For the next several weeks, myself and Russell Clay will be priming you for the college football season. We’re moving from conference to conference, giving you offseason recaps, fall camp observations, season previews, and our own prognostications for 2019.
We start in the Southeastern Conference, where Alabama and Georgia are once again the clear favorites to meet for the conference championship in early December. Before we jump ahead though, let’s rewind a bit, and cover a few notable offseason stories.
As is often the case in this conference, we have a lot of turnover on the coaching staffs. Some of the more notable changes for this coming season:
- Steve Sarkisian returns to the Crimson Tide for his second stint as OC. Sarkisian last ran the Alabama offense in 2016, spending the past two seasons as offensive coordinator for the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. He inherits the Heisman front-runner at quarterback (Tagovailoa), a potential top-10 NFL draft pick at
receiver(Jeudy), and the team is returning many of its offensive starters that helped the unit finish No. 3 in the nation in points per game, and No. 6 in total yards per game in 2018.
- Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney moves from Georgia to Tennessee this season, and his number one priority will be to get more balls into the hands of running back Ty Chandler. Despite leading the Vols in rushing yards and total touchdowns a season ago, Chandler was egregiously underused as the team went with a committee approach in the backfield. Chaney comes in with a reputation for feeding his playmakers, so expect Chandler to have a big statistical season in 2019.
- Ole Miss brought in a pair of former Pac-12 head coaches (more on the new OC later) for their vacant coordinator positions. Mike McIntyre comes from the University of Colorado, and he has quickly adjusted the Rebels defensive scheme to a traditional 3-4 front. The Rebs had dreadful results from their defense in 2018, but they’ve added two highly-touted JUCO transfers to their linebacker group (Sam Williams and Lakia Henry), and will also get starting cornerback Jaylon Jones back in the fold – a former 4-star recruit who suffered a torn ACL in last year’s season opener.
Pending appeal, the Missouri Tigers will be ineligible for the 2019 postseason. In late February, the NCAA handed down sanctions on the school’s athletic department, stemming from a tutor – employed by the school – who was found to have completed homework assignments, exams, and in one case, took an entire course for some of the school’s student-athletes. It’s a tough blow for this Missouri team, which still has plenty of firepower on offense, despite losing both Drew Lock and Emanuel Hall. They’ve added former Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant to step in for Lock, and have a pair of 2020 NFL pass-catching prospects in WR Jalen Knox and TE Albert Okwuegbunam. Can the Tigers stay motivated enough to remain competitive in one of college football’s best conferences?
LSU’s New-Look Offense
The days of ground-and-pound might be coming to an end in Baton Rouge. In a savvy move, LSU head coach Ed Orgeron brought former New Orleans Saints assistant Joe Brady onto his staff, where Brady will serve as the Tigers “passing-game coordinator”. The team’s new offensive playbook is said to be a sort of hybrid system, combining parts of the Saints’ vertical passing game, with a more traditional run-pass option – an offensive scheme that will certainly boost the production of LSU’s current QB1 Joe Burrow. On paper, the Tigers’ defense should be one of the best in the nation this fall. By my count, the team has at least seven players that could be picked in the first two days of next April’s NFL Draft. If Brady can help get the offense rolling, this team just may be able to challenge Alabama for the SEC West crown in 2019.
Fall camps are underway across the country, and we have a few questions that need to be answered before the 2019 season kicks off.
Who Is Auburn’s QB?
Guz Malzhan could be on the hot seat heading into the fall, and it’s likely his fate will be determined by the choice he will need to make at the quarterback position. Bo Nix – a 5-star dual-threat recruit – is already making a push for the starting gig, but he’s currently standing in the shadows of redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood – both literally and figuratively. Gatewood – standing at 6-foot-5 and 233 pounds – dwarfs over the 6-foot-1, 207-pound Nix. Many around the Auburn program see similarities between Gatewood and 2010 Heisman winner Cam Newton, who led the Tigers to the National Championship that year. It’s Gatewood that seems to have the early nod in fall camp, but the race seems too close to call – it will be an interesting one to watch.
What is Life Like After Snell and Allen?
Kentucky just put together its first 10-win season in over 40 years. Unfortunately, their success last season was in large part due to two players – running back Benny Snell and linebacker Josh Allen. Both are now gone, and it’s fair to wonder how on earth this team picks up the pieces. Thankfully for the Wildcat faithful, the program has been gifted with arguably the easiest 2019 schedule in the conference. They face only two teams ranked in the top-25 of the preseason Amway Coaches Poll (Florida and Georgia) – avoiding Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M from the West. You can expect to see much more Terry Wilson this season. Wilson wasn’t asked to do much in 2018 – attempting just 268 passes (compare to Snell’s 289 carries) – but if the Wildcats hope to sniff double-digit wins again in 2019, he’ll need to carry the load on offense, and to fix some of the accuracy issues that plagued him during his sophomore season.
How Does Ole Miss Replace Their Offense?
The Rebels finished No. 9 in the nation in total yards per game last season, but now have a number of holes to fill. Second-team All-American left tackle Greg Little is gone, as is QB Jordan Ta’amu. Last year’s offense is also vacating 191 catches, 3,050 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns with the losses of A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf,
Moving forward now, let’s have a look at a few teams on the rise, and a few teams I feel are likely to decline this season.
Teams On the Rise
Arkansas – There’s nowhere to go but up in Chad Morris’ second season as the
Georgia – It’s hard to imagine the Bulldogs improving on their 2018 campaign, but it’s also hard to envision a step back for them. Jake Fromm returns, playing behind what is arguably the top offensive line in the country – anchored by left tackle Andrew Thomas, a potential top-5 2020 NFL Draft pick. D’Andre Swift and James Cook form one of the best RB duos in the conference, while their passing game features wideouts Demetrius Robertson (a former 5-star transfer from Cal), senior Tyler Simmons and 5-star true freshman George Pickens. Offensive coordinator James Coley should have no problem
Vanderbilt – Much of the focus surrounding Vanderbilt’s offseason has been the departure of QB Kyle Shurmur. There are two candidates to replace the Commodores all-time leading passer: Riley Neal, a transfer from Ball State; and Deuce Wallace, who was originally thought of as the heir apparent to Shurmur before he was suspended for all of 2018. Whoever winds up under center will have have a plethora of targets to throw the ball to. Both Kalija Lipscomb and Jared Pinkney return after catching a combined 137 balls last season – accounting for 1,690 yards and 16 touchdowns. Also still in the fold is running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn, who finished 2nd in the SEC in rushing last season – gaining 1,244 yards and 12 touchdowns, on just 157 carries. Vaughn may have been the hottest player in the country at the end of 2018. In his last four full games, he rushed for 724 yards and 7 touchdowns – including 243 yards and 2 scores in the Texas Bowl versus Baylor. Vaughn should be an absolute force for the Commodores this season.
Teams On the Decline
Texas A&M – Remove the two teams that competed for the National Championship (Alabama/Clemson) from the schedule, and Texas A&M won 9 of 11 games last season. There are a few problems that arise when examining their 2019 outlook, however. First, both Alabama and Clemson are once again on the schedule – you can probably mark those down in the loss column. Second, they needed overtime (seven of them against LSU) to record their only two wins against ranked opponents in 2018. Most problematic for A&M though: they unquestionably have the hardest schedule in all of college football. It’s a gauntlet of powerhouses for the Aggies to navigate through – Clemson, Auburn, Alabama, Georgia and LSU all make appearances. Factor in the losses of Jace Sternberger and Trayveon Williams – the team’s leading receiver and rusher last season – and even a 6-win season seems to be a toss-up for this team.
South Carolina – Will Muschamp needs to be getting his resume ready for December. This team has been driven into the ground on Muschamp’s watch, and a schedule featuring Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Texas A&M, and Clemson nearly guarantees this team will be sitting on the couch watching bowl season. Jake Bentley will start at QB once again – his record against ranked teams is a putrid 1-10, and the senior has thrown 30 interceptions in 32 starts throughout his collegiate career. Losing Deebo Samuel won’t help matters in the pass-game, although Bryan Edwards and Shi Smith form a decent 1-2 punch. Tavien Feaster transferred over from Clemson and will battle with Rico Dowdle for the RB1 job, but continued issues with the O-line and negative game scripts will likely hold either player back from having much statistical success. The Gamecock defense is clearly the strength of this team, with superstar Javon Kinlaw anchoring a formidable D-line. Don’t expect this team to repeat their 7-win season from a year ago – things are headed south for Muschamp and co.
Mississippi State – Defense led the way for the Bulldogs in 2018. Mississippi State finished the season ranked No. 2 in the nation in points allowed per game (13.2), No. 6 in passing yards allowed per game (168), No. 3 in rushing yards allowed per game (95.8), and No. 1 in total yards allowed per game (263.8). However, and this is a big
Predictions For 2019
7. South Carolina
4. Texas A&M
5. Ole Miss
7. Mississippi State
Players of the Year
Offensive Player of the Year: QB Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
Defensive Player of the Year: LB Dylan Moses, Alabama
Offensive Freshman of the Year: RB John Emery Jr., LSU
Defensive Freshman of the Year: LB Nolan Smith, Georgia
Coach of the Year: Ed Orgeron, LSU
Best Quarterback: Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
Best Running Back: D’Andre Swift, Georgia
Best Wide Receiver: Jerry Jeudy, Alabama
Best Offensive Lineman: Andrew Thomas, Georgia
Best Defensive Lineman: Derrick Brown, Auburn
Best Linebacker: Dylan Moses, Alabama
Best Defensive Back: C.J. Henderson, Florida
Most Important Games
East: November 2 – Georgia vs. Florida (in Jacksonville, FL)
West: November 9 – LSU at Alabama
Favorite Futures Bets
Georgia to win National Championship, +850
LSU to win National Championship, +3300
Tua Tagovailoa to win Heisman, +250
Jake Fromm to win Heisman, +1200
D’Andre Swift to win Heisman, +1400
Georgia to win SEC, +250
LSU to win SEC, +1200
Kentucky over 6.5 wins, -160
LSU over 9 wins, -130
Mississippi State under 8 wins, -125
Vanderbilt over 5 wins, +100
Texas A&M under 7.5 wins, +120