There’s never a lack of intrigue in the SEC. And the 2020 season may be one of the most intriguing in years.
As conferences across the country moved to league-only schedules, the SEC budged from its longstanding eight conference games per team and went to a 10-game conference-only schedule in 2020.
The extra conference games were fairly benign; Georgia and LSU drew easy opponents from the opposite divisions. But there were a couple spicy matchups added to the slate. Florida now visits Texas A&M and Auburn hosts Tennessee.
Without four non-conference games per team, it’s easy to see how there could be a lot of teams between 4-6 and 6-4 across the SEC this season. Though we don’t envision Alabama or Georgia losing more than one or two games each.
Below we’ve previewed the 14 SEC teams, listed in predicted order of division finish. The teams’ preseason conference title odds from BetMGM are listed in parentheses.
1. Alabama (-130)
2019 record: 11-2
The 2020 offseason has made Alabama the clear favorites in the SEC. Mac Jones completed nearly 69 percent of his passes in his relief stint for Tua Tagovailoa and should retain the starting job for 2020, though five-star freshman Bryce Young should get some snaps. RB Najee Harris is back along with WRs DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle. They each averaged at least 17 yards a catch in 2019.
Defensively, Alabama returns Shane Lee, Christian Harris and Patrick Surtain, and the usual bevy of four and five-star signees is there to restock the cupboard. Alabama does draw Georgia this year out of the East, but that game is in Tuscaloosa. It’ll be a big surprise if Alabama isn’t one of the four playoff teams this year.
2. Texas A&M (+1600)
2019 record: 8-5
If not now for Texas A&M, then when? We had LSU ahead of the Aggies in our preseason top 25, but LSU’s opt-outs and the potential for more have pushed A&M to No. 2 in our SEC preview. With LSU and Auburn looking like relative division long shots in 2020, A&M returns a senior QB in Kellen Mond and nine defensive starters on a unit that gave up just 210 passing yards per game in 2019. A&M got unlucky when it drew Florida as one of its two extra SEC games, but that game is at least in College Station. We’ll have a good idea of where the Aggies stand in the West on Oct. 3 when A&M travels to Tuscaloosa.
3. LSU (+1200)
2019 record: 15-0
A national title defense is looking more and more unlikely for the Tigers. The wave of departures to the NFL has continued in the weeks leading up to the 2020 season with WR Ja’Marr Chase and NT Tyler Shelvin both opting out of the season. Chase won the Biletnikoff Award as the best receiver in the country in 2019 and Shelvin is poised to be an early-round draft pick.
Without them, LSU is now down to just six returning starters pending any other opt-outs. The good news is that there’s still talent returning. QB Myles Brennan will be a more than adequate replacement for Joe Burrow and CB Derek Stingley Jr. could be the best corner in the country. But this sure looks like it is going to be a restocking season for the Tigers.
4. Auburn (+3500)
2019 record: 9-4
Auburn’s defense is also going to have to find a lot of new contributors in 2020. The defensive line needs to replace Marlon Davidson and Derrick Brown, and leading tacklers Jeremiah Dinson and Daniel Thomas are also now in the NFL. Returning LBs Christian Tutt, KJ Britt and Owen Pappoe are going to be relied on a lot for the Tigers to give up fewer than 20 points per game for the fifth straight season. QB Bo Nix should improve in his second season as a starter and has WRs Seth Williams, Anthony Schwartz and Eli Stove back again. Williams had 830 yards and eight scores on 59 catches in 2019.
5. Ole Miss (+15000)
2019 record: 4-8
Welcome to Oxford, Lane Kiffin. The former Tennessee coach returns to the SEC in 2020 and inherits an Ole Miss team that has had trouble stopping opposing offenses in recent years. The 27 points per game Ole Miss gave up in 2019 were the fewest it’s allowed since 2015. How will co-defensive coordinators D.J. Durkin (yes, the former Maryland coach) and Chris Partridge try to fix the unit?
Kiffin’s first major decision on offense regards the starting QB. The competition is between Matt Corral and John Rhys Plumlee after both saw playing time in 2019. Corral opened the season as the starter, but Plumlee took over as the season went on and led the team in rushing with 1,023 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns. Whoever starts at QB will have RB Jerrion Ealy and WR Elijah Moore.
6. Mississippi State (+15000)
2019 record: 6-7
It may take a little bit of time for Mike Leach’s Air Raid to get its footing in Starkville. The former Texas Tech and Washington State coach has his first SEC head coaching job and landed Stanford graduate transfer QB K.J. Costello after he was hired. The former prized recruit should immediately become the Bulldogs’ starter.
While Leach’s system is known for its passing proficiency, Mississippi State should be really good running the ball. RB Kylin Hill rushed for 1,350 yards and 10 TDs in 2019 and is one of the best backs in the SEC. Hill’s rushing total in 2019 was more than Washington State’s team rushing total in each of the past three seasons.
7. Arkansas (+50000)
2019 record: 2-10
It could be another rough season in Fayetteville. Where are the wins going to come from in a 10-game SEC-only schedule? Former Georgia assistant Sam Pittman has a tall task ahead of him in his first head coaching job. Though he will have a familiar face to SEC fans at QB. Former Florida starter Feleipe Franks should get the nod for the Razorbacks after transferring from Gainesville. He’ll face his old team on Nov. 14. Defensively, Arkansas returns LB Bumper Pool and DB Joe Foucha. They may be doing a lot of cleanup away from the line of scrimmage over the course of the season.
1. Georgia (+300)
2019 record: 12-2
How far will offensive competence take the Bulldogs? It could take Georgia all the way to the playoff. After a stagnant offense in James Coley’s first season as offensive coordinator, Kirby Smart brought in former NFL coordinator Todd Monken to run the offense. While three-year starter Jake Fromm is gone, the Bulldogs will likely start USC transfer JT Daniels at QB. Daniels got immediate eligibility at UGA and Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman elected to opt out of the 2020 season last week. Eight starters return on a defense that is the best in the SEC. Georgia gave up just 13 points per game in 2019 and allowed opponents to rush for just 2.6 yards a carry. It’s going to be absurdly tough to score on the Bulldogs in 2020.
2. Florida (+450)
2019 record: 11-2
QB Kyle Trask was very good after taking over for the injured Feleipe Franks in 2019. Trask completed 67 percent of his passes and threw for nearly 3,000 yards and 25 touchdowns. He won’t have WR Van Jefferson in 2020, but TE Kyle Pitts comes back after catching 54 passes for 649 yards and five touchdowns in 2019. The Gators also added former Miami RB Lorenzo Lingard as a transfer to replace Lamical Perine and he could start right away.
While Florida loses David Reese and Jonathan Greenard on defense, Ventrell Miller and Shawn Davis are back along with pass rushers James Houston and Zachary Carter. Florida’s pass rush should be very good again and the SEC East title should hinge on the first weekend of November.
3. Kentucky (+10000)
2019 record: 8-5
Kentucky’s offense was a throwback last season after Terry Wilson went down with a knee injury. WR Lynn Bowden took over at QB and did it all for the Wildcats as UK won its final four games of the season. Bowden is now in the NFL, and Wilson is back and healthy at QB. He’ll have help from RB AJ Rose and WR Josh Ali and a line that returns four of five starters. Seven starters are back on a defense that was quietly one of the best in the country in 2019. Kentucky allowed just 19 points per game a season ago and four of the unit’s five leading tacklers return.
4. Tennessee (+2500)
2019 record: 8-5
Tennessee is currently the prime example why the SEC pushed the start of its season back to Sept. 26. Over 40 players were unavailable for a Saturday scrimmage thanks to injuries, positive COVID-19 tests and player quarantines. When Tennessee is back at full strength it should be an above-average team in the SEC. Every starter returns on offense outside of WRs Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway. They combined to catch 14 of 19 TD passes thrown by Vols QBs in 2019. Defensively, Tennessee must replace Daniel Bituli, Darrell Taylor and Nigel Warrior, but LB Henry To’o To’o should continue to improve after a stellar freshman season, and the defensive line is stocked with seniors.
5. South Carolina (+10000)
2019 record: 4-8
South Carolina’s 2019 would have been a disaster without an upset win at Georgia. That win over the Bulldogs pushed South Carolina to 3-3 on the season, and it looked like a bowl appearance could be in the cards. After that, USC went 1-5 and that lone win came against Vanderbilt. QB Ryan Hilinski returns for a second season as the team’s starter, but new offensive coordinator Mike Bobo’s unit must replace WR Bryan Edwards and RBs Tavien Feaster and Rico Dowdle. LB Ernest Jones and DE Aaron Sterling are back on defense along with DB Israel Mukuamu. He was the guy who picked off three Jake Fromm passes in that double-OT win over UGA.
6. Missouri (+15000)
2019 record: 6-6
It could be a long season in Columbia for new head coach Eli Drinkwitz. The Tigers drew Alabama and LSU in their two extra SEC games and open the season against the Crimson Tide. The QB competition is among TCU transfer Shawn Robinson and returning backups Taylor Powell and Connor Bazelak. RBs Larry Rountree and Tyler Badie are back and provide a solid 1-2 rushing punch, while Virginia Tech transfer Damon Hazelton will be counted on to be the team’s top wide receiver. The defense was extremely solid in 2019 and returns seven starters, including star LB Nick Bolton. But the offense has to improve considerably for Missouri to be a middle-of-the-pack team in the East. Mizzou scored just 47 points in a five-game East Division losing streak last season.
7. Vanderbilt (+50000)
2019 record: 3-9
Vanderbilt got a boost when Dimitri Moore reversed course after initially saying he was opting out of the season in August. The MLB was the team’s leading tackler in 2019 with 99 stops. The other 10 starters are set to be back, but Vanderbilt gave up 32 points per game in 2019. Maybe there’s nowhere to go but up. That’s the hope for the offense, anyway. Vanderbilt scored fewer than 17 points per game in 2019 despite having RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn and WR Kalija Lipscomb. They’re both on NFL rosters now and there aren’t any straightforward replacements on the roster. And there’s not a clear answer at QB either. With every QB who threw a pass in 2019 no longer on the team, the QB competition is a four-man fight among freshmen Ken Seals and Mike Wright and junior college transfers Danny Clark and Jeremy Moussa.
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