There are no weeks off in the SEC. With the talent and consistency in the conference, every single game is a battle.
While the level of play delights and entertains fans, it can be a nightmare for players on the field. With the competitiveness of the College Football Playoff, every game could be the difference between playing for a national championship.
Here are 13 upsets that could happen in 2016, one for each week of the season.
Week 1: UCLA at Texas A&M – Sept. 3
The SEC season starts with some key games, including a few that could have major ramifications. UCLA is expected to be a top team and contender for the College Football Playoff next season, especially with heralded QB Josh Rosen back under center. But with a bevy of new pieces, led by Oklahoma transfer QB Trevor Knight, the Aggies could end the Bruins’ playoff hopes before they even start.
Week 2: South Carolina at Mississippi State – Sept. 10
The future has not looked bright in Columbia for a few seasons, and new head coach Will Muschamp has not inspired confidence. Muschamp is well-known for collapsing spectacularly while at Florida, which could keep critics out in full force. However, he inherits a South Carolina team that won just three games last season. The Gamecocks will get a golden opportunity against Mississippi State, which must deal with the loss of QB Dak Prescott, one of the best players in program history. If Muschamp can pull off the early upset, it should get cynics off his back for a few weeks.
Week 3: Alabama at Ole Miss – Sept. 17
After the fireworks of the last two seasons, both Alabama and Ole Miss have this game circled on their respective calendars. Despite losses across the board, Alabama still is considered one of the elite teams in the nation and a contender for the playoff. But with QB Chad Kelly under center, it’s hard to count out the Rebels. Kelly threw for 341 yards and 3 touchdowns against Bama last season in a tight 43-37 win. With the game back in Oxford, Miss., Ole Miss would like nothing more than to build on its winning streak.
Week 4: Georgia at Ole Miss – Sept. 24
Freshman QB Jacob Eason is expected to take the reins at Georgia next season. Fielding a freshman starter at quarterback can spell doom, but Eason is a special prospect. Against a rebuilding Ole Miss defense, the freshman will have a golden opportunity to put together a breakout game. Georgia fired head coach Mark Richt last season after going 9-3, so good will no longer cut it in Athens. Georgia fans expect to be contenders.
Week 5: Tennessee at Georgia – Oct. 1
Tennessee is considered the favorite to win the SEC East, but new Georgia coach Kirby Smart has other plans. Smart will return elite RB Nick Chubb to last year’s 10-3 team and add 5-star QB Jacob Eason to the mix. With the levels of talent playing in Athens, this game could decide the SEC East division crown.
Week 6: Tennessee at Texas A&M – Oct. 8
The Aggies are one of the biggest losers of the offseason, losing QBs Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray to transfer in embarrassing fashion. Regardless, the talent is there to compete with and beat the Tennessee Volunteers. The Aggies defense has taken many steps forward under defensive coordinator John Chavis, and there is still room to grow. This game could eventually come down to a quarterback battle between Joshua Dobbs and Trevor Knight. Both have shown flashes of brilliance, but also revealed limitations. Whichever player executes to his greatest potential will lead his team to victory.
Week 7: Alabama at Tennessee – Oct. 15
It’s been talked about at length, but this is the year Tennessee is expected to put together a complete season. The Volunteers return 17 starters, including starting QB Joshua Dobbs and star RB Jalen Hurd. This marquee matchup against the Crimson Tide should be an important test. Despite playing in Tuscaloosa, Tennessee came within a few minutes of winning this game. Only a great run from Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry could keep the Crimson Tide’s season alive. With the game in Knoxville this year, Tennessee has an excellent chance to establish itself as a legitimate national contender.
Week 8: Texas A&M at Alabama – Oct. 22
As every Texas A&M fan knows by this point, new starting QB Trevor Knight once beat Alabama. It might have been in the Sugar Bowl with Oklahoma, but few quarterbacks in recent memory can boast an undefeated record against Nick Saban. When the Aggies head to Tuscaloosa on Oct. 22, fans will hope Knight can channel memories of Johnny Football clinching his Heisman Trophy with a win. When playing with house money, which Texas A&M most certainly is in this game, crazy things can happen.
Week 9: Auburn at Ole Miss – Oct. 29
Elite DE Carl Lawson has been known to cause havoc against opposing offensive lines. In just 21 games at Auburn, Lawson has accumulated 37 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and 5 sacks. With true freshman upstart Marlon Davidson expected to line up opposite him at times, Auburn should feast on an Ole Miss offensive line that is forced to replace four starters. It remains to be seen whether that will be enough to win, but forcing Chad Kelly into mistakes will be the first step.
Week 10: Alabama at LSU — Nov. 5
At this point, it’s hard to say whether an LSU win should be considered a big upset. The Tigers will be playing in Death Valley and boast arguably the most talented backfield in the country. LSU also returns much more experience. The difference in this game could be Brandon Harris compared with whomever wins the Alabama quarterback battle. Though neither situation remains steady at this point, LSU has the talent to push itself over the top.
Week 11: Auburn at Georgia – Nov. 12
Eason and the Georgia Bulldogs have showed up on this list several times with potential upset opportunities. Auburn defensive end Carl Lawson missed much of last season with injury troubles, but should be salivating for a crack at the freshman signal-caller. If any of the quarterbacks on Auburn’s roster can make the Bulldogs defense pay, Auburn could pick up a huge win.
Week 12: Missouri at Tennessee – Nov. 19
It was a rough year, both on and off the field, for the Missouri Tigers in 2016. The team’s putrid offense scored 2 touchdowns or fewer in nine of its 12 games. While the offense was brutal, the defense continued to be one of the marquee units in the conference. The defensive end combination of Charles Harris and Walter Brady should cause nightmares for Tennessee QB Joshua Dobbs. If the offense can get a slight push, Mizzou could ruin Tennessee’s dream season.
Week 13: Florida at Florida State – Nov. 26
On paper, Florida State should dominate the Gators. The Seminoles return every single player on offense, including Heisman-caliber running back Dalvin Cook. But with a full season to develop a quarterback, Florida could be peaking at the right time. Especially with the elite pieces recruited under former coach Will Muschamp, the defense is there.