SEC Tournament 2019
It’s been a strong season for SEC basketball, and some of the top teams in the country will be on display in the conference’s tournament this week.
The SEC tournament is back in Nashville this year, beginning on Wednesday, after it was held in St. Louis last season. The tourney is taking place at Bridgestone Arena, which hosted it from 2015-17.
Last year, no SEC teams were in the top 10 in the AP Top 25 poll entering the conference tournament. This season, there are three—No. 4 Kentucky, No. 8 Tennessee and No. 9 LSU. Auburn is also ranked at No. 22.
All 14 SEC teams will participate in the conference tournament, with a pair of first-round matchups starting the action on Wednesday.
SEC Tournament Schedule (All Times ET)
Wednesday, March 13
No. 12 Missouri vs. No. 13 Georgia (7 p.m., SEC Network)
No. 11 Texas A&M vs. No. 14 Vanderbilt (25 minutes after end of previous game, SEC Network)
Thursday, March 14
No. 8 Florida vs. No. 9 Arkansas (1 p.m., SEC Network)
No. 5 Auburn vs. Winner of No. 12 Missouri vs. No. 13 Georgia (25 minutes after end of previous game, SEC Network)
No. 7 Ole Miss vs. No. 10 Alabama (7 p.m., SEC Network)
No. 6 Mississippi State vs. Winner of No. 11 Texas A&M vs. No. 14 Vanderbilt (25 minutes after end of previous game, SEC Network)
Friday, March 15
No. 1 LSU vs. Winner of No. 8 Florida vs. No. 9 Arkansas (1 p.m., ESPN)
No. 4 South Carolina vs. Winner of No. 5 Auburn vs. No. 12 Missouri/No. 13 Georgia (25 minutes after end of previous game, ESPN)
No. 2 Kentucky vs. Winner of No. 7 Ole Miss vs. No. 10 Alabama (7 p.m., SEC Network)
No. 3 Tennessee vs. Winner of No. 6 Mississippi State vs. No. 11 Texas A&M/No. 14 Vanderbilt (25 minutes after end of previous game, SEC Network)
Saturday, March 16
Semifinal No. 1 (1 p.m., ESPN)
Semifinal No. 2 (25 minutes after end of previous game, ESPN)
Sunday, March 17
Championship (1 p.m., ESPN)
SEC Tournament Championship Odds (Via OddsShark)
Kentucky +200 (Bet $100 to win $200)
Mississippi State +1200
Ole Miss +4000
South Carolina +6600
Texas A&M +10000
Favorites: Kentucky and Tennessee
The Wildcats and Vols have the best odds to win this year’s SEC tournament championship, and it’s quite likely the two schools will match up in the semifinal on the bottom side of the bracket.
It’s easy to see why these two teams are the favorites entering the tourney. Kentucky and Tennessee played each other in last year’s tournament championship, and both have been strong teams this season.
The Wildcats are 26-5, with three of their losses coming against strong opponents in Duke, LSU and Tennessee. The Vols are 27-4, and they won 23 of their first 24 games this season.
Kentucky and Tennessee split its season series: The Wildcats won 86-69 on Feb. 16, while the Vols got revenge with a 71-52 victory on March 2.
There’s a good chance that whichever team wins the third meeting between these two schools in the semifinal will go on to win this year’s SEC tournament championship.
Last year, the Tigers shared the SEC regular-season championship with Tennessee. But as the No. 1 seed in the conference tourney, they lost their first game, falling to Alabama in the quarterfinals.
The outside expectations aren’t quite as high for Auburn this year. The Tigers are 22-9, winning their last four games of the regular season to climb to the No. 5 seed for this year’s SEC tournament.
However, Auburn could be building momentum at the right time after beating Tennessee to end the regular season.
If the Tigers reach the final, they may have to knock off No. 1 seed LSU in the semifinal. After falling as the top seed last year, this could be Auburn’s chance to have that happen to the Tigers this season.
The Wildcats have dominated the SEC tournament in recent seasons, and that run won’t come to an end yet.
Although the conference has more strong teams than in some past years, Kentucky is still the best among the group. With head coach John Calipari at the helm, the Wildcats typically round into form around March.
That won’t be any different this year. The Wildcats will win their fifth straight SEC tournament championship and secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Preview: Tennessee at Ole Miss
Seventh-ranked Tennessee looks to keep pace in its quest for the SEC regular-season title, after losing twice in the last three games, when they pay a visit to dangerous Ole Miss on Wednesday night. The Volunteers were routed at No. 4 Kentucky and lost in overtime at No. 14 LSU on consecutive Saturdays to fall into a tie with those two for first place in the league to start the week.
Tennessee had a two-point lead in the final seconds of overtime at LSU before giving up a rebound basket and fouling with less than one second remaining after missing a 3-pointer to lose 82-80 on Saturday. “When we don’t execute the way I think we need to, you learn from it, and we need to look at the things that we need to do to continue to get better,” Volunteers coach Rick Barnes told reporters. “We know we are going to be in games like this the rest of the way. … We have got to make sure we know how to handle situations, and we have to do a better job obviously.” The Rebels have won five of their last six games but don’t own a win over a team currently ranked this season, so beating Tennessee would help impress the NCAA Tournament selection committee. “They’ve got great character, depth and physicality that you’ll have to match,” Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis told reporters of the Volunteers. “Our guards are going to have to be terrific in the game. I know this, this place will be rocking on (Wednesday).”
TV: 7 p.m. ET, SEC Network
ABOUT TENNESSEE (24-3, 12-2, SEC): Barnes would like to see a few changes on offense, telling reporters: “Our guards do need to get fouled more. The only way they are going to do that is being more aggressive attacking the basket as opposed to settling for jump shots.” Junior forward Grant Williams tops the team in scoring (19.0) and rebounding (7.6) while senior guard Admiral Schofield adds 16.9 points per game after scoring 27 at LSU. Junior point guard Jordan Bone runs the show, averaging a team-high 6.3 assists, and is 17-of-30 from the field over the last three contests.
ABOUT OLE MISS (19-8, 9-5): Junior guard Breein Tyree leads the team in scoring (18.4) on 48 percent shooting from the field and is averaging 21.1 over the past nine games. Senior guard Terence Davis does a little bit of everything, scoring 15.6 per contest while leading the team in rebounds (5.9) and assists (3.4). Sophomore guard Devontae Shuler is averaging 12.8 points the last four games after scoring 16 on Saturday in a win over Georgia to push his season mark to 9.8 with a team-high 1.8 steals.
1. Davis needs two made 3-pointers to pass Jason Harrison (163) for seventh on the Rebels’ all-time list.
2. Tennessee junior Gs Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner are a combined 12-of-51 from the field the last three games.
3. Ole Miss senior F Bruce Stevens managed nine points combined the last two games after matching his season high with 17 versus Missouri.
Preview: South Carolina at Tennessee
Tennessee puts its No. 1 ranking – and its program-record 18-game winning streak – on the line when it hosts South Carolina for an SEC matchup on Wednesday. The Volunteers have matched the best start to conference play in school history by winning their first 10 SEC games, including eight by double digits.
That includes a 92-70 rout of the Gamecocks at South Carolina on Jan. 29 in which Tennessee shot 56.3 percent. The Gamecocks have been much better defensively in their three games since and held Arkansas to 38.6 percent from the field in a 77-65 home win on Saturday. South Carolina remains one of the biggest surprises in SEC play, sitting fourth in the league standings after a disappointing non-conference slate. The Vols have won 22 straight at home dating to last season, the second-longest active streak in the nation.
TV: 6:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network
ABOUT SOUTH CAROLINA (12-11, 7-3 SEC): Coach Frank Martin’s teams typically are known for their defensive prowess, but this year’s squad has broken the mold a bit and ranks higher in offensive efficiency than defensive efficiency. The Gamecocks have developed a strong one-two punch at the offensive end with Chris Silva (13.7 points, seven rebounds) and freshman guard A.J. Lawson (13.7 points). Hassani Gravett (10.7 points) also has emerged as a scoring threat, shooting 40 percent from 3-point range.
ABOUT TENNESSEE (22-1, 10-0): The Vols are one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country and shoot 51.6 percent from the field, which ranks second in the nation. They also limit their mistakes as their 10.6 turnovers per game are the fewest in the SEC, which is a testament to point guard Jordan Bone (13.3 points, 6.6 assists). Bone has plenty with which to work, including star forward Grant Williams (19.9 points, 7.3 rebounds) and versatile swingman Admiral Schofield (16.5, 6.3).
1. Tennessee has scored 40 or more points in the paint in 14 games this season, including five of its last seven.
2. South Carolina is 1-13 all-time against top-ranked teams, with the win coming at home against Kentucky in 2010.
3. The Vols are 16-0 when they shoot 50 percent or better from the field.
Preview: Louisiana State at Mississippi State
After having its 10-game winning streak and perfect record in the Southeastern Conference halted, No. 22 Louisiana State looks to avoid back-to-back losses for the second time this season when it visits No. 21 Mississippi State on Wednesday night. The Tigers dropped a one-point decision to Arkansas to deny their bid for their first 8-0 start in SEC play since 1981.
LSU committed a season-high 21 turnovers in Saturday’s 90-89 setback and coach Will Wade knows his team must play better at Mississippi State, one of three road games in the next four. “They’re a very, very good team and I know the atmosphere will be good Wednesday night,” Wade said. “It will be probably the toughest road game we’ve had to this point. We’re going to need to play very, very, very well.” The Bulldogs went 3-2 during a five-game stretch in which they played four times on the road after winning at Mississippi 81-75 behind 27 points from Quinndary Weatherspoon. Mississippi State owns a 10-1 record at home but will face consecutive rugged tests against LSU and No. 5 Kentucky on Saturday.
TV: 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2
ABOUT LSU (17-4, 7-1 SEC): Sophomore Tremont Waters, who leads the team in scoring at 15.1 points per game and pumped in a season-high 36 in a win over Texas A&M on Jan. 30, was among 10 players nominated for the Bob Cousy Award as the nation’s top point guard. Waters is averaging 6.0 assists, handing out at least 10 on four occasions, and has registered an SEC-leading 3.0 steals per game. Freshman sensation Naz Reid, projected to be a high pick in this year’s NBA Draft, snapped out of a two-game shooting slump with his second double-double of 19 points and 10 rebounds versus the Razorbacks.
ABOUT MISSISSIPPI STATE (16-5, 4-4): Reggie Perry is coming on strong in his first season with the Bulldogs, earning SEC freshman of the week honors after scoring 18 points at Alabama and following it up with a career-high 21 points and 11 rebounds at Ole Miss. “My confidence has been up pretty much since we started (the SEC schedule),” Perry said after Saturday’s game. “My teammates have done a good job of getting me in the right positions and keeping me motivated.” Leading scorer Weatherspoon averaged 20.8 points over the past five games on 53.1 percent shooting (34 of 64).
1. Mississippi State has won 14 in a row when Weatherspoon scores 20 points.
2. Waters has scored in double figures in 12 consecutive games.
3. Bulldogs G Lamar Peters, averaging 12.9 points, scored 24 against LSU in last season’s SEC tournament.
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Preview: Tennessee at South Carolina
South Carolina has been the biggest surprise during SEC play thus far and will try to send an even bigger shockwave through the league when it hosts top-ranked Tennessee on Tuesday. The Volunteers have won 14 straight contests, one shy of matching the longest streak in program history.
Tennessee hasn’t lost since Nov. 23 against Kansas, and 11 of its 14 consecutive victories have come by double digits. The Vols’ dominant streak has included four road wins, and they’ve captured six straight on opponents’ home courts dating to last season. The Gamecocks struggled through the non-conference schedule but hit their stride in time for SEC play. They’ve lost two of their last three, including a 74-70 setback at Oklahoma State on Saturday, but have won four in a row at home.
TV: 6:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network
ABOUT TENNESSEE (18-1, 6-0 SEC): The Vols have put together an offensive juggernaut that is shooting 50.7 percent from the field, which leads the SEC and ranks third nationally. Grant Williams (20.2 points, 7.3 rebounds), who is the SEC’s leading scorer, poured in 43 points in Wednesday’s overtime win at Vanderbilt. Swingman Admiral Schofield (16.6 points) has extended his range to create a major matchup problem and Jordan Bone (13.1, 6.3 assists) ranks second in the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.5).
ABOUT SOUTH CAROLINA (10-9, 5-1): The Gamecocks struggled to find an offensive identity early in the season but have blossomed in league play. Freshman A.J. Lawson (13.2 points) continues to lead the team in scoring by a narrow margin, but senior Hassani Gravett (11.4) has paced the team during SEC play with 15 points per contest. Chris Silva (13.1 points, 6.9 rebounds) has scored in double figures in four of the Gamecocks’ six conference games, including a monster performance that included 32 points and 14 boards in a home win over Auburn last Tuesday.
1. Tennessee’s 6-0 start to SEC play is its best since 1981-82, when it won its first eight conference games.
2. South Carolina F Felipe Haase has made 16 consecutive free throws over his last five games.
3. The Vols are 11-0 when G Jordan Bowden (10.9 points) scores 10 or more points.
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Preview: Auburn at Texas A&M
No. 12 Auburn goes after its first true road victory of the season Wednesday night when the Tigers pay a visit to Texas A&M, which is coming off one of its best performances of the campaign. Auburn has dropped road contests to North Carolina State and Ole Miss within the last month, but will try to break that string by snapping a three-game losing streak against the Aggies in the SEC battle.
“I think, for us, we want to go on the road and play better,” Tigers coach Bruce Pearl told the Auburn Plainsman. “We want to handle the ball better and not turn the ball over as much. We’re going to play with the same effort, energy and confidence that we do at home. From that standpoint, it’s a great opportunity for us.” The Tigers seek to gain some momentum from Saturday’s 93-78 victory over Georgia at home, in which they shot 50 percent from the field and made 12-of-25 from 3-point range, while Texas A&M rallied from an 11-point deficit to win at Alabama 81-80 on the same day. “Hopefully, this (victory) gives us some energy and confidence,” Aggies coach Billy Kennedy told reporters after his team registered just three turnovers. Sophomore guard T.J. Starks leads Texas A&M in scoring (14.4) and drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer to decide Saturday’s contest, but must rebound from a 4-for-17 shooting performance against the Crimson Tide.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU
ABOUT AUBURN (12-3, 1-1 SEC): Senior guard Bryce Brown is averaging 18.7 points over the last three games to improve his season mark to a team-high 15.8 with a team-best 51 makes from behind the arc. Junior guard Jared Harper had 22 points and dished out seven assists against Georgia to push his season totals to 15.0 and 6.7 (first in the SEC), respectively, and junior center Austin Wiley also scores in double figures (11.3). Sophomore forward Chuma Okeke managed just nine points in the past two games combined, but is averaging 9.9 overall to go along with 6.1 rebounds per contest.
ABOUT TEXAS A&M (7-7, 1-2): Sophomore guard Savion Flagg is the only other player in double figures scoring (12.9) for the Aggies and he is averaging 16.5 over the last four games while leading the team at 8.2 rebounds per contest overall. Junior forward Josh Nebo (8.0 points per game) stepped up by scoring a season-high 21 on 10-of-12 from the field to go along with seven rebounds and four blocks against Alabama. Junior guard Wendell Mitchell, who added 18 points versus Alabama, and senior forward Christian Mekowulu (53.1 percent from the field overall) both average 9.5 points per game.
1. Texas A&M sophomore G Jay Jay Chandler scored 18 in the loss to Kentucky on Jan. 8, but was held to four by Alabama.
2. Auburn senior G Malik Dunbar is averaging 11 points on 12-of-21 from the field over the last three games.
3. The Tigers are first in the SEC in offensive rebounds per game (15.5) and the Aggies are second (12.8).
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Preview: Alabama vs. Georgia
Top-ranked Alabama will undoubtedly be part of the four-team College Football Playoff but fourth-ranked Georgia isn’t a lock as the two squads prepare for Saturday’s SEC championship game at Atlanta. The Bulldogs can clinch a CFP spot by beating the Crimson Tide but risk being bypassed for the playoff if they should lose the contest.
The two squads met in last season’s national title game with Alabama prevailing 26-23 in overtime in what was the coming out party for Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who came off the bench to throw three touchdown passes. “He can sit in the pocket and make every throw,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said during a press conference. “He’s very confident, and he’s got a presence about him in the pocket. He doesn’t fear rush; if he’s got guys bearing down on him, he sidesteps and gets the ball out, and that’s what makes him very special.” Alabama has been dominant all season but coach Nick Saban is very wary of Smart – his former defensive coordinator – and the Bulldogs. “Georgia is one of the most complete teams in the country,” Saban said at a press conference. “I think Kirby’s done a fantastic job there in terms of taking the players that were there and developing them in the style that he wants and doing a great job of recruiting to get new players to come and buy into their system. This is going to be the biggest challenge we’ve had to date.”
TV: 4 p.m. ET, CBS. LINE: Alabama -13.5
ABOUT ALABAMA (12-0, 8-0 SEC): Tagovailoa has thrown a school-record 36 touchdown passes against two interceptions and the sophomore fuels an offense averaging 49 points per game. Jerry Jeudy is enjoying a standout season with 56 receptions for 1,079 and 11 touchdowns while fellow sophomore receiver DeVonta Smith (27 receptions) will forever be remembered in Alabama lore for catching the game-winning 41-yard touchdown pass in the national championship game. The Crimson Tide give up an average of 13.8 points with sophomore nose guard Quinnen Williams recording a team-leading 16 tackles for loss and senior defensive end Isaiah Buggs notching a team-best 9.5 sacks.
ABOUT GEORGIA (11-1, 7-1): Sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm was intercepted twice in last season’s title game but has been picked off just five times this season while passing for 2,236 yards and 24 touchdowns. The attack that produces an average of 40.1 points per game also relies on two standout running backs in sophomore D’Andre Swift (962 yards, nine touchdowns) and junior Elijah Holyfield (896 yards, seven scores). The defense allows an average of 17.2 points with senior linebacker D’Andre Walker (team-high 6.5 sacks) and sophomore safety Richard LeCounte (team-leading 64 tackles) among the standouts.
1. Alabama has won the past four meetings.
2. Bulldogs junior WR Mecole Hardman leads the SEC with a 21.8 average on punt returns – he has one touchdown – and also averages 26.2 yards on kickoff returns.
3. Crimson Tide junior LB Terrell Lewis (knee) returned to practice from summer surgery and his availability will be determined later in the week.
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Complete SEC preview for the 2018 season.
After winning its fifth title in nine seasons last year, Alabama is primed for another run at the national championship and SEC title in 2018. The Crimson Tide are the pick in 2018 SEC predictions to edge Auburn and win the West Division and knock off Georgia in the conference title game to claim the league championship. The Bulldogs are also primed for another run into the CFB Playoff. Coach Kirby Smart continues to add elite talent on the recruiting trail, and there’s a strong foundation to build off the 2017 season. Auburn is Alabama’s biggest challenger in the West, followed by Mississippi State and Texas A&M. The race to finish second in the East is wide open. Florida, South Carolina, Kentucky or Missouri are next up, with Tennessee and Vanderbilt projected at the bottom of the division.
Offensive coordinator Dan Mullen embraces the incredible expectations that drove his former boss, Urban Meyer, to retire for a season and cost Will Muschamp and McElwain their jobs at Florida. Mullen’s ability to develop quarterbacks is critical given the long-standing issues under center. He and his staff must prove to be strong recruiters to rebuild Florida’s talent level and depth after four straight classes outside the top 10. The 46-year-old will benefit from a favorable schedule. Doubling last season’s total of four wins is within reach.
Georgia doesn’t have the experience coming back that it did last year, but it may have as much talent. It’s just younger and inexperienced talent, and that does matter, and would be a reason not to expect another CFB Playoff run. Then again, the schedule is far from daunting. Georgia has to go to LSU, and September games at South Carolina and Missouri could be troublesome. Auburn visits Athens.
Georgia should be a heavy favorite to repeat as SEC East champion. Everything else probably depends on how quickly the defense reloads.
If Kentucky can find a competent quarterback, there is enough experienced talent at the other positions to envision the Wildcats breaking through the seven-win plateau for the first time in the coach Mark Stoops era. If not, the Wildcats could be in danger of taking a step back by either falling to a lesser bowl than the last two seasons or missing postseason play altogether.
There’s just enough turnover to give one pause, but most of the reasons for last year’s second-half surge return. That suggests a pretty high floor in a division that features quite a few teams that bottomed out in 2017.
If a Will Muschamp-coached team is ever going to get the offense going, this would seem the year with QB Jake Bentley and WR Deebo Samuel in the fold. The defense has personnel question marks, but Muschamp and 3rd year defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson have earned the benefit of the doubt on that side of the ball.
With Florida and Tennessee in transition thanks to coaching changes, South Carolina can realistically enter the season with its eye on second place in the SEC East, the same spot it claimed a year ago. It’s probably a bit much to expect the Gamecocks to compete with defending conference champion Georgia, but South Carolina gets the Bulldogs in the second game of the season at home, so there’s always hope.
Tennessee doesn’t have much margin for error, particularly with a challenging schedule that opens with offensive juggernaut West Virginia. The Vols plan to be efficient with a low-risk offense, mindful of turnovers while featuring aggressive blitz packages and coverage schemes. New coach Jeremy Pruitt hopes that recipe is good enough to produce (at least) six wins in Year 1.
The overall win total dropped by only one game from 2016 to 2017, but a deeper dive into the numbers reveals that the Commodores took a significant step back in coach Derek Mason’s fourth season. To get his team back into the bowl picture — and to stay off the hot seat — Mason will need to solve the Commodores’ defensive issues. Even if QB Kyle Shurmur and the offense continue to progress — a realistic proposition with an improved offensive line and the addition of Ke’Shawn Vaughn in the backfield — Vanderbilt will struggle to stay out of the SEC East cellar if the defense is allowing 40-plus points in league games.
There was a different feel to Alabama’s most recent national title. For one thing, the Tide had to overcome a bewildering rash of injuries and a November loss to Auburn. There also were the emotional swings of the title game, topped off by the iconic second-and-26 walk-off winner.
The end result was the same, though — a fifth national title in the past nine seasons — and the expectations remain, thanks to many of the players who were involved in the crucial moments of that wild night in Atlanta. Alabama will begin the season ranked No. 1 in the nation. And there’s a good chance the Tide will end the season in that spot as well.
It would be unreasonable to believe the Razorbacks could go from 1-7 in conference play to a contender in the SEC West in the course of one offseason. Quarterback play will likely go a long way in determining whether the offense builds up steam in coach Chad Morris’ debut. And the defense — which gave up a staggering 7.1 yards per play in SEC games — needs major help at all three levels. The debut of Morris should provide some splash and dash, but the Razorbacks need a further injection of speed and depth across the board to make a significant move in the brutal SEC West.
Gus Malzahn faces some lofty expectations. The Tigers’ sixth-year head coach just signed a seven-year contract extension for $49 million, with $36.75 million guaranteed, after a 10–4 season in which he won the SEC West and defeated both National Championship Game participants (Alabama and Georgia). Now, though, many fans will define an Auburn season as a success or failure based on whether it defeats those two rivals, and the Tigers must do so on the road in 2018. Good luck, Gus.
LSU’s schedule isn’t conducive to finding a path back into the SEC’s upper echelon. The Tigers will face two teams that played in the College Football Playoff (Alabama and Georgia) and two teams that played in New Year’s Six bowls (Auburn and Miami). Add games at home with Mississippi State and at Texas A&M, and it’s difficult to picture the Tigers being able to challenge for SEC West supremacy. The key for coach Ed Orgeron is not to slip so far that he’s facing a must-win-big scenario in 2019 to keep his job.
When Dan Mullen left Mississippi State after nine seasons to return to Florida, the school elected to go outside of the SEC and hire Joe Moorhead as coach. There’s some risk there (mostly related to recruiting), but the hire was hailed by outside observers, and 2018 could prove why immediately. Mississippi State lost very little of consequence from its 2017 team, and despite a fairly challenging schedule, there’s reason for optimism in Starkville. Eight wins are expected, and some believe that this could be a 10-win team with the right breaks.
Coach Matt Luke led the Rebels to a 6-6 mark in a tumultuous 2017 that included the cloud of the NCAA investigation hovering above. His candidacy for the full-time job was not looking strong until the Rebels won three of their last four games, including a 31-28 upset at No. 16 Mississippi State.
Barring a reprieve, Ole Miss is banned from a bowl game for the second straight season. The Rebels have enough firepower on offense to pose some serious problems, but they will need to show significant improvement on defense — most notably against the run — to reach the six-win mark again.
Weary from four consecutive seasons with eight wins or fewer, A&M pulled off a major coup and lured Coach Jimbo Fisher to College Station. The Aggies have bet $75 million over 10 years that Fisher can duplicate the success he had at Florida State, where he won the 2013 national championship. Fisher inherits 15 returning starters and some top-flight talent. But the Aggies have lacked the physicality and depth to compete for championships in the rugged SEC. If significant strides are made in those areas, A&M could make a run at exceeding the eight-win plateau. Competing immediately for an SEC championship may be asking for too much too soon.
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NCAA Football 2017-18 Season
SEC East Preview
It’s a tight battle at the top of the SEC East Division between Georgia and Florida. The Bulldogs get the nod over the Gators thanks to 11 returning starters on defense, and the emergence of quarterback Jacob Eason. However, the addition of quarterback Malik Zaire as a graduate transfer should provide a boost under center for Gators coach Jim McElwain. Outside of the top contenders, South Carolina and Kentucky headline some of the dark horse teams to watch in 2017. The new season of fantasy college football kicks off Saturday August 26 at FanPicks.
Tennessee needs to find a competent quarterback and develop playmakers if it’s to compete for an SEC East Division crown. The schedule is unforgiving, with road trips to Florida and Alabama and a November visit from LSU. The Vols defense and special teams are solid, but ultimately Tennessee will only go as far as their new quarterbacks can take them.
Two trips to Atlanta for the SEC title game are an impressive start to head coach Jim McElwain’s regime. The next step will be more difficult. The 55-year-old coach will get a feel for his Gators quickly. Florida opens 2017 against Michigan in AT&T Stadium, home to the Dallas Cowboys. Tennessee visits on Week 3 to begin a stretch of five SEC games, including visits from LSU and Texas A&M.
McElwain is just 3–7 against ranked opponents. That will have to change, or 2017 could be a step back for his program.
If the defense plays up to its potential, and the offense and special teams improve even a little, Georgia has a very good chance to win its first SEC East title in five years. There’s a chance to go even further, depending on how quickly the young talent develops, and how Kirby Smart improves as a head coach. And there’s also a chance to disappoint, which Georgia has tended to do lately.
South Carolina Gamecocks
Will Muschamp and his coaching staff took over a roster so depleted that some of the struggles of the 2016 season — such as an offense that finished last in the SEC in scoring with 20.8 points per game — can hardly be held against them. It’s a different story in Year 2. The Gamecocks should build on the offensive momentum established with QB Jake Bentley at the helm in the last half of 2016, but Muschamp’s defensive acumen will be tested by this year’s thin group.
The schedule starts out with a toss-up game against NC State that could set the tone, and there are another half-dozen games on the schedule that could go either way. How South Carolina fares in those will determine whether the Gamecocks are able to make a move in the SEC East standings.
Kentucky ended its six-year bowl drought last season with a bid to the TaxSlayer Bowl, and with the bulk of its offense and defense returning the Wildcats seem poised for a special season by the program’s middling historic standards. If quarterback Stephen Johnson can build on the momentum of his outstanding performance in the upset of Louisville in the 2016 regular-season finale, there’s plenty of talent around him for the offense to make up for some of the defense’s deficiencies. If the defense improves as well, the Wildcats could be a dark horse candidate in the SEC East race.
Perhaps no program changed its trajectory in the final two weeks of the 2016 regular season more than Vanderbilt. Double-digit wins over Ole Miss and Tennessee sent the Commodores to a bowl game for the first time under Derek Mason tenure as head coach. Vanderbilt showed tangible signs that the program was headed in the right direction. Sustaining success has always been difficult for them, but Mason has a veteran team — 20 of the projected 22 starters are in at least their third year in the program — that should remain competitive. If the offense continues to progress, Vanderbilt is likely to make another trip to the postseason.
Missouri games were more high-scoring in 2016, and that was only partially good. The Tigers were better statistically but won one fewer game. Finishing the season with two conference wins in three tries gave the fan base a jolt of optimism, but while a seasoned offense seems to have a high ceiling, the defense has far more questions to answer than it did 12 months ago.
NCAA Football 2017-18 Season
SEC West Preview
The SEC West division’s Crimson Tide are once again the preseason favorite to win it all , with LSU and Auburn returning enough talent to rank as top 10-15 teams. Outside of the top contenders, Mississippi State and Arkansas headline some of the dark horse teams to watch in 2017. Get ready for college fantasy football at FanPicks.com
New LSU coach Ed Orgeron retained defensive coordinator Dave Aranda (now the highest-paid college assistant coach at $1.8 million per year) and hired Matt Canada as offensive coordinator to break LSU out of its predictable offensive patterns. Talent always abounds at LSU, although there’s still work to do to catch up with Alabama in the trenches.
A tough schedule awaits — the Tigers have only three SEC home games — so a 10–2 record would probably be the ceiling, which is not a bad goal in the Tigers’ first full year under Coach O.
Auburn was in the College Football Playoff mix well into November last season before injuries took their toll. The core of that offense is back, along with seven of 11 starters on defense. The addition of QB Jarrett Stidham and presence of a new voice in offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey should propel the Tigers into that same conversation in 2017. If they’re not, athletics director Jay Jacobs will have some tough decisions to make after the season. This Tigers team is too loaded to be an afterthought on the national level.
Alabama Crimson Tide
This figures to be a classic Nick Saban team. The offense will be rooted in its ability to run the ball with a deep group of backs and a dangerous quarterback in Jalen Hurts. How Alabama rebuilds the front seven will say a lot about the effectiveness of a defense hit especially hard by graduation.
The opening weekend should be tremendous — a matchup with Florida State in Atlanta’s new dome. The result won’t knock the loser from playoff talk, but it’ll add a degree of difficulty before conference play even starts.
A defense that struggled in 2016 has gotten younger, but there is renewed enthusiasm that the scheme change under defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads’ watch will lead to better results. The offense has potential, but some untested receivers will need to step up to complement receiver Jared Cornelius, and quarterback Austin Allen must continue to progress.
Another winning record and bowl game is highly likely, but the Hogs will have to show significant improvement all the way around to contend in the SEC West.
Mississippi St. Bulldogs
Mississippi State can still hang its hat on rising to No. 1 in the polls during the 2014 season, but the program slipped to 5–7 in the regular season in 2016 and made a bowl game only because of its high APR score. But that was a rebuilding year, and everyone knew it going in. With the quarterback position now settled and some emerging stars on defense, Mississippi State could be back in line to begin another ascent up the SEC West standings — if not to the top, at least into the middle of the pack with a seven- or eight-win season.
But there are question marks, especially along the offensive line, so it would not be surprising to see Mississippi State need its good grades to get it into another bowl game.
Texas A&M Aggies
The Aggies are trying to end a trend of three consecutive 8–5 seasons that have featured late-season collapses. Also, they haven’t finished higher than fourth in the SEC West since 2012. Inexperience at quarterback, issues in run defense and dependency on unproven players render the season outlook quite suspect. The schedule won’t do them many favors, either, with road trips to UCLA, Florida, LSU and Ole Miss, where they typically struggle.
Coach Kevin Sumlin’s job could be in jeopardy if the Aggies cannot break out of their 8–5 rut. Ironically one of Sumlin’s best coaching efforts may be required this season for A&M to post eight victories.
Ole Miss Rebels
If the opportunity to play in a bowl game is the only motivation, the 2017 season is already lost. Ole Miss players insist it is not. They found out in late February they have no chance at bowl game, not because of what may or may not happen on the field, but because of the school’s own ban, part of its self-sanctioning amid an NCAA investigation that approaches its fifth birthday.
Spring practice also showed that Ole Miss is still pretty good on offense. And that question marks remain on defense. The Rebels want to make amends for a disappointing season that saw them ranked as high as No. 11 before falling to 5–7.
Louisiana State University Tigers vs Texas A&M Aggies
Texas A&M and Louisiana State University went from SEC contenders to third place in the West Division over the last few weeks and just hope to close out the respective seasons strong. The 22nd-ranked Aggies, who still have a shot at second place in the West, will try to put together back-to-back wins when they host LSU on Thursday in a Thanksgiving battle (Enter Contest).
Texas A&M was in fourth place in the first College Football Playoff rankings but dropped its next two games to Mississippi State and Ole Miss to drop to 25th before recovering with a 23-10 victory over non-conference foe UTSA on Saturday. The Aggies are still a possibility for a Sugar Bowl berth, which would go to the second-highest ranked team from the SEC, and would finish in second place in the SEC West with a win on Thursday and an Auburn loss against Alabama. The Tigers, who lost to Auburn earlier in the year, have no shot at second place and could be playing for interim coach Ed Orgeron’s job on Thursday. LSU won three straight after Orgeron took over for Les Miles. They’ve since dropped two of three while looking unimpressive on the offensive end.
ABOUT LOUISIANA STATE UNIVERSITY(6-4, 4-3 SEC)
Orgeron was expected to spark the Tigers offense but watched his team score one touchdown in five goal-to-go chances on Saturday at home against Florida. Star running back Leonard Fournette was hobbled by an ankle injury that has plagued him on and off all season. He was limited to 40 yards on 12 carries on Saturday and will likely be a game-time decision again on Thursday. Fournette ran for 159 yards and a TD in LSU’s 19-7 home win over the Aggies last season. The Tigers are the only team in FBS to hold each of their opponents to 21 or fewer points in every game this season.
ABOUT TEXAS A&M (8-3, 4-3 SEC)
The Aggies’ biggest star, defensive end Myles Garrett, has been hobbled most of the season as well but finally looked fully healthy on Saturday and recorded 4 1/2 sacks in the win. Garrett, who is expected to go high in the first round of the next NFL draft, became the eighth player in SEC history to record 30 or more sacks in his career (32 1/2). He needs one sack to pass Von Miller (33) for fifth place on Texas A&M’s all-time list. Texas A&M, which lost starter Trevor Knight to a shoulder injury in the loss to Mississippi, is still getting used to Jake Hubenak at quarterback, and the junior threw for 248 yards and a touchdown against UTSA.