2017 Southeastern Conference preview

by Dan M | Posted on Friday, August 25th, 2017

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ROBERT CORTINEZ
robertcortinez2@hotmail.com

The SEC had a repeat national championship in its sights last
year, and and one for the thumb for Alabama coach Nick Saban. To
Tuscaloosa’s chagrin, the Clemson Tigers led by superstar QB Desean
Watson, disproved the national pundit prognosticators and handed the
Tide it’s only loss of 2016.
This year the Crimson Tide is the preseason favorite again, but
the rest of the SEC ain’t cracking anybody’s preseason Top 10. The
2017 football season may be the beginning of parity for the rest of
the country as the juggernaut that is the SEC, may finally be showing
signs of stress against the other power five conferences and few
feisty independents.
Only one SEC team, Alabama, finished the 2016 season ranked in
the AP top 10. It’s the only time that has happened since 2002, and it
came just four years after the SEC had five of the top 10 teams in
2012, at the peak of the conference’s power.
With enticing potential surrounding numerous young quarterbacks,
the SEC is capable of bouncing back, but closing the gap on Alabama is
another story.
Here’s my take on the upcoming season starting with the SEC
EAST. The teams are listed in order of projected fininsh for the 2017
campaign.

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SEC EAST
1. Georgia Bulldogs (#15)
2016 Results: 8-5 / 4-4
Bowl Game: Liberty Bow win over TCU
Key Returnees: Sophomore QB Jacob Eason, (6’5″, 235 lbs, 2430
yards16 TD’s) Senior RB’s Nick Chubbs (1130 rushing yards) and Sony
Michel (840 rushing yards) the best running back tandem in the SEC.
Ten starters return on Defense.
Second year Dawg HC Kirby Smart has a year of SEC battles under
his belt and is ready to dominate the East, like his mentor, Nick
Saban, does in the West.
Georgia lost three games last year by a point against Tennessee,
Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech. The more seasoned 2017 Bulldogs should
win the close games especially with a dominant defense that returns 10
starters.
The key will be QB Jacob Eason. If Eason can avoid last year’s
freshman mistakes, this team will be in the double digit win column.
Georgia’s running game led by Chubbs and Michel will give their
quarterback plenty of options but no room for excuses. Georgia’s
second game of the 2017 season will be a road trip to South Bend to
take on the Fighting Irish. That game will be an early test of this
year’s college football heirachy and positioning for the college
football playoffs.
Prediction: 10-2 / 7-1 conference

2. Florida Gators (#17)
2016 Results: 9-4 / 6-2
Bowl Game: Outback Bowl win over Iowa
Key Returnees: Senior shut down corner Duke Dawson ( 5’11”, 208) and
junior OG Martez Ivy (6′ 5″, 315), and kicker Eddy Pinero are all AP
preseason All-American second team picks. RB Jordan Scarlett, WR
Antonio Callaway and TE Deandre Goolsby.
Florida HC Jim McElwain, is 19-8 in his first two years,
including two SEC championship appearances. McElwains’s has a 13-3
conference record, albeit in the SEC east division. Florida’s biggest
obstacle this year is the quarterback question mark. Red-shirt
freshman, Felipe Franks, red-shirt junior Luke Del Rio, and 5th year
grad transfer from Notre Dame Malik Zaire, are all even at this stage
according to coach McElwain. Franks has the best size and tools, Del
Rio the most experience, and Zaire has the “it” factor being a Notre
Dame transfer.
Florida’s defense was salty last year and should pick up where
it left off barring injuries. Last year’s only defensive lapse was a
no-show loss to Arkansas, 51-10.
Florida’s special teams are ranked #2 in the nation, led by
kicker Eddy Pinero who was 10 for 11 outside 40 yards, including two
makes from 54 yards. If Florida gets by Michigan in their opener in
Dallas, watch out for the gator chop in 2017.
Florida ‘s schedule is very favorable with eight of the Gator’s
remaining eleven games in Florida. That schedule coupled with superior
special team’s play wins games.
Prediction: 9-3 / 6-2

3. Tennessee Volunteers (#25)
2016 Results: 9-4 / 4-4
Bowl Game: Music City Bowl win over Nebraska
Key Returnees: Running Back John Kelly (630 yards, 6.4 yards a
carry), WR Jujuan Jennings (6 3′, 209 lbs, 600 ids receiving)
Offensive line will need maintain the maximum protection for the
unknown, unproven quarterback raffle.
The Volunteers are coming off of back
to back 9-4 seasons under fifth year HC Butch Jones. Not bad for most
programs, but Tennessee started 2016, 5-0, and was ranked #9 in the
nation before losing in double overtime to Texas A&M. That loss
derailed what looked to be a breakout double digit win year. The Vols
started a three game skid to fall to 5-3 and went .500 the rest of
the season.
Tennessee will have to replace a proven two year starter at
quarterback in Joshua Dobbs, who’s taken his talents to the NFL. The
leading QB candidate is junior, Quinton Dormandy, who saw limited
action backing up Dobbs . The Vounteers will have to fill in the QB
holes.quickly.
Tennessee’s September schedule starts with a Monday night game
against Georgia Tech, two weeks later Florida, and end September
against Georgia. To make the schedule even more brutal, Tennessee’s
two West Division games are against West perennial powerhouses,
Alabama and LSU. Welcome to the jungle.
Prediction: 8-4 / 5-3

4. Kentucky Wildcats
2016 Results: 7-6 / 4-4
Bowl Game: Loss to Georgia Tech in Taxslayer Bowl
Key Returnees: Freshman All-American RB Benny Snell (1091 yards, 13
TD”s), junior QB Stephen Johnson( 2037 passing yards and 13 TD’s in
seven starts); the secondary returns three two-year starters at
strong safety and both corners.
Kentucky HC Mark Stoops finally got to a bowl game in his fourth
year as the leader of the Wildcat football program. Football will
always be the second cousin to Big Blue basketball but Stoop’s teams
are starting to finally resemble SEC muscle, speed and attitude.
Junior QB Stephen Johnson took over the reigns in the fourth
game and led the Wildcats to a 4-4 SEC record and a huge upset of
cross-stqte rival Louisville.
Kentucky will not have the ground game with the loss of 1000
yard rusher Boom Williams but freshman Benny Snell will be a 1500 yard
rusher as the primary back.
The defense is led by NFL caliber OLB, Jordan Jones, who led the
SEC with 109 tackles, 15.5 for losses, in last year’s campaign.
The offensive line is solid and Stoop’s team should be bowling
two years in a row.

Prediction: 7-5 / 4-4
5. Vanderbilt Commodores
2016 Results: 6-7 / 3-5
Bowl Game: Lost to N. Carolina State Independence Bowl.
Key Returnees: QB Kyle Shumer threw for 2400 yards and 10 TD’s while
his backfield mate RB Ralph Webb broke the all time Vandy rushing
records of Zac Stacy , with 1283 yards and 13 TD’s. Vandy’s entire
defensive interior returns intact with 8 returning starters.
The Commodores were competitive last year in almost every
game. The Dores lost by seven points at Auburn, by seven points
against Florida and by three points versus South Carolna. HC Derek
Mason pulled it all together in the last two games by upsetting Ole
Miss and then hated rival Tennessee for the second time in three
years. In the Tennessee victory, junior QB Kyle Shumer showed off
his SEC stuff and threw for 412 yards and three touchdowns. cementing
his starter status.
The offense returns 9 offensive starters while the defense
returns 8 starters making Vanderbilt one of the more experienced teams
in the SEC. However Vandy lost the best linebacker in Commodore
history when consensus first team All American linebacker, Zach
Cunningham, took his talents to the NFL. Cunningham’s play actually
beat Georgia and Tennessee last and will be a hard hole to fill.
Prediction: 6-6 / 4-4

6. South Carolina Gamecocks
2016 Results: 6-7 / 3-5
Bowl Game: Loss to Univ. of South Florida in Birmingham Bowl.
Key Returnees: True sophomore QB Jake Bentley,(1400 passing yards in
7 seven games as a starter.); WR Deebo Samuel (800 receiving yards).
South Carolina returns 10 starters on offense, led by super soph
Jake Bentley. In South Carolina’s bowl game against USF, Bentley
set Birmingham Bowl records with 32 completed passes for 390 yards.
At 6′ 3″ and 220 lbs, he has the tools to keep the Gamecocks in every
game. Especially throwing to returning junior WR Deebo Samuel, the
fastest player on the Gamecocks team. The problem may be the other
side of the ball. HC Will Muschamp has only 6 returners and last
year’s defense was pitiful at times. South Carolina won 6 games in
2016, with only three victories in the SEC beating only Vandy,
Missouri and a surprising win versus Tennessee. The other three wins
were against East Carolina, UMass and Western Carolina. Not exactly
powerhouse football being played in Columbia.
This year, South Carolina gets an easy September with NC State,
Ole Miss, Kentucky, and Louisiana Tech. A 4-0 start may provide the
confidence factor required for their next three games, Texas A&M,
Arkansas and Tennessee.
Prediction: 6-6 / 3-5

7. Missouri Tigers
2016 Results: 4-8 / 2-6
Key Returnees: Junior QB Drew Locke, (3,339 passing yards, 23 TD’s).
Sophomore WR Dimetrious Mason (47 catches for 587 yards, both team
records for true freshman)
Missouri HC Barry Odum starts his second year after surviving a
turbulent first year. The Tigers had to deal with the abrupt
departure of beloved HC, Gary Pinkel, due to racial strife affecting
the entire campus. Pinkel led the Tigers to consecutive appearances
in the SEC championship game in Missouri’s first four years in the
SEC.
Coach Odum has big shoes to fill and it starts with his junior
QB Drew Lock. Lock is on the pre-season Manning Watch List and has
more starts than any returning quarterback in the SEC. Lock will be
throwing to super-quick and extremely talented, Demetrious Mason, who
looks to improve his freshman stats. The Tigers will need to solidify
its running game behind a young, but huge, offensive line.
The weakness for the Columbia Tigers will be the defense or lack
thereof.
Missouri has its first four games at home which include SEC
battles against Auburn and South Carolina. If they can split those
two games, might be a bowl in their future.
Prediction 5-7 / 2-6
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It’s all Alabama again in the West

SEC WEST
1. Alabama Crimson Tide (#1)
2016 Results: 14-1 / 8-0
Bowl Game: Lost to Clemson in national championship.
Key Returnees: QB Jalen Hurts (2780 passing yards, 23 TD’s; 954
rushing yards, 13 TD’s), RB’s Damien Harris (1197 yards, 7.2 average);
Bo Scarborough ( 916 yards, 6.5 average, 11 TD’s), four
Oh to be be, Nick Saban in Tuscaloosa in August. Alabama is the
AP pre-season #1 and has the leading Heisman Trophy candidate in dual
threat, phenom sophomore Jalen Hurts. Also returning, which seems
unfair, is beast-back Bo Scarbrough and speed dazzling RB, Damien
Harris, who combined for over 2,000 last year and are both NFL first
rounders next year.
Alabama was tested early in its second game against Ole Miss,
after blowing out USC in its 2016 opener. The Tide overcame an early
three touchdown deficit to win 48-45, setting the stage for a cruise
control 13-0 season and perfect conference record of 8-0. Alabama’s
offensive line is massive and four starters are back in the trenches
for 2017.
QB Jalen Hurts is throwing again to his top receiver, Calvin
Ridlely who average almost a 1,000 receiving yards the past two
seasons. Although there are only 5 returning defensive starters, Nick
Saban’s defenses are always rock solid and fly to the ball until the
whistle blows.
#1 Alabama and #3 Florida State kick off the season in the new
Mercedes-Benz stadium in Atanta in the Chick -Fil-A Classic on Sept 2.
Alabama should control FSU and then only has to play four road
games on its remaining schedule, Vandy, A&M, Mississippi St. and
Auburn, to get Saban’s boys back to the CFP.

Prediction: Alabama 11-1 / 7-1

2. Auburn Tigers (#12)
2016 Results: 8-5 / 5-3
Bowl Game: Lost to Oklahoma in Sugar Bowl.
Key Returnees: RB Kammryn Pettaway (1224 rushing yards) and RB
Kerryon Johnson (845 yards); Senior safety Tray Matthew and senior
cornerback, Carlton Davis
Auburn HC Gus Malzahn is enduring a luke-warm seat on the plains
for the moment. Malzahn’s coaching chops are legendary after one of
the most successful high school coaching careers in Arkansas history
led to successful stints at Arkansas, Tulsa and Arkansas State.
However, the Tiger faithful are greedy ever since his near-miss
national championship run in 2014. The difference now is the addition
of QB Jason Stidham, a Baylor transfer, who has a shotgun for an arm
arm akin to Brett Favre. Stidham will be throwing to an unknown wide
receiver medley, which is problematic, but the running game will
overcome any receiver deficit. Returning backs Kammryn Pettaway and
Kerryon Johnson are thunder and lightning for this offense. The
Auburn offensive linemen are quick, athletic and upper classmen which
should make touchdowns plentiful in 2017.
The defensive unit returns only six starters consisting of two
defensive backs, two linebackers and two interior lineman. Second year
d-coordinator Kevin Steele brings stability to the defensive side of
the ball. Auburn faces national champion Clemson in Death Valley in
its second game of 2017. If the Tigers get by Clemson, they may well
be 6-0 before a treacherous three game road battles against LSU,
Arkansas and Texas A&M. If the Tigers can go 2-1 in those games,
look out War Eagle.
Prediction: 10-2 / 6-2

3. LSU Tigers (#13)
2016 Results: 8-4 / 5-3
Bowl Game: Won Citrus bowl over Louisville 29-9
Key Returnees: Triple threat RB Derrius Guice ( 1387 rushing yards,
7.6 average, 15 TD’s; QB Danny Etling ( 2123 passing yards, 60% comp.
rate); DE/LB Arden Key ( 6′ 6″ 240 lb, 11 sacks)
New Bayou Bengal HC Ed Orgeron promised to “flip the script”
last year when handed the LSU reigns after Les Miles was fired. Coach
Orgeron was successful, going 6-2 the rest of the year including an
upset win over Lousivile. LSU absolutely stifled Hesiman Trophy
runner-up Lamar Jackson.
Orgeron also did something Miles couldn’t, which was find a
quarter back that can throw the ball. Senior Purdue transfer Danny
Etling returns with a year under his belt.
There aren’t enough superlatives to describe what Derrius Guice
does with a football in his hands, so suffice to say that your kids,
and your grandkids, will be talking about Guice’s amazing blend of
speed, power and agility.
The Tiger defense will be at its usual ferocity level, led by DE
Arden Key who is nursing a lingering shoulder injury. Returning
starters at nose guard, Greg Gilmore, and tackle, Christian Couture
anchor a solid front four.
LSU’s big question mark will be its receiving corp with only 6′
3″ WR DJ Chark having any returning experience to stretch the field.
With Guice in the backfield they won’t need much stretching. LSU gets
BYU in its opener and then goes to Mississippi State in its third
game. If the Tigers can win these two and its other three
non-conference to start the season they’ll be 5-0. Next game in
Gainsville for an early season, SEC heavyweight battle royale.
Prediction 9-3 / 6-2

 Arkansas Razorbacks
2016 Results: 7-6 / 3-5
Bowl Game: Lost to Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl
Key Returnees: Senior QB Austin Allen (3430 passing yards, 25 TD’s, 15
interceptions); Sophomore noseguard/tackle McTelvin Agim, ( 26
tackles and 2.5 sacks as true freshman)
The Razorbacks HC, Brett Bielema, somehow has most of Hog nation
in the palm of his hand. An anomaly for a coach who’s record is 25
-26 after four years and no finishes in the top AP top 25. Bielema’s
team are all his recruits and his coaching product in five years at
the Razorback helm. The hogs return QB Austin Allen who was efficient
last year but had several costly interceptions and bad decisions.
The Hog’s running game took a huge hit when their leading rusher
from last year, Rawleigh Williams (1360 yards, 13 TD’s) re-injured his
neck in spring ball and is no longer playing football. His
replacement, Devwah Whaley (602 yards, 3 TD’s), is capable and speedy
but no proven runner exists after that.
Arkansas also lost 2,000 yards of receptions to graduation. WR
Jared Cornelius (32 receptions, 515 yards) is the only returnee with
experience.
The defense was horrible last year giving up a 34 points a game
and has switched to a new 3-4 scheme to try and stop the bleeding.
True sophomore McTelvin Agim (6’3″ 286 lb) is the only SEC caliber
player that passes the eye test for this defense.
The Hogs get TCU in Fayetteville in their second game. Arkansas
then starts a brutal eight game stretch against Texas A&M, at South
Carolina, at Alabama, Auburn, at Ole Miss and at LSU.
If the Horned Frogs take down the Razorbacks, the head
Hog-Caller’s seat will start to simmer.
Prediction: 6-6 / 4-4

5. Texas A&M Aggies
2016 Results: 8-5 / 4-4
Bowl Game: Lost to Kansas State in the Texas Bowl
Key Returnees: Sophomore RB Trayveon Williams (1057 yds, 8 TD’s),
Junior WR Christian Kirk ( 928 rec. yds., 9 TD’s); Senior QB Trevor
Knight ( 2432 passing yds., 19 TD’s, 614 rushing yds., 10 TD’s).
The Aggies started 2016 like gangbusters, 6-0, ranked # 8 in the
country and then lost five on their next seven, including their bowl
game. A&M ended up finishing 2016, 8-5, for the third year in a row.
The fat cat boosters in College Station expect more from their Aggies
and talk has begun that HC Kevin Sumlin’s job is in jeopardy. Sumlin
has a 44-21 record at Texas A&M, is 3-2 in bowl games and has led the
Aggies to an AP #5 ranking in 2012.
Aggie QB Trevor Knight is back with his 19 passing TD’s and 10
rushing TD’s.
HC Kevin Sumlin has speedy scatback, Tryveon Williams, lined up
behind Knight to keep defenses honest. The Aggies showcase a proven
talent in WR/PR Christian Kirk who can alter the outcome of the game
on offense and special teams.
Unfortunately, there is only inexperience and youth on the entire
defense, which is not the norm for a Sumlin coached team. This year
will be a down year for Texas A&M but HC Kevin Sumlin stays at the
helm barring a total Aggie collapse.
Prediction: 6-6 /4-4

6. Missiissippi State Bulldogs
2016 Results: 5-7 / 3-5
Bowl Game: Won St Petersburg Bowl over Miami-Ohio 17-16
Key Returnees: Junior QB Nick Fitzgerald (2423 passing yards with 21
TD’s; 1375 rushing yards with 10 TD’s); The linebacking unit
Mississipi State had an odd year in 2016, The Bulldogs lost
their first game in Starkville to South Alabama 21-20 when their
kicker missed a last second 24 yard field goal. The Bulldogs next
four losses were less than a touchdown including a one- point loss to
LSU.
The bright side of 2016 was the emergence of QB Nick Fitzgerald
(6′ 5″, 230 lbs), as the top quarterback in the SEC and arguably in
the nation. Fitzgerald had eight one hundred yard rushing games last
year, setting a new SEC record for quarterbacks. His exploits were
overshadowed by Alabama’s Jalen Hurts due to the Bulldog’s record, but
this guy may be the first QB taken in next year’s NFL draft. State HC,
Dan Mullen, has proven success at grooming quarterbacks for the next
level.
The defense is salty, especially the linebacking crew of hybrid
backers/ends. Jeffrey Simmons, Leo Lewis, Dez Harris, and Montez
Sweat, a ju-co transfer all tackle with ferocity.
State’s weakness will be the interior line on both sides of the
ball. Coach Mullen starts 2017 with two cupcakes at home and then has
to face LSU, Georgia and Auburn. The Bulldogs have to eke out one
victory from this gauntlet to go bowling again in 2017.
Prediction: 6-6 / 3-5

7. Ole Miss Rebels
2016 Rebels: 5-7 / 2-6
Bowl Game: None
Key Returnees: QB Shea Patterson
The saga that is the Ole Miss football program. Former HC Hugh
Freeze resigns in July after its revealed that he called several
escorts on his university issued cell phone. One would think that
Freeze would buy a burner phone on his several million dollars a year
salary for these type of indiscretions. That would be too easy for
the pampered elitist. Interim coach, Matt Luke, is an Ole Miss alum
and started at center for the Rebels. He has inherited a tumultuous
and torn team that needs a calming influence to be competitive in this
year of chaos.
This program has no identity but does have a proud tradition of
perserverence. They’ll be back, but not this year.

Prediction: 4-8 / 2-6

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