It wasn’t that long ago the SEC was labeled as being “down” in part due to the lack of good quarterback play across the league. How things have changed, as this year’s stellar crop of signal-callers makes the conference one of the toughest to play in yet again and more than capable of producing multiple College Football Playoff contenders throughout the season. Missouri’s Drew Lock has been labeled as an early first-rounder, as is Auburn’s Heisman contender in Jarrett Stidham. Alabama has not one but two good options behind center and transfers like LSU’s Joe Burrow (from Ohio State) have bolstered the ranks even further. Add in a host of new coaches to the league and there’s perhaps never been more intrigue from top to bottom of each division.
In the SEC West, things begin and end as they always do in the era of Nick Saban with Alabama. The Crimson Tide looks primed to defend their title but this time around will be led by their offense. No matter who winds up being the long-term option at quarterback between Tua Tagovailoa or Jalen Hurts, the team will sport perhaps their best collection of young skill position talent in the last several years and another stout offensive line. The front seven remains loaded and while there are concerns about replacing so many starters in the secondary, few are going to doubt Saban from figuring something out. Their biggest challenge might come in their own state as Gus Malzahn sports another explosive offensive full of weapons and teams that up with a defense that very well could be the best in the conference.
Don’t sleep on Mississippi State crashing the top two in the West, either, as new coach Joe Moorhead is a perfect fit for dual-threat QB Nick Fitzgerald and the Bulldogs have the players in the trenches on both sides of the ball to go toe-to-toe with anybody. Speaking of new coaches, nobody has more eyeballs on them than Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher, who will no doubt have a few growing pains in College Station but has enough talent to keep the Aggies afloat despite the tough schedule. Ed Orgeron faces an increasing amount of pressure to win big at LSU but, even with the addition of Burrow to run the offense, that might be a tough task in 2018. Both Ole Miss and Arkansas (with new coach Chad Morris) face rebuilding situations, but both sport a pair of fun offenses that should at least make their shootouts fun to watch even if the wins don’t follow.
Over on the eastern side of the conference, defending champion Georgia is primed to repeat in the division and make yet another run at the national title. The losses of guys like Nick Chubb and Roquan Smith hurt but nobody has recruited as well as Kirby Smart has since taking over in Athens and the Bulldogs will once again trot out more talent than anybody in the East. Their biggest challenger will likely come in the form of Will Muschamp’s Gamecocks as QB Jake Bentley and WR Deebo Samuel is one of the top combos in the league — and they get UGA in Columbia this season. Dan Mullen is back in The Swamp and in charge at Florida but the Gators, while set to be much improved, still have a way to go before they catch their rivals.
The aforementioned Lock has a lot to work with at Mizzou, but the Tigers will still have their work cut out for them, especially with Derek Dooley taking over as offensive coordinator despite previously never calling plays. Play-calling won’t be as big of an issue at Kentucky, which can build around terrific RB Benny Snell but enters rebuilding mode for veteran coach Mark Stoops. There’s a lot more talent for Jeremy Pruitt to work with in Knoxville during his first season with Tennessee, but it might still be a bit of a stretch to call the Vols pesky as the entire program turns over after a difficult stretch. Finally, Vanderbilt not surprisingly faces an uphill battle but does have a solid signal-caller to build around in Kyle Shurmur.
Add it all up and it will just mean more yet again. Fresh off a season in which they put two teams in the national title game, it would surprise nobody if there’s a repeat of history for the SEC as it proves once again to be the best conference around.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
2. South Carolina
3. Mississippi State
4. Texas A&M
6. Ole Miss