ATLANTA — The Florida Gators will finish fourth in the SEC East, if my preseason predictions are correct.
The SEC will release the media’s predicted order of finish in the coming days, but here’s the ballot I’ll be submitting:
It’s a shame Bryan Harsin didn’t really get a chance with the Tigers. I don’t see how he recovers from an offseason of turmoil.
6. Mississippi State
I have no idea what to make of 3-6. I gave the Razorbacks the edge because of returning quarterback KJ Jefferson and a schedule that doesn’t include Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee or Florida. I trust Lane Kiffin’s offense enough to put them ahead of LSU, which will look completely different under new Brian Kelly.
2. Texas A&M
It’s time for Jimbo Fisher to start earning the exorbitant contract that lured him from Florida State. Beating Alabama last year was nice, but he has had enough time and signed enough big-time recruits to do better than 8-4.
Nick Saban has arguably the best offensive player in the country (quarterback Bryce Young) and the clear best defensive player (Will Anderson). Easy choice.
Until further notice.
The Tigers missed out on some quarterback transfers, which gives me enough pause to put them below …
5. South Carolina
The Gamecocks impressed me last fall in Shane Beamer’s first season and added a veteran quarterback (Oklahoma’s Spencer Rattler) with a lot of talent. If Rattler can shake off his struggles last year with the Sooners, South Carolina gets a nice upgrade.
I went back and forth with the Gators and Tennessee at Nos. 3 and 4. I put the Volunteers ahead because I have too many concerns about UF’s depth and because their meeting is in Knoxville. If Anthony Richardson stays healthy and plays up to his potential, the Gators could steal a couple games and make this prediction look foolish. But Richardson’s sample size (seven career touchdown passes, six interceptions) isn’t enough to convince me yet. I pegged Billy Napier for a 7-5 first season months ago, and I’m sticking with it now.
Former UCF coach Josh Heupel did better than I expected last year (7-6). I’m still skeptical about his long-term future, but his 15 returning starters should be a big boost.
Mark Stoops continues to work wonders with the Wildcats. He has a highly touted quarterback (Will Levis), plus a nice backfield. I think Kentucky wins 10 games for the third time in the last five seasons.
The Bulldogs should regress slightly from last year’s national championship team, but they’re good enough to earn another trip to the SEC title game.
SEC championship prediction
Alabama over Georgia. The Crimson Tide get revenge from the loss in last season’s national championship by beating the Bulldogs in Atlanta. ‘Bama makes the College Football Playoff (again) and faces Ohio State in the title game.
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