Y-Georgia Bulldogs 11-2 (7-2)
For most college football teams that go 13-2 and claim a conference championship as well as a victory in the Rose Bowl, they will call their season extremely successful. But for the Georgia Bulldogs, they have to find a way to build off of that. Last year Georgia won 13 games en route to winning the Southeastern Conference and earning a spot in the College Football Playoff. After the Bulldogs defeated the Oklahoma Sooners in Rose Bowl which was one of the national semifinals, they faced a familiar foe for the national title. The Dawgs took on of their SEC foes in the Alabama Crimson Tide for the title. The contest was in Atlanta which is a stones throw from Georgia’s campus in Athens. The Dawgs even built a 13-point lead before the Crimson Tide got it going. The game would turn out to be a classic that was too good to be decided in four quarters which led to overtime. However it was the resiliency of Alabama that was on center stage as Georgia was left to ponder what could have been as they were so close to winning a national title.
Kirby Smart is set to begin his third year as Georgia’s head football coach and already he has a record of 21-7. Smart has been able to build off of what his predecessor Mark Richt was able to do at Georgia, while he has also put his own spin on things. Smart is relentless on the recruiting trail which is what is needed in order to keep up in the Southeastern Conference. And after Georgia lost so many talented players from last year’s team, will they be able to compete for another national title?
Georgia has a very long and storied history when it comes to the running back position that includes names such as Herschel Walker, Garrison Hearst, Terrell Davis, and Todd Gurley. The Bulldogs lost two more talented ball carriers from last year’s team as Nick Chubb and Sony Michel are now in the National Football League, but don’t expect a drop off in production for Georgia in regards to rushing.
Sophomore D’Andre Swift is set to become the next great running back for Georgia. Swift only had 73 carries last season, but he made the most of those as he averaged 8.2 yards per carry. Speed is the name of the game for Swift, and his presence alone will keep opposing defenses in the Southeastern Conference on their toes.
But Swift wasn’t the only true freshman who was able to shine for Georgia in 2017 as quarterback Jake Fromm displayed nerves of steel. Swift took over after quarterback Jacob Eason was lost to injury, and his first start came on a Saturday night on the road versus the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Fromm was able to help the Bulldogs secure a comeback win that night, and he only got better and better as the season progressed. Fromm is a cool customer in the pocket, and his poise will go a long way once again for the Dawgs.
There is plenty of talent for Georgia to replace on defense, but their is depth on this team. One player to keep an eye on will be senior cornerback Deandre Baker. Baker was second on the team last year in interceptions with 3, and he’ll once again have a chance to show off his hands due to the fact that Georgia’s front seven knows how to get to the football under defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. Under Tucker, Georgia was sixth in the nation in total defense last year, and you can expect that stingy nature to once again be on display.
Life on the gridiron in the Southeastern Conference is never easy, but outside of a road game versus the LSU Tigers and their annual trek to Jacksonville to face the Florida Gators, the Bulldogs have a favorable road to travel in order to get back to SEC Title Game, and possibly the College Football Playoff.
X-South Carolina Gamecocks 8-4 (5-3)
It hasn’t taken head football coach Will Muschamp that long to put his stamp on the South Carolina Gamecocks. The Gamecocks won 9 games last season as they were led by a stingy defense which has always been one of Muschamp’s staples. Muschamp has always been known to recruit and develop talent on the defensive side of the football, while he keeps it basic on offense. South Carolina is a team that doesn’t beat themselves, and their simple, but effective brand of football will keep them in the race to win the Southeastern Conference Championship in 2018.
The Gamecocks were sixth in the Southeastern Conference last year in total defense as they limited four opponents to 20 points or less. Junior middle linebacker T.J. Brunson is a tackling machine and he is also one of the leaders on defense for South Carolina. And Brunson’s tackling ability as well as his instincts will put him in the running to be the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year. Defensively South Carolina also knows how to force turnovers as they had 14 interceptions last season. One player to keep an eye on in the Gamecocks secondary will be senior safety Steven Montac. Last year Montac was tied for the team lead in interceptions with 3, while he also has the ability to keep opposing quarterbacks honest when they think about throwing the deep pass over the middle.
In 2017, South Carolina’s offense was painful to watch at times as they were 109th in total offense. There is only one way for the Gamecocks offense to go which is up and first year offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon knows that. Junior quarterback Jake Bentley has two years under his belt as South Carolina’s starting quarterback, and that experience should translate to big things for himself and the rest of the Gamecocks offense in 2018. Bentley’s pocket presence has improved over the last two years, but he must now add the fear aspect to his game meaning that he must make opposing defenses consistently respect his ability as he looks to make plays from the pocket.
Bentley will have the privilege of playing behind one of the most experienced offensive lines in 2018 as led by left tackle Malik Young, the Gamecocks will send out four seniors on their offensive line as you can expect more ball control out of this bunch, while also relying on their defense to win games.
South Carolina’s most important game of the season will be in early September when they host the Georgia Bulldogs as this contest will go a long way in determining who’ll get to the Southeastern Conference Championship Game from the SEC East, while they have an overall daunting schedule which includes a road meetings with the Florida Gators as well as their annual showdown with their in-state rival in the Clemson Tigers from the Atlantic Coast Conference.
X-Florida Gators 7-5 (4-4)
For the second time in the last five years, the Florida Gators are looking to get back on track after enduring a losing season. The Gators would start off with a record of 3-1 before a five-game losing streak derailed their chances of being a contender in the Southeastern Conference. The disappointing season for the Gators led to a coaching change as Jim McElwain was terminated and replaced by Dan Mullen as the school’s head football coach. From 2005-2008, Mullen was an assistant coach for Florida which included him being a part of a pair of national championship teams. Now Mullen will not only be tasked with getting Florida back to their winning ways, but to also fix an offense which has been stagnant at best.
Since 2011, the Gators have finished no higher than 96th in the nation in total offense. Last year alone Florida was limited to 20 points or less in a contest six times with some of that production being created by the defense. And with Mullen having to build this offense from the ground up, the Gators could show some signs of improvement in 2018; however they will still have plenty of work ahead of them.
Due to the struggles of Florida’s offense last year, the defense spent far too much time on the field. But if the Gators offense can provide some balance, there are some quality defenders who could make a big impact. Junior middle linebacker David Reese has tremendous football instincts which helps to put him into the conversation as far as being one of the top linebackers in the Southeastern Conference. Joining Reese in Florida’s linebacking core is junior outside linebacker Voseasn Joseph who is one of the better athletes on the team, while sophomore cornerback C.J. Henderson is looking to build off of his strong freshman campaign that saw tie for the team lead in interceptions with 4.
The folks in Starkville have September 29th circled on their calendar as that is when Mullen makes his return there, while meetings with the LSU Tigers and Georgia Bulldogs will go a long way in determining what kind of year that 2018 will be on the gridiron for the Gators.
X-Missouri Tigers 7-5 (4-4)
What a difference that a year makes for the Missouri Tigers. After going 4-8 in his first season as the head football coach at Missouri, there were plenty of people who were calling for the school to part with head football coach Barry Odom. However school officials at Missouri decided to stick with Odom and he made them look intelligent as the Tigers went 7-6 2017 and earned their first bowl bid since 2014. The big shock in Mizzou’s surprising finish was that they began 2017 with a record of 1-5 before they won their final six games of the regular season. And now for Odom and his team, they are hopeful that the momentum that they built for themselves in the second half of 2017 can carry over to the start of a new season.
By the end of the upcoming college football season, quarterback Drew Lock will be a household name. Lock has been a starter since his freshman season in 2015 and he can sling the football all over the field. And as Lock is now ready to embark on his senior campaign, he will be in the mix to be the Southeastern Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year. At 6’4″, 225 lbs., Lock has the prototypical size needed to play in the National Football League, but he must improve his accuracy. Lock has yet to complete 60% of his passes in any season, and this must be a part of his game that needs to improve if the Tigers are going to hang around in the race to win the SEC East.
Missouri was ranked 14th in the nation in passing offense last year and you can expect more of the same in 2018. Junior wide receiver Johnathon Johnson is one of the slot receivers in the Southeastern Conference, while senior wide receiver Emanuel Hall is Missouri’s best big-time target on the outside. Hall only had 33 receptions last season, but he made the most of those as he averaged 24.8 yards per catch, and at 6’3, 200 lbs., he is a matchup nightmare for opposing cornerbacks in the SEC due to his size and athleticism.
Defensively Mizzou must improve after they were 83rd in the nation is total defense. However two players to keep eye on will be junior middle linebacker Cale Garret and senior outside linebacker Terez Hall. Garrett and Hall were first and second respectively in tackles last season for Missouri, and their ability will need to propel this unit versus the top offenses of the Southeastern Conference.
It will be important for the Tigers to take care of their business in the non-conference portion of their schedule as Southeastern Conference play will see them have to run the gauntlet which includes road games against the South Carolina Gamecocks and Alabama Crimson Tide.
Tennessee Volunteers 5-7 (3-5)
It’s safe to say that the expectations for the Tennessee Volunteers on the gridiron are always high, however living up to those lofty expectations hasn’t always been easy. After consecutive 9-4 seasons, the Volunteers were expected to once again be one of the top teams in the Southeastern Conference in 2017. But that wasn’t the case as the Vols went 4-8 which included them going winless in the SEC for the first time in program history, while they were destroyed at home by the Georgia Bulldogs 41-0. Tennessee’s struggles led to school parting with Butch Jones as their head football coach after four years on the job. Jones has been replaced by Jeremy Pruitt who after spending the last two years as the defensive coordinator of the Alabama Crimson Tide is hopeful to bring some of that magic from Tuscaloosa to Knoxville.
Pruitt is a defensive minded coach, but his first order of business with Tennessee is to rehab the offense. Out of 130 Football Bowl Subdivision teams, the Vols were 125th in total offense last season. And included in those struggles for the Volunteers was the fact that in seven of their games, they were limited to 20 points or less. Heading into the season the battle for the starting quarterback at Tennessee appears to be between a pair of sophomores Jarrett Guarantano and Will McBride. The Vols also have don’t that much experience on their offensive line as led by left tackle Trey Smith, there are four sophomores starting with no seniors in the group.
Defensively the Volunteers must improve as well being that they were 82nd in the nation in total defense last year. But one thing that Pruitt will have to build off of is that two of Tennessee’s top four tacklers from 2018 are returning. Junior outside linebackers Quart’e Sapp and Daniel Bituli each have a nose for the football which will be vital if the Vols are going to turn things around defensively.
It won’t take us long to see if the Volunteers have improved as their first game of the season be in Charlotte, North Carolina when they face the West Virginia Mountaineers of the Big 12 Conference. And when the Vols begin their Southeastern Conference slate of games, it will truly be the gauntlet as in a five-game stretch, they’ll clash with the Florida Gators, Georgia Bulldogs, Auburn Tigers, Alabama, and the South Carolina Gamecocks.
X-Vanderbilt Commodores 6-6 (3-5)
The 2017 college football season got off to a good start for the Vanderbilt Commodores, but they were unable to maintain it. The Commodores won their first three games of 2017, but when Southeastern Conference play began, it was a different story. The Commodores lost their first seven SEC games with only one of the contest being decided by less than 14 points. Derek Mason is set to begin his fifth season as Vanderbilt’s head football coach. And although that Mason has never been able to record a winning season at Vandy, there is optimism that things could change this year in Nashville.
Quarterback Kyle Shurmur has two years under belt as Vanderbilt’s starting quarterback and that experience should pay off in this his senior campaign. Shurmur’s pocket presence has continued to improve, and if he is able complete 60% of his passes, while he also needs to cut down on his sacks, his quarterbacking ability is enough to make Vandy bowl eligible for the second time in the last three years.
Led by left tackle Justin Skule, Shurmur will be protected by one of the most experienced offensive lines in the Southeastern Conference. The Commodores will have four senior starters on the O-line as that beef and experience will be necessary to combat the stingy and aggressive defenses of the SEC.
Defensively the Commodores must improve as they were 65th in the nation last season in total defense. But one player who will have an impact on defense for Vandy will be senior outside linebacker Charles Wright. Last year Wright emerged as one of the better pass rushers in the Southeastern Conference. And at 6’3″, 240 lbs., Wright has the speed and power to compete with any offensive tackle in the SEC, while his pass rushing ability will help to open things up for his teammates as well as being something which will catch the eye of pro scouts.
Vanderbilt will avoid having to face most of the heavyweights in the Southeastern Conference which should be enough for them to garner a bowl bid.
X-Kentucky Wildcats 6-6 (2-6)
The powers that be in Lexington have been patient with Kentucky Wildcats head football coach Mark Stoops and it has paid off. In Stoops’ first three years at Kentucky, the Wildcats were 12-24. But in each of Stoops’ last two seasons, Kentucky has gone 7-6, while earning bowl bids. Under Stoops, Kentucky has been flying under the radar, but they are illustrating that they’re a team in the Southeastern Conference that most teams are not eager to play.
In two years as Kentucky’s starting running back, Benny Snell Jr. has been the heart and soul of the team. For his career Snell is averaging 5.5 yards per carry, while he is also proving to be durable. Last year Snell carried the football 256 times, and as his junior campaign is set to begin, you can expect that Stoops will once again give him the football as much as possible.
Snell will also have the privilege of running behind an experienced offensive line as the Wildcats will have two juniors and two seniors up front which includes senior right tackle George Asafo-Adjei. With this experienced line leading the way it would not surprise me to see Snell have another dynamic season running with the football as he is only 1,412 yards away from surpassing Sonny Collins as the school’s all-time leading rusher.
Senior strong safety Mike Edwards led the Wildcats in interceptions last year with 4, and his ball hawking skills will once again be needed if Kentucky wants to become bowl eligible to the third consecutive year. But one thing that must change is the front seven in front of Edwards as aside from leading Kentucky in picks, he was also the team’s leading tackler which is never a good sign for a defense when that honor falls to a member of the secondary.
The Wildcats will avoid the heavyweights of the SEC West which should help them in regards to reaching another bowl game.
Z-Alabama Crimson Tide 13-0 (9-0)
Some things never go out of style and you’ll never be able to categorize winning as a fad. The Alabama Crimson Tide have set the gold standard for winning in college football as they just capped off a decade of dominance. Over the last ten years, the Crimson Tide are 125-14 which includes five Southeastern Conference Titles and five national championships. The Tide’s last national title came this past January when they defeated an SEC foe in the Georgia Bulldogs. The feat was phenomenal in itself as the College Football Playoff was designed to make it tougher for multiple teams from the same conference to make the field of four. However Alabama was able to buck that trend as they became the first team in the playoff era to win the national title in spite of the fact that they didn’t win their conference crown. But make no mistake about as for Alabama head football coach Nick Saban and his team, that winning the SEC is still very high on their to-do list and he once again has a squad that can make this happen.
The Crimson Tide enter the 2018 college football season with a good problem to have as they’ve got two quarterbacks who can get it done. Jalen Hurts was Alabama’s starting quarterback in all 14 games last year, but when he was ineffective in the first half versus Georgia, Saban made the switch in favor of Tua Tagovailoa. Hurts has proven that he is a winner as he’s 27-2 as a starter, but he doesn’t have the passing ability which is possessed by Tagovailoa. Tagovailoa is elusive just like Hurts is, but he’s accurate as a thrower, and he also has the “it” factor. I see it playing out where Saban will give both Hurts and Tagovailoa every chance possible to be the starter, while both guys will push each other. But in the end the passing ability of Tagovailoa will be too much to keep on the sidelines.
The running attack at Alabama has always been strong under Saban as the Tide were 13th in the nation last year in rushing. At 5’11” 221 lbs., senior running back Damien Harris is a burner as he averaged 8 yards per carry in 2017. And with the departure of Bo Scarbrough to the National Football League, Harris will get more carries this season as he will help the Tide’s offense keep on rolling.
Alabama had the top ranked defense in the nation last year as they averaged only surrendering 260.4 yards per game, while only four opponents were able to score more than 20 points against them. Once again Saban lost a wealth of talent on the defensive side of the football to the National Football League, but he is one of the best in the business as far as replacing those players. Two defenders to look out for this season for the Crimson Tide are junior middle linebacker Mack Wilson and junior defensive end Raekwon Davis. Wilson led Alabama in interceptions last year with 4, while Davis led the team in sacks with 8.5. Wilson plays with a chip on his shoulder, while he is also a downhill runner which are two great attributes to have as a middle linebacker in the Southeastern Conference. As for Davis he plays with a high motor and knows how to get to the football which will lead to both he and Wilson being in consideration to be the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year.
Under Saban, Alabama has thrived in games at neutral sites, and they’ll get another chance to begin this season when they travel to Orlando to face the Louisville Cardinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Outside of traveling to Death Valley in November to face the LSU Tigers, and finishing the regular season at home versus the Auburn Tigers, there really isn’t anything that should prevent the Tide from getting to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.
X-Auburn Tigers 8-4 (5-3)
A 10-win season in the Southeastern Conference is nothing to overlook. However for the Auburn Tigers, they will head into a new college football season and they can only ponder what could have been. From mid-October through November, Auburn was one of the hottest teams in the country as they knocked off the Georgia Bulldogs and Alabama Crimson Tide. But the rematch with Georgia in the SEC Championship Game would be much different for Auburn as they lost by 21 points. And to add insult to injury, the Tigers would return to Atlanta for the Peach Bowl where they fell to the Central Florida Knights of the American Athletic Conference who capped off an undefeated season. In all three of Auburn’s four losses were to conference champions, while they went 2-2 against teams who participated in the College Football Playoff, as well as being the only team who defeated Alabama. But as Auburn head football coach Gus Malzahn is prepping his team for another college football campaign, he has some positives to build off of as the Tigers look to maintain their status as one of the top teams in the SEC.
Under Malzahn it’s always about the uptempo offense that focuses on running the football. Last year the Tigers were third in the Southeastern Conference in rushing, and you can once again expect their ground game to put stress on opposing defenses. The Tigers will definitely miss the contributions of former running back Kerryon Johnson who is now in the National Football League, but after biding his time, junior running back Kam Martin is poised to be the next good ball carrier at Auburn. In limited action last season Martin averaged 6.3 yards per carry, and at 5’10”,192 lbs., his speed will be vital to Auburn’s success.
Quarterback Jarrett Stidham had a solid first year in Malzahn’s uptempo offense. But as he is preparing for his junior campaign he needs to be more consistent as his production drastically fell off versus elite teams such as Clemson and Georgia. Stidham has good pocket presence, but the fact that he isn’t mobile means that he must get the football out quick as the Southeastern Conference is loaded with quality pass rushers.
The Tigers will have plenty of experience on their offensive line as led by left tackle Prince Tega Wanogho, there are four juniors who will be starting. And that experience should help the Tigers once again have one of the top offenses in the Southeastern Conference.
Under Malzahn, Auburn’s offense generally gets most of the pub, but their defense was stout last year. In 2017, Auburn was 14th in the nation in total defense as few were the offenses that were able to have their way against them. Kevin Steele is set to begin his third year as Auburn’s defensive coordinator as his attacking style on defense is just what the Tigers need in order to keep up in the Southeastern Conference.
One player to focus on for Auburn defensively will be senior middle linebacker Deshaun Davis. At 5’11”, Davis might be slightly undersized to play middle linebacker, but he tackles anything that moves as opponents think twice about squaring up with him.
The Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta was a house of horrors for Auburn last season as they lost Georgia and Central Florida. However the Tigers will be Atlanta bound once more as they will begin the season when they take on the Washington Huskies of the Pac-12 Conference. The Tigers have a favorable schedule in the Southeastern Conference, but their final two conference games won’t be easy as they’ll be on the road to face both Georgia and Alabama.
X-LSU Tigers 7-5 (4-4)
Another year, and another top 25 finish for the LSU Tigers as 2017 marked the eighth time in the last nine years that the Bayou Bengals finished the college football campaign ranked. However that success has fallen on deaf ears in Baton Rogue as LSU has been unable to win the Southeastern Conference. Since Nick Saban became the head football coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide in 2007, he is 9-3 versus the Tigers and that is a big reason why LSU has been unable to win the SEC. Ed Oregeron has one full year under his belt, and after his Tigers were able to win six games in the SEC last season, do they have enough in 2018 to get to Atlanta for the conference title game?
One thing that has held LSU back in recent years in regards to being able to win the Southeastern Conference has been their lack of production at the quarterback position. The forward pass hasn’t been kind to the Tigers as in each of the last four years they have not finished higher than 84th in the nation in passing offense. Neither junior Justin McMillan or sophomore Myles Brennan have been able to solidify themselves at the quarterback position which will once again make it tough for the Bayou Bengals in the always tough SEC West.
LSU must also replace their two top running backs from last season which equated to more than 1,900 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground. And with that the Bayou Bengals will enter the new college football season without a proven tailback for the first time in a long time.
It won’t be any easier for LSU on their offensive line as left guard Garrett Brumfield is the only senior on the starting unit as this unit will be a work in progress.
LSU’s defense was stingy last year as five opponents were held under 20 points. Overall the Bayou Bengals were 12th in the nation in total defense and this unit will once again be a force to be reckoned with under defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. Last year as a freshman, cornerback Andraez Williams burst onto the scene as he led the Tigers in interceptions with 6. White has a nose for the football which will keep him in the discussion to win the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back. Junior outside linebacker Devin White is solid at playing both the run as well as the pass. And after White led LSU in tackles last year with 133, his prowess could see him the best linebacker in the Southeastern Conference for 2018.
In recent years LSU has never been one to shy away from facing an opponent from a power conference which will once again be the case this season when they’ll travel to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas to face the Miami Hurricanes of the Atlantic Coast Conference. LSU will begin play in the Southeastern Conference on the road versus the Auburn Tigers, while after having a lull on the schedule, things will get tougher in November when they host Alabama, along with traveling to face the Texas A&M Aggies.
X-Texas A&M Aggies 7-5 (4-4)
As always when a new college football season begins, the expectations are high in College Station, Texas for the Texas A&M Aggies. The Aggies football facilities are second to none in the nation as their donors have left no stone unturned in regards to giving them everything that they need to be a national power. However that financial backing hasn’t meant that the Aggies have been able to live up to those expectations as you have you have to go back to go back to 1998 to find the last time in which they won a conference title. Since joining the Southeastern Conference in 2012, A&M only finished second in the SEC West once, while they’ve finished no higher than fourth in each of their last five years. This mediocrity by the Aggies led to the dismissal of Kevin Sumlin as Texas A&M’s head football coach as he was replaced by former Florida State Seminoles head football coach Jimbo Fisher.
In eight years at Florida State, Fisher compiled a very impressive record of 83-23, which included three Atlantic Coast Conference Championships as well as one national title. Fisher took over a Florida State program that had fallen on hard times and needed to get back to being a national power; and now he is tasked with doing the same thing at College Station.
Fisher has a reputation of developing quarterbacks and he will need to find out who his guy is going to be at A&M. Both Kellen Mond and Nick Starkel saw time last year as freshmen at quarterback for the Aggies. Both players were up and down, and as each man is looking to improve, it would not surprise me to see Fisher go back and forth between both of them in 2018.
But whereas A&M will struggle at times throwing the football, their running game will be a strength. After having a blistering freshman campaign in 2016, running back Trayveon Williams didn’t have the same impact last year. Williams is a speed demon and I see Fisher giving him the football in space whether it is on the ground, or as a receiver in order to ignite this offense.
A&M must find a way improve on defense after they were 78th in the nation in total defense which included them allowing five opponents to score at least 40 points against them. But first-year defensive coordinator Mike Elko will have some building blocks to build the unit with in junior middle linebacker Tyrel Dodson and senior defensive end Landis Durham. Elko led the Aggies last season in tackles with 105, while Durham’s 10.5 sacks made him one of the top pass rushers in the Southeastern Conference. And together Dodson and Durham will have to be anchors as A&M looks to get tougher on the defensive side of the football.
Fisher is running a new program, but in his second game with A&M, he will face a familiar foe when the Aggies welcome the Clemson Tigers of the Atlantic Coast Conference to College Station. The past ten years saw Clemson and Florida State consistently slug it out to be the top team in the ACC, and Fisher will get to have a trip down memory lane. But it won’t get any easier for the Aggies when Southeastern Conference play begins as they’ll have road games versus the Alabama Crimson Tide and Auburn Tigers.
Fisher will once again make A&M a national power, but the transformation will not happen overnight.
X-Mississippi State Bulldogs 7-5 (4-4)
The past eight years have seen the Mississippi State Bulldogs become one of the more stable football programs in the Southeastern Conference, but 2018 could prove to be a little bit different. After nine years as Mississippi State’s head football coach which included leading the team to eight consecutive bowl bids, Dan Mullen left Starkville for more money in Gainesville as he is now the head football coach of the Florida Gators. Mullen was 69-46 at Mississippi State as only Jackie Sherrill won more games than him in program history. But now that the Mullen era is over at Mississippi State, it is time for the Bulldogs to pick up the pieces and keep on moving.
After spending the last two years as the offensive coordinator of the Penn State Nittany Lions, Joe Moorhead has been pegged to be the next head football coach at Mississippi State. Moorhead’s time included him having one of the top offenses in the nation which led to Penn State winning the Big Ten Conference in 2016. Now Moorhead wants to bring of that explosiveness to Starkville.
The forward pass was not a specialty of the Bulldogs in 2017 as they were 113th in the nation in passing. The Bulldogs will be leaning on their running game which means that you can expect a heavy dose of senior running back Aeris Williams. And although that quarterback Nick Fitzgerald didn’t have a good 2017 in regards to passing the football, his running ability helped the Bulldogs have the 11th best rushing attack in the nation.
Defensively it wasn’t a good sign for the Bulldogs in 2017 that three defensive backs were their leading scorers in 2017, but two players to look out for on that side of the football this year will be senior defensive end Montez Sweat and senior safety Mark McLaurin. Sweat is a solid edge rusher who must continuously be accounted for, McLaurin is a ball hawking safety, and together they will help to account for Mississippi State’s lack of talent at the linebacker position.
Outside of road games versus the LSU Tigers and Alabama Crimson Tide, Mississippi State has a favorable schedule within the Southeastern Conference as they look to make it nine straight trips to a bowl game.
Arkansas Razorbacks 4-8 (1-7)
In recent years the Arkansas Razorbacks have endured some frustrating times on the gridiron. The Razorbacks have had the talent to be one of the top teams in the Southeastern Conference, but over the last six years they never finished higher than third in the SEC West. The last five years saw Bret Bielema serve as the head football coach at Arkansas. And under Bielema, the Razorbacks were 29-34 which included them only winning one conference game in 2017. As a result Bielema was given his walking papers and replaced by Chad Morris. Morris spent the last three years turning around the fortunes of the Southern Methodist Mustangs. As SMU’s head football coach, Morris compiled a record of 14-22 in his three years in Dallas. However 10 of those losses were in Morris’ first year at SMU, while his win total increased in each year which included leading the Mustangs to a bowl bid last season for the first time in five years. Now Morris has his shot to get it done in the toughest football conference in the nation. And after Morris was able to turn around the fortunes of one former Southwest Conference school, will he be able to do it for another?
A big reason why Arkansas struggled last season is that their offense had difficulties with the forward pass. The Razorbacks were 83rd in passing offense, and Morris is going to have to build it from the ground up. Overall the Hogs don’t have any play makers on offense which is going to make life tough for them in the Southeastern Conference.
Defensively the Razorbacks must also improve as they were 102nd in the nation last season in total defense which included surrendering 40 points or more in a contest five times. Two bright spot for Arkansas on that side of the football are senior outside linebacker Dre Greenlaw and junior middle linebacker De’Jon Harris. Both Greenlaw and Harris tallied over 100 tackles last season. The goal will be for to not be on the field as much which means that the defense isn’t stopping anybody once again, but their relentless pursuit to the man with the football will go a along way for a unit that needs to turn things around.
As Morris looks to establish his program with the Razorbacks, his team must take advantage of their easy non-conference schedule in order to fatten up in the wins column before they have to deal with the gauntlet which is the Southeastern Conference as games versus the Alabama Crimson Tide, Auburn Tigers, and LSU Tigers will be on the horizon.
Ole Miss Rebels 3-9 (0-8)
The Mississippi Rebels are in the midst of some tough times on the gridiron, and they clearly are not out of the woods yet. Due to infractions by former head football coach Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss self-imposed a one-year bowl on their program, and after the NCAA finished their investigation, they decided to add onto that which means that the Rebels won’t go bowling for the upcoming season.
Last year as Mississippi’s interim head football coach, Matt Luke was just expected to keep the seat warm until school officials found a suitable replacement to lead this program. However Luke earned the trust of school officials in Oxford when he led the Rebels to a 6-6 mark in 2017 which included pulling off an upset win versus their in-state rival in the Mississippi State Bulldogs to win the Egg Bowl. Now Luke is no longer the interim head coach as he’ll be the guy that can hopefully guide Mississippi’s ship through the murky waters of sanctions. And with no bowl bid for 2018 on the horizon as well as a reduction of scholarships, will Ole Miss be able to play spoiler in the Southeastern Conference?
Whereas Ole Miss was able to stay afloat last year, this could be the year where we begin to see the effects of the sanctions. Mississippi lost quarterback Shea Patterson as he decided to transfer to Michigan, while the talent pool is not as deep as it has been in year’s past. One thing that the Rebels have going for them is that they have an experienced offensive line which is led by senior center Sean Rawlings, while they also have their top wide receiver returning. At 6’1″, 225 lbs., junior wide receiver A.J. Brown is tough to defend as he can be a physical pass catcher. Brown is one of the top wide receivers in the Southeastern Conference as he has the potential to be a first-team all-conference member in 2018.
Defensively Ole Miss took it on the chin last year as they were 116th in total defense and after losing top defenders such as defensive end Breeland Speaks to the National Football League, it could actually get worse in Oxford this season.
The Rebels will have their work cut out for them in the Southeastern Conference as a gutted roster, along with a strong SEC West will make it extremely difficult for them to compete.
SEC Championship Game-Mercedes Benz Stadium-Atlanta, Georgia-Alabama vs. Georgia
Conference Champion: Alabama
Y-New Year’s Six
Z-College Football Playoff
Sources: Cfbstats.com, Sports-reference.com, Ourlads.com