CollegeFootballNews.com Preview 2017: SEC Preview
The 2017 CFN SEC Preview with the top players, teams that will surprise and disappoint, and shoes to fill.
2017 SEC Preview
What the hell happened to the SEC?
It’s not like the conference is missing anything when it comes to facilities, fan interest, exposure, or the finances needed to keep up in the arms race.
Ever since there were online recruiting rankings, the SEC has dominated the talent haul. The skill and athleticism are still second-to-none, the league is still able to get more superstar prospects than just about everyone else combined, and the schools are able to seemingly pay whatever they want for the coaches needed to make all those talented players better.
But even with absolutely everything going its way, the SEC is just sort of … mediocre.
Bret Bielema is a whale of a coaching talent who made Wisconsin a regular in the Rose Bowl, and now he can’t get that Arkansas thing going.
For all the excitement over Auburn, it lost five games last season – to be fair, three of them were to Clemson, Alabama and Oklahoma – and was probably a flickering play-clock light against LSU away from going into this year with a new head coach.
Kevin Sumlin still hasn’t won anything that matters at Texas A&M, Tennessee keeps proving that it still has miles to go before turning a corner, and LSU hasn’t lost fewer than three games in a season since the 2011 run to the BCS Championship game.
Ole Miss is paying for its sins, Missouri and South Carolina are still building things up after losing legendary head coaches, and Mississippi State is permanently stuck in also-ran status.
How can you tell there’s a problem? To be brutally blunt, if Kentucky and Vanderbilt are going bowling – and if it’s November and UK is still in the SEC title chase – it’s probably a bad year for the SEC. Georgia Tech’s win over the Wildcats in the TaxSlayer Bowl and NC State’s dumping of the Commodores in the Independence sort of proved that.
Florida might be a two-time defending SEC Each champ, but it’s also gone 19-8 in two years under Jim McElwain. Georgia looks the part of a rising star, but there’s a massive prove-it factor about to kick in for Kirby Smart.
Of course, Alabama owns the conference, but the woes of the rest of the league can’t be blamed on the dominance of the Nick Saban era. If the SEC really had a superstar second team, it could afford a loss to the Crimson Tide and still get into the College Football Playoff – but that team doesn’t exist.
And now the conference enters what appears to be yet another rebuilding year.
Again, Georgia should be a lot better, and Auburn looks dangerous, but where are the other rising stars? Where’s the Washington, or the Penn State, or the Louisville, or the teams that appear to be ready to bust out?
At best – and this includes Alabama, albeit at an unfairly high level – just about everyone in the SEC will probably be about as good as they were last season, or maybe a wee bit better.
The league is just treading water, but can someone other than Alabama to play up to that talent and those resources? Can the conference play up to the hype?
Of course, and Week One will prove whether or not that’s possible.
Alabama vs. Florida State, Florida vs. Michigan, Tennessee vs. Georgia Tech, South Carolina vs. NC State and LSU vs. BYU are all going to be moments that matter. The same goes for Week Two when Arkansas deals with TCU, Auburn goes to Clemson, and Georgia faces Notre Dame.
Surprise us, SEC. Make this season more than just about whether or not Alabama goes to the College Football Playoff as the 13-0 SEC champion or the 12-1 SEC champion.
SEC, you really are still the biggest, baddest conference in college football.
Play like it.
SEC Team That Will Surprise
The Tigers have a head coach in Barry Odom who knows defenses, but his first year was a disaster when it came to stopping anyone, finishing 118th in the nation while giving up 30 points or more six times in the last eight games.
The offense will continue to be dangerous after averaging over 500 yards per game, and now the defense will be just a wee bit better. Mizzou won’t be SEC East title good after going 4-8, but it’ll be back in a bowl game.
SEC Team That Will Disappoint
This year’s team might be even better than the version that won seven games and took down Louisville on the way to a bowl game – finally – under Mark Stoops. But the East probably isn’t going to be so awful again.
Granted, UK came up with its strong season even with losses to Florida, Georgia and Tennessee, but the South Carolina game is in Columbia, the Vandy battle is in Nashville, the date with the West’s Mississippi State is in Starkville this time around, and there’s still Southern Miss and Louisville to deal with.
Game Of The Year
Nov. 25 Alabama at Auburn
However, Auburn might have to come into this with just one SEC loss, or be unbeaten in conference play, and that’s hardly a lock with road games at LSU, Arkansas and Texas A&M, along with a home date against Georgia. Meanwhile, Alabama has a relatively smooth slate to get to the finale, with the Iron Bowl the first nasty SEC road test – unless you want to count Texas A&M, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State.
But going into the season – at least on paper – Auburn should be the second-best team in the West. If it can just survive long enough to make the rivalry of rivalries matter, it should be special.
5 Big-Time Players Who Deserve A Bigger Spotlight
Five players who have been a bit under the radar on a national level, but should rise up and be among the season’s best players.
1. LB Jordan Jones, Kentucky
2. WR J’Mon Moore, Missouri
3. QB Austin Allen, Sr. Arkansas
4. S Todd Kelly, Sr. Tennessee
5. LB Bryson Allen-Williams, Sr. South Carolina
5 SEC Coaches On The Hot Seat
Five SEC coaches who’d better win this season. Being on a hot seat doesn’t necessarily mean a coach is about to fired, but the pressure is on to produce up to expectations and beyond.
1. Kevin Sumln, Texas A&M
2. Bret Bielema, Arkansas
3. Butch Jones, Tennessee
4. Ed Orgeron, LSU
5. Jim McElwain, Florida
5 Non-Conference Games That SEC Teams Had Better Take Very, Very Seriously
The SEC gets a bad rap when it comes to playing out of conference games – mainly because Mercer, ULM, Wofford, Coastal Carolina and UAB are on schedules in November – but just about every team has at least one killer to deal with. Here are the not-so-obvious games the SEC has to show up for – like Mississippi State failed to do against South Alabama last year.
1. Appalachian State vs. Georgia, Sept. 2
2. Kentucky at Southern Miss, Sept. 2
3. Georgia Southern at Auburn, Sept. 2
4. Vanderbilt at Middle Tennessee, Sept. 2
5. South Alabama at Ole Miss, Sept. 2
5 Best Pro Prospects
1. DE Arden Key, Jr. LSU
2. RB Derrius Guice, Jr. LSU
3. S Minkah Fitzpatrick, Sr. Alabama
4. WR Calvin Ridley, Jr. Alabama
5. WR Christian Kirk, Jr. Texas A&M
5 Biggest Shoes To Fill
1. Texas A&M DE Qualen Cunningham for Myles Garrett
2. Tennessee DE Darrell Taylor for Derek Barnett
3. LSU S John Battle for Jamal Adams
4. Ole Miss TE Octavious Cooley for Evan Engram
5. Alabama OT Jonah Williams for Cam Robinson