By Liam Lodge (@Liam66NFL)
Welcome to the latest of Full 10 Yards College Football’s conference previews.
This series began a couple of weeks ago with a double-header when Power 5 college football was kicked off by the ACC and Big XII conferences. With this college season turning into one unlike any previous, the first games in each of the conferences have been spread over a wider time period with more to follow in October.
This weekend sees the beginning of the Southeastern Conference (SEC).
If you consider yourself anywhere between “newbie” and “fairly new to” college football, there are many reasons why the SEC could be the conference for you. Everything that makes the sport so special at the collegiate level is represented across these southern and south-eastern states of America. It is also one of the most successful conferences in terms of national championship victories, not just on the all-time list as in recent years the SEC has flexed its muscles and produced ten national champions since 2006.
There is an abundance of history, tradition and success throughout the programmes of the SEC. Some of the most storied teams in the game such as the Alabama Crimson Tide, Auburn Tigers, Florida Gators, Georgia Bulldogs, LSU (Louisiana State University) Tigers, Ole Miss (University of Mississippi) Rebels and Tennessee Volunteers all play here. The massive state of Texas is also represented by Texas A&M. This is a region of the USA where parts have none to little in the way of professional sport’s teams to support, so the commitment and passion from the fans towards their college teams is huge. This makes the conference slogan that tells us “It Just Means More” feel very appropriate.
It is the passion within the SEC that has helped to form some of the best rivalries in all of college football: Alabama vs Auburn in the “Iron Bowl”, Auburn vs Georgia (oldest SEC rivalry game) and the “Egg Bowl” between Ole Miss and Mississippi State to name three.
Whoever you are watching, if you are watching SEC football, expect loud and crazy games with loud and crazy endings!
…Of course, perhaps not so loud in 2020.
With COVID-19 forcing a revised schedule, this year the SEC teams will play 10 conference-only games that include 6 games against division opponents and 4 games against non-division opponents. The SEC Conference Championship Game will be on December 19th.
Teams And Last Season’s Record
The 14 members of the SEC are split evenly into the East Division and the West Division. Below are how the conference standings ended last season.
Team – (Conference Record) – Overall Record
Georgia (7-1) 12-2
Florida (6-2) 11-2
Tennessee (5-3) 8-5
Kentucky (3-5) 8-5
Missouri (3-5) 6-6
South Carolina (3-5) 4-8
Vanderbilt (1-7) 3-9
Team – (Conference Record) – Overall Record
LSU (8-0) 15-0
Alabama (6-2) 11-2
Auburn (5-3) 9-4
Texas A&M (4-4) 8-5
Mississippi State (3-5) 6-7
Ole Miss (2-6) 4-8
Arkansas (0-8) 2-10
Teams In Focus
Alabama – One of the real power-organisations of the sport, Alabama will begin their season ranked #2 in the nation. Legendary head coach Nick Saban leads a group of players into 2020 who are favourites to reclaim the West Division and earn a place in the College Football Playoff.
They boast one of the most talented offenses around headed by quarterback Mac Jones, who looked good last year when he replaced the injured Tua Tagovailoa. Despite rumblings of a battle for the starting role with freshman Bryce Young, Jones should win-out and has all the help he needs on the field with top-class wide receivers DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle to throw to. Expect senior Najee Harris to have another strong season at running back.
There will be plenty of defensive talent available too for the Tide with a nice mix of returning starters and youngsters looking to prove their worth and meet the programme’s high standards, which are so high that 2019 was the first time Alabama had suffered a two-loss season in nearly a decade.
Alabama will certainly be the team to beat in the SEC.
Florida – The Gators will be a good watch this season and are my dark horses to challenge for the entire conference. They head into this weekend ranked #5 so perhaps it is not such a bold claim.
There are a few inconsistencies to improve upon on offense, but I think they have the personnel to do it. Most notably tight end Kyle Pitts, who is expected to be among the top players in the country at the position. He will be the number one target for quarterback Kyle Trask who has enough talent around him to cause problems against anyone.
Defensively, Florida lost a lot of good players from last season to the NFL draft. Head coach Dan Mullen has had two years of putting together strong recruiting classes and the expectation is that the defense will fill those holes and pick up from where it left off. The team will field some real playmakers right across the entire defensive unit.
Mullen’s team has quite a favourable schedule, including playing at a neutral site for the big game vs Georgia on November 7th. This could very well be the decider in the East and will be the Gators opportunity to assert themselves at the top of the division.
Mississippi State – I wanted to include Mississippi State here simply for the potential of the team’s entertainment value.
The Bulldogs have hired Mike Leach to be their new head coach, he brings his all-attack style of offense from Washington State on the west coast. Leach has immediately began putting the pieces in place for his high-charged passing game by bringing in ex-Stanford quarterback K.J. Costello to be Mississippi State’s new signal caller.
Costello is going to have plenty of big, tall receivers to target, the most intriguing wideout is Alabama transfer Tyrell Shavers who previously had not been given much playing time due to being low down the depth chart at ‘Bama. Shavers is listed as 6’6 and can run the 40-yard dash in the 4.3-4.4 range – he certainly looks the part.
As Leach attempts to rack up the yardage through the air, look for the more consistent and reliable work to come from running back Kylin Hill, who can do everything well at the position.
Mississippi State will be underdogs more often than not throughout their schedule. I hope that with a new adventurous offense they will shake up the SEC a little.
Players To Watch
Dylan Moses, Linebacker, Alabama – When focusing on Alabama earlier I mentioned some of their offensive weapons, now let’s look at one of the team’s primary defenseman.
We were cheated out of watching Moses in 2019 due to him suffering a serious knee injury, and the Tide could have lost him for good to the draft. But Moses has returned for his senior year and fans of defensive football can look forward to him leading by example.
He is a big, tough tackler who will hit hard and at speed. He has excellent range; when dialled into a play he will get to ball carriers and finish quickly. Given a run of games his stats will be near the top in the tackling column.
The SEC conference as a whole has great strength in depth when it comes to linebackers, which is great if you enjoy the position. Moses will be among the best of the bunch.
Derek Stingley Jr, CB, LSU – Last year Stingley Jr. was given a starting role on an LSU defense loaded with talent in his very first season with the team. He made a huge impression during his debut campaign, with over 20 pass break-ups and 6 interceptions, becoming one of the most feared defensive backs in collegiate football. All this as a freshman.
Entering his sophomore season, he will be a player offenses will look to avoid! When he is given the opportunity to make plays, Stingley Jr.’s technique is fun to watch and he plays with good size and showed an impressive knack for producing big plays in big games. Also has obvious ability to read and understand offensive play calling very well.
Due to his age, there is room for him to grow physically, so look for Stingley Jr. to be tackling harder over the next two years before he is draft eligible.
Trey Smith, OG, Tennessee – I am going to look to the East Division now and focus on one of the big guys playing offensive lineman.
In 2017, Trey Smith was the number one recruit in the nation out of high school. I always think this is noteworthy and he has become a consistently powerful blocker at left guard on the Tennessee line. Will often be one of the biggest men on the field and is a great study for anyone who enjoys the battles in the trenches.
Smith contends with some erratic quarterback play at Tennessee but is still very good in pass protection. The Volunteers strength on offense is a solid run game, with Smith showing great ability to block effectively downhill and help his running backs.
This is a big season for Smith as he prepares to enter the NFL draft next April.
Game To Watch
November 14th, Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge, Louisiana – Alabama @ LSU.
This is going to be a huge contest between the top two programmes in the SEC West.
LSU lost so many players and staff to the NFL following an excellent national championship winning run last season, but they will not be pushovers in 2020 and talent remains in all areas. The defending champs will not give Alabama an easy ride especially on home turf.
‘Bama will want revenge for last season and it’s the perfect game for them to get back atop the division. A statement road-win at the team who won the West last time out is huge motivation.
There will be hard hits, turnovers, lead changes and lots of points. Not to be missed.
South Carolina 3-7
Texas A&M 7-3
Mississippi State 4-6
Ole Miss 3-7