National Signing Day has come and gone, both of them with the addition of the early-signing period, and anyone going pro early has already left school.
It’s a rare year in the Southeastern Conference in which all of the head coaches are back in 2019, which should only make the league tougher, but there’s only so many wins to go around.
One could make the case for 10 SEC teams to be ranked in the preseason AP Top 25, which won’t happen, yet that gives a good idea of just how strong the conference will be in 2019.
Here’s the pre-spring power rankings, with the teams at the top likely to be in contention for the national championship again.
1] Alabama: Unlike the coaching staff, nearly everyone’s back in the passing game and the offensive line shouldn’t experience much of a drop-off if any. The Crimson Tide lost some key players on defense, but has talented players ready to step in at nearly every spot. Nick Saban also just landed the nation’s top recruiting class for the eighth time in nine years.
2] Georgia: Even though the Bulldogs were flat against Texas in the Sugar Bowl and lost a lot of players to the NFL, the roster is still loaded and among the best in the nation. UGA is still clearly the team to beat in the SEC East, but can Kirby Smart and quarterback Jake Fromm get it past the Alabama hump?
3] LSU: See if this sort of sounds familiar … the Tigers have a lot of talent, however there are a lot of questions about the offense. LSU dispatched Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl, 40-32, for its first 10-win season since 2013. We’ll get a good read on the Tigers when they visit another 10-win team, Texas, on Sept. 7
4] Florida: During his first season back with the Gators, Dan Mullen had a 10-3 season and then signed the consensus No. 9 recruiting class. Florida is considered Georgia’s biggest, and maybe only real, challenger in the SEC East next season. The Gators are rising, but the next step’s going to be a tough one.
5] Auburn: Seriously, can anyone get a good handle on Auburn? Two reasons for optimism are Gus Malzahn is back calling the offensive plays, and the Tigers absolutely crushed Purdue in the Music City Bowl, 63-14. However, quarterback Jarrett Stidham left early for the NFL and one has to wonder if early enrollee Bo Nix will be able to beat out junior Malik Willis and redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood for the starting job.
6] Texas A&M: Jimbo Fisher went 9-4 during his first season with the Aggies, and then signed the No. 4 recruiting class. The program is on the rise, but it’s probably going take one more year before it starts challenging for the SEC West title. Texas A&M had a few juniors declare for the 2019 NFL Draft including running back Trayveon Williams, and has a nasty schedule including a Week 2 trip to Clemson and back-to-back road games at Georgia and LSU. Otherwise, it would be No. 4 on this list.
7] Mississippi State: Joe Moorhead’s first season ended with an 8-5 record and 27-22 loss to Iowa in the Outback Bowl. The Bulldogs went 4-4 in SEC play with the four defeats coming to teams ranked in the top 12 in the final AP Top 25 (No. 2 Alabama, No. 6 LSU, No. 7 Florida and No. 12 Kentucky). Mississippi State led the SEC in total defense and scoring defense, but linemen Jeffery Simmons and Montez Sweat have to be replaced with five other starters on that side of the ball, plus four-year starting quarterback Nick Fitzgerald.
8] Missouri: The Tigers are going to get a lot of love in the preseason predictions because after being penalized by the NCAA and ruled ineligible for the 2019 postseason, Missouri is going to play not only with a chip on its shoulder, but with nothing to lose. Quarterback Drew Lock has moved on, with Clemson transfer Kelly Bryant stepping in. Both he and his team will be a royal pain in the rear to the rest of the division.
9] South Carolina: It says a lot about the state of the conference when the Gamecocks are this low, but there’s some serious speculation beginning to build in the fan base on if Will Muschamp is going to be able to land the kind of prospects South Carolina needs to start challenging for the division title and more. The latest signing class was ranked No. 17 in the 247Sports composite. Nevertheless, the Gamecocks will be a tough opponent week in, week out.
10] Tennessee: The Volunteers are on their way up, but the rebuilding is going to take a while. There’s an intriguing Week 2 matchup with BYU in Knoxville, and the crossover game with the West is also at home against Mississippi State. Tennessee fans are eager for it to challenge the likes of Alabama, Georgia and Florida, but first the Vols have to beat teams like Vanderbilt. The Commodores have won three straight in the rivalry for the first time in nearly 100 years (1923-26).
11] Kentucky: The last time the Wildcats won 10 games and a New Year’s Day bowl in the same season was 1950, when Paul W. “Bear” Bryant was the coach. Kentucky returned 17 starters in 2018. It’ll be just over half of that this time around. Quarterback Terry Wilson, a junior-college transfer, will be the key, and he’ll be throwing to wide receiver Lynn Bowden, yet Kentucky is going to have to rebuild the defense without linebacker Josh Allen, including the entire secondary.
13] Ole Miss: The Rebels appear to finally have their NCAA issues in the rear-view mirror after recently vacating 33 football wins from six seasons between 2010-16. Still, the roster hits from scholarship losses are still being felt. Ole Miss lost its last five games in 2018 to finish 5-7. Trying to rebuild and be competitive in the toughest division in college football won’t be easy.
12] Arkansas: The Razorbacks should easily double their 2018 win total of two, but after that they’ll be tough to come by. The non-conference games are against Portland State, San Jose State, Western Kentucky and Colorado State. Chad Morris used to be a high school coach in Texas, so you know influx of players from the Lone Star State is coming. The Week 2 matchup with Ole Miss might decide which team finishes last in the SEC West.
14] Vanderbilt: Vanderbilt’s first three games of the season are against Georgia, at Purdue and LSU. Ouch, especially since quarterback Kyle Shurmur is no longer on the roster. The Commodores will likely have to win one of those games or pull an upset down the road to be bowl eligible.