By Jess Nicholas
Aug. 29, 2018
Last season’s record: 95-17 (84.8%)
The 2017 season was kind to the Predictions Dept., one of the best we’ve recorded in our more than 20 years of picking SEC games. While we’d like to believe that means something for our collective intelligence, it might just mean we were a bunch of lucky suckers last year and won’t repeat the performance in 2018. For this season, Week 1 offers an interesting slate of games for the most part, and Alabama might not have the most interesting matchup of all. That honor goes to Auburn, whose game against Washington could end one school’s championship hopes before they even get off the ground.
CHARLESTON SOUTHERN at FLORIDA
Dan Mullen’s debut in Gainesville is as soft as wet Charmin and will give the Gators a chance to get off the ground without having to dodge objects on the runway. Charleston Southern was 6-5 last year in FCS and lost its two games to Division-IA opponents by a combined score of 76-0. Assuming the entire class of graduate transfers nationwide didn’t suddenly decide to relocate to coastal South Carolina over the offseason, there isn’t enough talent in the Charleston Southern program to even begin to threaten Florida, no matter how touchy the situation in Gainesville might be. Florida still has QB issues to work out and a defense filled with new faces needs to learn to play together. Consider the opportunity granted.
Charleston So. 7
ALABAMA vs. LOUISVILLE (at Orlando, Fla.)
See our extended preview Thursday!
AUSTIN PEAY at GEORGIA
A favorite cheer of Austin Peay students, borne out of both cheeky sophomoric humor and and recognition of their own underdog status, is “Let’s go Peay!”. In the spirit of that cheer, Georgia is getting ready to flush the Governors.
Austin Peay 0
CENTRAL MICHIGAN at KENTUCKY
Because Kentucky is Kentucky, this is going to be a better matchup than it might initially look on paper. The Chippewas were 8-5 in 2017 and return the core of a defense that was pretty salty against the pass. But the overall trend for CMU has been slightly downward ever since John Bonamego took over as head coach three years ago. Kentucky isn’t a complete team by any stretch, and the Wildcats have a troubling tendency under Mark Stoops to make pushover teams look like some combination of both Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston at the same time, but it’s hard to imagine the Wildcats blowing this one. If they manage to find a way to do it, Stoops might want to forego renewing his Lexington cable TV for another 12 months.
C. Michigan 21
TENNESSEE-MARTIN at MISSOURI
UT-Martin – a.k.a. “Harvard of the Haystacks” – has been the Washington Generals to the SEC’s various Harlem Globetrotters over the years, but they’re getting better. The Skyhawks put up a respectable effort against Ole Miss last year and finished with a winning record, riding the backs of a very good defense regardless of level. Having said that, if facing Ole Miss’ offense last year was like staring down the barrel of a pistol, this is like peering face-first into a Gatling gun. Missouri is stocked with offensive weaponry, and QB Drew Lock is beginning a Heisman campaign.
COASTAL CAROLINA at SOUTH CAROLINA
For those not keeping up, this is now a matchup between two FBS schools. Coastal Carolina went 3-9 last year against a schedule of mostly FBS schools, although the big and scary outlier was a 52-10 loss to Western Illinois in Week 3 that should have proven, once and for all, that D-1A isn’t for everyone. The Gamecocks need to develop confidence defensively and they should come out of this game with all the braggadocio of a pro wrestler.
South Carolina 52
Co. Carolina 7
TENNESSEE vs. WEST VIRGINIA (at Charlotte, N.C.)
You want an upset in week one, you’ve got one – maybe. West Virginia is getting a lot of attention as a darkhorse playoff candidate from media members hoping for anyone but the same 5-6 schools that have been contending for the last half-decade. Most of those hopes are being pinned on quarterback Will Grier, the Florida transfer who has looked like John Elway since transferring to the Conference of No Defense. But West Virginia has its own issues. In 2017, the Mountaineer defense resembled an interstate with FastPass, and its opponents were all headed to the beach. Only two opponents were held under twenty points and one of those was powerhouse Delaware State. Tennessee is beginning what figures to be a long, painful transition from Butch Jones’ finesse attack to something far more power-driven under Jeremy Pruitt. The Volunteers have their own concerns on both offense and defense, too. But something about this matchup just feels like an upset in the making.
West Virginia 34
MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE at VANDERBILT
Rick Stockstill’s tenure at MTSU has been long and, all things considered, not that successful. The Blue Raiders are usually respectable, but just can’t seem to take the next step. His son Brent is the quarterback, but is limited in ability. For the most part, MTSU had a nice year for itself in 2017, beating Syracuse and winning its bowl game against Arkansas State, but the Blue Raiders also lost badly to Minnesota (and Vanderbilt) and managed to drop a game to UAB as well. This is a veteran team, though, and Vanderbilt is not, so the Commodores can’t just show up and win it. MTSU played scared at home last year against Vandy; doing the same in Nashville will end just as badly. It will be interesting to see if Stockstill the Elder and Stockstill the Younger let that same fear permeate the locker room for a second year in a row.
EASTERN ILLINOIS at ARKANSAS
Arkansas should enjoy easy games as much as possible, because the big fight in Fayetteville this year will most likely be the one to avoid 10 losses. Eastern Illinois managed a 6-5 record last year playing exclusively against other FCS teams. Regardless of the transitional problems Arkansas faces, there’s little chance the Razorbacks screw this one up badly enough to tote a loss in Chad Morris’ opening week.
E. Illinois 14
WASHINGTON vs. AUBURN (at Atlanta, Ga.)
It would be interesting to know whether an SEC team has ever played three straight games away from home in the same venue, because Auburn is about to do it. The Tigers finished 2017 with a pair of games in Atlanta and local counselors specializing in the treatment of PTSD enjoyed a windfall as a result: Georgia trucked the Tigers 28-7 in the SEC Championship Game, and then Central Florida parlayed a 34-27 win over Auburn in the Peach Bowl into an excuse to act like teams from outside the Power 5 are actually allowed to compete for national championships. It’s possible that, since Auburn couldn’t derail Alabama’s title run, it could at least fail to take care of business against the Golden Knights and allow them to do some puppy barking to divert attention from the real champs. Thanks, Auburn. The Tigers get their chance to redeem themselves – at least to themselves – by taking out PAC-12 favorite Washington. The Huskies have the defense to do it, but this might be a better Auburn team than prognosticators believe. If Auburn’s offensive line is as good as coaches think rather than as mediocre as everyone else thinks, the Tigers can go places. But if Auburn can’t disrupt Washington QB Jake Browning, he can take this game over almost all by himself. Don’t look for Auburn to let Atlanta go 3-for-3 in the loss column.
MIAMI vs. LOUISIANA STATE (at Arlington, Texas)
Bad quarterback play and defensive hiccups took Miami from 10-0 to 10-3 as the season came to a close, and probably took the Hurricanes out of the national limelight at the same time. Those keeping Miami off their list of contenders are probably not doing themselves, or the Hurricanes, justice. LSU is a hot mess at the moment, with an unresolved quarterback battle and multiple off-field incidents clouding the picture in Baton Rouge. It might actually be a blessing to get this game out of town, to Texas and the Jerry Dome, and try to treat this as its own, singular event. Miami returns most of a defense that was very good until the final month of the season, and if the Hurricanes have their own QB issues settled, LSU might not even be competitive. As is, the Hurricanes look like solid favorites – especially under the headsets.
MISSISSIPPI vs. TEXAS TECH (at Houston, Texas)
In terms of what a game means, this one is way down the list of first-week SEC games, but darn if it won’t be exciting. The Red Raider offense is rebuilding, but its defensive core returns; the opposite is the case at Ole Miss. Kliff Kingsbury’s job is somewhat in jeopardy at Texas Tech, as he went 6-7 last year and the outlook this year is cloudier. The schedule gets Tech at home against its biggest opponents, but that might be a net negative as the Red Raiders aren’t considered ready to compete in those games anyway. That means most of the swing games are on the road. It’s not out of the realm of possibility to see Texas Tech losing 6 or 7 games again, and if that happens, the honeymoon could be over for the homegrown Kingsbury. That’s why this neutral-site game is so important. Ole Miss figures to score frequently even on SEC defenses, so going up against a rice strainer like the Red Raider defense shouldn’t pose much of a problem. It’s what happens when Texas Tech has the ball that ought to make Rebel fans nervous.
Ole Miss 57
Texas Tech 49
STEPHEN F. AUSTIN at MISSISSIPPI STATE
“Stephen F. Austin at Mississippi State” almost sounds like an off-Broadway title exploring the years of a child of privilege stuck in backwater Starkville. It also could be the working title of a murder mystery, with the operative question being not who done it, but how bad did who do it. SFA went 4-7 last year, losing its only FBS game 58-14 to lightweight SMU. MSU is not SMU. It’s also not SFA. And SFA is DOA for sure.
Mississippi St. 58
S.F. Austin 0
NORTHWESTERN STATE at TEXAS A&M
This game, for some reason, is being played on a Friday night with a 7:30 kickoff, meaning it’s going to be the silent background for a million Buffalo Wild Wings across the United States, and might as well be broadcast without an announcing team, as no one who sees this game will have the volume turned up. Texas A&M begins the Jimbo Fisher era against a team that managed to beat Houston Baptist by a score of 10-7 last year on its way to a 4-7 season, capped off by a win over Stephen F. Austin (see “murder mystery,” above). If the Aggies begin Fisher’s tenure by imitating Houston Baptist, Aggie boosters might opt to crush him under a Brinks truck rather than pay him the buyout residing within it.
Texas A&M 48
NW State 10
Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN
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