I'm an Auburn homer. I think they'll win every game. I refuse to think otherwise, so if that colors me slightly biased, I'm open about admitting it. I'll also admit that I'm probably not the most reliable go-to guy for betting information involving an Auburn team for the same reason. I picked Auburn to win every game last year. As it was, I just happened to be right, which really bolsters my confidence going into this year. I did miss five games in 2009 however, but I'm still right most of the time.
That being so, I'm still not usually one to make predictions involving Auburn until the very last minute when I'm forced to do it. However, with the other teams in the conference, I have no such reservations, and with the preseason Coaches Poll out last week soon to be followed by the AP poll, I figure why not cast out my predictions for the out-of-conference (OOC) games of interest that are not standing rivalry games?
Usually crucified for their OOC scheduling, the SEC in recent years has made a consistent effort to take on more BCS teams that we don't play that often--many from outside the south. Bolstered by the addition of one-and-done contests like the Chick Fil A Kickoff Game and the Cowboys Classic, college football itself is making it easier to lure together more attractive non-traditional opponents due to the high national exposure and payouts. Just this year, the SEC showcases three strong opening weekend games: LSU-Oregon in Dallas, Georgia-Boise State in Atlanta, and Ole Miss-BYU in Oxford.
While I said last year that Vanderbilt had the toughest OOC schedule, there's little doubt that LSU wears that crown this year with the opener against Oregon in Dallas and at West Virginia on September 24th. Vandy still has a tough slate with UConn, Army and Wake Forest. And while I generally almost always root for SEC teams in OOC games, I don't think we're going to win them all this year. Here's the Top 10 contests:
Sept 3rd: LSU and Oregon: How does it get better than this? The 3rd and 4th ranked teams in the pre-season, Oregon coming off the narrow national championship game loss and LSU from an 11-2 season and Cotton Bowl beat-down of Texas A&M. It's so hard to start the season without any tune-up contest and immediately play national-caliber competition. A win can propel a team on to great things like Alabama did in 2008 after clobbering Clemson in the Chick Fil A Kickoff Game, or for the reverse, see Clemson's fortunes that very same year. Oregon returns many of their starters as does LSU, but with the loss to Auburn still fresh on their minds and the Tiger's QB fortunes still unproven in my mind, I think Oregon edges this one out in yet another slow motion fashion for the Ducks, 17-14.
Sept 3rd: Georgia and Boise State: After playing with a major chip on their shoulders the last two seasons, going undefeated in 2009 and losing late to Nevada last year to see any hopes of BCS and national championship glory go down the drain, the Broncos come into the Georgia Dome once again looking for national respect--this time in an early season game against a BCS opponent rather than in a bowl game. None on this team were around the last time Boise played in the state of Georgia, a 48-13 drubbing by the very same Dogs in Athens in 2005, but we're sure it'll still be on their minds. Mark Richt and Georgia come into the season hungry to reestablish themselves as contenders in the SEC east and a solid victory over Boise will put them on the right path. Dogs win in a surprisingly hard-fought match, 28-24.
Sept 3rd: BYU at Ole Miss: The newly independent Cougars can have all the SEC scheduling they can handle now that they're leaving the Mountain West after arch-rival Utah got the invite to the PAC 12. BYU has only played SEC teams four previous times, winning only one game--in Provo against Mississippi State. While the Rebels are predicted to compete for last place in the SEC west along with Auburn by all the pundits, conference pride will be on the line. But BYU has much to prove in their new play em anywhere, anytime roll and comes away with a close win 31-27.
Sept 10th: Alabama at Penn State: Predicted to challenge for the national championship this year, The Tide probably circled this game first on their calendar as the necessary hurdle in the early season to clear for a run at the top. With JoPa suffering yet another major physical injury during practice this weekend, and being an empty suit on the sidelines for much of the past few years, you wonder how much fight the Nittany Lions will have in them when the Tide rolls in. There is a lot of respect in this rivalry going back to the great Sugar Bowl games of the 1970s but Alabama rolls big on the road 34-17.
Sept 10th: UConn at Vandy: Coming off their second Big East title in four seasons and subsequent punishing at the hands of Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, the Huskies had many people questioning whether the Big East was truly a BCS conference at all anymore. But that was last year and we are talking Vandy. The Dores make a valiant effort but the basketball-traditional Huskies rebound and beat a SEC team at their house 38-13.
Sept 17th: Auburn at Clemson: If there ever was a team that wanted the Auburn monkey off their backs it's Clemson, who haven't beaten their ancient Tiger rivals in sixty years. While taking Auburn to the wire in overtime in 2010 in a game they should have won, many think the Tiger Paws will have their day in Death Valley this year. Not to be so, as Auburn extends their misery for yet another year, 34-28, as the two will meet for the third consecutive year in 2012 in the Chick Fil A Kickoff Game in Atlanta. See you in Hartwell.
Sept 17th: Navy at South Carolina: The Palmetto state will see two fine contests involving their two native sons on this weekend as Navy plays in Columbia. While nobody doubts that Navy will run the ball and have some success against the Gamecocks, there will probably be little the Midshipmen can do to stop the hungry chickens from crowing atop the yard-arm. SC rolls 42-17.
Sept 24th: LSU at West Virginia: After the off-season firing of HC Bill Stewart and the subsequent turmoil within the program that it produced, coupled with the fact that the Mountaineers only really field a high-caliber team about every twenty years or so, further coupled with a possible opening season loss by the Tigers to Oregon, I think the Purple Tigers roll through Morgantown in a fury, 38-13. Chance of couch burning: HIGH. Keep scheduling SEC teams, West Virginia. We might eye you one day in a future mega-conference power expansion grab. You've got too much pluck to be in the damn ACC.
Oct 1st: Texas A&M at Arkansas: You would think that the Aggies will be fired up for another shot at an SEC team after losing to both the Hawgs last year in College Station and to LSU in the Cotton Bowl, but Arky will be waiting as well for a shot at their old rivals and wins this big, 45-24. A&M should keep hedging their bets and scheduling SEC teams to keep their name fresh in our minds should you finally bolt from the remnants of the Big 12 to be drafted by us.
Oct 22: Army at Vanderbilt: The Gold Dome Bowl. Don't squint while watching this one or you might not be able to figure out which team is which. I think Vandy should schedule at least one of the service academies each year just for the uniform confusion alone. The Commodores pull rank on the Cadets 24-16, making 2/3rds of the academies 0-2 against our conference this year.