For Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, this football season during a pandemic is all about adjusting.
The teams that can adjust to the challenges of a 10-game SEC schedule, and adjust to players suddenly being out of action with COVID-19, are going to be the teams that don’t, for example, somehow figure out a way to lose to Arkansas and Vanderbilt.
Auburn fans might want to adjust their expectations for this season after so many Tigers missed time this preseason in quarantine.
Nick Saban says the teams that “manage the uncertainty” of these unprecedented times will have the best chances of winning the SEC and maybe even the national championship. Saban is currently “managing the uncertainty” of the season by not releasing any data about the positive coronavirus cases on his roster.
Anything for a competitive advantage in the SEC, and Saban isn’t the only one. The most predictable thing about this unpredictable pandemic season was that SEC coaches were going to guard the number of their coronavirus cases in the preseason. Keeps it interesting for game day at least.
T A L T Y: Top 25 Most Influential in the SEC
G O O D M A N: Hold your breath, SEC football is here
In the spirit of the great unknown, and in the name of confusion and chaos, the only appropriate thing to do is start off this SEC football season with 10 bold predictions for what’s going to be the most unpredictable few months of sports we’ll ever experience in our lives. For those counting at home, that’s one prediction for every day players must spend in quarantine if they test positive for the ‘Rona during the season.
Apparently, that already means advantage LSU. According to Ed Orgeron, most of the players have already had the plague.
PREDICTION: Fans should just be happy we’re getting to have football this season. That’s not how the SEC works, though. People are never happy unless their team is winning, and there is going to be a lot of losing in the SEC this season. The hot seat will not go cold, in other words, just because of some pestilence hoax perpetrated by the left-wing, football-hating media and the one-world order.
Pandemic Hot Seats, ranked: 5. Kirby Smart, Georgia; 4. Ed Orgeron, LSU; 3. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt; 2. Gus Malzahn, Auburn; 1: Will Muschamp, South Carolina.
Heaven help Mason, whose team opens the season against Texas A&M as a 30-point dog. Muschamp has it worse, though. The Gamecocks start the season with five ranked opponents in their first six games. The lone oasis is Vanderbilt in Week 3. If South Carolina loses that game, not even the excuse of a pandemic will save Muschamp.
PREDICTION: Get to the store early this week, folks. The meat is going to be gone before the weekend. With stadiums around the SEC slicing attendance this season due to the coronavirus, backyard tailgate parties are going to become an even bigger part of our culture than before the virus. After this is all over, attendance will never return to pre-pandemic levels around the SEC. The numbers were already trending downward around the country, and smaller crowds are probably here to stay.
PREDICTION: New coaches in the SEC were thrown into an awful situation this year. They couldn’t run spring practice due to the coronavirus outbreak, and they couldn’t hit the road recruiting due to an extended dead period. Despite all that, Lane Kiffin is going to score a signature victory in Year One with Ole Miss. We haven’t heard much from Kiffin after his move to Oxford, Miss., but he has an excellent quarterback (John Rhys Plumlee) for an unpredictable kind of season, and defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin is out to prove his worth once again after his implosion at Maryland.
Lane Kiffin Upset Watch, ranked: 5. Alabama; 4. Florida; 3. Auburn; 2. LSU; 1. Texas A&M
PREDICTION: If everyone stays healthy, this will be a special season for Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide. It is extremely rare for Saban to utter a nice word or a compliment about his team before a season, but he said this week that he likes the “spirit” of his team. That’s bad news for everybody else. If Saban goes undefeated one year after losing the best quarterback Alabama has ever had, then this team will go down as his best ever.
PREDICTION: Greg Sankey should be credited with saving this college football season, and hopefully history reflects that in the future. After this season, Sankey is going to feel the pressure of making 10-conference games a permanent feature to the season, and that will lead to an expansion of the CFP to include 16 teams.
College football is going to need more games that matter in the future to generate additional revenue for their schools. With the players able to cash in on their success due to changing NIL rules, the sport is about to open up and embrace its possibilities.
PREDICTION: It was Sankey who remained patient and didn’t cancel the football season when the Big Ten and Pac-12 folded up their tents. Now the Big Ten is planning for a return in October, and their teams have to play nine games in nine weeks. That’s a brutal schedule, but Ohio State has the talent to still be in the playoff conversation.
We’re going to experience CFP chaos and controversy like never before with this season. If Ohio State makes the playoff with fewer wins than a one-loss SEC team, then the four-team playoff model should be killed immediately.
PREDICTION: The SEC has been a pass-happy league in recent years, but this season the teams that can establish a running game will have some advantages. Well-rested defenses will be important for a 10-game slog through the SEC, and executing complicated offensive schemes without spring practice (and COVID-19 disruptions in the fall) could be a major problem. Advantage: Smash-mouth football. Kentucky is my darkhorse out of the East, Auburn can be a major threat in the West if Malzahn can take advantage of this opportunity with his spread-offense power running game. It could all be pointing to an epic Iron Bowl in Tuscaloosa.
Best SEC running games, ranked: 6. Tennessee; 5. Ole Miss; 4. Auburn; 3. Kentucky; 2. Georgia; 1. Alabama
PREDICTION: This season is going to be difficult for everyone, but if the 10-game schedule favors anyone then it’s Auburn. The Tigers are positioned for an excellent season if Gus Malzahn and his assistants can keep their players out of quarantine and onto the field. The Tigers have Georgia early, and home-field advantage will be minimal at Bryant-Denny. I said at the end of last year that Bo Nix was going to be the best quarterback in the SEC this season, and with a few breaks Auburn could be undefeated heading into the Iron Bowl.
PREDICTION: Georgia coach Kirby Smart is just an angry version of Mark Richt at this point. What has Smart actually won? Georgia blew leads in back-to-back years to Alabama, and then were completely blown away by Joe Burrow and LSU in the 2019 SEC championship game. A third loss in a row to Alabama will officially signal an end of Smart’s kingly reputation in Athens, but don’t be surprised if Smart is 1-2 heading into Tuscaloosa with back-to-back losses to Auburn and Tennessee. Georgia will finish third in the East if that’s the case.
PREDICTION: The party is over for LSU. It was tough seeing LSU lose receiver Ja’Marr Chase to COVID-19 concerns, but who could blame him after coach Ed Orgeron announced that most of his team has already had the virus? The Tigers had three key defensive starters opt out of the season, as well. The Tigers are going to struggle to reach six wins, and a loss to Kiffin at the end of the season could give us the most unpredictable finish of all to this season. That would be Orgeron getting fired the season after going 15-0 and unexpectedly coaching one of the best teams in college football history.
The year is 2020, so don’t doubt it.
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