If The Big Ten and Pac-12 play college football this fall, their league members will exclusively play against one another. Saturday morning Greg Sankey said actions by other leagues will not determine the SEC’s fate this fall, but the All-SEC schedule will surely get kicked around when all of the league’s athletic directors meet in Birmingham this Monday. If the league ultimately decides to scrap the schedule and exclusively play conference opponents, Kentucky must add a few SEC West teams to the schedule. Let’s rank the opponents from least to most difficult.
The Razorbacks have won one SEC football game in three years. First-year head coach Sam Pittman brings plenty of enthusiasm from Georgia. The offensive line coach has plenty of juice, but juice alone won’t bring you immediate success in the SEC. A rematch of Lynn Bowden’s first game as starting quarterback would produce a similar, albeit a more lopsided result.
2. Ole Miss
The 2019 Egg Bowl left each team in ruin. From the ashes boosters brought Lane Kiffin to Oxford. The splashy hire gave the outspoken former Tennessee and USC coach a chance for redemption in the SEC. From a personnel standpoint, Kiffin’s spread offense does not fit quarterback John Rhys Plumlee’s skill set. He thrived in Rich-Rod’s run and gun system, using the read option to get chunk plays. It’s going to take some time before Kiffin’s land sharks can let it rip.
3. Mississippi State
Kentucky’s permanent cross-divisional opponent will surely make the schedule, even so it’s good to know where they fall on the SEC West pecking order. To be frank, they could be worst or first and anywhere in-between. In theory Stanford grad transfer quarterback K.J. Costello should be able to have early success in Mike Leach’s Air Raid. Still, Leach’s offense is the proverbial square peg in a round hole. How Kylin Hill factors in and the self-inflicted stress test on Miss. State’s defense are two huge factors that will determine if they can take the SEC by surprise.
The Tigers are taking a step back in 2020. Their dominant defensive line from a year ago is gone. Bo Nix played hero ball well early on, but he’ll have to take a HUGE leap to keep Auburn near the top of the division. One sports book had an early line of Auburn -17.5 vs. UK, the easiest money you could ever possibly make in your life. It’s a shame we probably won’t be able to cash that ticket.
Yes, they’re the defending National Champs, coming off arguably the best season ever. That’s what makes them so attractive as an opponent. “Nobody thinks we can beat them,” is an easy selling point in Mark Stoops’ locker room. The National Champs factor adds even more juice. Derek Stingley and Ja’Marr Chase are as good as it gets, but they must replace almost everyone else and forgive me for not being scared of Myles Brennan.
6. Texas A&M
This year’s schedule gives Jimbo Fisher his best chance to win the SEC West since he got to College Station. A popular pick to end the reign of LSU and Alabama, people forget that it took overtime to take down UK in College Station two years ago. Just as the “defending national champs” factor would benefit UK against LSU, Stoops and Gran would take their game to the next level to prove the padawan is now the master.
The SEC Offensive Player of the Year race will most likely be fought between two members of the Crimson Tide, running back Najee Harris and wide receiver Jaylen Waddle. Even if UK spends all afternoon applying pressure on Mac Jones, it only takes one play for Harris and Waddle to turn the game on its head. Nick Saban has created a dynasty at Alabama by giving opponents the thinnest margin of error. Times have changed their roster dramatically, yet that fact remains the same.