Can Anyone Crack The Big Two?
While many leagues are sitting 2020 out the SEC is moving full speed ahead with the football season. However, in a year like no other, the league is playing 10 games in the conference only. That means no matchups against FCS opponents or teams from the Mid-American or Conference USA to pad win totals. Is it Florida and Georgia then everyone else? Or is there a dark horse (or two) out there? Let’s find out with our 2020 SEC East Predictions.
Finally A Breakthrough?
Dan Mullen’s club has been closing the gap every year on Georgia. We’re saying this is the year they finally get it done. Kyle Trask returns for his senior season and is coming off throwing for nearly 3,000 yards and 25 touchdowns. Two of his favorite targets return in tight end Kyle Pitts and wide receiver Kadarius Toney.
The Gators are always strong on defense and 2020 is no exception. Linebacker Ventrell Miller, cornerback Kaiir Elam safety Shawn Davis are some of the names leading a very talented group for defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.
In his 11 years as a head coach, Mullen’s never made it to a conference championship game. If this is the year, though they have to overcome a tough schedule. However, hosting Texas A&M and going to Arkansas should equal two wins.
Who’s Under Center?
In order to make it to a fourth straight SEC title game Kirby Smart’s club must first find a quarterback. It could be Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman, USC transfer JT Daniels or three other possibilities. As usual, the running backs are loaded behind Zamir White and James Cook. In addition, watch out for five-star recruit Kendall Milton. With 49 receptions a year ago George Pickens heads the wide receivers.
The Bulldogs got the sweet end of the deal with their schedule. Going to Arkansas and hosting Mississippi State means two easy wins. Once again the SEC East most likely comes down to that November 7th matchup against Florida in Jacksonville unless another team spoils the party.
The Dark Horse
Last season injuries to quarterbacks Terry Wilson and Sawyer Smith forced the Cats to get creative. After moving receiver Lynn Bowden back to his high school position the Cats went on an impressive eight-game run culminating in Belk Bowl win.
Bowden’s gone to the Las Vegas Raiders but Wilson is healthy and ready to go. Behind him is one of the SEC’s best sets of running backs in the SEC. The three-headed attack of A.J. Rose, Kavosiey Smoke, and Christopher Rodriguez combined for nearly 2,000 yards behind “The Big Blue Wall.”
Linebackers DeAndre Square and Jamin Davis are strong up the middle while LSU transfer Kelvin Joseph adds to an already impressive secondary. Yusuf Corker and Brandin Echols are All-SEC caliber players.
One thing that might be Kentucky’s undoing is the schedule. Already traveling to Auburn, Florida, and Tennessee the Cats now travel to Alabama too. Win a couple of those games and things could get interesting in the east.
As we continue with our 2020 SEC East predictions let’s look at another dark horse team.
Making The Jump
Five games into last season Jeremy Pruitt’s squad was 1-4. However, they won seven of their last eight including six in a row. A huge comeback win over Indiana in the Gator Bowl punctuated the season.
In order to take the next step, they need a big year from quarterback Jarrett Guarantano. As a junior last year, he threw for 2,158 yards and 16 touchdowns. Much like Kentucky they also have a three-headed attack in the backfield. Ty Chandler, Eric Gray, and Tim Jordan combined for over 1,600 yards.
The Vols are strong upfront on defense with ends Aubrey Solomon and Darel Middleton. In addition, a returning Emmit Gooden from a torn ACL only enhances the unit. Linebacker Henry To’o To’o along with Jaylen McCollough and Bryce Thompson in the secondary are names to watch.
If Kentucky isn’t the dark horse in 2020 then many believe it’s Tennessee. The strong finish a season ago has the Big Orange Faithful believing a return to the glory days is near.
A Big Season
5. South Carolina
Use any sports cliche’ you want but this is an important year for Will Muschamp. The Gamecocks finished 4-8 in 2019 losing five of their last six. Some of that can be attributed to quarterback Jake Bentley’s injury. He has since transferred to Utah where he and the rest of the Pac-12 will hopefully play in the spring.
Ryan Hillinski returns under center for Muschamp. As a true freshman, he threw for 2,357 yards and 11 touchdowns. The Carolina backfield took a major hit when freshman MarShawn Lloyd torn his ACL and is out for the year. With the top three backs gone from 2019 someone has to step up. When Hillinski throws it, which may be a lot, Shi Smith is his main target.
Muschamp brought in former Colorado State head coach Mike Bobo as offensive coordinator in hopes of improving that side of the ball. The schedule is pretty tough starting off with Tennessee and Florida. It’s hard to see much improvement in the 2020 win total.
Lots Of Work To Do
As we round out our 2020 SEC East Predictions it’s time to look at the two teams who on paper at least appear destined for cellar.
There’s no doubt new coach Eli Drinkwitz has some holes to fill on offense, most notably under center. Former TCU transfer Shawn Robinson looks like the starter with competition from Taylor Powell. The latter got plenty of reps when Kelly Bryant was injured. Larry Roundtree III returns after rushing for 829 yards a season ago. Virginia Tech grad transfer Damon Hazelton Jr. and Barrett Banister should be the top receiving targets.
The defense looks pretty strong heading into 2020 returning seven starters from a defense which ranked 14th in the nation in yards allowed. The top three tacklers from a year ago, linebacker Nick Bolton and safeties Tyree Gilliespie and Joshuah Bledsoe return.
Drinkwitz went 12-1 in his lone season at Appalachian State. However, he’s got his work cut out for him this year. In addition to the always-tough SEC schedule, the Tigers drew Alabama and LSU as their added opponents. Nothing to worry about right? Look for more improvement in season two.
A Long Season?
Late last season athletic director Malcolm Turner announced Derek Mason would return for another year. Turner since resigned and things aren’t looking very promising in Nashville.
New offensive coordinator Todd Fitch hopes to jump-start an offense that scored 14 points or less seven times. Furthermore, they must find a quarterback as they have no returning experience. Freshman Ken Seals did some great things in the spring and may end up with the job. If not look for either Jeremy Moussa, Mike Wright, or former Kentucky quarterback Danny Clark under center in week one. Jamauri Wakefield takes over for Kalija Lipscomb in the backfield while Cam Johnson is the top receiver.
The defense returns 10 starters from a year ago. However, the group gave up 436 yards and 32 points a game. Linebacker Dimitri Moore, who originally elected not to play in 202, led with 99 tackles. In fact, their top 11 tacklers return from 2019.
Vanderbilt drew LSU and Mississippi State as their added teams, only adding on to what’s going to be a difficult year.
Thanks for checking out our 2020 SEC East Predictions here at Last Word On College Football. Agree or disagree with our picks? Leave a comment below or comment on Twitter. Next time we look at the west where it looks like Alabama and LSU then everyone else.