I’m going to start earlier than normal doing my weekly previews this year as I’m going to be out of town in the final two weeks of July so with my calculations as is, I figure this is the first week to start my college football preview for each conference, leading up to season. We are technically 63 days away from the season so it is rapidly approaching and of course if you’re a fan in the Southeast, it still can’t get here soon enough.
We start in the SEC as the National Champions and the runners-up (but the SEC Champions) from last year reside and many think it will be the dawn of numerous wars between Alabama and Georgia. Of course we always get it, but will it happen? Kirby Smart was one of the longest-running assistants to Nick Saban and knows what it takes to be successful and put out an Alabama-esque team last year. Of course, playing like Alabama and beating Alabama weren’t the same. But Georgia should actually be better this year than last year and that’s a scary thought while Alabama reloads like they always do. The question will be, is there any team that can really take down one or the other (or both if you were Auburn last year?). Or will there be a year of major adjustments at Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi State, Arkansas and Texas A&M? Can South Carolina and Missouri find ways to upend Georgia or the Tigers of Auburn and LSU find a way to bring down Bama?
How I do this is I will look at the team capsules and then look at best case record, worst case record, and overall as for my picks.
(1) GEORGIA BULLDOGS: Last year the Bulldogs took numerous steps from being near the front of the college football world to being one of the elite programs as many Georgia fans finally hoped they would. With a dominant run game, a quarterback making smart decisions, and a defense that was at the top of the nation, the Bulldogs went 13-2 and was a halftime away really from their first national title since 1980. With the success on the field came the success off the field as Georgia took home the nation’s best recruiting class which means while we will see the fruits of this class in 2-3 years we will still see some incoming freshmen to make an impact. One of the talk has been a possible quarterback “debate” with Jacob Fromm and highly touted prospect Justin Fields (who has drawn comparisons to Cam Newton and DeShaun Watson). Either way though it could be a good problem to have but Kirby isn’t one that buys into the media talk (i.e. rat poison as his mentor at Alabama would say) so it may be all for naught and Fromm starts the year. But the offense will miss Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, but Georgia is Running Back U. De’Andre Swift showed he’s the next man up while Elijah Holyfield, Brian Herrien, and freshman Zamir White could all be starters at some of the best programs in the nation. One question has been can Georgia replicate their defense from a year ago with losing Roquan Smith and Lorenzo Carter. You can’t replace either one, but Georgia will have a good corps of freshmen, sophomores and juniors to really step up and that “next man up” bit that works at Alabama is working at Georgia. But it may take the start of the the year to figure things out with the defense, but will have to show they can stop the deep ball at times, which Missouri got them on and of course, Tua and Alabama did in the National Title game. Speaking of Missouri, Georgia gets a key Week 4 tilt with the Tigers in Columbia so hopefully that isn’t an upset special. That said, the schedule is a fairly easy one as they don’t see a non-Georgia Tech, non-conference Power 5 opponent though a couple of games like Missouri would be an interesting one, like a road trip to South Carolina and their annual “neutral” game against the Gators in Jacksonville while a trip to Baton Rouge and LSU, though many feel the Tigers are a bit down right now. That said, I don’t think Georgia should lose any of those games. If they do and without an SEC Championship, it may cost the Bulldogs a playoff spot.
BEST CASE RECORD: 12-0 WORST CASE RECORD: 9-3 MY PREDICTION: 12-0. I don’t see Georgia stumbling on any of these teams or Auburn whom they have at home.
(2) FLORIDA GATORS: Gators fans finally hope the coaching situation is finally figured out with Dan Mullen coming in to the mix. Mullen is a good offensive guy and really Florida’s offense has never been the same when he left to coach Mississippi State nearly 10 years ago. Mullen’s hope is to get after Georgia and take back the SEC East. As usual Florida has a talented squad on both sides of the ball, but getting the offense to click, stay healthy, and stay out of trouble while the defense took a step back in part because of the injuries and issues that plagued the Gators. But new coach, new attitude? The Gators still have a lot of talent and Mullen makes the best of it like he did at Mississippi State on offense so there are pieces like Jordan Scarlett and Lamicael Perine running in the backfield. Of course, the Gators offense will be dependent on how well the quarterback play is. Felipe Franks didn’t scare many and nobody really has since Tim Tebow left. Will Kyle Trask push him for it or will Franks take the steps forward. Defensively they should get back up with pass rushers galore and Todd Grantham has been a quality defensive coordinator at both Louisville and Mississippi State. Florida’s schedule is an intriguing one as they COULD enter the Georgia game either 6-1 or 7-0 and will really put a measuring stick on where the Gators are in their returning to glory process. But aside from the Georgia game, they have two key road tilts at Mullen’s old stomping grounds at Mississippi State and Florida State so those games will be interesting to say the least. But it has that vibe that maybe things are going to change down in Gainesville with Mullen in charge.
BEST CASE RECORD: 11-1 WORST CASE RECORD: 8-4 MY PREDICTION: 9-3. Mullen & Co. won’t beat Georgia and I don’t see them taking wins out of Starkville or Tallahassee, but it is a good start forward.
(3) SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS: Well, Will Muschamp still has that knack of building the team around the defense while the offense still is trying to figure things out in his third season. Muschamp has Jake Bentley, probably the most talented QB in the SEC and maybe Bryan McClendon, the new offensive coordinator can get more out of the offense that has not been up to snuff at this point. If South Carolina makes jumps on the offensive side, it will go a long way with actual questions on defense this year as the Gamecocks have a lot to replace. But while Smart gets the headlines, Muschamp’s mentality is similar to both Saban and Smart on defense with the “next man up” routine. But if South Carolina is to make noise and even have a possible upset in Week 2 against Georgia at home, the defense has to be more physical and make more stops than Georgia’s defense while maybe the Gamecocks offense finds rhythm. As I stated before, South Carolina gets Georgia in Week 2 as some are looking at it as a possible upset, but if they don’t they still have a favorable schedule up through November with home games with Missouri, Texas A&M and Tennessee, all teams that the Gamecocks SHOULD beat at home. If that happens, they have a lot of momentum heading into November possibly 7-1 with back-to-back road games at Ole Miss and Florida and then two weeks later in Clemson. Good luck with that one.
BEST CASE RECORD: 10-2. WORST CASE RECORD: 4-8 MY PREDICTION: 8-4 I think for once Muschamp’s offense will get better but the defense may not be as strong as it has been in Columbia for a while. That November run will prove costly for the Gamecocks I think.
(4) MISSOURI TIGERS: The talk has been that Missouri could be the SEC East sleeper after how they finished the 2017 season as they turned a 1-5 start to a 7-5 season. But let’s be clear on the six-game winning streak: all 6 wins were against teams who didn’t have a winning record. So take it for what it’s worth. But that said, the Tigers should be better in 2018 as they bring a lot of experience back on both sides. Missouri has the SEC’s top scoring offense the last few years, especially since Drew Lock took over and the Tigers did put points up on Georgia, so they can go after some of the better defenses. Drew Lock is one of the top quarterbacks in the nation and could be a sleeper Heisman candidate if the Tigers can make a splash in the division. The biggest question will be can the defense make strides. They did somewhat last year (2016 they were really down), but in relation to the SEC, they were still near the bottom in key categories. That has to change, especially against the pass where they were 107th in the nation and dead last in the SEC. But they have guys returning at LB and while it won’t be mistaken for Alabama’s groups at linebackers, they are pretty solid at best. They have two corners (DeMarkus Acy and Adam Sparks) who still are relatively young but are returning starters so the Tigers hope they make strides as well. Missouri is one of the four poor souls of having to see Georgia and Alabama in 2018 (at least the Georgia game is at home and that could be a close battle), and have a bit of an early tough window with a non-conference tilt at much-improved Purdue (who throttled the Tigers in Columbia last year) and then comes Georgia, and then two straight road games at South Carolina and Alabama. The rest of the way dies down a bit before they see the Gators and Volunteers on the road, but things can change especially if the Tigers can upset Georgia early on. That said, I doubt that happens.
BEST CASE RECORD: 9-3. WORST CASE RECORD: 5-7 MY PREDICTION: 7-5. Missouri has to show they can beat a quality team to really be considered a threat again in the SEC East. I don’t see them beating Georgia or Alabama. I don’t see them even winning at South Carolina or Florida. And honestly, I don’t think they will exact revenge on Purdue either.
(5) TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS: The nightmare that was the 2017 season is over. Butch Jones, who really turned Tennessee into a full-season meme joke was only the start. The whole coaching search debacle took over. However, they lucked out and hired Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. Pruitt to me comes from the same cloth as Smart, of being a no-nonsense head coach that will make you EARN your keep and so far it looks like he has in Knoxville during spring practices. To me, this is actually a great hire. However, he inherited a mess. The offense stunk last year, but will get Stanford grad transfer Keller Chryst which will help as I think he fits what Pruitt wants of being smart with the football and and relying on the run game, which Ty Chandler could have a big year as well as having another grad transfer of Madre London (Michigan State) to help, so you will have some guys who knows how to play at a top level in big games and win. Adding on, Tennessee will have also have a good and experienced bunch at receiver with Brandon Johnson, Marquez Callaway, and Jauan Jennings. So the Volunteers should improve in that category (though their offensive line is going to be a key question). Defensively, Pruitt is a great defensive mind and will have some help at the LB spot, but the questions will be at corners of having two inexperienced players starting. So it may be a learning process for them in 2018. Tennessee’s schedule won’t do them much favors this year including the gauntlet of death in the heart of the season (Florida, then back-to-back road games at Georgia and Auburn, then coming home to Alabama and then a road tilt at South Carolina) while they open up with a West Virginia team that can light the scoreboard up. That said, the other 6 games can be attainable and Tennessee can manage to sneak into a bowl game in 2018.
BEST CASE RECORD: 8-4. WORST CASE RECORD: 4-8 MY PREDICTION: 6-6. Tennessee I think has the right guy in Pruitt. This is definitely going to be a learning experience year in Knoxville, but I think they will turn out all right.
(6) KENTUCKY WILDCATS: On a side note, I’ve predicted Kentucky for the last 2-3 years to be a sleeper in the SEC and have them win 8 games due to their recruiting. No more. I keep expecting Mark Stoops to turn the Wildcats around and it never happens. While the offense returns 7 starters, none of the returners are at QB and none of the QB’s on the roster have played an FBS game. If Stoops wants to keep his job and win games that they don’t expect to win (Florida), he will have to use Benny Snell on a religious basis. Snell is one of the most exciting backs in the nation and if they are to go anywhere it is through Snell. However, the quarterback, whether it is Terry Wilson or Gunnar Hoak, will have to play well. I am not sold on the Wildcats option offense, especially in the SEC as they just don’t have the same physical bodies like an Auburn has, and that really sets them back. Adding on top, the passing game is one of the worst in the nation. So teams will really key in and try to stop Snell and try to make whoever the QB is beat you. Defensively, Kentucky brings back its entire secondary, but they have to get better from their 103rd ranked passing defense and it isn’t like the Wildcats can’t rush the QB either. Kentucky’s schedule isn’t incredibly rough, but they have road trips at Florida, Texas A&M, Louisville, and even Missouri, which will be tough spots to win at while they host Mississippi State and Georgia. They could take a couple of games, but I think the talent level at those schools are better and their strengths will really expose the Wildcats weaknesses.
BEST CASE RECORD: 7-5. WORST CASE RECORD: 3-9 MY PREDICTION: 4-8. Stoops isn’t the answer in Lexington and may end up being shown the door after the season ends.
(7) VANDERBILT COMMODORES: The SEC’s red-headed stepchild. They won’t ever out-recruit the powers of Alabama, Georgia, LSU, or Auburn. Or even Kentucky or Missouri so you make the best of it. However, the SEC is by far the one conference you cannot be well behind the others and that’s Vanderbilt’s problem forever (as they are more of the academic school anyway). However, Kyle Shurmur made strides and having a quality QB in the SEC is needed (and Shurmur is that) and there is hope the running game rebounds with Illinois grad transfer Ke’Shawn Vaughn. With Shurmur passing and Vaughn running, the Commodores could have a decent offense especially if the young receivers step up. Defensively, Vanderbilt broke early on after their embarrassment loss to Alabama where they were gashed on the ground religiously. Not good when you have to see the likes of Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, even Florida, and a rare game at Notre Dame on your schedule this year. The passing game held its own, but in a conference aside from Missouri that relies on the run, this bodes to be a big problem. Vandy’s schedule is not a fun one to have as they see Notre Dame, but even the home opener against Middle Tennessee can prove to be a headache and if it is, the Commodores will familiar themselves with a long season in 2018 and possible a coaching change by the end of it.
BEST CASE RECORD: 6-6. WORST CASE RECORD: 2-10. MY PREDICTION: 3-9. Vanderbilt just doesn’t match with their SEC foes again, even though Derek Mason is a better coach than many can give him credit.
(1) ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE: After all the injuries to the defense, the run game not as dominant as it was (though 13th nationally) and inconsistent play happened with Jalen Hurts, the Tide still managed to go 11-1, get to the playoff, decisively beat Clemson, and then beat Georgia for the National Championship. It may have been Nick Saban’s best coaching job in Tuscaloosa. However, Bama will have a solid offense again despite the loss of Calvin Ridley and now Tua Tagovailoa after his comeback win in the championship game will take over at QB over Jalen Hurts. The biggest question will be can Jerry Jeudy (who showed flashes of brilliance in limited time last season) take over for Ridley and become the next best Bama receiver following Ridley, Julio Jones, and Amari Cooper. Besides that, Alabama has 3 of their 4 running backs from last year returning and hopes that the Harris boys (Damien and Najee) can build off their play in the National title game and have big years, similar to when Bama had Ingram/Richardson, Richardson/Lacy, Lacy/Yeldon, Yeldon/Henry as all of them would be a part of Running Back U. Defensively Bama will only have 3 starters returning and a duo at defensive coordinator, but after last year where Bama was plagued by injuries, a lot of them played key minutes in big games. The strength of the linebacker has been Bama’s bread and butter especially if Mack Wilson and Dylan Moses return at 100%. The line has a good one with Raekwon Davis could have a monster year and be one of the best ends Saban has ever had at Tuscaloosa. If there is a question, it will be at secondary as no starter returns there including Minkah Fitzpatrick. Deionte Thompson may end up being that Fitzpatrick guy but that’s a lot to ask. But still, Alabama should be a stout defense once again. Alabama’s schedule is somewhat lighter in previous years. Had Lamar Jackson stayed at Louisville in 2018, it would have been a little different, but he went to the NFL. Bama should be rolling through November and of course the LSU game in Baton Rouge always tests the Tide’s toughness, while the two key teams that could sting them, Mississippi State & Auburn are at home in November. And Saban is becoming that coach who doesn’t forget the last time he lost to a team.
BEST CASE RECORD: 12-0. WORST CASE RECORD: 9-3. MY PREDICTION: 12-0. I don’t see any hiccups on Bama’s schedule that would get a Tide fan worried until a potential meeting with Georgia for the SEC title game. And if both teams go 12-0, the SEC Championship just may dictate playoff seeding.
(2) MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS: I’m a believer in Nick Fitzgerald and with Joe Moorhead at coach who is a great offensive mind, he may be very deadly, moreso than when Fitzgerald had Mullen. However, Fitzgerald may be more of a pocket passer in 2018 after his injury in 2017 in the Egg Bowl. If the WR group plays better, watch out for the Bulldogs offense as they may be one of the few teams to really stun Bama even at Tuscaloosa. The running game is stout with Aeris Williams and could be a multi-purpose back as Moorhead had it clicking at Penn State under McSorley and Saquon Barkley. So the Bulldogs offense could have the potential as being one of the best in the nation by far. Mississippi State returns 7 starters to the defense that has been pretty solid, but another defensive coordinator takes over (5 in 5 years). But if Bob Shoop can continue keeping the defense on par like they’ve been, it could be an interesting sight to see especially with Montez Sweat at defensive end. The Bulldogs schedule has the potential of giving them a New Year’s Six and perhaps a sleeper chance of a Playoff, if something crazy happens with Alabama or Georgia. The major road tilt would be at Alabama, and LSU would always be a fight, but the Tigers aren’t the same as we’ve seen them. The home schedule will have an intriguing back-to-back match with Florida and Auburn, but I think the Bulldogs would take down former coach Mullen in an emotional game while Auburn away from the Plains is just…plain.
BEST CASE RECORD: 11-1. WORST CASE RECORD: 6-6. MY PREDICTION: 9-3. Always questions of a new head coach changing things around and not for the better, but I think Moorhead will just alter the offense just a tad that it would be beneficial for the Bulldogs and they could see a New Year’s Six game.
(3) AUBURN TIGERS: Auburn is that runaway freight train of college football. When they’re winning, it seems like nothing can slow them down. But when they lose, it is crash & burn city. The Tigers last year took down the two national championship participants in Georgia and Alabama in the Plains. However, when the SEC Championship game happened, the Tigers got the cat pee knocked out of them by Georgia thus eliminating them from the Playoff contention. Auburn brings back Jarrett Stidham, who got off to a slow start but was a Heisman candidate at the end. He should be considered one this year’s favorites. And Kam Martin should pick up where Kerryon Johnson leaves off. However, the biggest issue will be at the line as the Tigers will have 3 new faces on the offensive line. If the line struggles, Stidham will obviously struggled (he did last year when there was pressure on him. It is definitely a concern. Defensively, the line is the opposite of the offensive line where they are very deep and could have a great year. The linebacker and secondary will have questions about experience which could pose a major problem when Auburn sees the likes of Ole Miss and Mississippi State. And in the 4 losses last year the Tigers had, it had a vibe of the defense was getting tired and teams (Clemson, LSU, Georgia, and UCF) were wearing them out with the run. The schedule isn’t too favorable as this year they draw the straw of having road trips to Georgia and Alabama while they have to visit the entire state of Mississippi (save Southern Miss of course). They also are going to their own personal little shop of horrors also known as Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta for a huge tilt against Washington. If Auburn somehow finds themselves back in Atlanta in early December give Gus Malzahn the coach of the year. It is also a reason why he’s vouching to find a way to flip either the Alabama or Georgia game to be switched, but given their schedules (Alabama would have road trips to LSU, Tennessee and Auburn if that happens or Georgia would have road trips to South Carolina, Auburn, and Tech if they flipped), it won’t happen.
BEST CASE RECORD: 10-2. WORST CASE RECORD: 7-5. MY PREDICTION: 8-4. I don’t see the Tigers winning at either Georgia or Alabama. And right now, I see Mississippi State beating them. And Auburn away from the Plains…is just plain.
(4) OLE MISS REBELS: I don’t think Matt Luke got enough credit for the job he did at Ole Miss, which was in disarray thanks to Hugh Freeze and the scandals that plagued him. The offense could rival Mississippi State with the receiving corps headed by AJ Brown. That group could have a huge year. And with Jordan Ta’amu replacing Shea Patterson it will be an interesting run, though Ta’amu having a pretty good year when he replaced him. The offensive line is stout, but the run game has to improve as it was 104th nationally. And in the SEC, you need that run game. That is the key concern on offense. Defensively the Landshark days are gone as they were horrible last year. They got bullied and in the SEC West, that is very very bad. With only 4 returning starters coming back, that bodes to be a problem. If, somehow Ole Miss returns to that defensive prowess when they had the Nkemdiche boys there, then the West just got interesting to say the least. But I won’t hold out much hope. The schedule is not a bad one with what we may have a video game match with the Rebels and Texas Tech to start the year. The good news is they get Alabama, Auburn, and Mississippi State at home. The bad news is they get Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State at home. However, if the Rebels can take care of business and somehow go 2-1 in those games, it would be nice even though the Rebels are still not allowed to see a Bowl game in 2018.
BEST CASE RECORD: 10-2. WORST CASE RECORD: 4-8. MY PREDICTION: 8-4. I think Luke has done a great job for the mess he inherited and he at least has one more good year before we see the after effects of the probation. And the schedule could net the Rebels some wins.
(5) TEXAS A&M AGGIES: Kevin Sumlin out, Jimbo Fisher in. And the whole thing of having a national championship with Jimbo’s name was a nice little ploy to get the Aggies faithful excited after being an also-ran since joining the SEC. Jimbo brings a track record of a national title at Florida State, a few conference championships, and some New Year’s Six bowl games. However, critics have said that Fisher’s successes were when the ACC Atlantic was way down and that while seeing Clemson is nothing to scoff at, facing the likes of Syracuse, Boston College, and Wake Forest isn’t Auburn, LSU, and Mississippi State (Clemson and Alabama neutralize each other out). Gone will be the Sumlin up-tempo offense that didn’t really pan out at College Station and in will be Fisher’s pro-style offense. However, the offense at Florida State under Fisher since Jameis Winston left sputtered so some have concerns. He will have Trayveon Williams in the backfield which really has helped out and question will be if Nick Starkel or Kellen Mond can take over and play smart football. Fisher will also have to re-work a defense that was mediocre last year. Mike Elko was hired as the new coordinator so there is hope, but they will have to learn on the fly and the two concerns will be against the pass as there is concern on the passing game of finding ends who can rush the passer alongside Landis Durham and somebody to cover the bigger receivers in the SEC. The Aggies schedule is also not a fun one early on and in the middle of the season as Fisher sees his old nemesis Clemson (albeit at home), and then 2 weeks later a trip to Alabama. And then they get a 3-game road trip of being at South Carolina, Mississippi State, and Auburn. Ouch.
BEST CASE RECORD: 8-4. WORST CASE RECORD: 6-6. MY PREDICTION: 7-5. There will be a major adjustment from Sumlin to Fisher on the offensive side and on the defensive side. The schedule isn’t too great to them either so if Aggie fans think Jimbo’s first year is going to be a memorable year, they will be very disappointed. But hey, they will finally beat LSU, right?
(6) LSU TIGERS: Oh how things change in a heartbeat. Ed Orgeron was so loved after the job he did when LSU fired Les Miles early on in the 2016 season is now a target of hot seat talks though the Tigers went 9-4 last year. But it seemed there was some disarray, notably with him and coordinator Matt Canada, who is regarded of being a great offensive coordinator. Orgeron didn’t like the style which many hoped would change after Miles was gone. Instead it was more of the same. Great running game but a horrid passing game, which really was the Tigers downfall in 2017 (and any year since 2010). But this year seems to be more uncertainty for the Tigers on offense, not just at quarterback but their strength in the run game. Nick Brossette is the leading rusher returning but only with 96 yards to his credit in his career. That’s a problem. Defensively, LSU can still fall back on that tandem though only 5 starters return there and the recruiting prowess hasn’t been as strong as it was 5-10 years ago in Baton Rouge so a depth. But they have Devin White and Greedy Williams who can and possibly will be All-SEC at some point. Hope is the Tigers line will be as strong as they come in the past, but it just has the vibe there isn’t enough depth as there has been down in LSU. The secondary should be fine however though a corner opposite Williams may be a huge concern. LSU’s schedule is not a forgiving one for Orgeron to shake off fans and local media. LSU starts out with a vastly talented Miami squad to start the year and then the Tigers get road trips to Auburn, Florida, and Texas A&M and while they put up wars with Alabama, the Tigers lose out even in Baton Rouge as Bama has won the last 3 down there and 4 of the last 5. And the gap with Alabama and LSU for talent is widening, not narrowing. Orgeron may have a problem this year.
BEST CASE RECORD: 7-5. WORST CASE RECORD: 3-9. MY PREDICTION: 6-6. Too many questions abound LSU on offense again. And I don’t see them being as deep as they’ve been in recent memory. Orgeron may not make it to 2019.
(7) ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS: And rounding out the SEC West coaching hires of 2018 is Chard Morris. I’ll admit while I do think Morris can be a good head coach, it may be too early to give him the keys to a program in the SEC and his style of offense I just don’t see it working at Arkansas against the likes of the other teams in the division. The up-tempo in the SEC West really doesn’t work and you can ask Texas A&M on how successful it was under Sumlin. And on top of it, questions abound who starts at quarterback in Ty Storey or Cole Kelley and a new bunch of receivers on top of it. At least the offensive line should be solid to help protect whoever is the quarterback and to help in the run game. Defensively, the Razorbacks brought in SEC defensive coordinator John Chavis (Tennessee, LSU, Texas A&M) to improve the group that was near the bottom of the nation in most categories. However, Chavis’s run of putting out good defenses ended with a thud last year at Texas A&M being a mediocre at best group. And I think part of it was Chavis wasn’t keen to the idea of having his defense play numerous snaps in an up-tempo offense that was ran under Sumlin and now will be ran under Morris. He will have a good linebacking corps in De’Jon Harris and Dre Greenlaw, but there have to be more guys on that defense to really get things going. Arkansas does not have a fun schedule especially for a defense that is in question early being at Auburn, Texas A&M in Dallas, Alabama, and Ole Miss while they end the season with two road tilts at Mississippi State and Missouri, both expected to put up huge numbers. It may be a transition year for the Razorbacks, but Morris will have to learn how to survive the SEC before he goes 3 and out.
BEST CASE RECORD: 8-4. WORST CASE RECORD: 4-8. MY PREDICTION: 4-8. Arkansas just doesn’t have the talent like the rest of the conference does and Morris will realize his up-tempo schemes that worked at SMU won’t work in the SEC.
SEC CHAMPIONSHIP: GEORGIA VS. ALABAMA: Many had this game for the SEC title last year and it looked that way until Auburn spoiled all of the fun. With the schedules being very favorable to both the Bulldogs and Tide, it wouldn’t be a huge shock to many both teams enter Atlanta 12-0. Of course, it would be a National Championship rematch, but some believe if both go 12-0 as a National Championship preview as it would be hard for any team to jump ahead of either one. So it is very much possible the SEC Championship could be more of an “exhibition” though the only effect may be playoff seeding.
The game would be an intense fight as always. Both coaches prepare like no other and Georgia would have the revenge factor on their minds. However, in nit-picking both, the guys who replaced the starters on Alabama in 2017 would be more beneficial than the ones who replaced the starters at Georgia and remember how that game turned in the 2nd quarter with more of a dual threat passer in Tua gave the Bulldogs fits and the Bama running game picked it up late while Georgia’s offense fizzled out down the stretch. It will be another close tilt but I think Saban keeps his record against former assistants perfect, at least one more time. ALABAMA 21, GEORGIA 17. Won’t matter though. Georgia will still see the Playoff alongside Alabama.
(1) IS THE SEC EAST GAINING GROUND ON THE SEC WEST? I think the Gators, Missouri, and South Carolina will step up and give another year before Tennessee starts to show a thing or two. But the East will forever be hindered by Vanderbilt and Kentucky. The west though, to me has two, maybe three teams in decline with Ole Miss (effects of probation), LSU, and Arkansas (well, already declined, but not really going to make an impact in the foreseeable future). And time will tell if Mississippi State will do much after Mullen’s recruits leave. But Alabama, Auburn, and if Jimbo does what many hope, Texas A&M may be the threats out west in 2-3 years. So right now, yes, but I think the West is still a bit better than the East, at least the top 3 of both divisions.
(2) BESIDES AUBURN, WHO ELSE COULD BRING DOWN ALABAMA AND/OR GEORGIA? Maybe not even Auburn given how the Tigers travel to Tuscaloosa and Athens this year and I don’t see them winning at all. Florida vs. Georgia in Jacksonville is always a crazy game and something unexpected always happens it seems there. Missouri’s offense could really give both Alabama and Georgia fits with their passing attack this year, but I don’t think they have any chance at stopping either one’s ground game. Mississippi State had Bama on the ropes last year in Starkville and probably should have won that game, but this year the game is in Alabama and pending if the Tide are fully healthy, not so sure. And South Carolina really played physical with Georgia and may have taken something out of them last year before the first Auburn game. I think right now my answer is no as Auburn is still the best bet, but they don’t play well away from Jordan-Hare.
(3) MULLEN, PRUITT, FISHER, MOORHEAD, MORRIS. WHICH NEW HEAD COACH HAS THE MOST PRESSURE TO WIN NOW? Jimbo Fisher. They have pretty much rolled out the carpet for him like Alabama did for Saban, Michigan did for Harbaugh, Georgia did with Smart, and Ohio State did for Meyer. Texas A&M has dreams of that national title and that is the goal for the Aggies, even in Jimbo’s first year. I think they will be very disappointed as I think there will be a learning curve/adjustment for Fisher at College Station. While the expectation handling for Fisher didn’t really change from Florida State, fans won’t be happy with 7-5 or 8-4 seasons like Sumlin put out yearly. And if Fisher does go 7-5 like I think he will I think fans will turn on him fast, saying “what gives? We could have Kevin Sumlin to go 7-5 for us!”
(4) IS THERE ANY QUARTERBACK CONTROVERSY AT GEORGIA OR ALABAMA? For Alabama, I’d be surprised. If you saw how Hurts played down the stretch last year, you saw the Alabama offense was fairly stagnant. Tua finished off what Hurts started and won a national title. Fans who backed Hurts still want him to start, but it doesn’t seem that way and at least for now Hurts has taken it like a true champion. For Georgia, some really want Justin Fields to start Week 1 against Austin Peay over Jake Fromm. But to me Kirby Smart loves Fromm and fits the style of offense where he doesn’t make dumb mistakes with the football (that’s also why Jacob Eason never got off the bench when he got injured). So I don’t think so, but that South Carolina game will be intriguing if Fromm struggles and Georgia’s in trouble. And it may be possible that Smart decides to go with Fields.
(5) WITH THE TOPSY TURVY COACHING CAROUSEL HITTING THE SEC, WHO IS REALLY UNDER THE HOT SEAT NOW? Ed Orgeron. Fans soured very quickly on Orgeron last year especially after LSU took a home loss to Troy. Even the comeback win vs. Auburn or a road win in Florida didn’t help too much. And of course he was scrutinized for losing to Alabama. The schedule isn’t a fun one this year and a 6-6 or 7-5 with a predictable offense and the recruiting prowess that hasn’t been as good in recent memory (granted 15th, but they were a mainstay in the top 5 for a very long time) will probably get Orgeron packing after the season. But others like Mark Stoops and Derek Mason (who is a victim of his circumstance in Vanderbilt) could be shown the door. And if South Carolina by any way falls apart in 2018 there may be murmurs of Muschamp being gone.
That’s it for this week!
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat