Predicting the SEC's biggest upsets in 2017
Appalachian State over Michigan. Stanford over USC. Boise State over Oklahoma. Nothing, absolutely nothing, in college football is more exciting than a monstrous, unexpected upset. Forecasting when these events are going to happen is incredibly difficult.
But that didn’t stop us from trying. Here are 15 potential upsets in the SEC this season — five honorable mentions, followed by a top 10 countdown. They most certainly will not all happen, but these are the ones that should be worth keeping an eye on.
Middle Tennessee over Vanderbilt, Sept. 2
The last time Vandy traveled to Murfreesboro, it struggled by the Blue Raiders 17-13. This MTSU team has conference title hopes with lethal quarterback Brent Stockstill, who threw for over 3,200 yards last season despite missing three games.
Southern Miss over Kentucky, Sept. 2
This upset happened last year in Lexington (44-35), so who’s to say the Golden Eagles couldn’t do it again on their home turf? Week One is always a mystery.
Louisiana Tech over Mississippi State, Sept. 9
Tech has to replace quarterback Ryan Higgins, but the rest of the offense is loaded. The defensive line is nasty as well. Leading end Jaylon Ferguson had 14.5 sacks last season. It will be the first road trip of the year for Mississippi State.
Missouri over Tennessee, Nov. 11
With the division essentially in hand, Butch Jones’ team dropped two late-season road games last year against inferior SEC East opponents. Tennessee certainly looks better on paper than Missouri, but time will tell whether the Vols look better on the turf at Faurot Field.
South Carolina over Florida, Nov. 11
Nov. 11 could be a big day for upsets involving SEC teams. Will Muschamp will be eager to get revenge against his former school when the Gators show up in Columbia. South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley could be a big problem for a depleted Florida secondary.
Upset alert countdown
10. Vanderbilt over Georgia, Oct. 7
Here is another one that happened last season. The Commodores went to Athens and took down Georgia 17-16, so doesn’t it stand to reason that a team returning 17 starters could pull it off again … in Nashville? Seems like a good possibility. Vanderbilt’s ground attack, led by senior Ralph Webb, will be its greatest strength. Georgia, on the other hand, returns basically its whole defense, which ranked fourth in the SEC in yards allowed on the ground in 2016. Certainly, the days of Vanderbilt being a pushover are through. Georgia and Tennessee learned that the hard way last season.
9. Ole Miss over LSU, Oct. 21
There is a lot of momentum for Ole Miss right now. The problem is it’s headed in the wrong direction – in a downward spiral. Still, the Rebels return a talented crop of players on offense and defense. Quarterback Shea Patterson was electric in the final three games of last season, so much so that some were comparing him to Johnny Manziel. It could very well be a rough year for Ole Miss, but the Rebels are bound to pull off an upset somewhere along the way. They’ll get a shot at LSU – along with former coach Ed Orgeron – in Oxford. Ole Miss has won the last two at home against the Bayou Bengals.
8. Western Kentucky over Vanderbilt, Nov. 4
The Commodores have played Western Kentucky the past two seasons, losing once and needed overtime to secure a one-point victory last season. The Hilltoppers won in Nashville 14-12 in 2015 and lost 31-30 last year in Bowling Green. They also managed to win back-to-back Conference USA titles in that span of time. The bad news for Vanderbilt is that Western Kentucky still has its top playmaker in quarterback Mike White, who threw for a whopping 4,300 yards last season. Fortunately for Vandy, this will be a home game, but it is inconveniently positioned between conference games.
7. Arkansas over Auburn, Oct. 21
The Razorbacks are sort of like Ole Miss in the way that nobody is expecting much from them this year. While Arkansas might not be a contender at the top of the division, the SEC West is incredibly deep, and the Hogs will be good enough to play with most teams. Auburn embarrassed Arkansas 56-3 last season, and that will undoubtedly be weighing on the Razorbacks’ minds as they get set to host the Tigers in Fayetteville. While Arkansas does have to play Alabama the week before, Auburn will be coming off a three-game stretch that includes bouts at home against the Mississippi schools and a hostile road trip to LSU.
6. Kentucky over Tennessee, Oct. 28
Back to that thing about Tennessee dropping late-season road games that it should win … . The Vols have to travel to Lexington to play an improved Kentucky team one week after a physical contest with Alabama. Tennessee has only lost to the Wildcats once since 1984, but if there’s ever a year for Kentucky to change the trajectory of the series, it might be this one. The Vols lost a ton of playmakers, including star defensive end Derek Barnett. Kentucky, meanwhile, brings back an SEC-high 18 starters, including running back Benny Snell Jr. Kentucky rushed for 443 yards against Tennessee last season. This time, the Vols won’t have Joshua Dobbs to bail them out.
5. South Alabama over Ole Miss, Sept. 2
Yeah, it’s going to be a rough year if you’re an Ole Miss fan. The pain will begin in Week One when the South Alabama Jaguars upset the Rebels in Oxford. This isn’t as crazy as it sounds. South Alabama has a recent history of doing this. Just last year, the Jags went into the state of Mississippi and beat the Bulldogs in Starkville. They also knocked off San Diego State in a huge upset. South Alabama has an experienced quarterback, a seasoned running back and one of the Sun Belt’s most experienced defenses. Get ready for a fun start to 2017.
4. South Carolina over Clemson, Nov. 25
Two years ago, Clemson was preparing to make a run at a national championship when it struggled past the Gamecocks 37-32 in Columbia. That South Carolina team was bad, so bad that it lost to The Citadel the previous week. Before that 2015 outing, the Gamecocks hadn’t lost to Clemson at home since 2007. Couple the fact that Williams-Brice Stadium has been a tough place to play for Clemson with the realization that the Tigers will be without quarterback Deshaun Watson for the first time since 2013, and you might have the makings of an upset. Before Watson arrived in Clemson, South Carolina had won five in a row in the series. Can you image if the Gamecocks end the year with upset victories over Florida and Clemson?
3. Appalachian State over Georgia, Sept. 2
Talk about a quick shake-up in 2017. It has been precisely one decade since the wild 2007 college football season which began with Appalachian State’s upset over Michigan. But even App State fans are tired of hearing how that applies to their current situation. There was some talk last year that the Mountaineers’ physical running game could cause trouble for Tennessee in Week One. And it certainly did. Had the Vols not recovered their own fumble for a touchdown in overtime, there’s a good chance Appalachian State would have won the game. Mountaineers running back Jalin Moore returns with an experienced offensive line. This game has the same feel as the Tennessee game last year, because the expectations for Georgia are extraordinarily high.
2. Mississippi State over Alabama, Nov. 11
Alabama will be favored over every opponent it plays this season, including the likes of Florida State, LSU and Auburn. The Crimson Tide will be loaded on both sides of the ball with NFL players, as usual. But there is a chance for an upset here. The formula for beating Alabama in recent years has been simple: Have a quarterback who can throw the ball, as well as a defensive line capable of holding its own in the trenches. One or the other doesn’t cut it. You have to have both, and Mississippi State has both. Nick Fitzgerald threw for 2,400 yards last season while also leading all SEC players with 16 rushing touchdowns. State’s defense, which has now upgraded with coordinator Todd Grantham, ranked sixth in the SEC in run defense a year ago. It won’t be better than Alabama up front, but if it can hold its own, the Bulldogs will have a shot. Also, Alabama will have just played LSU, so the Tide could be a bit banged up.
1. Troy over LSU, Sept. 30
What could possibly be bigger than Alabama losing in November? How about LSU dropping a game to a Sun Belt team in September? The first part of LSU’s schedule is fairly easy compared to most SEC teams, but it gets significantly tougher in October and beyond. So much so, that it consistently has been ranked as the most difficult schedule in the country. When LSU hosts Troy, it could very well be looking ahead – or maybe resting up – for back-to-back games against Florida and Auburn. This LSU team returns the fewest starters in the SEC (11). And many Tigers fans would tell you the Tigers have downgraded at head coach by going from Les Miles to Ed Orgeron. The expectations for LSU are high, and that will make this one sting even more. Make no mistake, Troy is capable. The Trojans return nine starters on a potent offense, including their quarterback, running back and top receivers. Last year, eventual national champion Clemson found out all too well not to overlook Troy, as it narrowly escaped in a 30-24 win at home. This game has all the makings for the biggest upset of the SEC football season.