For better or for worse, I wanted to get on the record before the 2017 season starts. I won’t waste anymore time. Here’s how I think the SEC will shake out in 2017, from 1-14. Tear it up.
Not much to say here. Nick Saban has assembled a full fledged dynasty in Tuscaloosa. He’s not going to slow down, either. The talent gap between the Tide and the rest of the SEC is a big one. The only question I have is whether or not Jalen Hurts can improve as a passer in this new offense. If he can’t, Tua Tagovailoa is sitting right there waiting. I’m fully expecting Alabama to roll on, whoever ends up under center.
It’s actually kind of difficult to find a number two team here, but I’ll opt for the team with the better quarterback — which happens to be Auburn and Jarrett Stidham. The Baylor transfer should give a massive boost to Auburn’s offense and have them set to contend with Alabama come November.
I feel like I make this mistake every year, but LSU is just too talented to be below three here. The obvious question is the offense, but I’ll bet on Derrius Guice making enough plays to keep LSU near the top of the league. LSU is going to have to get more out of Danny Etling, obviously. We’ll see if Matt Canada can coach ‘em up.
I’m not a huge believer in Georgia, but the SEC East looks like it’s going to be down once again. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel are still in that backfield and should carry the Bulldogs once more. Plenty of returning talent (17 returning starters) is the reason why I have Georgia over Florida here.
I don’t have the Gators falling too far, however. The addition of Malik Zaire is the most interesting piece of this puzzle. He’s likely going to be better than anything Florida has had down there since Will Grier. They have their work cut out for them on defense, though. They’ll be replace a host of talent on that side of the ball and will have to do so without leading tackler Marcell Harris, who will miss the 2017 season.
I don’t think you can put Tennessee any higher than this, simply due to all the unknown on the roster. They’ll be replacing tons of leadership and talent this season, including Joshua Dobbs and Derek Barnett. Luckily for the Vols, they’ll get the luxury of playing in the weaker SEC East. I don’t think anyone knows what to expect from Tennessee this year.
7. South Carolina
Jake Bentley looks like the real deal, which is the main reason for South Carolina’s ascent here. Will Muschamp seems to have things coming along nicely, over-achieving and landing in a bowl game last season. They’ve even become the trendy sleeper pick in the East by some.
8. Mississippi State
Another over-achieving team from 2016, Dan Mullen has his squad regrouped from the Dak Prescott era. Nick Fitzgerald is the real deal and may just be the best quarterback in the conference. It seems like we underestimate this group every year, but I think Mullen and company can take advantage of a bad bottom half of the league this year.
Is Kentucky ready to take that big leap forward? I’m not so sure. They return 17 starters just like Georgia — one of them being senior quarterback Stephen Johnson. They were able to knock off Lamar Jackson and Louisville to end the regular season last year, but lost to Georgia Tech in the bowl game. Do they have enough to get past South Carolina and Tennessee to finish 3rd in the East? I’m not sold quite yet.
10. Texas A&M
No Myles Garrett, Daeshon Hall, Trevor Knight, Josh Reynolds or Justin Evans this year — I think Kevin Sumlin is in all sorts of trouble. He appeared to have the program pointed up, but a rash of quarterback transfers out of A&M has cast a shadow of doubt over College Station this season. I can’t see Sumlin surviving this one.
You could make a case for Vandy being higher than this, I wouldn’t argue with you. Derek Mason seems to finally have things churning forward in Nashville, finishing the 2016 season strong with wins over Ole Miss and Tennessee. Most of their losses were within one possession, too. They had a chance to really end on a high note with a bowl win, but were blown out by N.C. State in perhaps their worst showing of the year. It’s a new year, though — and Ralph Webb is back along with Kyle Shurmur. We’ll see if Mason can keep the momentum rolling in 2017.
Missouri has taken some big steps backwards in recent years after a couple of SEC East crowns. That defense isn’t where it once was, but the offense is actually one of the league’s best. Drew Lock and Damarea Crockett will lead this team offensively, but desperately need help from the defensive unit.
13. Ole Miss
I was already down on Ole Miss for this year, but the Hugh Freeze news could send them into a tailspin. One thing the Rebels do have going for them is Shea Patterson, who may end up being one of the better quarterbacks in the nation. Will he have any help? He certainly has a nice group of receivers, but it’s hard to see things going smoothly in Oxford this year.
Is this it for Bielema at Arkansas? Maybe. Arkansas was one weird football team last season, blowing out Florida by 21 points and losing to Auburn by 53 in a span of three weeks. The Razorbacks will move to a 3-4 defense this year in hopes of maximizing their talent on the roster, but I don’t have high hopes for them in a loaded SEC West.