B/R College Football Staff SEC Preseason Poll
Though a cloud of uncertainty still lingers over the 2020 college football season, the SEC's version of the much-anticipated show is slated to begin Sep. 26.
And if the campaign can be played, it's full of intrigue.
The league recently approved a 10-game, SEC-only schedule. While losing nonconference games such as LSU-Texas, Alabama-USC and a quarter of interstate rivalries is unfortunate, the two extra conference games will throw an irregular twist in the standings.
Alabama and Georgia are perceived as the top contenders, but LSU is the reigning national champion. Auburn, Florida and Texas A&M are all nationally respected teams, and Tennessee has demanded some attention after a scorching finish to 2019.
Between the strength of the league and unique circumstances, opinions on the SEC are bound to vary. B/R brought together the college football crew—David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller, Joel Reuter and Brad Shepard—to cast a preseason ballot and find a consensus to a pivotal question: Who's winning the SEC?
In the 14-team SEC, a first-place vote is worth 14 points, followed by 13 points for second, 12 for third, etc.
B/R's SEC Preseason Poll
1. Alabama (68 points)
Top team for David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Joel Reuter
2. Georgia (67)
Top team for Kerry Miller, Brad Shepard
3. Florida (58)
4. LSU (57)
5. Texas A&M (49)
6. Auburn (44)
7. Tennessee (41)
8. Kentucky (35)
9. South Carolina (31)
10. Ole Miss (24)
11. Mississippi State (21)
12. Missouri (15)
13. Arkansas (8)
14. Vanderbilt (7)
The No. 1 Team: Alabama Crimson Tide
Entering 2019, the Crimson Tide boasted four of the last five SEC titles. However, they fell to a record-setting LSU team and ultimately missed the College Football Playoff for the first time.
Alabama is primed for a return to the top, however.
The offense has several highly regarded NFL prospects in left tackle Alex Leatherwood, receivers DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle and running back Najee Harris. Three other starters are back on the offensive line, along with tight end Miller Forristall.
And on defense, the Tide have a sturdy front seven led by defensive end LaBryan Ray and linebacker Dylan Moses. Junior cornerback Patrick Surtain II highlights the secondary.
The major question for Alabama is whether Mac Jones—who replaced Tua Tagovailoa after his season-ending hip injury—or prized freshman Bryce Young will start at quarterback. Jones holds an early edge thanks to his experience and the limited offseason, but it's possible Young closes the gap in fall camp.
Either way, if the Tide have a reliable QB, they'll be fully deserving of the preseason expectations.
The Defending Champs: LSU Tigers
It's a new season. Retooled rosters, updated depth charts, new coaches. But it's safe to suggest LSU feels it should be No. 1.
After all, the Tigers plowed through the 2019 slate and ran away with the SEC title before winning the national championship. They return a handful of top contributors, including All-Americans in receiver Ja'Marr Chase and cornerback Derek Stingley Jr.
But there's been a whole lot of change in Baton Rouge.
Heisman Trophy quarterback Joe Burrow headed to the NFL along with 13 other draft picks. Passing game coordinator Joe Brady went to the Carolina Panthers, and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is now the head coach at Baylor.
Yes, LSU is neither short on talent nor should be worried about the coaching situation around Ed Orgeron. Still, the Tigers—and specifically quarterback Myles Brennan—have a challenging task ahead with a fresh roster and a few important new voices.
5 More Teams to Watch
The early SEC East favorites, Georgia's upside hinges on its offense. Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman or USC transfer JT Daniels will be leading the unit, which must replace running back D'Andre Swift but features a promising group of young receivers. The defense, though, should be one of the best in the country.
We can feature any number of topics or players for the Gators. But, really, this conversation is all about the Florida-Georgia matchup. Florida has dropped three straight games in the series and hasn't scored more than 17 points in any of those losses. Win the Cocktail Party, and the Gators could be back in the SEC championship hunt. Otherwise, they'll be a respected team lacking a top-tier win.
Texas A&M Aggies
Experience is no issue in College Station, where the Aggies are looking for a breakthrough season under Jimbo Fisher. The problem is Texas A&M needs to navigate Alabama, Auburn and LSU in the West, and an expanded SEC schedule is likely to bring a combination of Florida, Georgia and Tennessee into the picture, too. The Aggies are facing a daunting road in 2020.
Last season, Auburn averaged 463.6 yards and 40.1 points in wins compared to 279.3 and 17.8 in losses, respectively. Naturally, win-loss splits are often substantial. But that's a dramatic difference in offensive performance that Auburn needs to correct with sophomore quarterback Bo Nix.
Following a 1-4 start to 2019, Tennessee surprised the college football world with a 7-1 finish. Was that a sign of a bright 2020? The clearest answer to that question will be seen in the offense's performances against the SEC's best teams. In recent years, the Vols have failed that test miserably.
Wrapping Up the SEC
Thanks to a terrific offensive line and a bunch of weapons in the backfield, Kentucky has the chance to spring a dramatic upset or two. Whether the 'Cats can truly compete in the SEC will depend on quarterback Terry Wilson and his production with an unproven cast of receivers.
South Carolina Gamecocks
The defense should be somewhere between solid and good, keeping the Gamecocks competitive. But, as usual, can they score? Only once in Will Muschamp's four-year tenure has South Carolina finished higher than 10th in scoring against SEC opponents.
Win or lose, it's The Lane Kiffin Experience. While the Rebels are going to score plenty of points, the defense is a concern. The unit improved dramatically from 2018 to 2019 but needs to replace more than a handful of key seniors this season.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
Win or lose, it's The Mike Leach Experience. Missing out on spring practice and summer work certainly hurt the Bulldogs, who are shifting to Leach's pass-heavy offense with an inexperienced group of receivers. At least Stanford transfer K.J. Costello is there to lead the Bulldogs through a difficult 2020.
Somewhat similar to South Carolina, Missouri has a defense-driven team. Fortunately for the Tigers, head coach Eli Drinkwitz has an offensive background. His focus will be on improving that side of the ball, for sure. However, the expanded schedule will sting a Missouri team initially slated to miss Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M.
Sam Pittman inherited a pretty bleak situation, but Florida transfer Feleipe Franks can settle a disastrous revolving door at quarterback. Simply picking up a few wins should be considered a success for the Razorbacks in 2020.
Last year, Vanderbilt mustered 12.8 points per game in SEC play despite having running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn, wideout Kalija Lipscomb and tight end Jared Pinkney. They're all gone, signing with NFL teams after the draft. How does Vandy improve?