Predicting every SEC team's non-conference record
We don’t have to wait long for big games involving SEC teams. The first week of the 2017 season provides us with a showcase matchup headlining a host of competitive openers. From the very first whistle, we’ll get an indication of what to expect from a number of SEC teams.
Alabama puts its SEC-best 36-game regular season non-conference win streak on the line when it goes up against Florida State. Michigan-Florida, Texas A&M-UCLA, LSU-BYU and Tennessee-Georgia Tech are also key games in Week 1.
Let’s examine how SEC teams might fare in those matchups and the remainder of their respective non-conference games. As a conference, the SEC went 42-12 last season against non-conference foes. That may sound dominating, but it was the SEC’s worst non-conference record since 2008. Still, the SEC has the nation’s best non-conference record (including bowl games) since 2000.
Here’s a breakdown of how we think each SEC team will do in its non-conference games.
Why: Why not? The Tide haven’t lost a regular season non-conference game since Nick Saban’s first season in Tuscaloosa. Until that streak is broken, it’s difficult to pick against them.
Sure, they’ll be tested by the Seminoles in Atlanta, but the Tide have proven to be up for the challenge in each of the last nine seasons against regular season non-conference foes. This year should be no different. Fresno State, Colorado State and Mercer should fall like dominoes.
Why: Just like last season, the Hogs could and should sweep their non-conference games. Obviously, TCU will be a tester once again, but Arkansas has proven its ability to handle the Frogs (two in a row, seven of eight).
All four non-conference games are at home, with the opener against Florida A&M at Little Rock. The rest — vs. TCU, New Mexico State and Coastal Carolina — are in Fayetteville.
Why: You saw that right, 4-0. Sure, defeating Georgia Southern, Mercer and ULM should be cake-walks at home. Defeating the defending national champions on the road, well, that’s a whole other story.
But beating Clemson on their home field will go a long way in rebuilding the perception of the SEC as the dominant conference in the country. More and more pundits are jumping on the Auburn bandwagon as the the season nears, and Deshaun Watson has left Clemson for the NFL. On paper, Auburn is as good as any team in the SEC, and the country for that matter. Now the Tigers have to live up to those expectations on the field.
Why: The Gators have perhaps the toughest non-conference schedule in the SEC, including stern challenges from Michigan at Arlington and Florida State in The Swamp. The Seminoles have won the last four meetings and six of the last seven.
That makes the non-conference home games with Northern Colorado and UAB must-wins if the Gators are to have the kind of season to which they aspire.
Why: Outside of the Samford game, the non-conference schedule is going to be a real challenge for the Bulldogs. The opener with Appalachian State is not a gimme, and road games at Notre Dame and Georgia Tech will test their mettle.
A split in those away games might be the best the Bulldogs can expect. However, a 4-0 finish is not out of the question. But then again, neither is 2-2.
Why: Home games with directional schools Eastern Kentucky and Eastern Michigan should go easily into the Wildcats’ back pocket. But the opener at Southern Miss and the finale at home with Louisville very well could go the other way.
The Cats haven’t beaten Southern Miss in two all-time meetings and haven’t beaten Louisville in Lexington since 2009.
Why: The Tigers will be tested by BYU in Houston as the curtain rises on the first full season under head coach Ed Orgeron. If QB Danny Etling hasn’t improved from last season and hasn’t grasped the offense of new OC Matt Canada, this season-opener could go the other way. And that would be a disaster for Orgeron as his tenure begins in earnest.
Home games with UT-Chattanooga, Syracuse and Troy had better be gimmes or Tigers fans won’t be using “Coach O” as a term of endearment.
Why: Home games with Charleston Southern and UMass have to be W’s if the Bulldogs are to make a run at an eighth straight bowl game. In between those non-conference games, however, lurks a trip to Louisiana Tech and a home game with BYU.
The Techsters didn’t lose at home last season and look to extend their winning ways in Ruston, La. Mississippi State won only once on the road in 2016 and didn’t leave the state to do it, ripping rival Ole Miss 55-20. In addition, the Bulldogs lost at BYU in overtime last season and look for revenge in Starkville in mid-October.
Why: With wins over Missouri State, Purdue and Idaho at home as well as a victory at UConn, the Tigers can begin their return to prominence. That’s not to say they’re ready to challenge again for an SEC East title just yet, but becoming bowl eligible is a real possibility with a non-conference sweep.
Why: Though the Rebels have an opportunity to sweep their non-conference games, none of them is automatic, especially in a season of transition and turmoil. Home games with South Alabama, UT-Martin and UL-Lafayette should be victories. A road game at Cal could be tougher.
Why: This could easily flip to 1-3 if the Gamecocks don’t play up to their abilities in games against North Carolina State (at Charlotte) and Louisiana Tech in Columbia. A home game with Wofford has to be considered in South Carolina’s favor, but the annual season finale with defending national champion Clemson will be its usual battle royal.
Why: Breaking in a new quarterback is never easy, and the Vols meet Georgia Tech in the first game of the season. If they can get past the Jackets, home games with Indiana State, UMass and Southern Miss should prove manageable.
However, a rough transition at QB could lead to a split of the non-conference games — a disaster scenario for Butch Jones and the Vols.
Why: Home games with Nicholls State, UL-Lafayette and New Mexico should be winnable even while breaking in a new quarterback. However, opening with a game at UCLA is a daunting task to say the least.
Losing that opener would put head coach Kevin Sumlin on the hottest seat in the country and just might be a setback he doesn’t recover from.
Why: A split of the Commodores’ non-conference schedule wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, considering the competition. The ’Dores open with a tough one at Middle Tennessee in a game that could set the tone for the season.
A home game with Alabama A&M is the only easy win of the bunch, but at least they host Kansas State and Western Kentucky in their final two non-conference games.