB since Johnny Manziel to knock off Nick Saban. The Aggies never even reached 30 points against Alabama with Kellen Mond.
Vanderbilt: Week 3 vs. Stanford
Vandy’s best hope is that an early kickoff results in a sluggish Cardinal team, but even that won’t be enough. Any advantage Vandy might have had by Stanford starting over at quarterback is offset by the fact that, from the head coach on down, the Dores are simply starting over almost everywhere except quarterback.