There are potential pitfalls out there. On every schedule, there’s a game that can slip you up. One minute you’re favored, the next you’re holding on for dear life.
So which games will fit that mold in 2015? What under-the-radar contest could put each SEC program on its back?
Today we’ll look at what could be that game for each team in the West. We’ll follow back tomorrow with the East.
Alabama: at Texas A&M, Oct. 17
Talk about a change of pace. After playing Arkansas in Tuscaloosa, Alabama goes on the road to Texas A&M. Adjusting the scheme so wildly from ground-and-pound one week to fun-and-gun the next will be tricky for coach Nick Saban and his staff. And given Alabama’s recent struggles in the secondary, it’s an even more difficult task. If it turns into a high-scoring affair in the newly renovated Kyle Field, the Tide could be at risk of an upset.
Arkansas: vs. Texas Tech (in Arlington, Texas), Sept. 26
OK, so Arkansas absolutely obliterated Texas Tech on the road last season. The 49-28 win not only sent the message that the Razorbacks were on their way up the food chain, but it also said that their physical style of play could best a prolific passing offense like the Red Raiders. But that was only one game. The biggest concern for Arkansas this year is its defense. With Darius Philon, Trey Flowers and Martrell Spright gone, stopping the Red Raiders' Air Raid might prove troublesome. With so much hype around Arkansas this offseason and a couple of easy opening opponents (Texas-El Paso, Toledo), there might be something of an inflated sense of ego to deal with, too.
Auburn: at LSU, Sept. 19
Assuming another QB doesn’t transfer in or Brandon Harris doesn’t morph into the next Peyton Manning overnight, it’s probably going to be another season of struggling to score points for the Tigers. It’s a big reason why they’ll likely begin the season ranked somewhere in the bottom half of the top 25, while Auburn and its loaded offense are a safe bet to be in the top 5. But there’s history here. Auburn hasn’t won in Death Valley since 1999. And while Will Muschamp should improve the Tigers’ defense, it might not be enough to keep Leonard Fournette from running over his suspect front seven.
LSU: at South Carolina, Oct. 10
On paper, this is a gimme for LSU. The Tigers may not score a lot of points, but the Gamecocks couldn’t stop anyone last season. And if LSU’s QB situation is bad, at least they have options, while we don’t even know who will start under center for South Carolina with Dylan Thompson gone. But going to Columbia could be tricky. After playing Syracuse and Eastern Michigan, will LSU be ready? Might they look ahead to Florida the following week? Besides, LSU has beaten South Carolina five times in a row. Something has to give, right?
Mississippi State: vs. Kentucky, Oct. 24
Ah, the beloved trap game. Mississippi State will have played seven straight before Kentucky comes to town. And what's more, the previous two games will have come against non-Power 5 opponents Troy and Louisiana Tech, meaning the Bulldogs might be playing down to their competition. So keep the Oct. 24 date with Kentucky circled on the calendar, State fans. The Wildcats gave you all you could handle last season when the defense coughed up 504 total yards and 31 points. With new coordinator Shannon Dawson, these Cats could be even more prolific.
Ole Miss: at Florida, Oct. 3
Don't look now, but Ole Miss has something of a problem traveling. Over the past three seasons, the Rebs are .500 (9-9) away from Oxford, as opposed to 15-6 at home. So while Florida might be rebuilding and Ole Miss might be aiming for a spot in the playoff, don't jot this down as an easy win. The Swamp, after all, is one of the toughest opposing stadiums to play in in the SEC. Facing a first-year starter at QB, Florida's prolific defense will be chomping at the bit.
Texas A&M: vs. Arizona State (in Houston), Sept. 5
Sorry, Texas A&M, but those cushy nonconference games against Ball State and Nevada don't come until Weeks 2 and 3, respectively. So, Kyle Allen -- or Kyler Murray, for that matter -- better mature in a hurry at QB. And John Chavis, who has his hands full with that mess of a defense, better hope the learning curve isn't too protracted there, either. Because unfortunately for these young Aggies, there's no time to waste. Arizona State, which returns all but two starters on defense, isn't going to wait for them to be ready. For better or worse, what happens in Houston could set the tone for the rest of the season. Will A&M be ready?