In the SEC, every game is a battle. The level of parity in the conference sets it apart – there are no weeks off. From week to week, single plays can change the course of the college football season.
Heading into the 2016 season, several top teams have difficult games on their schedules. With the continued rise of the East Division, the conference only continues to get more challenging. Here are 5 crazy upsets that could be brewing heading into the season:
Vanderbilt over Florida – Oct. 1 in Nashville, Tenn.
Florida was lost offensively after losing QB Will Grier to suspension last season. With Grier transferring to West Virginia, the Gators are once again in trouble at the position. Former Alabama walk-on Luke Del Rio and Purdue grad-transfer Austin Appleby will duke it out for the position.
Vanderbilt is nowhere near as talented, but Derek Mason’s squad is hungry. In a surprising turn, the Commodores also seem to have more clarity on offense, with QB Kyle Shurmur and RB Ralph Webb locked in. If a quarterback fails to emerge for Florida, Vanderbilt could jump on the opportunity and send a statement to the SEC.
Arkansas over LSU – Nov. 12 in Fayetteville, Ark.
At this point, LSU is one of the favorites to win the entire SEC. RB Leonard Fournette is a game-changer on offense, while several dominant defensive players expect to be picked near the top of the 2017 NFL Draft.
But while the Tigers should be one of the dominant teams, it’s hard to count out coach Bret Bielema in November. The Razorbacks have improved drastically as the season has gone on every year. That includes shocking wins against No. 18 Ole Miss and No. 9 LSU last season. Arkansas might have lost too much skill talent to pull off the win this season, but memories of last year will linger.
Tennessee over Florida – Sept. 24 in Knoxville, Tenn.
Heading into this season, Tennessee will be the favorite in almost every game it plays. However, Florida has quietly built a dominant 11-game winning streak against the Volunteers. Part of this came while Urban Meyer ruled Florida, while another portion was because of Tennessee’s rapid fall under Derek Dooley.
This is the year Tennessee can break the streak. The Volunteers bring back their major contributors from last season, including QB Joshua Dobbs, RB Jalen Hurd and DE Derek Barnett. If Tennessee can move the ball against Florida’s dominant defense, the streak can finally come to an end.
Ole Miss over Florida State – Sept. 5 in Orlando, Fla.
Florida State has returned to national prominence under Jimbo Fisher. During the past 4 seasons, FSU has gone 49-6 with 3 ACC titles and a national championship. Even in a “down” season last year, the Seminoles went 10-3. This season should see improvement once again, as FSU returns Heisman-caliber RB Dalvin Cook.
Contrarily, Ole Miss still is trying to find its place in the SEC. The Rebels are the only team to defeat Alabama the last 2 seasons but have yet to follow up the success. With QB Chad Kelly at the helm, Ole Miss has a supreme wild-card factor heading into this game. If Kelly can post one of his best performances against a talented defense, it will earn him some instant Heisman buzz.
Alabama at Tennessee – Oct. 15 in Knoxville, Tenn.
This should be the year of Tennessee. From schedule to returning talent, everything is lining up for the Volunteers to have one of the best seasons in recent memory. The talent level in Knoxville is as high as it has been since Phillip Fulmer coached. Both sides of the ball could see multiple players drafted into the NFL next year.
Easily the greatest test will come on Oct. 15, when Tennessee faces the defending national champion. Alabama lost a number of All-Americans, including Heisman winner Derrick Henry, DE A’Shawn Robinson and SEC Defensive Player of the Year Reggie Ragland. This is one of Tennessee’s best chances to top Alabama.