It’s the middle of August and the best time of year is right around the corner. Yes, the NFL season is close but for many other people this time is reserved for College Football. Being born and raised in Atlanta, I have the fortunate advantage of being placed right in the heart of all the madness. Tailgating and Football are just as much a tradition as Thanksgiving and Turkey. We southerner’s take our football seriously and down here it’s SEC country.
Being how this is The Other Side of Sports, I’m not going to spend too much time focusing on UGA and Alabama as you can easily find that information elsewhere on practically every news broadcast, paper, magazine, internet post, predictions, radio show, etc…I think you get my point. Fortunately, the SEC plays host to some other pretty talented teams that may be getting overlooked and I’ll delve into that in a bit.
However, first things first.
UGA and Alabama enter 2018 as the first teams from the same conference to play in the College Football Playoff since it’s inception in 2014. UGA returns as SEC Champions and both UGA (-210) and Alabama (-225) are odds on favorites to meet in Atlanta for the SEC championship game. Can the SEC repeat and get 2 teams back into the playoff? Only time will tell.
UGA returns 13 starters and must replace a backfield that rushed for over 2,500 yards last year. They’ll look to D’Andre Swift to step right in to their #1 RB role. The Dawgs should be solid on offense as long as there are no drawbacks to QB Jake Fromm’s midsummer lake injury. The real challenge will be on the defensive side of the ball where UGA looks to replace 199 total tackles and 11 sacks with the departures of NFL talents Roquan Smith and Lorenzo Carter. Seeing as how UGA has pulled in the #6, #9, #3, and #1 recruiting classes in consecutive years, they should have no problem finding replacements. Notable Games: @South Carolina, @Missouri, @LSU, vs Auburn
Speaking of great recruiting classes, Alabama has out-recruited every team in the SEC pulling in the #2, #1, #1, and #7 classes since 2015. This year they will need to rely on those top classes more than ever as the Crimson Tide saw a school record 12 players drafted this past April. 8 of which came from the defensive side of the ball. Year after year Alabama reloads and comes back just as strong but having 36 players drafted since 2015, it seems inevitable the departures will add up. Even if that is to just a loss or 2. Notable Games: vs Louisville, @LSU, vs Auburn
Auburn is the final real threat to win the SEC, in my opinion. Auburn beat both UGA and Alabama last year only to fall short in the SEC title game and Peach Bowl to the Co-National Champions UCF. The Tigers didn’t finish on the high they anticipated last season and looks to avenge last year’s downward spiral with a CFP berth in 2018. Returning Jarrett Stidham at QB is a luxury the Tigers have missed in recent years. Like UGA, Auburn returns 13 starters from last year and having an experienced OL and wide receiving core helps bolster an offense Gus Malzahn will look to make one of the best in the SEC. Notable Games: vs Washington, vs LSU, @Mississippi State, @UGA, @Alabama
Mississippi State has a lot of buzz going for it these days. The “other” Bulldogs bring back 17 starters from last year including one of the more dynamic players in the country, Nick Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald plays an intricate part in the running game while being able to beat you through the air. It’ll be interesting to see if 1st year head coach Joe Moorhead can unleash Fitzgerald’s full potential to contend in the SEC West. On the defensive side of the ball, the Bulldogs return 7 seniors as well as 20.5 sacks on their defensive line, led by senior DE Montez Sweat (10.5 sacks). The Bulldog defense also brings back one of the more experienced defensive backfields in the country highlighted by senior safety Mark McLaurin (6 INT’s, 79 Total Tackles). McLaurin and company look to make it difficult for any team to move the ball through the air and with a strong defensive front there could be another Bulldog team in the national picture when it’s all said and done. Notable games: @Kansas St, vs Auburn, @LSU, and @Alabama.
Missouri is one of the more questionable teams because they’ve won the SEC East twice since joining the SEC in both 2013 and 2014. They then proceeded to post 2 losing seasons until making a bowl game last year and going 7-6. Missouri returns the number one QB in the SEC in Drew Lock, who threw for 3,964 yards and 44 TDs to 13 INT’s last season. The “3rd” SEC Tigers team returns 16 starters from a team who finished the regular season on a 6 game win streak after starting 1-5. If Mizzou can replicate the success during the streak then they’ll be one of the more dangerous teams to face this season. Their schedule lines up nicely until they hit a murderous 3 game stretch against UGA, SC, and Alabama. By the end of October we should know if they are contenders in the East or just an above-average team. Notable Games: vs UGA, @South Carolina, @Alabama, @Florida
South Carolina has an opportunity to win the SEC East this year if it can capitalize on it’s schedule. They get UGA the 2nd week of the season at home pancaked by 2 teams they should easily beat. Followed up by Vanderbilt and Kentucky before hosting Missouri, Texas A&M, and Tennessee. After September, they don’t play another road game until Ole Miss on 11/3. Taking care of business is obviously easier said than done but if Debo Samuel can return to form and play a healthy season, it should open up the running game for A.J. Turner and Rico Dowdle and allow South Carolina a chance to return to the SEC championship game for the first time since 2010. Notable Games: vs UGA, vs Missouri, @Mississippi, @Florida, @Clemson
Other Keys to the 2018 SEC Season:
The previous 6 teams are teams I feel have a chance to play in the SEC title game come December. They’ll have to watch out for each other but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other talented teams that can ruin a season for one of them.
Arkansas will be a team I really look forward to seeing transition from a run heavy offense to Chad Morris’ spread offense. Known for his time at Clemson, Morris most recently took SMU from a 2-10 team to a 7-5 bowl bound program in 3 years. Arkansas won 4 games last year but returns 17 players. Don’t be surprised if the Razerbacks show up and ruin a few days this season.
Going with another first year head coach, Jimbo Fisher’s Texas A&M team is another strong candidate to catch some teams off guard. I don’t expect a national championship in his 1st year but he’s already won a national championship at Florida St and with his massive contract (10 year, $75 million) all eyes will be on College Station as he looks to bring the Aggies back into the national conversation.
Lastly, I’m not expecting too much for the rest of the SEC, but my last team is Florida. The Gators return 19 starters from last season. They brought in an old face in Dan Mullen to head the program and with basically an entire 1st team returning, they can end up doing some serious damage. The main reason I have them down here instead of in the previous 2 sections is because they have NO QB. Every last one of their QB’s from last year is inconsistent and, Frank-ly, not very good. (Pun Intended). Can they put it all together and dominate an opponent or 2? sure. To put it in perspective, the Gators played 3 QB’s last season and were able to get a collective 10 TD’s and 10 INT’s while also having not 1 runner over 600 yards rushing. Dan Mullen might be able to fix the problems on offense, but he’s no miracle worker. They’ll be interesting to keep an eye on but don’t expect too much out of them this year.
The race within the divisions should be a tight one at the top this season. If UGA and Alabama slip a game or 2 to the wrong team they could see themselves ranked high and sitting at home in December while 2 other teams play for the SEC Championship. As previously mentioned, UGA and Alabama are the favorites but if both slip up on the wrong days, we could very easily see South Carolina vs Mississippi State. It should be a fun season to follow. May the best team win.
***Wikipedia was used for team history and coaches history
******Sports-reference.com was used for all player statistics
*******Odds were provided through Bovada.com