The SEC shined brightest last year with Georgia playing Alabama in the National Championship. The Crimson Tide won 26-23 in overtime with their backup quarterback, erasing a double-digit deficit in the process.
Oddsmakers have the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs favored to win the West and East, respectively. It’s no surprise considering both teams return most of their offenses, and each is expected to replace some key pieces on defense with no problem thanks to excellent recruiting classes.
I’m going to list my order of finish for the West and East divisions of the SEC in 2018 below. I have also provided a small preview of each team with a couple reasons why I have them finishing in a particular spot. I list the records as well so you can use them for season win total bets.
Alabama brings back seven starters on offense from last year’s national championship team. It will be potent on that side of the ball, especially if last year’s hero Tua Tagovailoa wins the quarterback job this fall after sitting out most of the spring due to injury. The defense only has three starters back, but that’s about par for the course for Alabama every year. Saban has done a good job of reloading on that side of the ball. It appears Alabama will be at least a touchdown favorite in every game this season, so I see them going 12-0 and getting back to the SEC Championship Game.
Mississippi State is coming off a surprising 9-4 season, which included an upset win over Louisville in the bowl despite playing without their head coach and with a depleted roster. Now former Penn State offensive coordinator Jim Moorhead steps into a great situation in Starkville. The Bulldogs have 17 starters back and are the fifth-most experienced team in the country. They will have a potent offense led by Nick Fitzgerald, and the defense has eight starters back from a unit that gave up just 20.9 PPG last year. The Bulldogs have an easier schedule than Auburn and get to host the Tigers, which is why I have them winning the tiebreaker.
The Tigers had a dream season last year, getting to host both Alabama and Georgia and beating both to win the SEC West. They were also the seventh-most experienced team in the country last year, but now they are 70th in that department. The Tigers bring back only 13 starters and lost four starters on the offensive line. They have a brutal road schedule with games at Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi State, which are the three games I have them losing this season.
Jimbo Fisher won a national championship at Florida State and looks to eventually do the same at Texas A&M. The Aggies should be competitive from the start as they return 16 starters and are the 16th-most experienced team in the country. They are stout on the offensive and defensive lines. The only reason I am not picking them higher is the schedule. They host Alabama and Clemson early in the season before eventually having to travel to face Auburn and Mississippi State in consecutive weeks.
I expect Arkansas to be a team you want to back against the spread this season. Their win total is only 5.5, and I have them winning seven games. I love head coach Chad Morris, who parlayed his success as an offensive coordinator at Clemson into the head job at SMU, where he actually got the Mustangs to a bowl game last season. Like Fisher and Moorhead, Morris also steps into a great situation here. Arkansas returns 17 starters and is one of the more experienced teams in the SEC. The schedule also sets up well as they have just three true SEC road games, while getting to play Texas A&M in Arlington. I think they’ll be favored in seven or eight games, which is why I think their win total of 5.5 is simply too low.
LSU’s win total of 7.5 is simply too high this season. I am more down on the Tigers than any other team in the SEC when comparing my record to their actual win total. I actually have the Tigers missing out on a bowl game this season. They return just 10 starters, break in a new quarterback, and lose their best player in RB Derrius Guice. They are just the 129th-most experienced team in the country, meaning they will be very young. They play Miami in non-conference, and they host Georgia and Alabama, meaning most of their winnable games are on the road. And even those won’t be easy as they have to travel to Auburn, Florida, Arkansas and Texas A&M. They could surprise me and get to seven wins, but there’s zero chance they get the 8 needed for an over on their win total.
Give Matt Luke credit for the job he did getting Ole Miss to a 6-6 record last season. They had a self-imposed two-year bowl ban that will be in place again this season, and head coach Hugh Freeze was forced to resign last summer. The Rebels pulled road upsets at Kentucky and Mississippi State while winning three of their final four games of the season. They do have 15 starters back and will be potent on offense. But this may be the worst defense in the SEC. The Rebels gave up 34.6 PPG and 460 YPG last season and don’t appear to be getting any better on that side of the ball. They have to host Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State and South Carolina, meaning most of their winnable games are on the road. I just can’t foresee anything better than a 1-7 record in SEC play for the Rebels in 2018 given the schedule.
The Gators should be the most improved team in the country after their 4-7 disaster last year. They had 10 players suspended in late August and a ton of injuries that followed. They were actually down to 28 scholarship players at one point. Dan Mullen now steps into a great situation with 19 returning starters and all the suspended players back. Mullen is one of the most underrated coaches in college football with what he did at Mississippi State, leading the Bulldogs to seven bowl games in his nine seasons. There are only three true SEC road games on the schedule and they are all winnable at Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State. I’m calling for the Gators to run the table and to win the SEC East.
The Bulldogs shocked everyone and made the national championship game last year. It came out of nowhere after Georgia was just 4-4 in SEC play in Kirby Smart’s first season in 2017. The Bulldogs do have 17 starters back, but lose their two stud running backs, and return only five starters on defense. No question they will still be a great team and are the SEC East favorites, but I’m going to call for Florida to pull the upset in the rivalry that will decided the division on October 27th. It will still be an 11-1 season for the Bulldogs and a possible return to the four-team playoff.
Will Muschamp got the Gamecocks to a bowl game in 2016 with a terrible roster. They weren’t expected to be much better last year, but Muschamp delivered a 9-4 season despite losing top playmaker Debby Samuel after three games and starting RB Rico Dowdle after four games. Muschamp welcomes back 14 starters this year to what should be his most talented team yet, especially on offense. The Gamecocks will find out right away if they can be contenders in the SEC East because they host Georgia on September 8th. They draw Texas A&M (home) and Ole Miss (away) from the West and it could be another special season. Unfortunately, Florida and Georgia are still more talented despite the excellent job that Muschamp has done in recruiting.
The Tigers had an interesting 2017 season. They went 7-0 against teams with losing records who were a combined 27-55 on the season. But they were 0-6 against teams with a winning record. Head coach Barry Odom is in his third season and returns 16 starters. The offense will be potent with nine starters back, including QB Drew Lock, from a unit that put up 37.5 PPG and 502 YPG last season. The defense figures to be a weakness again and will prevent the Tigers from contending in the East. It also doesn’t help that they draw Alabama and Arkansas from the West, and they play tough road games at Purdue, Florida and South Carolina. They should at least get back to a bowl game this season.
Butch Jones has been on the hot seat for years despite winning in blowout fashion season after season in the bowl games. But it all came crashing down last year during a 4-8 campaign that saw the Vols go 0-8 in SEC play and nearly lose to UMass at home as 28-point favorites. After a long coaching search, the Vols settled on Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt as their next head coach. He won two national titles under Nick Saban. Jones didn’t leave the cupboard bare as the Vols have 12 returning starters and a ton of young talent thanks to the recruiting over the last several seasons. The Vols should get better luck in the injury department as they had 58 starters lost to injury last year. But they draw Alabama and Auburn from the West and have to play West Virginia in non-conference. I have them falling one win shy of bowl eligibility in Pruitt’s first season.
Many didn’t think Mark Stoops would last. After falling one win shy of bowl eligibility in 2014 and ’15, he has been able to get the Wildcats to a bowl in each of the past two seasons. Now he enters his sixth year on the job in 2018. Stoops has plenty of experience and talent to get to a third straight bowl with 15 returning starters. But they will be underdogs in seven of their eight SEC games, so they’ll do well to win two, which is what I have them at. I expect them to lose at Louisville in the season finale to fall one win shy of a bowl berth.
The Commodores opened 3-0 last year with an upset win over Kansas State. They would lose seven straight SEC games before finally notching a conference victory against hapless Tennessee in the season finale. They have only made one bowl game in Derek Mason’s four seasons on the job. Now with just 12 returning starters, the Commodores are clearly the worst team in the East. I have them beating Tennessee once again at home to notch a conference victory. They do have a winnable home game against Ole Miss, but I have pegged them at just 1-7 in SEC action for a second straight season.