Ranking 2018 SEC Football Teams From Worst to First
By Kyle Koster
The SEC is the best conference in college football. Don’t believe me? Just ask anyone directly or indirectly connected to it. Now that Paul Finebaum’s status is determined, we can focus on the upcoming season. Here are the 13 teams that want Bama, ranked. Plus, obviously, Alabama.
Derek Mason, defensive-minded and steady, likes his team’s depth. He’s entering his fifth season at helm and seeking his first .500 campaign. Once again, it will be an uphill battle. The Commodores allowed over 31 points/game last year and did not have the offensive firepower to compete.
This despite leading the nation at 4.3 points allowed/game after the first three contests. Creating turnovers was a Herculean task, as they amassed only nine all year. That figure needs to double if the Dores are to put up a fight in-conference. Mason has tasked Jason Tarver, formerly at Stanford, to address the issues.
Senior quarterback Kyle Shurmur will be without leading running Ralph Webb and two of his top targets at wideout. Kalija Lipscomb must provide that option on the outside.
Any path to a bowl game includes sweeping South Carolina, Ole Miss, and Tennessee in Nashville.
The Bret Bielema era is over and the Chad Morris one begins. The Razorbacks managed to notch only one SEC win in 2017 and got blown out repeatedly. Morris, known as an offensive innovator, will have to innovate a whole bushel of points if the defense doesn’t improve on a 36.2 points/game average.
Standout center Frank Ragnow is gone and the offensive line is a question mark. Cole Kelley is the only quarterback with any experience, but he is more suited for the old, run-first offense Arkansas was running. Morris must find his rhythm and cook with the ingredients available in the pantry. For now, those include a running back 1-2 punch of Devwah Whaley and Chase Hayden.
A favorable slate of crossover games could lead to bowl eligibility, but don’t expect too much too soon.
Jeremy Pruitt has been installed as head coach after a not-at-all wild search. Now the business of restoring the Volunteers to relevance begins. Winning one conference game would be an improvement. Jarrett Guarantano should get the nod under center but must show more competence (four passing touchdowns).
The Volunteers ranked 126th in rushing defense, a terrible obstacle to overcome in the SEC. Highly touted Jonathan Kongbo needs to realize his potential. Pruitt’s defensive acumen could be a plus, but, once again, will need time to take shape.
Don’t expect a savior overnight.
With no experienced quarterback on the roster, self-appointed best running back in the SEC Benny Snell must be the best running back in the SEC. That means more than 1,333 yards and 19 touchdowns. An extremely tall order, but four returning offensive linemen will help. If Oregon transfer Terry Wilson or Gunnar Hoak surprise, the Wildcats could pull a few shockers.
10. Ole Miss
Quarterback Jordan Ta'amu will spend all season being compared to Shea Patterson, the one that got away. He has the tools but would be well-served to make better decisions with the football.
The Rebels were 13th in scoring defense and last in total defense in 2017, so they’ve seen the bottom. Victor Evans and Qaadir Sheppard return from injuries and a little of them could go a long way.
Let’s go out on a limb and give them the edge in winnable games en route to an overachieving 7-5 campaign.
Drew Lock could play himself into a top pick in the NFL Draft. Or he could take a step back under the guidance of new offensive coordinator Derek Dooley. A trio of young receivers and a backfield combination of Damarea Crockett and Larry Rountree III should help.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but the Tigers were abominable at keeping points off the board last season (31.8). Tackles Terry Becknerand Walter Palmore have pro talent but just need help outside.
8. Mississippi State
Joe Moorhead’s offensive system shares continuity with Dan Mullen’s. Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald was shaky last year, completing only 55 percent of his passes and throwing 11 interceptions compared to just 15 touchdowns. His accuracy, particularly on deep balls, was an issue.
The Bulldogs’ defense needs to once again carry the load. Last season they finished 10th nationally in yards allowed/game. Four playmakers (Montez Sweat, Jeffery Simmons, Gerri Green and Mark McLaurin) comprise what could be the most talented unit in Starkville in a long time.
Dan Mullen wants to fill the Swamp. Scoring more points will help. Feleipe Franks will be charged with improving a unit that ranked 106th nationally in 2017. The offensive line, which struggled mightily, returns with more experience. Jordan Scarlett is back from suspension and looking to contribute to a more productive ground game.
C.J. Henderson and Marco Wilson helm a good secondary. Nineteen of the top 24 tacklers return, but some major NFL talent is gone.
Look for Florida to double its win total, and potentially finish second in the East if they can win some 50/50 games.
6. South Carolina
Signal-caller Jake Bentley is back for more. Wide receiver Ryan Edward snagged 64 passes for 793 yards and has been steady the last two years. But it’s the return of Deebo Samuel that should have Gamecocks fans ecstatic. He showed game-breaking potential before breaking his leg. Now healed, he’ll try to put together a huge year.
Defensively, Javon Kinlaw, a physical specimen, is poised to take a huge step forward. The ball-hawking unit took advantage of every opportunity and will need to replicate its thieving ways. This perhaps smoothed over some deficiencies in the secondary a quality offense could exploit.
If — IF — South Carolina can pull an upset against Georgia, they’ll have a legitimate chance to make it to Atlanta.
Once again, the Tigers’ strength will be defense. Greedy Williams and Devin White are spectacular talents. Coordinator Dave Aranda will have tons of tools at his disposal. Head coach Ed Orgeron’s future, however, will be tied to the effectiveness of the offense — long a bugaboo in the Bayou.
A hearty competition for the QB spot is underway. Myles Brennan and Ohio State transfer Joe Burrow are the leaders in the clubhouse. Texas Tech transfer Jonathan Giles needs to be an impact player at receiver and running backs Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Nick Brossette will have to pick up where Derrius Guice left off.
Good luck with that.
4. Texas A&M
Jimbo Fisherhas a dateless national title plaque. The Aggies will be good this year, but 2019 is not the year that will be etched upon that priceless gift.
A&M has two good quarterback options in Nick Starkel and Kellen Mond. Offensive coordinator Darrell Dickey put up obscene numbers at Memphis and will have one of the above at his beck and call. Losing Christian Kirk will hurt, but look for the tight ends to become more involved.
Daylon Mack and Kingsley Keke anchor the defensive line. The secondary must improve and be consistent. Fisher’s track record with that unit at FSU leaves College Station optimistic.
The pessimism comes in the form of trips to Auburn and Alabama.
This offense is going to be fun as hell to watch with Jarrett Stidham running point. Losing two great running backs will be an obstacle but could turn into a bonus of Stidham is allowed to open it up a bit. Kam Martin will get the lion’s share of carries and — bold prediction — the Tigers will put up 38 points/game.
Derrick Brown and Donatavious Russell provide beef on the defensive line. Creating more turnovers is imperative. Auburn did not intercept a pass in the final nine games last season.
Road trips to Georgia and Alabama are daunting, but if the cards are played right, Auburn will only have to win the latter to earn a trip to Atlanta.
Jake Fromm was unbelievable as a freshman. How good will he be as a sophomore? The sky’s’ the limit. And if something happens, Justin Fields is waiting in the wings.
Georgia is so deep and promising that I’m not even concerned they lost Roquan Smith, Nick Chubb, and Sony Michel. There’s no need to dwell on the past when the future is so bright.
D’Andre Swiftand Elijah Holyfield are an excellent 1-2 punch from the backfield. Terry Godwin is a playmaker out wide. The secondary is stacked with J.R. Reed and Deandre Baker.
The Bulldogs’ toughest road game will come at LSU and Auburn must come to Athens. Look for an undefeated Georgia to make it to Atlanta — and maybe even back into the national title game with a loss. Just maybe.
Here’s what I’ll say about Alabama, short and sweet. It would have been a more prudent content move to put another team at No. 1 and get the hate-clicks. To create controversy. But I won’t do it. Nick Saban reloads, likely with a full season of Tua Tagovailoa.
Undefeated. National champions. Again. Book it.