Today, we get to the final of the Power 5 conferences, the SEC. Both of last year’s championship game participants came from this vaunted powerhouse, with Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide winning in dramatic fashion over Kirby Smart’s Georgia Bulldogs. Heading into this season, those programs look poised to meet once again in the conference title game and, potentially, the playoff. As always, win totals are based on Vegas projections. If you’ve missed any of our other previews to this point, check out the links below.
(O/U 10.5 wins)
We’d say the Kirby Smart reign at UGA is off to a great start. Coming off a near victory over the Death Star that is Alabama in the title game, Smart has a team loaded for another run this season. QB Jake Fromm returns, but his job isn’t even secure thanks to the arrival of five-star recruit Justin Fields. Fields was part of the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation for the ‘Dawgs and has drawn rave reviews. Whoever is starting will have the traditional loaded backfield of stud recruits even after the departure of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Outside, receivers Terry Godwin, Mecole Hardman and Riley Ridley are ready to vaccuum up plenty of targets. Oh, and they added Cal-transfer Demetris Robertson. That’s all combined with an offensive line that started several freshman last year and has all five guys back.
On defense, all-world LB Roquan Smith is gone, as are four other members of the front seven. But, their expected replacements are largely all former four and five-star recruits. Great. In the secondary, three of last year’s four starters return with corners DeAndre Baker and Tyrique McGhee having the makings of a shutdown combo.
The Bulldogs don’t have to face Alabama until a potential SEC title game match-up and will be favored in every game in all likelihood. Can they handle being the hunted instead of the hunters? Over 10.5
(O/U 7.5 wins)
Dan Mullen takes over for the Gators, returning to the program he guided as offensive coordinator a decade ago. He’ll have some solid pieces to work with in his first year. The entire offensive line is back including stud tackle Martez Ivey. That should help now-sophomore QB Feleipe Franks, who had an up-and-down debut season. Malik Davis, Jordan Scarlett and LaMichael Perine is a nice triumvirate of backs behind Franks and the receiving corps adds Ole Miss transfer Van Jefferson. The talent has been here, the production’s been missing.
On defense, the Gators were young last year, particularly in the secondary, and they dropped off from what you’d normally expect from a Florida defense, allowing 27.3 points per game last season. Now, coordinator Todd Grantham takes over with an attacking style and a loaded depth chart. Florida has the talent to compete with everybody on their schedule, but improvement in the passing game is a must if they’re going to hit the over. Under 7.5
(O/U 7.5 wins)
The Tigers started last season 1-5 before finishing 7-6 with a loss to Texas in the Texas bowl. They have most of last year’s group back that was part of that turnaround, but there’s some turnover at coordinator (Derek Dooler replaces Josh Heupel as OC) and a question of whether they can beat good teams as their six straight wins to end the year came against the likes of Idaho, UConn, Florida, Tennessee, Vandy and Arkansas.
QB Drew Lock is back along with most of his weapons on offense, but with a more “pro-style” scheme, it remains to be seen what the offense will look like. The returning talent should allow the Tigers to score points, just a question of whether they’ll be as prolific as last year. The defense, similar to the overall season, was bad against good teams and good late. They started the season giving up 43 to Missouri State before then giving up 31, 35, 51, 40, 53 before settling down. Most of the group is back but we’ll see if the late improvement is sustainable.
The fact that some conference schools are in flux (Tennessee, Arkansas) and the Tigers play in the East makes for a positive outlook heading into the year. Over 7.5
South Carolina Gamecocks-
(O/U 7 wins)
The Gamecocks surged to 9-4 and 2nd in the East last year in Will Muschamp’s 2nd year. Now, he’s got most of the offense back and (hopefully) WR Deebo Samuel healthy. QB Jake Bentley, RB Rico Dowdle and most of the offensive line return to join Samuel on offense. Plus, Bryan Edwards, OrTre Smith and Shi Smith all had their moments after Samuel went down with his injury last year. Muschamp teams have never really had what we’d call great offenses, but this one certainly could be good.
At least good enough to help the defense which is Muschamp’s forte. The unit does lose some big names in Skai Moore, Chris Lammons and JaMarcus King, but Muschamp’s track record of putting together good defenses is well established. The biggest concern is in the secondary where they’ll rely mostly on young guys and transfers to fill the holes left by departures. The schedule features only two likely losses (Georgia, @Clemson), but also trips to Ole Miss and Florida which could be tricky. Under 7
(O/U 5.5 wins)
The Wildcats have been bowling the last two years and there’s reason to think they could again this season. Stud RB Benny Snell is back and he certainly doesn’t lack confidence, saying at media days that he’s the best back in the SEC. He’ll have to be if not the best, one of the best to help break in a new QB. Good news is, the ‘Cats have an experienced line in front of him and a couple nice options at the receiver spot (Tavin Richardson and Dorian Baker) to help whoever is under center.
The defense struggled in 2017, giving up nearly 430 yards of offense and 28 points per game. Almost everyone is back from last year’s unit which could be good or bad depending on the development of the players. We’ll see if experience translates into better production in year two under coordinator Matt House. That unit will definitely be tested by an SEC slate featuring trips to Florida, A&M, Tennessee and Missouri. Bowl eligibility is possible, but dependent on defensive improvement and a QB emerging. Over 5.5
(O/U 5.5 wins)
What a weird offseason in Knoxville. In the end, Jeremy Pruitt is your new head coach and he inherits a team that set new (low) marks for the Vols with their first 8-loss season and first winless SEC campaign. There’s talent, but under a new staff, we don’t really know which guys are definitely going to see the field with new evaluators in charge.
Offensive coordinator Tyson Helton (USC coach Clay’s younger brother) has a crowded crop of running backs who could fit well in his power-run style including Michigan State transfer Madre London. The offensive line has stud sophomore Trey Smith and a bunch of other guys who got experience because of injuries. The receiving corps is solid with Jauan Jennings, Brandon Johnson and Marquez Callaway back. The question is under center. Quentin Dormady transferred out, Keller Chryst transferred in and Jarrett Guarantano is still here.
Defensively, the hope is that the injury bug stops biting. If it does, there’s plenty of experience here capable of forming a solid unit for the defensively minded Pruitt and new coordinator Kevin Sherrer. That all said, outside of UTEP, East Tennessee State and Charlotte, the Vols’ schedule is rough, playing @Georgia, @Auburn and home versus ‘Bama in three straight weeks. Under 5.5
(O/U 4 wins)
Vandy is a hard place to win. The Commodores find themselves in, arguably, the best conference in the country but a much higher barrier for entry academically than most other schools. It doesn’t have the same fertile recruiting ground as Stanford or the name-brand prestige of Notre Dame. So, often, the Commodores find themselves scrapping at the bottom of the East division. That looks likely again this year, but could change depending on how good the offense is.
QB Kyle Shurmur, receiver Kalija Lipscomb and six offensive lineman return. To that core, head coach Derek Mason has added Illinois transfer RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Ohio State transfer WR Alex Stump and four-star recruit Camron Johnson. This unit could be quite good, and it will have to be, because the defense is breaking in a bunch of new faces.
The defense returns just four starters from last year while losing depth at LB and in the secondary in particular. With a lot to replace and a schedule that features just three likely wins (Middle Tenn, Nevada, Tennessee State), it could be a long year in Nashville. Push 4
Alabama Crimson Tide-
(O/U 11 wins)
It’s becoming hard to write new things about Alabama. Nick Saban is coming off another national title, has a pair of stud QBs to choose from and brings the usual mix of experience and stud freshman to the table. The Death Star is alive and well.
Sure, there’s questions. The secondary was hit hard by departures, particularly of stud safety/CB Minkah Fitzpatrick and Saban will be breaking in new coordinators again. There’s also plenty of answers. Title game star Tua Tagovailoa returns to battle Jalen Hurts for the full-time job, running backs Damien Harris, Najee Harris and Josh Jacobs are back with four of five starters returning on the line. Receivers Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith and Henry Ruggs III return for their sophomore years after producing big plays for the Tide last year.
On defense, well, it’s Nick Saban. The front seven is terrifying as usual, led by DE Raekwon Davis, DE Isaiah Buggs and DT Quinnen Williams. Mack Wilson, Anfernee Jennings and Dylan Moses return in the linebacking corps. The secondary, as mentioned above is going to be much younger than usual. So, does that youth lead to giving up big plays? Or are they able to develop behind what should be a pretty heavy pass-rush? We’ll find out.
As usual, ‘Bama will likely be favored in every game. The biggest tests come @LSU and against Auburn, but the Tigers come to Tuscaloosa. This kind of schedule is favorable for a young group, but one slip-up could happen. Push 11
(O/U 9 wins)
Fresh off an SEC West title and some offseason contract drama, Gus Malzahn leads another loaded Auburn team into a year trying to make the playoff. They lose workhorse back Kerryon Johnson, but QB Jarrett Stidham, all of his receivers and several offensive line contributors are back. As good as the offense should be, the defense under DC Kevin Steele could be even better. Seven starters return from last year’s group that held opponents to 18.5 points and just under 320 yards per game.
All that returning talent is great, but the schedule, as usual under Malzahn, is brutal. The Tigers open with a Washington team that’s a legitimate playoff threat. After a respite against Alabama A&M, the SEC slate starts with a physical, if young, LSU at home. Also on the slate? Road trips to Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama. They got both of those final two opponents at home on the plains last year leading to wins against both. Can they repeat that feat on the road? Tougher ask, which is why we’ve got a push. Push 9
Mississippi State Bulldogs-
(O/U 8.5 wins)
New head coach Joe Moorhead has big shoes to fill in Starkville. But, the good news is, he brings an offense almost perfectly suited to the stacked depth chart left behind by Dan Mullen and to utilize the unique talents of QB Nick Fitzgerald. In addition to Fitzgerald, all three of last year’s running backs, three of the top five receivers and four of five starting offensive linemen.
Defensive linemen Jeffrey Simmons, Montez Sweat, and Gerri Green all return fronting a group that brings virtually every key piece back after allowing just 20.9 points and 306 yards per game last season. The biggest tests come from a visit from Auburn and trips to LSU and Alabama. Outside of those three, every game is winnable, particularly with the returning experience. Even Auburn and LSU could be wins, with ‘Bama a pipe dream. Matching last year’s nine wins is doable. Over 8.5
(O/U 7 wins)
Coach O comes into his second season needing to replace the QB, RB, WR, and three of five offensive lineman from last year. The defense should be fine, particularly with star corner Greedy Williams, LB Devin White and coordinator Dave Aranda calling the shots. But, the offense? Well, that’s a bit more of a question mark.
One of those question marks, starting QB, appears to be closing in on a conclusion with Ohio State transfer Joe Burrow and sophomore Myles Brennan battling for the top spot. At running back, this is the first time in four years we can’t just assume the Tigers will be fine. After the Fournette-Guice era, there’s a bunch of unproven guys on the depth chart. At receiver, there’s plenty of former star recruits and the unit adds Texas Tech transfer Jonathan Giles. Still, the unproven nature leaves you wondering if this will be a build year before a very good year next season.
The schedule is….unkind to say the least. Starting with Miami, having to travel to rival Florida and Auburn, and getting the conference big boys Georgia and Alabama at home. Sure that means upsets could happen in the UGA and ‘Bama games in front of the home crowd in Death Valley, but I wouldn’t count on it. Push 7
Texas A&M Aggies-
(O/U 7 wins)
Jimbo Fisher enters with a ton more zeroes in his bank account after signing a 10-year, $75 million guaranteed contract. The Aggies boosters have high hopes, and they want to be national title contenders. That won’t happen this year, but Fisher did win a title at FSU in the final year of the BCS, so maybe he can do it. For now though, a loaded schedule could hold down the win total.
QBs Kellen Mond and Nick Starkel are back as is most of the receiving corps, the top running back and basically the entire offensive line depth chart. A&M was a young team last year and they still found a way to get to 7-6. The experience is good, but a change in style is coming as Fisher runs a more traditional style of offense than Sumlin did. There’s potential for a very good group here, but it’s still young with a lot of sophomores and juniors.
The same applies to the defense honestly. Coordinator Mike Elko has most of last year’s group back minus safety Armani Watts, so like the offense, there’s game experience here with a young group. The problem is what we mentioned at the top: the schedule. Clemson, @’Bama, @South Carolina, @Miss. State, @Auburn with LSU & Ole Miss coming to College Station. Yikes. Push 7
Ole Miss Rebels-
(O/U 6 wins)
The Matt Luke era enters its second year and, despite some high profile transfers (Shea Patterson, Van Jefferson, Deontay Anderson), there’s still some talent left to make the Rebels a problem. Patterson may be gone but Jordan Ta’amu returns under center with a trio of weapons (A.J. Brown, DeMarkus Lodge and D.K. Metcalf) to run the up-tempo pass-heavy offense once again. With an experienced line, the Rebels should put up numbers again, it’s stopping opponents that may be the problem.
The defense cratered, giving up 34.6 points per game last year. Injuries played some factor, but heading into this year, most of the front seven outside of LB Detric Bing-Dukes is a huge question mark. The secondary should be fine, but the questions up front mean there could be more shootouts in the Rebels immediate future. The schedule is fairly favorable, their toughest road tests are @LSU and @TAMU. Over 6
(O/U 6 wins)
The Bret Bielema era is over and in comes Chad Morris with an ENTIRELY different style of offense. At Clemson (OC) and SMU (as head coach), Morris’ teams have put points on the board in a hurry. He should be able to get that done in Year 1, and he may have to in order to overcome an inexperienced defense.
Morris has a QB battle to figure out after Austin Allen graduated last year, but the rest of the offense is loaded with talent. Last year’s top three receivers and top three tight ends are back and receiver Jared Cornelius returns after missing all of last year with injury. In addition, two running backs and four offensive linemen return that saw starting time last year.
Defensive coordinator John Chavis has work to do with a unit that gave up 438 yards and 36 points per game last season. He’s got a bunch of returnees to work with, but like Kentucky, it’s unknown what those guys can provide. The Hogs schedule gives them five games they should win (Eastern Illinois, CSU, North Texas, Tulsa and Vandy) outside of that, they’ll need an upset. Under 6