SEC Previews: Georgia Bulldogs

The three-time defending SEC East champions are back, but the Georgia Bulldogs will have plenty of questions to answer this fall. Jake Fromm was the man under center for three straight division titles and their 2017 SEC Championship, but can Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman and/or USC transfer J.T. Daniels replicate his success. How will Georgia’s traditional run-heavy offense react to the departures of De’Andre Swift and Brian Herrien. Is the defense good enough to keep the ‘Dawgs at the top of the division? Let’s take a look.

Top Returners: George Pickens, Richard Lecounte III

Georgia’s offense was decimated by departures for the NFL. Fromm’s somewhat surprising decision to declare early has left questions about how probable starter Newman will transition from the ACC to the SEC. Herrien and Swift are gone out of the backfield, and that leaves returning leading receiver George Pickens as the clear top returner in this Bulldog offense. Pickens will be crucial in Georgia’s offensive scheme; he led the Bulldogs with 727 receiving yards, which led the team by over 250 yards, and found the endzone eight times, a mark that was greater than any non-quarterback.
Defensively, Lecounte seems like a promising pick for SEC Defensive Player of the Year, although he will have some stiff competition in that department. On Georgia’s defense, he’s their clear top returner after doing it all in 2019 with 61 tackles (4.5 for loss), 3 passes defended, 3 fumbles recovered, two forced fumbles, and four interceptions. An absolute beast all over the field, Lecounte will be the focal point of the Georgia defense in 2020. 

Biggest Concerns: Run Game

Yes Georgia has a long history of pumping out NFL talent at running back. Between Todd Gurley, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, and now Swift and Herrien, the tradition is strong in Athens. But that doesn’t change the fact that they will again have to deal with massive losses at the position. Zamir White (408 rushing yards in 2019) appears the favorite to take over the lead back role in Kirby Smart’s offense, and while his 5.2 yards per carry was excellent last season, can he maintain that efficiency with a far greater workload in 2020? And who can complement his efforts in the backfield? There’s definite questions to be answered in this department for Georgia. 

X-Factors: Jamie Newman, Monty Rice

Newman is an obvious selection here. The dual-threat signal-caller comes to Athens from Wake Forest, where he tossed 26 TDs to 11 INT. With division rival Florida closing the gap and returning Kyle Trask under center, Georgia needs Newman’s transition to the SEC to be almost seamless. One tell-tale stat from the Jake Fromm era was that he was winless in his career when needing to attempt more than 30 passes. Can Newman handle that workload, which may be required if the run game doesn’t do much for the Bulldogs? His adjustment period and production for Georgia is a clear X-Factor that may determine the ceiling of this team.
Defensively, I’m looking to Monty Rice to step up in a big way for Georgia. He led the team in tackles last year with 89, but the inside linebacker recorded just three of those for loss and zero sacks. Lecounte can do a lot for the Georgia defense, but if Rice can up his game from productive defender to a game-changing linebacker, that Bulldog defense is going to be a piece of work to face in 2020.  

SEC Record Prediction: 7-1
I like the Bulldogs to make it four straight division titles, as they’ll represent the SEC East once more. Their SEC-opening road trip to Alabama is cause for concern, but their other crossover battle is a home date with Auburn, who I think Georgia will handle. Outside of that, I think Kirby Smart’s squad runs the table in conference play, with their closest call being a ‘neutral’ field clash with Florida in Jacksonville, Florida. 

SEC Previews: Florida Gators

Entering the 2020 football season, there’s a consensus top two in the SEC East between the Florida Gators and the Georgia Bulldogs. Whether either of those two teams has the firepower to take down the champion out of the SEC West remains to be seen, but do the Gators have a chance at wrestling the division crown away from the Bulldogs? Let’s see what they have to offer this fall. 

Top Returners: Kyle Trask, Shawn Davis
Trask will definitely be the key to Florida’s success in 2020. After an impressive first year under center for the Gators, his experience will be crucial, especially considering Georgia having landed two former starters in the transfer portal during the offseason. After tossing for nearly 3000 yards and 25 touchdowns last season, Trask should be one of the best quarterbacks, both in the SEC and in the country.
Defensively, Shawn Davis is just one of many lethal assets that could be pulled out of Florida’s secondary and listed as a key returner. Davis had three interceptions, which he returned at an average of 37 yards per pick, while coming up with 3 passes defended and 51 tackles on the year. Florida likes to make their DBU claim, and this year, they do seem to boast one of the best secondaries in the nation with Davis leading the way. 

Biggest Concerns: Replacing Lamical Perine
Leading rusher Lamical Perine is off to the NFL, and he led Florida’s ground game with 676 rushing yards. After that, it’s a fairly significant drop off to their top returning back Dameon Pierce, who finished with 305 yards on the ground. Pierce will be counted on to be the workhorse in the Florida backfield, but replacing Perine will be a bigger task than that. Perine also caught 40 passes for 262 yards and 5 touchdowns, so he was a true dual-threat back that will be a very difficult player to replace. Pierce will need to step up and handle a workload he hasn’t had to bear before, and Florida will hope between him and a few other returners, they can at least mitigate the loss of Perine. 

X-Factors: Dameon Pierce, Jeremiah Moon
Offensively, Pierce is the clear-cut choice for Florida’s X-Factor. Although the Gators also lost leading receiver Van Jefferson, last year’s receiving corps was one of the most talented in recent program history, so they’ll have the ability to replace that production. Pierce will most definitely be the make-or-break point for the Florida offense as returning experience at quarterback will only do so much if you can’t run the ball.
Defensively, I’m going with Jeremiah Moon to be the X-Factor for the Gators. He’ll be coming off a season-ending injury, but when he was active he but up very solid numbers for Florida, including 3 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. He also chipped in with 31 tackles and 2 passes defended, and if he can stay healthy and be a versatile asset to the Gator’s defense, that will be a huge win for Dan Mullen’s squad. 

SEC Record Prediction:  5-3
This isn’t nearly as good as many people expect for Florida, but I’m not sold on the Gators just yet. That running game is very worrying to me, and their inability to beat Georgia recently has been frustrating. I’m seeing losses to Georgia and LSU, with a road upset suffered at the hands of Lane Kiffin, John Rhys Plumlee, and the young and promising Ole Miss offense. It’ll be a tricky trap game sandwiched between those LSU and Georgia match-ups, and I think Trask and Co. overlooks the Rebels and ultimately ends their hopes at a SEC Championship berth. 

Implications on Big 12 and ACC After SEC Announces Conference-Only Schedule

Another seismic wave washed over college football yesterday, as the SEC announced they would go to a 10-game, conference-only schedule. Implications? Yeah, just a few. In what’s become a common theme to our articles over these past few days, let’s break down everything we know. 

SEC’s New Schedule

The SEC – much like the ACC – will be shifting to a ten-game schedule, adding two games to each team’s conference slate. However, unlike the ACC, the SEC will not be including non-conference games. The Alabama-USC was finally officially cancelled yesterday, and other marquee out-of-conference games like LSU-Texas and Auburn-UNC went down the drain as well. The new schedule will commence September 26th. New games have been leaked, but no formal schedule has been announced. 

Florida may have gotten the toughest draw, adding in a clash with Alabama and a road trip to Texas A&M. Meanwhile, arch SEC East rival Georgia added games against Mississippi State and Arkansas, so safe to say that Georgia just became the clear favorites for their fourth straight division title. 

Implications on the ACC

The implications for the ACC are that the “+1” of their “10 games +1” scheduling model just became a lot more unclear. It seemed that the initial idea behind the ACC’s announcement was to keep their rivalry weekend clashes with the SEC alive. But via the SEC’s announcement, Clemson-South Carolina, Georgia-Georgia Tech, Kentucky-Louisville, and Florida-Florida State will no longer happen, leaving the ACC starting from scratch with this announcement. The ACC will either scramble for independent and Group of 5 programs to fill out the schedule, or roll-back their initial announcement and go to conference only to match the SEC, Pac-12, and Big 10. 

Implications on the Big 12

The Big 12 were massive losers from yesterday’s changes, as the Big 12 now is the only Power-5 conference remaining that hasn’t updated their schedule. An optimistic Big 12 fan may suggest they could go with a full conference round robin (9 games) and then match-up with the ACC for non-conference battles. That seems pretty unlikely, as it would require scheduling games that were never on the docket, and, outside of West Virginia, there’s no geographical convenience to these games. The Big 12 has said they will update their status on August 3rd, but with only 10 teams in their conference, it will be difficult for them to match the 10-game schedule put together by every other conference. This could leave the Big 12, already dealing with a bad reputation in the College Football Playoff, on the outside looking in, if no expanded playoff format is adopted for 2020. There’s no clean format for the Big 12 to try out that doesn’t involve a repeat conference opponent. Expect a 9-game conference season, with a delayed announcement about conference games, as the Big 12 will likely try to keep some of their Group of 5 and Independent opponents on the schedule, in order to play at least 10 games.

SEC Previews: South Carolina Gamecocks

One of the weirdest results of the 2019 football season was South Carolina’s overtime victory against the Georgia Bulldogs. Had that not happened, the Bulldogs may have been at least considered for a College Football Playoff berth as a 1-loss SEC runner-up. South Carolina went on to finish 4-8, and their only other wins were over Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and Charleston Southern, all at their home stadium. The talent was there – at least that one day – but the results were not. However, could the Gamecocks see some improvement in 2020. Let’s see what they are looking like ahead of this year. 

Top Returners: Ryan Hilinski, Israel Mukuamu
Hilinski returns under center for the Gamecocks, which is a needed dose of stability for an offense that lost their top two rushers and top receiver. Hilinksi’s numbers last season were solid (11 TD to 5 INT). His experience will be needed as South Carolina, with a modified and limited preseason, is forced to adapt on the fly. 

The defense should be the strength of this South Carolina team, and it’s a unit I truly think could be one far better than many expect if they play to their potential. Mukuamu is a huge piece of that defense, coming off a 4-interception season, and he will lead the Gamecocks’ secondary into battle once more this year.  

Biggest Concerns: The Run Game

South Carolina’s top two rushers are gone, leaving them with an unclear situation in the backfield and no experienced starter. The Gamecocks also lost their top receiver, but they had some better depth at the position, and they definitely will need to generate some yards on the ground to open up lanes for Hilsinki to go to work through the air. 

X-Factors: Mon Denson

As per usual, the X-Factor belongs to the man who can address the biggest concern. Denson was South Carolina’s third-leading rusher in 2019. He gained just 232 yards on the ground, but he did do it efficiently, averaging 5.9 yards per pop. With more opportunities as the feature back in Will Muschamp’s backfield, Denson could improve his numbers greatly. His efforts out of the backfield could make or break this Carolina offense. 

SEC Record Prediction: 4-4

A one-game improvement on last year’s record seems fair for a Year 2 starter at quarterback and some tough losses at the other skill positions. I think the defense is good enough to keep them in many games, but, ultimately, navigating a conference schedule that includes visits to Florida and LSU, as well as home dates against Texas A&M and Georgia, will prove exceptionally difficult.

Greatest Of All Time CFB Tournament: Round 4

Three rounds in, and we have four undefeated teams left. Both 2012 and 2009 Alabama will test their unbeaten marks against 2019 LSU and 2001 Miami respectively, both of whom have held serve as their top seed. 2001 Miami is yet to trail in any game so far. On the loser’s bracket side, both entrants from Oregon, Clemson, and Florida State have survived thus far, and Miami and LSU’s second teams also remain. 2008 Oklahoma, 2008 Florida, 2017 UCF (!), and 2014 Ohio State round out the 12 teams currently fighting for survival. Let’s see what round 4 brought. 

Round 4 Schedule

Bracket A Winner’s Bracket

1. 2019 LSU vs. 7. 2012 Alabama
Alabama 37 LSU 31 
For the fourth straight game, LSU fell behind at halftime, trailing 20-17 after 30 minutes, but for the first time, the Tigers could not quite rally. Facing one of the most lethal backfields of all time, LSU surrendered 130 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns to Eddie Lacy, and Joe Burrow only found the end zone once. 2019 LSU has finally met their match and fall into the loser’s bracket – can they rally back?

Loser’s Bracket

 2. 2018 Clemson vs. 4. 1999 Florida State
Clemson 30 Florida State 27
Trailing 27-17 entering the fourth quarter, Clemson turned off their defensive efforts, and the offense rallied the Tigers to victory, as Lawrence threw for 274 yards and a game-tying touchdown with 2:48 remaining on the clock. They would get the ball back – tied 27-27 – with just 72 seconds to work with at their own 12-yard line, but Etienne (141 yards, 1 TD) took a short pass 49 yards to set B.T. Potter up for an eventual game-winning 41-yard field goal with 13 seconds left on the clock. Clemson survives once more.

8. 2008 Oklahoma vs. 11. 2010 Oregon
Oklahoma 34 Oregon 31
Oklahoma got off to a slow start, but their defense tightened up, giving their lethal offense some time to engineer a comeback. Sam Bradford tossed three touchdowns and no picks on a 23-30, 386 yard performance, as the Sooners took the lead at the end of the third quarter and never relinquished it. 

BYE: 13. 2000 Miami, 6. 2008 Florida

Bracket B Winner’s Bracket

1. 2001 Miami vs. 3. 2009 Alabama
Miami 24 Alabama 13
Miami was losing! And then they weren’t. After Mark Ingram ran in a touchdown at the end of the first half, the Hurricanes trailed 10-7, but that was as good as it got for Alabama. Miami seized control in the third quarter, as Clinton Portis ran for 143 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries, toppling the Crimson Tide 24-13 en route to securing a spot in the Bracket B championship, where they’ll have to be defeated twice by the same team. 

Loser’s Bracket

4. 2013 Florida State vs. 16. 2017 UCF
Florida State 35 UCF 23
Jameis Winston threw for 300 yards and a pair of scores, while Devontae Freeman grinded out 74 yards and a score on the grounds. After engineering a shocking upset of 2005 Texas, UCF could not sustain the momentum, as the Seminoles led wire-to-wire in a clean 35-23 victory.

9. 2014 Ohio State vs. 11. 2016 Clemson
Ohio State 29 Clemson 28
What a game! After falling behind 20-7 at halftime, Ohio State stuck to their guns and got 185 rushing yards from Ezekiel Elliot, and 103 more from J.T. Barrett. The Buckeyes took a 21-20 lead, but Clemson scored with 2:08 remaining and notched the two-point conversion to take a 28-21 lead. However, Elliot broke off a 58 yard run to set up the Buckeyes for a touchdown. Rather than go for overtime, Ohio State went for 2, and Barrett handed it off to Curtis Samuel on a reverse for the 29-28 win. What a finish, and 2016 Clemson bows out of the tournament. 

BYE: 12. 2014 Oregon, 7. 2003 LSU

Round 5 Schedule

Bracket A Loser’s Bracket
Bye: 2019 LSU
6. 2008 Florida vs. 2. 2018 Clemson
13. 2000 Miami vs. 9. 2008 Oklahoma

Bracket B Loser’s Bracket
Bye:
2009 Alabama
7. 2003 LSU vs. 4. Florida State
12. 2014 Oregon vs. 9. 2014 Ohio State

Effects Of Notre Dame And New Schedule On The ACC

It was a whirlwind ten minutes to be covering the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Waiting on a pending announcement regarding the commitment of the Irish’s top 2021 running back recruit Logan Diggs, news broke that Notre Dame would officially be competing in the ACC, becoming eligible for their first ever conference championship and the ACC’s bid in the Orange Bowl. It is strictly a one-year arrangement for now, as the ACC also dropped a revised schedule that follows a “10 +1” scheduling module involving ten conference clashes and one non-conference game played in an ACC home state. The schedule will be played over 13 weeks, allowing for two bye weeks, which may be arranged to abide by quarantine rules as much as possible. In the midst of that bombshell dropping, the awaited announcement from Diggs came, and the 3-star running back is headed to South Bend, making it a contender for the most exciting 10 minutes in the sports world in the past 5 months. 

But now that everything is official, let’s break it all down, and what it means for both the ACC and Notre Dame. 

Notre Dame to compete for ACC title, Orange Bowl bid

This is one of the biggest parts of the new addition to the existing partnership between Notre Dame and the ACC. Although just for one year, the Irish will have access to both a conference championship and the ACC’s guaranteed Orange Bowl bid, should they qualify. Quite frankly, Notre Dame becomes instant contenders for both. They’ll be given the 2nd best odds to win the ACC behind Clemson and gives the conference a 2nd viable Playoff contender. Given that they won’t be favorites to beat Clemson – and definitely not twice – it does seem likely that the Orange Bowl is a somewhat likely destination if Notre Dame holds serve against the rest of the ACC. In exchange for this, Notre Dame will share their NBC contract revenue with the rest of the conference. 

Season Format

The ACC will – as of now – shoot for a pretty ambitious 11-game schedule in 13 weeks, allotting two open weeks per team. The season is slated to start during the second week of September, and ten conference games will be played. The ACC is allowing one non-conference game, as long as it is played in the home state of the ACC school. This makes logical sense for the natural Clemson-South Carolina, Georgia Tech-Georgia, Louisville-Kentucky, and FSU-Florida rivalry weekend clashes, but it leaves some questions elsewhere. UNC and NC State and Duke will all have to find separate opponents to come to North Carolina, while Virginia and Virginia Tech face the same challenge. Notre Dame has a difficult situation, being so much further west than the rest of the conference, in that their array of opportunities for regional opponents is completely different. If the Big 10 remains strictly conference-only, the Irish are left with just Ball State as a non-conference match-up. Not ideal for strength of schedule, but a potential two games against Clemson should mitigate that concern. As of now, Notre Dame remains committed to their attempts to play Navy this season. It would at this point likely involve switching the venue to Notre Dame Stadium, as Annapolis isn’t an option under the new ACC guidelines. 

ACC Schedule

The ACC schedule looks different for everyone now, with the conference slate expanded by two games. The most notable change in set-up is that there will be no divisions –  no ACC Atlantic and ACC Coastal. Both were merged into one 14-team mosh pit of a conference, much like the 10-team Big 12. Ultimately, this set-up is a nice add-on in that it allows the two best teams to play for the title. Imagine the TV ratings for a Clemson vs. Notre Dame rematch in the ACC championship, rather than last year’s horrific Clemson-Virginia manslaughter. This may have been done to alleviate concerns about arbitrarily placing Notre Dame in one of the conferences. Putting them in the Coastal would have made them an instant favorite in the ACC’s inferior division, while slotting them into the Atlantic would have angered both Clemson and Notre Dame, as the clear two best teams would be competing for one spot in the championship. This avoids any disagreement regarding Notre Dame’s placement, and gives a struggling Power-5 conference the opportunity for their best championship game in years. 

How does this affect Notre Dame and Clemson

For the game schedule, the ACC released everyone’s opponents, although no dates attached to the game. Notre Dame added contests against UNC, Boston College, Syracuse, and Florida State. A notable omission was a clash with the Miami Hurricanes, who many wanted to see come to South Bend after Miami ended Notre Dame’s playoff hopes in beatdown fashion in 2017. There will be no resurrection of the Catholic vs. Convicts rivalry in 2020. Ultimately, Notre Dame’s schedule probably got a touch easier from their original slate. Florida State is a tricky game, as is UNC, but neither match the difficulty that USC or Wisconsin would have posed. Syracuse and BC are expected to be near the bottom of the conference so they add little to nothing to the resume. Ultimately, Notre Dame’s season should still come down to the Clemson game – or games – as, if the Irish play to their capability, they should beat everyone else on the schedule, especially with a tricky rivalry game and brutal road Big 10 clash out of the way. 

Meanwhile, conference favorite Clemson’s schedule – somewhat detabably – got harder, as they dropped a pretty bad NC State team from the schedule, as well as a Louisville team that is good but very unproven. In exchange, they added Pitt, Miami, and Virginia Tech to the docket, all of which have trap-game potential. Notre Dame’s addition to the conference likely gives Clemson some breathing room. Losing in South Bend may not end their season if they rebound with an ACC championship victory over the Irish, but their conference slate added a few more tricky contests to navigate, so things definitely got tougher for Clemson with these announcements. They’ll still be the favorites entering 2020, but in what’s sure to be a unique year, they’re far from a lock to cruise to a title.

2020 Preview: Tennessee Volunteers

Tennessee has been in the headlines all year for their outrageously elite recruiting, as they are challenging for a top-5 2021 class. The future could be bright for Tennessee, but 2020 will not be their year just yet. I think Tennessee’s offense could be relatively strong, but defense will doom the Vols this season, as I believe that unit is one of the worst in the conference. However, the Vols were last seen engineering a ridiculous comeback in their bowl game victory over Indiana, so if that type of energy rolls over, I could definitely see the Vols having the talent to at least challenge for a top-3 finish in the SEC East. 

Top Returners: Jarrett Guarantano, Bryce Thompson

Guarantano returns under center for the Vols in 2020, and he will be absolutely critical to Tennessee’s hopes at attaining SEC relevancy. He threw for 16 touchdowns and 8 interceptions in 2020, so if he limits the mistakes and gets some help from his playmakers. I think he’s the second-best signal-caller in the division to Kyle Trask of Florida, so no doubt he’s a crucial asset in Knoxville. 

While I have major questions about the Tennessee defense, many of those questions do not revolve around Bryce Thompson, who will lead the secondary in 2020. Thompson has gained some preseason recognition in the conference, but he remains a largely underrated asset for the Tennessee defense, after notching 32 tackles and 3 interceptions last season. 

Biggest Concerns: The Pass Rush

With pass-rush extraordinaire Darrell Taylor off to the NFL, the defensive line has some solid returners, but no dynamic game-changer. I think the secondary will be largely fine, but if the Vols don’t generate a pass rush, there’s only going to be so long that their safeties and corners can clamp down on opposing receivers. 

X-Factors: Shawn Shamburger

With three sacks and an interception a season ago, Shamburger is Tennessee’s best hope at a game-changing pass-rusher in 2020. With Taylor no longer roaming the gridiron, can Shamburger handle the attention that will come as the top rusher for the Vols. Can he increase his production and provide Tennessee with a viable and disruptive threat on the line? The answer to these questions will provide some major clarity when it comes to Tennessee’s 2020 prospects. 

SEC Record Prediction: 3-5
It’s not going to be a horrible season in Knoxville, and a bowl game berth seems pretty likely. But I don’t think they’re ready to challenge Florida and Georgia yet, nor with Alabama, one of their cross-division clashes. Those look like three losses that can be marked right away, and I think they’ll be competitive but not dominant with the rest of their schedule. 

2020 Preview: Missouri Tigers

The Missouri Tigers are the newbies of the SEC and after a somewhat strong start to their tenure with the best football conference in America, but for the past five seasons, it’s been tough sledding for Barry Odom’s squad. A postseason ban cost them a bowl game last year, giving them just two appearances since 2014 (both losses), compiling a perfectly average 30-30 record along the way. And if there’s one thing that’s clear, perfectly average will never be close to good enough in the SEC. Clemson transfer quarterback Kelly Bryant is good after putting up solid numbers under center for the Tigers, the Tigers will look to hand the reins to TCU transfer Shawn Robinson. That move alone brings a lot of question marks, and ultimately, Missouri just looks middle-of-the-road at best once again in 2020. 

Top Returners: Tyler Badie, Kobie Whiteside
Badie is a key attribute returning to the Missouri offense, as his contributions both in the running and passing game will be key for the Tigers. Robinson has averaged under 7 yards per attempt in his career, so an experienced and speedy back who can catch screens and slants will be a huge asset.
Defensively, Kobie Whiteside returns as a force on the defensive line, a year after racking up 7.5 sacks. Missouri’s defense looks exceptionally average, so they’ll need Whiteside to be at his disruptive best on virtually every snap to limit their opponents’ opportunities offensively. 

Biggest Concerns: The passing game

This concern has two edges to it, as there is the concern about how transfer Shawn Robinson will fit into the offense, and also the lack of experienced options he will be throwing it to. Badie’s 356 yards is the top returning mark on the team, leaving Missouri without a true #1 receiver. Robinson has averaged under seven yards per attempt and in his lone season as a full starter, he threw 8 interceptions to just 9 touchdowns. That’ll need to improve if he’s going to optimize Missouri’s offensive production. 

X-Factors: Jalen Knox

Knox is Missouri’s best chance at addressing some of the concerns listed above. He was fourth on the team with 307 receiving yards as a sophomore last season, and he seems like the best bet to emerge as a #1 receiver for Robinson. As good as Badie is, he’s still a backfield weapon and should not often be used as a passing threat outside of screens and slants. Knox could add an extra edge to Missouri’s offense, which would be predictable and dull without it. 

SEC Record Prediction: 2-6

If Knox steps up, Whiteside puts together an outrageous season on the defensive line, and Shawn Robinson gels immediately into the Tigers’ offense, Missouri could be far better than this. However, that’s a lot of ifs and question marks, and I’m not comfortable betting on a team like that. Home contests versus Vanderbilt and Kentucky look like great opportunities for victories, and I like their chances to maybe swing another win along the way, but there’s too many questions to predict a better record than this with any kind of confidence.

2020 Preview: Kentucky Wildcats

Kentucky put forth a surprising breakout season in 2018 in a 10-win season, but they took a step back after quarterback Terry Wilson suffered an injury. Can the Wildcats rebound with Wilson back under center? We know they’ve lost their major playmaker in jack-of-all-trades Lynn Bowden Jr., who led the team in rushing and receiving and was second in passing, but let’s see what they have to offer in 2020. 

Top Returners: Asim Rose, Jamar Watson

Asim Rose handled a large portion of the running duties when Bowden was busy elsewhere on the field, and he put up very solid numbers, averaging 5.5 yards per carry for 826 yards on the year. Kentucky has two other 500-yard rushers returning, but expect Rose to lead what should be a run-heavy attack in Lexington. On the other side of the ball, Kentucky suffered some losses and features a good pass defense, but there’s questions elsewhere. Jamar Watson will be key to getting the Wildcats off the field, as he had 6.5 sacks in 2019 and returns for another year in Kentucky. Can he elevate a defense that will need to bail out a mediocre offense. 

Biggest Concern: Receiving corps

Bowden led this group with just 348 receiving yards in 2019, and the Wildcats also lost Ahmad Wagner, who notched 254 yards. Terry Wilson returning is great, until you realize there’s very little in the way of proven players for him to connect with downfield. A great running game will only get you so far, so Kentucky will need players like Josh Ali (233 receiving yards in 2019) to step up and become a dangerous weapon within their offense. 

X-Factors: Terry Wilson, Yusuf Corker
Wilson is a relatively obvious choice here for the Kentucky offensive X-factor. How will he fare returning from injury in a physical SEC? The answer to that question could determine the fate of the Wildcats. Defensively, Yusuf Corker returns as Kentucky’s leader in tackles while also ranking fourth on the team in passes defended and one of several players tied for second with 1 interception in 2019. Kentucky will need some versatile weapons to help their defense off the field, and Corker seems like a player who could make that happen for the Wildcats. 

SEC Record Prediction: 1-7
Can you be an overrated sleeper team? I believe that’s the best way to describe Kentucky who had Athlon Sports unanimously rank them as the SEC’s best sleeper team, and Phil Steele rank them inside his top 25. Predictions for Kentucky are all over the board, but I am really not high on the ‘Cats. I’m not anticipating Wilson, who’s at his best as a dynamic dual-threat quarterback, to be able to return in full force in the best conference in America. Road games against Auburn and Florida make for some very difficult conference contests, and a home date with Vanderbilt appears to be their most winnable contest. Maybe Wilson surprises me, but I’m not holding my breath on a big year in Lexington. 

2020 Preview: Vanderbilt Commodores

In the modern era of football, Vanderbilt has posted just three winning records and three bowl victories. Neither of those numbers will be getting a bump in 2020. The Commodores lost Ke’Shawn Vaughn, their 1,000-yard rusher, and quarterback Riley Neal to the NFL, leaving Vanderbilt’s roster lacking in experience and talent, relative to the rest of the SEC. The offense has the looks of one of the worst in the country, barring some unexpected breakout seasons, and the defense appears mediocre at best. As usually, Vandy should close their eyes, hold their breath, and hope baseball season arrives quickly. 

Top Returners: WR Cam Johnson, S Tae Daley

Cam Johnson is Vandy’s best returning offensive player, after posting a 316-yard season, finishing as the Commodore’s 2nd-best receiver by yards. He’ll need to step up as a sophomore and lead the inexperienced Vanderbilt offense.
Daley led the Commodores with three interceptions, the only player more than a single pick. With leading tackler Dimitri Moore also returning, the Commodores will need huge defensive performances to even stay competitive in some SEC games. 

Biggest Concern: The Offense
Everything is also an acceptable answer here, but we’ll focus on the offense. I expect this unit to easily be the worst in the SEC, as they return less production than any other team in the conference, and that’s coming off a 3-9 season as it is. Vandy is going to hope Tae Daley gets a pick-six and the defense can hang on from there. This offense doesn’t look capable of stepping up and winning a game. 

X-Factors: RB Keyon Brooks, the secondary

On offense, there’s one clear answer as to who could vastly improve or completely wreck Vanderbilt’s season. Running Back Keyon Brooks put up decent numbers as Vaughn’s back-up in 2019, and he will be the lead back in Nashville this season. He’ll need to step up in the short passing game and be a workhorse out of the backfield to keep the Commodores’ offense on the field. On the defense, Vanderbilt has their leading tackler in Moore, their leader in sacks – Andre Mintze – and Daley all returning. However, with the evolution of college offenses in recent years, Daley is going to need someone else to step up in the secondary with him, as most offenses can boast two tough receivers to cover. If that happens, Vanderbilt may at least put forth serviceable defensive efforts that give their maligned offense a glimmer of hope. 

SEC Record Prediction: 0-8
Looking up and down the conference, I don’t spot a team that I think Vanderbilt will beat. The offense is simply too bad, and the raw talent – Vanderbilt has the worst average recruiting rankings in the SEC over the past five seasons – is simply not there. Another tough season in Nashville.