COLUMN: No one is ever really right when delivering preseason predictions. Yet I find myself salivating annually for the arrival of Phil Steele’s guide, which is nothing more than really educated guesses.
I’ve been asked a lot about Ole Miss and particular other programs and individual games this year. So, using one of those “helmet schedules” you can find online, I went game by game and predicted every win and loss on the SEC slate this season.
Here’s my prediction. Feel free to clip and save this for ridicule in, say, about eight weeks.
1. Alabama 12-0 (8-0) National Title Game
2. Ole Miss 8-4 (5-3) Music City Bowl
3. LSU 9-3 (5-3) Capital One Bowl
4. Texas A&M 9-3 (5-3) Cotton Bowl
5. Mississippi State 6-6 (3-5) Liberty Bowl
6. Auburn 6-6 (2-6) Compass Bowl
7. Arkansas 5-7 (2-6)
1. South Carolina 11-1 (7-1) Sugar Bowl
2. Vanderbilt 9-3 (5-3) Gator Bowl
3. Georgia 8-4 (5-3) Peach Bowl
4. Florida 7-5 (5-3) Outback Bowl
5. Missouri 5-7 (2-6)
6. Tennessee 5-7 (2-6)
7. Kentucky 2-10 (0-8)
SEC Title: Alabama escapes South Carolina 24-22 to go to the National Title Game — and lose to either Ohio State or Stanford in an upset that ends the conference’s title run — and the BCS itself.
Ole Miss: I’m predicting the Rebels will lose to four teams: Vanderbilt, Texas, Alabama and… Arkansas (more on that later). This means I’m predicting wins against Texas A&M – AND – LSU at home. I might regret that later, but as a less-talented 2012 team proved on the field, Ole Miss isn’t as far off from these programs as national pundits believe.
A bad year to chant “S-E-C”: Out-of-conference losses will plague almost every program in the league. I believe both Florida (Miami, Florida State) and Kentucky (WKU, Louisville) will be swept by in-state rivals.
Tennessee and Ole Miss will take unnecessary losses thanks to bad scheduling, playing road games at Oregon and Texas, respectively. In what’s become a surprisingly tough game, I think Missouri will lose on the road against a quietly improving Indiana team.
I think the SEC will go 2-for-4 in big opening weekend games, with LSU beating TCU and Alabama crushing Virginia Tech, but Clemson beating Georgia and Oklahoma State edging Mississippi State.
Finally, I think South Carolina will stumble once (see below) but have their national title hopes shattered when Clemson finally ends Steve Spurrier’s streak. This could be the Game of the Year on Nov. 30.
What the hell am I thinking?
No one thought Texas A&M could win at Alabama last year. It’s why this game is so wonderful.
Feel free to disagree, but history tells us weird upsets have to happen somewhere:
Arkansas over Ole Miss: Before you pen that angry email: I’ve got Ole Miss beating Johnny Football and LSU. But this is still a young and thin team in both maturity and talent. Due to an emotional let down and cockiness combined with injuries, the Rebels trip here.
Auburn over LSU: The Tigers will be a sleepy 3-0 when Auburn, who I have losing to MSU the week prior, will gas a green-ish Tiger defense. Meanwhile, new LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s passing offense will stumble outside of a calm, ball-control pace for the first time.
Arkansas over South Carolina: Spurrier’s best USC teams have found a way to inexplicably flop on the road in years past. The game’s in Fayetteville, and while I think this Gamecocks team is better than both Georgia and Florida, they’re not good enough to go undefeated in the SEC.
Vanderbilt over Georgia: Even with a heavy amount of NFL talent last year, UGA defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s 3-4 struggled in 2012. The ‘Dores are very good at exposing aggressive, blitz-heavy defenses that try to use speed over power.
Hardest games to pick:
LSU over Florida: I went back and forth here, finally giving it to the Tigers in a late home rally. If Zach Mettenberger can play like he did against Alabama, this will be his first defining win as a Tiger.
Auburn over Arkansas: This is purely wish-and-hope pick. I want the campaign of “fast football hurts players” to die, and Bret Beilema vs. Gus Mahlzahn is the epicenter of this pointless, ignorant debate. Hopefully there’s no injuries of note and Auburn tacks on 40-plus.
Ole Miss over Miss. State: Expect the same scenario as last year, with both teams floating around bowl eligibility, except amp up the atmosphere to a Thanksgiving Night national broadcast. This game can’t be predicted empirically. Flip a coin.
Coaching changes: If I’m right, there’s two more job openings next season. Missouri will fire Gary Pinkel, who will lose six of his last eight games, thus deflating what tepid support the Tiger football program will have at that point. And James Franklin will leave Vanderbilt to take a much, much bigger job. My pick is Southern Cal.