SEC Preview by Tom Borrett

The SEC Preview

The Southeastern Conference, where do I begin? I mean, it just means more right? Both the West and the East are absolutely stacked with talent. 11 of the 13 teams went bowling last year, six teams are present in the CFB coaches’ top 25 preseason rankings and results last year show that anyone can beat anyone on their day. We have a vast amount to get excited about this season; multiple players who will be competing for the Heisman, Coaches hoping to prove they now own their programmes and can produce the results needed, as well as talented players joining the conference through the transfer portal. 

Sooo many questions…

Will Alabama and Georgia meet in the conference decider again? Can Jake Fromm finally take the Bulldogs past the Crimson Tide? How will Kelly Bryant perform going home to Missouri? Will Jimbo and the Aggies be able to safely navigate their way through their extremely tough schedule? Can Auburn and Florida live up to expectations and challenge this year? Will Joe Burrow and the offense at LSU be able to produce the same quality produced by their awesome defence? Can Kentucky back up 2018 without Josh Allen & Benny Snell Jr? Will Coach Muschamp deliver in his fourth year at SC? I could go on for hours… but let’s get into it  

Looking back at 2018

So 2018 was dominated again by those boys from Tuscaloosa. Alabama won the SEC West and went 14-1 with their only loss coming to Clemson in the National Championship Game. Georgia gave them a close-run SEC championship match-up where Alabama needed an intervention from back-up QB Jalen Hurts to take the OT win, but apart from that, no one in the SEC really looked like challenging.

Elsewhere in the West there are notable mentions for LSU and Texas A&M, not only because they treated us to a 72-74, seven OT thriller but they finished second and third respectively. Both finished with conference records of 5-3, LSU didn’t lose a non-conference match and also defeated the 25-0 UCF Knights in the Fiesta Bowl whilst TAMU finished nicely with a four-game win streak.

Over in the East, Georgia dominated, (apart from that championship game against Bama and their away loss in Baton Rouge) they made light work of the rest of the conference. Georgia went 7-0 at home last season plus Jake Fromm firmly confirmed that the Bulldogs are his team.

Big shout out in the East goes to Florida and Kentucky, both teams finished with a 5-3 conference record like their 2nd and 3rd place equivalents in the West and took some significant scalps along the way. Florida were unbeaten on the road at 4-0 and UK made Kroger Field a fortress going 6-1 with the only loss coming to that strong Georgia side.

Oh… and just to reiterate my point that on their given day anyone really can beat anyone in the SEC, last season; LSU beat Georgia, Texas A&M beat LSU, Auburn beat Texas A&M while Tennessee beat Auburn. Tennessee also beat Kentucky, but UK had a great season and beat Mississippi State, Florida and South Carolina. Mississippi State beat Auburn but lost to Florida, and then Tennessee got beat by Missouri, Vanderbilt and South Carolina. It’s a madness!

What should you expect for 2019?

I’m coming straight back at you with an Alabama v Georgia SEC championship game, what a surprise…. In fairness there has been a lot of talk about Florida taking Georgia in the East this year however come the Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party on November 2 I think the Bulldogs will prove too strong for the Gators. 

Alabama are still the football powerhouse they always have been under Nick Saban, the depth down in Tuscaloosa means even when they lose good players to the NFL guys are lining up and ready to be counted. The have last season’s Heisman Runner-up Tua Tagoviloa returning in the QB spot, Tua told the press at SEC Media day that he is arguably in the best shape he’s ever been in having dropped down to 215lbs from 230lbs before Spring-practice begun. His eye will be set firmly on the National Championship and the Heisman trophy in what will be his last season before heading to the draft.

Elsewhere on the roster there are studs everywhere you turn, Jerry Jeudy is the best WR in the nation in my opinion and if he can have a season with even better stats than 68 receptions for 1315 yds and 14 TD’s he may even put himself in Heisman contention with the pool of talented QB’s around the nation. 

Defensively’ players like Xavier McKinney and Raekwon Davis will keep this strong Alabama defence hard to beat and keep an eye out for LB Dylan Moses, wow, ranked as the no.1 recruit in his 2017 class, Moses will be key to the Bama D. Check out Lee’s article on Supply lines and Alabama LB’s here.

As mentioned, I think they will meet the Bulldogs in the SEC Championship decider. If there is a season that Georgia are going to go all the way, it’s got to be this one, right? Jake Fromm returning, Heisman hopeful, arguably the best leader in the country – Check out my piece on the race to the Heisman here – and with the experience of a National Championship and SEC championship loss in consecutive seasons at the hand of Alabama you’d hope this time he will be able to deliver… third time lucky?

The Bulldogs lost some seriously talented receivers in Mecole Hardman, Riley Ridley and Terry Godwin but in my opinion they have the best O-Line in all of college football. This is going to create space for elite running back De’Andre Swift and five-star recruit Zamir White who was the number one ranked player in High School Football 2018. The O-Line should also allow Fromm a little extra time on the ball to pick out those less experienced receivers. 

Florida were the most improved team in all of the SEC last year and are heading in to year two of Dan Mullen’s reign off the back of a ten-win season. Feleipe Franks has shown us he can throw the football and seemed to be a new, much more confident, man at SEC media day. Whilst I think Franks and the Gators will get the better of many next season, I have Georgia down in Jacksonville on what I’m sure will be the SEC East decider.

Looking back to the West

Both LSU and Texas A&M have strong teams again. Coach O is in Baton Rouge to stay and Jimbo moves in to year two of his programme, but how will they fair?

Firstly I’ll touch on TAMU, despite really liking the Aggie’s I am finding it hard to see them winning the magic 10 games this season. Matches against Alabama, Clemson, Georgia and LSU stand out as to reasons why it may be unfeasible. I think they can definitely get one win out of these four and I have a sneaky feeling it may come against National Champions Clemson. TAMU pushed Clemson very close at Kyle Field last year and they play them early on again this season, if they hit the ground running, they could cause an upset that will have a dramatic knock on effect on the College Football Playoffs. 

When it comes to LSU, well, I think their schedule means they won’t finish top of the West with tough matches against Texas, Florida, Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M – I certainly don’t think they will win out – However I do think they will be a top ten team this season and with Joe Burrow returning perhaps they do have a recipe for an attack on that top spot… because the LSU Defence is outrageous!

Keep a particularly close eye out for Safety, Grant Delpit – Coach O said at SEC media day that he genuinely believes Delpit is the best Defensive Back returning to College Football and boy does his stats from last season prove it. He had 46 solo tackles, 9.5 for a loss – as a Safety! – 5 sacks and 5 interceptions. He will be a first round NFL pick for sure.

Sleeper team 

There has been a lot of talk about Auburn being the sleeper team in the SEC West but again I think their schedule will prove too tough. They have one of the best Defensive units in the nation with a line led by seniors Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson as well as Junior Nick Coe. 

They are going to have either a redshirt or true Freshman at the helm, personally I think Bo Nix wins the battle this season but whether he has what it takes against an experienced Oregon side and first round NFL prospect Justin Herbert opening day will be another story. They also have to navigate their way past Texas A&M, Florida, LSU, Georgia and Alabama. I think their absolute ceiling is 8 wins this year.

For my sleeper pick in the SEC this year you have to look East to Missouri, bold take but I genuinely believe they could be 8-0 before they have to play Georgia and Florida back to back. Mizzou aren’t bowl eligible this year and many players were targeted in the transfer portal… but they remained. Not only did players remain but they have star quarterback Kelly Bryant joining from Clemson who, let’s be honest, has only moved on because a certain Trevor Lawrence seems to be on another planet.

Bryant is going to offer much more than an improved passing game, he’s a dual threat QB who has the ability to take off and make things happen on the ground. If key defensive players like LB Cale Garrett play to their potential, then Coach Odom and Mizzou’s nothing to lose attitude may upset the apple cart this season.

What’s your take on these?

Kentucky obviously had a great season in 2018, they only lost at home once and that was to Georgia and they went on to beat Penn State in the Citrus Bowl to top off a successful 10-3 season. This year however, may be a bit of a challenge. Kentucky had five players drafted in to the NFL, that’s the most in one draft since 1979 where eight players were selected. They lost defensive powerhouse and leader Josh Allen who was drafted 7th overall, along with RB Benny Snell Jr who went in round 4. Lonnie Johnson Jr., Mike Edwards, and George Asafo-Adjei made up the five and I simply cannot see Kentucky filling these very big shoes. Kentucky to fall in the rankings this season.

Will Muschamp feels that he has his strongest side to date and as he moves in to his fourth year programme at South Carolina, he now has a full squad of players recruited by him and his staff. One date you should definitely add to your diary is November 30th where the Gamecock’s host rivals Clemson. Muschamp was asked about being the ‘little brother’ now to Clemson and his response was clear – We are not the little brother, OK – don’t miss that one folks.

Mississippi State have a relatively straight forward schedule this year, so I have the over under on wins this year at 7.5. I don’t however think they will be good enough to beat Auburn, LSU, Bama and TAMU so they won’t be in contention in the SEC West.

Help me on the Vols!

Tennessee are driving me mad this pre-season! Obviously, they will hope to be an improved team and I think they could potentially be a surprise package this season. Moving into the second year under Jeremy Pruitt the Vols will be looking to improve on their 5-7 record last year. The only way is up right? Well… maybe not, there is a more-than-likely chance they will lose to Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and my sleeper team Missouri… that’s four L’s right there.

But will they? There is a lot to get excited about, they beat Auburn and an in-form Kentucky last season and they have lured in a top-quality recruiting class ranking 10th in the nation. Included in that is Henry To’oto’o who they have stolen from Alabama and they also have Wanya Morris and Darnell Wright who are both five-star offensive tackles. 

Propping up the bottom

Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Arkansas…. I’m conscious that this piece is getting pretty lengthy now, so I won’t keep you much longer. For me I can’t see vast improvements at Vanderbilt, Ole Miss or Arkansas, I mean… Arkansas will improve I’m sure after an 0-8 conference record last year, but I think their absolute ceiling is 6-5. Ole Miss are going through a bit of a rebuilding patch and Vandy aren’t getting more than 6 wins. 

To conclude…

Breaking it all down, and making ridiculously early predictions for this season I’m taking;

  • Georgia to win the SEC East
  • Alabama to win the SEC West
  • Georgia to beat Alabama in the SEC championship game. 
  • Tennessee to be the most improved team in the conference
  • Missouri to be 8-0 before playing Georgia and Florida and finishing with 9 wins
  • Texas A&M to beat Clemson (I know that’s technically non-conference)

Thanks for your time in reading this piece, I will be covering the SEC this season so please feel free to tweet me at @BlogsBoz with anything you’d like me to cover.

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