Leading up to the kickoff of the 2018 college football season, The Game Haus will be previewing each FBS conference and those independent teams. As we continue today with the SEC, we’ll offer league predictions and look at the top performers while also highlighting key games from each conference.
Here we go with the SEC.
Quarterback Jake Fromm (2,749 passing yards, 30 touchdown passes in 2018) and running back D’Andre Swift (1,049 rushing yards) lead an offense that might rival Alabama for the best in the SEC. There are some holes to fill defensively, but a stellar recruiting class and expected strong depth makes Georgia the best in the SEC East.
After an impressive 10-win season under Dan Mullen in 2018, the Gators present the best challenge to Georgia in the SEC East. QB Feleipe Franks (2,457 yards, 24 TDs) is looking to build off a solid ’18 and eight starters return on defense.
The big story is Kelly Bryant under center after coming over from Clemson. Albert Okwuegbunam (72 receptions, 881 yards and 17 TDs in two seasons) might be the best tight end in the country. However, both are dealing with new injuries. The Tigers’ success, though, could lie on defense, where some talent returns from a unit that allowed an average of 15.4 points over the final five SEC games.
4. South Carolina
It’s been a rather middling five-year stretch for the Gamecocks, who have won more than seven games just once since 2014. Jake Bentley has thrown 54 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in his previous three seasons, but a defense that allowed 35 or more points five times in ’18 needs to be better.
The Vols made a one-win improvement to five in Jeremy Pruitt’s first season last year. However, improving on that number might be a tall order. The key throughout the program is consistency, something that might give Tennessee a chance. However, it still must play at Florida and Alabama.
Kentucky lost a couple of key pieces in RB Benny Snell and LB Josh Allen from that memorable 10-3 season of 2018. Though the Wildcats would seem poised to take a step back, they should earn a bowl bid with versatile QB Terry Wilson leading the way.
With Georgia at home to open the season, we might get a good early glimpse of what to make of Vandy in 2019. The Commodores managed six wins and a bowl appearance last season, and that might be the goal again this year. They’ve also lost seven straight against Top 25 teams.
From Tua Tagovailoa to Jerry Jeudy to Dylan Moses to Raekwon Davis, the Crimson Tide are again loaded from top to bottom. However, we also know they are beatable and vulnerable to really good offenses. The health of Tagovailoa is the key and the defense must show up when the games matter most.
With 10 wins a year ago, the Tigers exceeded expectations. A big reason was QB Joe Burrow (2,894 passing yards, 399 rushing yards), and that success needs to continue. Linebacker Jacob Phillips (87 tackles) and defensive back Grant Delpit lead a defense that’s poised to rank among the best in the SEC.
3. Texas A&M
There is a lot of hype surrounding the Aggies after Jimbo Fisher guided them to nine wins last year. Kellen Mond threw for more than 3,000 yards last year and needs to keep getting better. Only one starter is back on defense and road games at Clemson, Georgia and LSU await.
Gus Malzahn is still in charge of the Tigers, and seat is hot. There are plenty of questions that need to be answered, especially at quarterback (we’d like to see Bo Nix, now). Auburn is not void of untapped talent, but a daunting schedule features the opener with Oregon and SEC crossovers versus Florida and Georgia.
5. Mississippi State
Replacements are needed on the defensive front, but Keytaon Thompson is a versatile option at quarterback. Still, the Bulldogs probably can’t afford to score fewer than 10 points another four times like they did last season. Simply, because its defense might take a step back in 2019.
Ole Miss lost some serious talent at receiver, but the team really has issues on both sides of the ball. Running back Scottie Phillips, though, is someone to keep an eye on after rushing for 928 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.
The Hogs have some intriguing transfer talent, but it will again be tough for them to compete in the country’s premier conference. Arkansas has six total wins over the last two seasons, and is mired in a 11-game SEC losing streak.
Players to watch
Kelly Bryant, QB, Missouri: Bryant is not the best quarterback in the SEC, but he might be the one most under the microscope. He could not keep his job at Clemson, and Missouri is not the caliber of those Tigers. But, Bryant should keep them in the SEC East hunt.
Grant Delpit, S, LSU: Delpit is the complete package. Size, speed and instincts for the ball. He recorded 74 tackles and picked off five passes in 2018, and could be even more active as the leader of the Tigers’ talented defense.
Sept. 7: Texas A&M at Clemson. Jimbo Fisher and Co. nearly beat the Tigers last season, but the challenge is greater on the road in 2019. This should give fans an idea just how good the Aggies will be.
Nov. 2: Georgia vs. Florida. The cocktail party in Jacksonville could be for the SEC East title.Georgia has outscored the Gators 78-24 while winning the last two matchups.
Nov. 9: LSU at Alabama. If LSU has any chance of winning the SEC West, it probably needs to end an eight-game losing streak to the Tide. The Tigers have scored just 10 points in the last three meetings.