I don’t gamble and am not big on making predictions. That’s because I work too hard for my money and don’t live under the delusion that just because I follow football more analytically than emotionally that it makes me more knowledgeable or even prescient.
Still, I know the deal. Writing a sports column in the South comes with an expectation. What’s going to happen this college football season?
Few things shock me anymore, especially when it comes this crazy game. Kick Six? Yeah, that shocked me. Not just Auburn’s 109-yard missed field goal return to beat Alabama, but the whole fourth-quarter comeback. But that’s been five years now. Since then, the closest I’ve come to being shocked when it comes to Georgia, Auburn or Alabama was maybe Bama’s beat-down of Georgia in Athens in 2015.
With one week left until the season starts, here are some random thoughts on how the season could unfold.
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I wouldn’t be at all surprised …
If Georgia at Kentucky goes down to the wire. For the Bulldogs, this game falls between the Florida and Auburn games, which will be physically and emotionally draining. Playing in Lexington has been problematic for Georgia. In its last six trips to Kentucky, Georgia has lost once (2006) and won by five or fewer points three times (‘08, ‘12 and ‘16). Kentucky should have one of its strongest teams (OK, that bar isn’t overly high) in years.
If Carver graduate and Louisville quarterback Jawon Pass outplays Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and/or Jalen Hurts. I still think Bama will win, and probably comfortably. But Bobby Petrino is one of the best offensive coaches in college football. Alabama has more holes to fill on defense than it’s ever had under Nick Saban.
If Auburn leads the SEC in defense. I think Bama will be stronger defensively in the end. Their schedules are similar. Both play Tennessee from the East Division. Both have challenging non-conference openers. The biggest difference is Auburn plays at Georgia, which focuses on ball control, while Alabama plays at home against Missouri, which could put up a lot of yards. Meanwhile, Georgia has to face arguably the three best quarterbacks in the SEC in Missouri’s Drew Lock, South Carolina’s Jake Bentley and Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham.
I’d be only mildly surprised …
If Hurts starts against Louisville. Tagovailoa is the better quarterback. But missing spring practice did not help his case, Hurts has started 28 consecutive games and lost only twice. Remember, the last time Hurts didn’t start was the 2016 season opener against Southern Cal. But by the end of the game, there was little doubt that he was the Tide’s starting quarterback. Saban’s biggest concern isn’t trying to avoid hurt feelings or appeasing Hurts’ dad or keeping Hurts from transferring. It’s trying to make sure the team doesn’t split in favor or Hurts or Tua. Veterans will support veterans but their play on the field will make it obvious whom should be playing.
If Auburn loses four games. Sure, it’s not breaking news but look at that schedule. Washington, at Georgia and at Alabama. A very good team could lose all three of those games. LSU, Texas A&M and Mississippi State won’t be easy.
I’d be pretty surprised …
If Georgia and Alabama don’t meet in the SEC Championship Game. The Bulldogs have the easier path. A loss at South Carolina -- which would not be shocking -- would severely hinder their chances, because then the Gamecocks would have to lose twice in the conference. Even so, I think Georgia will win in Columbia and run the table until the Auburn game, by which point the Bulldogs may have clinched the East. I also think South Carolina will lose two or more games in the SEC.
As for the West, I don’t see anybody beating Alabama. Simple as that. I don’t see anybody else in the West having just one SEC loss. If that’s the case, Bama can afford to lose once and still make it to Atlanta.
I’d be sufficiently stunned …
If Alabama loses to anybody in a beat-down.
If Saban can make it through 13 consecutive press conferences without blowing up.
If Justin Fields beats out Jake Fromm at Georgia.
If Auburn makes the College Football Playoff. It would take beating Georgia, Alabama and probably Georgia again in succession in the span of four weeks.
If everything this college football season goes according to script. Has it ever?