In 2017, Georgia broke an 8-year SEC championship drought for the eastern division. The Bulldogs nearly repeated as champions in 2018 had it not been for an epic comeback by Alabama.
Could it be that the two divisions, once thought to be miles apart, are getting closer? This is case that can most definitely be argued, especially considering the way Kirby Smart has continued to elevate Georgia as well as the emergence of teams like Kentucky Missouri and Florida.
Kirby Smart has been riding an almost unprecedented wave of recruiting since arriving in Athens. Back are key offensive personnel like incumbent quarterback Jake Fromm and running back Nate Swift, however, the Bulldogs have suffered key losses at the receiver position to graduation and off-field issues. It’s hard to imagine Georgia not 3-peating as division champions, but the schedule appears daunting as they face Texas A&M and Auburn from the West and Notre Dame in the non-con.
Prediction: 11-1 (7-1)
Don’t look now but head coach Barry Odom is slowly building something down in Columbia. The Tigers have gone undefeated the past two November’s and have brought in grad-transfer QB Kelly Bryant to transition away from the Drew Lock era. A devastating ground attack led by Larry Roundtree and Tyler Badie, coupled with a favorable schedule, could help launch Mizzou to a terrific season in 2019.
Prediction: 10-2 (6-2)
There’s no doubt that coach Dan Mullen did a great job in year 1 changing the culture at Florida and gaining the locker room back. Returning quarterback Feleipe Franks has shown marked improvement during his career and running back Lamical Perine will help lead a dangerous running attack. The schedule toughens up for the Gators in 2019 with games against Miami in Orlando, at Kentucky, LSU, SC and Mizzou. Perhaps this isn’t a top-10 program just yet, but they are heading there sooner than later.
Prediction: 8-4 (5-3)
4. South Carolina
The best word to describe the Will Muschamp era at South Carolina so far: solid. The Gamecocks have been bowl eligible in each of his 3 seasons in Columbia and there are reasons to expect more of the same in 2019. The Gamecock offense loses the explosive Debo Samuel but quarterback Jake Bentley returns following a 3,000 yard 27 TD season. Playing North Carolina and Clemson in the non-con is difficult enough but road games against Missouri, Georgia and Texas A&M could keep this from being a special season.
Prediction: 7-5 (4-4)
In 2018, Kentucky raced to its first 10-win season in 40 years, a testament to Mark Stoops abilities as a recruiter and coach. The question going in to 2019 will be whether or not last year was the exception or the new rule. Gone are Benny Snell and Josh Allen to the NFL and the Wildcat offense looks very one-dimensional on paper. It’s not illogical to think you will see a step back for Kentucky, although getting back to a bowl game would be a great goal for this team.
Prediction: 7-5 (3-5)
Inexplicably, the once-proud Volunteer program has suffered through losing seasons 7 out of the last 11 years. Clearly, 2018 did little to spring confidence back into the hearts of Vol Nation as Jeremy Pruitt could only get Tennessee to 5 wins. This should be an improved team as young talent in the secondary showed flashes last year and quarterback Jarrett Guarntano is as tough as they come at that position. This year, the Vols should go back to a bowl game by the thinnest of margins, which should be enough to show that the program is trending upward.
Prediction: 6-6 (2-6)
By now, we know that Derek Mason can coach, as evidenced by Vanderbilt being bowl eligible twice in the last three years. The question remains: can he get the Commodores to the next tier in the SEC? Running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn is as good as they come in the SEC and he will carry the load in a major way. Losing underrated quarterback Kyle Shurmur is a big blow and opening the season against Georgia doesn’t do the Dores any favors either.