Last Season’s Record: 90-23 (79.7%)
Welcome to the first week of previews for the 2020 season, as we begin to sail into uncharted territory thanks to a bunch of bats. With an all-SEC, every-week schedule, we’ll be facing a greater challenge in regards to keeping our success rate up for picking games. No Alabama-Western Carolinas in 2020, folks. Week 1 features some intriguing matchups, with maybe Kentucky-Auburn being at the top of that list simply due to the difficulty in figuring out just each team has.
FLORIDA at MISSISSIPPI
The Lane Kiffin era begins in Oxford and he gets the second-sternest test on the board for his opener. Florida comes in ranked 5th overall, but that feels a little much to us until the Gators can prove to be more dynamic on offense. Given that the Gators are led by former Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen, expecting Florida to become truly dynamic anytime soon may be asking too much. Ole Miss is going to take some time to fix, especially on defense. Expect this one to potentially get ugly, especially with Mullen having no love for his former rival opponent.
Ole Miss 10
GEORGIA at ARKANSAS
Georgia has had an overflowing amount of controversy, disappointment and questions to deal with this offseason, even without taking into consideration Covid-19. The Bulldogs aren’t really sure of themselves under center, there’s a brewing scandal in the form of allegations from former player Otis Reese about the environment around the program, and then there was the high-profile (because Georgia made it that way) “theft” of former Alabama strength coach Scott Cochran, who has taken an on-field coaching position at Georgia … while Alabama may very well have used the opportunity to upgrade its strength and conditioning program. Kirby Smart is already under a significant amount of pressure as is, due to his tenure as head coach failing to be an upgrade over that of Mark Richt. Fortunately, Georgia starts the year facing Arkansas, a team with a terrible roster, a new head coach in Sam Pittman who hasn’t been a head coach since 30 years ago in junior college, and a palpable lack of enthusiasm about the program in general. Georgia needed a soft spot to land and Arkansas will provide it.
KENTUCKY at AUBURN
Kentucky has turned into the media’s Week 1 upset darling, so naturally, Auburn will probably not only win the game but beat the spread in the process. Kentucky is still trying to pick its quarterback, but at least the Wildcats have a quarterback this year and not a wide receiver being forced to play the spot due to injuries all over the place. The question is does Kentucky have any playmakers anywhere else. The Wildcats always seem to be fighting the talent battle relative to their SEC peers, especially depth in the second unit and beyond. The chief concern this year is wide receiver, but figuring out whether last year’s defense was as good as it looked at times is going to be key to taking the next step. Auburn comes in ranked 8th but that may have some baked-in logic relative to the number of teams that are sidelined in Covid-19 jail. There are too many question marks in the offensive line, running back group and receiver for Auburn to justify that ranking, and the Tigers have lost three players to Covid opt-outs. It will be interesting to see how Auburn fares at Jordan-Hare Stadium this year against good teams with small crowds likely unable to bring the intensity to a boil. Kentucky is a quality team, but good enough to beat Auburn? Maybe not yet.
TENNESSEE at SOUTH CAROLINA
The Gamecocks are a top-tier SEC team … for opt-outs. Unfortunately for the Gamecocks, the 2020 season was already threatening to be a transitional year downward, with Kentucky and potentially Missouri rising up behind Georgia and Florida – along with this Tennessee team. Tennessee is stabilizing under Jeremy Pruitt, and this year is crucial. The Volunteers would consider a second-place showing in the SEC East, behind either Florida or Georgia, as a major step forward for the program. The offensive line gives up nothing to any opponent it is compared against, and the Vols have veteran leadership at quarterback. The defense is the key to moving forward. Whether that happens as the season goes along is anyone’s guess, but against South Carolina, it will only have to be adequate.
South Carolina 17
VANDERBILT at TEXAS A&M
Call this the Opt-Out Bowl, because the two teams have combined for 11 opt-outs and they’ve been substantial. Vanderbilt’s offensive line was hit hard, but no team with championship aspirations lost as much as Texas A&M did – a starting cornerback (Elijah Blades) and one of the best receivers in the conference (Jhamon Ausbon). This was supposed to be the year the Aggies contended for the division title, what with a veteran quarterback on its sideline and an LSU program facing a rebuilding year. But without Blades and especially Ausbon, that no longer seems doable. Vanderbilt was going to be Vanderbilt, anyway, but now it’s going to be a fight between the Commodores and the Arkansas Razorbacks as to who is the worst team in the SEC.
Texas A&M 40
MISSISSIPPI STATE at LOUISIANA STATE
We’re going to assume, given his personality, that Ed Orgeron has had a hangover or two in his life. Our apologies if he hasn’t. Assuming he knows how to deal with one, he’d better put that knowledge to use quickly, because the entire LSU program has the air about it of last call at a party fueled by hunch punch and Jagermeister. What players didn’t graduate or jump early to the NFL following the 2019 season seem to have dropped out due to Covid. It isn’t as bad as it seems – LSU lost 3 players to opt-outs, not an insurmountable number – but they weren’t small names. Tyler Shelvin was one, Kary Vincent another and Ja’Marr Chase the third. That’s a starting defensive tackle, cornerback and the reigning Biletnikoff Award winner at wide receiver.
Given the other vacancies and Orgeron’s tendency for boom-bust cycling, LSU seems like a time bomb waiting to go off. Except, it won’t explode – it will simply shut down and hibernate. Mississippi State is going through another coaching transition, as Mike Leach will be taking over a team that has done nothing but run the ball recently and try to turn it into a team that does nothing but pass. If the Bulldogs don’t score a lot of points this year, it will be a hard first season for Leach, because the Bulldog secondary was decimated. This, on top of trying to convert power to speed on offense, is going to be challenging. The question isn’t going to be who wins this game so much as whether both teams will still be caring about the outcome in the fourth quarter.
Mississippi St. 16