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By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
Aug. 27, 2014
Last season’s record: 93-20 (82.3%)
It’s time again to crank up the Prediction Machine and start rolling out our best guesses as to what’s going to happen in the SEC in 2014. Last season was a pretty good one for the Predictions Dept., which was on the verge of setting a record for accuracy until a couple of rough weeks toward the end of the year. This year opens up with a handful of decently interesting games, headlined by Georgia-Clemson and Alabama’s game in Atlanta against West Virginia.
IDAHO at FLORIDA
As Florida tries to get its confidence back, the first week of play will at least allow the Gators to take things slowly. Idaho is the opponent, and the Vandals have no chance at taking down an SEC team, much less one the most people figure to at least be competitive. The real question in this game is how much improvement Florida QB Jeff Driskel will show in his first action since suffering a broken leg last year. If this game ends up being close, Will Muschamp better contact a realtor.
ALABAMA vs. WEST VIRGINIA (in Atlanta, Ga.)
See our extended preview!
CLEMSON at GEORGIA
Georgia’s championship aspirations might be over quickly, as the Bulldogs open with Clemson and then South Carolina, with an off-week in between. Clemson won this game last year and relegated Georgia to also-ran status, and Georgia is well aware of it. Both teams are replacing successful quarterbacks, both have questions on defense and both are desperate to take the next step up in national prominence. With the game in Athens, bet on the red and black.
TENNESSEE-MARTIN at KENTUCKY
Kentucky spent last year’s opener losing to Western Kentucky, so the Wildcats had to do something to guarantee a 1-0 record after Week 1 and they came up with this. Tennessee-Martin, known colloquially as “the Harvard of the haystacks,” shouldn’t pose a problem for Mark Stoops’ team, no matter how allegedly smart the Skyhawks are. Kentucky’s primary goal is identifying a starting quarterback, but that’s hard to do when facing teams so bad that every quarterback ends up looking good.
SOUTH DAKOTA STATE at MISSOURI
South Dakota State’s mascot is a Jackrabbit. Missouri’s mascot is a Tiger. Most of the time, an analogy based around the respective teams’ mascots doesn’t mean much. In this case, though, it’s entire appropriate for the one-sided affair that’s coming down the pike.
S. Dakota St. 0
TEXAS A&M at SOUTH CAROLINA
If this game takes up regular residence at the top of Texas A&M’s and South Carolina’s schedules, it will make for am annually intriguing east-meets-west barn-burner. Both teams are breaking in new quarterbacks, and there are questions about South Carolina’s offense and Texas A&M’s defense. The loser of this game probably goes right out of its respective division race, since the margins are expected to be tight at the top as is. This early in the season, we like home-field advantage a lot.
South Carolina 27
Texas A&M 24
UTAH STATE at TENNESSEE
Yes, Tennessee could actually lose this game. As crazy as it might sound – or more appropriately, should sound – the Vols are no lock to win this game and if Utah State had just a bit more coming back to go along with QB Chuckie Keeton, we might make the pick. If Keeton is fully recovered from injury, Tennessee will win or lose this game based on how well it keeps Keeton contained. It’s sad that one of the SEC’s traditional powers has been relegated to fighting for its life against mid-major programs for the last four or five years, but that’s the current reality in Knoxville.
Utah State 28
TEMPLE at VANDERBILT
The last two years, this game wouldn’t have been an issue for Vanderbilt. But with James Franklin gone and most of last year’s starters gone as well, nothing’s automatic yet. Temple was just 2-10 in 2013, but the Owl program had been recently resurgent and there is talent still in Philadelphia. There just probably isn’t enough of it to challenge the Commodores, unless Derek Mason’s new offense/new defense model proves to inject more uncertainty into the Vandy program than expected.
ARKANSAS at AUBURN
For some reason, this game is landing on a lot of people’s upset-special lists. Unless Auburn truly was a smoke-and-mirrors outfit with no substance in 2013, Arkansas will be down 14 by the time the Hogs leave the hotel. Arkansas has no defense until it proves otherwise, and the offense can’t keep up with the Tigers. Bret Bielema has tried his best to talk confidence into his players, but it’s not going to work unless Auburn comes apart, or there’s more to Nick Marshall’s suspension than just a few series spent sitting next to the water cooler.
LOUISIANA STATE vs. WISCONSIN (in Houston, Texas)
This is an intriguing matchup, to say the least: Wisconsin has better stability, LSU has far better team talent, and by virtue of catching the Tigers before their quarterback situation gets ironed out, Wisconsin might be able to score the upset. Most of the SEC’s top contenders will get a decent test in Week 1, but LSU might have the toughest game. Wisconsin runs the ball effectively, and LSU didn’t stop the run in 2013 plus lost a chunk of its middle defense over the offseason. On the flip side, LSU has tons more speed on defense, and it’s unlikely the Wisconsin offensive line is accustomed to dealing with edge rushers like the ones LSU possesses.
SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI at MISSISSIPPI STATE
Southern Miss has fallen to depths previously unforeseen in Hattiesburg, and could do a lot for its rebuilding image by upsetting a heavily favored in-state opponent. The problem is, USM picked Mississippi State instead of Delta State. The Bulldogs are a solid team needing to fill just a couple of holes; Southern Miss needs to fill entire platoons. This won’t end well for the Golden Eagles.
Mississippi St. 37
Southern Miss 10
MISSISSIPPI vs. BOISE STATE (in Atlanta, Ga.)
Some cracks in the Boise State program began to show last year, and the Broncos aren’t sneaking up on anyone anymore. As predicted by people who actually know what they’re looking at when they watch football games, teams like Boise can’t survive in the big leagues once schedules start getting more difficult, on a consistent basis, unless they amp up the talent to match the opposition. No one can be Cinderella every week, no matter how many feel-good stories some in the media concoct. Having said that, Boise does have a legitimate shot at Ole Miss, but the Rebels are still a lot more athletic, a lot deeper and lot more battle-hardened than are the Broncos. It’s unclear whether Ole Miss has the guns to really challenge in the SEC West this year, but the Rebels should certainly win this opener. And if they don’t, it speaks a lot more to what’s going on at Ole Miss than Boise.
Ole Miss 30
Boise State 20
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