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Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 13

Craig Bohl has Wyoming on the precipice of the team's best season as a member of the Mountain West Conference (Loren Orr/Getty Images North America)
Craig Bohl has Wyoming on the precipice of the team’s best season as a member of the Mountain West Conference (Loren Orr/Getty Images North America)

Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 13

The final full week of the regular season is here in week 13. There are some massive College Football Playoff implications this week with #6 Washington at #23 Washington State, Minnesota at #5 Wisconsin, #3 Michigan at #2 Ohio State, and #16 Auburn at #1 Alabama among them. There are also other big games like Toledo at #14 Western Michigan, #21 Utah at #9 Colorado, #25 LSU at #21 Texas A&M, and rivalries such as #13 Florida at #15 Florida State.

We will focus on games that may not appear to offer much at first glance. These games might not have a national impact, but they could affect a team’s bowl chances or a conference title race. Note that these games are listed in order of when they will be played and all times listed are Eastern.

1. All 3 MACtion games on Tuesday (11/22 at 7 PM) – This trifecta consists of Akron at Ohio, Ball State at Miami (OH), and Central Michigan at Eastern Michigan.

There are a lot of story lines on Tuesday for the three MAC games. Akron sits at 5-6 and a win would put them in a bowl game. They face Ohio, which would win the MAC East with a victory. However, a loss by them opens the door for Miami (OH) to win the MAC East. They too play on Tuesday at home to Ball State. A win for Miami (OH) puts them in a bowl and combined with a loss from Ohio puts them in the MAC Championship. Do not take anything for granted with if you are watching these MAC East games.

The third game has no MAC or bowl implications, but involves a pretty good story: Eastern Michigan. The Eagles are 6-5 and will be headed to their first bowl game since 1987. A win against Central Michigan will guarantee the Eagles their first winning season since 1995.

2. Boise State at Air Force (11/25 at 3:30 PM) – Boise State is still in the running for the Group of 5 New Year’s Six spot, but they need a lot of help. First up, they need to defeat Air Force, but the Falcons have won the last two games versus the Broncos.

If Boise State defeats Air Force, they will then need a loss by Wyoming against New Mexico while they will have to defeat San Diego State in the MWC Championship Game. If all that happens, it will be up to the CFB Playoff Committee and their rankings to determine if it is Boise State or Western Michigan (assuming they win the MAC) that ends up with the Group of 5 spot.

There is something at stake for Air Force and that is a 10 win season. If Air Force wins they would be 9-3 and then would need to win their bowl game. That would give them two 10 win season in the last three seasons.

3. TCU at Texas (11/25 at 3:30 PM) – A battle of two underachieving teams will ensue here and both teams are a win away from being in a bowl game. TCU is 5-5 and face Kansas State on December 3 so a loss here is not the end of the road.

The end of the road is near for Texas’ Charlie Strong after the 24-21 overtime loss at Kansas last week. The Longhorns are 5-6 and a win here will at least get them to a bowl game, but Strong will not be there if it happens.

Will Texas’ players send Strong off with a win? Or will TCU reach 6 wins and a poor season for the Horned Frogs?

4. Kentucky at Louisville (11/26 at 12 PM) – Kentucky, for all their issues this season against good teams, still has a chance to pull of the big upset. They have already reach 6 wins and will be in a bowl game, but they get Louisville at the perfect time. Louisville was completely outplayed at Houston last week in their 36-10 loss. They lost their chance at the College Football Playoff and then lost their slim chance of the ACC Atlantic title on Saturday when Clemson beat Wake Forest.

How will Louisville respond? Will they play sluggish? There is no doubt that Louisville is the better and more talented team. They should dominate this game, but they do not have the same motivations they did after their win against Wake Forest. Then again, maybe this is a chance for them to let go of their frustrations. This game is worth keeping an eye on to see how they respond after their title aspirations evaporated.

5. Wyoming at New Mexico (11/26 at 10:15 PM) – Not much at stake here, just the MWC Mountain Division title. A Wyoming win puts them in the Championship Game as does a loss by Boise State versus Air Force.

This will not be an easy game though because New Mexico has a unique shotgun formation triple option attack that can put up points. Wyoming can put up points too and this game could come down which defense plays better. The advantage there goes to Wyoming, but will the idea of a division title creep into their minds and cause them to play cautious?

6. All smaller bowl game/5 win teams – There are currently 64 teams that have reached 6 wins and will be in a bowl game. There are still 19 teams that have a shot at reaching six wins (or 7 wins in the case of Army). In week 13, there are 7 games were 5 wins teams are facing an opponent with a winning record. There is a strong chance we will see 5 win teams in a bowl game in 2016. Let’s hope for some upsets (or some reduction in the number of bowl games).

This will be last edition of Under The Radar Games for 2016. The previous columns for this season can be found below.

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Week 5

Week 6

Week 7

Week 8

Week 9

Week 10

Week 11

Week 12

Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 11

Despite three straight losses in SEC play, Tennessee is still alive in the SEC East division. Their opponent in week 11, Kentucky, is also still alive to win the SEC East. (Tyler Lecka/Getty Images North America)
Despite three straight losses in SEC play, Tennessee is still alive in the SEC East division. Their opponent in week 11, Kentucky, is also still alive to win the SEC East. (Tyler Lecka/Getty Images North America)

Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 11

We are closing in on the end of the season with about a month until we find out the four teams that will comprise the College Football Playoff. Week 11 is not the best week for games with the best ones being #25 Baylor at #9 Oklahoma, #11 West Virginia at Texas, Pittsburgh at #3 Clemson, #19 LSU at Arkansas, Minnesota at #21 Nebraska, and USC at #4 Washington.

We will focus on games that may not appear to offer much at first glance. These games might not have a national impact, but they could affect a team’s bowl chances or a conference title race. Note that these games are listed in order of when they will be played and all times listed are Eastern.

1. Eastern Michigan at Ball State (11/8 at 7 PM) – Some Tuesday MACtion kicks off the week and this column. This game is all about bowl implications with both teams still looking for 6 wins.

Eastern Michigan is sitting at 5-4 and have lost 3 of their last 4 games after starting a strong 4-1. The Eagles will want to win this game because their next two are against the suddenly hot Northern Illinois Huskies and Central Michigan. Both of those games are at home, but the pressure will build the longer the season goes. In addition, both of those teams are still alive for a bowl berth.

Ball State is currently 4-5 and their road (literally) is just as tough. After this game they face both Toledo and Miami (OH) on the road. Miami (OH) is still alive for a bowl berth at 4-6 while Toledo has a chance at winning the MAC West. This game is big for both schools in terms of a bowl bid.

2. Kentucky at Tennessee (11/12 at 12 PM) – The SEC East is still wide open, which is why this game is crucial. Kentucky still has a glimmer of hope, but needs a lot to go their way to win this division. They own losses to Florida and Georgia, but a win here would put them at 5-3 in conference, in a bowl game, and two Florida SEC losses from a conference title game. Imagine that.

Tennessee’s path is clearer and they just need Florida to lose once in SEC play while the Vols need to win out. The Vols end the season with Missouri (home) and Vanderbilt (away) with the latter being the tougher of the two.

For as crazy as the SEC East has been this year, are there still a few twists left in the plot?

3. Cincinnati at Central Florida (11/12 at 12 PM) – Bowl hopes are on the line here and both teams are facing a must win. Cincinnati is 4-5 with losses in 4 of their last 5 games while their final two games are against good AAC West foes in Memphis (home) and Tulsa (away).

Central Florida, against the backdrop of a horrendous 0-12 season in 2015, sit just one win away from a bowl. They are 5-4, but their final two games are just as difficult as Cincinnati’s. They face Tulsa (home) and AAC East contender South Florida (away).

This game is big, but there is the possibility Cincinnati wins this game and both teams lose their final 2 games to finish 5-7. That would be a disaster for the American Athletic Conference.

 4. Tulsa at Navy (11/12 at 12 PM) – There is not much on the line here except the outright lead in the AAC West. Both teams have already hit the six win mark with Tulsa at 7-2 and Navy at 6-2. Both teams control their destiny in this division with identical records of 4-1 and Navy could hold a commanding lead with a win over Tulsa.

Outside of getting blasted by Ohio State, Tulsa has played well in every game. They lost by a touchdown to Houston, but also went to overtime against Fresno State and SMU. Since that 38-31 loss at Houston, Tulsa has won their last three games by an average of 24.3 points per game. That loss to Houston also means they need to win out against Central Florida and Cincinnati or get another loss from Houston in addition to two more losses by Navy.

Navy is coming off their 28-27 win against Notre Dame and they have already beaten Houston this year. Navy needs a win this week and one win in their final two AAC games against East Carolina and SMU to clinch the AAC West Division.  Both of those games will be on the road, which may be a little cause for concern because that is where they had their two losses this season (at Air Force and at South Florida).

This could be a high scoring affair as both teams have been putting up points. Then again, Navy could just do what they did against Notre Dame and allow only 2 possessions for Tulsa in the final 30 minutes. This should be a good game.

5. North Carolina State at Syracuse (11/12 at 12:30 PM) – Here are two 4-5 teams that will still need quite a lot to go their way if they win. A win will push one team to 5-5 and the other 4-6, but both teams’ final two games will be hard to win.

NC State started 4-1 this year, but have lost four in a row including three games by a touchdown or less (Clemson, Boston College, and Florida State). They end with Miami (FL) at home and North Carolina away. If they can get enough offense, they may be able to sneak into an upset, but they must beat Syracuse first.

For Syracuse, they have had an up and down season. The offense has looked good at times, though last week against Clemson was terrible. The defense has not been great, but has shown some improvement at times. Both sides will need to be in sync with games against Florida State (home) and Pittsburgh (away) to end the season.

6. UT-San Antonio at Louisiana Tech (11/12 at 3:30 PM) – The C-USA West Division will be on the line here. UTSA is 5-4 overall and 4-2 in C-USA while Louisiana Tech is 7-3 overall and 5-1 in C-USA.

UTSA is playing really well the last five games with a 4-1 record and their lone loss was a 52-49 to UTEP that went to five overtimes. Their win against Middle Tennessee last week was impressive as they won by 20 points on the road and considering UTSA has struggled away from home this year. A win here puts them in their first bowl game in their short history and in first place of the C-USA West.

Louisiana Tech has been on fire the last six weeks, which have all been wins. Five of those games have been blowouts and the close game of those was a 55-52 win over Western Kentucky. Even their 1-3 start is deceiving because they lost 21-20 at Arkansas, demolished FCS South Carolina State, lost 59-45 at Texas Tech, and lost 38-34 at Middle Tennessee. A win here does not completely clinch the C-USA West because Southern Miss has only 2 losses in conference play.

7. Appalachian State at Troy (11/12 at 3:30 PM) – What a game we have here in the Fun Belt. 7-2 Appalachian State (5-0 in SBC) and 7-1 Troy (4-0 in SBC) meet in one of the biggest conference games of the year.

Appalachian State has a strong defense and they will be put to the test against Troy’s offense that averages 39.4 points per game and have scored at least 31 points in six of their eight games (6-0 in those games). Appalachian State’s defense has given up 19.6 points per game and just 8.4 points per game in Sun Belt games.

A win for Appalachian State would pretty much put them in position to win the Sun Belt or at worst tie for the title. Their final two games are against UL-Monroe (home) and New Mexico State (away).

Troy’s final four games are daunting. They face Appalachian State, fellow Sun Belt undefeated Arkansas State (home), Texas State (away), and Georgia Southern (away). Keep an eye on this game to see which side can gain the upper hand.

8. South Florida at Memphis (11/12 at 7 PM) – The third AAC game to make an appearance this week and this one also has possible conference title game implications. South Florida is 7-2 overall while Memphis is 6-3 overall.

South Florida, which already holds a loss to Temple, is 4-1 in the AAC East and needs Temple (5-1 in the AAC) to lose another game while winning out to win the AAC East. They face SMU (away) and Central Florida (home) in their final two games so their last three games in total will not be easy wins.

Memphis is 3-2 in the AAC and are a long shot to win the AAC West division having lost to both Navy and Tulsa already this year. Still, this is a solid team that could ruin South Florida’s AAC hopes if they are at their best. Memphis also faces Cincinnati (away) and Houston (home) to end the year so this could be a chance to build momentum heading into the bowl season.

Check back next week for the week 12 edition of Under The Radar Games. In addition, you can find the previous columns below.

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Week 5

Week 6

Week 7

Week 8

Week 9

Week 10

Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 10

Hugh Freeze and Ole Miss are sitting at 3-5 overall. The Rebels are facing a must win for the rest of the season starting with Georgia Southern in Week 10. (Wesley Hitt/Getty Images North America)
Hugh Freeze and Ole Miss are sitting at 3-5 overall. The Rebels are facing a must win for the rest of the season starting with Georgia Southern in Week 10. (Wesley Hitt/Getty Images North America)

Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 10

We have now entered the final full month of regular season action the 2016 college football season. Week 10 offers us #8 Wisconsin at Northwestern, #22 Oklahoma State at Kansas State, TCU at #13 Baylor, #10 Florida at Arkansas, Iowa at #20 Penn State, and the two biggest games on Saturday night: #1 Alabama at #15 LSU and #9 Nebraska at #6 Ohio State.

We will focus on games that may not appear to offer much at first glance. These games might not have a national impact, but they could affect a team’s bowl chances or a conference title race. Note that these games are listed in order of when they will be played and all times listed are Eastern.

1. Louisville at Boston College (11/5 at 12 PM) – Ever since Louisville lost at Clemson they have not looked like the same team. They struggled against Duke at home, took care of NC State at home, but then struggled at Virginia. They needed a late touchdown to defeat the Cavaliers on the road and now they go to Chestnut Hill to face Boston College.

The Eagles sit at 4-4 overall and still have a solid chance at making a bowl game even with a loss. However, they can give Louisville fits if their defense is playing at their very best.

This game is bigger for Louisville because they have struggled since the loss at Clemson. They still have an outside shot of making the College Football Playoff, but how will the Committee view them if they continue to squeak by teams? A big win would help Louisville here.

2. Air Force at Army (11/5 at 12 PM) – The Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy is at stake in this game for Air Force. Both teams are 5-3 and win puts Air Force in a bowl while Army would still need another victory due to their schedule containing two FCS schools.

Air Force started 4-0 including a 28-14 win at home against Navy. They then lost the next three games before needing a rally against Fresno State to reach 5-3. Army started 3-0 before back-to-back close losses to Buffalo and Duke on the road. They crushed Lafayette before North Texas soundly defeated the Black Knights. Army was able to get a big win last week against Wake Forest on the road to reach 5-3.

Army can also win the CIC Trophy by defeating Air Force this week and Navy to end the regular reason. This will be a fun game to watch the old school triple option offense from both teams.

3. Georgia Southern at Ole Miss (11/5 at 12 PM) – No conference implications here, but there are bowl implications for both teams. Georgia Southern is 4-4 overall with their final three games consisting of Louisiana-Lafayette, Georgia State (away), and Troy. They will probably be favored in two of those games and a bowl game still looks likely even with a loss here.

The same cannot be said for Ole Miss and they must treat every game as a must win. They are currently 3-5 with Texas A&M (away), Vanderbilt (away), and Mississippi State after this game. They can lose only one game the rest of the way and still make a bowl. Given their schedule (read as: Texas A&M), this is not the one to drop.

4. Texas at Texas Tech (11/5 at 12 PM) – Neither of these squads will be winning the Big 12, but the bowl implications are huge. Both teams sit at 4-4 overall and their schedules to end the season require little margin for error.

Texas will face West Virginia, Kansas (away), and TCU after this contest. Texas Tech will play Oklahoma State (away), Iowa State (away), and Baylor. Now we can see why the winner of this game will be in much better position to make a bowl.

Looking beyond this game and season, could either or both coaches be fired if they fail to make a bowl game? Some outlets already have marked Charlie Strong as a lame duck. What about Kliff Kingsbury? That would make it two of four years that Texas Tech did not reach a bowl under Kingsbury, assuming they do not win two of their final four games in 2016. He probably will not be fired if the Red Raiders fail to make a bowl game, but his seat will undoubtedly be warmer.

5. Pittsburgh at Miami (FL) (11/5 at 12:30 PM) – What a difference a month makes for both teams. Pittsburgh was 2-2 going into October, but have come out ahead with a 3-1 record last month to make them 5-3.

Miami was 3-0 after September and it was 4-0 after defeating Georgia Tech, but it has been all downhill since. The Canes have lost four in a row with three games determined by a touchdown or less. Miami has a forgiving schedule the final month with games against Pitt, Virginia (away), NC State (away), and Duke, but nothing can be taken for granted with the slide they are currently on.

Pittsburgh has Miami (away), Clemson (away), Duke, and Syracuse to end the season. Both teams look likely to make a bowl game based on the schedules, but this game will be worth watching to see how they respond to losses last week.

6. UT-San Antonio at Middle Tennessee (11/5 at 2:30 PM) – Both teams are alive in their respective Division races in Conference USA. UTSA is 3-2 in the West and sit a game out of first place. Middle Tennessee is 3-1 in the East and are a half-game behind Western Kentucky in the win column, but the Hilltoppers own the head-to-head victory.

A loss for either team will probably end their hopes of making the Conference USA Championship Game. Middle Tennessee faces Marshall (away), Charlotte (away), and Florida Atlantic to end the season. They will probably be favored in all three of those, but would still need a loss or two from Western Kentucky to make the Championship Game.

UTSA faces Louisiana Tech (away), Texas A&M (away), and Charlotte to end the season. A loss here and they would be 4-5, out of the West Division race, and facing the real possibility of missing a bowl game. The Roadrunners are also 1-2 on the road this year. Their win was over lowly Rice by a score of 14-13. This game is very big for the Roadrunners.

7. Hawaii at San Diego State (11/5 at 7 PM) – San Diego State can put a hammerlock on the West Division of the Mountain West with a win. The Aztecs sit 4-0 in conference while Hawaii is 3-2. Hawaii is currently the only other team in the West Division that has not lost at least 3 conference games.

The Aztecs are also still in the race for the Group of 5 bid to one of the New Year’s Six Bowls. They need some help with Western Michigan still undefeated as well as Boise State having only one loss. Those two may also face in the Mountain West Championship Game.

As for Hawaii, they are currently 4-5 overall and will need to reach 7 wins to make a bowl game. They wrap up with Boise State, Fresno State (away), and Massachusetts. This is basically a must win game for Hawaii to reach those 7 wins.

8. Georgia at Kentucky (11/5 at 7:30 PM) – This is weird to fathom, but Kentucky is currently the second placed team in the SEC East and also have a better overall record (5-3) than Georgia (4-4).

Georgia really has not looked good since their opening win against North Carolina. They struggled against Nicholls State and Missouri to reach 3-0, but are just 1-4 their last five games including devastating late game losses to Tennessee and Vanderbilt at home.

Kentucky started 2-3 this year, but have reeled off three straight wins to reach 5-3. Kentucky has not finished ahead of Georgia in the SEC East since 2006 when both teams finished 4-4 in the SEC and Kentucky defeated the Bulldogs that year.

With a win Kentucky will be in a bowl, but probably would make one even with a loss against Georgia. They face Tennessee (away), Austin Peay, and Louisville (away). For Georgia, they face Auburn, UL-Lafayette, and Georgia Tech all at home to end the season. A loss is not crushing for the Bulldogs, but it will make things far easier for this inconsistent and underachieving team.

Check back next week for the week 11 edition of Under The Radar Games. In addition, you can find the previous columns below.

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Week 5

Week 6

Week 7

Week 8

Week 9

Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 9

Brett Rypien (#14 above) and the Boise State Broncos have a big clash against the Wyoming Cowboys in Week 9. The winner of this game will be in control of the Mountain West's Mountain Division. (Loren Orr/Getty Images North America)
Brett Rypien (#14 above) and the Boise State Broncos have a big clash against the Wyoming Cowboys in Week 9. The winner of this game will be in control of the Mountain West’s Mountain Division. (Loren Orr/Getty Images North America)

Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 9

We are entering the final weekend in October and there are some huge games on the horizon this week and beyond. For week nine the big games are #10 West Virginia at Oklahoma State, #14 Florida at Georgia, #4 Washington at #17 Utah, #7 Nebraska at #11 Wisconsin, and #3 Clemson at #12 Florida State.

We will focus on games that may not appear to offer much at first glance. These games might not have a national impact, but they could affect a team’s bowl chances or a conference title race. Note that these games are listed in order of when they will be played and all times listed are Eastern.

1. Appalachian State at Georgia Southern (10/27 at 7:30 PM) –  This is a massive game for both teams as well as the Sun Belt title picture. Appalachian State sits at 5-2 overall and 3-0 in conference while Georgia Southern is 4-3 overall, but 3-1 in the Sun Belt.

Georgia Southern started the year 3-0 before three straight losses including a 27-26 loss to Arkansas State on the road. They rebounded to defeat New Mexico State last week 22-19 in what was their fourth straight road game.

Appalachian State had that excellent defensive game versus Tennessee to start the season and have only had one stumble and one hiccup since then. They were crushed at home by Miami (FL) 45-10 and played a thrilling 45-38  game at Akron, which they won. Their defense will have a test against the Georgia Southern triple option.

Both teams still have to face fellow Sun Belt contender Troy later this year. Appalachian State travels to play them on 11/12 while Georgia Southern faces them at home on 12/3. This game could make the Appalachian State-Troy game the Sun Belt decider if Georgia Southern cannot get the win.

2. Connecticut at East Carolina (10/29 at 12 PM) – This game will probably determine which team finishes at the bottom of the AAC East. Currently, Connecticut is at 1-4 in AAC play and East Carolina is 0-3.

Connecticut has been a tough customer this year in almost every game. However, they only have a 3-5 record to show for it with five of their games determined 8 points or less (2-3 record). East Carolina has not been so tough with just a 2-5 record overall and five straight losses. Only the loss at South Carolina (20-15) has been less than a touchdown with the other four losses all by 12 points or more.

This game also has potential bowl implications. A win for Connecticut would still keep their hopes alive with three difficult, but winnable games to end the season. A win for East Carolina would keep their bowl hopes alive, but still leave them a lot of work to do with Tulsa, SMU, Navy, and Temple to end the season. A loss for either team leaves zero margin for error the rest of the season.

3. Duke at Georgia Tech (10/29 at 12 PM) – Neither of these two squads will win the ACC Coastal, but they both have legitimate hopes for reaching a bowl game. And both teams need to win this game when looking at their final four games.

Let’s start with Duke’s final five games: Georgia Tech (away), Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Pittsburgh (away), and Miami (FL) (away). For Georgia Tech it is Duke, North Carolina (away), Virginia Tech (away), Virginia, and Georgia (away).

With Duke currently at 3-4, this win would put them at .500 and the Blue Devils would need two wins. Given their last four games, they would have to be two upsets, which are possible with this team, but would also be a very tall order. Georgia Tech would move to 5-3 with a win and they would need one win to reach a bowl game with Virginia their best chance to win.

4. Kentucky at Missouri (10/29 at 12 PM) – Here is a contest that could elicit quite a bit of offense. Missouri’s decent start to the season has completely dissipated with the defense giving up 44.3 points and 580 yards per game over their last three games. Kentucky’s offense put up 554 yards on Mississippi State in their 40-38 win last week.

Kentucky is in much better shape to make a bowl game with their 4-3 record. After Missouri, they will face Georgia, Tennessee (away), FCS Austin Peay, and Louisville (away). A win here and they are very likely to hit 6 wins this year at minimum. Missouri needs a lot of help sitting at 2-5, but a win here helps somewhat. They finish with South Carolina (away), Vanderbilt, Tennessee (away), and Arkansas.

5. Army at Wake Forest (10/29 at 3:30 PM) – No conference implications here, but there are bowl implications. Army started 2016 quite well going 3-0 before losing back-to-back games on the road to Buffalo and Duke by a combined 10 points. They crushed Lafayette before last week’s blowout loss to North Texas at home 35-18. At 4-3 there are plenty of chances let for this team to get to 6 or 7 wins and this could be a game they can steal.

Wake Forest has been a surprise team this year and are currently at 5-2. Their losses have been to North Carolina State and Florida State on the road, but this defense has been good. Their hands will be full as their defense allows 119.3 rushing yards per game and will face Army’s top ranked rushing attack that averages 366.8 yards per game.

Army finishes the season with the trio of Air Force, Notre Dame, and Morgan State at home before the finale against Navy. If Army can steal a win here, they will be in solid shape. On the flip side, a win here for Wake Forest will put them in their first bowl game since 2011 when they lost the Music City Bowl to Mississippi State 23-17.

6. SMU at Tulane (10/29 at 4 PM) – Here is another potential basement battle (in the AAC West), but both teams still have a shot at making a bowl game despite identical 3-4 records.

SMU is coming off their blowout win at home over #11 Houston 38-16 and a close loss the week before on the road at Tulsa (43-40). SMU will be facing Memphis, East Carolina (away), South Florida, and Navy to end the season so a win against Tulane would still require an upset or two in order to become bowl eligible.

Tulane has lost two in a row against Memphis (24-14 at home) and Tulsa last week (50-27). Their final four games are Central Florida (away), Houston (away), Temple, and Connecticut (away). A win here and they would have a decent chance of beating both Central Florida and Connecticut to become bowl eligible, but those are both away games.

7. Boise State at Wyoming (10/29 at 7 PM) – The Mountain West’s Mountain division title could be on the line here. Both Boise State and Wyoming sit at 3-0 in conference play though a win could be far more important for the Broncos.

Boise State is 7-0 overall, but their last two games have not been easy. Two weeks ago they led Colorado State 28-3 with 5 minutes left in the game and held on for a 28-23 win. Last week’s game against BYU saw the Broncos commit 5 turnovers including two interceptions returned for touchdowns, but a fourth quarter rally and strong defense in the final 15 minutes saw them eke out a 28-27 win.

Wyoming is currently 5-2 overall and there is a distinct pattern to their wins: they score a lot of points. In each of their 5 victories they have put up at least 35 points while in their two losses they have averaged just 20.5 points. They may have to score 35 or more points if they want to win this game and take control of the Mountain Division.

A win here for Boise State would likely wrap up the division for them with four games to play. The Broncos face San José State, Hawaii (away), UNLV, and Air Force (away) in the final four games and it is difficult to see them losing more than one game, if they even lose any at all. The Broncos can still overcome a loss but would need help from Wyoming’s final four opponents: Utah State, UNLV (away), San Diego State, and New Mexico (away). That is possible, but the Broncos have their sights set on a possible big bowl game and they can only do that by winning out.

8. Middle Tennessee at Florida International (7 PM) – Both of these squads are part of the wide open C-USA East division race. Middle Tennessee stepped out of conference play to defeat the SEC East’s Missouri Tigers. Florida International lost their first conference game last week to Louisiana Tech at home 44-24.

Middle Tennessee looks like the better team on paper, but that is not where games are played. Their two losses are to Vanderbilt on the road (47-24) and Western Kentucky at home in double overtime (44-43). That loss to WKU has already put them a bit behind the Hilltoppers and MTSU still has to play UT-San Antonio, Marshall (away), Charlotte (away), and Florida Atlantic. The UTSA game is clearly the most difficult, but they cannot overlook their road games.

FIU started 0-4 before winning three straight against Florida Atlantic, UTEP, and Charlotte. As previously mentioned, they lost to Louisiana Tech and the competition becomes harder with MTSU this week followed by Western Kentucky (away), Marshall, and Old Dominion (away) to end the season. FIU still has a chance to win this division, but it will not be easy and they must win this game.

Check back next week for the week ten edition of Under The Radar Games. In addition, you can find the previous columns below.

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Week 5

Week 6

Week 7

Week 8

Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 2

James Conner returned from cancer to rush for 53 yards and a touchdown against Villanova in week one. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images North America)
James Conner returned from cancer to rush for 53 yards and a touchdown against Villanova in week one. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images North America)

Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 2

The first full weekend of college football is in the books and it was exciting. Two top five teams went down with #15 Houston defeating #3 Oklahoma 33-23 and unranked Wisconsin beating #5 LSU 16-14. While there are not nearly as many marquee games after the opening week feast we were given, there are still some interesting matchups in the second week of games.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the under the radar games for week 2. Note, these games are listed in order of when they will be played.

1. Penn State (1-0) at Pittsburgh (1-0) (9/10 at 12 PM EST) – An intrastate battle ensues with Penn State traveling to face Pittsburgh. This will be the first game between the two rivals since 2000 when Pittsburgh won 12-0 at home. These two teams are scheduled to meet each year from 2017 through 2019 as well so there will not be a long hiatus for the time being.

The Nittany Lions won their opening game against Kent State at home, but did not put them away until the second half. They led 16-13 at the break, but won comfortably 33-13 with Saquon Barkley finishing with 105 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. The Panthers won 28-7 over Villanova in a game that saw James Conner return from his cancer battle to score a touchdown. This game has a feel of run first and gritty defense being played. It might be a low scoring and drab affair, but there is nothing wrong with a game like that if it is close.

2. Cincinnati (1-0) at Purdue (1-0) (9/10 12 PM EST) – Both teams won last week against FCS opponents. Cincinnati trailed Tennessee-Martin 7-6 at halftime before pulling away in the fourth quarter to win 28-7. Purdue defeated Eastern Kentucky 45-24 with over 500 yards of offense and four takeaways on defense. Can the Boilermakers make that same recipe to defeat Cincinnati? Or will the defense struggle like they did in the first half when they allowed 284 yards of offense to Eastern Kentucky? This could be a game for Cincinnati to get the offense going, but also could be a game for Purdue to gain some confidence going towards their Big 10 schedule.

3. Rice (0-1) at Army (1-0) (9/10 12 PM EST) – This game could be important to both team’s season. Rice is coming off a walloping at the hands of Western Kentucky 46-14 and their next opponent is Baylor. Army defeated Temple on the road 28-13 with a great effort and they are looking to get back to a bowl game for the first time since 2010. Rice better have their run defense in top form because that is nearly all they are going to see against Army. A loss here and Rice starts 0-3 while an Army win may seem them start 3-1 or even 4-0.

4. Kentucky (0-1) at Florida (1-0) (9/10 3:30 PM EST) – This is probably the last opponent Kentucky wants to see right now because they have not beaten Florida since 1986. In addition, Kentucky has not won in Gainesville since 1979. Oh and they blew 35-10 second quarter lead last week in their 44-35 loss to Southern Miss. That, however, was just a microcosm for Kentucky in the past two seasons when they began 5-1 in 2014 and 4-1 in 2015 only to finish 5-7 both seasons.

Florida looked putrid on offense for much of their game against Massachusetts. They clung to a 10-7 lead until nearly 11 minutes remained in the game. They did win 24-7, but it was hardly convincing. Both teams have a lot of work to do and there is potential for Florida to get something going on offense against this Kentucky defense. The same can be said for that Kentucky defense against Florida’s offense. We shall see which side wins that battle.

5. Georgia Southern (1-0) at South Alabama (1-0) (9/10 7 PM EST) – Probably did not expect this, right? Well, this game looks a lot bigger now than it did a week ago. Georgia Southern had no issues with Savannah State as expected, but the big shock was South Alabama. They went to Starkville and upset Mississippi State 21-20 as four touchdown underdogs. How will they ride that wave of confidence against one of the preseason favorites in the Sun Belt? This could have a big impact on the Sun Belt race by season’s end.

6. Northern Illinois (0-1) at South Florida (1-0) (9/10 7 PM EST) – This was a game that looked pretty interesting during the preseason. NIU lost their opening game on the road to Wyoming 40-34 in triple overtime after the start was delayed nearly two hours due to storms. South Florida had no trouble with FCS Towson winning easily by a score of 56-20. Both teams are expected to be contenders to make their respective conference championship games in December. It is worth watching to see how Drew Hare and the Northern Illinois offense can fare against the USF defense that forced four turnovers and allowed less than 300 yards last week.

7. FCS Teams versus FBS Teams As mentioned in last week’s edition, this is always worth keeping an eye on and it did not disappoint. There were four upsets from last week’s 46 FCS versus FBS games. There are 29 games featuring FCS versus FBS opponents in week two and a few more upsets look possible.

Check back next week for the week three edition of under the radar games.

Five Predictions For Southeastern Conference In 2016

Nick Saban has led Alabama to four National Championships in his time at the school. (ean M. Haffey/Getty Images North America)
Nick Saban has led Alabama to four National Championships in his time at the school. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images North America)

Five Predictions For Southeastern Conference In 2016

The 2016 College Football season began last night with California defeating Hawaii 51-31 in Sydney, Australia. Below are five predictions for Southeastern Conference for the 2016 season. Some predictions will be right, some predictions will be wrong, and some will be spectacularly awful (or correct) by the end of the season.

There are no changes to the teams for the Southeastern Conference as the fourteen teams remain the same and are split into East and West Divisions. The seven teams in the East Division are Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt. The seven teams in the West Division are Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi State, and Texas A&M.

Here are five predictions for the Southeastern Conference in 2016:

1. Every SEC West team will make a bowl game – The SEC West has done this two years in a row already with every team going to a bowl in both 2014 and 2015. In both of those years, every team finished with a winning record as well. The SEC West sets up well again for it to be three straight years with every team making a bowl game. No time needs to be spent on Alabama, LSU, or Ole Miss as they should easily reach six wins.

Arkansas – They play Louisiana Tech, Texas State, and Alcorn State in the state of Arkansas (the Alcorn State game is played in Little Rock), and TCU on the road for their non-conference schedule. From the East, they draw Florida at home and Missouri on the road. They may need two or three wins against SEC West opponents to reach six wins.

Auburn – They face Clemson, Arkansas State, Louisiana Monroe, and Alabama A&M at home in their non-conference schedule. They also draw Vanderbilt out of the East, which means they only need two wins against fellow SEC West opponents if they go 4-1 against the aforementioned opponents.

Mississippi State – Their non-conference schedule consists of South Alabama and Samford at home while facing Massachusetts and BYU on the road. A 3-1 record looks like the worst case scenario for the Bulldogs and they draw South Carolina (home) and Kentucky (road) from the East.

Texas A&M – They have to face UCLA, Prairie View, New Mexico State, and UT-San Antonio out of conference all at home. They will play South Carolina (away) and Tennessee from the East. Like Auburn, if they go 4-2 in those games, they will only need two wins against the SEC West.

It looks likely the SEC West will make it three straight seasons with every team making a bowl if each of the teams above only require two wins to reach six wins. Every team is capable of grabbing a couple of wins against fellow SEC West teams.

2. Kentucky will not reach that elusive bowl game – Kentucky has not been to a bowl game since 2010 when they lost to Pittsburgh 27-10 in the Compass Bowl. This will be Mark Stoops’ fourth year and the seat will be a lot hotter if the season unravels as it has the past two years.

In 2014, Kentucky opened with a 5-1 record that included a triple overtime loss to Florida on the road. The final six games featured five losses by double digits and a close loss on the road to rival Louisville (44-40). In 2015, Kentucky had another strong start going 4-1 with another close loss to Florida. They went 1-6 in their final seven games with a victory over Charlotte and two close losses to Auburn (30-27) and Vanderbilt (21-17).

There are nine starters back on the offensive unit after putting up 24.7 points and 372 yards per game last year (both down from 2014). One of those two starters being replaced is at quarterback where Drew Barker is expected to take over. He only threw for 364 yards with a touchdown and two picks in just two starts last season. He has the top four running backs as well as the top ten receivers from 2015 returning. The offense should be more efficient and there are plenty of reasons for Barker to succeed.

The defense returns just five starters from their unit that allowed 27.4 points and 394 yards per game in 2015. That was an improvement of nearly four points and 13 yards per game over 2014’s defense. However, this year the losses are heavy as seven of the top eight tacklers have left. This is the area of concern for the Wildcats and may prevent them from getting to six wins.

2016 starts with Southern Miss at home and then Florida on the road before back-to-back home games against New Mexico State and South Carolina. A 3-1 record is mandatory for Kentucky to have a chance at making a bowl. Alabama (road) and Vanderbilt (home) are the next two games before a bye. The final half of the season only gets harder. They finish with Mississippi State (home), Missouri (away), Georgia (home), Tennessee (away), Austin Peay (home), and Louisville (away). The Wildcats are going to need a few upsets (and avoid that second half of the season swoon) if they are to end the bowl drought.

3. Vanderbilt will make a bowl game – 2016 will be Derek Mason’s third year and it is clear that the team is heading in the right direction. They went 3-9 in 2014 and 4-8 in 2015 with a huge improvement on defense. After allowing 33.3 points per game in 2014, they only allowed 21 points per game last year. The offense needs improvement after putting up just 15.2 points and 327 yards per game. That side of the ball will have running back Ralph Webb again after rushing for 1,152 yards and 5 touchdowns. The quarterback play will be better regardless of who wins after throwing for just 172 yards per game in 2015. There are eight starters back on offense and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig is in his second year.

The defense will have seven starters back with Mason running the unit again. Four of the top five tacklers are back while nearly all of the secondary returns. It would not be surprising to see the Commodores have another very good season on defense and it will need to be if they are to make a bowl appearance.

The schedule is challenging for Vanderbilt, but not overwhelming to start the season. They have South Carolina and Middle Tennessee at home before back-to-back road games at Georgia Tech and Western Kentucky. Up next are Florida (home), Kentucky (road), Georgia (road), and Tennessee State (home) before their final four games in November. They take on Auburn and Missouri on the road while facing Ole Miss and Tennessee at home. Vandy can start no worse than 3-1 if they are to have a shot at making a bowl game, but that start is very doable.

4. The Arkansas-Mississippi State game will determine the last place finisher in the SEC West – These two teams appear to be the weakest on paper, but that is why they play the games. Both teams lost their quarterback from last year (Dak Prescott for MSU and Brandon Allen for Arkansas). Both teams also lost their leading rusher (Prescott for MSU and Alex Collins for Arkansas). However, both teams return their top receiver from a year ago (Fred Ross for MSU and Drew Morgan for Arkansas).

The key for this prediction is how well the teams have come together and there will be plenty of time for that as Arkansas travels to Starkville on November 19 (the tenth game of the year for both teams). The Bulldogs having won four straight in the series, but the last three have been decided by a touchdown or less. While both teams have rivalry games the next week (MSU in the Egg Bowl vs Ole Miss and Arkansas versus Missouri), no game in the SEC West can be classified as a trap game this year.

5. Missouri will win the SEC East – This seems preposterous with the amount of hype around Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida, but let’s take a look outside the box. Missouri lost long time head coach Gary Pinkel as he retired after 15 years at the helm. Taking over is defensive coordinator Barry Odom who was with the team in 2015 and also played as a linebacker the school from 1995 to 1999.

The offense returns just five starters, but last year’s unit was abysmal averaging just 13.6 points (only Kent State’s 13.1 points per game were worse in the FBS) and 281 yards of offense per game. Former Oklahoma Sooner quarterback Josh Heupel is the offensive coordinator and a fellow Sooner is in the backfield in Alex Ross to give the rushing attack a spark. Drew Lock is back at quarterback after throwing for 1,322 yards with 4 touchdowns and 8 interceptions (49%) while starting the last eight games. The top receivers are back as well and the only place this offense can go is up.

The real crux of this team is the defense, which a large part of the reason the team did not end up worse than 5-7 last year. They gave up just 16.2 points and 302 yards per game in 2015 and now have eight starters back. Six of the top seven tacklers return as well as the entire defensive line and two of the three linebackers from last year. The defense has given up 133 and 134 yards rushing per game the last two years and they should duplicate that again in 2016.

Missouri does not have the friendliest SEC schedule. They start with Georgia at home on September 17 before a road game at LSU on October 1. Up next are the Gators on the road again October 15, but at least they have a bye week to prepare for that contest. Middle Tennessee (home), Kentucky (home), South Carolina (road), and Vanderbilt (home) all lead up to their final pair of games: on the road at Tennessee and home to Arkansas.

Since joining the SEC, Missouri is 2-2 against Florida, 1-3 against Georgia, and 3-1 against Tennessee. Perhaps the biggest test is not their penultimate game (Tenn), but the third game of the season against Georgia. If the offense improves by a touchdown or ten points a game along with the defense that should be very tough and keep them in every game, then these Tigers could surprise some teams this year.

The Predictions

With the SEC predictions above, predictions have been made for every conference. Links to all the predictions for each conference are provided below.

July 17 – FBS Independents

July 17 – Sun Belt

July 23 – C-USA

July 24 – MAC

July 30 – American Athletic

July 31 – Mountain West

August 7 – Big 12

August 13 – Atlantic Coast

August 14 – Pac-12

August 20 – Big Ten

August 27 – SEC

2015 College Football Preview: SEC East

Maty Mauk has been an integral part of Missouri making back-to-back SEC Championship games in 2013 and 2014. Will it be a third in a row for the Tigers? (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America)
Maty Mauk has been an integral part of Missouri making back-to-back SEC Championship games in 2013 and 2014. Will it be a third in a row for the Tigers? (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America)

2015 College Football Preview: SEC East

Part 18 of Sports Enthusiasts’ 2015 College Football preview looks at the SEC East in the penultimate preview. As usual, the SEC East is wide open with talented teams and an up and coming team all in the mix. Below are the previews completed and the SEC West preview scheduled for Friday, August 28.

MAC East Division – July 1

MAC West Division – July 3

Mountain West, Mountain Division – July 7

Mountain West, West Division – July 10

C-USA East Division – July 14

C-USA West Division – July 17

The American East Division – July 21

The American West Division – July 24

FBS Independents – July 28

Sun Belt – July 28

Big 12 – July 31

ACC Coastal Division – August 4

ACC Atlantic Division – August 7

Big 10 West Division – August 11

Big 10 East Division – August 14

Pac-12 North Division – August 18

Pac-12 South Division – August 21

SEC East Division – August 25

SEC West Division – August 28

Let’s take a closer look at how the SEC East will shake out.

1. Tennessee Volunteers

Tennessee has fallen on hard times in recent years. Between 2008 and 2012, the Volunteers had four losing seasons with only two bowl appearances and they lost both of those games. Butch Jones came in for the 2013 season after three years at Central Michigan (2007 through 2009) and Cincinnati (2010 through 2012). Tennessee went 5-7 in his first year (2013) and improved to 7-6 in 2014 with smashing 45-28 victory in the TaxSlayer Bowl against Iowa. 2015 provides Jones with his most experienced team.

The offense will have 10 starters back, which is double the number from both 2013 and 2014. In 2013, the offense put up 23.8 points and 353 yards per game while that number went up to 28.9 points and 371 yards per game in 2014. The quarterback position was hampered by injuries in 2014 with Joshua Dobbs the top returning guy after throwing for 1,209 yards with 9 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. At running back will be Jalen Hurd (899 yards and 5 touchdowns) and former Alabama commit Alvin Kamara. Dobbs also has some wheels after rushing for 469 yards and 8 touchdowns. The entire receiving unit is back with Pig Howard (54 catches for 618 yards and a touchdown), Von Pearson (38 catches for 393 yards and 5 touchdowns), Marquez North (30 catches for 320 yards and 4 touchdowns), and Jason Croom (21 catches for 305 yards and 4 touchdowns). The offensive line has four starter back and the offense should be able to easily produce the highest numbers under Jones.

The defense will have eight starters back from a unit that allowed 24.2 points and 365 yards per game. The defensive line will have two starters back led by Derek Barnett, who was a monster in 2014 with 72 tackles, 10 sacks, and 10.5 tackles for loss. Three linebackers return in Jalen Reeves-Maybin (101 tackles, 2 sacks, and 9 tackles for loss), Curt Maggitt (48 tackles, 11 sacks, and 4 tackles for loss), and Corey Vereen (24 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 2.5 tackles for loss). The secondary will also have three starters back including both safeties in Brian Randolph (88 tackles and 2 interceptions) and LaDarrell McNeil (76 tackles and 2 interceptions). Cameron Sutton will be at cornerback after recording 37 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 13 pass breakups, and 4 interceptions. The defense should be even better in 2015, which is a scary thought.

Tennessee opens the year with Bowling Green in Nashville before a big game against Oklahoma at home. They will also face Western Carolina and North Texas at home to close out their non-conference schedule. In conference, the Vols will play Florida, Kentucky, and Missouri on the road while staying home to face Georgia, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt. From the West, Tennessee has Arkansas at home and will face their rival Alabama on the road. Despite the tough draw from the West, Tennessee has the ability to win those games and have a great chance against the biggest contenders in the East. Tennessee is the pick to win the East in a surely contentious and open division.

2. Missouri Tigers

Missouri was in the Big 12 Championship in the 2007 season with a chance to make the National Championship, but were demolished 38-17 and ended up being left out of the BCS altogether. The Tigers still had really good seasons in 2008 (10-4) and 2010 (10-3), but began their SEC life with a 5-7 record. That changed in a hurry as the Tigers have been to back-to-back SEC Championship games under Gary Pinkel.

The offense took a big step back in 2014 with only 27.8 points and 367 yards per game of output. Compared to 2013, when they put up 39.1 points and 491 yards, it was tough year even with four starters back. In 2015, there will be six starters back led by quarterback Maty Mauk, who had 2,648 yards with 25 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Russell Hansbrough returns after rushing for 1,084 yards and 10 touchdowns and Mauk can run the ball if needed as well (373 yards and 2 touchdowns). Wide receiver is a concern with the top four gone. The top returning receiver is tight end Sean Culkin, who had 20 catches for 187 yards and 1 touchdown. Others who may have an impact are J’Mon Moore (2 catches for 33 yards), Nate Brown (5 catches for 45 yards), and Wesley Leftwich (3 catches for 36 yards), but are light on experience. The offensive line will have four starters back, which will create plenty of protection for Mauk and running lanes. The concern is the receivers, but Missouri has the ability to produce higher totals this year despite that.

The defense has been very solid the last two years. In 2013, the defense gave up 23.1 points and 418 yards per game while those numbers went down to 21.1 points and 346 yards per game in 2014 (only 4 starters back). There will six starters back in 2015 including the top two tackles. On the line, only Harold Brantley returns after recording 54 tackles, 5 sacks, 2 tackles for loss, and 3 pass breakups. The top tacklers from 2015 reside in the linebacking unit. Kentrell Brothers had 122 tackles, 1 sacks, and 4 tackles for loss while Michael Scherer had 114 tackles and 3 tackles for loss. The secondary has three starters back from a unit that allowed 213 passing yards per game and 60.8% completions. Aarion Penton (36 tackles, 10 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions), Kenya Dennis (61 tackles, 9 pass breakups, and an interception), and Ian Simon (54 tackles and 1 interception) are the returners. The defensive line is the obvious worry, but the Tigers could match last year’s numbers and possibly improve them.

The Tigers have only one real test on the non-conference slate. They will face Southeast Missouri State (home), Arkansas State (road), Connecticut (home), and BYU (in Kansas City, Missouri). Within their division, Missouri will face Kentucky, Georgia, and Vanderbilt on the road while playing South Carolina, Florida, and Tennessee at home. They have to play Mississippi State (home) and Arkansas (road) from the West, but they can win both of those games. The schedule sets up well for Missouri to have a serious shot at winning a third straight East Division title and another big bowl game.

3. Georgia Bulldogs

Georgia is consistently one of the better teams in the SEC under Mark Richt. The Bulldogs have made a bowl game in all 14 years under Richt and have only one losing season in 2010 when they went 6-7. More impressively, Georgia has won at last 10 games nine times with Richt at the helm. The Bulldogs have also won 2 SEC Championship under Richt, however, the last one came in 2005. The Bulldogs went 10-3 in 2014 without Aaron Murray and will look to do the same without their starter from last year.

The offense has seven starters back, but as alluded to earlier, Hutson Mason (2,168 yards with 21 touchdowns and 4 interceptions) is not one of them. Brice Ramsey seems to be in line to start (333 yards with 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions), but he will have competition from Faton Bauta and Greyson Lambert. Nick Chubb will be the top running back after rushing for 1,547 yards with 14 touchdowns while Todd Gurley (911 yards and 9 touchdowns) was hampered by an NCAA investigation and eventually a torn ACL. The top two receivers are gone as well, but Jeb Blazevich (18 catches for 269 yards and 2 touchdowns) and Malcolm Mitchell (31 catches for 248 yards and 3 touchdowns) are set to step up. The offensive line has four starters back, but the losses at quarterback and receiver are worrisome. The Bulldogs put up 41.3 points and 458 yards per game in 2014 and will probably not match that in 2015.

The defense was stout last year by giving up only 20.7 points and 337 yards per game with eight starters back. There will be six starters back in 2015 with one starter back on the line in Jordan Jenkins from linebacker. Jenkins had 70 tackles, 5 sacks, and 4.5 tackles for loss. Two linebackers return in Lorenzo Carter (41 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 2.5 tackles for loss) and Leonard Floyd (55 tackles, 6 sacks, and 2.5 tackles for loss). The secondary will have three starters back from a group that allowed only 170 passing yards per game and 53.8% completions. The trio returning are Aaron Davis (40 tackles, 5 pass breakups, and an interception), Quincy Mauger (51 tackles, 4 pass breakups, and 4 interceptions), and Dominick Sanders (34 tackles, 5 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions). The defense should be solid again and while they may not match or top last year’s numbers, they could come close.

Georgia faces Louisiana-Monroe, Southern, Georgia Southern, and Georgia Tech in non-conference action with the only road game against the Yellow Jackets. In conference, Georgia has to face Vanderbilt and Tennessee on the road while playing Florida in Jacksonville, as usual. They will also face South Carolina, Missouri, and Kentucky at home. From the West, Georgia will take on Alabama (home) and Auburn (road) to give them another tough draw. Georgia has the talent to win the East and the division is certainly there for the taking.

4. Florida Gators

Since Urban Meyer’s departure after the 2010 season, there have been more bad times than good for the Florida Gators. They went 7-6 in 2011 before a slight resurgence to 11-2 and a Sugar Bowl appearances, but they were crushed in that game and it was all downhill after that. They missed a bowl game entire in 2013 with a terrible 4-8 record and went 7-5 last year. Will Muschamp was in charge for the last four seasons, but he was let go. Jim McElwain has been installed as the head coach after three seasons at Colorado State where he went 22-16.

The offense in 2013 for Florida was atrocious. They put up a paltry 18.8 points and 317 yards per game while the numbers improved drastically in 2014 with 30.3 points and 368 yards per game. Enter McElwain, who nearly 35 points and 500 yards per game in his final two years at Colorado State. The quarterback position was unsettled last year due to injuries, suspensions, and ineffectiveness. Treon Harris threw for 1,019 yards with 9 touchdowns and 4 interceptions, but will be competing with Will Grier for the QB duties. The running back position is led by Kelvin Taylor, who had 565 yards and 6 touchdowns, but the loss of Adam Lane (181 yards and 1 touchdown) will hurt the depth. Demarcus Robinson (53 catches for 810 yards and 7 touchdowns) was the top receiver last year and returns for 2015 along with Ahmad Fulwood (12 catches for 199 yards and a touchdown), Latroy Pittman (15 catches for 164 yards), and Brandon Powell (15 catches for 147 yards and a touchdown). There is only one offensive lineman returning and the offense is also learning new schemes. With all that in mind, it is tough to see the Gators putting up a high amount of points, but there is serious talent left over from Muschamp’s tenure.

The defense was very good to excellent under Muschamp, which is no surprise. In 2012, the defense allowed 14.5 points and 287 yards per game in their 11-2 season. The numbers rose to 21.1 points per game in both 2013 and 2014 while the yards per game were 314 in 2013 and 330 in 2014. This year, there will be seven starters back with two on the line in Bryan Cox (29 tackles and 4 sacks) and Jonathan Bullard (52 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 6 tackles for loss) while highly rated freshman Cece JeffersonAntonio Morrison is the lone linebacker returning, but he is a good one after leading team in tackles with 101. The secondary is clearly the strength of the defense with all four starters back led by Vernon Hargreaves (50 tackles, 13 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions). Brian Poole (45 tackles, 10 pass breakups, and 4 interceptions), Keanu Neal (45 tackles and 3 interceptions), and Marcus Maye (62 tackles) all return as well. The secondary should be one of the best, if not the top, secondaries in the nation. Overall, the defense should be stout again with that back four leading the way.

Florida faces New Mexico State, East Carolina, Florida Atlantic, and Florida State as part of their non-conference schedule and all four of those games are at home. Within their division, Florida faces Kentucky, Missouri, and South Carolina on the road while playing both Tennessee and Vanderbilt at home. The Gators also face Georgia in their annual clash in Jacksonville. From the West, Florida will play Ole Miss (home) and LSU (road) in two tough games. The talent is there for the Gators to win the East, but a new coach and some losses on the offense leave some worries about actually getting it done.

5. South Carolina Gamecocks

It is hard to believe that Steve Spurrier will be entering his 11th year at South Carolina. He has led South Carolina to an overall record of 84-45 and has not had a losing season. However, the Gamecocks have not won the SEC Championship and have only played in the SEC Championship game once in 2010 when they were lit up 56-17. Still, South Carolina had three straight years of 11-2 records from 2011 through 2013 and Spurrier looks to get them back to those heights after a 7-6 record in 2014.

The offense put up 32.6 points and 443 yards per game, but will only return four starters from last seasons. The quartet of Connor Mitch, Perry Orth, Lorenzo Nunez, and Michael Scarnecchia will battle it out to replace Dylan Thompson (3,564 yards with 26 touchdowns and 11 interceptions). The top returning rusher is Brandon Wilds (570 yards and 4 touchdowns) and he will be joined by David Williams (256 yards and 2 touchdowns) and Shon Carson (141 yards with 2 touchdowns). Pharoh Cooper returns at wide receiver after leading the team in 2014 with 69 catches for 1,136 yards and 9 touchdowns. Tight end Jerell Adams is the second leading returning receiver with 21 catches for 279 yards and 1 touchdown. There are three starters back on the line as well. The lack of experience is a huge concern for the offense and the last time this few of starters returned, they only put up 20.6 points and 347 yards per game.

The defense is in better shape than the offense with eight starters returning including three on the offensive line. The duo of Gerald Dixon (42 tackles and 2 sacks) and Gerald Dixon Jr. (29 tackles) will be joined by Darius English (24 tackles) and junior college transfer Marquavius Lewis. The top three linebackers return in Skai Moore (93 tackles and 3 interceptions), TJ Gurley (80 tackles), and Jonathan Walton (61 tackles). The secondary is the concern here with two starters back in Chris Lammons (21 tackles) and Chris Moody (37 tackles). The defense allowed 30.4 points and 433 yards per game in 2014, but those numbers should improve in 2015 with more experience returning.

South Carolina opens the year with a game against North Carolina in Charlotte, North Carolina. Their three other non-conference games are against Central Florida, The Citadel, and Clemson with all of those games at home. They will face Georgia, Missouri, and Tennessee on the road in three tough games while playing Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Florida at home. From the West, the Gamecocks have LSU (home) and Texas A&M on the road. If the offense can get its act together quickly and perform well above expectations, then South Carolina has a great chance at contending in the East.

6. Kentucky Wildcats

Kentucky has been a middle of the road SEC team at best for a long while. With Joker Phillips at the helm, the Wildcats went 6-7 in year one before falling off to 5-7 and 2-10 in his final two years. Mark Stoops was brought in and produced the same 2-10 record in his first year. 2014 was a step in the right direction with a 5-1 that included a brutal triple overtime loss to Florida, 36-30. They finished the year with six straight losses preventing them from making a bowl game.

Kentucky’s offense put up 29.2 points and 384 yards per game in 2014, a step up from the 20.5 points and 341 yards per game they produced in 2013. This year, seven starters are back led by quarterback Patrick Towles, who threw for 2,718 yards with 14 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. The running game has Stanley Williams back after he ran for 486 yards and 5 touchdowns as the leading rusher, though that will need to go up in 2015. Jojo Kemp (323 yards and 4 touchdowns) and Mikel Horton (306 yards and 2 touchdowns) are also at running back. Ryan Timmons is back after leading the team with 45 receptions for 536 yards and 2 touchdowns. Also returning are Garrett Johnson (22 catches for 271 yards and 2 touchdowns), Dorian Baker (19 catches for 199 yards and 1 touchdown), and Blake Bone (14 catches for 194 yards with 2 touchdowns). The offensive line has four starters back and the offense should continue its upward trend in points and yards per game in 2015.

The defense has been consistently sub par in Stoops’ first two years. In 2013, the defense gave up 31.2 points and 427 yards per game and those numbers were nearly the same in 2014 when they allowed 31.3 points and 407 yards per game. In 2015, the number of starters returning is seven including four of the top six tacklers. On the line, Melvin Lewis is the lone returning starter after recording 37 tackles last year. The three linebackers all return in Ryan Flannigan (57 tackles), Khalid Henderson (53 tackles), and Josh Forrest (110 tackles and 7 tackles for loss). The secondary has three starters back led by Cody Quinn (35 tackles), Fred Tiller (46 tackles, 9 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions), and AJ Stamps (56 tackles and 4 interceptions). Year three of the Stoops era should produce the best defense yet.

Kentucky has a non-conference schedule that consists of Louisiana-Lafayette, Eastern Kentucky, Charlotte, and Louisville with all those at home. They will face South Carolina, Georgia, and Vanderbilt on the road while taking on Florida, Missouri, and Tennessee at home. From the West, Kentucky will play Auburn (home) and Mississippi State (road). Kentucky is the wild card team in the East due to their ability to completely shake up the standings.

7. Vanderbilt Commodores

Vanderbilt was undoubtedly going in the right direction under James Franklin. He led them to three straight bowls between 2011 and 2013 while going 9-4 in his final two years. Unfortunately, Derek Mason was not able to produce the same results in his first year with Vanderbilt going backward to 3-9 including 0-8 in the SEC last year.

The offense for Vandy in 2014 was poor gaining only 288 yards per game and scoring just 17.2 points per contest. There will be in starters back from that group led by quarterback Johnny McCrary, who was the leading passer in 2014 with only 985 yards with 9 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. Wade Freeback threw for 365 yards with 1 touchdown and 5 interceptions. At running back will be Ralph Webb, who was a bright spot as a freshman with 912 yards and 4 touchdowns. The top three receivers are back in Steven Scheu (39 catches for 525 yards and 4 touchdowns), CJ Duncan (28 catches for 441 yards with 4 touchdowns), and Latevius Rayford (36 catches for 350 yards and a touchdown). The offensive line has four starters back and the offense should produce better in 2015.

The defense has nine starters back from a group that allowed 33.3 points and 402 yards per game. There are two back on the line led by Caleb Azubike (39 tackles and 4 sacks) and Adam Butler (35 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 5 tackles for loss). The linebackers have three returning starters in Nigel Bowden (78 tackles), Stephen Weatherly (55 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 8 tackles for loss), and Darreon Herring (45 tackles). The secondary has all four starters back with Torren McGaster leading the way with 66 tackles and 2 interceptions. The defense should improve in 2015 with the experience and depth returning.

Vanderbilt will play Western Kentucky, Austin Peay, Middle Tennessee, and Houston with the first two at home and the second two on the road. In their division, Vandy will take on South Carolina, Florida, and Tennessee on the road and play Georgia, Missouri, and Kentucky at home. From the West, they will play Ole Miss (road) and Texas A&M (home). Vanderbilt will be struggling for wins again in 2015, but they will be a tough out in some games this year.

Overview

The SEC East is wide open with Tennessee, Missouri, Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina all having enough talent to win the division. Kentucky is a dangerous team that can spoil the hopes of any of the top five teams with an upset while Vanderbilt is still lagging behind. Below is the predicted order of finish.

1. Tennessee

2. Missouri

3. Georgia

4. Florida

5. South Carolina

6. Kentucky

7. Vanderbilt

Check back on Friday for the final preview of this series with the SEC West. We will also predict the winner of the SEC Championship.