SEC Preview and Predictions: Week 1

© Adam Hagy
© Adam Hagy 2017

Last Season’s Record: 95-17 (84.8%)

We got a head start on our Week 1 previews for 2019 thanks to the Florida Gators, who came very close to our predicted score of 27-23 over Miami, eventually winning 24-20 in a sloppy game. What follows is the rest of the SEC’s first week, which is mostly a snoozefest compared to some recent seasons.

Week 1 intraconference games are rare, but the SEC chose to send SEC East favorite Georgia on the road this week to face a Commodore team that is in rebuilding mode. Georgia should stomp the lights out of Vandy and if the Bulldogs don’t, that says a lot more about Georgia than a blowout loss will about the Commodores, who still figure to be a decent team regardless of what happens in this opener. Georgia will enter its first round of “Quarterback Depth Chart Management 101,” given there really isn’t a championship-capable backup yet to Jake Fromm. The Commodores are just looking to keep this close and not get depressed this early in the season.
Georgia 41
Vanderbilt 14

ALABAMA vs. DUKE (Atlanta, Ga.)
See our extended preview! | Game Thread

FLORIDA vs. MIAMI (Orlando, Fla.)
Previewed on our message boards earlier this week (picked 27-23 UF, game finished 24-20 UF)

Here’s one of those stats you stumble upon while doing research: Toledo led the nation last year in both blocked kicks and blocked punts. Short of pulling a mask off the special teams coordinator and revealing Frank Beamer underneath, it’s not clear on how that happened. Having said that, the Rockets finished 7-6 but managed to so without recording really any quality wins. Kentucky isn’t nearly the same team as the 2018 version that put together 10 wins, but the Rockets didn’t beat anyone last year that compared to either the 2018 or the expected 2019 version of the Wildcats. If Kentucky does manage to lose this game, it’s going to be a long season in Lexington.
Kentucky 34
Toledo 24

This is the second half of a home-and-home series. More interesting than the actual game itself will be a game you can play on TV, called “Count the Missouri Fans,” and it ought to work like that MLB Network promotion where if you see four or more Missouri fans at the game, you can text “PAPASLAM” to Papa John’s and get a free pizza. Otherwise why in the world is Missouri traveling to Laramie?
Missouri 52
Wyoming 10

North Carolina went 2-9 last year and then, hello again, Mack Brown. Whether Brown can recapture the magic of his first tenure in Chapel Hill remains to be seen, but he won’t do it in one year and he needs more talent than what he has on hand. South Carolina is an enigmatic middle-runner in this year’s SEC, and no one is expecting much from a team that has a solid (if enigmatic, himself) quarterback, a defense that needs to prove itself and a head coach who needs to prove he can function on a stable emotional plane. Didn’t like what the Florida-Miami matchup looked like last week? Get ready for more of the same in this game.
South Carolina 24
North Carolina 17

So here we are the week of the opener for an already troubled Tennessee program, and a starting cornerback gets arrested. Throw another distraction on the pile. Tennessee won’t need Bryce Thompson this week – for that matter, suspend the whole secondary and this is still a rout – but in macro terms, turning this program around is going to be hard enough without dealing with off-field distractions. What, if anything, happens to Thompson following the arrest (over a domestic argument, and details are sketchy at the time of this writing) is somewhat secondary to Jeremy Pruitt’s overall task of turning around a team that really hasn’t been focused on winning for some time. Really bad timing here, but is anyone surprised at this point?
Tennessee 45
Georgia State 17

Let Arkansas enjoy an easy victory because there won’t be many opportunities like this one later on in the 2019 season. The Razorbacks are getting better, but most SEC fans have forgotten the Razorbacks are coming off a 2-10 record. A couple more seasons like that one and it might be too much for this once-high-achieving program to take. It’s safe to say the move to the SEC has not panned out like Arkansas has hoped. But for at least one week, the Razorbacks are going to look like world-beaters – if the world was made up solely of Portland State.
Arkansas 52
Portland St. 14

AUBURN vs. OREGON (Arlington, Texas)
The one true marquee game on this week’s schedule, an Auburn team that thinks it has an outside shot at the College Football Playoffs faces an Oregon team that also thinks it has an outside shot at the College Football Playoffs. We’ll find out pretty quickly whether Auburn can succeed with Bo Nix at quarterback, while Oregon is hoping its defense can take the next step up. The Ducks finished 2018 at 9-4 and managed to win its bowl game against Michigan State by a 7-6 score. Auburn is coming into this game needing to avoid a slow start that would cost it a shot at a 10-win season. The stakes are high for both, but highest of all for Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn, who finds himself two steps ahead of a firing squad, and the squad is making up the distance.
Oregon 27
Auburn 24

The most interesting part of this game, which features a night kickoff, is watching how Tiger fans manage their newfound ability to buy booze during a game in Baton Rouge.
LSU 55
Ga. Southern 7

How this game managed to get the neutral-site treatment – in the Superdome, at that – may be the greatest mystery of Week 1. Hope the Bulldogs enjoy the trip, because it figures to be awhile before MSU sees the inside of the Superdome again unless they get a home-and-home against Tulane.
Mississippi St. 41
Louisiana 24

This shouldn’t be in danger of being a close game or upset special, but it’s probably going to be at least the former. Ole Miss, on paper, looks like something out of a carnival magic act – a lot of smoke, a lot of mirrors, and very little substance. Memphis finished 8-6 in 2018 but suffered two dagger-to-the-chest disappointments in the final two weeks of the season, first losing to UCF in the American Athletic Conference Championship, then getting caught napping by Wake Forest in the subsequent bowl game in Birmingham. Ole Miss, though, simply lacks the proven firepower right now to keep up with Memphis’ offense, which was held to fewer than 30 points only three times in 2018 and even so, won one of those games. Most of the Tigers’ contributors return for this season, too. What an ugly loss for Ole Miss this would be.
Memphis 45
Ole Miss 37

Texas State went 3-9 last season in the Sun Belt last season, so this game isn’t going to be competitive unless we’ve all thoroughly overestimated the strength of Texas A&M. Jake Spavital steps in at Texas State for his first chance at running a program by himself. Given what he’s up against, it will be a miracle if his former employer (Spavital was at Texas A&M from 2013-2015) has mercy on him and his team.
Texas A&M 52
Texas State 7

Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN