Georgia Bulldogs 12-1 (8-1)
When Kirby Smart was hired to be the head football coach of the Georgia Bulldogs in 2016, he was brought in to not only have Georgia contend for the Southeast Conference Title, but the national title as well. Over the last two years Georgia has won 24 games, and after falling just short of winning the national title in 2017, they blew a 14-point lead to the Alabama Crimson Tide in the SEC Title Game before having the breaks beat off of them by the Texas Longhorns of the Big 12 Conference in the Sugar Bowl. And as Smart is set to begin a new college football campaign in Athens, he will have to replace some vital players to Georgia’s success in recent years, but this team still has what it takes to not only contend for the SEC Title, but to also make another push for the College Football Playoff.
Junior quarterback Jake Fromm is a calm, cool, and collected customer in the pocket. In nearly two full seasons as Georgia’s starting quarterback, Fromm has only thrown 13 picks as he combines a strong throwing arm with a knack for being smart with the football. At 6’2″, 220 lbs. Fromm has the ability to be a scrambling quarterback, but he generally takes off in order to give his receivers some time down the field to get open. And as Fromm has a knack for winning games, he will be in the mix to the Southeast Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year this season.
But Fromm is not the only impact player on offense that will be returning from last year’s team as junior running back D’Andre Swift is the real deal. In Swift’s first two years at Georgia, he found himself splitting carries in the backfield, but he will see his workload increase here in 2019. At 5’9″, 215 lbs., you might think of Swift as being a power back, but he is someone that is not afraid to mix it up between the tackles. And if Swift is able to get in space on the outside, he will make linebackers who are attempting to cover him look bad.
Aside from Fromm and Swift, Georgia will have a junior laden offensive unit which includes three third-year players on the offensive line which includes junior offensive tackle Andrew Thomas. And all of that experience will be important for the Bulldogs as James Coley is to begin his first year as the team’s offensive coordinator.
Despite Georgia’s struggles on defense at the end of the 2018 college football season, they still finished the campaign with the 16th ranked defense in the nation. But like it is on offense for the Dawgs, they will also have to replace their coordinator on defense. In three seasons as Georgia’s defensive coordinator, Mel Tucker presided over one of the stingiest unit in the country which led to him now being the head football coach of the Colorado Buffaloes. Smart will now look Dan Lanning to be Georgia’s defensive coordinator, while he looks to maintain the team’s aggressive nature on that side of the football.
Last season Georgia was 13th in the nation in total defense, while they were 12th versus the pass. The Dawgs return one of the top secondaries in the country that includes senior safety J.R. Reed and junior safety Richard LeCounte as offenses around the Southeastern Conference will once again have their work cut out to score on them.
Georgia will open their season on the road with a conference tilt with the Vanderbilt Commodores before they have three consecutive non-conference affairs which will be highlighted by hosting the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on September 21. But the Dawgs season will be defined by what they’ll be able to do on November 2 when they face the Florida Gators in Jacksonville as the winner will more than likely be headed to Atlanta for the conference title game.
Florida Gators 10-2 (6-2)
When the Florida Gators lured Dan Mullen from his post as the head football coach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs last year, they were looking for him to return their beloved football program to glory. From 2005-2008, Mullen was Florida offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, and during that time he helped the Gators win a pair of national titles. Mullen knows how to win as he posted a 69-44 mark in nine years at Mississippi State, but more importantly he knows what it takes to win in Gainesville. And in Mullen’s first season calling the shots for the Gators, his team won 10 games, while also winning their first New Year’s Six Bowl Game since 2009. But unlike how it was for Mullen in Starkville, winning at least 10 games and competing for the Southeastern Conference Title is something that is expected each year at Florida; however he enters 2019 with a squad that is more than capable of doing so.
What has hindered Florida in recent years has been their struggles on the offensive side of the football. However the Gators were able to make some strides on offense last year under Mullen as they were 42nd in the nation in total offense, and things could be better for them this season.
Last year quarterback Felipe Franks was up and down, but he was able to finish strong which included throwing 8 touchdowns to zero interceptions in Florida’s last four contests. Franks is set to begin his junior season and he’ll need to show poise in Mullen’s offense in order to help the Gators navigate against the tough defenses of the Southeastern Conference.
Mullen is bringing the explosiveness back to the Florida offense, and one player to keep an eye on at the skills positions is senior running back Lamical Perine. In Perine’s first three years at Florida, he has spent time splitting carries in the backfield, but in 2019 he is poised to be the featured ball carrier as he looks to display his combination of speed and power.
The Gators offense will be operating behind a seasoned offensive line that has a pair of seniors and juniors. Senior center Nick Buchanan made 12 starts for the Gators last season, and he was a member of an offensive line that only allowed 18 quarterback sacks in 2018. The Gators are poised to have one of the top O-lines in the Southeastern Conference which means that Franks will benefit from having a clean uniform.
The Gators were 28th in the nation last season in total defense and having Todd Grantham return as their defensive coordinator. Throughout Grantham’s career as a defensive coordinator he has been known to draw up exotic blitzes and bring the house to get after opposing quarterbacks; and although that Florida lost some talent from last year’s defense, they will still be a force to be reckoned with.
Senior middle linebacker David Reese has the talent to be the top linebacker in the Southeastern Conference due to his ability to tackle as well as his leadership. Senior defensive end Jabari Zuniga is fast coming out of his stance which gives what he needs to get past offensive tackles in the conference, while I also foresee Grantham lining him up at different spots in the front seven in order for him to get a free run at the quarterback.
You cannot accuse the Gators of playing a cupcake schedule as their schedule will have a pair of schools from the Atlantic Coast Conference as their bookends. Florida will begin their season on August 24th in Orlando versus the Miami Hurricanes of the ACC, while they’ll finish at home on November 30th versus the Florida State Seminoles. In regards to Florida’s conference schedule, they won’t have too many weak spots which includes traveling to Lexington to face the Kentucky Wildcats who defeated the Gators last year for the first time in 31 years. In consecutive weeks in October, Florida will get it on with the Auburn Tigers and LSU Tigers, as well as their annual showdown with the Georgia Bulldogs in Jacksonville as they’l have their work cut out for them in order to win the Southeastern Conference for the first time since 2008.
Missouri Tigers 9-3 (5-3)
When Barry Odom took over for the retiring Gary Pinkel as the head football coach of the Missouri Tigers in 2016, he was viewed as a “seat warmer”. And a clear illustration of this was that Odom spent his first year at Missouri with the interim tag attached to his title. But as much as some folks in Columbia didn’t want to embrace Odom initially, they have no choice now as his Tigers have won 15 games over the last two years which includes a pair of bowl appearances and two victories over the Florida Gators. Under Odom’s predecessor Pinkel, Missouri was looked at as an afterthought when the school joined the Southeastern Conference in 2012, but they quickly earned respect by making consecutive appearances in the conference championship game in 2013 and 2014. Under Odom, the Tigers have been flying the radar in the same fashion as they did upon their initial arrival to the SEC. And just like it was a few years ago, the Tigers could surprise some people in 2019 with a trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.
Mizzou will head into the new college football season needing to replace the productivity of quarterback Drew Lock who left his mark on the program before embarking on a career in the National Football League. However the departure of Lock will be buffered by the arrival of senior transfer Kelly Bryant.
Bryant began his collegiate career with the Clemson Tigers where he sat on the sidelines and watched quarterback Deshaun Watson help the school win a national championship. Bryant would get his shot in 2017 for Clemson, and he did his best Watson impersonation by helping the Tigers win the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2017 which led to them earning a berth in the College Football Playoff. But that was not enough for Bryant to maintain his spot as Clemson’s starting quarterback as he was benched last year in favor a true freshman Trevor Lawrence. The move would pay off for Clemson as they’d win 15 games last season en route to claiming their second national title in the last three years. And as Bryant found himself pushed to the side at Clemson, the folks at Missouri were more than happy to welcome him with open arms.
Bryant may not have the big arm that Lawrence has or the athleticism that Watson possesses, but he is a winner, and he is also resilient as it takes a special person to go through what he has and keep on going as these attributes should allow him to win over his teammates at Mizzou in order to help this program compete in the tough Southeastern Conference.
But Bryant won’t have to do it all by himself at Missouri as junior running back Larry Roundtree III is an underrated ball carrier that is dangerous in space.
Defensively Mizzou was not as stingy as they have been in recent years which resulted in them finishing 62nd in the nation in total defense. However under the leadership of defensive coordinator Ryan Walters, the Tigers could be a improved unit this year.
Senior middle linebacker Cale Garrett has what it takes to be one of the top defensive players in the Southeastern Conference due to his ability to find the ball carrier. And in the secondary for the Tigers, senior cornerback DeMarkus Acy is a pesky defender that’ll stick to opposing wide receivers like glue.
A road contest versus the Wyoming Cowboys of the Mountain West Conference to begin the season, along with a home affair with the West Virginia Mountaineers of the Big 12 Conference will not test Missouri in their non-conference schedule. But when SEC play begins, consecutive road games versus the Kentucky Wildcats and Georgia Bulldogs as well as a home meeting with Florida will go a long way in determining the type of season that the Tigers will have.
Kentucky Wildcats 8-4 (4-4)
The 2018 college football season was a banner one for the Kentucky Wildcats. The Wildcats won 10 games for the first time since 1977 which included winning their first New Year’s Day bowl game since 1952 and defeating the Florida Gators for the first time since 1987. The powers to be in Lexington have been patient with Kentucky head football coach Mark Stoops who has been slowly but steadily building his program. And as Stoops is set to begin his seventh season in Lexington, will his Wildcats do the impossible which is to contend for the Southeastern Conference Title?
What helped Kentucky in 2018 was a stingy defense that gave opposing offenses headaches. Last year the Wildcats were ranked 23rd in the nation in total defense which included only allowing two opponents to score more than 20 points against them. However Stoops must replace some key elements from that defense which includes defensive end/outside linebacker Josh Allen who is now in the National Football League after being named as the Southeastern Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year. Aside from losing one of the best defensive players in the country, Kentucky must also replace their defensive coordinator Matt House who left the program to become the linebackers coach for the Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL. Brad White replaces House as Kentucky’s defensive coordinator, and he has some talent to work with on defense which includes junior outside linebacker Boogie Watson, who might not be as talented as Allen was in regards to being a pass rusher, but he is someone who can get the job done. And once you factor in the pass rushing ability of Watson, along with the tackling talent of senior middle linebacker Kash Daniel, the Wildcats will arguably have the best crew of linebackers in the SEC.
Kentucky must also replace some talent on the offensive side of the ball as junior running A.J. Rose will attempt to replace the contributions of Benny Snell. In limited action last season Rose was able to average 6.2 yards per carry, but he will have to have a solid impact due to the fact that Kentucky is not a good passing team.
As Stoops looks to lead the Wildcats to their fourth consecutive bowl appearance, he’ll need to take advantage of the soft spots at the beginning and end of their schedule as Kentucky will have to deal with a Florida squad that’ll be seeking revenge, along with road games versus the Mississippi State Bulldogs, South Carolina Gamecocks, and Georgia Bulldogs.
South Carolina Gamecocks 6-6 (3-5)
After winning 9 games in 2017, the South Carolina Gamecocks entered the 2018 college football season with expectation that they’d be able to build off of that and contend for the Southeastern Conference Title. However that was not the case for the Gamecocks as they had to settle for a 7-6 mark. But South Carolina can take solace in knowing that five of those losses came versus teams that finished no lower than 16th in the final Associated Press Poll for the season. And as South Carolina head football coach Will Muschamp has always shown the knack to be a quality recruiter, will his squad be up for the challenge that is contending in the SEC East?
Quarterback Jake Bentley is set begin his fourth and final year as the Gamecocks starting quarterback, and he is looking to go out with a bang. Bentley has the big arm and he is very athletic; but now it is just a matter of him putting it altogether for South Carolina. In each of Bentley’s three years in Columbia, his completion percentage has dropped, while his interception totals have increased. And any chance of the Gamecocks being more consistent on offense will begin with Bentley being able to take care of the football.
But it won’t be as easy this year on offense for South Carolina as they have to find a way to replace wide receiver Deebo Samuel who is now in the National Football League. Samuel’s departure means that more will be expected of senior wide receiver Bryan Edwards. Last year Edwards averaged 15.4 yards per catch, while his 6’3″, 220-pound frame is more than enough to box out the smaller cornerbacks.
Muschamp built his reputation in coaching on the defensive side of the football which made it hard to watch South Carolina finish 84th in the nation in total defense as they must get tougher on that side of the football. One player to keep an eye on will be senior middle linebacker T.J. Brunson who not only led the Gamecocks in tackles last season, but is also one of the surer tacklers in the Southeastern Conference. And Brunson’s tackling ability will be needed if South Carolina is going to hang with the big boys of the conference in 2019.
The Gamecocks will begin their season in Charlotte on August 31st when they clash with the North Carolina Tar Heels of the Atlantic Coast Conference. And Southeastern Conference play won’t be a picnic for the Gamecocks as they’ll get things started by hosting the Alabama Crimson Tide, while consecutive games versus the Georgia Bulldogs and Florida Gators, along with their regular-season finale versus the Clemson Tigers who are the defending national champs will definitely test Muschamp and his program that is looking to improve from 2018.
Tennessee Volunteers 6-6 (3-5)
The 2018 college football season was an up and down affair for the Tennessee Volunteers. The Volunteers began the year with a 26-point loss to the West Virginia Mountaineers of the Big 12 Conference. And when the Vols began their Southeastern Conference slate of games, they suffered consecutive 26-point losses to the Florida Gators and Georgia Bulldogs. But even though that Tennessee finished with a losing record for the second consecutive year, they were able end their 13-game conference losing streak which dated back to 2017 as that gives their head football coach Jeremy Pruitt something to build off of heading into his second year in Knoxville. However as there is optimism that Tennessee will be improved in 2019, are they ready to reclaim their spot as one of the top teams in the Southeastern Conference?
In order for the Vols to compete and become bowl eligible for the first time since 2016, their offense must get better. Last year Tennessee was 122nd in the nation as they were held to 17 points or fewer in five contests. After spending the last three years as the offensive coordinator for the Georgia Bulldogs, Pruitt was able persuade Jim Chaney to assume the same post in Knoxville. Chaney will have to establish a better flow on offense for the Volunteers and it will begin with junior quarterback Jarrett Guarantano.
In two years at Tennessee, Guarantano has shown a flash here or there, but has never been able to put it altogether. It will be of the utmost importance for Chaney to implement plays that will get Guarantano going early on in the season in order for him to get some consistency going in the pocket.
But turning things around on offense won’t be cut and dry for Tennessee due to the fact that they are currently lacking explosiveness at the skills positions. The Vols leading rusher from last season was running back Ty Chandler who only gained 630 yards on the ground last season, while the leading pass catcher was Marquez Callaway with just 592 yards. Tennessee is also going to rely on an offensive line that will have a pair of true freshman starting in left tackle Wayna Morris and right tackle Darnell Wright as this Vols offense will be a work in progress all year long.
And whereas that the Tennessee offense will need to improve drastically this year, the same can be said about their defense. Last year the Volunteers surrendered at least 40 points in four ball games. First-year Tennessee defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley will rely on a pair of seniors to lead this unit in middle linebacker Daniel Bituli and outside linebacker Darnell Taylor. Like it is on offense, the Vols will be green on the defensive side of the football, but they need to get their footing early on in order to not get lost in the shuffle that is the always tough Southeastern Conference.
Unlike last year where the Vols had their hands full right out of the chute, their non-conference schedule in not as stressful in 2019. However Tennessee’s first road game of the season comes on September 21st versus Florida which will give us an indication as to how far that this has come under Pruitt.
Vanderbilt Commodores 4-8 (2-6)
Winning on the gridiron has never been easy for the Vanderbilt Commodores which is why the powers that be at the prestigious Nashville school have been patient with current head football coach Derek Mason. Things started out slow for Mason at Vanderbilt as in each of his first two years the Commodores failed to make a bowl. However in two of the last years Vandy has reached a bowl game, but they’ve just been unable to win one. And as the 2019 college football season is set to begin, the Commodores are hopeful to break through and finish the season with a winning record which would be a huge shot in the arm to their program.
Last year quarterback Kyle Shurmur and his 24 touchdown passes were a steadying influence for the Vanderbilt offense. But with Shurmur now in the National Football League, Mason will turn to junior Mo Hasan at quarterback. Hasan saw very limited action last season behind Shurmur, but it’ll now be baptism by fire for him as he looks to survive in the gauntlet that is the Southeastern Conference.
But while the Commodores will be breaking in a new starting signal-caller, Mason will rely on the legs of senior running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn. At 5’10”, 215 lbs., Vaughn is an explosive runner who is hard to contain once he reaches the second level. However Vaughn will be receiving more attention this year from opposing defenses if the Vandy passing attack cannot get going.
Defensively for Vandy, one player to keep an eye on will be inside linebacker Dmitri Moore who last year as a redshirt freshman was second on the team in tackles with 84. Moore has good instincts as a linebacker, and as he goes, so does this Commodores defense.
Vanderbilt will have their work cut out for them in order to make a bowl game for the second consecutive year as two of their first three games will be versus the Georgia Bulldogs and LSU Tigers which will bookend a road contest against an improved Purdue Boilermakers team from the Big Ten Conference. It’ll definitely be tough sledding for Mason and Vandy, but do not expect them to give up.
Alabama Crimson 13-0 (9-0)
Most college football programs would be more than happy to go 14-1 as it means that you are among the best of the best; however that is not the case for the Alabama Crimson Tide who will enter the new college football season attempting to do something that they were unable to do last year which is to win it all. Last season the Tide steamrolled to a 12-0 mark in the regular season as none of their opponents lost by fewer than 22 points. Alabama was able to use its savvy as well as their experience to come from behind versus the Georgia Bulldogs in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game before being able to hold off the Oklahoma Sooners of the Big 12 Conference in the Orange Bowl. But when ‘Bama took the field in Santa Clara to meet the Clemson Tigers of the Atlantic Coast Conference to decide the national champion, they were steamrolled 44-16 as a game that was expected to come down to the wire was not even close. However unlike other schools that compete in college football, Alabama knows how to rebound, and it does not hurt to have a head football coach like Nick Saban who is the best in the business in regards to recruiting, developing his players, and getting them ready for the next level. And after Saban just bid farewell to a stellar senior class as well as some juniors who decided to go pro early, he once again has a team that is not only capable of winning the SEC, but taking home another national title.
Junior quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has quickly become a household name in college football. Back in January 2018, it was Tagovailoa who came off of the bench to start the second half of the national championship game versus Georgia to replace an ineffective Jalen Hurts. Tagovailoa was just the spark that Alabama’s offense needed as they were able to erase a 13-point deficit in order to secure the victory. Tagovailoa lit up college football all last season as his precise passing and athleticism helped to make Alabama unbeatable during the regular season. All signs pointed to Tagovailoa winning the Heisman Trophy as the nation’s top college football player, but he lost out to Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray.
Tagovailoa will enter this season as the odds-on favorite to win the Heisman as he’ll look to build off of a year where he threw 43 touchdowns to just 6 interceptions. However 4 of those picks came in Alabama’s last three games. Opponents later in the season did a better job in regards to disguising coverages in order to confuse Tagovailoa. This is something that Tagovailoa has to work on heading into his junior season if he is going to help the Tide contend for another national title.
Alabama will lose two of their top three runners from last year’s team, but if nothing else we’ve learned that the cupboard is never bare in Tuscaloosa under Saban. Last year as a sophomore, running back Najee Harris was second on this Alabama team in carries with 117. But this time around Harris should get the lion’s share of the carries, while his 6’2, 230-pound frame will allow Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian to lean on him as the game goes along which should wear down opposing defenses by the time that the fourth quarter comes around.
With Tagovailoa at quarterback, the Tide has implemented more of a passing attack that we have not always seen from them in recent years. Last year the Crimson Tide were sixth in the nation in passing offense, and the explosiveness that they’ll once again have will keep opposing secondaries in the Southeastern Conference on their heels.
Junior wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III, along with sophomore wide receiver Jaylen Waddle are arguably the best trio of pass catchers in the nation. Each receiver is a burner, and if opposing defenses focus too much on the running ability of Tagovailoa this trio has the skills to get past a secondary and burn them for six.
Right guard Matt Womack is the only senior on Alabama’s offensive line, but it should not be much of a problem due to the fact that Saban recruits players to Tuscaloosa that know they’ll get their opportunity to not only start, but have pro futures as their depth is second to none.
The same can be said about the Tide’s defense that lost its fair share of talent to the National Football League, but once again will be a force to be reckoned with. Last year the Tide were 16th in the nation in total defense which included holding six opponents to 14 points or less. There is still plenty of talent on this Alabama defense which includes the likes of senior outside linebacker Anfernee Jennings and junior outside linebacker Dylan Moses.
Saban has always rolled out tremendous linebackers at Alabama, and the versatility that both Moses and Jennings have will put each of them in the conversation to be All-Americans, while also drawing the eyes of the pro scouts.
Surprisingly Alabama does not have a very difficult schedule as outside of conference road games versus the Texas A&M Aggies and Auburn Tigers, they won’t be tested as they look to get to Atlanta once again for the Southeastern Conference Championship Game.
LSU Tigers 10-2 (7-1)
2018 marked the first time in five years that the LSU Tigers were able to win 10 games, but you might not have known it. As usual the Tigers were overshadowed in the Western Division of the Southeastern Conference by that team from Tuscaloosa as the Alabama Crimson Tide continue to cast that ominous shadow over that region. However the Bayou Bengals were able to win a bowl game for the third time in the last four years, while they finished in the top ten of the Associated Press Poll for the first time in eight years.
Ed Orgeron was not LSU’s first choice to take over as their head football coach in 2016, but he is the right man for the job. Orgeron is a native of Louisiana as he bleeds purple and gold. And as Orgeron has kept the Tigers relevant during his watch in Baton Rogue, are they ready to win their first Southeastern Conference Title in eight years?
As good as LSU has been in recent years, they have been mired by inconsistency at the quarterback position, but last year Orgeron was able to find a winner in Joe Burrow. After transferring from the Ohio State Buckeyes program, Burrow became LSU’s starting quarterback, and although his physical skills may not jump off of the chart, he has two attributes that are hard to overlook which is his ability to win as well as his heart. To some people Burrow can be considered a “game manager”, but at the end of the day he is someone that Oregeron trust with the football in his hands as he is not going to lose the game for the Bayou Bengals. Burrow is not going to be a big stat guy as he feeds off of the Tigers power running attack, but when his number is called upon, he has enough arm strength to get the football deep if opposing defenses sleep on him.
For more than 20 years LSU has developed a reputation for their depth at the running back position, and junior Clyde Edwards-Helaire looks to keep that going. Last season in a limited role Edwards-Helaire averaged 4.5 yards per carry, while also scoring 7 touchdowns on the ground. But this time around you can expect Edwards-Helaire to flirt with getting 200 carries, while his blend of speed of power could spell trouble for opposing defenses in the Southeastern Conference.
As Burrow got more comfortable with the LSU offense as the 2018 season progressed, his favorite pass catcher became wide receiver Justin Jefferson. Last year Jefferson led the Tigers in every major statistical category in regards to receiving, and he will be in line to do it once again. And if the Bayou Bengals are able to establish their rushing attack as they are expected to do, Jefferson has the ability to burn secondaries around the Southeastern Conference with his blazing speed.
Defensively the Bayou Bengals must find a way to replace the talents of linebacker Devin White and cornerback Greedy Williams who are now in the National Football League, but there is still some talent in Baton Rogue. The Tigers have themselves another stud at middle linebacker in the form of junior Jacob Phillips who like White is a player that covers a ton of ground in pursuit of the ball carrier. Junior strong safety Grant Delpit can deliver the wood in run support, while also being a ball hawk as he led the team last season in interceptions with 5, and his play making ability will help LSU once again be one of the top teams in the Southeastern Conference.
No one can ever accuse LSU of playing an easy non-conference schedule as the Bayou Bengals will travel to Austin on September 7 to face the Texas Longhorns of the Big 12 Conference. Aside from meeting Texas, the Tigers will have road meetings with the Mississippi State Bulldogs and Alabama Crimson Tide as they’ll have their work cut out for them in order to win 10 games for the second consecutive season.
Texas A&M Aggies 8-4 (5-3)
In 2017, the powers that be for the Texas A&M Aggies paid big bucks to lure head football coach Jimbo Fisher away from the Florida State Seminoles, and very quickly the move paid off. Last year the Aggies went 9-4, while finishing 16th in the Associated Press Poll for their best mark since 2013. A&M can also take solace in knowing that they played the eventual national champion Clemson Tigers tougher than anyone as they only lost by two points. And after the Aggies surprised some people in order to finish in second place in the Western Division of the Southeastern Conference in 2018, will they be able to build off of that in order to get to Atlanta for the conference title game?
Whether is has been as an offensive coordinator, or as a head coach, Fisher has built his reputation on developing quarterbacks which includes former Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. And upon arriving at College Station, it didn’t take Fisher that long to find another as he has made quarterback Kellen Mond a household name.
Last year as a sophomore, Mond had a good year which included him throwing 24 touchdowns to 9 interceptions. Mond is an athletic quarterback with a solid arm who progressed as the 2018 season went along, and another off-season under Fisher should allow him to have an even bigger impact in 2019; both as a player and leader.
The Aggies will have to replace some talent at the skill positions, but they will have some experience on their offensive line. Texas A&M will put four juniors on the starting offensive line, along with one senior in right guard Colton Prater as they look to keep Mond’s uniform clean in 2019.
Outside of surrendering 72 points in an overtime win over the LSU Tigers, the Aggies defense was able to hold their own in 2018. Last year A&M finished 32nd in the nation in total defense, and as Michael Elko is set to begin his second year as their defensive coordinator, he is hopeful that his unit will be able to wreak more havoc. But this A&M defense will be very green to begin the year as cornerback Charles Oliver is the only senior that will be starting. And because of that it will be important for the Aggies to use the non-conference portion of their schedule to get some experience.
On September 7, the Aggies will attempt to do something that has been easier said than done in recent years which is to knock off Clemson, while their conference schedule won’t be a cupcake either as it includes home meetings with the Auburn Tigers and Alabama Crimson Tide as well as consecutive road games versus the Georgia Bulldogs and LSU to finish the regular season.
Auburn Tigers 8-4 (4-4)
In six years as the head football coach of the Auburn Tigers, Gus Malzahn has won 53 games, but he has become a victim of his own success. In Malzahn’s first year at the helm of the Tigers, he led them to 12 wins, a Southeastern Conference Title, and an appearance in the national championship game, but since then he has been unable to replicate that success. Auburn has lost five games or more in four out of the last five years, and in each of those seasons they came up short versus the Alabama Crimson Tide. But after easily dispatching of the Purdue Boilermakers of the Big Ten Conference in the Music City Bowl to finish the season on a positive, there is hope on the plains that the Tigers can build off of that in order to contend to the SEC Title.
Whereas that Jarrett Stidham was Auburn’s starting quarterback over the past several years, Malzahn will spend this season breaking in a new signal caller. In 2018, quarterback Joey Gatewood was redshirted as the only limited action that he saw was in the Music City Bowl. Like Stidham, Gatewood is a big quarterback as he stands in at 6’5″, but he is more mobile than his predecessor which is something that should help to jump start an Auburn offense that was 79th in total offense last season.
Last year as a true freshman, running back JaTarvious Whitlow averaged more than 5 yards per carry as he proved that he can hang with the athletes on defense in the Southeastern Conference. Whitlow is a burner who after racking up 150 carries last season is ready for more of a workload as it would not surprise me to see Malzahn give him 200 carries in 2019.
The Tigers were 75th in passing offense last season as no wide receiver gained 700 yards. The Tigers were very green on offense last year with a litany of youngsters at the skill positions which includes sophomore wide receiver Seth Williams. Williams is Auburn’s leading returning pass catcher from 2018. Williams was able to average 20.5 yards per catch, and that explosiveness will be important for an Auburn offense that needs to once again make the big play part of repertoire.
But whereas the Tigers will rely on youth at the skill positions, they’ll have one of the more experienced offensive lines in the conference. Led by left tackle Prince Wanogho, all five projected starters on Auburn’s offensive line this year are seniors as that experience will be vital for a Tigers team that needs more cohesion.
At times in 2018, Auburn’s defense was as stingy as could be, while there were also occasions where they had holes like Swiss cheese. The Tigers must replace their top three tacklers from last season, but one player to keep an eye on in their front seven will be junior defensive end Nick Coe. Coe plays with solid lean which is always needed to rush the passer, and it will imperative for him to wreak havoc in 2019. The Tigers also racked up 14 interceptions and with three seniors that’ll be starting in the secondary, this unit has what it takes to slow down most of the passing attacks in the Southeastern Conference.
Under Malzahan, Auburn is never afraid to step out of conference which’ll be the case on again this year as their season will commence in Arlington, Texas versus the Oregon Ducks of the Pac-12 Conference. But Auburn’s season will be defined by a brutal month of October that’ll see them have three consecutive road games versus the Florida Gators, Arkansas Razorbacks, and LSU Tigers as War Eagle will have their hands full in order to win the conference crown.
Mississippi State Bulldogs 6-6 (2-6)
The Mississippi State Bulldogs are in the midst of their best run in program history. Each of the last nine college football seasons have ended with Mississippi State participating in a bowl game, and they have been able to do this with two different head coaches. Last year Joe Moorhead was able to keep the machine rolling in Starkville. The Bulldogs did lose five games last year, but they can take solace in the fact that each of those losses were against ranked teams which should be a building block for Moorhead as he heads into his second season there as he and Mississippi State look to hold their own in the always tough Southeastern Conference.
What allowed Mississippi State to hang with the big boys of the Southeastern Conference last season was their stinginess on defense. Last year the Bulldogs had the top-ranked defense in the nation, and although that defensive end Montez Sweat is now in the National Football League, this unit will still be a force to be reckoned with.
Six seniors are poised to be in the Bulldogs starting lineup on defense which includes four upperclassmen on their defensive line. But the players to watch the most on the Mississippi State defense will be a pair of junior linebackers in Willie Gay Jr., and Erroll Thompson. Both Gay and Thompson are solid in regards to playing the run, and as Mississippi State loves to mix up their blitz schemes, this duo will continuously put pressure on opposing quarterbacks; especially if the Bulldog defensive line allows them to have free reign.
Just like it was under Mullen, Moorhead is going with a big quarterback that is also a physical runner. Junior quarterback Keytaon Thompson was recruited to Mississippi State by Mullen, but Moorhead will still utilize all of his skills which includes his ability to run. At 6’4″, 225 lbs., Thompson is a handful as he and his teammates on offense will be methodical as they look to dictate the pace in order to wear down opposing defenses.
Mississippi State will need to take care of their business during their non-conference schedule as the Southeastern Conference portion of the schedule will see them host both the LSU Tigers and Alabama Crimson Tide, while traveling to face the Texas A&M Aggies.
Mississippi Rebels 5-7 (2-6)
The Mississippi Rebels can head into the 2019 college football season knowing that they’ve survived everything that the NCAA threw at them. First, Ole Miss hit themselves with a one-year bowl ban in 2017 which was followed by a one-year bowl by the NCAA, as well as a reduction in scholarships in 2018 due to infractions that were committed by former head football coach Hugh Freeze. And even though that the Rebels have taken their lumps, they are ready to go forward and compete in the Southeastern Conference.
When Matt Luke was named as the interim head football coach at Ole Miss in 2017, he was expected to be a “stop-gap” guy as the school was seeking to find a bigger name to lead their program. However Luke has gone 11-13 in two years at Oxford which is better than most people expected as he is now the guy going forward.
The Rebels scholarship reduction over the last two years has really hurt them as they’ll be green at several key positions this year which includes quarterback. Mississippi is going with redshirt freshman Matt Corral this season. Corral played very briefly in 2018, but obviously not enough to effect his redshirt status. However Corral will have the benefit of handing the football off to a running back in senior Scottie Phillips who averaged 6.1 yards per carry last season. But opposing defenses will be poised to stack the box more this year against Ole Miss due to the fact they have to find a way to replace their top three wide receivers from last season as teams will dare Corral to beat them with his arm.
Last year saw the Rebels take it on the chin defensively as they were 121st in the nation in total defense which included surrendering 40 points or more four times. Mississippi’s struggles on defense resulted in Luke replacing co-defensive coordinators Wesley McGriff and Jason Jones with former Colorado Buffaloes head football Mike MacIntyre.
One player to keep an eye on defensively for the Rebels will be junior inside linebacker Mohamed Sanogo who after leading Ole Miss in tackles last season with 112, will once again need to be the point person on a defense that has to get tougher and more sound.
As the Rebels look to reach a bowl game for the first time since 2015, they’ll need to take advantage of their non-conference schedule which includes contest against the Memphis Tigers of the American Athletic Conference and the California Golden Bears of the Pac-12 Conference as their Southeastern Conference schedule includes road games versus the Alabama Crimson Tide and Auburn Tigers, along with home games versus the Texas A&M Aggies and LSU Tigers.
Arkansas Razorbacks 4-8 (0-8)
When Chad Morris took over last year as the head football coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks, he knew that he had a tall task ahead of him in order to get this program to compete in the tough Southeastern Conference. And it showed during Morris’ first time around in the SEC as his Razorbacks failed to win a conference game for the second time in five years, while their last two losses were decided by a final tally of 90-6. And as all eyes around Fayetteville will be on Morris as he heads into year two, will his Hogs show some improvement?
The first thing that Arkansas must do is to find a way to compete this season as five of their 10 losses in 2018 were by at least 27 points. John Chavis is set to begin his second year as Arkansas’ defensive coordinator, and after have success at previous stops in the Southeastern Conference such as with the Tennessee Volunteers and LSU Tigers, he will have work cut out for him with the Razorbacks. Last year Arkansas was 79th in the nation in total defense, as his unit has to become stingier.
One player to keep an eye on will be senior middle linebacker De’Jon Harris who in his time with the Hogs has proven to be a solid tackler, but it will be his ability to lead that the Razorbacks will need most of all this year.
And just as it was a struggle on defense for Arkansas in 2018, the same can be said about their offense which was ranked 118th in the nation. However one bright spot for the Arkansas offense will be junior running back Rakeem Boyd who after averaging 6 yards per carry last season, will need to tote the rock at least 200 times to give the Razorbacks a legit shot to become bowl eligible.
With the likes of the Texas A&M Aggies and Alabama Crimson Tide, along with LSU on the docket, the deck will be stacked against Arkansas to finish with a winning record, but Morris will need to show some signs of improvement with his program in order to give the people in Fayetteville some hope.
SEC Championship Game-Atlanta, Georgia Georgia vs. Alabama
Conference Champion: Alabama
Sources: Sports-reference.com, Cfbstats.com