Part of college football’s appeal is its unpredictability. Most games have a clear favorite, at least according to oddsmakers, but the “better team” doesn’t always win.
Remember Ole Miss coming into Gainesville as a 22-point underdog in 2008 and stunning Florida, 31-30? That loss led to an emotional speech from Tim Tebow and a 22-game winning streak for the Gators.
Not to pick on Florida too much, but its home loss to Georgia Southern as a four-touchdown favorite late in the 2013 season was pretty shocking, too.
The point is every time a team steps on the field as a favorite, no matter the opponent, there is a chance that it won’t win.
Taking this year’s schedule into consideration, here are seven potential upsets in the SEC:
Alabama vs. USC (Sept. 3)
Top-ranked Alabama is a 10.5-point favorite over No. 20 Southern Cal in the season opener, set for AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Defending national champions are 17-0 in openers since 1999, winning those games by an average of almost 30 points.
But this isn’t an ordinary first game of the season. The Trojans return nine starters on offense, and with three straight top-10 recruiting classes nationally, they’re one of the few non-SEC teams that can match the Tide’s talent.
You have to like Alabama’s chances, just based on its experience in big games. But, on its best day, Southern Cal can beat anyone.
Missouri at West Virginia (Sept. 3)
Most pundits aren’t giving the Tigers much of a chance in their season opener against West Virginia, and judging by the 9.5-point spread, the bookmakers agree.
While the Mountaineers are coming off an 8-5 season, including a bowl win over Arizona State, they aren’t exactly a powerhouse. Wendell Smallwood and his 1,519 rushing yards have moved on to the NFL, and most preseason predictions have West Virginia finishing in the bottom half of the Big 12 this season.
It will be the first game for new Missouri coach Barry Odom, and it’s not hard to imagine him playing the “us against the world” card in the run up to this one.
Ole Miss vs. Florida State (Sept. 5)
One can’t accuse the Rebels of light scheduling, since they’re opening the season on Labor Day night in Orlando against the fourth-ranked Seminoles. Right now, No. 11 Ole Miss is a 4.5-point underdog.
Despite the return of Heisman Trophy contender Dalvin Cook at running back, along with nearly every other offensive player of note, the Seminoles likely will be under the direction of redshirt freshman Deondre Francois at quarterback. He’s an exciting prospect, but it will be his first live college action.
In a close game, the team with the superior quarterback usually has an edge, and no one is willing to argue that Francois is better than Chad Kelly at this point. If Ole Miss’ offensive line can manage against Florida State’s talented defensive front, the Rebels have a real chance to leave the Sunshine State with a win.
Arkansas State at Auburn (Sept. 10)
Auburn has a tricky start to its season. Sandwiched between a tough season opener against No. 2 Clemson and a visit from Texas A&M is a clash with Gus Malzahn’s former school, Arkansas State.
The Red Wolves return 13 starters and have reached five straight bowl games, with Malzahn orchestrating one of those. In addition, Arkansas State nearly pulled a SEC road upset in 2015, falling, 27-20, at Missouri.
It’s a bit of a trap game for the Tigers, coming on the eve of the conference opener, and it’s a contest that will mean far more to the upstarts from the Sun Belt Conference than it does to Auburn.
Tennessee vs. Virginia Tech (Sept. 10)
The Volunteers will be favored in this matchup at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway that likely will smash college football’s single-game attendance record.
It will make for an unusual week of preparations and an odd atmosphere for both teams, with the venue serving as the main story line.
The Hokies return 15 starters and will have a season opener against FCS foe Liberty to work out the preseason rust before this Week 2 encounter. Tennessee looks to be the superior team, but it will need to give Virginia Tech its full attention.
Florida at Vanderbilt (Oct. 1)
The Gators struggled past Vanderbilt, 9-7, in The Swamp last season, and the Commodores will be looking to complete the upset this time around in Nashville.
The timing of this game is especially poor for Florida, as it sits between the all-important trip to Tennessee and an equally daunting home date with LSU. While the Gators have a clear edge in terms of talent, there are other factors working against them in this one.
Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason has been unhappy with the national perception of his team this summer, and this is the sort of game that can help him change it.
Texas A&M at South Carolina (Oct. 1)
In the midst of a dismal 3-9 season in 2015, South Carolina was very much in the game against the Aggies at Kyle Field, falling 35-28.
A road trip to Auburn and a meeting with Arkansas at AT&T Stadium will leave Texas A&M a little tired for its game against the Gamecocks, and with a home date against Tennessee to follow, there may be a bit of a look-ahead factor as well.
This also will be the SEC home opener for South Carolina, and coach Will Muschamp will be looking to provide a signature win for the program early in his tenure.
LSU at Arkansas (Nov. 12)
With two wins against the Tigers in as many seasons, it wouldn’t be a huge upset if Arkansas won again in 2016.
But with LSU harboring SEC title aspirations, chances are it will be favored when this game arrives on the schedule. That won’t matter much if the Tigers can’t get Leonard Fournette going. Only Alabama held the standout running back to fewer yards last season than did the Razorbacks (91).
With Florida coming to Fayetteville the week before, the timing of this game isn’t ideal for the home team. But, with Arkansas’ recent success in the series, an upset is certainly possible.