SEC Media Days are upon us, and as coaches often like to say, its talking season. Every team has high hopes for 2019, as fall practice is just around the corner. There is optimism on every campus for what each program can achieve after an off season of work. The SEC is still the king of college football conferences, and will have no shortage of story lines to follow in the upcoming season. Players we don’t know about today will be household names by October, and teams we have overlooked will surprise us once the pads are on. In our SEC round table table we look at the story lines that could define the 2019 season. We also look at the teams and players that will breakout and make their mark this fall.
2019 Preseason SEC Round table
What SEC story line are you most intrigued by heading into 2019?
Brandon Eisenman (Covers LSU) – Can Georgia dethrone Alabama for the SEC crown? Alabama still reigns in the SEC, but Kirby Smart has put his Bulldogs in great position to take over. With Jake Fromm returning at quarterback, the Bulldogs have a significant shot to dethrone the Crimson Tide this season.
David Knight (covers South Carolina and Georgia) – How will the second year coaches fare? There are five coaches entering their second season on the sidelines for their team. It will be interesting to see which coaches can propel their programs forward, and which could end 2019 with their seat warming up. Dan Mullen and Jimbo Fischer are trying to turn their teams into contenders, while Jeremy Pruitt and Chad Morris are just trying to get their programs back to winning ways. Joe Moorhead has to turn his offense over to a new quarterback with the record breaking Nick Fitzgerald no long on campus.
Phillip Jordan (covers Auburn) – The most intriguing story line for me has to be how will Alabama respond to the 44-16 defeat to Clemson in the National Championship Game last January. Seeing Alabama dominated that way is something college football fans just haven’t seen since Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa. One has to wonder if that will have a lingering effect this upcoming season. Has the confidence of the Tide been dented?
Dylan Dozier (covers Tennessee) – I am excited to see the East vs West divisional pecking order shake out. Many for years have considered it a forgone conclusion the West is the best division of the best conference in the country. However, with Georgia emerging as the East’s own divisional powerhouse ever encroaching on Alabama’s reign, I think the tides may be turning (pun intended). Top to bottom, the East may have quietly surpassed the West in recent years. Few commentators speak to the fact that the SEC East is 9-6 against the West since Georgia’s SEC championship run of 2017. Georgia came one bad half and another backup quarterback extravaganza from obtaining back to back championships from the East. Can the East continue to get the better of the west, and make it two out of three with another SEC Championship in 2019?
Kevin McGuffey (covers Kentucky) – The biggest story line remains can anyone catch Alabama or Georgia? Florida is making great strides in the East, but not enough to catch the Bulldogs. Can Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, or Missouri make a push? Over in the West, both LSU and Texas A&M should be even better than in 2018, but still not enough to get over the hump. The SEC will once again come down to the two powerhouses battling for a likely College Football Playoff spot.
Kate Pearson- HalyBurton (covers Vanderbilt) – I heard 2019 was going to be Tennessee’s year. No preseason SEC round table discussion would be complete without that, right?
Which SEC team or player do you see having a breakout season?
BE – The LSU Tigers are on the cusp of being a powerhouse in the SEC once again. Joe Burrow returns to lead the charge on offense. The expansion of the passing game will bring LSU’s offense to new heights. On defense, Grant Delpit has become the best safety in college football. LSU’s lethal secondary will be the charge for the defense. This team can easily go 11-1 or 10-2.
DK – Will Muschamp‘s defense was beaten down by the end of 2018. With as many as 15 players on the injured list, the Gamecocks were forced to rely on too many true freshman. Those growing pains should payoff this season. If the injury bug stays away this season, South Carolina’s defense will be as deep and talented as it’s been since 2012. D.J. Wonnum, Javon Kinlaw, and Jaycee Horn should each compete for All-SEC honors this fall. This unit will finally resemble the defenses we’ve come to expect from Muschamp coached teams.
PJ – The expectation should be for the top of the conference to be Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and LSU. The team that could shake that order up is Texas A&M. The Aggies finished the 2018 season 8-4 and look to be a program heading in the right direction. A big part of the success will be due to the further development of junior signal-caller Kellen Mond. Under the guidance of Jimbo Fisher, he became one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC. He threw for 3,107 yards and 24 touchdowns a season ago. Mond looks to become another quarterback that coach Fisher gets to the NFL.
DD – Call me a homer if you will, but I think the Volunteers 2019 schedule sets up for a breakout year two for Jeremy Pruitt and company. I’m not saying, “This is Tennessee’s year”. However, increasing their win total from 5 to 7 or 8 wins with another signature win or two would constitute a breakout season. Especially based on the disastrous past few years in Knoxville. Their schedule is highly favorable with eight home games and no major out of conference match-ups. ESPN’s FPI rankings even have the Vols favored to go 9-3. With that in mind, a 4 win improvement isn’t so crazy. We already predicted a potential 8-4 season from the Vols. If a few breakout contenders live up to their potential, a 9-3 breakout season would be huge for the Big Orange.
KM – Texas A&M should take a big step forward. Despite one of the toughest schedules in the country, look for quarterback Kellen Mond and receiver Kendrick Rogers to put up big numbers. They are definitely trending up. As for a player to watch, Arkansas running back Rakeem Boyd will take a major step forward. Alabama’s Najee Harris is a trendy pick but I am going with Boyd. After averaging six yards per on only 123 carries a season ago, look for Chad Morris to build the offense around him in 2019.
KP-H – Vanderbilt has the talent to surprise people. Ke’Shawn Vaughn is back on West End, along with wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb and tight end Jared Pinkney. All three have received various preseason honors. Vaughn was Vanderbilt’s secret weapon in 2018. A transfer from Illinois, the explosive back came in and made an immediate impact. He finished the season with 1,244 yards on 157 carries with 12 touchdowns. Vaughn set a Texas Bowl records with 243 yards on 13 carries, averaging 18.7 yards per carry and scoring two touchdowns. Lipscomb and Pinkney are two of the best pass catching options in the SEC. This is not the same old Vandy.
We couldn’t do a SEC round table without looking ahead all the way to December. Here are our SEC title game predictions. .
BE – LSU Tigers over Georgia Bulldogs
DK – Alabama Crimson Tide over Georgia Bulldogs
PJ – Alabama Crimson Tide over Georgia Bulldogs
DD – Georgia Bulldogs over LSU Tigers
KM – Alabama Crimson Tide over Georgia Bulldogs
KP-H – Georgia Bulldogs over Alabama Crimson Tide