Various Thoughts on Football Eve
Will Coach O be better than Saban or Miles?
War Eagle, everybody! It seemed like summer was going to last forever, but here we are. The SEC football season opens tonight, with Texas A&M hosting Northwestern State. I cannot wait! Over half this weekend’s SEC matchups are of the cupcake variety, but there are some intriguing national matchups as well. Auburn has a big game against the Washington Huskies in Atlanta in the prime TV spot, 3:30 PM Eastern Time. The game will be nationally televised on ABC. Here at TrackEmTigers.com, we’ll have our usual open thread up and running Saturday morning, and I plan to do my usual play by play during the game.
I will tune in tonight and try to check out Jimbo Fisher’s first Aggie squad, although it’s unlikely much in the strategy department will be revealed. Northwestern State finished with a 4–7 record last year, playing in the Southland Conference in the FCS. They gave up 30 or more points in 5 of those games. Texas A&M can make this game look as ugly as they wish.
Saturday’s early games have South Carolina hosting Coastal Carolina, and then Ole Miss and Texas Tech meet in Houston in an intriguing matchup. The Red Raiders are fighting for head coach Cliff Kingsbury’s job after a 6–7 finish last season and a loss to South Florida right here in the Tragic City Bowl a couple of days before Christmas. Ole Miss looks to have a decent team returning in another probation year. I expect Ole Miss to enjoy the exposure and play loose and fast.
There is a big glut of mid-late afternoon SEC games. Of the cream puff variety, Georgia hosts Austin Peay, Missouri hosts UT Martin, and Arkansas hosts Eastern Illinois. In the “watch out!” category, Tennessee and West Virginia meet in Charlotte. Tennessee’s defense was dreadful last season, and West Virginia is a team that can score a lot of points. Can new Volunteer head coach Jeremy Pruitt plug all of the leaks for game one? I kinda doubt it!
Kentucky will host Central Michigan in another upset-special type of game. Central Michigan is typically one of the better MAC teams year in and year out. They aren’t as deep as an SEC squad might be, but it is game one. Most of their team will be healthy, and if Kentucky isn’t ready to go, things could get ugly. Last season early, CMU went to Kansas and beat up the Jayhawks pretty badly.
Auburn will play the Washington Huskies in Mercedes Benz Stadium, in Atlanta. A number of worrisome details have slipped out this week regarding this top-ten showdown. It is rumored that Auburn has not sold all of its tickets, and it might be a rather lack-luster crowd for this game. It was revealed also that Washington coach Chris Petersen made his team’s appearance conditional upon the roof being closed and the AC running. That will somewhat negate a big advantage Auburn has from practicing in the heat. Auburn will be wearing its road white uniforms. I’m not sure who made that decision. When this game was scheduled, it looked like a virtual home game. Now, Auburn looks more like the road team.
Of course, weather, fans and uniform colors don’t win football games. The team whose players perform best will win, and I expect Washington to be formidable on both sides of the ball. Even since the Boise State days, head coach Chris Petersen’s offenses have been a real headache to stop. Last season, Washington scored 30 or more points in 10 games, and they won all ten. When they were held below 30, they lost: to Arizona State, Stanford, and Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl. My key matchup to watch will be Auburn’s rebuilt running game. If Auburn can block Washington and move the chains, this game will be close. If Auburn can’t, it might get ugly.
Saturday evening’s SEC matchups include Stephen F. Austin at Mississippi State and Charleston Southern at Florida, both of which should be big wins for the SEC. Vanderbilt has a trap game, hosting Middle Tennessee in Nashville. The Blue Raiders have given Vanderbilt fits in the past, and they return a lot of good players from last year’s 7–6 team that won the Camellia Bowl over Arkansas State.
Saturday night’s headliner was supposed to be Alabama vs. Louisville in Orlando, but I have my doubts. Louisville got beaten up pretty good last year in the Taxslayer Bowl by a Mississippi State team that did not even have its starting quarterback available. And, Louisville had Lamar Jackson in that game. They’ll be trying to break in a new starting quarterback against Alabama. Also of note is that Louisville head coach Bob “Crash” Petrino hired none other than Brian VanGorder to be his defensive coordinator. I think back to about 6 years ago when VanGorder came in with a playbook the size of an unabridged dictionary and had Auburn’s defensive players swirling about in confusion. That 2012 VanGorder defense gave up 34 points per game in SEC play, and it could have been worse. Teams like Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama took it easy on us in the second half because they were so far ahead. I think Louisville has little chance in this matchup.
The SEC finale this weekend is an intriguing Sunday night matchup in Arlington, Texas, featuring LSU vs. Miami. I know Miami head coach Mark Richt would love nothing better than to start the year with a big win over an SEC team. LSU is trying to get going with a new Stephen Emsminger offense with a transfer quarterback.
I was running some numbers, today on LSU. Les Miles served as the Bayou Bengal head coach from 2005 through 4 games into the 2016 season. He compiled a record of 113 wins and 35 losses, for a winning percentage of 76.4. His predecessor, Nick Saban, had an LSU record of 48 wins, and 16 losses, or 75 percent. So, Miles actually out-performed Saban at LSU! And the LSU brass fired Miles in order to hire Coach O. How bizarre is that? LSU has an early road trip to Auburn, and October starts in Gainesville, Florida for them. They also have road trips to Arkansas and Texas A&M followed by Georgia, Alabama and a dark horse Mississippi State team. If the offense doesn’t work out, the wheels could come off this season pretty quickly!
We will be watching with interest this weekend to see how it all pans out. I’m hoping for a dominant weekend for the SEC, which is coming off back-to-back losing bowl seasons. Teams like Auburn, Alabama and LSU have a chance to show the world that the SEC is back. There are some worrisome games further down in the rankings. We could see teams like Ole Miss, Auburn, Tennessee, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and LSU all stumble out of the gate, and the SEC would start the season with a poor 8–6 mark. I doubt all those bad results will happen. I think Tennessee is a probable loss, and Auburn and LSU are certainly possible losses. We will know a lot more when the dust clears Saturday night.