Once more into the breach, dear friends, I go with my stab at what the conference will look like this season. I freely admit it’s all guesswork, but it’s guesswork based on how the teams looked at the end of last season, adjusted for gains, losses and whatever else the inevitable passage of time may have wrought.
Bullshit, in other words. But, anyway…
First, a reminder about the format for this, which some of you ought to read carefully before blasting me in the comments for projecting the order of finish for this season. It’s not like I’ve posted it for four or five years now:
The format for my picks, in case you haven’t tuned into this broadcast before, hasn’t changed.
Rather than give you my predicted records, I’ll list the schools in the order they finished in the conference last year, look at areas of potential improvement and decline and assess in what direction I expect each to go by comparison to 2010.
In other words, pure seat of the pants BS.
Based on that, the teams are listed in the order of their 2016 conference order of finish. Remember that, before you start freaking out over where a school shows up in this post.
Got that? Okay, here goes nothin’.
ALABAMA (14-1, 8-0)
- Pros: Obscene depth; Nick Saban and The Process; quarterback; receiving corps; secondary; great advanced stats
- Cons: Substantial losses on defense to the NFL
- Outlook: Did you ever see Groundhog Day? Nothing changes under Saban.
AUBURN (8-5, 5-3)
- Pros: Favorable advanced stats; running back; offensive line; special teams
- Cons: New quarterback and new offensive coordinator; raised expectations; losses on the defensive line
- Outlook: If you believe the Stidham hype, Auburn is going to have a great season. I’m a little skeptical because of the small sample size and because of the change at offensive coordinator. On the other hand, the Tigers looked better on defense last season than I thought they would under Steele, so I expect the losses they suffered on the d-line won’t affect them too adversely. That being said, Gus has proven he doesn’t do as well when big things are expected at Auburn. Add it all up, and it comes to nine wins.
LSU (8-4, 5-3)
- Pros: One of the best talent bases in the conference; running backs; offensive line; secondary
- Cons: Five road conference games; quarterback; new offensive coordinator; receivers
- Outlook: On paper, there’s a lot to like: talent in many places and two well thought of coordinators, for starters. So why does it feel like some cracks are starting to show? Part of it’s probably due to Orgeron’s ceiling as a head coach. The extra SEC road game doesn’t help, either. It looks like another eight-win season from here.
TEXAS A&M (8-5, 4-4)
- Pros: Coaching stability; special teams
- Cons: Secondary; special teams; eight of last nine games on schedule against SEC opponents
- Outlook: Sumlin’s looking at more hot seat talk. The real issue for TAMU is that while he’s a good in-game coach, he’s clearly not as good at talent evaluation and signing as Mike Sherman was. The Aggies get Alabama and Auburn at home, which can’t hurt, but that last three quarters of the schedule looks like a real grind. It’s hard to see them notch more wins in 2017 than they did in 2016.
ARKANSAS (7-6, 3-5)
- Pros: Coaching stability; only three ranked teams on schedule; quarterback
- Cons: Defensive line; linebackers; receivers; scheme change on defense
- Outlook: Is this the SEC’s most meh team? It’s not that the Hogs are outright bad; it’s just that it’s hard to see much to get excited about. Seven wins again sounds about right.
MISSISSIPPI STATE (6-7, 3-5)
- Pros: Quarterback
- Cons: Special teams; secondary
- Outlook: Mullen is an excellent quarterbacks coach and Fitzgerald is his latest success story. Grantham is an improvement at defensive coordinator; unfortunately he doesn’t have much to work with. The middle part of the schedule is a weekly grind. There is also the question of whether the NCAA investigation of Ole Miss winds up ensnaring the Bulldogs, or at least diverting some attention to the season. This season looks like another fight for bowl eligibility.
OLE MISS (5-7, 2-6)
- Pros: Quarterback; offensive line
- Cons: Tough road schedule; NCAA investigation; running back; wide receivers; secondary; coaching turnover
- Outlook: Man, what a mess. I figure there’s about a 20% chance of the team rallying with an “us against the world” attitude and about an 80% chance things snowball quickly as the schedule toughens. The Egg Bowl ought to be fun, though. Even if the Rebels were bowl-eligible, they wouldn’t be going.
FLORIDA (9-4, 6-2)
- Pros: Wide receivers; coaching stability; offensive line; special teams; schedule
- Cons: Defensive losses; overall depth; quarterback
- Outlook: McElwain is two-for-two in division titles, which is particularly impressive given the personnel flaws on offense he’s had to manage around. He faces different challenges in 2017, though. The offense ought to be better on the o-line, at receiver and at running back, while the defense has suffered significant losses at every level. The schedule helps, but this is a team that could go south in a hurry if injuries mount. If that can be avoided, the East being weak should keep the Gators in contention. In that regard, it helps that the two toughest games on the schedule are against non-conference opponents. (Not to mention the Gators have five home conference games.) I’ll say nine wins for now.
TENNESSEE (9-4, 4-4)
- Pros: Running back
- Cons: Quarterback; new offensive coordinator
- Outlook: Boy, did I whiff on last year’s prediction that Shoop was the best offseason hire in the SEC. The Vols’ disappointing 2017 season can be blamed on several things, but the defense was a major contributor. It’s hard to see the losses in the offensive backfield and Barnett being replaced without a hitch. This season has the feel of a reboot. Eight wins, if they get some breaks; otherwise, seven seems likely.
GEORGIA (8-5, 4-4)
- Pros: Running backs; tight ends; front seven on defense; coaching stability; best talent base in the division
- Cons: Offensive line; wide receiver; special teams
- Outlook: On paper, this is a team that should win at least nine games and the SEC East. As last year’s Nicholls game indicated, though, Georgia often doesn’t play on paper. The rising talent base fueled by two excellent recruiting classes should fix the problem areas; the question is how long it takes. If the offensive line gels early on, the season shapes up quite favorably. I’ll say nine regular season wins and hope to be pleasantly surprised.
KENTUCKY (7-6, 4-4)
- Pros: Linebackers; special teams; coaching stability; favorable cross-division schedule
- Cons: Wide receivers; quarterback
- Outlook: There’s a lot of “if this team wore Florida’s or Georgia’s uniforms, they’d be taken as a serious division contender” talk for the Wildcats. But they don’t, and that’s because it’s hard for a perennial doormat to take that next big step. That being said, there is a fair amount to like about UK, as Stoops has done a good job upgrading the talent base. I don’t think the ‘Cats slide and may actually add a win to last year’s total.
VANDERBILT (6-7, 3-5)
- Pros: Coaching stability; Ralph Webb
- Cons: Offensive line; defensive line; five ranked teams on the schedule
- Outlook: Derek Mason knows how to coach defense. That’s good, because losing Zach Cunningham hurts. Vandy starts at a talent disadvantage against the rest of the conference and this year’s schedule doesn’t help. If the ‘Dores make it back to six wins, Mason’s done a good job.
SOUTH CAROLINA (6-7, 3-5)
- Pros: Quarterback; wide receiver; tight end; coaching stability
- Cons: Offensive line; running back; special teams
- Outlook: Although the talent situation is less dire than Spurrier left it, there are still a lot of holes on the roster. Muschamp did a respectable job managing last year’s team to bowl eligibility. A respectable job this year might mean another win.
MISSOURI (4-8, 2-6)
- Pros: Receivers; offensive line; quarterback; soft schedule
- Cons: Kicking game; linebackers; defensive line; secondary
- Outlook: The offense was okay last year. The defense was abysmal. The offense will probably be better with another year under its belt. If the defense shows even modest improvement, the Tigers should be bowl eligible, especially with that non-conference schedule. It’ll be close, but I think they’ll get to six wins.