SEC Previews: Alabama Crimson Tide

The last time Alabama went two consecutive seasons without winning th SEC West was 2010-2011. It’s a period of remarkable consistency from the Tide in the country’s best division, so to say this quickly and efficiently – Alabama is my early-season pick to win the SEC once more. They’ve got a QB battle between Mac Jones and Bryce Young, and regardless of who wins, they could have a Heisman contender and one of the best signal-callers in the conference. They’ve got possibly the best running back in the country in Najee Harris, and they’ve reloaded at wide receiver again, all while bringing along their usual fantastic defense. Let’s delve into this Alabama team. 

Top Returners: Najee Harris, Shane Lee

Harris is a clear choice here, after a 20-touchdown season that saw him operate as the lead back in Nick Saban’s offense, piling up 1224 rushing yards on 5.9 yards per carry, rushing for 13 scores. He was an impact contributor in the passing game, collecting 27 passes for 304 yards and 7 more touchdowns, leading all non-QBs with his twenty TDs. He will be a massive part of this Alabama offense once more in 2020. 

As for defense, I’m going with Shane Lee as the top returning player on this defense. In his true freshman season, Lee recorded 86 tackles, 6.5 for loss, to go with 4.5 sacks, an interception, and two forced fumbles. After posting a workout video, Lee seems to be committed to the process of dropping weight and adding some speed, one of the biggest criticisms he received despite his outstanding production. If his freshman year was Lee not in prime physical form…nobody in the SEC wants to see him fully unleashed. 

Biggest Concerns: Replacing their elite secondary

The Alabama secondary was hit with some tough-to-swallow losses, with top talents Xavier McKinney, Trevon Diggs, and Jared Mayden all departing for the NFL. That trio had 11 of Alabama’s 18 interceptions in 2019, so replacing that production and lockdown ability in their secondary will be absolutely crucial. A pass rush can only do so much when receivers are open, so getting some players to step up and be impact formers at defensive back is a big talking point for the Crimson Tide. 

X-Factors: Patrick Surtain II

One of the aforementioned players that will need to step up in 2020, Surtain is the only Alabama returner who had more than one interception, after notching a pair of picks in 2019. A former consensus five-star prospect, Surtain attained honorable mention All-American honors last year, but he will need to be the leader of the Crimson Tide secondary this season. To do that, Surtain must rise from an above-average contributor on a deep defense to an instant game changer for a defense that lost a lot of talent. 

SEC Record Prediction: 7-1

I’ve hinted at this in my prior team previews of LSU and Texas A&M, but I see the Tide, Tigers, and Aggies locked in a 3-way battle for SEC supremacy. I think Alabama will fall at LSU at Death Valley, but they’ll notch the victory over the Aggies at home, opening the door for them to claim the regular season division title when Texas A&M beats LSU on the season’s final weekend. All in on the Tide in 2020.

SEC Previews: LSU Tigers

Make no mistake, the defending champions are going to be very good in 2020. Will they make a historically dominant run to a 15-0 record (or whatever the equivalent is in the abbreviated season)? Probably not. But the Tigers aren’t going away just because Joe Burrow is gone. There are questions to be answered, but I expect LSU to be challenging for the SEC  crown once more. 

Top Returners: Ja’Marr Chase, Derek Stingley

Maybe you thought my introduction was bold for a team that lost a legendary quarterback, one of their top receivers, and their running back, not to mention the passing coordinator that revolutionized their offense. But if you want two reasons for why I’m still high on the Tigers, look at the two names above. Both Chase  and Stingley may be the best players in the country at their position. Chase is coming off an  84-reception, 20-touchdown season in which  he became LSU’s #1 receiver over first-round draft pick Justin Jefferson. Mentioned earlier this year as a darkhorse Heisman candidate (as good a chance as any receiver will ever get), Chase  is most  definitely among the elite  players  in the country, if not  the flat-out best  receiver to grace the gridiron this fall.

Meanwhile, Stingley is a clear contender  to be the SEC  Defensive  Player of  the Year. There’s been talk about the rising sophomore playing both ways in his junior season, although that timeline may be fast tracked if there’s a 2020 season. With quarantine rules in effect, having two-way players may be a game-changing asset on rosters. Stingley notched 38 tackles and 6 interceptions in his true freshman season, breaking up 15 passes and recovering a fumble as well. He was quite possibly the best player on a championship defense that included first-round pick Patrick Queen and second-round pick Grant Delpit. As a freshman. If I’m an LSU fan, I’m really excited about getting two more years of Derek Stingley. 

  

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Biggest Concerns: Replacing the Big Guns 

This one is clear enough. Joe Burrow is gone. Clyde Edwards-Hillaire is gone. Justin Jefferson is gone. On the defense, Delpit, Queen, Kristian Fulton, and K’Lavon Chaison are all gone. That’s seven players that went in the top two rounds, and it’s no doubt a lot of talent for LSU to replace. They’ve got returners and new guys ready to step up, but that’s quite the gut-punch to recover from. 

X-Factors: Myles Brennan

This season comes down to Brennan. He’s the man in Baton Rouge after backing up Joe Burrow the past two seasons. Can the understudy step up and earn a standing ovation? Brennan is 42-70 for 600 yards over his three years a backup, tossing two touchdowns and three interceptions. Under head coach Ed Orgeron, throwing to Ja’Marr Chase, and operating within LSU’s new spread offense, Brennan will have every opportunity to make good on the potential and talent that enticed LSU to offer the Mississippi product. Whether he does may determine LSU’s ceiling in 2020. \

SEC Record Prediction: 7-1
This record prediction came before the recent schedule adjustments, but ultimately, I believe LSU is on the shortlist of SEC contenders in 2020. My preview of Texas A&M already mentioned this so I’ll go ahead and anger any LSU fans who didn’t see it. I’ve got LSU taking down Alabama at home, but a bid at a second consecutive undefeated season falls short at Kyle Allen Field in their clash with the Aggies. After a 7-overtime loss to Texas A&M in their last road game clash with the Aggies, LSU dominated the match-up at Death Valley last year. Can the Aggies run it back on their home field? I’m giving it a tentative yes. LSU still finishes 7-1, still very much in contention for the CFP and New Year’s 6.

SEC Previews: Texas a&M Aggies

Just 7 times in the past 20 years, the Aggies have been ranked at the preseason top 25, and although they’ve finished in the ranking just one of those seven times. Three times they finished within the top 25 after being unranked in the preseason. It’s been an odd tale of a team that’s always good not great. They’ve finished with 7-9 wins in every season since 2012, but can they elevate their game in 2020. 

Top Returners: Kellen Mond, Myles Jones

It feels like Mond has been around for a while, but somehow, he’s only now entering his fourth and final season with the Aggies. He took a big step in his sophomore season, but his numbers slipped a little bit during a junior year that featured a brutal schedule. However, this year, I think Mond takes another step in a division with very few experienced quarterbacks. I would expect 3500 yards and between 25 and 30 touchdowns. Cutting down on the picks (18 over the past two years) would be a huge improvement for him. 

Myles Jones will be the leader of the secondary for A&M, after breaking up six passes, intercepting two, and forcing a fumble in 2020. He’s their top defensive asset, and some big performances from him could give their lethal offense more opportunity to go to work. 

Biggest Concerns: The Pass Rush

Justin Madubuike is gone, and with him goes the Aggies’ leader in sacks. Tyree Johnson returns with four sacks, and nobody else had more than two. Can Johnson elevate his game, and can the Aggies get someone else to step and up and be a force on the defensive line. 

X-Factors: Demarvin Leal

I’m not listing Johnson here because I believe he’s one of the top returners and is definitely capable of putting up big numbers. Rather, I’m going with Leal, who I believe will be Texas A&M’s best shot at gaining a second impact pass rusher. He recorded 38 tackles – 5.5 for loss- with two sacks a year ago. With Madubuike out of the picture, can Leal step up and be the extra star performer the Aggies’ defense is looking for?

SEC Record Prediction: 7-1

You’re not going to convince me this offense can’t swing with the best of them in the country and in the SEC. With Mond returning, their top two rushers, and two of their top three receivers, there’s little turnover for A&M, so if their senior signal-caller improves his numbers, I like the Aggies to roll against their competition. Give me a loss to Alabama on the road, but a regular-season ending statement victory at home against LSU. I’ve never bought into Aggies’ hype, but I’m doing so this year. Let’s see if 2020 brings big things for Jimbo Fisher’s squad. 

SEC Previews: Ole Miss Rebels

While many teams list Kentucky as their go-to sleeper team, I’ve already expressed my doubts about the Wildcats. Allow you to introduce you to my favorite SEC sleeper – the Ole Miss Rebels. Backed by head coach and Saban prodigy Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss returns a dynamic dual-threat signal-caller and their top receiver and could be a pretty scary offense in 2020. 

Top Returners: John Rhys Plumlee, Sam Williams (or Lakia Henry)

My confidence in Ole Miss was shaken slightly with the recent suspension of Williams due to sexual battery charges, reported on July 26. If Williams plays, he will be the on-field leader for the Rebels, having piled up six sacks, an interception, and 38 tackles (9.5 for loss). If he’s not, some question marks arise, but Lakia Henry is another valuable piece on the defense after the former JUCO linebacker recorded 87 tackles and a sack last season, serving primarily as an effective run stopper for Ole Miss. However, while these players are good, the defense was not the reason I became high on the Rebels. 

The SEC doesn’t have a most-improved player, or a breakout player, of the year award, but if they did, I would put my money on John Rhys Plumlee. As a freshman, Plumlee had his struggles at time, and I wouldn’t suggest he was near the top of the freshman quarterback starters, but he may just be the most dynamic quarterback in the conference. He led the Rebels with 1023 yards rushing and did so in just 8 games. He was responsible for posting 37 points on LSU’s championship defense, running for 212 yards and four TDs against the Tigers. If he becomes more polished in the passing game, Ole Miss could do some damage. 

Biggest Concerns: Pass Rush

Benito Jones is gone, bringing with him his 5.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss. Can Ole Miss replace that production in 2020? What is Sam Williams’ indefinite suspension remains indefinite? And third-leading sack leader Charles Wiley remains in the transfer portal? Ole Miss could have a real hard time stopping some of these explosive offenses we’re bound to see in the SEC. 

X-Factors: Jacquez Jones

Jacquez Jones will absolutely need to step up his production in order for the Rebels to make moves in 2020. He put forth a solid 2019 season with 71 tackles and 7.5 for loss, to go with two sacks. With the aforementioned questions regarding their pass rush, Ole Miss needs Jones to be firing on all cylinders and ready to be a game-changing force on the defensive line. 

SEC Record Prediction: 5-3

Again, this is a risky prediction, but picks aren’t fun if you just go off of chalk and last year’s rankings. I believe that, under Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss is a team on the rise. Give me Ole Miss setting the tone with a home win versus Auburn in their SEC opener. They’ll beat Arkansas and Vanderbilt with no problem and should take back the Egg Bowl after Elijah Moore’s dog-pee fiasco last year. That’s four wins right there, and I like them to secure a home upset against the Florida Gators to polish it off. It’s bold. But safe picks are boring. Watch out for the Rebels. 

SEC Previews: Arkansas Razorbacks

I’m starting off my SEC West team previews with a bold prediction: Arkansas is going to win some conference games. The Razorbacks, laughingstock of the SEC for several seasons now, return a 1,000 yard rusher and a few other strong pieces. While I’m not sure they can climb out of the basement of the SEC West, I like Arkansas to pick up a few wins in SEC play this season.

Top Returners: Rakeem Boyd, Bumper Pool

While the ‘Hogs break in a relatively new quarterback in Jack Lindsey (13-30 in 2019) in 2020, they’ll lean heavily on the presence of Rakeem Boyd, the workhorse of the Arkansas backfield last season. Boyd racked up 1,133 yards and 8 touchdowns on the ground, and he chipped in an additional 160 yards on 19 receptions. For a team that didn’t have a 500-yard receiver and is starting a new QB, Boyd will be the focal point of the offense. 

Meanwhile, defensively, the Razorbacks have Bumper Pool who, besides having a great name, excelled for the Arkansas defense last season, racking up 94 tackles – the top returning mark on the team – with 6.5 of those for loss, to go with five passes defended. The rising junior inside linebacker is a premier run-stopper, and if he can add a few sacks to his name, he’ll be an excellent asset as the Razorbacks look to steal some victories this season. 

Biggest Concerns: The Secondary

It was a concern last year, and it’s not getting much better. Arkansas recorded only 6 interceptions as a team, which was especially problematic when their own quarterbacks tossed 15 picks. Kamren Curl was the only player with two interceptions, and he left the Razorbacks after being selected in the seventh round of the draft. Facing an increasingly pass-heavy SEC, the Arkansas secondary will need to get up to snuff quickly and figure out how to make some big plays, or else the Razorbacks will be going nowhere fast in 2020. 

X-Factors: Joseph Foucha, Jack Lindsay

Foucha is Arkansas’s best hope at getting a game-changing player in their secondary. As a sophomore, the safety from New Orleans recorded one pick, to go with 87 tackles, four passes defended, and one fumble recovery. Outside of Bumper Pool, he’s probably the best returning player for the Razorbacks’ defense, and he will need to increase his production to help the defense get off the field, giving Rakeem Boyd and Arkansas’s inexperienced offense more drives to put up points. 

Heading to the offensive side of the ball, the X-factor is clear. While Arkansas knows they can get good production from Rakeem Boyd, if he stays healthy, they have little to know idea what Lindsay will do. His completion percentage in 2019 (43.3%) is not inspiring, but he also threw three touchdowns and no interceptions while putting up the best passer rating of four Arkansas signal-callers with 30+ pass attempts. He was also the only QB of that quartet to throw zero picks. Boyd can do a lot of the grunt work for the Arkansas offense, but if Lindsay thrives out of play action packages and puts up decently efficient numbers, the Razorbacks have some offensive potential. If not? Opponents will load the box against Boyd, and the 3-and-outs will pile up in Fayetteville. 

SEC Record Prediction: 2-6

Like I said, it’s not going to be terrible by Arkansas standards, but I definitely don’t have to like it. The Razorbacks are 1-23 in their past three SEC seasons, so picking a 2-6 record may even be bold, but I’m at least a little higher on them than in past seasons. Arkansas’s clear strength lies in Boyd and their running game, and they’ll have to lean heavily on it to pull out any victories. My early prediction is they snare a win at hapless Missouri and also play their Super Bowl in a Halloween home contest against Tennessee, coming off a bye week. Give me a pair of Arkansas wins there.

SEC Previews: Mississippi State Bulldogs

Throw it back to the first ever College Football Playoff rankings, released in Week 10 of the 2014 season. The debut rankings featured Dak Prescott’s Mississippi State Bulldogs at the top with a 7-0 record. The Bulldogs didn’t stay in the top four – finishing 11th – and they haven’t sniffed the CFP rankings since then. They’ve cracked the Top 25 in just three of the past five seasons, never climbing higher than #14. Competing in the brutal SEC West, it’s tough to rebuild in the same division as the dynastic Alabama team, the streaky Auburn Tigers, or an impressively consistent and occasionally dominant LSU squad. It’s the challenge that Mississippi State faces once more in 2020, as they will face an uphill climb with transfer quarterback KJ Costello taking the reins under center. 

Top Returners: Kylin Hill, Kobe Jones

With Costello likely taking control under center, displacing Garrett Shrader as the starter, Mississippi State will look elsewhere for consistency from players that know the system. One such player is Kylin Hill, who, if he were on a serious SEC contender, may have the chance at winning the conference offensive player of the year. Hill ran for 1350 yards and chipped in 180 receiving yards. He’s the heart and soul of the Bulldogs’ offense, and he’ll be relied on to carry the load as Costello adjusts to the offense. 

Kobe Jones is the top returning pass rusher for Mississippi State, after racking up 30 tackles (7 for loss) to go with four sacks. Facing a division with four true title contenders, Jones will have a tall task, and he will be desperately needed to cause disruption in the trenches throughout the season.

Biggest Concerns: The Secondary

Secondaries across the country are facing new challenges as the college game evolves towards the spread offense, and units that lack a standout player face a tough road ahead, as more and more teams bring in elite receivers. That’s the concern that Mississippi State, which lost the two players that hauled in multiple interceptions, faces this upcoming season. Can someone step up and become a lockdown defensive back that can match-up against the SEC elite? If not, this season could be in trouble. 

X-Factor: CJ Morgan
Morgan could be the answer to Mississippi State’s question marks in the secondary, after posting a strong junior season in which he tied for the team lead with 8 passes defended to go with 59 tackles and an interception. The Bulldogs may not know if they have an elite safety until they see Morgan matched up against Jaylen Waddle, Ja’Marr Chase, or any of the other elite receivers within the SEC, but Morgan’s performance in these clashes will be a key factor in determining Mississippi State’s ceiling in 2020. 

SEC Record Prediction: 3-5

The Bulldogs face a brutal four-game stretch that starts with Texas A&M, followed by road trips to LSU and Alabama, and punctuated by a home clash with Auburn. I can’t see this team ready to compete in those games, but outside of that absurd stretch of games, they put forth a decent effort this year, particularly if Costello melds well with the offense. Cross-division contests with Kentucky and Missouri look like very wannabe games, as does a home game with Arkansas. It’ll be an uphill battle, but the path to conference relevancy is there in 2020. 

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.

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.