The SEC is back.
We’re ready for that first SEC Network matchup between No. 23 Kentucky and No. 8 Auburn. We’re ready to hear that unmistakable “SEC on CBS” theme song for the first time this season before Mississippi State takes on No. 6 LSU. We’re ready for college football season to take on more meaning from the conference that puts that in its slogan.
Why are we so excited about the SEC’s return? Here are the things we’re looking forward to most.
The SEC welcomes four new coaches who will be making their debuts on Saturday. Missouri’s Eli Drinkwitz and Arkansas’ Sam Pittman will be up against it in home openers vs. Alabama and Georgia, respectively, but we’re more intrigued by what the Magnolia State has to offer. Ole Miss’ Lane Kiffin — who revived his coaching career with a 26-13 record at FAU the past three seasons — makes his home debut against Florida. How will Kiffin spice up the Rebels’ talented offense with John Rhys Plumlee? Mississippi State, meanwhile, welcomes Mike Leach, and is taking on defending national champion LSU at Death Valley. How many times will the KJ Costello throw?
New QBs on title contenders
The top three teams in the SEC from last season lost their starting quarterbacks. LSU lost Joe Burrow, Alabama lost Tua Tagovailoa and Georgia lost Jake Fromm, and their replacements face the pressure of leading a national championship run. LSU’s Myles Brennan is tasked with the most pressure given that Burrow put together one of the greatest single seasons of all time. Mac Jones takes over at Alabama, where five-star freshman Bryce Young is waiting. Georgia’s quarterback battle has taken on a new life since Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman opted out. D’Wan Mathis and JT Daniels could see time in the opener.
Returning QBs looking to upset that
Four returning QBs passed for at least 2,500 yards last season. That group includes Tennessee’s Jarrett Guarantano, Florida’s Kyle Trask, Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond and Auburn’s Bo Nix. All of their teams are ranked this season, but are their quarterbacks capable of taking their teams to the next level. It’s difficult to pin-point who the best quarterback in the SEC is right now. Who would you pick as the one who emerges?
LSU’s title defense
Perhaps no national championship team has lost more in an offseason than LSU. The Tigers tied the NFL record with 14 NFL Draft picks. Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda left for Baylor and passing game coordinator Joe Brady left for the Carolina Panthers. Star receiver Ja’Marr Chase opted out. Ed Orgeron also has dealt with COVID-19 outbreaks on his team. LSU still has All-American talent on the roster with cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., and North Dakota State transfer Jabril Cox could be the conference’s best newcomer. That said, LSU must prove it can reload against a tough schedule.
The Crimson Tide have never gone three years without winning the national championship since Nick Saban arrived. Poor Alabama, right? There is some amount of pressure knowing that fact, however, and Alabama has a roster that includes seven players who made SN’s Preseason All-American team. That list includes first-team selections Alex Leatherwood, receiver DeVonta Smith and wide receiver Jaylen Waddle. We have always said the college football season does not really start until Alabama loses. When will that be the case in 2020?
Can Gators catch Georgia?
The Gators have won back-to-back New Year’s Day Six bowls under Dan Mullen, and this is an opportunity to end Georgia’s three-year run as SEC East champions. Either the Bulldogs or Gators have represented the SEC East in Atlanta every year since 2015. Trask gives Mullen a reliable returning quarterback, and the recruiting has improved since his arrival. This is the year to prove it. Florida has not won the SEC since Tim Tebow led the way in 2008.
Conference-only Playoff impact
Once SEC fans get a taste of the 10-game conference schedule, it’s going to be hard to turn back. The extra crossover games are going to create the NFL Lite feel exclusive to the region, and with other Power 5 conferences (Big Ten and possibly Pac-12) playing fewer games, the call for two SEC teams in the College Football Playoff is going to increase with each week. Those arguments are coming in full force.
First Finebaum meltdown
Which fan base will have the first full-fledged meltdown on “The Paul Finebaum Show” on Monday morning? Will it be Auburn if Kentucky can pull off an upset on the road? Will it be Tennessee if the Vols fall short at South Carolina after an offseason full of positive momentum under Jeremy Pruitt? By how much will Alabama, Georgia and LSU fail to meet always-impossible expectations? We’re here for the ride.
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