Too early to think about 2016 already? For the SEC it's not as the conference released next year's schedules on Thursday. Next season will be the first for the SEC to include a strength-of-schedule component to the schedule. All 14 SEC schools now will be required to play an ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 or Major Independent team at least once.
I'm sure Alabama will be the preseason favorite as usual, and the Tide's two toughest tests should be at Ole Miss on Sept. 17, although Rebels are going to lose a ton of talent to the NFL, and at LSU on Nov. 5. No Florida or Georgia from the East Division. If the Tide, who open the 2016 season with a great nonconference clash against USC in Arlington, aren't the West favorites, then LSU likely will be. The Tigers have to visit Auburn, Florida, Arkansas and Texas A&M (on Thanksgiving). They also face Missouri for the first time in school history in a regular-season game on Oct. 1. The two schools met once previously in the 1978 Liberty Bowl, won by Missouri 20-15. Could be a long season for Texas A&M as Aggies are at Auburn, vs. Arkansas in Arlington, at South Carolina, at Alabama and at Mississippi State. At least they also avoid Florida and Georgia from the East.
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Florida draws LSU from the West Division but gets the Tigers in Gainesville on Oct. 8 and also faces Arkansas in Fayetteville on Nov. 5. Georgia is at Ole Miss and home to Auburn from the West. I love the Dawgs' schedule for 2016, with no LSU or Alabama, as it's set up for a possible 12-0 run if they can beat UF in Jacksonville as usual. Don't sleep on Tennessee winning the East next year, either. A four-week stretch will determine that: Sept. 24 vs. Florida, Oct. 1 at Georgia, Oct. 8 at Texas A&M and Oct. 15 vs. Alabama. Rough there's no bye week in there. Win three of those and the Vols likely take the East.
Here are some news, notes and any line moves for some of Saturday's games around the country, in no particular order.
Syracuse at No. 17 Florida State (-19.5): I liked SU in this one when I looked at this game in my Monday Opening Line Report. That was because I thought it was a major trap game for the Seminoles off their crushing final-play loss at Georgia Tech in Week 8 and the fact that their game of the year is next Saturday against Clemson. But now I like the Orange even more. That's because FSU's best offensive player, running back Dalvin Cook, is sitting this one out with an ankle injury. I guarantee you Cook could play if FSU thought it would lose this game. Clearly the school wants him healthy for the Tigers. Cook is one of the top five backs in the nation, having rushed 127 times for 1,037 yards and 11 scores. Florida State hasn't needed to rebound from a regular-season loss since the 2012 finale to Florida, and only six players on the 2015 roster played in that game.
Nebraska at Purdue (+7.5): This has dropped two points. The Boilermakers have yet to win a Big Ten home game (just one overall -- at Illinois last year) under Coach Darrell Hazell, who is in his third season and won't get a fourth. Don't rule out Purdue winning here, however. That's because dual-threat Nebraska starting quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. is not going to play, and he's the key to that offense. Armstrong injured his foot in last week's close loss to Northwestern -- the Huskers are 3-5 with their losses by a combined 13 points. Junior and former walk-on Ryker Fyfe will start for the first time. His only playing time this year was in mop-up duty on Sept. 12 against South Alabama. He has attempted 18 passes in his career.
Miami at No. 22 Duke (-10.5): I led my Opening Line Report with Miami firing Al Golden after last week's embarrassing loss against Clemson. But there was no line back then on this one because it wasn't clear if Hurricanes QB Brad Kaaya, the ACC leader in passing yards, would play. He is not expected to due to a concussion and in fact may not even make the trip. Now I give the Canes no chance of saving their chances at the ACC Coastal Division with an upset. Redshirt freshman Malik Rosier will get the call. He was overmatched in place of Kaaya vs. Clemson, going 7-for-22 for 44 yards and two picks, Duke also has one of the nation's top defenses. This could be ugly.
No. 19 Ole Miss at Auburn (+7): Rebels star defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, an expected Top 10 pick in next year's NFL draft, should play against the Tigers after missing last week's win over Texas A&M. In addition, star safety Tony Conner also appears on track to return. Conner, a preseason All-American, underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus five weeks ago and was expected to miss four to six weeks. Auburn's defense is giving up a league-worst 29.7 points per outing and allowing a league-worst 430.6 yards per game. But star defensive end Carl Lawson might return vs. Ole Miss. Lawson had four tackles with two for loss including a sack and three hurries during the first half of the season opener against Louisville but hasn't played since due to injury.
Central Florida at Cincinnati (-27.5): This has moved the most of any game as it opened at -22. UCF's program is a total mess right now as the team is 0-8, after winning or sharing the past two AAC titles, and has been outscored by 147 points. Coach George O'Leary, who for a while this season was also the school's interim athletic director but stepped down from that to focus on coaching, was forced to resign as coach following last week's blowout loss to Houston on homecoming in Orlando. O'Leary led the school to seven bowl appearances with a record of 81-68. Quarterbacks coach Danny Barrett takes over the final four games. Cincinnati has yet to win back-to-back games this season, but I think it's fair to say that will happen Saturday. In last week's 37-13 win over UConn, former starter Gunner Kiel made the most of his first start in a month, throwing for 327 yards and two touchdowns and also rushing for a score. He has been battling injuries. It appears Kiel will remain the starter even though freshman Hayden Moore played well in his place. This is the first-ever meeting between UCF and UC.
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