SEC Bold Predictions, Week 1: 2 upsets, a backup to watch and more
With apologies to Andy Williams, this is the most wonderful time of the year. SEC football is so close you can practically taste it … which means it’s time to get bold. And hey, if 2020 isn’t the year for bold predictions to become reality, then it might never be the right year.
So here we go, right into conference play with a bold prediction for each SEC Week 1 game.
Kentucky opens with an upset
Yes, so UK is 1-17 against Auburn since 1966. And the Tigers are at home (what does that even mean in 2020?) and are favored by around 10.5 points. Auburn’s passing game has been spotty against good defenses, while Kentucky’s ground attack and offensive line and the kind of group needed to bull out a 24-21 win to deliver the first upset of the SEC season.
Trask shows out, leads SEC in passing
Yes, we’re pretty high on Florida in general this season. With an opener in Oxford against an Ole Miss defense that allowed 278 passing yards per game last year, the Gators will stake their claim to continuing the uptick of their passing attack. Florida passed for over 300 yards in each of their last 4 games of 2019. Says here they make it 5 in a row, with Trask throwing for 350 yards in a 3-score win over the Rebels.
Mississippi State hangs around in Baton Rouge … for a half
One of the most anticipated debuts of 2020 has to be Mike Leach at Mississippi State. While the Bulldogs return almost nobody from last year’s mediocre squad, Leach could coach a group of tackling dummies to 40 points per game. Or at least, that’s the rationale outside of the SEC. Given the attrition that LSU has suffered from last season, don’t be surprised to see the Bulldogs and KJ Costello come out gunning for the upset — and hanging around for a half. In the second half, Chris Curry and the Tigers will wear down the road team, and cover the point spread in a 3-score win. But for a half there, it’ll be interesting.
Georgia can afford to use its opener at Arkansas as a glorified tune-up. Whether JT Daniels is good to go or D’Wan Mathis starts and takes the majority of the snaps, look for UGA to use the first half to sync up whoever the passer is with all-world talent George Pickens. Yes, UGA will pound the run with Zamir White. But Kirby Smart will live up to his name and give his beast-mode receiver a chance to show the form that will make him a pro soon. Put Pickens down for a league-leading 130 yards receiving and an early touchdown in a 30-point win for the Bulldogs. Consider it advance notice of the season that will follow.
Alabama D over the Mizzou O
Even before COVID decimated Mizzou’s preparation, Week 1 against Alabama stood to be a handful. Yes, the Tide will be hungry — and it’s the defense that might show the clearest signs. Pete Golding’s group has been kind of ho-hum, and Nick Saban seems clear that he wants more production on the defensive side of the ball. One way that manifests itself is with scores. Don’t forget the 2016 Alabama defense that actually scored 11 touchdowns (almost as many as it allowed on the season). Don’t be surprised to see pick-6s and scoop-and-scores become a point of renewed focus. And don’t be surprised if the Alabama defense outscores the Missouri offense.
Meet Haynes King
One of the sad truths of SEC football is that backup quarterbacks matter, often plenty. So when Texas A&M opens at Vanderbilt, don’t be surprised if the story isn’t the almost undoubtedly blowout (it’s happening) or the solid play of Kellen Mond (also happening). Given the fact that Vandy will look like a sacrificial lamb by halftime, don’t be surprised to see the Aggies give true freshman Haynes King his first action.
King, a 4-star dual-threat QB recruit, has earned praise from the coaching staff for his ease at picking up the offense. In at least that regard, he’s not unlike another true freshman who earned meaningful time at College Station — Mond.
Hey, maybe the starter will be fine all season. But in the SEC West, it’s never too early to start grooming the next man up. When A&M wins by 40, don’t be surprised if the buzz on Monday is about King, after he leads a couple of impressive scoring drives in the second half.
Ryan Hilinski plays hero
Maybe Carolina’s selection of Collin Hill to start the opener against Tennessee is legitimate. It’s a big game in a put-up-or-shut-up season for Will Muschamp. But it feels curiously like a motivational move, too.
Carolina needs Ryan Hilinski to not only be the guy with the big arm but also the leader in the huddle that the team has sorely missed for the past few seasons. Tennessee will get out to an early lead Saturday, and the Vols are probably superior on the line of scrimmage. But Tennessee’s own potential QB woes could emerge in a close game, and look for Hilinski to come off the bench and engineer a comeback win in the last 2 minutes for the Gamecocks.