The SEC season starts next Saturday, Sept. 26. The 14 teams in the league will not play any non-conference games. They will instead play 10 conference games, which means that they will play two more games outside their division than they normally do. In a typical year, SEC teams play their six other division opponents and two non-division opponents for an eight-game conference slate. This year, SEC teams will play their six division foes and four non-division opponents. The schedule will be tougher. Which teams are going to handle the heat the best? Let’s rank the SEC.
Alabama Crimson Tide
The Crimson Tide might not have their best team ever – there isn’t a superstar at quarterback, with Mac Jones replacing Tua Tagovailoa – but they have a team which should be the best in the SEC. They are the team that’s favored to win the conference, according to the oddsmakers at MyBookie sportsbook.
It is important to point out that Alabama’s starting linebackers were wiped out by injuries last year. Nick Saban was constantly having to go deep into his depth chart to find younger, less experienced replacements for injured starters. If Alabama has better injury luck this season, it should be in a much improved position. Moreover, the younger players who got an unexpectedly large amount of playing time last year will be much better in 2020. Alabama’s defense should be very good; the offense, without Tua, doesn’t have to be incredible to win games. It just has to be solid.
The Georgia Bulldogs, like Alabama, probably won’t be as good at quarterback this year as they were last year. Jake Fromm is gone to the NFL, and Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman, who was supposed to be the starter, opted out of the 2020 season. This leaves USC transfer J.T. Daniels and D’Wan Mathis as the two contenders for the starting job. That’s not a supremely advantageous position. However, Georgia is still better than every other team in the SEC East. The Bulldogs reload on defense every year instead of needing to rebuild. They will have the advantage over the Florida Gators when the two teams have their huge game in Jacksonville. Florida’s offense hasn’t yet been able to figure out Georgia’s defense over the past three years. The burden is on Florida to get over the hump; until then, Georgia deserves to be viewed as the favorite. The Bulldogs are more physical than Florida, and they don’t turn the ball over enough for the Gators to get the upper hand. Georgia will win the East again.
The Gators host LSU this year, which might enable them to finish ahead of the Tigers, but that game with Georgia is still likely to be thorny for Florida, which hasn’t won the SEC East since 2016. Kyle Trask will be given the task of beating Georgia. He wasn’t ready last year. He might be this year, but he will need his offensive line to hold up well against Georgia’s defensive line. That matchup is still in Georgia’s favor. Florida will have a good season, but not a great one. The goal of beating Georgia won’t be achieved.
The Tigers lost 15 players to the NFL draft, a record. LSU had five players go in the first round and 10 in the first three rounds. An insane amount of talent left the program. Then, in the offseason, receiver Ja’Marr Chase opted out of the 2020 season along with a few other important returning 2020 players. It’s impressive that LSU is still a top-four SEC program in spite of all the personnel losses from the 2019 national title team, but those losses will indeed keep the Tigers outside the top three in the SEC in 2020.
Patrick Nix was a talented quarterback for the Auburn Tigers in the 1990s. Now, his son, Bo Nix, leads the Auburn attack. Bo Nix went through his share of growing pains in 2019, so his development and experience should make Auburn’s passing game better in 2020. The limitation on this roster, though, is a very young offensive line which might require extra time to come together. Auburn won’t have an amazing team this year, but it will be better than most in the league.
The Wildcats rode a low-offense, high-defense formula to a New Year’s Day bowl bid in the 2018 season. They can do much the same this season. If Landon Young gives them what they want at left tackle, the offensive line will be able to support a decent running game, which will in turn give the Wildcats a real shot at finishing in the top three in the SEC East.
Texas A&M Aggies
The Aggies have a lot of starters returning, and there is a sense that there could be an opening for them to finish as high as second in the SEC West, with LSU losing 15 players to the NFL draft while having other projected 2020 starters opt out of the season. However, the Aggies’ passing game has consistently failed to live up to expectations under quarterback Kellen Mond, who returns for his senior season. If Mond can live up to the hype this year, the Aggies could be great, but it’s hard to think Mond is going to make the kinds of transformations which will enable A&M to live up to its potential.
The lingering problem for Tennessee, much like Texas A&M, has been a clunky, unproductive passing game that can’t be relied on. The Vols have senior Jarrett Guarantano coming back in 2020 for one more go-round. If he can evolve at his position and make the plays the coaching staff is looking for, Tennessee could make a run at the SEC East. However, it’s hard to have a lot of confidence in that possibility. It’s not something one should count on at this point, and it is likely to hold the Vols back.
Ole Miss Rebels
The first season of Lane Kiffin as Ole Miss coach should create a lot of offense. If the defense can play above expectations, Ole Miss could become a thorny, pesky team in the SEC West.
South Carolina Gamecocks
The Gamecocks do not have a proven quarterback or tested wide receivers. Their offense is likely to struggle this season, especially since the teams at the top of the SEC East, Florida and Georgia (even Kentucky), have strong defenses with quality defensive linemen. South Carolina is likely to face an uphill battle throughout the season.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
The first year of head coach Mike Leach in Starkville will be a challenge. Leach runs the Air Raid offense, which requires specific personnel. He is inheriting a personnel group which is not naturally suited to run that offense. This team is likely to be a mess, though if Leach can recruit well, the future could be bright for the Bulldogs.
The Tigers have a brand-new quarterback this season, part of a muddled offseason competition for the job. They have a first-year head coach, Eli Drinkwitz. They have to play both Alabama and LSU in crossover games with the SEC West Division as part of the 10-game revised conference schedule this year. Missouri has a very low ceiling and will find it hard to win anything more than three games.
The Commodores have very little skill-position talent after losing a few very productive players to the NFL this past offseason. The Commodores’ coaching staff has been shaken up. Head coach Derek Mason is on the hot seat and is trying to find answers in a very tough conference. There is no real sense of optimism in any direction, for any reason.
The Razorbacks were in the SEC basement last year, and they hired new coach Sam Pittman to try to turn things around. This is a long-term rebuild in Arkansas. The Razorbacks are unlikely to do anything of significance in 2020 or 2021. If everything goes well, they will be ready to compete for a bowl game in 2022.