One of the best things about the offseason is that whoever you root for, be it Alabama or Southwest Polytechnic State School for the Football Challenged, they’re still perfect for the 2017 season. Unfortunately, for many, the first loss comes pretty early. But how early? That’s where we come in. Here’s our guess at when each SEC squad picks up that first “L.”
As last year’s team showed us, projecting an undefeated schedule is dangerous. And there are some good candidates to beat Alabama. Florida State in Week 1 looks threatening, but Saban generally excels at having his team ready to play. A road game in the Iron Bowl is fraught with peril (Kick Six anyone?) But we’d struggle to pick against the Tide — anytime.
Arkansas: Sept. 23 vs. Texas A&M (in Arlington)
TCU is Week 2 is a legitimate opponent, and the Razorbacks were lucky to win that game last season. But we’ll give them the nod there, but expect the Hogs to fall flat against A&M in their third game. This is the kind of game that Arkansas needs to win to finish in the top half of the West, but it’s far from clear that they will win it. In fact, we think not.
Auburn: Sept. 9 at Clemson
This is a game where Auburn could really work its way into the national big picture. Clemson must replace a lot of key component parts, most notably two-time Heisman finalist Deshaun Watson, but it’s undeniable that they have a ton of talent and rarely lose at home. If Jarrett Stidham can carve up the other Tigers, then Auburn would likely make it to mid-October without further challenge. But the defending champ didn’t become a champ by losing at home.
LSU: Oct. 7 at Florida
There is no love lost between these two schools. This was supposed to be a home game, but after last year’s game was shifted to Baton Rouge to solve hurricane issues, the schedule is flipped. LSU is probably more talented than Florida, but unless the Tigers have greatly improved in the pass game, the UF defense is probably gritty enough to keep a one-dimensional LSU squad from beating them. After all, they did last year.
Mississippi State: Sept. 16 vs. LSU
The Bulldogs gained momentum late in the 2016 season, but they don’t seem likely to beat LSU in Week 3, even with the game being played in Starkville. With the next two games coming at Georgia and at Auburn, State will be very lucky to not pick up an early three-game losing streak.
Ole Miss: Sept. 30 at Alabama
If Cal were any good, we might pick the Rebels to go to the West Coast and lay an egg in Week 3. But at least on the field, that Golden Bears team is in worse shape than the Rebels. This leaves Ole Miss unbeaten until they head to Tuscaloosa. The Rebels have played remarkably well against the Tide in recent seasons, but Shea Patterson will probably find the sledding a little tougher in 2017.
Texas A&M: Sept. 3 at UCLA
This isn’t a knock on the Aggies, who should have a decent season. But going cross-country and taking on a UCLA team with one of the nation’s top passers in QB Josh Rosen is a tall task. Guessing that it’s taller than A&M in Week 1. The good news is that A&M could well open 4-1 even with an opening loss.
Florida: Sept. 2 vs. Michigan (in Arlington)
This is a gutsy game for the Gators to play, but there are too many questions around the UF team to feel good about this one. On the bright side for Florida, if it wins this one, it might set up an Outdoor Cocktail Party for the East title. But at this point, it looks likely to fall to the Wolverines.
Georgia: Oct. 28 vs. Florida (in Jacksonville)
There are some tempting picks early against the Bulldogs, with the team traveling to South Bend and Knoxville to take on Notre Dame and Tennessee, respectively. But neither of those teams is in the same class as UGA in terms of talent and experience. The one that looks tougher is the Cocktail Party. Florida has that whole two-time defending division champion angle on its side, and Kirby Smart looked brain locked in this game last season. If UGA takes down the Gators, you might as well hand the Dawgs the East.
Kentucky: Sept. 23 vs. Florida
Some will pick Kentucky to lose the week before at South Carolina, but with three consecutive wins over the Gamecocks, Kentucky looks likely to keep the upper hand. On the other hand, UK last beat the Gators in 1987. Sure, Steve Spurrier isn’t walking through the door in Lexington in September. But until Kentucky beats the Gators, you have to expect them not to do so.
Missouri: Sept. 9 vs. South Carolina
The Tigers stay home until the month of October, but they will struggle with the superior athletes of South Carolina at home in Week 2. Drew Lock put up big passing stats in 2016, but he struggled to do so against top competition. Carolina has enough firepower to go into Columbia and come away with a victory.
South Carolina: Sept. 16 vs. Kentucky
N.C. State as an opener could be a challenge, but Carolina returns more of its firepower than the Wolfpack and will pick up the victory in Charlotte. Week 3 against Kentucky is the kind of game that Carolina has to win to break into the upper echelon of the East. But UK has won the past three matchups in the series, and seems to have the Gamecocks’ number.
Tennessee: Sept. 16 at Florida
Some will pick Georgia Tech to pick off the Vols in their opener, Monday, Sept. 4 at Atlanta’s sparkling new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. But Tech is breaking in a new QB as well, and while the triple option is a headache, it’s not as much of a headache in Week 1 as it would be dropped into the middle of the Vols’ schedule. Conventional wisdom would say that by beating Florida last year, Tennessee slayed a major ghost. Instead, it looked more like the Vols got lucky — and they’ll struggle to be similarly lucky this year in the Swamp.
Vanderbilt: Sept. 16 vs. Kansas State
MTSU could make things interesting in Week 1, but it’s K-State that will first knock off Vandy. The Wildcats, led by mobile QB Jesse Ertz, are a tough defensive matchup. Unless Vandy’s offense makes huge strides, they just don’t have the firepower to keep up in this game.