TideSports College Football Preview

GAME 1 | Louisville

Date: Sept. 1
Location: Camping World Stadium in Orlando
Kickoff: 7 p.m. CT

You need to know: Bobby Petrino is 0-4 head-to-head against Alabama coach Nick Saban, losing by an average of 23 points. Those games came when Petrino was at Arkansas from 2008-11. As offensive coordinator at Auburn in 2002 under head coach Tommy Tuberville, he was part of a victory over Alabama. In his five seasons since leaving Arkansas – one at Western Kentucky and four at Louisville – he has won eight or more games each season.

Keep an eye on: Jawon Pass, a redshirt sophomore, replaces departed Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson at quarterback. Pass threw for 342 yards and three touchdowns in the Cardinals’ spring game. At 6-foot-4 and 231 pounds, he’s more of a pro-style, pocket passer. He saw action in five games last season as a backup.

Outlook: Louisville was picked to finish fifth in the ACC’s Atlantic Division, an indication that this is seen as a rebuilding year for the Cardinals. Expect Petrino to field an explosive passing game as usual, but a defense that finished 10th in the ACC lost both starting cornerbacks and is relying on a couple of junior college transfers on the defensive front.

If you’re going: Visit Walt Disney World Resort or one of the area’s many other theme parks.

GAME 2 | Arkansas State

Date: Sept. 8
Location: Bryant-Denny Stadium
Kickoff: 2:30 p.m.

You need to know: The Red Wolves averaged more than 342 passing yards per game last season, throwing the ball more than 42 times per game – with five different players throwing passes over the course of 12 games. Coach Blake Anderson rose to prominence as offensive coordinator under Larry Fedora at Southern Miss and North Carolina, producing high-scoring offenses that set numerous school records. Expect Arkansas State to come off the bus passing.

Keep an eye on: Senior quarterback Justice Hansen spent a redshirt year at Oklahoma and a year in junior college before landing at Arkansas State. In the past two seasons he has thrown for 56 touchdowns while amassing nearly 6,700 passing yards.

Outlook: The Red Wolves are coming off a 7-5 season that included a trip to Montgomery’s Camilla Bowl (a game at Miami was canceled due to the threat of Hurricane Irma). Arkansas State is gunning for its eighth straight winning season and is the preseason pick to win the Sun Belt Conference.

If you’re going: Stop by the Bryant Museum before the game.

GAME 3 | Ole Miss

Date: Sept. 15
Location: Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss.
Kickoff: 6 p.m.

You need to know: Ole Miss is still laboring under the shadow of sanctions due to NCAA violations and is not bowl eligible in 2018. Matt Luke guided the Rebels to six wins last season, including a victory over rival Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl, to earn the full-time job after he took over as interim coach last summer when Hugh Freeze lost the position due in the wake of a scandal. Luke brings stability and enthusiasm, but Ole Miss is short on depth.

Keep an eye on: The scoreboard; Alabama won 66-3 last year. Playing at home, Ole Miss needs to be more competitive than that but is facing an uphill struggle against the defending national champion. Ole Miss beat the Crimson Tide back-to-back in 2014-15 for the first time in a series that dates back to the 1890s, but that now seems ages ago.

Outlook: Ole Miss is picked sixth in the SEC West, with Arkansas saving the Rebels from a dead-last forecast, and would do well to equal last season’s victory total. Ole Miss should have a capable offense but is lacking on defense. This team can’t afford to lose any playmakers as the roster is thin.

If you’re going: Check out the tailgate atmosphere in The Grove.

GAME 4 | Texas A&M

Date: Sept. 22
Location: Bryant-Denny Stadium
Kickoff: TBD

You need to know: Alabama has won five in a row over Texas A&M since Johnny Football came to town, and won by an average of 22 points. The Aggies are looking to change that, putting down big money to lure Jimbo Fisher from Florida State as head coach. A&M has financial resources and facilities, and the Aggie faithful believe Fisher can be the final piece in the puzzle to get the program to the top of the SEC.

Keep an eye on: Landis Durham, a senior defensive end, produced 10 1/2 sacks and a dozen tackles for loss among his 56 stops last season. The 6-foot-3, 255-pound veteran has speed as an edge rusher and is able to wreak havoc in opposing backfields. He will be a force this season.

Outlook: The Aggies were picked fourth in the SEC. Under Fisher, A&M will be trying to make the transition from a speed-and-finesse team to a more hard-nosed style of football. How quickly that translates on the field will be dictated by his ability to land recruits who fit his system.

If you’re going: Sample some of Tuscaloosa’s fine barbecue: there are plenty of options.

GAME 5 | Louisiana-Lafayette

Date: Sept. 29
Location: Bryant-Denny Stadium
Kickoff: TBD

You need to know: Billy Napier, head coach of the Ragin’ Cajuns, coached receivers at Alabama from 2013-16. He left to become offensive coordinator at Arizona State, and accepted the head job at ULL after one season in Tempe. Napier previously served as an offensive analyst at UA in 2011 after coaching for five years at Clemson.

Keep an eye on: The clock. Depending on kickoff time, you might be able to get to a television in time to catch Florida at Mississippi State, Tennessee at Georgia or some intriguing national games. Alabama should have little trouble putting away Louisiana-Lafayette.

Outlook: ULL went 5-7 last season and was picked fourth in the five-team Sun Belt West Division in the preseason. Napier inherits some talent and brought in some transfers to help ease his transition. The Ragin’ Cajuns have a schedule that also includes Mississippi State, so will have to win some league games to be bowl eligible.

If you’re going: Greet the team at the Walk of Champions when it arrives at the stadium.

GAME 6 | Arkansas

Date: Oct. 6
Location: Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium
Kickoff: TBD

You need to know: New coach Chad Morris developed his up-tempo offense after consulting with Gus Malzahn when Morris was a high school coach in Texas. Those concepts made him a successful coordinator at Clemson before moving on to become head coach at SMU. His offense last year averaged nearly 500 yards per game. The bad news: SMU’s defense also allowed nearly 500 yards per game.

Keep an eye on: Tosh Lupoi. Alabama’s first-year offensive coordinator will have to make substitutions and calls at warp speed to match up with what is expected to be a lightning-fast tempo from the Arkansas offense. The hurry-up, no-huddle is back, and it’s Lupoi’s job to shut it down.

Outlook: The Razorbacks are picked dead last in the SEC West. Coming off a 4-8 season in Bret Bielema’s last year, Arkansas is in a full rebuild mode and will need a few years of solid recruiting under Morris to get the right payers for his system to have a chance to turn things around.

If you’re going: Take in a movie in your car at the 112 Drive In theater.

GAME 7 | Missouri

Date: Oct. 13
Location: Bryant-Denny Stadium
Kickoff: TBD

You need to know: Missouri enters 2018 on a roll after winning its final six games of the regular season to bounce back from a 1-5 start as head coach Barry Odom got things together in midseason. Missouri had, statistically, the best offense in the SEC last season and returns all five offensive line starters as well as an NFL prospect at quarterback.

Keep an eye on: Drew Lock, Missouri’s quarterback, threw 44 touchdown passes and averaged 9.5 yards per attempt last season. At 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, he has big-league stature to go with the big arm.

Outlook: The Tigers are picked to finish fourth in the SEC East, below the more traditional contenders like Georgia and Florida and above the likes of Kentucky and Vanderbilt. The question is whether Missouri has what it takes to contend for the division title.

If you’re going: Walk over to Denny Chimes and check out the handprints and footprints of past Alabama team captains.

GAME 8 | Tennessee

Date: Oct. 20
Location: Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn.
Kickoff: TBD

You need to know: Tennessee didn’t win a single SEC game last season as Butch Jones, now an analyst at Alabama, went down in flames in his final seasons as head coach. The Volunteers have turned to Jeremy Pruitt, an Alabama alum with a proven record as a top-tier defensive coordinator, to right the ship. He joins fellow former Saban assistants Kirby Smart and Will Muschamp in the SEC East head coaching ranks.

Keep an eye on: Trey Smith started every game last season and earned Freshman All-America honors, settling in at left tackle. He was diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs in February but was cleared in July to play this season. He’s an important building block for a team that has few major talents.

Outlook: Not a lot is expected from a team that is predicted to finish sixth in the SEC East, above only Vanderbilt, while coming off a 4-8 campaign. The first order of business in Pruitt’s first year as head coach is to just win a conference game and instill a level of toughness and discipline as a foundation for the future.

If you’re going: Drive through the East Tennessee countryside and enjoy the color show as the leaves turn in the fall.


Date: Nov. 3
Location: Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La.
Kickoff: TBD

You need to know: Ed Orgeron is already on the hot-seat watch list despite going 9-4 in his first season. He brought in hotshot coordinator Matt Canada to open up the offense, but dismissed him in favor of longtime buddy Steve Ensminger going into 2018. The Tigers have an elite defensive coordinator in Dave Aranda and will need help from that side of the ball as the offense tries to establish an identity.

Keep an eye on: Ohio State transfer Joe Burrow is seen as a savior at quarterback, but watch the LSU running back situation in the first two months of the season. Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice are gone to the NFL, so the Tigers need a new lead rusher to emerge.

Outlook: LSU was picked to finish fifth in the SEC West, a major drop from usual preseason expectations. The Tigers have to get through Miami, Auburn, Georgia and Mississippi State before getting to Alabama, and need to win at least half of those to be en route to a season good enough to satisfy the fan base.

If you’re going: Enjoy some authentic Cajun or creole food.

GAME 10 | Mississippi State

Date: Nov. 10
Location: Bryant-Denny Stadium
Kickoff: TBD

You need to know: Joe Moorhead is yet another new coach in the league, and he inherits a team with talent and experience. The new coach did a turnaround job as head coach at Fordham and had a successful two-year stint as offensive coordinator at Penn State. Moorhead was an off-the-radar hire to replace Dan Mullen, but his background suggests he could be a sleeper pick to keep the program moving forward.

Keep an eye on: Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald was the focal point of the offense under Mullen, a big guy who is a capable passer with a dynamic presence as a runner. He won’t be asked to do it all under the new regime, which could increase his effectiveness.

Outlook: The Bulldogs are the preseason No. 3 pick in the SEC West, selected to finish behind only Alabama and Auburn. Mississippi State probably isn’t good enough to contend for a berth in the SEC Championship Game, but could be good enough to make some noise.

If you’re going: Take a stroll on the 2-mile Riverwalk pathway along the Black Warrior River.

GAME 11 | The Citadel

Date: Nov. 17
Location: Bryant-Denny Stadium
Kickoff: TBD

You need to know: The Bulldogs went 5-6 last season and lost 61-3 in a similar spot stepping up against Clemson late in the season. The Citadel plays in the Southern Conference in the Football Championship Subdivision, where it normally competes with the likes of Samford and Chattanooga. The school was established in 1842 as a military academy and has produced nearly 300 alumni who have become flag officers.

Keep an eye on: Center Tyler Davis started every game the last two seasons and played all but one series last year. An FCS All-American, he will lead the way up front for the Bulldogs’ option offense.

Outlook: The Citadel is picked to finish seventh in the nine-team SoCon. A team that’s not expected to contend in a conference at a lower level isn’t likely to present a challenge to Alabama, but a winning season would be considered a successful campaign.

If you’re going: Join the tailgate festivities on the Quad.

GAME 12 | Auburn

Date: Nov. 24
Location: Bryant-Denny Stadium
Kickoff: TBD

You need to know: In a conference with a lot of coaching turnover in recent seasons, Gus Malzahn ranks as second to Alabama’s Nick Saban in tenure at his current school — along with fellow 2013 hire Mark Stoops of Kentucky — in the SEC. The Tigers won 10 games last season and upset Alabama to pay in the league title game. Auburn is looking to beat Alabama in consecutive years for the first time since 2006-07.

Keep an eye on: Derrick Brown Jr. anchors what should be another elite defensive line. The 6-foot-5, 325-pounder is a run-stopper but needs to improve his big-play performance after counting just nine tackles for loss among his 56 stops last year.

Outlook: The Tigers are picked to finish second (behind Alabama) in the SEC West, but that may be almost by default with LSU’s stock dropping going into 2018. This year’s schedule includes playoff contenders Washington, Georgia and, of course, Alabama; none of those games are at home, leaving little room for error in other games.

If you’re going: This is the Iron Bowl. Just make sure you’re in your seat for kickoff.

TideSports College Football Preview