College football season seemed to take too long to get here, but what year is that not the case? We must always remember to savor the good times, for the season will be over as quickly as it arrived.
Before you slather yourself in sunscreen and football for the next five glorious days this Labor Day weekend, be sure to check out this week’s predictions. Then come back every week during the 2015 season for SEC Football Predictions for each conference game.
Merry Christmas Happy Football Season, everyone.
All Times Eastern | Utilizing AP Rankings until the College Football Playoff Selection Committee Rankings are released in October.
SEC Football Predictions | Week 1
Thursday, September 3, 2015
South Carolina (0-0, 0-0 SEC) vs. North Carolina (0-0)
6:00 PM ET | SEC Network | Charlotte
Rejuvenated Gamecocks?: Steve Spurrier claims his 2015 Gamecocks are rejuvenated and ready to erase a very disappointing 2014 season. A normally reliable, if not great, South Carolina defense gave up two-touchdown leads in the fourth quarter in losses to Missouri (20-21), Tennessee (42-45 OT) and Kentucky (38-45). If that wasn’t bad enough, the defense allowed 35 or more points in five of the team’s six losses. In wins over Georgia and Vanderbilt, the Gamecocks allowed 35 and 34 points, respectively.
The good news for the rejuvenation hope is South Carolina had two-touchdown leads to blow in those close games they lost to Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky. Any improvement from the defense in 2015 could add three checks to the win column if the offense can put up 32.6 points (42nd nationally) to go along with 443.4 yards per game (35th nationally) like it did in 2014.
South Carolina has proven they can look downright unimpressive in wins on the opening Thursday night of the season, but Texas A&M showed us in 2014 that the Gamecocks can look even worse in opening Thursday night losses. The Carolina to the North will be improved from 2014, but not enough to win. Even if it is an ugly win for Spurrier’s Carolina.
PREDICTION: South Carolina 21, North Carolina 13
Western Kentucky (0-0) at Vanderbilt (0-0, 0-0 SEC)
8:00 PM ET | SEC Network
Point-Counterpoint: Western Kentucky can score. The question will be can Vanderbilt keep up? Yes, this is a Conference USA team against a team from the SEC, but Vanderbilt has proven to be very lackluster since the departure of James Franklin and his magic win-boosting ego.
The Hilltoppers averaged 44.9 points per game on offense in 2014, but allowed just shy of 40 points per game on defense. The team best able to strengthen a glaring weakness in the offseason will win this Thursday night season-opener.
While the Hilltoppers were great on offense, the Commodores were abysmal, averaging a mere 17.4 points per game. The defense allowed 33 points per game in 2014, but defensive numbers in 2014 were like a pitcher’s ERA in baseball during the live-ball (read: steroid) era. A number that appears high compared to historical data is not as bad as it actually looks. Granted, Vanderbilt’s defense really didn’t do anything spectacular to garner a “Vandy would have won if the offense would have done XYZ,” but it is head coach Derek Mason’s calling card.
Mason shut down Oregon two years in a row as the defensive coordinator at Stanford before being hired by Vanderbilt. Mason looked lost much of the season on the sideline as a head coach in 2014. Mason adds defensive coordinator on top of his head coaching duties in 2015 and that will be too much to handle for every game including this one.
Brandon Doughty will begin right where he left off in 2014 and throw for a ton of yards against the Commodores. Derek Mason is a good guy, but the fans on West End in Nashville will be talking about who the next coach will be in 2016 by halftime.
PREDICTION: Western Kentucky 55, Vanderbilt 31
Saturday, September 5, 2015
ULM (0-0) at #9 Georgia (0-0, 0-0 SEC)
Noon ET | SEC Network
Remember that time in Arkansas? There was that time back in 2012 when Arkansas’ season was over before it even began. This was Louisiana-Monroe’s first game of the season and No. 8 Arkansas’ second. Everyone in Fayetteville believed — along with everyone within 1,000 miles of planet earth — this would be a warmup for the Hogs before their home game against Alabama next weekend.
CBS selected the Alabama and Arkansas game to be its opener for the September 15 game, choosing it over Tennessee-Florida. It was the first time since the early 1990s that CBS would not cover the Gators and Vols. Alabama went on to win 52-0 over the Hogs the next week and the season was on its way to a disaster.
That’s a long way of saying, Georgia will still win.
PREDICTION: Georgia 34, ULM 14
UT Martin (0-0) at #17 Ole Miss (0-0, 0-0 SEC)
Noon ET | SEC Network
The sequel: Can the sequel to 2014’s nearly great season be even greater? This opening game won’t do much in deciding whether it will or not, but we will get to catch glimpses of whether the Rebels are a team prepared to take the next step to becoming a perennial force in the SEC West or fall back to the same old 7-5 Ole Miss everyone is accustomed to watching.
Most years it has been more bark than bite out of Oxford, but Hugh Freeze has this team in unfamiliar territory. How they handle the success and respect of the nation remains to be seen.
Unless something goes terribly wrong, Rebels fans will have the luxury of being 1-0 while the college football world waits to find out the identity of this season’s edition of Ole Miss Rebels football.
PREDICTION: Ole Miss 52, UT Martin 7
UTEP (0-0) at #18 Arkansas (0-0, 0-0 SEC)
3:30 PM ET | ESPNU
Run, stop the run: Not only was Arkansas good at running the ball in 2014, the defense did their part to stop the competition from running the ball as well. They shutout LSU and Ole Miss in back-to-back weeks and held Alabama to 14 points in a narrow loss to the Tide.
Brent Bielema believes this could be his best defensive line since joining Arkansas in 2013. That could spell trouble in the West for favorites like Alabama and Auburn.
As a sidebar, nearly every team in the West could make a strong argument as to why they would win the East. The same can not be said for any team out of the East.
With Alex Collins being the primary back carrying the ball in 2015, the numbers will could be gaudy. Don’t be shocked if Collins hits 300 yards in this one.
PREDICTION: Arkansas 37, UTEP 10
Louisville (0-0) vs. #6 Auburn (0-0, 0-0 SEC)
3:30 PM ET | CBS| Atlanta
Rare Verne and Gary Labor Day Weekend sighting: US Open, Gary and Verne open the season where they closed it in 2014 and will end it in December of 2015. Atlanta. Usually the third Saturday to make debut, Not since 2004 AUBURN USC?
Petrino Bowl: This will be the opening game in year two of Petrino’s second rendition as Louisville’s head coach. In 2003 when Petrino was in his first stint at Louisville (most of which was spent taking interviews with other teams), Bobby was getting a tour of Auburn’s private jet the week before the Iron Bowl when word got out that Auburn’s brass was in Louisville and it wasn’t to hang out at Churchill Downs or visit Muhammad Ali’s old neighborhood.
Petrino went on to take Louisville to unprecedented success before heading off to Atlanta in 2007 for a hot dog and a coke before leaving for Arkansas while Tommy Tuberville and Auburn went on to an undefeated season the next year in 2004 before things went south pretty quickly in 2008.
Both teams are back to familiar posts contending for conference championships in 2015. A good performance on this national stage to open the season could open door for national contention for Louisville. For Auburn, an impressive win would confirm the college football world’s belief that Auburn is a team deserving of a top four spot at the end of the season.
Point, counterpoint: This game has the capability to not only be the most entertaining of the weekend, we may look back and see that it was the best and most dramatic game of the season. Auburn’s defense should be the difference, but the statistician may want to grab an extra intern to help keep up with this one.
PREDICTION: Auburn 51, Louisville 48 | Overtime
Southeast Missouri (0-0) at #24 Missouri (0-0, 0-0 SEC)
4:00 PM ET | SEC Network
Good news: Great news for Mizzou fans — no one considers the Tigers a serious contender for the East title. The back-to-back East champions should be excited because no one took them seriously the previous two years either. In fact, the nation frowned at Missouri as they played Alabama in the SEC Championship Game when Georgia appeared to be the better representative. Those who pay attention didn’t frown because teams that are good enough to play in the SEC Championship Game don’t give up 400 yards rushing to the worst Florida team to come out of Gainesville in two decades.
Week one will be boring for Missouri fans and they will be fine with that. The Indiana game was expected to be boring as well in 2014 and that didn’t turn out well. If Missouri lives up to everyone’s non-expectations, it won’t happen in this game.
PREDICTION: Missouri 52, SEMO 7
Bowling Green (0-0) vs. #25 Tennessee (0-0, 0-0 SEC)
4:00 PM ET | SEC Network | Nashville
Here we go again?: The biggest issue for the Vols in the first two years of the Butch Jones era has been depth. That should be remedied in 2015, but an injury or suspension here and there and Tennessee could find itself in familiar unwanted territory. The season is not off to a good start as far as said injury and suspension news goes with Pig Howard’s one-game suspension from an off-season issue that occurred months ago. The suspension is not the concern, it’s the injuries that are on already on verge of reaching “mounting” status.
The injuries and suspensions should not play a factor in the opener against the Falcons (college, not NFL) of Bowling Green (Ohio, not Kentucky). However, this will be a developing narrative throughout the season as Tennessee makes its best run at the SEC East championship in eight years.
PREDICTION: Tennessee 45, Bowling Green 17
Arizona State (0-0) vs. Texas A&M (0-0, 0-0 SEC)
7:00 PM ET | ESPN | Houston
Time to win for Sumlin: Talk about your games that could make or break your season before Labor Day. If you are Kevin Sumlin, you have a very impressive overall resume, but in the “What have you done for me lately?” section is very little info.
The Aggies are heading into their fourth season in the SEC. It hasn’t been all thorns, but it hasn’t been all roses either. Basically, everyone in College Station and around the SEC is watching to see what happens this season to see if Sumlin can win at A&M without a guy with the nickname Football at quarterback.
There has been plenty of good under Kevin Sumlin’s watch. He’s had a Heisman Trophy winner, beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa and Kyle Field is now the largest stadium in the conference (106,000). Two of those things happened in 2012 and the 2014 season turned ugly after opening the season with a huge win over South Carolina. One of those losses was a 52-0 dismantling to Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
With John Chavis jumping ship from Baton Rouge to become the new defensive coordinator, the Aggies defense should improve as the season goes on. Unfortunately, A&M doesn’t open with a cupcake and Sumlin is going to find out how quick you can go from a hot coach to the hot seat before the Aggies ever get out of Houston.
PREDICTION: Arizona State 30, Texas A&M 21
UL Lafayette (0-0) at Kentucky (0-0, 0-0 SEC)
7:00 PM ET | ESPNU
Sleeper in the East?: Kentucky is a team that could be a big surprise in the SEC East this season. History and common sense tell us that it won’t happen, but with the usual suspects in the East an injury or two away from falling from the ranks, it is not out of the question that Kentucky could still be in contention in late October or early November.
This game won’t matter either way… unless they lose. Which they won’t.
PREDICTION: Kentucky 44, UL Lafayette 21
McNeese State (0-0) at #14 LSU (0-0, 0-0 SEC)
7:30 PM ET | SEC Network Alt
What about LSU? The scariest thing about the 2015 LSU team is they are stacked at every position other than quarterback (which has been the weakness in the Les Miles era more seasons than not) and everyone is talking about every team in the West except the Bengal Tigers.
Les Miles has had one other weakness at LSU and that is high expectations (minus 2011). He is at his deadliest when sneaking up on the entire college football world and surprising everyone.
2015 may be the season of Miles. The question once again in Baton Rouge is at quarterback. Brandon Harris and Anthony Jennings will again split reps and LSU finds themselves with two quarterbacks for yet another season. Imagine what LSU’s record would be since 2008 if they had a solid quarterback under center. They could legitimately have had three or four conference (if not national) championships and Nick Saban’s tenure at Alabama would not be as decorated.
As we will see in more than one game on this weekend’s schedule, Saturday’s night game in Baton Rouge will do very little in unveiling the identity of the 2015 Tigers — unless McNeese State wins.
PREDICTION: LSU 35, McNeese St. 3
New Mexico State (0-0) at Florida (0-0, 0-0 SEC)
7:30 PM ET | SEC Network/Alternate
Another Saban disciple: When a former defensive coordinator under Nick Saban doesn’t work out as head coach (Will Muschamp), the best course of action is to hire a former offensive coordinator (Jim McElwain).
To be fair to first-year head coach Jim McElwain, this will not be his first head coaching job and the program he was leading went from very poor to respectable nearly overnight. McElwain was 22-16 in three years at Colorado State. Those numbers don’t look impressive until you know the Rams won no more than three games in the previous three seasons before he arrived, winning 10 in 2014 before taking the Gators job.
The 2015 season may not be the best in the record column in Gainesville, but seeing an identity on offense and continued respectable defenses will be important in developing a program resembling anything similar to the days of Steve Spurrier or Urban Meyer.
No one in Gainesville is expecting the second-coming of Spurrier or Meyer in this 2015 SEC football season, but it could be miserable for all in blue and orange if the fans sense this could be a second-coming of Ron Zook or Will Muschamp early in the season.
One game at a time is the mantra and McElwain can feel good seeing New Mexico State as this game’s opponent.
PREDICTION: Florida 34, New Mexico St. 10
#20 Wisconsin (0-0) vs. #3 Alabama (0-0, 0-0 SEC)
8:00 PM ET | ABC | Arlington
Drake. Kenyan Drake: This is who Lane Kiffin saw as the next Reggie Bush, and until the broken leg against Ole Miss, the numbers were proving it. (WHAT WERE HIS NUMBERS… BIG PLAYS… ETC)
Coker Most Hyped Backup In Alabama History? There’s been a ton of talk about redshirt junior Alec Morris having a great understanding of the offense while other, more talented, quarterbacks struggle to find consistency in the passing game.
If you’ve been keeping up with college football since 2009, you know that head coach Nick Saban likes the consistent guy who won’t get you beat. Jake Coker was a shoe-in last season just prior to Blake Sims breaking nearly every single season passing record in Tuscaloosa. Before Sims, Greg McElroy played two years before a more talented AJ McCarron was given full control of the offense in 2011 and even then he had to win an offseason battle that bled into the first game of the season.
Don’t be surprised at all to see Alec Morris as the full-time quarterback by the September 19th home game against Ole Miss. The battle between Coker and Morris will probably bleed into the first two games — the first of which is a big one versus Wisconsin in Dallas.
The run game and defense should be enough for the Tide in this one, but the quarterback talk from fans and experts will easily overshadow any positive Alabama takes away from this trip to Dallas.
PREDICTION: Alabama 31, Wisconsin 13
Mississippi State (0-0, 0-0 SEC) at Southern Miss (0-0)
10:00 PM ET | Fox Sports 1
Seriously? 10:00 PM Kickoff in the Contiguous 48: You would think Dan Mullen wouldn’t mind late kickoffs because he said he will not sleep for 365 days after last season’s Ole Miss loss, but apparently he’s a little miffed at the kickoff time that is as close to SNL as it is CBS’s 48 Hours on the television schedule. So much so, that he wants to petition the NCAA because “they outlawed practices past midnight.”
The NCAA calibrating the moral barometer to justify their actions? No way.
I know this is SEC Football Predictions, but let’s discuss Dan Mullen’s disgust at yet another contradiction by the moral police known as the NCAA. Honestly, who can blame him? I understand there are monetary advantages of having every game on television where some portion of the game isn’t overlapped by multiple other games. I also understand that the fan in the stands is becoming (or has already become) nothing more than an extension of television’s fourth wall.
Every decision made is about television numbers. What those at the top who get to count all this television money as it’s being deposited into their accounts fail to understand is no one likes watching a game with no one in the stands. There has at least a small bit of “Man, I wish I was there, but at least I can watch it on television” experience. If there is no spectacle being created around the event by fervor of the fans, then the broadcast is nothing more than a talk show with guys running around on a field.
Back to football.
QuarterDak: One of the few returning starting quarterbacks in the SEC in 2015 is Tim Tebow clone, Dak Prescott. With that being said, that is all that needs to be said. Dak Prescott will be a force for the Bulldogs again and his value to the team might be as high as four victories. This will be one of those victories as the game is tight the entire night.
PREDICTION: Mississippi State 41, Southern Miss 37.
Eric Taylor is a contributor to FBSchedules.com. Follow him on Twitter @EricFromSpfld or contact him via email at EricFromSpringfield–at– gmail–dot– com.