Finally, it’s August so that means football is close to being back. The NCAA season is imminent and should provide another set of unexpected as well as chaotic events.
Most people would rather focus on the player that could win the Heisman or even the team that could hoist up a national championship. However, none of these things can be achieved without owning your conference and taking it one week at a time.
Without further ado, let’s break down the SEC.
Coming off another championship season adding their fifth title in nine years to their resume, the Alabama Crimson Tide come into 2018 at No. 1 in the polls. Losing some key players to the NFL last year and having a quarterback battle, the Tide bring back some key players. Wide receivers Jerry Jeudy, Devonta Smith, and Henry Ruggs III will be crucial to their success. Throughout the Saban era, Alabama has finished undefeated three times in (2008, 2009, and 2016). As the Tide aims for perfection, that is a tough task to complete. However, love them or hate them, Alabama always seems to show up and make the most out of every opportunity.
Last year, the Georgia Bulldogs gave all they had in the title game against Alabama. With quarterback Jake Fromm returning, reliable wide receivers and a strong run game, a strong season should be in the future of UGA. With a tough game against Auburn in Athens, the Bulldogs should be the kings of the SEC East. They could be up against a threat in South Carolina as they could be a test. The Bulldogs can’t get caught sleeping.
The Auburn Tigers were a team that was playing better football than anyone else in a three-week span last November with wins against Georgia and Alabama, but came up short in their season goals. The Tigers lost to UCF, the only undefeated team, in the Peach Bowl 34-27. The 2018 season won’t be a smooth ride either.
Auburn opens the season versus Washington and then has two tough games later in the season at Georgia and Alabama. With returning quarterback Jarrett Stidham and one of the toughest defensive fronts in the SEC, it puts them in the race for the SEC West title. However, their biggest test is still November 24 in Tuscaloosa during the Iron Bowl.
Top Players to Watch
Playing a backup role in 2017 for the Bulldogs, D’Andre Walker is in line to become an elite linebacker. A season ago, he ranked second on the team with tackles for loss (13.5) and sacks (5.5). In addition, he had 12 quarterback hurries. Walker played his best football at the end of the season in the SEC championship game and the Rose Bowl against Oklahoma. With a breakout year, he could be projected as a first-round draft pick.
In his 2017 campaign with the Missouri Tigers, Drew Lock earned First-Team All-SEC, throwing for 3,964 yards and setting a conference single-season record with 44 touchdown passes. Forgoing the NFL Draft and returning for his senior season was an excellent choice as he will have another season to impress scouts. He’s got the size and the arm strength to be a franchise quarterback. He needs to put together another strong season.
The skill set and athleticism South Carolina Gamecocks receiver Deebo Samuel brings into the season is second to none. He is highly regarded as a triple threat type of player in passing, rushing, and returning. His season was cut short a year ago due to injury. He looks to show the nation his talent. Samuel already has added up 474 all-purpose yards. The key for him is to remain healthy.
Coming out of high school Devin White was a highly recruited running back, but has made an unbelievable transition to defense on the LSU Tigers. Turning into a premier linebacker, he earned First-Team All-SEC performer as a sophomore. He totaled 133 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 14 TFL. In 2017, he was named SEC Player of the Week four times, a conference record. He is in a prime position to terrorize opponents and have another standout year.
Coming off back-to-back seasons with more than 1,000 yards rushing, Damien Harris surprised the country returning for his senior season, and it was a complete steal for the Crimson Tide. He rushed for 11 touchdowns and averaged 7.4 yards per carry, the second highest in the conference. Coming into 2018, Harris needs only 1,394 yards to become the Crimson Tide’s all-time leading rusher. His time in Tuscaloosa has been worthwhile, but he’s not finished.
Dan Mullen leaving for Florida and Joe Moorhead replacing him won’t interrupt what they are building in Starkville. The Mississippi State Bulldogs return many star players including quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, a talented running back core, defensive stars like linebacker Leo Lewis, and defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons and Montez Sweat.
Mississippi State has a few tough games as they play Alabama in Tuscaloosa, LSU in Baton Rouge, and Florida at home. They should win two of the three. Last year, the Bulldogs took Alabama down to the final minute until Alabama’s Jalen Hurts connected on a pass to Devonta Smith to pull out the win 31-24 with 25 seconds remaining. Expect that Mississippi State team to show up once again in 2018.
The SEC has multiple teams capable of winning the conference, but everything starts and ends with the team in Tuscaloosa.