There are a lot of great story lines in the SEC West for 2018:
**--New head coaches at Mississippi State (Joe Moorhead), Texas A&M (Jimbo Fisher), and Arkansas (Chad Morris). Can Fisher, the $75 million man, make a dramatic difference in his first season?
**--The ongoing quarterback question at Alabama and whether or not one of them (Jalen Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa) leaves before the season starts.
**--The status of Coach O at LSU with a new offensive coordinator (Steve Ensminger) and the addition of grad transfer Joe Burrow at quarterback. Is Orgeron REALLY on the hot seat?
**--Auburn returns quarterback Jarrett Stidham and an awesome defensive line from a team that won the SEC West and beat both Georgia (SEC champ) and Alabama (national champ) a year ago.
So who’s going to win it? Here are the projections of your humble scribe after looking at every single conference game. Feel free to disagree on Twitter at @MrCFB.
And have a great holiday weekend.
SEC WEST PROJECTIONS, 2018
Conference record in parentheses
Who they will beat: At Ole Miss, Texas A&M, at Arkansas, Missouri, at Tennessee, at LSU, Mississippi State, Auburn
Who they will lose to: No losses.
Analysis: When a national championship team loses four first-round draft choices, 12 draft choices overall and replaces both coordinators, it is not supposed to come back and win every game the next season. But if there is a loss for Alabama on this schedule, I can’t see it. Auburn, Mississippi State, and Texas A&M—the three best teams on the schedule--are all in Tuscaloosa. Yeah, there are back-to-back road games to Tennessee (Oct. 20) and LSU (Nov. 3) but in a good piece of scheduling there is an off-week between those two games.
Who they will beat: LSU, Arkansas, at Mississippi State, Tennessee, at Ole Miss, Texas A&M.
Who they will lose to: at Georgia, at Alabama.
Analysis: Yes, the Tigers have to replace Kerryon Johnson, the leading rusher in the SEC last season, but Auburn has had a 1,000-yard rusher for nine straight seasons and this one won’t be any different. Jarrett Stidham (3,158 yards, 18 TD) is back at QB and will be even better in his second year in the system. The defensive line will be even better than a year ago. But this is the even-numbered season and that means come November both Georgia and Alabama are on the road.
MISSISSIPPI STATE (5-3)
Who they will beat: at Kentucky, Florida, Texas A&M, Arkansas, at Ole Miss
Who they will lose to: Auburn, at LSU, at Alabama,
Analysis: Mississippi State returns 19 scholarship seniors and with a little luck could be a factor in the SEC West. Part of that luck is whether or not quarterback Nick Fitzgerald will be at full speed after ankle surgery. Fitzgerald needs just 461 yards to become the SEC’s all-time leading rusher for a quarterback. A four-game stretch will tell the tale: Mississippi State will “welcome” the return of Coach Dan Mullen when Florida comes to Starkville on Sept. 29. Then the Bulldogs get Auburn at home, LSU on the road, and Texas A&M at home.
TEXAS A&M (4-4)
Who they will beat: Arkansas (in Arlington), Kentucky, Ole Miss, LSU
Who they will lose to: at Alabama, at South Carolina, at Mississippi State, at Auburn.
Analysis: Jimbo Fisher will have the Aggies contending in the SEC West sooner rather than later, but the schedule for 2018 is ridiculous with Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi State, and Auburn all on the road. The last three games on that list will be played in a four-week span. Texas A&M also has to play a non-conference game with Clemson on Sept. 8 at Kyle Field. Brutal.
Who they will beat: Ole Miss, Mississippi State, at Arkansas
Who they will lose to: at Auburn, at Florida, Georgia, Alabama, at Texas A&M
Analysis: Despite the addition of Ohio State transfer Joe Burrow at quarterback, it is hard to see LSU winning on the road at Auburn, Florida, or Texas A&M. I’ve given them a home win against Mississippi State and that one could certainly go the other way. And did I mention that the Tigers also play Miami in the opener? The four-game stretch of Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State, and Alabama (in five weeks) will define the season.
OLE MISS (3-5)
Who they will beat: at Arkansas, vs. South Carolina, at Vanderbilt
Who they will lose to: Alabama, at LSU, Auburn, at Texas A&M, Mississippi State
Analysis: With the return of quarterback Jordan Ta’amu and perhaps the best set of wide receivers in the country, Ole Miss will light up the scoreboard again this season (32.8 ppg last season). But the Rebels were also 13th in the SEC in scoring defense (34.6 pp) last season. That has to change.
Who they will beat: No wins.
Who they will lose to: at Auburn, at Texas A&M (Arlington), Alabama, vs. Ole Miss (Little Rock), Vanderbilt, LSU, at Mississippi State, at Missouri.
Analysis: The Hogs are starting over under Chad Morris, who has installed a completely new offensive system. It will be fun to watch when Arkansas has the personnel to run it but right now it doesn’t. Maybe Arkansas can beat Vanderbilt at home on Oct. 27. Other than that, it’s hard to find an SEC win.