Predicting every SEC East team's first loss in 2016
Polish those projections. Dust off your desire to read destinies.
The season almost is here, but last-minute predictions can still be signed, sealed and delivered.
It’s fun to try to nail down a program’s win total. But how about the first loss? When might that come?
Here’s a look at when the first defeat for each SEC East team likely will arrive this year:
Florida (5-0) vs. LSU, Oct. 8
It’s oh-so tempting to say Florida’s 11-year reign of terror over Tennessee will end Sept. 24 in Knoxville. But until the Volunteers prove they can chase their orange-and-blue boogey man, it’s best to search elsewhere for the Gators’ first loss.
LSU looks like a likely candidate on Oct. 8 when the Tigers visit The Swamp. Leonard Fournette ran for 180 yards with two touchdowns against Florida last season, and Les Miles has shown he’s willing to pull a fake field goal out of his top hat to foil the Gators. LSU will be too good this year.
Georgia (3-0) at Ole Miss, Sept. 24
North Carolina, the favorite to win the ACC’s Coastal Division, will be a strong test for Georgia to open the season on Sept. 3 in Atlanta. But the Bulldogs should begin 3-0 before a trip to Oxford on Sept. 24.
There, Chad Kelly’s arm will be enough to hand Georgia its first loss of the Kirby Smart era. Georgia’s Nick Chubb will be a load, but Ole Miss’ defense should do what’s necessary to slow the Bulldogs’ offense and gain an important victory.
The Rebels’ schedule is stacked early – games against Florida State, Alabama and Georgia all happen before the calendar flips to October – so Ole Miss must scratch out a victory here.
Kentucky (1-0) at Florida, Sept. 10
Florida’s hypnotic spell over Tennessee receives most of the hype, but Kentucky has been chomped each year since 1987. Don’t look for the 29-game skid to end this season. The past two years have produced close calls, with the Gators winning by a combined 11 points. But Florida should be too much — again. The Gators must limit Stanley “Boom” Williams, who had 80 yards on 16 carries against them last year. But Florida has greater depth.
Missouri (0-0) at West Virginia, Sept. 3
No one should be more eager to start the season than Missouri. From moving on from a tumultuous 2015 campaign, to beginning anew under Barry Odom, to pushing past uncertainty involved with who’s running the athletic department, Ol’ Mizzou will be ready to crack open a new chapter.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, West Virginia is no kind draw to christen the Odom era.
Skyler Howard threw for 3,145 yards last season. Howard’s top two targets, Shelton Gibson and Daikiel Shorts, are back for the Mountaineers. Meanwhile, Missouri’s offense, though likely to improve under new coordinator Josh Heupel, is an unknown. West Virginia should produce more on this day.
South Carolina (0-0) at Vanderbilt, Thurs., Sept. 1
Most expect this season to be a snooze at South Carolina. Will Muschamp has the dreaded “proceed with caution” label super-glued to his name after fizzling out at Florida. The quarterback situation is unsettled, and it’s possible freshman Brandon McIlwain will start behind center in the opener in Nashville.
Vanderbilt offers a 1,000-yard rusher in Ralph Webb, who was held to 58 yards on 16 carries against South Carolina last year. This could be a fall of growing pains for the Gamecocks. A loss to Vanderbilt would be an early dose of what’s likely to come.
Tennessee (3-0) vs. Florida, Sept. 24
Is this the year Tennessee’s torture ends? On paper, the Volunteers look ready to punch the Gators’ jaw with brass knuckles. They’re loaded with talent on both sides of the ball, and Florida enters with questions at quarterback. Some key defensive stars must be replaced in The Swamp, too.
Still, there’s something about the Gators’ mastery of the Vols that makes it hard to pick against Florida. Sure, it should be a raucous environment on Rocky Top, where the Gators will be greeted as kindly as a hen in a wolf’s den. Sure, Tennessee has looked capable the past two seasons against a despised rival before choking away opportunity. But until allowed to believe otherwise, it’s wise to bet on the orange and blue again.
Vanderbilt (2-0) at Georgia Tech, Sept. 17
No, you’re not crazy. It’s possible to picture Vanderbilt starting 4-0. An early slate that includes South Carolina, Middle Tennessee, Georgia Tech and Western Kentucky looks manageable before a date with Florida on Oct. 1 in Nashville.
But there’s something about playing Georgia Tech as the Commodores’ first road game on Sept. 17 that screams, “Trap!” The Yellow Jackets are picked to finish sixth in the ACC’s Coastal, but Paul Johnson’s triple option offense can be a doozy for opponents who are unfamiliar with the scheme.
This will be the first meeting between the programs since 2009. Here’s guessing Georgia Tech trips up Vandy in a mild surprise.