By Jess Nicholas
Aug. 31, 2015
Last season’s record: 84-28 (75.0%)
The 2015 SEC season kicks off this week, and the TideFans.com Predictions Dept. is looking for a better effort this year. The 2014 season was mediocre by past standards, but the road doesn’t get any easier, given the depth the SEC has managed to build, particularly in its West division. The highlights of the first week, outside of Alabama’s opening tilt against Wisconsin, is probably either Auburn’s opener against Louisville, or Arizona State’s visit to College Station to face Texas A&M.
NORTH CAROLINA vs. SOUTH CAROLINA (at Charlotte, N.C.)
Somehow, despite talented head coach Larry Fedora and a roster stocked full of talent, North Carolina managed to go 6-7 a year ago. Given South Carolina’s uncertainties on defense and at quarterback, it would seem North Carolina has a level shot at pulling an upset here – especially if new defensive coordinator Gene Chizik can whip his charges into shape. The biggest issues for the Tar Heels, other than those incurred from fixing its horrid defense, are of the off-field variety – i.e., the NCAA and what it might do to an athletic department steeped in controversy. But that’s not on the minds of the Tar Heel players right now. South Carolina should still win the game just based off talent and continuity, but this one could be a lot closer than people think.
South Carolina 27
North Carolina 24
WISCONSIN vs. ALABAMA (at Dallas, Texas)
NEW MEXICO STATE at FLORIDA
This is a good way for new Florida head coach Jim McElwain to get his feet wet. New Mexico State was terrible in 2014 – actually, NMSU has been terrible for pretty much its entire Division-IA history – and despite the Gators’ growing pains, it’s hard to imagine any scenario that doesn’t have the Gators winning this game by three scores. The Aggies do have 10 starters returning on defense, but it’s a defense that ranked 113th in the nation and 125th against the run. The Aggies did lead the nation in pass defense – thanks to other teams never needing to throw the ball. Florida won’t need to, either.
New Mexico St. 13
Todd Berry annually does a fantastic job convincing the Warhawks that they’re better than they really are, but even he couldn’t solve a tough stretch in the middle of the 2014 season that saw the Warhawks drop six straight games at one point. The good news is this is a decent defensive team, the talent level isn’t terrible and most of last year’s defense returns. The bad news is Georgia faces a team twice as good as this every day in practice when it scrimmages against itself. Unless Georgia’s quarterback quandary is a complete disaster, the Bulldogs will roll.
LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE at KENTUCKY
Mark Hudspeth led this team to a 9-4 record last year and anything close to the same in 2015 will net him a solid mid-major job. For now, he’s got to figure a way to replace 16 starters from last year’s Ragin’ Cajun team. The defense, especially, will be soft in the early going. Kentucky isn’t good enough yet to put it on autopilot and waltz through this matchup, but unless the Wildcats are total paper tigers, they should be able to start the 2015 season off 1-0.
SOUTHEAST MISSOURI STATE at MISSOURI
Softball opener that the Tigers should handle easily. We won’t even find out anything substantive about Missouri in this game.
SE Missouri St. 10
BOWLING GREEN vs. TENNESSEE (at Nashville, Tenn.)
Tennessee is threatening to turn this game into a storyline thanks to numerous injuries and discipline issues. Dino Babers’ team went 8-6 in 2014 and won its bowl game over South Alabama, a team that nearly beat the Volunteers the year before. This is a good offensive Falcon team that returns most of its strong pieces from a year ago … but the Falcons were terrible on defense and now they’re young to boot. Tennessee comes into this game with the makings of being an offensive powerhouse, but only if the Volunteers can figure a way to stop losing people every other hour.
Bowling Green 24
WESTERN KENTUCKY at VANDERBILT
It’s a safe bet Vandy wishes this game weren’t on the schedule, because the Hilltoppers are good enough to beat the Commodores (or, more appropriately, the Commodores are bad enough to lose to the Hilltoppers). Western Kentucky went 8-5 with a bowl win in 2014 and has the nucleus of its team back. Included in that is a passing attack that ranked 2nd nationwide from a team that ranked 4th in total offense and 6th in scoring. Unfortunately for Western Kentucky, like many smaller teams, the defense was putrid. The real question here is can Vanderbilt keep up the scoring pace. It’s a legitimate question.
W. Kentucky 25
LOUISVILLE vs. AUBURN (at Atlanta, Ga.)
Somewhat inexplicably, Auburn is showing up on a lot of “upset alert” lists this week, despite the fact that Louisville is in full-on rebuilding mode under Bob Petrino. Louisville returns only 8 starters from a year ago, and this team wasn’t that effective on offense to begin with. Auburn has its own issues, particularly on defense, but Louisville doesn’t immediately seem capable of exploiting them. Petrino is a good coach, however, and he’ll make Auburn work hard for it, but the Tigers just have too many weapons.
TEXAS-EL PASO at ARKANSAS
If you challenge your friends to name every bowl team from the 2014-2015 season, it’s a good bet that if they leave one team off, it would be UTEP. The Miners went 7-5 in the regular season and ended up in the New Mexico Bowl, a solid effort from a doldrum program that to this point was probably most famous for giving Mike Price a career rehabilitation opportunity. Arkansas hasn’t had the best offseason in regard to injuries, but the Razorbacks will have a field day here. The Miners ranked 77th in rush defense in 2014 and Arkansas can make them pay. Over and over and over again.
McNEESE STATE at LOUISIANA STATE
In some alternate universe that Stephen Hawking and his peers are currently pursuing, flowers can talk, Elvis isn’t dead, and this game doesn’t end in a blowout for McNeese State.
McNeese St. 7
TENNESSEE-MARTIN at MISSISSIPPI
See “McNeese State vs. LSU,” above.
Ole Miss 55
This is the kind of game that, if Mississippi State were Alabama and Southern Miss were UAB, the Bulldogs could justify not playing. As it is, the Bulldogs actually travel to the Golden Eagles, because of course this is the back half of a home-and-home series, and no one can figure out why it was scheduled in the first place. It’s not that Mississippi State needs to be introduced to the recruiting territory around Forrest and Lamar counties, or that the Bulldogs need to money. More likely, this is all about directing some thumb-nosing at rival Ole Miss (from both competitors in this game) and, from the Bulldogs’ perspective, that Southern Miss is as low as it’s ever been and thus, beatable.
Mississippi St. 44
Southern Miss 10
ARIZONA STATE vs. TEXAS A&M (at Houston, Texas)
Now we’re getting somewhere. The Sun Devils are one of the darkhorse teams in 2015 to compete for a national championship at year’s end thanks to the up-and-down nature of the PAC-12. Provided the Sun Devil quarterback situation has been figured out, Texas A&M could find itself on the wrong side of the scoreboard here. The Aggies will get better as the season goes along and as they acclimate themselves to new defensive coordinator John Chavis’ instructions, but right now, the Sun Devils look like the more likely pick.
Arizona St. 34
Texas A&M 30
Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN
Comment now using your Facebook login!
Powered by Facebook Comments