SEC AT A GLANCE
July 1, 2019 | View PDF
Another football season is bearing down on us again. To me, it seems as if I watched the “beat down” that Clemson put on Alabama in the national championship game last month. This year my non-football months were more interesting than before, due to the success of the Auburn basketball program and the Auburn baseball team. For the first time in my life I have watched almost all of the NCAA Baseball Tournament to see who will be national champion. The College World Series ended on Wednesday, June 26th with Vanderbilt winning and upholding the reputation of the SEC. This column had to be turned in to go to press on Wednesday, June 26th. That's a quick turnaround for me. However, all my gears are devoted to football for the next nine months.
Of course, all football fans, coaches and players are focusing on championships now. Every college team is 11-0 in July. In August we will begin to eliminate teams. Auburn opens with Oregon. The loser will have a difficult time earning a spot in any kind of championship game. Even though it is a non conference game, it is hard to climb back into contention starting 0-1. It has been done but the teams that have accomplished this monumental task have been extraordinarily good. Oregon and Auburn do not fit in that category.
Before I look at the national college football picture, I always study the Southeastern Conference teams. Some of these teams will have a direct or indirect influence on the NCAA National Championship Playoff anyway. It should be called a four team tournament. But, I can live with playoff.
Before the first pre-season practice, two teams stick out like a sore thumb. Alabama and Georgia are far and away the best teams in the conference before the first kick-off. They will probably be there at the end as well. The following is my take on the SEC East and the SEC West.
Alabama has to be considered number one in the West. They have the best coach. They have the best program. They have the most talent. Most of all, they have a schedule that is ranked number 44 in relation to its difficulty. They are just behind TCU and Penn State and just above Oregon and Oklahoma. Therefore, Alabama will be favored in every game again this year. Here is the “gauntlet” that Alabama must go through to reach the playoffs: Duke in Atlanta, New Mexico, at South Carolina, Southern Miss, at Texas A&M, Tennessee, Arkansas, LSU, at Mississippi State, Western Carolina and at Auburn. Coach Nick Saban's boys will probably work up a sweat in College Station against an overrated coach in Jimbo Fisher. They will have a fight on their hands in Tuscaloosa with LSU. They will probably play their toughest game at Auburn. I would love to be the coach with Alabama's talent and Alabama's schedule.
The quarterback rating is number two. Tua Tagovailoa is the best quarterback in the country in my opinion. The running back rating is number four. The receiver rating is number one. The offensive line rating is number six. The defensive line is rated number three. The linebackers are rated number one. The defensive back rating is number three. The special teams are rated way down at number eighteen. Special teams are a problem for the Tide. My guess is that Saban will have them ready for the first game.
Not counting the special teams, the average rating for Alabama as far as talent that is ready to perform at their best level is 2.7. This means that at this time in July 2019, Alabama's talent level and preparation level is well within the top three teams. This rating system is not related in any way to the schedule difficulty or the coaching staff. Therefore you can easily see why Alabama will be rated one or two in the first Associated Press College Football Poll. Following Alabama will be LSU. Like him or not, Coach Ed Orgeron is getting the job done in Baton Rouge. He has assembled an excellent coaching staff. They have done a great job in recruiting. They are getting transfers and junior college players to fit needs. And, they are hungry. Beware of the Tigers!
The next teams are as even as can be. Therefore, I will list them at 3 - 4. Texas A&M surprised some people last year with a 9-4 record. Coach Fisher inherited a lot of good football players from the departed Kevin Sumlin, who is now the head coach at Arizona. The red, white and blue Wildcats of Arizona have a pretty color combination but the combination of talent and coaching will keep Sumlin searching for a bowl every year. The "Aggies" have the fourth toughest schedule in the country. Even so, the “ Jimbo” fanatics are expecting great things from this year's team. They will have to be happy with just good things. A repeat of 9-4 is possible but not probable. When you play Clemson, Auburn, Alabama, Mississippi State, Georgia and LSU, the possibility of five or six losses is on Jimbo's plate.
Auburn is tied for third place with Texas A&M. Coach Gus Malzahn has done a good job of recruiting during his tenure, but he has not been able to take good talent and make them play great. Unfortunately, the same fate awaits the Auburn faithful this year as well. The Tigers may have the best talent Malzahn has assembled, but two freshmen quarterbacks fighting for the starting job, does not bring fear to Auburn's opponents. Joey Gatewood and Bo Nix better have good quality helmets because they will be somewhat handicapped by maybe the toughest schedule in the country. Auburn plays Oregon in Arlington, Texas, at Texas A&M, Mississippi State, at Florida, at LSU, Georgia and Alabama. There is a possibility of six or seven losses on that schedule. Malzahn will need “2013 luck” to improve on last year's 8-5 season. I was in favor of hiring Gus Malzahn seven years ago. He had done a great job with Auburn's offense and had won the Sun Belt Conference title at Arkansas State. However, Arkansas State does not play Alabama, Georgia, LSU and Florida. Unless a miracle happens, Malzahn will lead the Tigers to a record of 8-4 at best, and 5-7 at worst. Maybe they can play Purdue again in a bowl! The rest of the West will be in this order; Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Arkansas.
As was the case for the last many years, the "Beast of the East" is the Georgia Bulldogs. Even before Coach Kirby Smart left Alabama for his alma mater, Georgia has been a thorn in Alabama's side. It will be again this year. Smart has been smart enough to copy Nick Saban in every way as he revived the "Dogs". This will be his fourth year and maybe his best team. Even so, he has Notre Dame, Florida, Auburn, Texas A&M and a renewed Georgia Tech to deal with. Just like Alabama, Georgia should be favored in every game, but the football is an elliptical spheroid, and it never bounces the same way each time. Quarterback Jake Fromm is in his third year as a starter which makes him eligible to enter the NFL Draft at the end of this season. I think that he will leave regardless of how the season goes for Georgia. He definitely has a future in the NFL. The Georgia quarterback position is ranked ninth in the country. I think it should be much higher. I like Jake Fromm a lot. Georgia's running backs are ranked second to Wisconsin and slightly ahead of Clemson and Alabama.
The main problem with Georgia is their talent at wide receiver. They lost some to graduation, some to NFL draft and at least one good receiver was dismissed for bad conduct. Freshmen and a good group of transfers will have to step up and give Fromm something to throw to, or Georgia will have to depend on its ground game too much. They can win with the offensive line that is coming back. They are rated the number two offensive line in the country behind Oregon and just ahead of Clemson and Michigan. Georgia has the sixth rated defensive line, the sixth rated linebacker core. Georgia 's defense will be salty again in 2019. Two problem areas for the Bulldogs is their secondary and their special teams. If Kirby can shore up those two aspects of his game, the "Dogs" can be one of several national contenders.
Nipping at the heels of the Dogs is the Florida Gators. Coach Dan Mullen is the most underrated football coach in America. His forte in the past has been his ability to develop quarterbacks. Feleipe Franks looked like a quarterback last year after impersonating one for two years. Mullen has had an important affect on Franks. The 6-6, 240 lb. Franks has become the leader of the offense. With his size, he could develop into an NFL prospect under the tutelage of Coach Mullen. The schedule is very favorable to the Gators. Opening game with Miami in Orlando will be a good test. Auburn on homecoming, LSU in Baton Rouge, and Georgia in Jacksonville will be dicey but manageable. Look for Florida to contend for the East title in a big way.
The rest of the East is a bundle of teams that could be good but not yet ready for prime time. Missouri will be much improved with Clemson transfer Kelly Bryant replacing the NFL bound quarterback Drew Lock. With Bryant, the Tigers can have a much more balanced offense. The defense is already good. With a little luck, the Tigers could be very good . Their toughest games this year will be at Georgia and at home against Florida in back to back weekends.
South Carolina, Auburn and USC have the toughest schedules in the country in 2019. The Gamecocks can be good but look bad facing Alabama, at Georgia, then Florida at home the next week. They finish with Texas A&M in College Station and Clemson in Clemson. Tennessee will be better. Kentucky will be worse. Vanderbilt will be...Vanderbilt.
Tee It Up Boys!