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2018 SEC Preview

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2018 SEC PREVIEW

Gimme 5

The SEC features 5 first-year new head coaches for the 2018 season. In fact that number actually reaches 6 if you include Ole Miss mentor Matt Luke, who is back after taking the reins on an interim basis last season following the Hugh Freeze fiasco. Jimbo Fisher (Texas A&M) leads the run with a $75 million dollar contract. In addition, Joe Moorhead (Mississippi State), Chad Morris (Arkansas), Dan Mullen (Florida) and Jeremy Pruitt (Tennessee) complete the cast.

Fast Facts

Alabama has scored more touchdowns than any team in the SEC only once under Nick Saban’s tenure ... The Crimson Tide is the only FBS school to make it to all four College Football playoffs ... Despite an average drop of 1,409 fans in 2017, the SEC has led the FBS in average attendance every year since 1998. It was the largest drop since 1983 ... Only one time since 2007 has Alabama or Auburn failed to win the SEC West division (LSU in 2011).

12th Man Tradition

In case you didn’t know, the 12th Man Tradition at Texas A&M started in 1922 when a person in the stands (a basketball player who had played some football) was called down to the bench and asked to suit up on the sideline because of the toll injuries had taken on the tea, From that time on, A&M students stand to show loyalty and a readiness to help the team if needed. And know you know the rest of the story.

Note: The numbers following each team name represents the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk () designating a returning quarterback.

ALABAMA (Offense -
7/4, Defense - 3/2, 52 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: ALABAMA SHAKES

Oh oh. This could get downright ugly. Tide QB Jalen Hurts won the SEC Offensive Player of the Year award as a freshman in 2016, and then threw for 2,081 yards, 17 touchdowns and one interception before he was benched in favor of freshman QB Tua Tagovailoa in the second half of the national championship game against Georgia. Tagovailoa led the Tide to a come-from-behind win and the rest is history. Suddenly, Nick Saban has a two-headed QB situation – and that’s generally not a good thing. And then there’s the fact that the Tide was the 3rd hardest-hit team in the offseason with 5 NFL defections, 14 returning starters and 16 players from the 2-deep gone, with the wide receiving corps hurt the most. Then again, Bama’s 24.4 scoring differential last season was second-best in the nation to Penn State (24.6).

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Nick Saban is an incredible 125-14 at Alabama since 2008, including 70-10 in SEC games.

PLAY AGAINST: as a favorite at LSU (11/3)

ARKANSAS (Offense - 9/4, Defense - 8/2, 59 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: NEW-LOOK PIGS

After losing more games than they won (29-34) behind Bret Bielema, Arkansas decided a new look was needed. One of only two Power 5 schools (out of 13 openings) to hire a Group of 5 head coach in the offseason, the Hogs welcome new head coach Chad Morris, former boss at SMU and top assistant with Clemson. He brings a new playbook with his modified spread offense, along with John Chavis, former LSU defensive coordinator, who will implement the third different defensive scheme for the Hogs in as many years. The offense returns 4 starting linemen who allowed 35 sacks last season. They will be expected to improve while adapting to Morris’ new offense. The jury is still out.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Hogs have played UNDER their season win total in four of the last five seasons.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Mississippi (10/13) - KEY if favored

AUBURN (Offense -
6/1, Defense - 7/3, 58 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: AIRING IT OUT, PART 2

When QB Jarrett Stidham transferred in as a former 5-star recruit from Texas A&M, the Tigers would have been ecstatic knowing he would throw for 3,158 yards and 18 TDs, while defeating Alabama and winning the SEC West division title. Safe to say they were euphoric after checking both boxes last year. So what do they do for an encore? For openers, ‘Air’ Stidham is back but he’ll be operating without RBs Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway. In addition, four senior starting OL have departed. Thus, replicating last year’s success will be difficult. But before bailing out entirely on the new-look Tigers, keep this in mind: Over the last two regular season campaigns, the SU stats winner is 25-1 in Tigers’ games. Keep in mind, though, that the Tigers have suffered at least four losses each of the last four years.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Tigers are 33-1 SU at home in non-conference games since 2007.

PASS

FLORIDA (Offense - 10/5, Defense - 9/3, 53 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: MISSION BBQ

New head coach Dan Mullen has handed the keys to the UF offense over to quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson, who is commissioned with igniting an offense that has been MIA since Tim Tebow’s days. The Gators’ offense has not been ranked inside the Top 10 in the SEC since 2009 when Tebow was behind center. Florida finished 13th out of 14 SEC teams last season, using three different QBs. Johnson insists redshirt sophomore QB Feleipe Franks’ offseason maturation has gone from the “class to the grass” and is ready for a breakout campaign. He’s being pressed by QB Kyle Trask. After last season’s red-faced 4-win effort, the Gators are a certified ‘mission team’ in 2018. And in payback mode against no less than five foes, expect Mullen to turn up the flames.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Florida’s 10 assistant coaches will earn $4.74 million this season, and $5.4 million in 2019.

PLAY ON: at Florida State (11/24)

GEORGIA (Offense -
8/4, Defense - 5/2, 53 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: SMART-SIZED

After winning the SEC championship and then suffering a heartbreaking loss in the College Football Playoff title game, the Bulldogs are a team on everyone’s radar this season. Before the schedule starts, however, Kirby Smart will be tasked with replacing 17 scholarship seniors, including seven senior starters on defense and two juniors that left early for the NFL draft (read: Roquan Smith, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year). In fact, only three other FBS teams suffered a deeper degree of player losses than the Dawgs, with a total of 14 returning starters and 16 players from the 2-deep gone. The good news is QB Jake Fromm’s 24 TDs and 160.1 ranking was tops among FBS freshmen last year.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: A total of 50 freshmen have played for the Bulldogs over the past three seasons.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Florida (10/27)

KENTUCKY (Offense - 8/4, Defense - 10/3, 47 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: TOP CATS

The Mark Stoops effect is taking hold. In 2016 and ’17, UK posted consecutive 7-win seasons, along with 4-4 records in the SEC. It’s the first time the Wildcats have won seven games and finished at least .500 in the league in consecutive seasons in 40 years. Inside those numbers is an 8-4 record in games decided by 7 points or less. The key to the success has been a recruiting effort that has landed Kentucky in the Top 50 each year under Stoops. And with it all, the Wildcats are now playing in a $120 million renovated field in front of throngs of rabid fans. It’s like they say around these parts these days – on game day, Kroger Field often becomes the third-largest city in Kentucky. With the Wildcats starting a first-year quarterback in 2018, look for RB Benny Snell – who owns consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons, to challenge for the league’s rushing title.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Kentucky is 0-8 ATS in games following an ATS win of 20 or more points under Stoops.

PLAY AGAINST: at Tennessee (11/10)

LSU (Offense - 5/3, Defense - 5/1, 47 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: ORGER GONE

Now we’re going to find out what Ed Orgeron is all about as a head coach. According to Fansided.com, from the Big Hit List of player defections, LSU’s number one cheerleader ranks #1 overall, losing 14 returning starters and 18 players from the 2-deep gone, including 6 NFL defections. In fact, only Colorado State (15) must replace more total starters than the Tigers, and only Navy (21) and UTSA (20) lost more seniors from their two-deep depth charts. After ranking 105th last year and dead last in 2016 in 4th down conversion percentage, and operating behind his third new OC is as many years, we’re guessing the Big O finds himself back in the hot seat next season. He’ll need a big year from new QB Joe Burrow, an Ohio State transfer.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Ed Orgeron is 5-20 SU as a head coach against winning SEC foes in his career.

PASS

MISSISSIPPI (Offense - 8/4, Defense - 7/2, 56 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: BORN A REBEL

Matt Luke has ties to the Ole Miss program spanning three generations. A 4-year starting center with the Rebels, Luke was thrown into the fray at the start of the season last year following the Hugh Freeze scandal. And had the Rebs not been on probation, they would have earned a bowl bid, thanks to wins in 3 of their final four games of the season. The problem this year, though, is Ole Miss must replace the most players from last year’s 2-deep roster than any team in the nation, including star QB Shea Patterson, who transferred out to Michigan. Fortunately, Luke recruited a Top 25 class in February, and over 38% of all starts last were by underclassmen.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Ole Miss is 25-2 SU and 21-6 ATS as a favorite in lined games against non-conference foes.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Mississippi State (11/22) - KEY as a favorite

MISSISSIPPI STATE (Offense -
9/4, Defense -8/4, 49 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: WE WANT MO

The Dan Mullen era at MSU ends, and the start of the Joe Moorhead era begins. A former head coach at Fordham where he inherited a 1-10 program – and proceeded to go 38-13 during his tenure the next four years – Joe Mo was the OC at Penn State the past two seasons and is one of the best offensive minds in the country. Before Moorhead, PSU averaged 342 yards and 22 points per game the previous two seasons. The Lions improved to 446.5 yards and 39.5 points per game when he left. Returning star dual-threat QB Nick Fitzgerald has tossed for 4,205 yards and 36 TDs the last two seasons. WRs A.J. Brown and DK Metcalf are the league’s top receiving tandem and should surpass 20 TDs this season (Brown is the SEC’s top returning wideout). Despite a schedule filled with landmines, watch those numbers blow up this season.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Bulldog defense improved 11 points and 153 YPG last season.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Louisiana Tech (11/3)

MISSOURI (Offense - 9/5, Defense - 7/1, 51 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: TIGER BY THE TAIL

In two short seasons under head coach Barry Odom the Tigers have flexed their muscle, averaging over 30 points and 500-plus yards both years. This from a squad he inherited that owned a powder-puff offense that averaged 14 points and 281 yards. After a miserable 1-5 start to the season last year, the Tigers closed with six straight wins while scoring an average 51.3 points per games, vaulting them to their first bowl game in four years. It should be noted, though, that Mizzou went 7-0 against teams with losing records or opponents from the FCS and 0-6 against bowl teams. New OC Derek Dooley welcomes back senior QB Drew Lock, who led the FBS with 44 TD passes last season and is projected as possibly the first quarterback to be selected in this year’s NFL draft. If the defense improves at the same pace this year as last, this team could challenge for the top spot in the SEC East – provided, of course, that they can take down bowl-caliber opposition.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Tigers are 33-8 SU and 26-11 ATS the last five years in games they manage to outgain their opponent.

PLAY ON: vs. Kentucky (10/27)

SOUTH CAROLINA (Offense -
8/3, Defense - 6/4, 55 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: ALL GAS, NO BRAKES

On the heels of a 9-win season in Will Muschamp’s second year at the helm, the mantra in 2018 is “All Gas, No Brakes”. Buoyed by a relatively small graduation class, the Gamecocks welcome a 109-man roster – 18 more than last season. The offense is cocked-and-loaded, returning 100% of its passing yards, 98% of its rushing yards, and 80% of its receiving yards. Plus, electric senior WR Deebo Samuels returns after scoring 6 TDs in just 3 games before suffering a season-ending injury. The defense allowed just 20.7 PPG last year, its best effort since 2012. It’s worth noting that 11 players started every game last season. Five of them are back in 2018. Yes, the ‘Cocks are fueled up and ready to roll.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Seventy-percent of USC’s roster was composed of underclassmen last season.

PLAY ON: at Kentucky (9/29)

TENNESSEE (Offense - 6/2, Defense - 7/3, 47 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: ROCKY FLOP

Behind the nation’s No. 118 red zone defense, and the first 8-loss and winless SEC season in school history, Butch Jones’ fate was all but sealed. Enter new head coach Jeremy Pruitt, former defensive coordinator at Alabama, Georgia and Florida State, who has coached 41 NFL draft picks. Best of all 4 seniors with lots of playing experience anchor the defensive line. And after last year’s goose egg at home in SEC play, we’re certain Pruitt is reminded of Rocky Top’s 463-128-17 all-time mark at Neyland Stadium. Oh yeah: since 1913 the Vols have endured 10 seasons in which they failed to win 5 games. They went 63-24-10 in follow up seasons, with nary a losing year. Expect Pruitt’s debut to be a smashing success.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Vols are 7-0 SU on neutral fields since 2012. They have not played a game in North Carolina in 57 years, since 1961.

PLAY ON: as a dog vs. Florida (9/22)

TEXAS A&M (Offense -
8/4, Defense - 8/2, 52 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: NEW MATH

Hmm. After a 7-6 season, former A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin was dropkicked in favor of Jimbo Fisher, who enters off an identical 7-6 campaign at Florida State. Nonetheless, Fisher assumes the reins in College Station after a celebrated 8-year tenure with the Seminoles in which he won a BSC Championship, 3 ACC conference championships and 4 AP Poll Top 10 finishes. Through it all he brings an 83-23-career ledger – as opposed to Sumlin’s 87-43-career log. In addition, new OC Darrell Dickey comes over from Memphis (No. 4 offense last season). Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that Aggie freshmen made 20.6% of all starts last season for A&M. Only four teams started more. No matter how you add it up, this looks to be a lateral move.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Aggies are 1-10-1 ATS as home in games following an ATS loss.

PASS

VANDERBILT (Offense - *7/5, Defense - 4/1, 47 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: MASON JARRED

Knowing that Vanderbilt owns 23 losing seasons the last 26 years, it’s safe to say that head coach Derek Mason is officially on the hot seat at Vanderbilt. Averaging just 4.5 wins in four seasons on the sidelines, without a winning record in any campaign, Mason went on the offensive in the offseason when he hired four new coaches. Also looking to save Mason’s hide is senior QB Kyle Shurmer, who broke Vandy’s single-season record with 26 TD passes, and needs 3,163 passing yards and 20 touchdown passes to move ahead of Jay Cutler as the school’s all-time passing leader in each category. The departure of all-time leading rusher Ralph Webb is not good news – not when you’re facing 9 bowl teams.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Commodores are 0-17 SU and 2-15 ATS in Game Six of the season the last 17 years.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. South Carolina (9/22)

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