Pretty much every year lately, I have produced a column making preseason projections for the Southeastern Conference, including predicted records and brief comments about each team. So this year, I’m a little late getting it out (the pandemic, Hurricane Ida, the dog ate my homework), but here ‘tis—see what you think.
Number one, I often talk about how fortunate we are to live in the part of the country that boasts by far the best conference in the land. As I write this, there are seven—that’s right, seven—SEC teams in the Top 25: Alabama (1), Georgia (2), Texas A&M (7), Florida (11), Ole Miss (17), Arkansas (20), and Auburn (22). Yeah, that will shift some, starting this weekend, but, dang, half the conference is ranked—so impressive. OK, let’s see what RBL projects.
SEC EAST (overall/conference record)
- Georgia (11-1, 7-1): The Bulldogs finally have a talented quarterback, J.T. Daniels, to go with their ferocious defense. I mean, they beat a Top 5 Clemson team 10-3; that’s like a score from 1962. Kirby Smart is obviously a big time recruiter, but thus far in his tenure, he has failed to get Georgia to the pinnacle. This year, maybe?
- Florida (9-3, 5-3): The Gators need to settle their quarterback situation. Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson are both talented, but continuity is needed. Florida also needs to bounce back from a poor 2020 on defense (worst for them since World War Two). Here, we have another coach, Dan Mullen, who has done good things but has question marks. While at Mississippi State, his record against Top 25 teams was something like 4-29. Lots of talent in Gainesville, though.
- Kentucky (9-3, 5-3): This is probably the highest I’ve ever predicted the Wildcats, and, yes, I’m somewhat buying what Mark Stoops is selling. It appears that, after several years of having FBS level quarterbacks, Penn State transfer Will Levis can be an answer. Stoops always puts out representative defenses, and most importantly, I think he may have, to a certain extent, changed the football culture at UK, which has always been a basketball school.
- Missouri (7-5, 4-4): I always try, at least, to write with honesty, and I’ll tell you that I don’t know much about the Tigers. They may lead for the All-Name Team—their coach is Eliah Drinkwitz (sounds like a Mafia lawyer), and their QB is Connor Bazelak (you grew up with several Bazelaks, right?). I’m still not totally comfortable with Missouri being in the SEC, but here come Oklahoma and Texas, so—ahh, don’t get me started.
- Tennessee (5-7, 2-6): What a dumpster fire the Volunteers have been lately. The coaching revolving door continues with Josh Heupel, recently at UCF. UT hasn’t been relevant for some years now, and the situation isn’t going to be fixed overnight.
- South Carolina (4-8, 1-7): The good news is new coach Shane Beamer is the son of legendary Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, so good bloodlines. The bad news is Shane has never even been a coordinator, much less a head coach. So, we’ll see how he does with the Gamecocks. Kevin Harris is a beast at running back.
- Vanderbilt (3-9, 1-7): Another new coach (Clark Lea), another “I know what it will take for Vandy to win” speech. Hey, I hope he’s right—my brother was a Vanderbilt alum, it’s a good school, and so on. But it’s tough to succeed on 17th Avenue in Nashville.
- Alabama (11-1, 7-1): Gotta say, what Nick Saban has done in Tuscaloosa is impressive. The Tide have been in or around the Top Five for quite some time, and that’s really hard to do year after year nowadays. They have a new (but talented) QB in Bryce Young, but I don’t see much changing for the team.
- Texas A&M (9-3, 5-3): I’m still not totally sold on Jimbo Fisher being such a great coach. Florida State was 5-6 his last year there, and his first couple of years with the Aggies were indifferent. They did go 10-1 last year, so let’s see what comes next.
- Ole Miss ( 9-3, 5-3): This is the highest I’ve picked my alma mater in five or so years. Lane Kiffin is a difference-maker as head coach, and Matt Corral is one of the top QBs in the nation. The defense needs to take a quantum leap forward for the Rebels to really excel.
- Arkansas (7-5, 3-5): This is the only instance where doing this late really benefitted me, as I would not have had the hogs beating Texas. Good old boy Sam Pittman seems to have the Razorbacks bought in, and they have a linebacker named Bumper Pool (I am not making this up).
- – 7. So sue me. After looking at all the analytics, I could not separate these last three (note I’m predicting the same records), so I lumped them all together.
Auburn (6-6, 3-5): New coach Bryan Harsin had a stellar record at Boise State, but will he fit in down south (so far, so good)? The defense appears to be strong, and running back Tank Bigsby lives up to his name.
Mississippi State (6-6, 3-5): Mike Leach is quite polarizing. Pundits either think he is an excellent coach or a total nut case. Looks like a good D in Starkville, led by cornerback Emmanuel Forbes.
LSU (6-6, 3-5): Spoiler alert! Ed Orgeron doesn’t make it to next year as the Tigers’ coach. Wide receiver Kashon Boutte and cornerback Derek Stingley are uber-talented, but Coach O needs to find a more consistent result from the team. But, hey, they have that great cheer: “Hot boudin, cold cous cous, come on Tigers, poosh, poosh, poosh.”
Southern Mississippi (6-6, 4-4/CUSA): I think Will Hall was a wise choice to take the reins of the Golden Eagles. USM needs a talent upgrade and a QB that can produce.
Sewanee (3-7, 2-6/SAA): This is an homage to our intrepid editor at Our Mississippi Home, J.T. Mitchell, a former Tiger himself. Hey, let’s remember that Sewanee was an original member of the SEC—pretty cool.
So, there you have it, Rich’s Picks if you will. This has gone on long enough already, so we’ll revisit how everybody’s doing and who might make the playoffs later.
College football has its flaws (I don’t like the transfer portal or NIL situations), but it’s still the greatest game we have, even with all the passion and pageantry involved. Enjoy your team, and we’ll see how these (and other) predictions hold up later.