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Preseason grades for all 14 SEC teams

By: John Dunn

The All Vol Call in Show


Photo | Wikipedia

With football season still in jeopardy, most fans are left speculating what their teams may be capable of whether the season is played or not. These are my preseason grades, based on what I think each team in the SEC will do this season, or would be capable of doing if the season isn’t played.

Alabama - Coming off of an 11-2 season, the Tide fell to 13th in the final AP poll; the lowest they had finished since finishing unranked in Nick Saban’s inaugural season. However, it may be a little too early to say that the wheels have fallen off of the wagon in T-town. Although Alabama lost a ton of productivity from the nation’s second-highest scoring offense, namely Jerry Jeudy and Tua Tagovailoa, they still have a bevy of talent to work with. The Tide open week one on the road in a neutral site against the USC Trojans, and will have the opportunity to make a statement early in the season. I expect Alabama to stumble a few times this season while dealing with some growing pains. If they get by USC in week one and UGA in week three, they still have to take on Texas A&M and Auburn in the final two games of the season, with both games being at home. The Tide’s ceiling is 12-0 with a floor of 8-4, in my opinion. They will either represent the SEC West in the SEC Championship, or play in a mid-tier bowl game. Preseason Grade: B+

Arkansas - The Razorbacks are coming off of one of the worst, if not the worst season in school history. An abysmal 2-10 finish to the season saw Chad Morris let go by the tenth game of the year. The school wasted no time in sniping former Georgia offensive line coach Sam Pittman away from the Dawgs. The pay-off was immediate, as the Razorbacks began to lock in high quality recruits on the recruiting trail. Pittman’s ability to develop players will benefit the Razorbacks in the long run, but don’t expect an exponentially dramatic turn around in one season. The acquisition of Florida quarterback Filipe Franks will play to the advantage of the boys from Fayetteville, however, it may be tough sledding due to a particularly tough schedule. In my opinion, Arkansas’ floor is 4-8, with a ceiling of 7-5. In order to have a winning season, the Razorbacks will have to go 2-1 against Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Tennessee. Preseason Grade: D

Auburn - The Auburn Tigers are coming off of a 9-4 season, encapsulated by a regular season finale win over Alabama. However, the Tigers fell to the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the Outback Bowl to finish the season with a loss, and failed to gain the ever-so-elusive tenth win of the season. With a favorable schedule in the coming season, Auburn may have a shot at representing the SEC West in the SEC Championship game. However, there is a possibility for a few surprises for the Tigers this season. The North Carolina Tar Heels are on the rise, and will play Auburn in week two, followed by Ole Miss. A week five match up against an underrated Kentucky team could also prove to be a “trap game” with Georgia following the week after. You never really know what Auburn team you will get year in and year out. To me, the Tigers are one of the most enigmatic teams in the SEC. In my opinion, they have a ceiling as high as 12-0, and a floor as low as 6-6. Preseason Grade: B

Florida - After opening last season with six straight wins, the Gators suffered their first loss to the national champion LSU Tigers, and Florida played them just as good as anyone else did. With the insertion of Kyle Trask into the offense a few weeks into the season, the Gators’ flow seemed a lot more natural. Returning a bevy of talent, coupled with a ton of home games this season, Florida is in good shape to come out of the SEC East in first place and represent the division in the SEC Championship game. Their first test will be against the Wildcats at home, before traveling to Knoxville a couple of weeks later to play the Volunteers. Georgia and Florida State should be the only two teams that the Gators have to worry about in the home stretch of their schedule, with neither game being at home. In my opinion, the Gators’ ceiling is as high as 12-0, with a floor of 8-4. If they can get by Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida State, they may be one of the top three teams in the country by the end of the regular season. Preseason Grade: B+

Georgia - As the presumptive favorite in the SEC East, the Bulldogs have lofty expectations for the season. Georgia fell only twice last year. Once in a stunning double-overtime loss to South Carolina, and then again in the SEC Championship game against the national champion LSU Tigers. They ended up squeaking by Baylor in the Sugar Bowl by two points. The Bulldogs have a tough pair of games in the first six weeks of the season. They will take on the Crimson Tide two weeks before taking on the Auburn Tigers. Both games will prove pivotal in determining final placement in the national rankings, as well as within the conference. A match up with the Florida Gators following their BYE week may prove to be the deciding game for the Eastern division of the conference. The Bulldogs will have to close out strong against Tennessee and Kentucky, both of which are underrated heading into the 2020 seasons. Georgia is another one of the teams in the SEC that could very well go undefeated. In my opinion, their ceiling is 12-0, with an 8-4 floor. Preseason Grade: B

Kentucky - The Wildcats are coming off of an 8-5 season that could have gone very differently. A three game skid, beginning with a close loss to Florida, set the Wildcats back a bit. Without a true quarterback, Kentucky relied on the legs and arm of do-it-all standout Lynn Bowden. Although Bowden was able to find success offensively, and help lead the Wildcats to one of the most prolific rushing attacks in the country, slip ups against Mississippi State, South Carolina and Tennessee proved to be games that held Kentucky out of what could have potentially been another 10 or more win season. The Wildcats have lost a lot over the last two years, but may have lost more than just a great athlete with the graduation of Bowden. He provided an emotional and mental spark for Kentucky, as well as producing on the field. Incoming transfer quarterback Joey Gatewood, and fan favorite Terry “Touchdown” Wilson will be expected to ignite an underrated Wildcat offense. Behind a solid offensive line, they should be able to produce offensively this season. Kentucky’s defense still has a bit of mystery surrounding it. A week two match up against the Florida Gators should tell us exactly what type of team Kentucky will be. Things don’t get much easier from there as they take on Auburn three weeks later, and round out the season by playing Tennessee and Georgia in two of their final four games. If the Wildcats can win two of the four games against either Florida, Auburn, Tennessee and Georgia, they may be poised for one of the most surprising seasons in college football. In my opinion, Kentucky is one of the more underrated teams in the whole country. I think they have a ceiling of 10-2, and a floor of 5-7. Preseason Grade: C+

LSU - The LSU Tigers are coming off one of the best seasons that a college football team has ever had. The Tigers rolled to a perfect 15-0 record, steam-rolling everyone in their path. A national championship, Heisman winner and first-overall pick will be hard to replace. LSU has a bevy of talent and depth throughout both sides of the field, however, it is not the same team that they had last year. The Tigers have a pretty tough schedule to boot. In week two, they will take on one of the most storied programs in DI football history in the Texas Longhorns. With Florida, Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M to follow, LSU will have to win at least three of those four games to even come close to replicating the type of success they had in 2019. It’s hard to read what type of team they will have due to losing so much. But, in my opinion, the Tigers have a ceiling of 9-3 with a floor of 7-5. Preseason Grade: B

Ole Miss - It’s going to be interesting in the state of Mississippi for the next few years. Ole Miss has a new face at the helm, and a very familiar face throughout the SEC at that. Lane Kiffin was named the newest head coach at Ole Miss after a short stint with the FAU Owls in Boca Raton, FL. Kiffin’s offensive mindset makes him a credible hire. However, his bombastic personality makes him the bane of many SEC fans. With his ability to recruit, put together a staff and coach offenses, Kiffin could bring Ole Miss back into the conversation of competing in the SEC West. Ole Miss hasn’t had a winning season since 2015, and are coming off of a 4-8 season. They have a lot to prove before they are mentioned in the conversation for SEC West contention. They open their season with arguably the toughest first five games in the conference.I think they have a ceiling of 7-5 with a floor or 4-8. Preseason Grade: C-

Mississippi State - Much like their in-state counterpart, the Bulldogs of Mississippi State have a new bombastic front man. Mike Leach is bringing his offensive-focused mindset to the land of the cowbell. Leach brings a big personality to a place that hasn’t had one since the departure of Dan Mullen. Leach will be tasked with helping rebuild the Mississippi State program to what it was in the Mullen era. Coming off of a 6-7 season capped off by a bowl loss to an ACC team, it’s a seemingly uphill battle for the newly minted coach. With a favorable schedule, Leach should be able to use this year as a “working year” and get his SEC footing. A tough month of October will be the telling sign for the Bulldogs. They’ll start with Texas A&M before taking on Alabama, LSU and Auburn in succession. In my opinion, they have a ceiling of 7-5 and a floor of 5-7. Preseason Grade: C-

Missouri - With the acquisition of Clemson transfer quarterback Kelly Bryant last season, the expectations at Missouri were higher than they had been in a very long time. The Tigers stumbled in their season opener against Wyoming. Had it not been for an absolutely embarrassing loss to Georgia State by Tennessee, Missouri would have been the talk of college football. However, they rebounded well, winning their next five games to move to 5-1 on the season. From there, a loss to Vanderbilt sent the season spiraling out of control. After falling to the Commodores, they lost four straight games before finishing the season with a win over an ailing Arkansas team to finish with a 6-6 record. A change at the helm may open things up in Columbia. However, I think this will be a tough year for Missouri due to lack of talent and a schedule consisting of quality opposition. In my opinion, their ceiling is 6-6 with a floor of 3-9. Preseason Grade: C-

South Carolina - The Gamecocks pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the 2019 season by downing the Georgia Bulldogs by a field goal in double-overtime, However, aside from that victory, it was a dark season for South Carolina -- the worst in Will Muschamp’s coaching career. With again, one of the toughest schedules in the entire country, the Gamecocks face an uphill battle again this season. Ryan Hilinski is a well-rounded quarterback just going into his second year. He showed a lot of poise last season in some big-time moments. However, he is only one person and can’t do everything on his own. With the schedule and lack of depth, I expect this to be another tough year for the gamecocks. In my opinion, their ceiling is 6-6 and they have a floor of 4-8. If the Gamecocks replicate last season, Muschamp will be looking for a new job. Preseason Grade: C-

Tennessee - Tennessee could not have a more dramatic change in how their season started, to how it ended. They opened up the 2019 campaign with an absolutely embarrassing loss to Georgia State; the fourth-worst upset in college football history. Things didn’t get much better in week two when they handed a sure-win to BYU. However, the Vols righted the ship and finished the season as one of the hottest teams in the nation, rattling off six straight wins, including seven of their last eight. They fell behind to Indiana in the TaxSlayer Bowl before rallying to win by a single point. Things seem to be changing under the direction of Jeremy Pruitt. Currently, Tennessee has the nation’s second-ranked recruiting class for 2021. There is a general optimism surrounding the program that has been aching to get back to their national prominence of the 90’s. The Vols have a tough slate ahead of them. In week two, they will travel to Norman, Oklahoma to take on a presumptive top-10 team in the Sooners. As always, the Vols will play the Crimson Tide on the third Saturday in October, and open SEC play with heated-rival Florida. Tennessee has the benefit of playing Georgia later in the season this year, which may play to their advantage. There are a lot of lingering questions for the Vols, especially on the offensive side after losing receivers Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway. Although Tennessee has talented players to refill the vacant positions, a lot remains to be proven before the Vols are talked about for being in contention for the SEC again. In my opinion, Tennessee has a ceiling of 9-3 and a floor of 7-5. In order to have a shot at a 10-win season, they have to beat either Florida, Georgia, Alabama or Oklahoma. Preseason Grade: B-

Texas A&M - The Aggies are coming off of an 8-5 season in which they struggled mightily against high-quality opposition. Head coach Jimbo Fisher is expected to correct that issue this season. It should be much easier this year, given a substantially easier schedule. Texas A&M could be considered in contention for the SEC West this season. Between Auburn, Alabama and Texas A&M, it may come down to head-to-head match ups to determine the divisional representative. The Aggies are another one of those enigmatic teams that could have a wonderful season, or a not-so-wonderful season, based off of a handful of plays. In my opinion, they have a ceiling of 10-2 and a floor of 9-3. I just don’t see more than three losses on their schedule. Preseason Grade: B

Vanderbilt - The Vanderbilt Commodores are coming off of another disappointing season. Finishing 3-9, Vanderbilt didn’t have a lot to celebrate, other than a win over 22nd-ranked Missouri. After losing their primary running back, tight end and wide receiver, there will be a lot of vacancies that they just aren’t able to fill. I expect this to be Derrick Mason’s final year in Nashville. I think they have a ceiling of 4-8 and a floor of 2-10. Preseason Grade: D-


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