Jake Bentley and South Carolina could pull off a surprise or two this fall
The college football season is quickly approaching, which means optimism for everyone’s favorite team is high. But nothing deflates a team or a fan of a particular team quicker than an unexpected loss, particularly if it’s in a game that team was expected to win. Those unfortunate setbacks are also called upsets.
And it’s not just when a Group of 5 team gets the best of a Power 5 team either. Upsets can come in many shapes and sizes, but they all produce the same results – a loss to go along with the sting felt by that team and their fans.
Upsets also are tricky to predict, but you can count on one thing – they will happen. With that in mind, here are 10 potential upsets to keep an eye on in the SEC this fall. This doesn’t mean these all will happen, but at least you’ve been warned should the unexpected occur.
Honorable Mentions (in chronological order):
California over Ole Miss, Sept. 16
South Carolina over Tennessee, Oct. 14
South Carolina over Arkansas, Oct. 7
Missouri over Florida, Nov. 4
Georgia Tech over Georgia, Nov. 25
10. Middle Tennessee over Vanderbilt, Sept. 2
The Commodores beat the Blue Raiders handily 47-23 last season. But that game was in Nashville and actually snapped a three-game losing streak to Middle Tennessee. The Brent Stockstill-Richie James combination figures to challenge Vanderbilt’s secondary right out of the gates and while the Commodores have a clear edge at running back with Ralph Webb, it remains to be seen if Kyle Shurmur and his receivers can keep up with the Blue Raiders should the game develop into a back-and-forth affair. Whatever transpires, count on an electric atmosphere in Floyd Stadium in Murfreesboro.
9. Vanderbilt over Kansas State, Sept. 16
The Wildcats have been to seven straight bowl games and are known to be a tough out, at home or on the road, under legendary head coach Bill Snyder. The Commodores finally broke through and went bowling in Derek Mason’s third year. But Vanderbilt and Kansas State are similar in many respects and the Commodores’ Ralph Webb should find running room against the Wildcats’ rebuilt defense. Vanderbilt’s defense also has the horses to slow down Kansas State dual-threat quarterback Jesse Ertz and the Wildcats’ run-heavy offense. A big win at home would allow the Commodores to build some momentum heading into SEC play, which starts with Alabama, Florida (road) and Georgia.
8. Missouri over Florida, Nov. 4
The Gators are the two-time defending SEC East champions, while the Tigers have looked nothing like the team that accomplished the same feat in 2013-14. But Florida is replacing a ton of talent and experience on defense while Missouri brings back all but one starter on offense. The Tigers’ defense is still a weak spot, but the combination of QB Drew Lock, RB Damarea Crockett and WR J’Mon Moore could be too much for the Gators to handle in Memorial Stadium. This also has “trap game” written all over it for Florida since it falls between the showdown with Georgia in Jacksonville and a trip to Columbia to face South Carolina (see below).
7. Kentucky over Tennessee, Oct. 28
The Volunteers have had the number of their SEC East rival to the north riding a five-game winning streak against the Wildcats. Last season’s was an entertaining 49-36 Tennessee victory in Knoxville. This time, not only does Kentucky have the edge in experience (16 starters returning vs. 11 for Tennessee), the Wildcats’ offense also has the pieces to make things really tough for a Vols defense that crumbled over the latter part of 2016. It doesn’t hurt UK’s chances that Tennessee will have just played Alabama in Tuscaloosa either. A big game from running back Benny Snell Jr. along some timely plays in the passing game would allow a raucous Commonwealth Stadium to leave happy, at least those clad in blue and white.
6. Georgia Tech over Tennessee, Sept. 4
This game is at brand-new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but it’s still in Atlanta. Does that mean it’s a de facto home game for the Yellow Jackets? Possibly, but Volunteers fans have always traveled well and it’s not exactly a long trip for a large part of the Tennessee fan base. Attendance distribution aside, Georgia Tech returns 17 starters and always is able to run the ball. Tennessee was bad against the run last season will be breaking in three new starters up front and five total on defense. A Yellow Jackets victory also would make Volunteers head coach Butch Jones’ job security the hot topic on Rocky Top.
5. South Carolina over NC State, Sept. 2
The Wolfpack blasted Vanderbilt 41-17 in the Independence Bowl to close out last season and return 16 starters, including one of the best defensive lines in the nation. However, the Gamecocks are moving in the right direction under second-year head coach Will Muschamp and have 10 starters back on offense. South Carolina’s offensive line will have to hold up, but the key for this one is the return of linebacker Skai Moore because it will take a balanced effort for the Gamecocks to leave Charlotte 1-0.
4. Kentucky over Louisville, Nov. 25
The Cardinals have reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson back but are breaking in quite a few new pieces around him. The Wildcats have already shown they can beat their in-state rivals, stunning Louisville on its home turf, 41-38, last season thanks to four turnovers by Jackson. This one is in Lexington so don't be surprised if it's Kentucky’s offense, not Jackson, that ends up stealing the show on Thanksgiving weekend.
3. Ole Miss over LSU, Oct. 21
With everything that has already transpired, it is shaping up to be a long, and potentially painful, season for the Rebels. But pride can be a powerful motivator and it’s not like Ole Miss is devoid of talent. LSU comes to Oxford after hosting Auburn and with Alabama looming. Call it looking ahead or the law of averages or whatever but quarterback Shea Patterson and the Rebels find a way to get the job done against the Tigers to give the home crowd something to cheer about. it also should be pointed out that LSU has lost in each of its last two trips to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
2. South Carolina over Florida, Nov. 11
The Gators are the two-time defending SEC East champions and beat the Gamecocks 20-7 last year. But South Carolina has the experience edge, especially at quarterback, and appears to have more reliable playmakers on defense. Most importantly, this game is in Columbia and not The Swamp. This not only provides Muschamp with an opportunity to exact a measure of payback against his former team, but it also allows the Gamecocks the chance to make a late statement and possibly add some intrigue to the SEC East race in the process.
1. Mississippi State over Alabama, Nov. 11
Auburn over Alabama, Nov. 25
While Auburn beating Alabama would not be a major upset on the surface, especially with the game being on The Plains, any time the Crimson Tide lose it’s considered a big deal. The Iron Bowl notwithstanding, don’t sleep on the matchup with Mississippi State just two weeks prior. Alabama will have just played LSU while the Bulldogs figure to have a much easier lead-in against UMass. Dual-threat quarterbacks have given Nick Saban’s defense fits in recent seasons (see Deshaun Watson), and Mississippi State has one of the best in the nation in Nick Fitzgerald. I’m not saying Fitzgerald is in the same class as Watson or even Johnny Manziel, but could the Bulldogs' junior signal-caller channel Johnny Football for this one game? This much is clear — a November loss by the Tide would not only send shockwaves through the SEC but the entire FBS ranks as well.