SEC Championship: Alabama over Georgia
1. Georgia Bulldogs
Projected Record: 11-2 (7-1 SEC)
The Bulldogs face an interesting decision going into 2020… will JT Daniels be granted a transfer waiver? If so, it sets up one of the most intriguing quarterback battles between JT Daniels and Jamie Newman to see who takes over as the starting quarterback. Outside of the quarterback position, Georgia has talent with RB Zamir White, RB James Cook, WR George Pickens, and Florida State graduate transfer TE Tre McKitty. Where I am concerned with the offense is replacing four starters including both tackles. Another major concern is will someone other than George Pickens step up at wide receiver? New Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken has his hands full.
The Bulldogs strength continues to be their defense as they are absolutely loaded and will most likely be a top three defense in the nation. Georgia returns almost all of their linebackers from last season including Monty Rice and Nakobe Dean. Additionally, they have a talented edge rushing tandem of Azeez Ojulari and Nolan Smith and a great defensive line that includes senior DE Malik Herring. The secondary is also filled with studs including Safety Richard LeCounte, CB Eric Stokes, and CB Tyson Campbell.
Final Outlook: Georgia might have the top defense in the nation, but the question remains can they improve offensively. The addition of Jamie Newman helps, but he has his share of accuracy issues. Georgia is the top contender in the SEC East and has a realistic shot at the playoffs.
2. Florida Gators
Projected Record: 10-2 (6-2 SEC)
Kyle Trask is the best starting quarterback the Gators have had since Tim Tebow (Will Grier is debatable). While Florida finally found a competent quarterback, the skill positions took a hit from losing three starting wide receivers and starting RB. The main questions about this group is can new starting RB Dameon Pierce handle taking over the full load? Will new talented WRs Trevon Grimes and Kadarius Toney be able to step in Van Jefferson and Freddie Swain’s shoes? What isn’t a question is their best receiving target is back in TE Kyle Pitts. The offensive line is also experienced returning four starters from last year. The offense should be above average again, but don’t expect them to be Steve Spurrier’s Gator offenses from the 1990s.
Just like the year prior, this team will be lead by their defense again. Defensive Ends Zachary Carter and Georgia transfer Brenton Cox are tasked to replace last years dangerous NFL duo of Zuniga/Greenard. In the secondary, corners Marco Wilson and Kaiir Elam make for a strong duo. Although Florida lost their leading tackler from last season, Ventrell Miller has shown to be capable of taking over. Even with the losses of some key pieces to the 2019 Gator defense, this unit is still talented.
Final Outlook: Florida is Georgia’s biggest competition in the East as they are good on both sides of the ball, but you have to give the edge to Georgia right now.
3. Tennessee Volunteers
Projected Record: 9-3 (6-2 SEC)
The main question is who will start at quarterback after both Jarrett Guarantano and Brian Maurer received playing time last year. Freshman Harrison Bailey was a wildcard to start, but with no spring practice it looks like he will have to wait his turn. The offensive unit is led by its experienced offensive line. With incoming Georgia transfer Cade Mays and dominant guard Trey Smith, this unit is one of the best in the country. The Vols have to find a receiver to step up after losing Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway to graduation.
Head Coach Jeremy Pruitt has this defense heading in the right direction. LB Henry Too-To’o is one of the best in the conference and the defensive line is stout also with Darel Middleton, Aubrey Solomon, and Emmit Gooden. Add in a secondary who finished 16th in the nation in passing yards allowed led by CB Bryce Thompson and this defense should be looked at as a legitimate unit.
Final Outlook: A veteran defense and great offensive line makes the Vols a wildcard contender in the SEC East. However, it will probably be another year until we talk about them as true contenders. Their Week 2 game against Oklahoma in Norman will be a true test.
4. Kentucky Wildcats
Projected Record: 9-3 (5-3 SEC)
QB Terry Wilson is back after his season ending injury which forced Kentucky to use a receiver at quarterback last year. Kentucky has a stable of running backs returning led by Asim Rose and returns one of the best offensive lines in the conference. Nobody knows how good this receiving unit is because… well… they never threw the ball last year.
The defense returns most of their starters after finishing 21st in the nation last year. The unit is led by OLB Jamar Watson who returns after a 6.5 sack season.
Final Outlook: People will overlook Kentucky, but this is a legitimate top 25 team. It may not be sexy, but they’ll win a lot of games by running the ball and playing good defense.
5. Missouri Tigers
Projected Record: 6-6 (3-5 SEC)
It will be a major test for new Head Coach Eli Drinkwitz. The offense has a new starting quarterback with Shawn Robinson, transfer at TCU. While Robinson displayed a talented arm during his time at TCU, he was often inconsistent. Add in an inconsistent offensive line and this offense might struggle. At the skill positions Missouri has only a few legitimate options including RB Larry Roundtree and Virginia Tech graduate transfer Damon Hazelton (All-ACC recognition the past two years).
Missouri’s defense was actually good last year ranking in the top 20. Drinkwitz was impressed enough to keep the entire defensive coaching staff. The defense returns most of its starters including LB Nick Bolton, a potential first round pick and SEC leader in tackles. Safeties Tyree Gillespie and Joshuah Bledsoe are a strong safety combination and 310-pounder DT Kobie Whiteside (6.5 sacks) is a disrupter.
Final Outlook: This is where the bottom of the SEC East starts. While Missouri should have a solid defense, their offense is filled with questions. The questions are amplified as Head Coach Eli Drinkwitz didn’t have the opportunity to install his offense during spring practice. A bowl game for Missouri in his first season will be a success.
6. South Carolina Gamecocks
Projected Record: 5-7 (2-6 SEC)
The offense is filled with more questions than answers. It starts at quarterback where sophomore Ryan Hillinski must make an improvement after only completing 58.1% last year. He will have to find help as the receivers are unproven and the offensive line average. The lone bright spot is freshman MarShawn Lloyd, who was a top fifty recruit, will most likely start right away at running back.
A defense that was average last year loses a few key starters including first round pick Javon Kinlaw, DJ Wonnum, and TJ Brunson. The loss of these key Gamecocks leaves the defense with holes they may not be able to fill, However, South Carolina returns its sack leader from last year DE Aaron Sterling (6 sacks), the leading tackler Ernest Jones (97 tackles), and a talented cornerback duo of Jaycee Horn (son of Joe Horn) and Israel Mukuamu. There is also five-star true freshman DE Jordan Burch who should receive action right away.
Final Outlook: South Carolina will finish in the bottom of the SEC East. With an offense full of questions, a defense who lost several key starters from last year, a schedule that includes playing LSU and Texas A&M from the SEC West, and a non-conference game against Clemson… South Carolina will be fighting just to go to a bowl game.
7. Vanderbilt Commodores
Projected Record: 3-9 (0-8 SEC)
Vanderbilt doesn’t have a legitimate quarterback option as the competition is between freshman Ken Seals and JUCO transfer Jeremy Moussa. Vanderbilt also replaces a trio of key players on offense with RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn, WR Kalija Lipscomb, and TE Jared Pinkney. Not to mention the offensive line is also bad. All signs point to this being a historically bad offense
Vanderbilt returns basically their entire defense… that finished 101st in the nation. Defensive lineman Dayo Odeyingbo is a legitimate player, but there aren’t many other bright spots on defense.
Final Outlook: Not only do I not think Vanderbilt will not win a SEC game, I don’t see them being competitive. The Vanderbilt offense could be historically bad and the defense is nothing to rely on. Vanderbilt is in for another rough season.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
Projected Record: 13-0 (8-0 SEC)
Although Alabama does not have Tua returning, the offense should continue to be explosive. Wide receivers Devonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle, and John Metchie will be one of the most dangerous trios in the nation, Alabama returns the best offensive line in the nation, and RB Najee Harris is a top five running back in the nation. The major question will be if Mac Jones holds onto the starting job over the top recruit in the country Bryce Young.
Last year Alabama’s defense was different as they weren’t dominant. However, expect a major improvement especially with LB Dylan Moses returning after missing last season with a torn ACL. The defensive line is deep and talented after the Crimson Tide was forced to play young players last year due to injuries. A key for the Tide is finding who will step up as the edge pass rushers following Terrell Lewis and Anfernee Jennings heading to the NFL. In the secondary, safety Jordan Battle is a breakout candidate after a tremendous freshman season and CB Patrick Surtain Jr. is one of the greatest in the country.
Final Outlook: Alabama has the roster to be National Champions, but without an elite quarterback and a tough schedule makes it a tough road. Alabama will have to figure it out quick with games against USC and Georgia in the first three weeks.
2. LSU Tigers
Projected Record: 9-3 (5-3 SEC)
Coming off a dream season as the 2019 LSU Tigers were one of the best of all-time. But now they must replace an elite quarterback Joe Burrow along with Myles Brennan. Not only the quarterback, but 16 players from that team went to the NFL Combine. On offense alone they must replace four starters on the offensive line, two starting tight ends, their starting running back and a wide receiver. LSU does return one of the best wide receiving duos in the country with Jamarr Chase and Terrance Marshall. RB Chris Curry has proved to be an effective replacement as well.
The defense was also hit hard by departures to the linebacking group which saw Patrick Queen and Jacob Phillips leave for the NFL Draft and Marcel Brooks hit the transfer portal. The replacements will include Damone Clark and North Dakota State transfer Jabril Cox (FCS All-American). The defensive line should be fine as they return Tyler Shelvin, Siaka Ika, and Glen Logan. Even with the loss of Kristian Fulton and Grant Delpit, safety JaCoby Stevens and CB Derek Stingley are back to lead the secondary.
Final Outlook: LSU is still a talented team, but losing that many talented players to the NFL will not be easy to overcome. Add in a quarterback who hasn’t seen much action and it is practical to expect LSU to take a step back. The real test will come in Week 2 against Texas.
3. Texas A&M Aggies
Projected Record: 9-3 (5-3 SEC)
The Aggies return a ton of starters to an 8-5 team that beat everyone they were supposed to beat and lost to everyone they were supposed to lose to. Kellen Mond is back for his senior year and so is their leading rusher Isaiah Spiller, leading receiver Jhamon Ausbon, talented tight ends Jalen Wydermyer/Baylor Cupp, and a veteran offensive line. Depth at running back and wide receiver are a concern, but the Aggies offense will go as far as Kellen Mond takes them.
The Aggies return 8 starters to a pretty good defense from 2019. The defensive line is talented up front with Demarvin Leal and Bobby Brown III. The Aggies also return their top two tacklers LBs Anthony Hines and Buddy Johnson. The secondary was suspect at times last year, but returns most of the starters and has depth with 5-star cornerback Jaylon Jones and top JUCO cornerback Brian George.
Final Outlook: The Aggies do not have a difficult schedule like last year and have the talent to make an early run. The question remains, is Kellen Mond ready to take a step forward? This is a team that will have CFP buzz going into their final two weeks against Alabama and LSU.
4. Auburn Tigers
Projected Record: 8-4 (4-4 SEC)
Can you trust Bo Nix? He had his moments, but completed just 57.5% of his passes as Auburn mostly won with the ground game. Now Auburn must replace the entire offensive line and has no clear starter at running back. The receiver room is one experienced unit with Seth Williams, Anthony Schwartz, and Eli Stove all returning. However, unless Bo Nix takes a step forward this offense might be in trouble.
The defense also is replacing a lot from last year including four of five secondary starters, and two key defensive linemen Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson. DE Big Kat Bryant, DT Tyrone Truesdell, LB KJ Britt and OLB Owen Pappoe are solid returning starters, but there isn’t much else. Auburn has work to do on this end of the ball.
Final Outlook: A questionable offense with major replacements needed on defense, Auburn will most likely not be competing for a SEC West title in 2020.
5. Ole Miss Rebels
Projected Record: 6-6 (2-6 SEC)
What new Head Coach Lane Kiffin does with this offense will be interesting. Ole Miss finished as a top three SEC offense and top ten national rushing offense. Ole Miss returns both QBs John Rhys Plumlee and Matt Corral along with thalented sophomore rusher Jerrion Ealy. WR Elijah Moore is also talented finishing with 850 yards last season, but they will need another receiving option to step up. The offensive line should also be a decent unit for the Rebels.
On defense, Ole Miss was absolutely burned through the air finishing 120th nationally. The secondary and interior defensive line are the areas of concern. However, Ole Miss has a talented linebacker unit with Lakia Henry, Jacquez Jones, and MoMo Sanogo. The sack leader DE Sam Williams also returns. With the added experience Ole Miss should make an improvement.
Final Outlook: Ole Miss is an extremely intriguing team going into 2020. Ole Miss is talented enough to surprise a few teams with their offense under Lane Kiffin.
6. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Projected Record: 6-6 (2-6 SEC)
Mike Leach had his biggest victory getting KJ Costello as a grad transfer quarterback from Stanford. Costello and returning RB Kylin Hill should be the best at their respective positions in the SEC. The questions remain how Mike Leach can install his air raid offense with Mississippi State’s lack of top end receivers and an adequate offensive line. Alabama grad transfer WR Tyrell Shavers should play right away alongside Osirus Mitchell.
The defense took a step back last year from a unit in 2018 that was one of the nations best. Mississippi State may make another regression after losing some key starters. The defensive line will be the strength with Nathan Pickering and Kobe Jones leading. LB Erroll Thompson is also extremely talented and the leader of the defense.
Final Outlook: Mississippi State has a talented quarterback and running back, but installing Leach’s offense in year one may be difficult. Add in an average defense and a .500 season seems likely.
7. Arkansas Razorbacks
Projected Record: 5-7 (2-6 SEC)
The offense and defense were abysmal in their 2-10 season last year. However, this 2020 Arkansas team could surprise some people with a great staff put together by head coach Sam Pittman which includes offensive coordinator Kendall Briles and defensive coordinator Barry Odom. The offense returns eight starters and adds Florida grad transfer QB Feleipe Franks. This is a decent enough offense, especially with 1100 yard rusher Rakeem Boyd, to take a step forward from last season.
The defense landed quite a few graduate transfers including Clemson DE Xavier Kelly, Oklahoma LB Levi Draper, and Arkansas State CB Jerry Jacobs. The group should help the six returning starters to the defensive unit. The defense is led by second leading tackler from last season LB Bumper Pool. The Razorbacks will improve from their 110th ranked defense last year.
Final Outlook: While a bowl game might be a reach, this team’s outlook looks much better than last year. Look for Arkansas to win their first SEC game since 2017.