I’m always being asked to predict division winners, order of finish and even upsets months before the season begins.
Without looking too far ahead in 2010, why not take a look at who in the SEC has the greatest chance of being tripped up in the opener? I’ll go a step further and rank the teams most likely all the way down to those least likely to get beat that opening weekend.
Here’s a disclaimer: The SEC is the best in the country when it comes to scheduling openers against teams who are woefully overmatched.
Florida, for example, has won its past three openers (over Charleston Southern, Hawaii and Western Kentucky) by a combined score of 167-16. In fact, the last time the Gators played an opener that was closer than 18 points was 1997 when they beat Southern Miss 21-6.
Anyway, here goes:
1. LSU vs. North Carolina, Sept. 4 (Atlanta): A critical game for the Tigers and a tough one, too. The Tar Heels are talented, fast and good on defense, especially up front. LSU will need to play a lot better offensively than it did most of last season to keep from starting out 0-1.
2. Northwestern at Vanderbilt, Sept. 4: The Wildcats return eight starters on offense and some key playmakers on defense from a team that won eight games a year ago. Until proven otherwise, the Commodores are going to be at a disadvantage offensively in just about every game they play.
3. Kentucky at Louisville, Sept. 4: There was a time last decade when Louisville owned this series, but Kentucky has won the past three. Charlie Strong will be looking to make a big first impression at home.
4. Southern Miss at South Carolina, Sept. 2: The game’s on Thursday night in Columbia, and that will help. But Southern Miss is always a dangerous team and doesn’t scare easily against SEC teams.
5. Tennessee-Martin at Tennessee, Sept. 4: Tennessee-Martin will throw a fast and aggressive front seven against the Vols’ first-year quarterbacks and their brand new offensive line.
6. Jacksonville State at Ole Miss, Sept. 4: Jacksonville State is coming off back-to-back, eight-win seasons and posted the best record in the OVC last season.
7. Memphis at Mississippi State, Sept. 4: Talk about derailing some serious momentum if the Bulldogs drop this one. Dan Mullen has this program flying high, but the Tigers do have some talented athletes.
8. Arkansas State at Auburn, Sept. 4: Arkansas State’s mascot is pretty cool … the Red Wolves. But even in packs, they won’t have much chance against the Tigers.
9. Louisiana-Lafayette at Georgia, Sept. 4: Louisiana-Lafayette did beat Kansas State, but Georgia ain’t Kansas State.
10. Tennessee Tech at Arkansas, Sept. 4: The only drama in this one will be whether the Hogs can ring up 60 points.
11. Miami (Ohio) at Florida, Sept. 4: Give the Gators credit. They’re stepping up their level of competition from a year ago. Maybe they’ll struggle to win this one by 40.
12. San Jose State at Alabama, Sept. 4: There’s a better chance of Nick Saban hitting golf balls off his new statue at the Walk of Champions during pregame than the Crimson Tide losing this game.