Florida: Last year’s nightmare ends with three straight get well games, non-conference jobs against Idaho and Eastern Michigan and the first SEC game against Kentucky. By the time the Gators travel to Alabama in week four, they’ll have the no-huddle refined enough to give the Crimson Tide all it can handle at Bryant-Denny. PREDICTION: Florida starts the season 3-1 but makes Nick Saban sweat profusely in week four.
Georgia: It is entirely possible that Georgia goes 0-2 right out of the chute. The Bulldogs face Clemson in the season opener then after a bye week travel to Columbia to face the Gamecocks. The first month ends with homers with Troy and Tennessee. If game one were at Clemson, it would be a no-brainer prediction to call this one for the Tigers. It will be close in Athens. As for the game with South Carolina, Stevie Wonder isn’t going to lose to Georgia. Not this year. PREDICTION: Georgia starts 0-2 before evening up the record.
Kentucky: The Wildcats are confident they will have 100% improvement this year. That means four wins after last year’s 2-10. They’ll get half the wins in the first two weeks at home against UT-Martin and Ohio U, then reality sets in. Kentucky goes to Gainesville in weeks three. The Wildcats haven’t beaten the Gators since 1986 and the last time they won in Gainesville was 1979. Month one ends with Vanderbilt in Lexington. PREDICTION: A 2-2 start. They will be scalping Midnight Madness tickets by halftime of the Vandy game.
Missouri: There are two trouble spots on the first month schedule. The Tigers should have no problems beating South Dakota State and Toledo (away) those first two weeks, but then UCF comes to Columbia and the Knights aren’t going to be afraid. If Missouri isn’t beaten up after that UCF game, the Tigers should beat Indiana but that will be close no matter what. The roadie to South Carolina has disaster written all over it. PREDICTION: The Tigers start the season 3-2 with losses to UCF and South Carolina.
South Carolina: There isn’t a single cupcake on the schedule for the Gamecocks, who open with three straight homers – Texas A&M, East Carolina and Georgia – before a roadie with Vandy and a homer with Missouri. Those first two games will do a good job of preparing the Gamecocks for the Georgia offense. As for the South Carolina offense, it’s going to be lights out. PREDICTION: South Carolina starts the season 5-0 and will start October ranked in the top six nationally.
Tennessee: Butch Jones says the Vols go into 2014 with momentum. Okay, if that’s what you want to call a one-game winning streak and that win was Kentucky. Tennessee doesn’t return a single starter on either the offensive or defensive line which means month one could be very cruel. The Vols are very capable of losing to both Utah State and Arkansas State. Then they travel to Oklahoma and after a bye week, to Georgia. PREDICTION: The Vols start the season 2-2 but 1-3 or 0-4 is entirely possible.
Vanderbilt: Derek Mason has Vanderbilt thinking SEC championship. We all can dream, can’t we? The Commodores do have a chance to emerge from month one with half the wins they’ll need to get to a bowl game. They start the season with four straight home games – Temple, Ole Miss, UMass and South Carolina – before a trip to Kentucky to wind up the first month. The Temple, UMass and Kentucky games should go in the win column. If stars and planets align the Dores could knock off Ole Miss in week two. PREDICTION: Vandy starts the season 3-2 and has fans rushing to make reservations for a bowl trip to Birmingham.
Alabama: The Crimson Tide opens up with West Virginia in Atlanta, then follows that up with home games against Florida Atlantic, Southern Miss and Florida on successive weeks. That figures to be three blowout wins in which Jacob Coker can get comfy in the offense before the Gators come to town. PREDICTION: Alabama goes 4-0, but goes white knuckles into the fourth quarter against the Gators.
Arkansas: The season will not start on a happy note. The Razorbacks go to Auburn where they will be 15-20 point underdogs before coming home for a cupcake win over Nicholls State. Then they go to Texas Tech before finishing September with homers against Northern Illinois and Texas A&M. The only sure thing on the first month schedule is Nicholls State. PREDICTION: Arkansas starts the season 2-3, 0-2 in the SEC for what is going to be another very long, very painful season in Fayette-Nam.
Auburn: The Tigers open up with Arkansas and San Jose State at home followed by an open date, a roadie to Kansas State and homecoming against Louisiana Tech on September 27. The Arkansas game will be a challenge if quarterback Nick Marshall is suspended. The K-State road trip could be interesting because the Wildcats are awfully tough at home. PREDICTION: Auburn goes 4-0 but has a close call with K-State.
LSU: The Tigers will be challenged right off the bat with Wisconsin in the season opener but the game is in Houston and it will seem like a homer. The rest of the month features four straight home games: Sam Houston State, Louisiana-Monroe, Mississippi State and New Mexico State. Circle that first SEC game with Mississippi State. If the Bulldogs are for real, we’ll know on September 20. PREDICTION: LSU starts the season 5-0, but has a chance to start out the SEC slate 0-1.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs won’t be challenged those first three weeks with home games with Southern Miss and UAB and a road trip to Mobile to face South Alabama. Figure three wins, each by 15 or more points. Then comes the first SEC game and it’s on the road in Baton Rouge. Mississippi State is capable of winning that game. If it were in Starkville, you might be thinking upset. It’s in Death Valley. PREDICTION: A 3-1 start for the Bulldogs, but if they find a way to win in Baton Rouge they could be on their way to a Cinderella season.
Ole Miss: The Rebels will find out in a hurry if they are contenders or pretenders. They face Boise State in Atlanta, travel to Vanderbilt and then face Louisiana-Lafayette, which isn’t scared of anybody at home on September 13. Following a bye week, the Rebels close out September with a home game against Memphis. Ole Miss could just as easily start 0-3 as 3-0. That game in Nashville against Vanderbilt is going to be very tough. PREDICTION: Ole Miss ends month one 4-0 but they’ll go white knuckles in week two against Vanderbilt.
Texas A&M: The good news for the Aggies is nearly everybody is back on defense. That’s also the bad news and never will it be more apparent than the season opener on August 28 in Columbia against South Carolina. Steve Spurrier will think this is shooting fish in a barrel. The next three are cupcake city: Lamar and Rice at home with a roadie to SMU. September closes out with a visit by Arkansas. PREDICTION: The Aggies will start the season 4-1 but we won’t know until October if they are any good.
Up in Fayette-Nam, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, whose Razorbacks went 0-8 in the SEC and finished the season on a nine-game losing streak, said, “I came here to win an SEC championship and that hasn’t wavered and it will never waver. I know in my fifth year at Wisconsin we won our first championship of three in a row. I’m following the same model with a little adaptation for the SEC.” It’s wonderful to have a championship model that works against the likes of Purdue, Iowa, Northwestern, Indiana and the like. However, this is the SEC and Arkansas plays in the same division with Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Ole Miss. Maybe Bielema doesn’t know that he has to play Nick Saban every year.
Quite a few of the national college football experts seem to think that the gap between the SEC and the rest of the country is closing. Maybe nowhere is that more likely than the Pac-12 where 10 starting quarterbacks return including Marcus Mariota of Oregon, who a lot of experts think can challenge last year’s Heisman winner Jameis Winston for college football’s highest honor this year. The Pac-12 is coming off a banner year in which the league won 31 non-conference games last year and went 6-3 in bowl games including . Matt Hayes of Sporting News has six Pac-12 teams in his preseason top 25: Oregon #2, Stanford #6, UCLA #8, Arizona State #13, USC #16 and Washington #22. In the SEC, Hayes has eight teams: Alabama #4, Auburn #5, South Carolina #10, LSU #11, Georgia #15, Texas A&M #18, Ole Miss #20 and Florida #22. The SEC returns only four full time starting quarterbacks and three part-timers.
From Bielema, who got in a jab at Alabama, which got a waiver to hold a four-day camp during and NCAA-mandated dead period (June 30-July 14): “For the first time in history they gave us a two-week dead period. I don’t know about you guys but it really wasn’t dead. Alabama got a waiver. They got to have a camp but everybody else had to abide by the rules and for 14 days we couldn’t have anybody on campus.”
Bielema on cheating in the SEC: “It’s not like it was when Lane Kiffin basically said, ‘I’m gonna do some things, get caught, but it’s worth the exposure.” (Tennessee was reprimanded for 12 mostly minor recruiting violations for the one year Kiffin was head coach in Knoxville)
Auburn tight end C.J. Uzomah about head coach Gus Malzahn and how far ahead of the defenses his offense is: “He [Malzahn] definitely has enough tricks in his bag to whwere nobody should be able to adjust for 50 years.”
Missouri defensive end Markus Golden on Auburn’s offense: “It won’t be as easy as it was for them last year.”
West Virginia wide receiver Kevin White on the Mountaineers season opening game with Alabama: “We know they lost to Oklahoma. We’ve seen how they lost. We watched film a lot. We know they’re going to come at us pretty strong but we’re looking forward to it.”
West Virginia cornerback Daryl Worley on playing Alabama in the opener, “Honestly, we wouldn’t rather be playing anyone else.”
The University of North Carolina, which is under NCAA investigation for giving out phony grades to athletes in the past, has invited all former athletes to return to Chapel Hill to complete their degrees. That’s a good beginning but still doesn’t erase the stench ... Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall paid $1,100 in fines for marijuana possession so there will be no future court date. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn still hasn’t decided on punishment. If he gets a one-game suspension does Malzahn suspend for game one against Arkansas, an SEC opponent, or game two against San Jose State from the Mountain West? ... Two University of Texas wide receivers were arrested and charged with sexual assault ... Former Texas coach Mack Brown will be a studio analyst this fall for ABC ... The Cleveland Cadavers signed Andrew Wiggins. That means they can’t trade him for 30 days, but bet the ranch that he’s going to be traded to the T-Wolves in a package for Kevin Love ... Tony Romo predicts the best is yet to come. Does that mean he’ll play well and win a big game?
Which SEC team has the toughest schedule to start the season?
Steve Winwood’s career as a blue-eyed soul crooner got off to a rousing start when he was the front man for The Spencer Davis Group. He wrote the band’s 1966 hit “Gimme Some Lovin” which is one of the great and enduring songs of the 1960s. Winwood was 17 when he wrote the song which has been featured in more than 25 movies and numerous commercials. The song enjoyed a revival in 1980 when it was performed by The Blues Brothers.