Ole Miss could be the fly in the ointment in the SEC this fall
Upsets. Every college football fan fears them, but few teams avoid them.
Nothing ruins a Saturday in the fall quite like one’s favorite team falling victim to a team that it was expected to beat. Though the SEC has its clear-cut preseason favorites in Alabama and Georgia, there are more than a few teams in the league capable of making some noise during any given week.
Last season's edition of this exercise resulted in an impressive 6-of-11 success rate in predicting upsets involving SEC teams. While that level of expert forecasting seems tough to match, it's not going to keep us from putting some of the conference's teams on upset watch as the regular season approaches.
We’re not guaranteeing anything (so don’t bet the mortgage on it), but here are 10 games that you may want to circle on the calendar as potential upsets in 2018:
10. Ole Miss over South Carolina, Nov. 3
South Carolina is a trendy pick to make some noise in the SEC East this season, but it could be an ill-timed trip to Oxford that causes the Gamecocks to stumble as they prepare for a November push. The Rebels, who can score with anyone in the league, will be fully rested after an Oct. 27 bye week. The Gamecocks, meanwhile, will be coming off a conference game against Tennessee and have their sights on what could be a pivotal trip to Florida the following week. Don’t call it a trap game, but it does smell like a potential upset.
9. Vanderbilt over Arkansas, Oct. 27
Vanderbilt has beaten Arkansas just twice in the limited history of this cross-divisional SEC matchup, but each time it was accomplished on the road. Derek Mason desperately needs a bowl appearance in Year 5 of his tenure, and it’s going to require stealing a conference game or two to get there. Arkansas, which is breaking in a new coach and coming off a 1-7 SEC campaign, seems as good of a target as any for Mason’s Commodores to knock off in league play. The Hogs, which likely will be coming off a loss to Alabama the week prior, will be favored, but will they actually be the better team this season?
8. Missouri over Purdue, Sept. 15
Want to mix some redemption with an upset? Here’s one that would be particularly satisfying for Tigers fans who suffered through an embarrassing 35-3 home loss to Purdue at Faurot Field last season. Tigers quarterback Drew Lock will have a chance to right a wrong in the return trip to Indiana in this home-and-home series between the SEC and Big Ten programs. Lock threw for a season-worst 133 yards and two interceptions last time around against the Boilermakers.
7. Middle Tennessee over Kentucky, Nov. 17
The Blue Raiders, which feature a talented senior quarterback in Brent Stockstill, play three games against SEC opponents this season (at Vanderbilt, at Georgia and at Kentucky). It seems reasonable to believe that they’ll have a chance to pull off the upset in at least one of them. The popular pick may be the season-opener at Vanderbilt, but Derek Mason has proven his ability to beat Middle Tennessee with wins during the last three seasons. Instead, we’re going to put the upset alert on a Wildcats team that play the Blue Raiders in between November rivalry road trips to Tennessee (Nov. 10) and Louisville (Nov. 24).
6. Ole Miss over Mississippi State, Nov. 22
Matt Luke likely secured the full-time head coaching gig at Ole Miss thanks to his upset win at Mississippi State last season, and it’s not outlandish to think the Rebels could win the Egg Bowl again at home in 2018. The Rebels have won three of the last four in this series, but the program is likely to again be considered an underdog thanks to NCAA sanctions and a highly-touted Bulldogs squad.
5. Florida over Florida State, Nov. 24
The Gators have been miserable in one of their most important games of the season for the last eight seasons, losing five consecutive games and seven of the last eight against the hated Seminoles. New Florida head coach Dan Mullen should see this season-ending game as an opportunity to turn the tide in the Sunshine Showdown series, which could provide to be an important recruiting pitch in one of the most talent-rich states in the nation. The Seminoles find themselves in transition as well, with new head coach Willie Taggart taking over for Jimbo Fisher. Even when Jim McElwain was winning SEC East titles for the Gators (2015-16), he wasn’t coming close to beating the Seminoles (lost 27-2 in 2015 and 31-13 in '16).
4. Mississippi State over Auburn, Oct. 6
It’s no secret that Dan Mullen left the cupboard full in Starkville for new Bulldogs head coach Joe Moorhead. In fact, the talent coming back alongside senior quarterback Nick Fitzgerald has some Mississippi State fans dreaming of scenarios that lead to an SEC West title. While we’re not necessarily ready to take things that far, the potential is there for the Bulldogs to win any game on the schedule.
3. South Carolina over Georgia, Sept. 8
This Week 2 matchup at Williams-Brice Stadium will be the most anticipated South Carolina football game since Steve Spurrier called it quits. Will Muschamp’s team, which won nine games last season, knows that the SEC East title likely depends on a victory against the defending conference champions. The Gamecocks don’t have the depth of quality athlete that Georgia enjoys, but they have enough top-line talent to entertain the idea of pulling off the upset at home.
2. LSU over Georgia, Oct. 13
Let’s take another swipe at the defending SEC champions. Georgia will be cruising into a bye week after very winnable home conference games against Tennessee and Vanderbilt. LSU has slipped at home in recent seasons (see: Troy, 2017), but Tiger Stadium is still one of the most feared venues in the country. To say things have changed might be putting it lightly, but it is worth noting that Georgia lost in its last visit to Baton Rouge back in 2009.
1. Texas A&M over Clemson, Sept. 8
Time to dream big at the No. 1 spot, right? This Week 2 tilt is a sneaky-good pick for one of the most surprising upsets of the season. Kevin Sumlin recruited well at Texas A&M, leaving new coach Jimbo Fisher plenty of talent for a quick ascension in College Station. Fisher went 4-4 against Dabo Swinney’s Clemson program while at Florida State, so give him home-field advantage at Kyle Field and the element of surprise with a new roster and he may be able to take down the defending ACC champions.
-- Written by Nick Cole, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has spent the previous seven years covering SEC football for SEC Country, Saturday Down South and The Tennessean. Follow him on Twitter @NickColeSports.