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Why I’m picking Georgia to beat Alabama to win the SEC

Here are the preseason projections our Matt Baker made during SEC media days.
Georgia football coach Kirby Smart will finally beat Alabama to win the SEC, according to at least one preseason prognosticator.
Georgia football coach Kirby Smart will finally beat Alabama to win the SEC, according to at least one preseason prognosticator. [ BUTCH DILL | AP ]
Published Jul. 21

HOOVER, Ala. — This is the year Georgia beats Alabama to win the SEC championship.

That’s the prediction I submitted during SEC media days, along with the rest of my projected order of finish in the conference. I’ll revisit this post after the season, so we can all see how right (or very, very wrong) I was.

Related: We ranked all 78 Florida college football games from worst to first

SEC West

7. Mississippi State

Mike Leach’s teams usually take a few years to get going; he went 7-5 in Year 2 at Texas Tech and 6-7 in Year 2 at Washington State. I think the process could be even slower with all the coronavirus complications from last year.

6. Arkansas

I don’t think the Razorbacks are going to be that good, but I do think they’ll be a tough out, even after the loss of former Gators starter Feleipe Franks.

5. Auburn

Prediction: Quarterback Bo Nix takes a step forward under new coach Bryan Harsin.

4. LSU

3. Mississippi

Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin will be thrilled to see this projection.
Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin will be thrilled to see this projection. [ BUTCH DILL | AP ]

I went back and forth on these two, because I don’t have a great read on either team. I’m not sure if the Tigers are cratering or if last year’s 5-5 record was a combination of 2020 chaos and some bad coaching hires. I’m also skeptical about Lane Kiffin’s Rebels finishing this high considering how bad the defense was last year. But Matt Corral (a one-time UF commit) is arguably the SEC’s top quarterback, so I’m giving the edge to Kiffin. That’s surely not going to come back to bite me, right?

Related: How Florida Gators commitment helped Matt Corral become Ole Miss’ starter

2. Texas A&M

Jimbo Fisher has the Aggies in a very good place. Probably not good enough to beat Alabama, but good enough to finish in the top 10 again.

1. Alabama

Even if the Crimson Tide regresses slightly, ‘Bama remains the safe pick until proven otherwise.

SEC East

7. Vanderbilt

Spoiler: They’re still going to be bad, even with a new coach.

6. Tennessee

Former UCF coach Josh Heupel has a tough road ahead at Tennessee.
Former UCF coach Josh Heupel has a tough road ahead at Tennessee. [ BUTCH DILL | AP ]

Same for the Volunteers. I wasn’t sold on Josh Heupel when he was hired by UCF, when he was at UCF or when he was hired at Tennessee. Add in the dysfunction in the athletic department, and I’m not expecting much on Rocky Top.

Related: Can former UCF coach Josh Heupel turn Tennessee around? Don’t bet on it.

5. South Carolina

With a first-time head coach (Shane Beamer), the Gamecocks are this high because of how lowly I think of the Vols and Commodores.

4. Kentucky

3. Missouri

I went back and forth on these two, too. I’m giving the edge to the Tigers because of quarterback Connor Bazelak (one of the SEC’s top two freshmen last year) and my faith in second-year coach Eliah Drinkwitz.

2. Florida

Gators coach Dan Mullen will try to bring a second consecutive SEC East title to Florida.
Gators coach Dan Mullen will try to bring a second consecutive SEC East title to Florida. [ BUTCH DILL | AP ]

The Gators have done well in the transfer portal but haven’t recruited at an elite level overall. That means they’re in for a rebuilding year more than a reloading year, unless the defense makes massive improvements.

Related: Gators’ 2021 season hinges on their defense, not offense

1. Georgia

Talent usually wins, and the Bulldogs are one of the most talented teams in the country. Plus I think they have a strong quarterback in JT Daniels, who played well once he finally got healthy last fall.

SEC championship

Georgia over ‘Bama

Will this be the year Kirby Smart finally knocks off Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide?
Will this be the year Kirby Smart finally knocks off Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide? [ AP (2017) ]

When I (incorrectly) made this same prediction two years ago, my hard-hitting analysis centered on this point: “I just think the Bulldogs are due.”

I feel the same way today. Georgia’s last four recruiting classes have been ranked fourth, first, second and first nationally. Kirby Smart has the more experienced passer, while Nick Saban is replacing a lot from arguably his best team ever.

Eventually, Georgia’s immense talent will lead to a breakthrough. Eventually, Saban will eventually lose to one of his former assistants. And eventually, the Tide’s attrition will lead to a slight regression. And I think those factors all collide this year with a Georgia win over ‘Bama in Atlanta.

Related: Dan Mullen wants to end Gators-LSU crossover. He’s right.

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