It is finally here. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, SEC football is back at last. This Saturday all fourteen SEC teams will take the field for the first time in this Twilight Zone year of 2020. Admit it, for most of the last four months you have been skeptical this day would come. But barring catastrophic events over the next few days this season will start this weekend. Can I get an amen?
The opening weekend is lacking any truly marquee matchups. The conference kept things reasonably predictable in week one and gave its projected contenders every chance possible to get off on the right foot. The premier matchup Saturday is probably Auburn-Kentucky. That said, there will almost certainly be at least one upset in the SEC before the games are all played in week one. There has been too much inconsistency to practice and preparation this offseason for it to not be reflected on the field in week one. I expect to see some sloppy football in some of these games. No spring practice was bound to take a toll. But the spaced-out practices in August and September will make it even worse. Teams with continuity at quarterback and on the coaching staff should have a decided advantage. Teams trying to implement new schemes or teaching their scheme to a new quarterback will have to get that work done under difficult conditions. With that said, let’s take a look at this week’s SEC games.
Florida-Ole Miss: On paper it would seem as if Florida has a lot of things in their favor and the oddsmakers agree as Florida sits as a 14.5 favorite right now. The Gators have more talent on their roster. They have more depth. Florida has a returning starter at Quarterback in Kyle Trask who will be in his third year in Dan Mullen’s system. The Gators should field one of the top defenses in the conference in 2020. Ole Miss has a new coaching staff that will likely rue the loss of spring practice. I expect Lane Kiffen to build a competitive program in Oxford, but I do not think he has the talent just yet.
Prediction: Florida 31 Ole Miss 17
Kentucky at Auburn: Kentucky is the sexy pick for a lot of pundits this season to surprise in the SEC. I think Mark Stoops is a good coach and will have Kentucky ready to play every week. What he accomplished last season after losing his starting quarterback was impressive. However, the biggest star in that offense, wide receiver/quarterback Lynn Bowden, is gone. Auburn returns a strong defense and a now seasoned Bo Nix.
Prediction: Auburn 28 Kentucky 24
Miss State at LSU: LSU is the reigning national championships, but not this LSU team. Almost every starter from last season’s championship team has moved on. The coaching staff took some hits as well. LSU still has a lot of talent it is just inexperienced talent. This is a game that Mike Leach might just be able to steal. He does not have the talent level on his roster as most of the teams he and the Bulldogs will face this season, but he could take advantage of an LSU team that is sloppy in its season opener.
Prediction: Miss State 21 LSU 20
Georgia at Arkansas: For some reason, people are mentioning this game as a possible upset. I just do not see it. Georgia has a HUGE advantage in talent. Arkansas cannot even remember the last time they won a conference game. It will not be this week either.
Prediction: Georgia 48 Arkansas 14
Alabama at Missouri: Really?
Prediction: Alabama 42 Missouri 17
Tennessee at South Carolina: This is only the first game of the season and yet this one carries so many implications for both teams involved. South Carolina fans are getting tired of waiting for Muschamp to get it done in Columbia. Vols fans are just tired, period. Whichever team loses this game will be looking up at a long uphill battle in 2020. It seems like Jeremy Pruitt has things going in the right direction but Tennessee’s schedule each year can give you a false sense of security. Every year they lose a few of the tough games they face in the first half and then rebound to beat up on weaker teams in the back half of the schedule. I think this time it might not be illusion. Pruitt has recruited well, and I expect him to pull one big upset this season. He doesn’t need that this weekend.
Prediction: Tennessee 24 South Carolina 17
Vanderbilt at Texas A&M: I do not believe Texas A&M is as good as people think they are. I believe Vanderbilt is exactly what people think they are. In typical Vandy fashion they will play tough and keep it close in the first half.
Prediction: Texas A&M 35 Vandy 14
We have waited a very long time with some serious doubts for this SEC season to begin. Enjoy every minute of this weekend just in case the whole 2020 season thing falls completely apart later.