As SEC media days wrap up today at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham – Wynfrey Hotel, here are my sure-to-be-wrong projections for how I see the SEC shaking out this season.
Shocking, I know, but when you have one of the two best quarterbacks in the country (Tua Tagovailoa), the best receiver in the country (Jerry Jeudy), one of the best linebackers in the country (Dylan Moses) and the best coach ever, well, I’m not picking against them.
Coach Ed Orgeron says this is the best secondary he has ever had, and do-it-all defender Grant Delpit is this year’s Derwin James. I wasn’t sold on Coach O last year, but I’m coming around to him. I think his Tigers finish in the top six.
3. Texas A&M
Jimbo Fisher could have the No. 4 team in the country but still finish 9-3 with that schedule. I think he does one worse and goes 8-4.
I probably have too much faith in Gus Malzahn’s offensive acumen. Oh well. I think Malzahn win a game he shouldn’t to keep sticking around.
5. Mississippi State
The coaching transition from Dan Mullen to Joe Moorhead ended up spoiling what could have been a special year in Starkville. This will be a return to mediocrity for the Bulldogs.
Prediction: I think Chad Morris gets things turned around in Fayetteville. The Razorbacks won’t be great or anything, but they’ll make enough strides this year to stay ahead of…
7. Ole Miss
A young, inexperienced roster scares me. So does a staff with a head coach I’m not sold on (Matt Luke) and two coordinators who have both had success as head coaches (Mike MacIntyre and Rich Rodriguez).
This isn’t a hot (or even lukewarm) take, but the national champion will be either ’Bama, Clemson or the Bulldogs.
If the Gators were going to get Kirby Smart, I think last year was the time to do it. The gap between UF and UGA is growing, and I don’t think Mullen’s Xs and Os alone can close it.
Barely ahead of…
4. South Carolina
Purely a schedule pick, because I think South Carolina is the better team. The Tigers get Ole Miss and Arkansas from the West. The Gamecocks get ’Bama and A&M, plus they have to play at Mizzou, which is a tiebreaker here.
Mark Stoops’ Wildcats won’t be as good as they were last year, but they won’t fall back to 6-6, either. And if Stoops does OK and Florida State struggles, don’t be surprised if you hear his name come up as a potential replacement for Willie Taggart (which I still don’t see happening this year).
Coach Jeremy Pruitt’s preamble at media days scared me off the Vols, even though some advanced metrics like them. When a coach keeps bringing up his vision and the future spots he’ll available at receiver or pass rusher, that tells me his present isn’t in good shape.
I don’t think the Commodores make it to a bowl game in an improving East.
SEC Championship: Georgia over ’Bama
The Bulldogs have three consecutive top-three recruiting classes, so I don’t think the talent gap between the two is very big. Both have experienced, excellent quarterbacks, although UGA’s green receiving corps is a legitimate cause for concern. So why Georgia? I don’t have a schematic reason, or even a particularly logical one. I just think the Bulldogs are due. They’ve played ’Bama extremely close the last two seasons, and things eventually level out. I think that comes this year, when Georgia gets the right bounce at the right time to eke out a close win. The loss will be Nick Saban’s first against one of his former assistants, but it won’t keep the Tide out of the College Football Playoff.