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Preview of the 2019 SEC Football Season

Photo Courtesy of MakeGamedayEveryday

Written by: John Stocco

Twitter: @realJohnStocco

It doesn’t come as a shock to anybody, unless you’ve been living under a rock the last decade, but the SEC is the best conference in conference in college football. It’s not just because of Alabama, not just because of Georgia, but it’s because of how deep it gets when you start going down the line on the SEC. Florida, Auburn, LSU, Kentucky, Texas A&M, South Carolina, and Mississippi State. All of these teams are dangerous to compete with on any given Saturday. We’re going to continue our preview series of the conferences in college football, and today we’re going to learn how this season could be a year of changes in the SEC.

SEC East:

1, Georgia

Key losses: Mecole Hardman, Riley Ridley, Terry Godwin, Isaac Nauta, Lamont Gaillard, D’Andre Walker, Deandre Baker.

Players to watch: Jake Fromm, D'andre Swift, Andrew Thomas, Isaiah Wilson, Tae Crowder, JR Reed, Richard LeCounte.

This is a big year for Georgia. When I say big year I don’t mean there’s a championship window closing right on the Bulldogs. It’s a big year of development especially for the defense. The last two seasons the Bulldogs have lost Roquan Smith, Lorenzo Carter, D’Andre Walker, and Deandre Baker. Key players on the defense getting drafted, and losing defensive coordinator Mel Tucker to Colorado won’t do them any favors. The Bulldogs need to develop that next phase of defensive all pro prospects, and it starts with the best safety combination in college football with Richard LeCounte, and JR Reed. On the offensive side of the ball, Georgia is taking the title of Running Back University away from Alabama. Todd Gurely, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Elijah Holyfield, and now D’Andre Swift. Swift has a legit shot at winning the Heisman behind one of the best offensive lines in football. The talent is there, but the talent is raw. On offense the Bulldogs are going to rely heavily on future NFL quarterback, Jake Fromm, and Heisman dark horse D’Andre Swift.

2, Florida

Key losses: Jawaan Taylor, Jordan Scarlett, Jachai Polite, Vosean Joseph, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson.

Players to watch: Lamical Perine, Van Jefferson, Josh Hammond, Jabari Zuniga, Jonathan Greenard, CJ Henderson.

There is a lot to like with this Gator team. They were the surprise of the SEC last year under coach Dan Mullen as they returned to bowl game status and finished the season 10-3 (5-3). It was cool seeing the Gators being back to relevance, coming from someone who practically grew up with Tim Tebow dominating sports headlines. The talent on both sides of the ball are top notch in the conference. The Gators have three running backs who can get their yards and it’s led by Perine, and behind him are underclassmen Malik Davis and Dameon Pierce. The receiving core should all be looking for breakout seasons because it’s an experienced group as the six leading receivers are all coming back. On the defensive side they should be a solid bunch with top NFL defensive prospects Jabari Zuniga (defensive end) and CJ Henderson (cornerback) already setting headlines. For Gators, their success is on Feleipe Franks, and their inexperienced offensive line. The inexperienced offensive line is the problem Florida faces because I believe Franks is a solid quarterback. He has to work on his accuracy, but even with only a 58% completion rate, he only threw 6 interceptions. I think we’re going to see a Florida team that’s real in the SEC.

3, South Carolina

Key losses: Deebo Samuel, Dennis Daley, Rashad Fenton.

Players to watch: Jake Bentley, Bryan Edwards, Shi Smith, Javon Kinlaw. TJ Brunson.

We understand why Tua and Jake Fromm gets more love from the national press. They’re two of the three best quarterbacks coming into the NFL Draft, and they’re on two of the best teams in college football, but someone who doesn’t get nearly as much love when the discussion of good college football quarterbacks comes up is Jake Bentley from South Carolina. Bentley is a competitor who loves to dish out the ball aggressively. He has a big arm with a gunslinger's mentality. South Carolina is looking to have a high powered offense with the breakout star candidacy of Bentley and his top two targets in Edwards and Shi Smith. The defense is one of the best in the conference under Will Muschamp, and talent like linebacker TJ Brunson who had 106 tackles, and 10.5 tackles per loss last season. Defensive linemen, Javon Kinlaw is another player with high hopes from both South Carolina and scouts in the NFL. If the Gamecocks can kickstart the running game, and Bentley turns the ball over less, then there’s no reason why they shouldn’t finish in the top three of the SEC.

4, Missouri

Key losses: Drew Lock, Emanuel Hall, Paul Adams, Terry Buckner, Terez Hall.

Players to watch: Kelly Bryant, Albert Okwuegbunam, TreVor Wallace-Simms, Cale Garrett, DeMarkus Acy.

You want to know what everyone forgets? How great Kelly Bryant was at Clemson. Kelly Bryant is a really good quarterback, and he’s going to show off his talents once again at a new school. While Bryant tries to build off Drew Lock’s success, he’s going to have some help around him with a very good offensive line, a line that gave up the fewest sacks, and he’ll have one of the best tight ends in the college football. On the defensive side of the ball, the Tigers have a well established secondary, and they have an absolute freak in Cale Garrett. If you wanna see your favorite stat sheet, check his out. 47 tackles his freshman year, 99 his sophomore year, and 106 last year. What’s next? Over/under is set at 203. Missouri should be feared by all teams on any given Saturday in the SEC.

5, Kentucky

Key losses: Benny Snell, CJ Conrad, Josh Allen, Lonnie Johnson, Mike Edwards.

Players to watch: Terry Wilson, Asim Rose, Lynn Bowden, Kash Daniel.

The Kentucky Wildcats surprised the football world last year when they broke out and had a 10-3 season, which included a bowl win over Penn State. This year I don’t believe that magic will be there again. Too much talent has left in key positions. There will be a lot of pressure put on the young quarterback, Terry Wilson. The Wildcats aren’t filled with a bunch of scrubs though. Lynn Bowden is an explosive athlete that can catch, and return kicks. Bowden caught 67 passes, and received 745 yards. He’ll need to match that production, if not top it, just so the Wildcats can stay in these conference games.

6, Vanderbilt

Key losses: Kyle Schurmer, Joejuan Williams.

Players to watch: Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Kalija Lipscomb, Jared Pinkney, Dimitri Moore, Frank Coppet.

For the first time in a long time, the Commodores have playmaking ability surrounding their team. They have an established running back and wide receiver combo who are going to make noise in the scouting room meetings, and they have a young core on defense led by a sophomore linebacker in Dimitri Moore. It all lies on the quarterback from Ball State, Riley Neal. If Neal improves Vandy’s chances in the red zone, and executes on opportunities given to them when a ranked SEC team sleeps on them then Vanderbilt can really do something unique this season.

7, Tennessee

Key losses: None.

Players to watch: Trey Smith, Darrell Taylor, Daniel Bitulli.

Everything just felt and looked terrible for the Volunteers. Their running game was a disaster, their offensive line was even worse, and at quarterback there isn’t that rising star to look for. The one player that has any NFL aspirations in the program is Trey Smith, and we don’t even know if he’s healthy. The joy coming from Tennessee football is to see how they play on defense. The Vols have two linebackers that could really make an impact this season, and they are Darrell Taylor, and Daniel Bitulli. Both can stuff the line of scrimmage, and both can get after the quarterback.

SEC West:

1, Alabama

Key losses: Josh Jacobs, Damien Harris, Irv Smith Jr, Ross Pierschraber, Jonah Williams, Quinnen Williams, Christian Miller, Mack Wilson, Isaiah Buggs, Deionte Thompson.

Players to watch: Tua Tagovailoa, Najee Harris, Brian Robinson, Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, Jaylen Waddle, Raekwon Davis, Dylan Moses, Anferenee Jennings, Shyheim Carter, Patrick Surtain, Xavier McKinney.

Alabama is the class of the SEC, and that’s not changing anytime soon. The last time we saw the Crimson Tide we saw them get their teeth kicked in by Clemson. When’s the last time you saw that from Alabama? It’s a scary thought because we’ve never seen a Nick Saban Alabama team out for revenge for an entire season. This version of Alabama can be even better. For one, Tua is going to be playing in every fourth quarter. There is no quarterback competition, and when Alabama took out Tua for Jalen Hurts in the 4th after every blow out, it might have hurt Tua’s development. Towards the end of the season Tua was struggling against tougher defenses, he faced some injuries, and completely fell apart against Clemson. This time the Jalen Hurts shadow is gone, and now it truly is Tua’s Time. Surrounding Tua is the usual. Two All American running backs with size, speed, and athleticism. Also, Tua is working with the best receiving core Alabama has ever had. Jeudy might be a top ten pick, and the pair of Ruggs and Waddle are going to be elite playmakers every Saturday, and even on future Sunday’s. On the defensive side, they lost Quinnen Williams, but the players coming back are just as talented. Davis, Jennings, and Dylan Moses. The Crimson Tide also have their elite secondary back in action. Last year they didn’t have that one sure thing safety out there on their defense, and this year they have three players in their secondary that can all be day one and two picks in the NFL Draft.

2, LSU

Key losses: Nick Brossette, Foster Moreau, Devin White, Greedy Williams, John Battle.

Players to watch: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Justin Jefferson, Damien Lewis, Michael Divinity, K’Lavon Chaisson, Kristian Fulton, Grant Delpit.

LSU lost Devin White and Greedy Williams. Two elite talents in college, and two talents who won’t disappoint in the next level, but I don’t think LSU is going to miss a step this season. The best receivers from last year’s team are back, Joe Burrow has a year under his belt in the LSU system, and on defense they have the best safety and one of the better cornerbacks in college football. At the linebacker position LSU looks at their top tackler in Jacob Phillips, and Michael Divinity, but all the hope relies on the health of K’Lavon Chaisson. If Chaisson and Fulton stay healthy, and Joe Burrow becomes a more accurate quarterback, then Alabama has some legitimate competition in the SEC West.

3, Texas A&M

Key losses: Trayveon Williams, Jace Sternberger, Erik McCoy, Dylan Mack, Kingsley Keke.

Players to watch: Kellen Mond, Quartney Davis, Jhamon Ausbon, Justin Madubuike.

The first year under Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M was a success. The Aggies finished 9-4 and second in the SEC West. This year it might not feel like much of a success. Jimbo Fisher has still yet to work with a team that are his recruits. They’re young, and they’re not ready to get important playing time every Saturday. It’s another rebuilding year, but this time it’s going to be harder. Kellen Mond is still there which is a positive, but they lost their starting running back, their tight end, and the captain of the offensive line. There is a lot of talent that is no longer there, and the schedule they face is one of the toughest in college football. Clemson, Auburn, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi State, South Carolina, and LSU. That is the murder’s row of schedules.

4, Mississippi State

Key losses: Nick Fitzgerald, Elgton Jenkins, JeffereySimmons, Montez Sweat, Jonathan Abram.

Players to watch: Tommy Stevens, Kylin Hill, Cameron Dantzler, Leo Lewis, Errol Thompson, Chauncey Rivers.

The Mississippi State Bulldogs ride and die with their defense. On the offensive side, just a few months ago there really wasn’t anything, outside of running back Kylin Hill that there was to be excited about. Then Tommy Stevens backed out of Penn State and decided to join the Bulldogs. Tommy Stevens is a terrific athlete, as you saw with Penn State they did everything they could just to get him on the field. They even used him as a wide receiver. Stevens is a game changer for the Bulldogs and now that he’s back with Jim Moorehead, the college football world is expecting Tommy Stevens to live up to the hype his senior year.

5, Auburn

Key losses: Jarrett Stidham, Darius Slayton,

Players to watch: Bo Nix, JaTarvious Whitlow, Prince Tega Wanogho, Derrick Brown.

Last year was a weird year for Auburn. Almost everything you can think of went wrong for them last year. Stidham regressed, they weren’t getting anything out of their receiving core, and their defense couldn’t stay healthy. They still finished with a record of 8-5, which some programs would die for, but they finished 5th in the SEC, and that’s unacceptable for Auburn’s standards. So unacceptable that Gus Malzahn is walking into this season on the hot seat. Auburn is young this year as their starting quarterback, Bo Nix is a freshman, and their starting running back JaTarvious Whitlow is a sophomore, but the silver lining is that they are players who fit the Gus Malzahn system. Stidham never worked because he was a bad fit. Bo Nix and Whitlow can work. On defense they’re led by the big man in the middle, Derrick Brown. Brown is going to raise eyebrows this fall when NFL scouts dig into his tape. 6’5, 318, 4.5 sacks, 10.5 tackles for loss, and brings an interior pass rushing effect that every NFL team is looking for so expect Brown to be a top 10, maybe top 5 pick. Bad news for Auburn? They suffer the same luck as Texas A&M. Their schedule is brutal, and it starts week one, against the Oregon Ducks.

6, Ole Miss

Key losses: Jordan Ta’amu, DK Metcalf, AJ Brown, Dawson Knox, Greg Little, Ken Webster.

Players to watch: Scottie Phillips.

I watched so much Ole Miss football when I was writing my scouting reports last year that I honestly felt like a lifelong fan of the Rebels. I have no idea how they weren’t any good with the amount of talent they had. Ole Miss is going to have a tough time replacing Ta’amu, and I don’t think it’s possible for Ole Miss to replace a receiving core like they had last year. The bright spot for Ole Miss is Scottie Phillips and the running game as they’re lead man finished just below 2,000 yards, and 24 touchdowns.

7, Arkansas

Key losses: Hjalte Froholdt, Armon Watts, Dre Greenlaw, Ryan Pulley.

Players to watch: Rakeem Boyd, Trey Knox, De’Jon Harris.

There’s no life when it comes to the Razorbacks, and in such a deep conference I don’t see there being much more life in the future. Arkansas has a long road ahead of them as they finished towards the bottom of the SEC in both offense and defense. If you’re ever bored, and you want to watch football, but Arkansas is the only team on? Keep your eye on freshman wide receiver, Trey Knox. A true freshman, that stands at 6’5, and shows off lethal hands and athletic ability. This is a player that can add some life to Razorback football.



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