The 2018 SEC Preview with the Game of the Year, Players of the Year, top pro prospects, big-time players who deserve a bigger spotlight, and more.
Preview 2018: SEC Preview
You just knew this was coming.
Going into last season, you could see the perfect storm brewing that was going to leave a whole slew of coaching changes in its aftermath, and that’s exactly what happened.
And why? Because it’s really, really, really frustrating to be an SEC program in the time of Alabama under Nick Saban.
Georgia was, technically, the SEC’s best team by winning the conference championship. Auburn, was, technically, the SEC West’s best team by winning the division and going on to lose to Georgia in the SEC Championship.
And none of that mattered, because Alabama won the national title.
So when a national title-caliber program like Florida wins 19 games in two years and has nothing big to show for it, of course it’s easy to dump a Jim McElwain when the team goes 4-7 – partly because the program lost to Alabama twice in a row in SEC Championships.
Tennessee has to play Alabama every year, and it keeps losing to Alabama every year. When a monster of a program like that wins nine games two years in a row, and then can’t score a touchdown for an embarrassing stretch in a 4-8 season – on top of not beating the Tide – of course the fan base is going to want a coaching change.
Texas A&M won a lot of games since joining the SEC, but it was never good enough to live up the expectations after shocking Bama in Kevin Sumlin’s first season.
And now, even guys who have had success and deserve far more respect – Ed Orgeron at LSU and Gus Malzahn at Auburn – are each a 7-5 season away from potentially being gone, and why?
Alabama keeps on rolling.
So now it’s up to the conference teams to pivot.
If and when Saban retires, Alabama will get the A list of A lister head coaching prospects to take his place, but still, it’s up to the rest of the SEC to try doing more to make it a more even conference. That’s where the new guys come in.
Tennessee might have rolled the dice on a defensive coaching star in Jeremy Pruitt – hoping to get the next Kirby Smart – but the rest of the league is trying to figure it all out with offense, offense, offense.
How is Texas A&M combating the Alabama problem? It got a national title head coach in Jimbo Fisher, gave him a massive contract, and for all intents and purposes, is playing the long game to be ready to pounce the second the Tide slips and/or Saban is done.
How are Arkansas and Mississippi State trying to adjust? They went after two high-powered offensive minds in Chad Morris and Joe Moorhead, respectively, looking to bomb their way into that one big season that overcomes any deficiencies.
Florida will win with its D, but new head man Dan Mullen is coming in to pump up a sluggish O. Missouri has the attack to still wing it around – although, not as much this year with offensive coordinator Josh Heupel gone to UCF – Ole Miss will bomb away early and often, and even South Carolina has more of a dangerous attack for SEC teams to worry about.
From LSU (Joe Burrow) to Ole Miss (Jordan Ta’amu) to Auburn (Jarrett Stidham) to South Carolina (Jake Bentley) to Missouri (Drew Lock) to Vanderbilt (Kyle Shurmur), the quarterbacks are there who can wing it around, with the trend to crank up the offensive side in the hopes of finding the right mix on the right day to get by anyone in the conference at any time.
But Georgia and Alabama have amazing quarterback situations, too.
It’s going to be a transitional season with a lot of excitement, a lot of new coaches getting free passes for a year, and a lot of hope for so many fan bases dreaming of having the guy running the show who can make their program special.
And then they have to hope that Alabama finally implodes.
SEC Team That Will Surprise
It might have been a disastrous 4-7 season with little offense, less fun, and a hurricane issue to deal with, but it could’ve been a whole lot worse. Had there not been the amazing last-second bomb to beat Tennessee, and had the 28-27 win over Kentucky had that one break to go the other way – to be fair, Florida always beats UK because those breaks never, ever go the other way – it could’ve and probably should’ve been a 2-9 season.
Consider it a step back to take a massive leap forward now that the program has Dan Mullen. The defense has the talent across the board to be fantastic, the running game should be solid, and the receiving corps is good as long as the quarterback situation is okay. Don’t be totally and completely shocked if the program makes it three trips to the SEC Championship in four years if it beats …
SEC Team That Will Disappoint
It’s all relative for a program that’s now hovering around the national-title-or-bust level. Georgia caught a break last season thanks to a bad SEC East and – this worked the other way, too; more on that in a moment – not having to play Alabama in the SEC Championship.
Obviously, the Bulldogs were and are amazing, and obviously, there but for the grace of a big play they could’ve won the national championship. But lose two games this season, and they’re not going to the CFP again unless everything falls their way.
At South Carolina, at LSU, Florida in Jacksonville, and Auburn. Drop two of those four – or just one and the SEC Championship – and all of the preseason hopes and expectations are dashed.