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2021 SEC Season Preview



(image credit: Dale Zanine - USA Today Sports)


Written By: Joseph Yun


The nation’s premier conference kicked off on Thursday night and we are in for an action-packed season. This is coming off the heels of an interesting offseason in which bitter Red River Rivals, Texas and Oklahoma allied to stage a palace coup to leave for the greener pastures of the SEC. Commissioner Greg Sankey is sitting pretty atop the college football world with the sport’s reigning and multiple-time national champion, a pile of yearly revenue that even Jeff Bezos would blush at, and no letup in the near term. He certainly is the most influential leader in collegiate athletics if not all of athletics this side of FIFA.


On-field-wise, it will be an interesting year for a number of programs with new head coaches like at Tennessee, Auburn, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt. Can Josh Heupel stop the Volunteers from being the Tennessee we’ve been accustomed to (McDonald’s bags sold separately)? How will the culture shock that is going from low profile Boise State to booster frenzied Auburn affect Bryan Harsin? His prior experience at similarly football “passionate” Texas should help. Are Dan Mullen and his Gators up to the task of altering a seemingly predestined December showdown between Georgia and Alabama in Atlanta? Kirby Smart has to win a big game (i.e. get past his tor”mentor”) at some point, right? Are Nick Saban’s men capable of being dethroned in the West?


If you missed the previous editions in this year’s series, they can be found below:



EAST


Florida


Sept 4 HOME vs. Florida Atlantic (W)

Sept 11 AWAY @ USF (W)

Sept 18 HOME vs. Alabama (L)

Sept 25 HOME vs Tennessee (W)

Oct 2 AWAY @ Kentucky (W)

Oct 9 HOME vs. Vanderbilt (W)

Oct 16 AWAY @ LSU (L)

Oct 23 BYE

Oct 30 WLOCP (L)

Nov 6 AWAY @ South Carolina (W)

Nov 13 HOME vs Samford (W)

Nov 20 AWAY @ Missouri (W)

Nov 27 HOME vs. Florida State (W)


Predicted Record: 9-3


- The Gators return a squad worthy of repeating as East champions but have some quarterback questions to answer after Kyle Trask begins his pro career backing up Tom Brady. Next up is Emory Jones as he finally gets his shot as the solo signal-caller after years of being the change of pace guy. Offensively, it will be tough to replace Kyle Pitts, Trevon Grimes, and Kadarius Toney but former five-star Justin Shorter (Penn State) comes in with a lot of hype. Jacob Copeland and Xzavier Henderson return as well. The RB room is anchored by Damien Pierce and Lorenzo Lingard (Miami). Yes, the offensive line needs some work but they have some starters back. Defensively, the linebacker stars are back, namely Ventrell Miller, EDGEs Brenton Cox, Jr, and Jeremiah Moon. As is usually the case, UF doesn’t leave the state in the month of September but they face the reigning national champions early. A tough two-game stretch awaits as they travel to Baton Rouge and the annual Jacksonville jaunt to face a potential playoff team in Georgia. November should be comically easy as they close with four likely wins. In the end, the losses to LSU and Georgia derail their chances of getting to Atlanta.


Georgia


Sept 4 Neutral vs. Clemson (Charlotte) (W)

Sept 11 HOME vs. UAB (W)

Sept 18 HOME vs. South Carolina (W)

Sept 25 AWAY @ Vanderbilt (W)

Oct 2 HOME vs. Arkansas (W)

Oct 9 AWAY Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry (W)

Oct 16 HOME vs. Kentucky (W)

Oct 23 BYE

Oct 30 WLOCP (W)

Nov 6 HOME vs. Missouri (W)

Nov 13 AWAY @ Tennessee (L)

Nov 20 HOME vs. Charleston Southern (W)

Nov 27 AWAY @ Georgia Tech (W)


Predicted Record: 11-1


- Georgia is the prohibitive favorite to win the East but they open with a doozy of an opener, Clemson. The old rivalry is back! Of course, 2021 will come down to only one game, the duel with the hated Gators in Jacksonville. Outside of that, they should be favored to win every game on the schedule but they traditionally drop one or two out of nowhere. In this instance, that dropped one game is probably to lesser rival Tennessee. The Dawgs have talent all over the roster, namely the defense where Kirby Smart could have his best yet. A trio of defensive tackles lead the front (Devonte Wyatt, Jalen Carter, Jordan Davis) while linebackers Nakobe Dean and Nolan Smith have a shot to get drafted highly. The secondary is loaded as usual with Lewis Cine starring at safety while Derion Kendrick gets his shot at redemption at corner (he was dismissed from Clemson so the opener is extra spicy) along with Tykee Smith. While the loss of superstar receiver George Pickens is devastating, they do have some competent replacements like Kearis Jackson and Jermaine Burton. Rising star quarterback JT Daniels might have the best running back duo in the country to hand off to with Zamir White and James Cook (Dalvin’s brother). If tight ends Arik Gilbert and Darnell Washington can get right and healthy, it only adds to the depth. Jamaree Salyer leads a stout offensive line. Expect the Bulldogs to be a playoff contender and a likely favorite to get to Atlanta.


Kentucky


Sept 4 HOME vs. ULM (W)

Sept 11 HOME vs. Missouri (W)

Sept 18 HOME vs. UT-Chattanooga (W)

Sept 25 AWAY @ South Carolina (W)

Oct 2 HOME vs. Florida (L)

Oct 9 HOME vs. LSU (L)

Oct 16 AWAY @ Georgia (L)

Oct 23 BYE

Oct 30 AWAY @ Mississippi State (W)

Nov 6 HOME vs. Tennessee (L)

Nov 13 AWAY @ Vanderbilt (W)

Nov 20 HOME vs. New Mexico State (W)

Nov 27 AWAY @ Louisville (W)


Predicted Record: 8-4


- Kentucky has enough talent to put a righteous scare into the big boys of the conference. Mark Stoops has built a program that’s competing for the bigger bowls every season, provided that they don’t have any brain farts. September should be easy until the hellish nightmare that is October comes to bear before November eases up. The month of October for the Wildcats should be a crime against humanity somewhere. Third place in the East should be easily attainable for Stoops. With some breaks, they could challenge for second place. Offensively, Will Levis won the quarterback job after transferring in from Penn State. He will be flanked by the greatly named Kavosiey Smoke and Chris Rodriguez. Wan’Dale Robinson returns to lead the receiving corps while Dare Rosenthal (LSU) and Darian Kinnard should be the bookend tackles. Defensively is where a lot of the talent is at with Josh Paschal, Jordan Wright, and DeAndre Square leading the front seven. Expect Kentucky to be in a lot of games either way.


Missouri


Sept 4 HOME vs. Central Michigan (W)

Sept 11 AWAY @ Kentucky (L)

Sept 18 HOME vs. Southeast Missouri (W)

Sept 25 AWAY @ Boston College (W)

Oct 2 HOME vs. Tennessee (W)

Oct 9 HOME vs. North Texas (W)

Oct 16 HOME vs. Texas A&M (L)

Oct 23 BYE

Oct 30 AWAY @ Vanderbilt (W)

Nov 6 AWAY @ Georgia (L)

Nov 13 HOME vs South Carolina (L)

Nov 20 HOME vs. Florida (L)

Nov 27 AWAY @ Arkansas (W)


Predicted Record: 7-5


- Year two of the Eli Drinkwitz regime should go a bit better than his first (and that was a pretty solid 5-5). September is manageable outside of the road game in Lexington. The Tigers are going to beat who they should beat and lose to the ones that they should lose to. Seven wins would be an accomplishment for this bunch from Columbia. The road trip to Chestnut Hill is a tricky one, however. Mizzou doesn’t have a lot of talent but Drinkwitz is a good coach with a track record of development. November is a rough turn of the schedule given by the head office.


South Carolina


Sept 4 HOME vs. Eastern Illinois (W)

Sept 11 AWAY @ East Carolina (W)

Sept 18 AWAY @ Georgia (L)

Sept 25 HOME vs Kentucky (L)

Oct 2 HOME vs. Troy (W)

Oct 9 AWAY @ Tennessee (L)

Oct 16 HOME vs. Vanderbilt (W)

Oct 23 AWAY @ Texas A&M (L)

Oct 30 BYE

Nov 6 HOME vs. Florida (L)

Nov 13 AWAY @ Missouri (W)

Nov 20 HOME vs. Auburn (L)

Nov 27 HOME vs. Clemson (L)


Predicted Record: 5-7


- Yet another new face in the SEC coaching ranks as Shane Beamer takes control of the Gamecocks. Beamer is a veteran that returns to Columbia with a history of serving as an assistant at numerous SEC schools. He played for his father Frank at Virginia Tech and is known as a pretty good recruiter. He inherits a pretty solid roster that Will Muschamp built, especially defensively. Up front, they are led by Kingsley Enagbare and Zacch Pickens while the secondary is a work in progress. Offensively, they have some talent, namely RB Kevin Harris, WR Ahmarean Brown, and OT Dylan Wonnum. The first game is interesting as former grad assistant Zeb Noland is starting at QB due to injuries at the position. Noland last played in the spring for NDSU so it’s not like he’s been gone that long. The Gamecocks have a schedule that should have them competing for bowl eligibility. November is rough with just one winnable game and the annual date with national power Clemson back on the docket after a pandemic-related hiatus. Away games at Georgia, Tennessee, and A&M are rough.


Tennessee


Sept 2 (Thurs.) HOME vs. Bowling Green (W)

Sept 11 HOME vs. Pittsburgh (W)

Sept 18 HOME vs. Tennessee Tech (W)

Sept 25 AWAY @ Florida (L)

Oct 2 AWAY @ Missouri (L)

Oct 9 HOME vs. South Carolina (W)

Oct 16 HOME vs. Ole Miss (L)

Oct 23 AWAY Third Saturday in October (L)

Oct 30 BYE

Nov 6 AWAY @ Kentucky (W)

Nov 13 HOME vs Georgia (W)

Nov 20 HOME vs. South Alabama (W)

Nov 27 HOME vs. Vanderbilt (W)


Predicted Record: 8-4


- Is Tennessee the SEC version of Nebraska? Josh Heupel takes over the reins from the embattled Jeremy Pruitt after allegations of NCAA wrongdoing forced his predecessor out. 8-4 is on the positive end given the circumstances of the program. They probably do sneak in a win over Georgia at home and close the rest of the month with wins over hapless USA and Vanderbilt. The Volunteers get a humiliating look at former linebacker Henry To'oTo'o after he elected to transfer to hated rival Alabama when the Tide likely cows them into submission. This coming on the heels of being laughed at by former coach Lane Kiffin’s men from Oxford. Heupel has decided on Michigan transfer Joe Milton as his quarterback starter after beating out Hendon Hooker (Va Tech) et al. Leading rusher Ty Chandler left for North Carolina. There’s some talent left on the offensive line as Cade Mays looks draftable. Defensively, it’s a mixed bag so it will be rough going behind EDGE Bryon Young and DT Aubrey Solomon. Check back in 2022 for progress.


Vanderbilt


Sept 4 HOME vs. East Tennessee State (W)

Sept 11 AWAY @ Colorado State (L)

Sept 18 HOME vs. Stanford (L)

Sept 25 HOME vs Georgia (L)

Oct 2 HOME vs. UCONN (W)

Oct 9 AWAY @ Florida (L)

Oct 16 AWAY @ South Carolina (L)

Oct 23 HOME vs. Mississippi State (L)

Oct 30 HOME vs. Missouri (L)

Nov 6 BYE

Nov 13 HOME vs Kentucky (L)

Nov 20 AWAY @ Ole Miss (L)

Nov 27 AWAY @ Tennessee (L)


Predicted Record: 2-9


- Joining Josh Heupel in the new SEC head coaching ranks is Clark Lea. He takes over a traditionally moribund program capable of sneaking some wins but inherits the barest of bare cupboards. There’s just not a lot of wins on the schedule for the Commodores. Every game will likely be a slog for viewers to get through. A dead last finish in the division is in the cards. Year 0 of the Lea regime.


WEST


Alabama


Sept 4 Neutral vs. Miami (Atlanta) (W)

Sept 11 HOME vs. Mercer (W)

Sept 18 AWAY @ Florida (W)

Sept 25 HOME vs Southern Miss (W)

Oct 2 HOME vs. Ole Miss (W)

Oct 9 AWAY @ Texas A&M (L)

Oct 16 AWAY @ Mississippi State (W)

Oct 23 HOME Third Saturday in October (W)

Oct 30 BYE

Nov 6 HOME vs. LSU (W)

Nov 13 HOME vs New Mexico State (W)

Nov 20 HOME vs. Arkansas (W)

Nov 27 AWAY Iron Bowl (W)


Predicted Record: 11-1


- The reigning national champions have a slew of new faces including the much-ballyhooed quarterback Bryce Young as he takes over for Mac Jones. Last season’s breakout star receiver John Metchie returns to lead a relatively inexperienced group after the Heisman winner Devonta Smith exhausted his collegiate eligibility in a big way. However, the offensive talent isn’t all new as running back Brian Robinson returns with OT1 contender Evan Neal. Defensively, it’s a more veteran group as DT Phidarian Mathis and DJ Dale anchor things in the middle. The linebackers are led by Christian Harris, Tennessee transfer Henry To’oTo’o, and Will Anderson. Nick Saban’s secondary is loaded as usual with Josh Jobe, Malachi Moore, Daniel Wright, and Jordan Battle all projected to earn major snaps once again. Alabama opens up its quest for another ATL to ATL trip against a plucky Miami team. The Tide have the schedule and talent to roll over virtually every opponent this season They do have to travel to the Swamp, the Plains, and College Station but do get LSU at home. Really, A&M could be the only ones to challenge them going to a cacophonous Kyle Field with a new untested quarterback. It will be interesting to see how the Iron Bowl turns out as Gus Malzhan is no longer there to test Saban’s men. Another December trip to Bryant-Denny Stadium East aka Mercedes-Benz Stadium that Atlanta United owns should be in the offing. Back-to-back games against former Saban assistants Lane Kiffin and Jimbo Fisher should be entertaining at least.


Arkansas


Sept 4 HOME vs. Rice (W)

Sept 11 HOME vs. Texas (L)

Sept 18 HOME vs. Georgia Southern (W)

Sept 25 Neutral? vs Texas A&M (AT&T Stadium) (L)

Oct 2 AWAY @ Georgia (L)

Oct 9 AWAY @ Ole Miss (W)

Oct 16 HOME vs. Auburn (L)

Oct 23 HOME vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff (W)

Oct 30 BYE

Nov 6 HOME vs. Mississippi State (W)

Nov 13 AWAY Battle for the Golden Boot (L)

Nov 20 AWAY @ Alabama (L)

Nov 27 HOME vs. Missouri (L)


Predicted Record: 5-7


- It’s time to call the hogs for Sam Pittman again in 2021 after a surprising turnaround in 2020 after years of less than fun mediocrity. Year two of the interesting marriage of the ground and pound offense of Sam Pittman and the wide-open Briles offense begins. Feleipe Franks is off to the Atlanta Falcons to serve as a backup to the erstwhile Matt Ryan so KJ Jefferson gets his turn in the Kendal Briles offense. The opening stretch is tough as the Razorbacks take on Texas, A&M, Georgia, and Ole Miss in the first six games. A pair of consecutive trips to Georgia + Ole Miss and LSU and Alabama isn’t the most ideal schedule confluence in the world, to say the least. Arkansas would do well to fight for bowl eligibility, which isn’t a poor reflection on them. The stock continues to point up for Coach Pittman’s charges.


Auburn


Sept 4 HOME vs. Akron (W)

Sept 11 HOME vs. Alabama State (W)

Sept 18 AWAY @ Penn State (L)

Sept 25 HOME vs Georgia State (W)

Oct 2 AWAY @ LSU (L)

Oct 9 HOME Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry (L)

Oct 16 AWAY @ Arkansas (W)

Oct 23 BYE

Oct 30 HOME vs. Ole Miss (L)

Nov 6 AWAY @ Texas A&M (L)

Nov 13 HOME vs Mississippi State (W)

Nov 20 AWAY @ South Carolina (W)

Nov 27 HOME Iron Bowl (L)


Predicted Record: 6-6


- Auburn has a new coach after years of the Gus Malzhan administration finally ran out of steam. In his stead, the Tigers hired Bryan Harsin, the latest target in the infamous firing line of Auburn’s notorious booster culture. War Eagle takes their show on the road to Happy Valley in a rather unique matchup with Penn State in two weeks. October could be the swing month as they could go 3-1 or 0-4 with tough games throughout. They host the Iron Bowl this season. Bo Nix returns but he is probably the most maddeningly inconsistent quarterback in the country. Awesomely named running back Tank Bigsby returns as well. Defensively, they do have to replace a lot of good pieces who left via transfer or graduation but Smoke Monday and Owen Pappoe return to prop up a youthful group. The schedule is too tough for Harsin to squeeze anything more than eight wins from this bunch. Their ceiling is likely third in the always tough West in 2021.


LSU


Sept 4 AWAY @ UCLA (W)

Sept 11 HOME vs. McNeese State (W)

Sept 18 HOME vs. Central Michigan (W)

Sept 25 AWAY @ Mississippi State (W)

Oct 2 HOME vs. Auburn (W)

Oct 9 AWAY @ Kentucky (W)

Oct 16 HOME vs. Florida (W)

Oct 23 AWAY @ Ole Miss (L)

Oct 30 BYE

Nov 6 AWAY @ Alabama (L)

Nov 13 HOME Battle for the Golden Boot (W)

Nov 20 HOME vs. ULM (W)

Nov 27 HOME vs. Texas A&M (L)


Predicted Record: 9-3


- After a horrendous 2020 season that saw them struggle to live up to the explosive standards that their national champion predecessors set, the Bayou Bengals return to form in 2021. Max Johnson has been named the starter in the quarterback race after Myles Brennan was injured. He has a few weapons like Kayshon Boutte and a fleet of serviceable running backs alongside a competent OL led by Cameron Wire, Austin Deculus, and Ed Ingram. Defensively is where most of the talent lies led by CB1 Derek Stingley, Jr of course. They have talent across all three levels with Ali Gaye (JUCO) and BJ Ojulari (Azeez’s brother) leading the front. Mike Jones, Jr is a Clemson transfer linebacker who should step in right away. Stingley, former five-star recruit Eli Ricks, and veteran Jay Ward return to lead a formidable secondary unit. The Tigers have had a rough start due to Hurricane Ida displacing them to Houston and face a tough jaunt to UCLA on Saturday to open up. The schedule is eminently manageable to eke out a nine-win season, ten if things break right against either Ole Miss or A&M. The off-field issues under Ed Oregeron are a looming threat to derail the season, however.


Mississippi State


Sept 4 HOME vs. Louisiana Tech (W)

Sept 11 HOME vs. NC State (W)

Sept 18 AWAY @ Memphis (W)

Sept 25 HOME vs. LSU (L)

Oct 2 AWAY @ Texas A&M (L)

Oct 9 BYE

Oct 16 HOME vs. Alabama (L)

Oct 23 AWAY @ Vanderbilt (W)

Oct 30 HOME vs. Kentucky (L)

Nov 6 AWAY @ Arkansas (L)

Nov 13 AWAY @ Auburn (L)

Nov 20 HOME vs. Tennessee State (W)

Nov 27 HOME Egg Bowl (L)


Predicted Record: 5-7


- Mike Leach’s Bulldogs face a tough road just to get to bowl eligibility but will be fun to see them get there as is usually the case with Leach-coached teams. October is a daunting run with West powers Alabama, LSU, and A&M in it alongside Kentucky. November isn’t much fun either with back-to-back trips to Arkansas and Auburn and the Egg Bowl shootout (probably a shootout). In terms of draftable prospects, OT Charles Cross is likely the only one for now. QB Will Rogers returns to make sweet music and play quarterback on the side. While the record might not be pretty, the aesthetics will be.


Ole Miss


Sept 6 (Mon.) Neutral vs. Louisville (Atlanta) (W)

Sept 11 HOME vs. Austin Peay (W)

Sept 18 HOME vs. Tulane (W)

Sept 25 BYE

Oct 2 AWAY @ Alabama (L)

Oct 9 HOME vs. Arkansas (L)

Oct 16 AWAY @ Tennessee (W)

Oct 23 HOME vs. LSU (W)

Oct 30 AWAY @ Auburn (W)

Nov 6 HOME vs. Liberty (W)

Nov 13 HOME vs. Texas A&M (W)

Nov 20 HOME vs. Vanderbilt (W)

Nov 27 AWAY Egg Bowl (W)


Predicted Record: 10-2


- The Lane Train begins what is likely their only stop in Atlanta against a rebuilding Louisville squad on Labor Day. They get a bye week before facing the full might of the Crimson Tide open October where the month will be critical to their success. Road trips to Knoxville and the Plains will have to be managed. A home date awaits against a tough LSU team that month as well. A revenge game against Kiffin’s Oxford predecessor Hugh Freeze is bound to stir up some still raw emotions. They get A&M at home to probably determine second place in the West. The Egg Bowl might be the fiercest rivalry in all of college football right now and is sure to be a must-see TV Thanksgiving weekend. Quarterback Matt Corral is garnering some hype as a top-five QB in the 2022 class. He has a cadre of weapons to throw to like Johnathan Mingo, Braylon Sanders, and running back Jerrion Ealy. Defensively, well, Ole Miss isn’t exactly known for that side of the ball lately. Every game will be fun at least so there's that.


Texas A&M


Sept 4 HOME vs. Kent State (W)

Sept 11 AWAY @ Colorado (W)

Sept 18 HOME vs. New Mexico (W)

Sept 25 HOME vs. Arkansas (W)

Oct 2 HOME vs. Mississippi State (W)

Oct 9 HOME vs. Alabama (W)

Oct 16 AWAY @ Missouri (W)

Oct 23 HOME vs. South Carolina (W)

Oct 30 BYE

Nov 6 HOME vs. Auburn (W)

Nov 13 AWAY @ Ole Miss (L)

Nov 20 HOME vs. Prairie View A&M (W)

Nov 27 AWAY @ LSU (L)


Predicted Record: 10-2


- Newly even richer man, Jimbo Fisher has a team that could be in contention for a playoff spot after last season’s oh-so-close effort. Haynes King was newly minted as the point man to execute Fisher’s “plodding” offense after a close battle. King won’t have a shortage of weapons as Isaiah Spiller, Ainas Smith, and 2022 TE1 Jalen Wydermyer are there for him to get the ball to. Spiller might be one of the better backs in the 2022 class and has been on the radar for years now. Smith is a utility type who can play both RB and receiver. The line is full of big dudes like Jahmir Johnson (Tennessee), Kenyon Green, and Luke Matthews (yes, that Matthews family). Defensively, the star man is Demarvin Leal who has been getting a lot of draft hype. The brothers (no relation) Jones (Myles and Jaylon) anchor the secondary at cornerback alongside safety Demani Richardson. The schedule is there to manage and they pull off a remarkable upset of the high-powered Tide at home. The Aggies do have to travel to an old Big 12 friend Colorado next week though. November is a tough ask as they have to visit Oxford AND Baton Rouge in a span of three weeks. The race for second place in the West will be an interesting one between the Aggies and Rebels.

East Champion: Georgia


West Champion: Alabama


Conference Champion: ALABAMA


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