Alabama Looks To Extend Their Dominance
Last time out we took a look at the SEC East picking Georgia to win it once again. It’s a similar situation in the west with the division being Alabama’s to lose. Can LSU or Texas A&M challenge the Crimson Tide? Let’s find out with our 2019 SEC West Predictions.
The Overwhelming Favorite: Alabama
When last we left Nick Saban’s club they were playing in their fourth straight national title game. However, things didn’t go so well as Clemson rolled the Tide 44-16. While they lost 21 players from their two-deep depth chart let’s be real. This is Alabama they just reload year after year.
It all starts with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa who threw for 3,966 yards and 43 touchdowns a season ago. In addition, he completed 69 percent of his passes with only six interceptions. As a result, former starter Jalen Hurts moved on to Oklahoma. He has a pair of junior receivers to throw to in Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III. Najee Harris gets his turn to be the man at running back. Look for him to greatly improve on his 783 yards in 2018.
On the other side of the ball, the defense has some big holes to fill with many key players moving on to the NFL. However, the Tide boast three potential All-Americans to help bolster the unit. They are led by defensive end Raekwon Davis, linebacker and leading tackler Dylan Moses and safety Xavier McKinney.
Much has been made about the Alabama schedule and the perceived lack of difficulty. However, they do travel to both Texas A&M and Auburn. As we all know anything can happen in a rivalry game. When it is all said and done look for the Crimson Tide to be playing for a national title again.
Bowl Prediction: National Semi-Final
Looking To Play Spoiler: LSU
For years we wondered how the Tigers would fare with an SEC caliber quarterback. The answer was a 10-3 season and statement victory over Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl. Joe Burrow returns under center coming off a year where he threw for nearly 2,900 yards and 18 touchdowns. In addition, he ran for nearly 400 more yards and seven touchdowns.
The Tigers boast one of the best incoming recruiting classes in 2019, however, the biggest get is having Joe Brady on the staff. The new receivers and passing game coach worked with the New Orleans Saints and Drew Brees the last couple of years. Four of their top receivers return along with running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Look for heralded recruit John Emery Jr. to get some looks as well.
Year after year the Tiger defense is one of the best and 2019 should be no different. Safety Grant Delpit and his five interceptions lead that unit. While they must replace Devin White, top returning tackler Jacob Phillips is a good place to start. Look for another top recruit Derek Stingley Jr. to also see immediate playing time.
Ed Orgeron’s club must travel to Alabama and Texas this year. However, they should be favored in every other game. This may be the best chance LSU has had in years to close the gap.
Bowl Prediction: Sugar Bowl
Trying To Move Up: Texas A&M
Year one under Jimbo Fisher saw the Aggies go 9-4 and a blowout win in the Gator Bowl. How far they go in 2019 hinges on the shoulders of quarterback Kellen Mond. A season ago the junior threw for 3,100 yards and 24 touchdowns with nine interceptions. However, he only completed 57 percent of his passes.
Mond has a great set of receivers to throw to led by Quartney Davis, who caught 55 balls for seven scores. With the departure of Trayveon Williams, the running backs are a question mark. Look for either Jashaun Corbin or Central Florida transfer Cordarrian Richardson to get the starting job.
On defense, the Aggies look to maintain a run defense that was one of the best in the country. Although to do that they must improve a pass defense which ranked 12th in the SEC. Defensive tackle Justin Madubuike is the only returning starter in the front seven. Buddy Johnson is the top linebacker returnee while corners Charles Oliver and Debione Renfro lead a secondary that must improve.
Last season Texas A&M played one of the toughest schedules in the country. This year is no different. In addition to hosting Alabama and Auburn, they travel to Clemson and finish the season at Georgia and LSU. Another eight-win season seems about right.
Bowl Prediction: Outback Bowl
A Pivotal Season: Auburn
Following an 8-5 finish, rumors swirled that would be it for Gus Malzahn. However, the school brought him back for another year but his seat is certainly warm. The biggest question mark is who the starting quarterback will be. Perceived starter Malik Willis transferred to Liberty. That leaves either redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood or true freshman Bo Nix.
Last season was the first time since 2009 Auburn didn’t have a 1,000 yard rusher. JaTarvious Whitlow ran for 787 yards and should put up better numbers this year. Kam Martin will also get some playing time. The Tigers lost their top two receivers so Anthony Schwartz and Seth Williams have to step up.
Potential All-American defensive lineman Derrick Brown heads a defensive line that returns three starters. In addition the entire secondary returns from 2018 led by safeties Daniel Thomas and Jeremiah Dinson.
Auburn’s schedule makes it tough for them to have a huge season in 2019. They start the year with a neutral site game against Oregon. They host Alabama but have to travel to Florida, LSU and Texas A&M.
Bowl Prediction: Gator Bowl
Beginning A New Era: Mississippi State
After seemingly being in Starkville forever Nick Fitzgerald graduated leaving a huge question mark at quarterback. Junior Keytaon Thompson is the heir apparent. He threw for six touchdowns in limited playing time. However, he is more of a running threat adding four more scores on the ground. Redshirt freshman Jalen Mayden and true freshman Garrett Shrader are also possibilities.
An area where the Bulldogs are strong is the running game led by Kylin Hill. Rushing for 734 yards and four touchdowns Hill would have gained 1,000 if not for a hamstring injury during the second half of the year. The team’s leading receiver Osirus Mitchell returns as well, though Joe Moorhead’s club may not throw the ball very often.
On defense, the Bulldogs must replace the entire defensive line, a group that ranked as one of the best in the country. Overall they only return three starters from 2018. Linebackers Erroll Thompson and Leo Lewis along with corner Cameron Dantzler lead this group.
Mississippi State hosts both Alabama and LSU and the rest of their schedule is pretty favorable. The only major road trips are to Auburn, Tennessee and Texas A&M. With all they have lost a seven-win season seems likely.
Bowl Prediction: Texas Bowl
Back In The Bowl Mix?: Ole Miss
The Rebels went 5-7 in Matt Luke’s second season and are now off NCAA probation. However, for his third go-around, Luke brought in a pair of coordinators with previous head coaching experience. Rich Rodriguez takes over the offense while Mike McIntyre the defense.
Look for the Rebels to really open it up under Rodriguez and it begins with quarterback Matt Corral. The redshirt freshman, who takes over for Jordan Ta’amu, threw for two scores last season in limited time. Scottie Phillips is an All-SEC caliber running back. He ran for 928 yards and would have easily topped 1,000 if not for an ankle injury. The receivers are a question mark as three starters from a year ago are gone. Sophomore Elijah Moore tops the returnees with 36 receptions.
On defense, the Rebels look to improve on their 483 yards per game average. Look for junior college transfer Sam Williams to make an immediate impact. He had 17.5 sacks last year for Northeast Mississippi Community College. In addition, leading tackler Mohamed Sanogo also returns.
Ole Miss travels to Alabama, Auburn, and Missouri plus a trip up the road to Memphis. While Luke’s squad should improve in 2019 they are probably still a year away from making some noise.
Bowl Projection: None
Nowhere To Go But Up: Arkansas
Chad Morris’ inaugural season in Fayetteville was a forgettable one with the school’s first-ever 10 loss campaign. Morris blamed it partly on not having the players which fit his style. That shouldn’t be a problem in 2019 with a great recruiting class and numerous transfers.
Like many teams in the SEC West, the quarterback position is up for grabs. Ben Hicks who played for Morris at SMU should likely emerge as the starter. If not then Texas A&M quarterback Nick Starkel gets the nod. Top running backs Rakeem Boyd and Devwah Whaley missed most of spring practice due to injury. That gave many of the snaps to Chase Hayden. The trio should give the Razorbacks a solid rushing attack. CJ O’Grady is one of the better tight ends in the conference and true freshman Hudson Henry will push for playing time.
Defensive coordinator John Chavis looks for improvement on a defense that gave up 35 points a game. Senior linebacker De’Jon Harris ranked third in the SEC with 118 tackles in 2018. Kamren Curl anchors a secondary with several players returning.
The Razorbacks could win all four non-conference games and possibly steal two in the league to make a bowl game. Much like Ole Miss, they appear to be a year away.
2019 SEC West Predictions
Now that we’ve previewed every team it’s time for the 2019 SEC West Predictions.
Alabama 12-0 8-0 LSU 10-2 6-2 Texas A&M 8-4 5-3 Auburn 7-5 3-5 Mississippi State 7-5 3-5 Ole Miss 5-7 2-6 Arkansas 4-8 2-6
For the second year in a row, Alabama and Georgia meet in the SEC title game and Alabama takes the crown again. Thanks for checking out the 2019 SEC West Predictions here at Last Word On College Football. Next time out we project all the bowl games including the championship.