Ranking Week 1 SEC games: Hardest to easiest, winners and losers
There are some highly-anticipated games involving SEC teams in Week 1, and then there are some snoozers. Some teams, of course, have a more difficult outing than others to open the season.
Here is a ranking of the SEC schedule, from hardest to easiest games, predicting winners and losers, from Thursday, Aug. 31, to Monday, Sept. 4.
1. Florida vs. Michigan (at Arlington)
It certainly won’t help matters that Florida has seven players suspended, including its leading offensive playmaker, Antonio Callaway. As it stands now, the Gators are a 4-point underdog in Las Vegas.
These teams had two of the nation’s top six scoring defenses last season. But both lost key players on defense.
This game likely will come down to which offense can make plays in the fourth quarter, and with Florida’s biggest playmaker on the bench and possibly a new starter under center, Michigan might be the safe bet here.
Prediction: Michigan 20, Florida 13
2. South Carolina vs. N.C. State (at Charlotte, N.C.)
The Gamecocks come into this one as a 6-point underdog. Their offensive line will be greatly tested by a physical defensive front, led by Bradley Chubb (Nick’s cousin). The Wolfpack ranked No. 8 in the country last season in run defense, allowing just 109 yards on the ground. The Pack held Florida State’s Dalvin Cook to 65 yards, and, after sacks, the Seminoles netted just 63 rushing yards.
South Carolina, on the other hand, ranked No. 13 out of 14 SEC teams in rushing offense, picking up just 134 yards per game. Hopefully, for the Gamecocks’ sake, quarterback Jake Bentley can be the difference in the game at quarterback.
Prediction: N.C. State 34, South Carolina 27
3. Texas A&M at UCLA
The key matchup will be Texas A&M’s defense, especially its front seven, vs. UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen. The Aggies are experienced up front with three seniors, but Rosen is a lethal passer. Texas A&M will most certainly need to penetrate the UCLA offensive line and get pressure on Rosen, or he will probably dissect the Aggies’ secondary. Traveling to Los Angeles is another obstacle.
Prediction: UCLA 38, Texas A&M 31
4. Tennessee vs. Georgia Tech (at Atlanta)
Preparing for Georgia Tech’s triple option offense is a unique challenge. The good thing for Tennessee is that it has had all offseason to do so. That’s much better than getting the Yellow Jackets in say, Week 8, sandwiched between two SEC games.
But the question remains, will Tennessee’s defense be ready? The Vols’ run defense was atrocious a year ago, giving up 219 yards per game. There are many new faces in the front seven this year, though, and the hope is they provide new and improved results. If that defense can hold its ground, Tennessee still has plenty of playmakers on offense to put points on the board.
Prediction: Tennessee 27, Georgia Tech 20
5. Alabama vs. Florida State (at Atlanta)
Clearly, Alabama has the toughest opponent in Week 1. But that doesn’t necessarily make this the hardest game – because No. 1 Alabama is pretty tough itself. The four games ahead of this one will likely be more difficult for those teams to win, respectively.
Still, this should be a battle. Fans will see two of the nation’s elite defenses, as well as two quarterbacks capable of making plays on the biggest stage. The stakes are high, as these two teams could very well meet again in the postseason.
Prediction: Alabama 27, Florida State 17
6. Vanderbilt at Middle Tennessee
This should be a formidable test for the Commodores to open the season. The last time Vanderbilt traveled to Murfreesboro, it squeaked out a 17-13 win, snapping a three-game losing streak in the series.
MTSU has one of the nation’s top passing quarterbacks in Brent Stockstill, who threw for over 3,200 yards and 31 touchdowns despite missing three games last season. In 2015, he threw for 4,005 yards and 30 TDs.
But Vanderbilt’s defense has gotten better under Derek Mason. The Commodores should win this game somewhat comfortably.
Prediction: Vanderbilt 33, Middle Tennessee 24
7. Kentucky at Southern Mississippi
Last season, Kentucky lost to Southern Miss at home. This season, the Wildcats have to play the Golden Eagles on the road. There is some potential for another upset here, especially since Southern Miss simply outplayed the ‘Cats last year.
Kentucky is a 10.5-point favorite and is expected to have a much more experienced team this season. The difference for Southern Miss this time is that it has had to replace QB Nick Mullens, who averaged about 300 passing yards per game.
Prediction: Kentucky 41, Southern Miss 28
8. LSU vs. BYU (at Houston)
LSU’s expectations are high. While a neutral site game against BYU doesn’t seem to be quite as tough as some of LSU’s previous openers, it won’t be a cakewalk. BYU went 9-4 last season and beat Mississippi State. The Cougars’ four losses were by a combined eight points. Basically, that team was a handful of possessions from an undefeated season. Tanner Mangum, who threw for 3,377 yards and 23 TDs in 2015, regains the starting quarterback position. Still, LSU is a 12-point favorite for good reason.
Prediction: LSU 35, BYU 21
9. South Alabama at Ole Miss
This could be another game with upset potential, given the unending turmoil in Oxford. There’s no doubt, the Rebels should be favored to win this game. But South Alabama won’t be a pushover. The Jags defeated Mississippi State last season, and they’ll likely at least cover the 24-point spread again.
Prediction: Ole Miss 34, South Alabama 20
10. Appalachian State at Georgia
Many App State fans will tell you they are tired of hearing about the Michigan game in 2007. It’s a great memory, and probably ranks as the greatest upset of all time. But it doesn’t apply to this season. Those players from 2007 have been cycled out multiple times. With that said, a lot of players on this year’s team did contribute to a near-upset at Tennessee one season ago.
Expectations for that Volunteers squad were high, as are the expectations for this Georgia team. It could be a dangerous matchup, but if the Dawgs are prepared, they should get out with a comfortable win.
Prediction: Georgia 41, Appalachian State 24
11. Charleston Southern at Mississippi State
The last four games on this list should be considered as the “snoozers,” but that doesn’t mean we couldn’t see some competitive first-half action. Charleston Southern is coming off a respectable 7-4 season. However, in its only game against FBS competition vs. Florida State, it got manhandled 52-8.
We’ve seen Mississippi State start slow before (last season), but if Nick Fitzgerald gets going early he and the Bulldogs likely won’t have to play in the second half.
Prediction: Mississippi State 38, Charleston Southern 14
12. Georgia Southern at Auburn
Georgia Southern lost 37-27 to Ole Miss last year. In 2015, the Eagles took Georgia to overtime but lost 23-17. And of course in 2013, Georgia Southern upset Florida in Gainesville 26-20 without completing a pass. What does any of that have to with this game? Well, this is a team familiar with the SEC. But that’s about it. The Eagles will be way overmatched when they meet Auburn in Week 1.
Prediction: Auburn 45, Georgia Southern 10
13. Missouri State at Missouri
It’s hard to find much to say about these last two. This is an in-state clash, so there’s that. But unless Mizzou just falls completely off the wagon, it shouldn’t matter. The Tigers should have this one all but closed out by halftime. It’s really not even worth watching unless you are a Mizzou fan.
Prediction: Missouri 49, Missouri State 10
14. Arkansas vs. Florida A&M (at Little Rock)
Here it is … the easiest game for an SEC team in Week 1. The mighty Rattlers from Florida A&M finished 4-7 a season ago and were 1-10 the year before that. So at least they’re getting better. But this team lost to Miami 70-3 last year in its only FBS action. In 2015, it lost 51-3 to South Florida. This time, the Rattlers are going to score a touchdown. But the game shouldn’t be much to see.
Prediction: Arkansas 56, Florida A&M 7