With the ACC and Big 12 kicking off last weekend (see my ACC 2020 and Big 12 2020 previews) and the Big Ten announcing plans to return this fall, its time to look at arguably the strongest conference in college football, who kick off this weekend.
The SEC has produced 43 national championships since its foundation in 1932. Of the six College Football Playoff national finals since its inception in 2014, the SEC has sent six teams to the final, winning three, including an all SEC final in 2017, Alabama edging out Georgia 26-23.
15 of the 32 first round picks in this year’s draft and 37 of the first 100 came from the SEC. Oh, and they have seven teams ranked in the AP Top 25 Preseason poll.
Alabama will be keen to return to the playoff, having missed it for the first time in six years. Defending champs LSU, Florida, Georgia and potentially Auburn may all be in contention.
Here’s my SEC season preview…
South Carolina Gamecocks
Alabama Crimson Tide
LSU (Louisiana State University) Tigers
Texas A&M Aggies
Mississippi State Bulldogs
Mississippi (Ole Miss) Rebels
How It Works
The winner of the West plays the winner of the East in the SEC Championship Game, in December, at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The winners of each division are the ones with the best conference record. If it’s a tie, the team with the best head to head record wins.
No.3 Alabama (11-2 last year) will be smarting from both missing out on the playoff and seeing division rival LSU win it. QB Tua Tagovailoa is a big loss, but gave the Crimson Tide the opportunity to look at the underrated Mac Jones. He led Alabama to three wins in four games, and threw four touchdown passes in his only loss to in-state rivals Auburn. Waiting in the wings will be five-star QB recruit Bryce Young, who was the top high school player in the country in 2020.
The Tide lost 9 players in the first three rounds of the draft last year, and in fact most years, but talent keeps rising through their impressive recruitment and development process. WR Jaylen Waddle and Devonta Smith will step in for Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III while RB Najee Harris could break the school rushing record this year.
The defense looks stronger this year, having blooded a number of freshmen who all return alongside defensive leader and likely NFL-bound LB Dylan Moses. Nick Saban is the best coach in college football. Have a read of 4th and Goal Every Day, a great insight into the winning formula he built at Alabama.
No.4 Georgia (12-2) have dominated the SEC East in recent years, but their challenge was derailed by QB Jamie Newman opting out of the 2020 season, having just transferred from Wake Forest. JT Daniels, a transfer from USC, is likely to be the Week One starter against Arkansas.
Coach Kirby Smart was the long time defensive co-ordinator under Nick Saban at Alabama and has built a strong program at Georgia. His recruitment of Todd Monken as offensive co-ordinator could take them to the next level, but he has a young QB and inexperienced recruiters to work with, so the Bulldogs’ challenge could come next year. Look out for WR George Pickens, and defensive leaders safety Richard LeCounte and linebacker Monty Rice this year.
No.8 Florida (11-2) could be ready to take the SEC East. Coach Dan Mullen has steadily been building a contender through excellent recruiting classes since joining from Mississippi State two years ago. QB Kyle Trask emerged last year following an injury to Feleipe Franks and impressed, throwing close to 3,000 yards in just 10 starts. The Gators have plenty of returning talent to support Trask, including star TE Kyle Pitts, who will be one of the top tight ends to be selected in next year’s draft.
The defense has some strong backs to replace CJ Henderson and overall, Florida is loaded with emerging talent. They could be a dark horse to get to the playoff this year.
No.6 LSU (15-0) have it all to do to win the SEC, let alone the national championship again. After one of the most impressive seasons in college football history, the Tigers lost Heisman Trophy winning QB Joe Burrow, who went no.1 overall to the Cincinnati Bengals and four other players were taken in the first round. They suffered a further blow when Ja’Marr Chase, the nation’s top wide receiver, decided to opt out of this season.
They do have one of the game’s characters in coach Ed Orgeron, whose dry humour and a voice deeper than Barry White, is becoming a social media phenomenon.
Derek Stingley Jr. is a star at cornerback. He had six interceptions and will be a critical part of the LSU defense who will be up against some very good receivers this year.
No.11 Auburn (9-4) could push LSU as Alabama’s main threat. Their 9-4 record was a little unkind to a team that faced Oregon, Florida and Georgia alongside division powerhouses LSU, Texas A&M and Iron Bowl opponents Alabama, who they beat 48-45 in a thriller.
QB Bo Nix starts his sophomore season on the back of a solid first year, showing potential as a strong passer and also rushed for seven touchdowns. He has some help out wide. Seth Williams, a muscular 6’3”, 224 lbs and Anthony Schwartz, who has run a 10.09 100 metres, are a dynamic wide receiver duo.
Auburn’s defense, despite the loss of Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson, is amongst the toughest in the SEC and will give Nix and the offense a great platform to attack teams.
No.13 Texas A&M (8-5) could make a big leap this year. In his third year since moving from Tallahassee and a Florida State team that won three ACC titles and a national championship under his tenure, should Aggies fans be excited?
Kellen Mond is a real dual threat quarterback who passed for 3,000 yards and rushed for 500 yards last year. Sophomore RB Isaiah Spiller and YouTube sensation WR recruit Demond Demas could make this an explosive offense. Fellow five-star recruit safety Jaylon Jones could ignite an already impressive secondary. The pass rush needs to improve if the Aggies are to challenge in the SEC West.
A top ten recruiting class is adding to the growing momentum coach Jeremy Pruitt is building in Knoxville. No.25 Tennessee (8-5) had a strong finish to 2019, winning their last six games and their impressive offensive line, led by the enormous Trey Smith (6’6”, 335 lbs), give them a great foundation to improve in 2020. QB Jarrett Guarantano has flashes of potential but was erratic at times. Highly touted recruit Harrison Bailey could step in. The Volunteers have a tough schedule so their leap forward may have to wait a year.
Kentucky’s (8-5) defense and the return of QB Terry Wilson gives the Wildcats a chance to contend in the SEC East. Their 10-3 season in 2018 will be tough to match but they should be fun to watch.
Two of the most colourful coaches in the game start the next chapters of their careers in Mississippi. Lane Kiffin brings head coaching experience at Tennessee and USC, two years as Alabama’s offensive co-ordinator and a successful three year stint at Florida Atlantic before pitching up at Ole Miss (4-8). Oh, and he was the youngest NFL head coach in history at the Oakland Raiders before Sean McVay pitched up at the LA Rams.
Kiffin has a shaky defense in early stages of a rebuild. The marvellously named Demon Clowney, cousin of NFL star Jadeveon, will add some energy. First on the new coach’s agenda will be to choose between the raw running talent of John Rhys Plumlee or the polished passer in Matt Corral at quarterback. The whispers from training camp are that Corral is likely to start the opener against Florida.
Mississippi State (6-7) will unleash Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense on the SEC this year. The new coach has a great starting point in Stanford QB transfer KJ Costello and the SEC’s leading rusher in Kylin Hill, who ran for 11 TDs and 1,350 yards. Leach has proven experience getting the best out of quarterbacks. Gardner Minshew’s rise under Leach from Washington State to the NFL bodes well for Costello.
South Carolina (4-8) lost players in key positions so are unlikely to improve on their fourth place in the East.
Missouri (6-6) have an exciting future under new coach Eliah Drinkwitz whose offence at Appalachian State was fun to watch. Vanderbilt (3-9) and Arkansas (2-10) are likely to be at the foot of the conference. The Razorbacks have Florida QB transfer Feleipe Franks to add some spark.
Oct 10th – Florida @ Texas A&M – a big game for two contenders who don’t normally play each other.
Oct 17th – Georgia @ Alabama – could be a preview of the SEC Championship Game.
Nov 7th – Florida @ Georgia – likely to be the SEC East title decider.
Nov 14th Alabama @ LSU – The Crimson Tide travel to Death Valley, looking to exact revenge for last year’s 46-41 loss against the national champs.
Auburn will improve and Georgia are regular contenders, but Alabama, fuelled by a desire to return to top spot, will win the SEC, beating Florida in the championship game.