Predicting the first loss for each SEC West team in 2016
Journalists are often looked at as cynical. Instead of telling you why your team is going to win, they’ll tell you how your team will lose.
This article will be no different as it predicts the first loss for every team in the SEC West.
Of course, that’s almost a compliment. Que the naïve cliché, “This division is so tough, even an NFL team couldn’t go through it undefeated!”
After all, no team out of the SEC West has had a losing overall season since Arkansas laid a 3-9 egg in 2013. Since 2012 SEC West teams have enjoyed seasons with 10 or more victories 10 times. Six of the last nine national champions have come from the division, and one has to go back to 2008 to find a year in which three teams in the division had overall losing records.
Even with defending national champion Alabama expected to be the team to beat once again in college football, it seems unlikely it will finish undefeated. It would not be surprising if the Crimson Tide played as many as five ranked opponents on the road during the regular season.
So let’s look at when every team in the SEC will face the inevitable.
Alabama: vs. Southern California, at Arlington, Tex., Sept. 3
Nobody is suggesting that Alabama is going to be anything less than strong. But when evaluating the game or games Alabama will lose, one must consider Ole Miss has never beaten the Tide in three straight seasons and Tennessee has lost nine straight games to Alabama.
Sure, streaks are like rules: made to be broken. But nobody ever made money betting against the Crimson Tide.
In a game in which both teams are breaking in new quarterbacks, Southern California (never USC to an SEC fan) would seem to have an advantage with Max Browne instead of sluggish Cooper Bateman, green David Cornwell or the back of the Tide depth chart. The Trojans are typically loaded at tailback. With both senior Justin Davis and sophomore Ronald Jones coming off 900-yard seasons, and the ability to change the offense up between run and pass consistently may be enough to offset Alabama’s advantage on the defensive line.
Besides, doesn’t it always seem like Lane Kiffin gets it in the end?
And if he doesn’t, don’t you want him to?
Arkansas: at TCU, Sept. 10
The Southwest Conference has been gone for so long that unless one is of an older generation it doesn’t seem like these two teams used to meet every season. And with the status of the two programs, it might surprise younger fans not familiar with media guides that the Razorbacks were almost always considered the stronger program then.
Not so much anymore. The Horned Frogs not only are now a national power, but for the first time all of TCU’s players came to Fort Worth when the school was a Big 12 member. This is a true power conference team.
Yes, TCU is breaking in almost an entirely new offense. But their quarterback will likely be Kenny Hill, who two years ago at Texas A&M threw four late touchdown passes against Arkansas in a 35-28 overtime victory. He also made his college debut throwing for 511 yards at South Carolina in the Aggies’ SEC opener.
It’s a great story for Austin Allen to replace his brother as the quarterback of the Hogs. But can he really be expected to win a shootout in Fort Worth in his second start?
Auburn: vs. Clemson, Sept. 3
With so many question marks on offense, taking on the No. 2 team in the country last season doesn’t seem fair. Throw in the fact that Clemson is loaded on offense with quarterback Deshaun Watson and running back Wayne Gallman returning and has enough weapons on defense to continue to dominate, and it simply doesn’t look like the Plainsmen have much of a chance after being picked sixth in the division.
LSU: at Florida, Oct. 8
As far as scheduling goes, the Tigers have laid out their slate in 2016 for success. Their two toughest opponents in the division, Ole Miss and Alabama, are at home. Those do come in back-to-back games but are separated by a bye week. There are no back-to-back road games. Their lone road trip against a legitimate opponent, Wisconsin, takes them to Green Bay instead of Madison and against a Badgers team not expected to do a whole lot in 2016.
But even if Tennessee is picked to win the SEC East this season, isn’t Florida always the team to beat in the division?
LSU’s trip to Gainesville will be the Tigers’ fourth game in as many weeks against an SEC opponent. Leonard Fournette may win the Heisman Trophy this season, but the Gators figure to have perhaps the best defense in the conference. The Tigers’ offense does figure to be one-dimensional, and while stopping Fournette is easier said than done, this looks like the place where the train stops.
Ole Miss: Florida State, at Orlando, Sept. 5
While the Rebels may be a dark horse contender to win their first SEC West championship thanks to quarterback Chad Kelly, the schedule works against them. This is readily apparent when Ole Miss must travel to Orlando for a supposedly “neutral” site game against powerhouse Florida State.
Yes, an Ole Miss victory here would likely put the Rebels in the top 10 and make Kelly the face of college football this season. But 82-catch wide receiver Laquon Treadwell has left, Rebels freshman left tackle Greg Little must handle Seminoles defensive end DeMarcus Walker (who had 10.5 sacks last year), and Florida State’s secondary figures to be up to its usual outstanding standards.
There might be an avenue for success if Kelly can develop a short passing game, but that wasn’t a key part of the Ole Miss offense last year and running backs Akeem Judd and Jordan Wilkins don’t figure to be great pass-catchers for checkdowns.
Mississippi State: at LSU, Sept. 17
While it would be unwise to discount the chances of the Bulldogs springing an upset somewhere this season, it might be asking a bit much for them to beat the Tigers in Baton Rouge while Mississippi State is still trying to find itself.
While Fred Ross is one of the conference’s best receivers, even if he does burn the LSU secondary for a couple of touchdowns, one gets the feeling Leonard Fournette will be able to control the tempo of the game, especially since the ground game does not figure to be Mississippi State’s strength this year.
Texas A&M: at Alabama, Oct. 22
The Aggies are the toughest team to choose where they will lose. The UCLA Bruins figure to be ranked higher than Texas A&M when the two teams kick off in College Station on Sept. 3, but it’s unlikely the Bruins will have the offensive line to stop bookend pass-rushers Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall.
Many Saturday Down South readers will remember when Bruins head coach Jim Mora Jr. guided the Atlanta Falcons. Therefore, they likely will recall an incident when Mora was seen on a cell phone in the closing minutes of overtime in the penultimate game of the 2005 season verifying playoff tie-breaking procedures to determine his strategy in an eventual 27-24 loss to Tampa Bay.
It’s been awhile, but if a coach doesn’t know what the tie-breakers are, then his old offensive coordinator, Noel Mazzone, would seem to have an advantage on his old boss when it comes to strategy.
Prairie View A&M isn’t going to beat the Aggies, and even though Texas A&M may overlook Auburn and South Carolina on the road, neither team realistically has the talent to spring the upset.
Arkansas might, but it would have to win in Arlington. Tennessee would be a likelier selection, but the Volunteers are not only playing the Aggies on the road, but between Georgia and Alabama, the classic trap game.
So even with a week off before the tilt, the trip to Tuscaloosa would figure to be where the Aggies fall short for the first time in 2016. Alabama will have found its quarterback by this time, and Bo Scarbrough will have a few 100-yard games under his belt by then, too.
It’s true the Aggies are something of a trap for Alabama as well, since the game comes between visits to Tennessee and LSU. But unless you think A&M will win the West, are you really ready to pick Alabama to lose this game?