As those sorts of columns go, this one’s actually kind of thought-provoking.
Start with this:
1. Tennessee will beat Alabama for the first time in a decade
It’s no surprise to regular readers I’ve been high on this year’s Volunteers for some time. Tennessee returns 18 starters, including a potentially dynamic quarterback in Joshua Dobbs, from a team that lost four games by a total of 16 points last year. The Vols will no doubt have Oct. 15 vs. the Crimson Tide circled on their calendar, and this is the year they finally get over the hump. It’s been a while. The last time Tennessee beat Alabama (2006), Mike Shula and Phillip Fulmer were the two head coaches. But unless the still-unresolved off-field controversy engulfs Butch Jones at some point (and there’s no evidence thus far that it will), this will be a memorable year in Knoxville.
Eh, maybe. I still want to see Booch’s team climb the mountain first. Yeah, they lost some close ones last year, but the point is they lost them. And if he’s right that Alabama’s defense will be better than it was last season, that’s quite the mountain to climb.
But my real question is how hard will the Vols sell out for this game? If they really give it everything they’ve got and lose, what kind of shape will they be in for their next game, which, although it’s against a team they’ve handled of late, will be their fifth conference game in a row?
Tennessee’s November is what Tennessee’s November usually looks like, so if Georgia is going to win the East, the Vols had best get dinged up before then.
And then there’s this:
5. Auburn will post its second straight losing SEC record
The Tigers improved toward the end of the year last season; that’s pretty much indisputable. And to their credit, they did not quit after a disastrous early-season slide. Trouble is, Auburn still has no answer at quarterback and did not upgrade after changes on the defensive coaching staff. Picking up Vanderbilt on the SEC schedule helps, though Texas A&M and Mississippi State are the only other likely wins on the Tigers’ conference slate. LSU, Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama are almost certain losses. Arkansas might be the swing game. A loss in that one would put the Tigers at 3-5 in the league. With a loss to Clemson in the opener (a virtual certainty), Auburn would finish 6-6. Though I’m not 100 percent certain it will happen, I’ll be consistent in what I’ve said in the past. If Gus Malzahn doesn’t win at least eight games this year, he’s done.
Would Auburn really do that? If Chizik can get fired two seasons after winning a national championship, nothing’s really out of the question on the Plains.
The thing is, the Tigers usually do their best when nothing is expected out of them. And that’s certainly the case in 2016. Then again, I look at this schedule and only see seven wins right now. To notch that eighth one, Gus is going to have to upset somebody. Even if he doesn’t, is 7-5 bad enough to cost him his job?