As we make our way East, we enter the Deep South and SEC territory, land of football, barbecue, and tailgates done rite (no, I didn’t misspell that). Folks in the rest of the country might be awful tired of hearing how much better they are, but when you’ve won ten Natty’s since 2000 and the best any other conference has managed is 3 (ACC - 2018,2016, 2013), there’s not much to say. Regardless, sit a spell and I’ll learn ya everything you need to know for the 2019 season in the SEC West.
Alabama – 14-1 (8-0) – I think I was like most of America watching the 2018 National Football Playoff Final last January – shocked. Not shocked that the Tide were beaten, but shocked because of the way that it happened. We’d seen the tide roll (pun not intended) over teams before, we’d seen them grind out wins and we’d seen them lose (2014 Vs Ohio State comes to mind), but we’d never seen them look quite so… mortal. With that said, the Tide are back this year (#1 in many preseason polls), locked, loaded, and ready for another run at a National Championship. Heisman (co)front-runner Tua Tagovailoa (because you know you’re saying it wrong) is back for what looks to be his final season in college and while only five other offensive starters return, is anyone really worried? No, because Alabama gets 5-stars like a teenager gets pimples. All. The. Time. He does get back junior WRs Jerry Jeudy, Henery Ruggs III, and, while not a returning starter, Najee Harris at running back. If you want to be sick, those three plus Tua were all in the same recruiting class and totaled 19 stars between them. While the defense looked sad against Clemson last January, thinking it’s on a slide would be a mistake. The Tide’s secondary returns intact and the front seven, including junior Terrell Lewis returning from injury, looks ready to make people fear the Tide once again.
If everything goes right – The Tide are celebrating their 18th (or 13th, depending on how you count) National Title in football.
If everything goes wrong – Nick Saban’s squad is backing into the CFP after losing to Georgia in the SEC CG but still ranked #3. They lose in the semifinal to Oklahoma and former QB Jalen Hurts.
Prediction – The back-and-forth battle between ‘Bama and Clemson continues with the Tide winning this round.
Louisiana State – 10-3 (5-3) – If anyone in the West can reasonably claim to be ready to knock ‘Bama off their throne, it’s the bayou bengals of LSU. With senior QB Joe Burrow returning along with most of the offensive line and the team’s top four receivers from last year, if the Tigers can find a running back (and they have plenty) to shoulder the load, they could be an handful for anyone. On defense, 8 starters from last year return. Replacing ILB Devin White (who was drafted 5th overall by Tampa) will be a task, but junior Patrick Queen looks to be up to the task. Wearing the LSU “Playmaker” #7 jersey (as seen on Patrick Peterson, Tyron Mathieu, and Leonard Fournette) this year will be Safety Grant Delpit who had 5 picks, 5 sacks and 74 tackles last season, look for more this year but enjoy it, he’ll be playing on Sundays next fall.
If everything goes right – The Tigers will be in the SEC CG against Georgia playing for a spot in the CFP. Burrow solidifies himself as an NFL prospect, and The Bednarik Trophy resides in LSU thanks to Delpit.
If everything goes wrong – Burrow doesn’t get any better, the offense goes in the crapper, and the Tigers go 0-fer-Texas and Alabama (0-4 for those scoring at home).
Prediction – The Tigers are better, but still can’t get over that Alabama hump and stay home for the Sugar Bowl in N’awlins.
Texas A&M – 9-4 (5-3) – When you spend the kind of money that TAMU spent on Jimbo Fisher (10 year, 75 million) you expect results, well they got them. After winning two more games last year than the previous, the Aggies future certainly seems to be trending upwards. Returning most of the offensive line (less Erik McCoy, now of the NFL’s Saints), junior QB Kellen Mond, and junior receivers Jhamon Ausbon and Quartney Davis, the offense looks like it could be poised to make a leap this year if they can replace departed back Treyveon Williams. On defense, only two starters from last year’s front seven remain but their replacements look to be better than solid, an experienced secondary will help them as they grow. All of this makes for an interesting season that sees TAMU’s SOS is one of the nation’s toughest.
If everything goes right – The Aggies go into the last weeks of the season still in contention in the West, facing @Georgia and @ LSU for a chance to go to Atlanta.
If everything goes wrong – The Aggies are going into the last weekend @LSU hoping to salvage a season that has already hung four losses on them (@Clemson, Alabama, @Georgia, and a surprise loss to ummm, let’s say South Carolina).
Prediction – The 12th man is celebrating a season where they win 10 games in the regular season and have beaten two Top 10 teams.
Auburn – 8-5 (3-5) – When a team is exiting spring practices and hasn’t named a starter yet, that might just be the coach being cagey. When a team is less than a month from fall practices, at its Conference’s Media Days and hasn’t named a starter at QB, well, it might be time to worry a little. And with most Tigers fans comparing their program to upstate rival ‘Bama, it’s likely causing a breakdown or two on “The Plains”. With projected starter Malik Willis transferred to Liberty, that leaves RS freshman Joey Gatewood and true freshman Bo Nix (his father, Pat Nix, was a starter at QB for the Tigers in the 90’s) fighting for the starting role. Whoever comes up with it will have an intact offensive line to protect them and if the Tigers can survive the loss of their top two targets from last season, they may be able to lean on a defense that returns the entire secondary and 3 of 4 linemen.
If everything goes right – Auburn could… COULD, be entering November with one loss, if they have zero losses, they’ll be a top 3 team in the country. If that’s the case, they’ll be looking to keep their track to the CFP open against a cupcake (Samford), a lightweight (Ole Miss), and two of the biggest heavyweights in college football (Georgia and Alabama); that’s a pretty tall order for any team.
If everything goes wrong – Gus Malzhan is looking for new employment and the Tigers are slogging through a season that has them barely making a bowl game at 6-6.
Prediction – The Tigers finish just barely above my “worst case” prediction above, upsetting either Florida or LSU.
Mississippi State – 8-5 (4-4) – With first year coach Joe Moorhead’s initial outing coming to a close at 8-5, there were a few rumblings that it might have been a disappointing season. On one hand you had all-everything QB Nick Fitzgerald returning and what turned out to be a generationally great defense (allowed 12 total TDs in regular season). On the other, the Bulldogs play in what might be the most brutal division in college football. In either case, State is moving on from Fitzgerald and has lost portions of it’s defense to the NFL; figuring out how to replace those pieces will determine how good they can be in 2019. The QB portion of that is still unsettled though junior Keytaon Thompson looks to be in the lead. Don’t rule out Penn State transfer Tommy Stevens, he’s played under Moorhead before and has the ability to move the ball with his arms and his legs. The defense won’t be anywhere near as good as last year, but could you really expect that? Last year’s backups Chauncey Rivers and Kobe Jones showed an ability to pressure the QB, but will they be able to do that in an expanded role?
If everything goes right – The QB who wins the job does his best Nick Fitzgerald impression, the defense is solid, if not spectacular, and coach Moorhead continues to recruit talent to Starkville.
If everything goes wrong – The offense never gels, the defense takes three steps back, and Moorhouse’s seat begins to get a little warm-ish.
Prediction – The Bulldogs finish with a worse (7 wins) record than last year, but don’t look awful in most games (Alabama the notable exception). New starters get experience, setting up State for a breakthrough season next year.
Mississippi – 5-7 (1-7) – As the Rebels enter the 2019 season, they’re finally free of the NCAA sanctions that have plagued the program since the end of the Hugh Freeze era. Not only that but they have new coordinators on both sides of the ball in Oxford. With Mike MacIntyre returning to Ole Miss, where he previously coached receivers and DBs, the Rebels have someone who knows the SEC and what it takes to win. He’ll have his work cut out for him, taking over a defense that allowed just shy of 500 yds/game last year (483.4), it’s hard to know how much getting back six starters from a defense like that will benefit him. On the offensive side, Rich Rodriguez takes over, installing his version of the spread. We’ve seen its potency and if he can recruit the athletes to run it Ole Miss might be a handful.
If everything goes right – The Rebels might win as many as seven games if MacIntyre can get the defense to be anything like a top 50 defense and RichRod can get the offense to gel. If head coach Matt Luke can continue to recruit talent, the Rebels could be on their way up.
If everything goes wrong - The defense does its best imitation of a wet paper bag, the offense sputters more than it hums and things just generally go (more) south. Oh, and the Rebels are hiring a new coach.
Prediction – Ole Miss looks better, but it’s the sort of “better” that doesn’t show on the record sheet. They win 5 games and have a shot at a postseason game going into the Egg Bowl against State.
Arkansas – 2-10 (0-8) – Let’s not kid ourselves, the Razorbacks are only going as far as their transfers (and there are plenty) will take them. After suffering through the first 10 loss season in Arkansas football history, 2019 brings a certain amount of hope with it. Head coach Chad Morris put that failure squarely on not having the type of players to fit his style of play. This year should be better, with Ben Hicks transferring from SMU, where he played under Morris, they should be in a better position on offense. If Hicks can’t get it done, former TAMU QB Nick Starkel will be there as an alternative. The line is hoping for transfer help too with JC transfers Chibueze Nwanna and Myron Cunningham expected to contribute quickly. If the defense can be better than its 34.8 pts/game that they allowed last year, the Razorbacks will have a chance to improve their record this year, but until I see the improvement, I don’t believe it’ll happen.
If everything goes right – we could see the Hogs improve their win total to 5 this year, but any wins after Oct 1 (other than Western Kentucky Nov 9) will be dang near a miracle.
If everything goes wrong – Arkansas sees another two win season and Chad Morris gets let go.
Prediction – the Razorbacks win four games but finish the season on a slide losing to rivals @LSU and in Little Rock Vs. Mizzou.