2020 SEC West Predictions
Can Anyone Challenge Alabama And LSU?
Last time we took a look at how the SEC East would play out. Today we head west where it’s all about change. Nearly half the division has new head coaches on the sidelines. As it seems every year the question remains is there a team out there who can knock off the Big Two? Let’s find out as we begin our 2020 SEC West Predictions.
Returning to the Top of the Mountain
A season ago the Crimson Tide went 11-2 and defeated Michigan 35-16 in the Citrus Bowl. However, they not only missed the SEC title game but also the College Football Playoff for the first time since the 2014 season. So a “down” season for them is a great one for pretty much everyone else.
With Tua Tagovailoa off to the Miami Dolphins, the offense is now in Mac Jones‘ hands. Last season he threw for 1,503 yards and 14 touchdowns. Furthermore, he only had three interceptions and a quarterback rating of 186.8. Najee Harris is the main man in the backfield rushing for 1,224 yards and 13 touchdowns a season ago. When they do throw the ball Jones has tons of targets led by Devonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle. The latter is a touchdown threat anytime he gets the ball.
On defense, Nick Saban’s team returns a lot of players from 2019. However, the biggest return is linebacker Dylan Moses, who returns after missing last season with a knee injury. Behind him, the cornerback tandem of Patrick Surtain II and Josh Jobe is possibly the best in the league.
The Crimson Tide travel to Missouri and host Kentucky as their added games. Don’t sleep on the Wildcats. Mark Stoops’ squad could give them quite a battle on November 21st.
Now For an Encore
When we last left the Tigers they were wrapping up arguably the best season in college football history. Led by Joe Burrow they won the title 42-25 over Clemson. Burrow’s gone on to save the Cincinnati Bengals. Myles Brennan has the unenviable task of replacing Burrow. As a junior playing in mostly mop-up situations Brennan completed 24 of 40 passes for 342 yards and one touchdown.
In the backfield, Clyde Edwards-Helaire is gone but a talented group led by Chris Curry who played well late last season returns. The receiving corps took a big hit as Ja’Marr Chase, a player many consider the best receiver in college football, decided to opt-out of the season. Look for Terrace Marshall Jr. and Jaray Jenkins to step up. However, the loss of Chase is a huge blow to the Tigers.
On the other side of the ball, Ed Orgeron had three players opt as well including defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin. As a result the Tigers only return five of 22 starters from last year’s team.
One bright for the Tigers is their schedule. Coach O must have sweet-talked the SEC because they got the good end of the deal. Hosting Missouri and going to Vanderbilt likely equals two easy wins.
Is This the Year?
3. Texas A&M
Every year it’s the same thing coming out of College Station. This is the year the Aggies finally breakthrough. A season ago Jimbo Fisher’s squad finished 8-5 and fourth in the west. However, they played one of the toughest schedules in football and did beat Oklahoma State in the Texas Bowl.
The top three offensive players return led by quarterback Kellen Mond. Last season he threw for 2,897 yards and 20 touchdowns. As a freshman, Isaiah Spiller had 1,149 yards of total offense and reached the end zone 10 times. Wide receiver Jhamon Ausbon caught 66 passes for 872 yards a season ago with five scores. One name to watch is true freshman receiver, Demond Demas.
The Aggies sport one of the best defenses in the SEC led by defensive tackle Jayden Peevy and cornerback Leon O’Neal Jr. In addition, another freshman Jaylon Jones looks to make an immediate impact.
Had the SEC not gone to an all-league schedule a 10 win season seemed likely for Texas A&M. However, a seven or eight-win year is still not out of the question.
Looking to Move Up
Gus Malzahn’s team is coming off a 9-4 season in which they beat both Oregon and Alabama. Bo Nix returns for his second season at quarterback. Playing as a true freshman Nix threw for 2,500 yards and 16 touchdowns. DJ Williams leads the rushing attack while Seth Williams is the top returning receiver. He hauled in 59 receptions for 830 yards and eight scores. Only one starter returns on the offensive line.
Auburn’s defense is usually strong, but they are missing a key piece as linebacker Chandler Wooten opted out of the 2020 season. Another linebacker K.J. Britt leads this unit while Big Kat Bryant is an anchor upfront. Christian Tutt and Smoke Monday head the secondary.
The Tigers’ schedule is difficult at the beginning and end. They host Kentucky and visit Georgia in the season’s first two weeks. After an easy middle portion, they close with Alabama and Texas A&M. A seven-win campaign looks likely for Auburn.
Continuing our 2020 SEC West Predictions we’ve now reached all the teams with new coaches. Unfortunately for them, they are all picked to finish at the bottom of the division.
Welcoming the Lane Train
5. Ole Miss
Lane Kiffin returns to the SEC after going 27-13 at Florida Atlantic. The Rebels finished 4-8 a season ago, their second straight losing season. Five of the eight losses were by eight points or less.
Quarterback John Rhys Plumlee looks like the man under center for Kiffin. A season ago he ran for over 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also threw for 900 yards and four more scores. The Rebels also have Matt Corral who threw for 1,363 yards.
Jerrion Ealy ran for 722 yards in 2019 while top receiver Elijah Moore, last seen imitating a dog in the Egg Bowl, also returns. While Moore caught 67 passes the next highest had 13.
On the other side of the ball linebacker, Lakia Henry led the team with 87 tackles. Another linebacker Sam Williams and safety Jon Haynes are also players to watch.
Anything close to 5-5 would be a huge accomplishment for Kiffin in his first year. That is unlikely to happen though.
The “Air Raid” in Starkville
6. Mississippi State
Mike Leach heads to Starkville after eight years at Washington State. Of course with him comes his brand of offense which puts tons of points on the scoreboard.
Stanford transfer K.J. Costello has the inside track on the starting job. Don’t count out incumbent Garrett Shrader. In 2019 he threw for 1,170 yards and was second on the team with 587 yards rushing.
Speaking of rushing Kylin Hill returns after passing up the NFL Draft. Coming off a season where he ran for 1,350 yards look for Hill to thrive in Leach’s attack. They do have questions on the offensive line.
Defense has never been a strong suit under Leach and the Bulldogs have to replace five of their top seven tacklers. Linebacker Erroll Thompson in the middle is a great place to start to do just that.
While the news conferences will be fun all season, much like Kiffin at Ole Miss, a five-win season looks like the ceiling.
Nowhere to Go but Up
New coach Sam Pittman takes over after former coach Chad Morris was fired with two games left in 2019. He brought in former Florida State offensive coordinator Kendall Briles in hopes of jump-starting an offense which ranked 111th a season ago.
Assuming he’s fully recovered from a broken leg former Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks is the starting quarterback. If not look for K.J. Jefferson to step up. One of the best running backs in college football, Rakeem Boyd returns after running for 1,133 yards last year. Tight end Hudson Henry and receiver Mike Woods are the top targets.
Pittman brought in former Missouri coach Barry Odom to head the defense. That group is led by linebacker Bumper Pool. (Yes that’s his real name.) There are still many questions, especially on the defensive line.
We’ve talked about it before but Arkansas drew the shortest of straws with the SEC schedule. With Florida and Georgia added to their schedule the Razorbacks now play all six SEC teams ranked in the Top 25. One thing going for Pittman is there are no expectations in 2020. If they win a game or two while building for the future then it’s a bonus.
Look for Alabama to head to Atlanta for the SEC Championship game after a year away. LSU is close behind with Texas A&M and Auburn also in the mix. Thanks for checking out our 2020 SEC West predictions here at Last Word On College Football. Who do you see winning this year? Leave a comment below.