The calendar has turned to August, which means college football is almost upon us. This is the perfect time to begin the first of a five-part series, where I preview each major conference. Analysis of every team is provided, along with who are the best future bets to win their respective conference championships. Leading off is an in-depth look at one of the most balanced conferences from top to bottom, the Southeastern Conference.
Odds to win the 2019 SEC Championship (odds courtesy of FanDuel)
Alabama starts the year ranked number two in the Preseason Coaches Poll. The Crimson Tide have won four of the last five conference championships. The one year they didn’t win the conference championship (2017), their consolation prize was a National Championship over conference rival Georgia. Alabama has not lost more than one regular-season game since 2010.
Alabama returns seven starters on offense and five on defense. They are led by Heisman hopeful quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who will have the luxury of throwing to his top four wide receivers from last season. Given Alabama’s recent dominance, their coordinators are often in demand to fill head coaching vacancies. They have had eight coordinators in the last five seasons, and the team will 2019 with new offensive and defensive coordinators. Their schedule features difficult road trips to South Carolina, Texas A&M, Mississippi State, and Auburn.
Georgia seems to be the only conference team in the last couple of years who consistently plays Alabama tough. Last year, the Bulldogs were one quarter away from back-to-back SEC Championships. They squandered a 28-14 lead over Alabama in the third quarter, only to lose 35-28. That loss ruined any hopes they had of a playoff berth, and they ended their season with an uninspired 28-21 loss in the Allstate Sugar Bowl to Texas. Georgia has a 24-5 record in the last two seasons.
Georgia is ranked number three in the Preseason Coaches Poll. They return six starters on offense and seven on defense, and they are led by All-America candidates in quarterback Jake Fromm and running back D’Andre Swift. The Bulldogs have arguably the best offensive line in the country, returning four starters led by All-American left tackle Andrew Thomas. Georgia’s front seven is young, but they have their two best inside linebackers returning. The strength of their defense is the secondary, returning eight of the top nine defensive backs on last year’s depth chart.
Florida is ranked number eight in the Preseason Coaches Poll. They finished last year 10-3 (5-3 SEC). The Gators return five offensive and eight defensive starters. It may take their offensive line time to gel, as they have to replace four starters. Their path to an SEC Championship game is a little easier coming out of the Alabama-less SEC East division. They avoid Alabama in the regular season as well, but they have a very difficult road game at LSU on October 12th.
Coaches are high on the LSU Tigers this year, ranking them sixth in the Preseason Coaches Poll. They have the most experience returning, with both eight offensive and defensive starters back. Quarterback Joe Burrow is the most solid quarterback they’ve had in quite some time. He will look to continue his development under new passing game coordinator Joe Brady. In their spring game, the offense ran a lot more spread-based no-huddle. The defense is led by arguably the best player in the country in safety Grant Delpit, and All-America candidate defensive tackle Rashard Lawrence.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn’s seat is getting awfully hot after a disappointing 8-5 (3-5 SEC) campaign last year. The Tigers start the year ranked 16th in the Preseason Coaches Poll. The Tigers will start a freshman quarterback in either Joey Gatewood or Bo Nix. Whoever wins the job will have to mature quickly as they face some of the conference’s toughest defenses in the SEC West.
The Missouri Tigers finished last year with an 8-5 record (4-4 SEC). Missouri is led by Clemson transfer quarterback Kelly Bryant. If Bryant can reclaim some of the success he had at Clemson and beat Georgia on the road on November 9th, Missouri could be a sneaky value to come out of the SEC East.
Texas A&M +4000
Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher leads the preseason number 12 ranked team into battle this year. A&M will find out how good they are very quickly as they travel to Clemson in week two.
A young Kentucky Wildcats team will look to build off their momentum from an impressive 10-3 (5-3 SEC) campaign last year.
Mississippi State +6000
Mississippi State should be happy with a top-three finish in a loaded SEC West division.
South Carolina +15000
Clemson transfer running back Tavien Feaster looks to bring his championship pedigree and ignite the Gamecocks’ rushing attack.
Tennessee is the second-most experienced team in the conference, returning ten starters on offense. Volunteers quarterback Jarrett Guarantano is surrounded with talent, as they return their top two leading rushers and top seven receivers.
Ole Miss went 5-7 (1-7 SEC) last year and it is hard to think that more than one conference win is realistic for the Rebels this year.
Arkansas was winless in conference play last year (0-8) and might repeat that in 2019.
Vanderbilt has arguably the hardest three games to start the year: vs Georgia, @ Purdue, vs LSU.
Georgia is my best bet to win the SEC Championship in 2019. Taking nothing away from Alabama and all they return, but Georgia is two excruciating losses away from being an unheard of 3-0 in their last three games against the Crimson Tide. They are every bit as talented as Alabama, and I expect them to play a solid four quarters and beat them should they meet in the SEC Championship game once again. I don’t see Georgia getting challenged in the SEC East, not even by the Florida Gators. Florida’s offensive line issues concern me, as the SEC defenses will feast on an inexperienced group.
LSU was also tempting at +1600, but this bet all comes down to their division showdown with Alabama for a berth in the SEC Championship game. Given that Alabama crushed LSU 29-0 in Baton Rouge last year, I am not brimming with confidence that LSU can beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa this year.
Georgia has the best offensive line in the country and a proven quarterback and running back tandem. They also have a head coach in Kirby Smart who served as an assistant under Nick Saban who should know exactly what his mentor’s game plan will be. Georgia returns to their 2017 ways, winning the SEC Championship and returning to the College Football Playoff.