SEC Championship: Alabama over Georgia
1. Georgia Bulldogs
Projected Record: 12-1
Wins: Clemson, UAB, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Arkansas, Auburn, Kentucky, Florida, Missouri, Tennessee, Charleston Southern, Georgia Tech Auburn, Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Vanderbilt
Losses: Alabama (SEC Championship)
The offense is absolutely loaded with QB JT Daniels, RBs Zamir White and James Cook, and receivers Jermaine Burton, Kearis Jackson. When you also add in one of the best Tight End combinations in the country with Darnell Washington and Arik Gilbert this offense has a chance to be special. This doesn’t even include if George Pickens returns near the end of the year from a torn ACL. As for the offensive line, don’t worry. It will also be strong after returning three starters and high rated recruits waiting to take over.
The defense is also loaded. The defensive line has Jordan Davis and Travon Walker clogging the middle with Adam Anderson and Nolan Smith rushing on the edge. Quay Walker and Nakobe Dean are really solid linebackers as well. Secondary is the one area of concern as they replace a few key starters. Transfers Derrion Kendrick (Clemson) and Tykee Smith (West Virginia) should calm down the concern. Overall, this is one of the most talented teams in the country and a lock to win the SEC East.
2. Florida Gators
Projected Record: 9-3
Wins: Florida Atlantic, USF, Tennessee, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Samford, Missouri, Florida State
Losses: Alabama, LSU, Georgia
Dan Mullen finally has what he wants for the offense… a mobile quarterback. Expect Mullen to utilize Emery Jones in the RPO game now that Kyle Trask graduated. Florida’s main issue is at the skill positions after they lost their top weapons (Kadarius Toney, Kyle Pitts, and Trevon Grimes). Add in an inconsistent offensive line and this offense will take a step back.
There are also questions on the defensive side of the ball. The best players on the defense are CB Kaiir Elam and edge rushers Zachary Carter and Brenton Cox. Outside of those players there are concerns. Expect the defense to still be OK and finish in the top half of the conference. The team as a whole will take a small step back after a fantastic 2020 season.
3. Kentucky Wildcats
Projected Record: 7-5
Wins: Louisiana Monroe, Missouri, UT-Chattanooga, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, New Mexico State, Louisville
Losses: South Carolina, Florida, LSU, Georgia, Mississippi State
Kentucky’s biggest question going into the season is who will start at quarterback? New QB Will Levis is intriguing, but he will have to win the job from Joey Gatewood and Beau Allen. Wan’Dale Robinson, a transfer from Nebraska, is a key addition who along with WR Josh Ali will give Kentucky at least a few weapons. This will be a classic Kentucky offense where it is led by the running game which features a strong offensive line and RB Chris Rodriguez Jr. (Averaged 6.6 YPC and 785 rushing yards).
The defense returns just four starters and are replacing two early round picks in Jamin Davis and Kelvin Joseph. Expect, the defense to not be as strong. Overall, Kentucky will be an average, tough SEC team.
4. Missouri Tigers
Projected Record: 7-5
Wins: Central Michigan, SE Missouri State, Boston College, Tennessee, North Texas, Vanderbilt, South Carolina
Losses: Kentucky, Texas A&M, Georgia, Florida, Arkansas
QB Connor Bazelak showed some promise in his freshman year, the offense will evolve if he takes another step forward. As for the rest of the offense, it will be led by their line who returns four starters. However, Mizzou will need some skill players to step up as they lacked playmakers from last year. Returning WR Keke Chism and Ohio State transfer WR Mookie Cooper might be the guys to do it.
Defensively, Mizzou struggled in the last three games. Now, after having to replace some key players, I can’t see the Tigers defense making a huge jump in play. Edge rusher Trajan Jeffcoat and secondary players Ennis Rakestraw, Akayleb Evans (Tulsa transfer), and Martez Manuel are solid players and will keep the defense adequate. Expect Missouri to be a decent SEC team.
5. Tennessee Volunteers
Projected Record: 6-6
Wins: Bowling Green, Pittsburgh, Tennessee Tech, South Carolina, South Alabama, Vanderbilt
Losses: Florida, Missouri, Ole Miss, Alabama, Kentucky, Georgia
New coach Josh Heupel brings his up-tempo offense to the SEC. The problem? The offense returns only two starters and they lost their two most explosive weapons in Eric Gray (transfer to Oklahoma) and Josh Palmer. QB Hedon Hooker (Virginia Tech transfer) looks like a lone bright spot in this offense.
Defensively, the Vols were hit equally as hard by exiting players. This defense is full of unproven talent. Texas transfer LB Juwan Mitchell will help a little, but expect this defense to look ugly at the start of the rebuild. Overall, it won’t look pretty in Knoxville this upcoming year.
6. South Carolina Gamecocks
Projected Record: 5-7
Wins: Eastern Illinois, East Carolina, Kentucky, Troy, Vanderbilt
Losses: Georgia, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Florida, Missouri, Auburn, Clemson
The Gamecocks will rely on the run game with 1,000 yard rusher Kevin Harris and redshirt freshman Marshawn Lloyd (top rated recruit who missed last year due to injury). The offensive line also returns four starters. The problem is this roster does not have an established QB or any standout receivers. At least TE Nick Muse decided to return after a solid season
Defensively, South Carolina is loaded up front, but is heavily inexperienced in the secondary. The strength are edge rushers Aaron Sterling and Kingsley Enagbare. It will be interesting to see how Shane Beamer does in the first season with this team. Overall, a bowl game will be a solid finish for them.
7. Vanderbilt Commodores
Projected Record: 3-9
Wins: East Tennessee State, Colorado State, UConn
Losses: Stanford, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Mississippi State, Missouri, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Tennessee
It is the start of another rebuild at Vanderbilt. Offensively, the team returns eight starters including QB Ken Seals after a decent freshman season. The best offensive weapon will be WR Cam Johnson. On defense there is a clear lack of talent. Overall, don’t expect too much from this team.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
Projected Record: 13-0
Wins: Miami, Mercer, Florida, Southern Miss, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Mississippi State, Tennessee, LSU, New Mexico State, Arkansas, Auburn, Georgia (SEC Championship)
The 2020 National Champions return with quite a few pieces to replace on offense including Devonta Smith, Najee Harris, and Mac Jones. However, don’t expect too much of a drop off with QB Bryce Young taking over and young talent at the skill positions . This year the defense should be much improved with a loaded defensive line, great linebackers and edge rushers, and a secondary that returns everyone except Patrick Surtain II. Alabama is loaded again and should be National Champion favorites.
2. Texas A&M Aggies
Projected Record: 10-2
Wins: Kent State, Colorado, New Mexico, Mississippi State, Missouri, South Carolina, Auburn, Ole Miss, Prairie View A&M, LSU
Losses: Arkansas, Alabama
The Aggies are absolutely loaded with impact players. On offense RB Isaiah Spiller, TE Jalen Wydermyer, WR Ainias Smith, and OT Kenyon Green are all future NFL players. The main concern will be who takes over for QB Kellen Mond (Haynes King or Zach Calzada) and replacing four offensive line starters. The quarterback and offensive line are keys to a good offense and shouldn’t be ignored.
Defensively, this is a top ten defense that returns nine starters. So, expect the Aggies to be one of the best defenses in the nation. The defense is led by Demarvin Leal who should be a first round pick. Overall, the Aggies are talented… but the unknown at quarterback and offensive line makes me hesitant.
3. Ole Miss Rebels
Projected Record: 9-3
Wins: Louisville, Austin Peay, Tulane, Arkansas, Tennessee, LSU, Liberty, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State
Losses: Alabama, Auburn, Texas A&M
Lane Kiffin had an explosive offense in his first year in Oxford. Year two’s offense will be even better and could be special. Losing wide receiver Elijah Moore hurts, but the offense has many other weapons including RB Jerrion Ealy. Also, the offense is led by one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC, Matt Corral.
Decent defense is going to be the key to a successful season. The linebackers are experienced with Lakia Henry, JacQuez Jones, and MoMo Sanogo. Sam Williams also provides the Rebels with a solid edge rusher. However, the question remains whether they are good enough on the defensive line and in the secondary. The Rebels need some improvement after finishing 126th in total defense last year. The Rebels top ten offense can only take them so far… for the Rebels to make the next step in the SEC West there has to be defensive improvement. Expect a solid team and a solid year for Ole Miss.
4. LSU Tigers
Projected Record: 9-3
Wins: UCLA, McNeese State, Central Michigan, Mississippi State, Auburn, Kentucky, Florida, Arkansas, Louisiana Monroe
Losses: Ole Miss, Alabama, Texas A&M
After Myles Brennan’s injury, Max Johnson will be the starter for LSU at quarterback. As for the rest of the offense, look for WR Kayshon Boutte to follow up a breakout freshman season. One area that needs to improve is the running game after LSU finished 109thin rushing yards behind Tyrion Davis-Prince and John Emery Jr.
Defensively, this is a talented bunch. It starts on the defensive line where Ali Gaye and Andre Anthony lead at edge rusher. Mike Jones Jr. was a big transfer pickup from Clemson who will play a roaming linebacker role. The strength is at corner where Derek Stingley Jr. and Eli Ricks make up a fantastic duo. Expect a major improvement after finishing 124th in total defense last year.
Overall, it’s this is an experienced, talented team with a lot of upside. But, questions remain whether Coach Orgeron can get that talent to translate onto the field.
5. Arkansas Razorbacks
Projected Record: 7-5
Wins: Rice, Georgia Southern, Texas A&M, Auburn, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Mississippi State, Missouri
Losses: Texas, Georgia, Ole Miss, LSU, Alabama
Coach Sam Pittman brings an Arkansas team that returns a ton on both sides of the ball. Offensively the question is KJ Jefferson ready to take over? He will have an established offense with WR Treylon Burks, RB Trelon Smith, and the entire offensive line returning.
The defense will also see improvement after finishing 106th in total defense. An area Arkansas will focus on improving is pressuring the quarterback. The defense features a few key pieces including linebackers Grant Morgan and Bumper Pool, and safety Jalen Catalon. This will be a tough football team to play in 2021.
6. Auburn Tigers
Projected Record: 7-5
Wins: Akron, Alabama State, Penn State, Georgia State, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, South Carolina
Losses: LSU, Georgia, Arkansas, Texas A&M, Alabama
Coach Bryan Harsin enters his first season with a decent football team, especially on the defensive side of the ball. However, the question remains can you trust Bo Nix? Further, this offense lost a lot of weapons, including their top three receivers. With unproven receivers and inconsistent offensive line, don’t expect a high powered offense. Instead, the offense will revolve around sophomore RB Tank Bigsby.
On defense, inside linebackers Zacoby McClain and Owen Pappoe make a great duo and play behind a good defensive line. The secondary should be a strength this year with Smoke Monday at safety and corners Roger McCreary, Nehemiah Pritchett and Ladarius Tennison. As mentioned, this team will be led by their defense. Expect Auburn to finish in the middle of the pack in the SEC West.
7. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Projected Record: 6-6
Wins: Louisiana Tech, NC State, Memphis, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Tennessee State
Losses: LSU, Texas A&M, Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Ole Miss
Other than their game against LSU, the offense was awful last year finishing 104th in total yardage. While the offense does return mostly everyone, the SEC defensive coordinators may have figured out Mike Leach’s scheme. The offense does have QB Will Rogers coming off an OK freshman season and a very good left tackle in Charles Cross.
The 2020 team was actually led by their defense. However, this year the defensive front seven has depth concerns. What remains a strength is at cornerback with both Emmanuel Forbes and Martin Emerson returning. Look for Mississippi State to be solid defensively, but I’m not sure if there will be much of an offensive improvement. Expect a tough year for Mississippi State.