EIGHT MORE SLEEPS. Can you believe it? Eight more short nights until college football is finally, gloriously, back. And there’s only one conference left to turn our previewing powers toward, the one where It Just Means More (TM).
Welcome to ESPN’s favorite conference, the SEC. (DISCLAIMER: That was a joke; please don’t sue me.)
Below, as with our prior conference previews, I’ll let you know who’s a contender and who’s a pretender. I’ve previously mentioned two rules for these previews. First, if your team isn’t on here, or isn’t ranked where you think they should be, then I’m a horrible person and it’s all my fault. Second, this is all my extremely silly (but hopefully well-informed) opinion, and the cool thing about opinions is that you can have one too! I just hope mine make sense and provoke some thinkin’.
Before I forget, please please PLEASE follow me at @WatchingCFB for all your hot-takey college football needs. I have some more regular columns and tweetstorms I’ll be producing throughout the season over there, and I’ll let you know the general schedule for those next week, when we look at Week Zero.
We begin in a very unsurprising place, with…
Look, at this point I’ve learned not to predict a Bama regular season loss. Maybe it happens this year. I could see Texas A&M, LSU, or Auburn giving the Tide a run (the last one solely due to the fact that weird things happen in the Iron Bowl, and did as recently as two years ago).
But I’m not holding my breath.
Oh sure, Alabama has to adjust to yet another OC in Steve Sarkisian (yes, THAT Steve Sarkisian). But Tua’s back, and so are the best wide receivers in the nation.
On the other side of the ball, their front four and linebacking corps have question marks, but you know Bama. They’ve probably got five-star recruits ready to go, and even more five-stars behind them.
So until I see some sign of stumblement, it’s Alabama. Yawn.
RUNNER UP: Georgia
Mark your calendars. The game of the pre-bowl season will absolutely be the SEC Championship game if all goes according to plan for the Bulldogs. If the Tide is stacked, so is Georgia.
The best offensive line in the country. A spectacular commander in Jake Fromm. A positively loaded defense that should give everyone nightmares.
I’m halfway tempted to pick them to beat Bama. Really, I am. But I think both teams will take a step forward this year, and we’ll instead see something resembling a repeat of last year’s conference championship tilt.
But oh boy, will it still be fantastic to watch.
DARK HORSE: LSU and Florida
Yes, yes, I’m cheating. But both schools are situated to break out if a few things break their way.
For the Gators, if Feleipe Franks is the consistent, level-headed QB he looked like late last year, they’ll contend well for the SEC East crown. And they could spoil Georgia’s good time at The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, the tongue-twistiest rivalry name in the sport. Franks will have no shortage of talent to distribute the pigskin to at RB and WR.
LSU is a tad more tricksy. They’ve got a similarly questionable QB in Joe Burrow, but a good receiving corps and good all-around D. Their problem is Alabama. They need to beat that behemoth to head to Atlanta in December, and that’s proved insurmountable recently.
DISAPPOINTMENT: Texas A&M
Does this mean Aggy will be bad? No! Probably not. Kellen Mond will be just fine at QB, for starters.
But they might have the single toughest schedule in college football this year.
Alabama at home. Clemson, Georgia, and LSU on the road. And those last two are their final games.
The Aggies are also untested at RB, with a mediocre OL (for the SEC, anyway), and a likewise middling defensive backfield. Another 8-4 season will lead to booster impatience regarding Jimbo Fisher, so his backers should hope he can steal one of those aforementioned difficult matchups. I’m not optimistic.
NOT A CHANCE: Auburn
On paper, the Tigers actually look poised to have a pretty great year. But they have some notable flaws that I think will prove fatal.
First of all, they’re starting a freshman at QB. That’s usually not a recipe for mistake-free football, even if the experienced Auburn OL shows up to play. And while their D’s great up front, it’s weaker in back.
AND their schedule, like A&M’s, is just terrible. A neutral site game against Oregon opens the year. Then they’re home against Bama and Georgia, sure, though I’m not sure how much that matters. They’ve also got road tilts against Aggy, Florida, and LSU. My word.
They might eke out bowl contention, but I don’t think that’ll be enough to salvage Gus Malzahn’s job.
And there we go! Last preview in the books. Next week, it’s back to your regularly scheduled programming, as I preview the games worth watching every week! Last thing: don’t forget to follow me at @WatchingCFB. See y’all soon!