Some teams improve. Others regress.

In 2017, three SEC teams lost at least three more games than they did in 2016. Nobody is immune, either. Tennessee and Florida led the list, both losing five more games; Arkansas was the third team, suffering three more losses.

Who is in danger of joining a group nobody wants to be in?

These three teams are at the greatest risk of losing three more games in 2018 than they did in 2017.


2017: 13-2

Why they could finish 10-3: First things first: There is nothing wrong with 10-3. All but 10 teams in America would sign up for that right now.

Georgia’s non-conference schedule is so weak it’s not worth analyzing. Yes, Georgia Tech still runs that cliche “triple option that nobody wants to face,” but it scored all of one TD against the Dawgs last season. Let’s just mark it 4-0 and move on.

Are there two regular-season losses (and an unmotivated bowl loss) on the SEC schedule?

The cross-over games aren’t easy — at LSU and against Auburn — and they likely will generate the most pause for concern. But don’t overlook the Dawgs’ first two SEC games, both on the road: at South Carolina and at Missouri.

Georgia will have so many new faces in important roles in 2018 it’s almost a given that the team that visits either Columbia in Week 2 or Week 4 won’t be as polished as the one that visits Baton Rouge in Week 7 or faces Florida in Jacksonville in Week 9.

There will be a learning curve, particularly on defense, and two of the SEC’s best quarterbacks — Jake Fromm and Drew Lock — will get a shot against Georgia’s younger pups. Both of those games are dangerous.

If the Dawgs win both, they might run the table because the second half of their schedule sets up nicely: LSU will have an entirely new backfield, Auburn visits Athens, and Kentucky will try to notch that signature upset with a new quarterback as well.

If you don’t get the Dawgs early, you might not get them at all in 2018.


2017: 9-4

Why they could finish 6-7: This is one case where losing the bowl game helped because had the Tigers finished 10-3 in 2017, I could have made a stronger case for them going 7-6 in 2018.

There certainly are six losable games on the 2018 schedule, particularly considering the Tigers will be replacing six starters who left early for the NFL Draft; that list doesn’t even include quarterback Danny Etling, who graduated.

The Tigers always have athletes, but they’ll enter 2018 with more questions about the offense than usual. And they won’t be entirely about the scheme, either. Expect some growing pains, regardless of whether Myles Brennan or Lowell Narcisse wins the job. There isn’t a Derrius Guice-type home run threat in the backfield to move the chains.

LSU OC Steve Ensminger likes his receivers, a group led by Jonathan Giles, who had a 1,000-yard season in 2016 before transferring from Texas Tech. LSU has promised to throw more, but we’ve heard that before.

The offseason is time for optimism, but for those reasons and others, there are plenty of nervous Tigers fans.

Having to play at Florida and against Georgia is about as difficult a cross-over slate as any team in the West will face, too.


2017: 10-4

Why they could finish 7-6: Granted, a lot would have to go wrong for the Tigers to slide back to a 7-win season.

But there isn’t a ton of wiggle room, either.

Four of the Tigers’ five toughest games are away from home. The challenge starts immediately, too, against Playoff-hopeful Washington in the opener in Atlanta. Auburn also travels to West dark horse Mississippi State, Georgia and Alabama. It’s quite possible the Tigers lose all four.

Finding a fifth regular-season loss is trickier, because it likely would have to come at home: LSU potentially could pose problems in Week 3, but we’ll have a better idea about those Tigers (especially their QB situation) after their opener against Miami. Tennessee will be coming off a bye week before heading to The Plains, but the Vols have QB questions, too.

Still, don’t expect these Tigers to be as dangerous as the group that scored scored 40 points in six of its eight SEC games last season. Auburn lost its three best players — all juniors — to the NFL Draft. We can fully expect that their assembly line will produce another 1,000-yard rusher, but Kerryon Johnson was much more than that.

He was a game-changer who, when healthy, set up Jarrett Stidham for success.

Stidham is back, along with one of the SEC’s more explosive collections of wide receivers. Auburn better keep him clean. Backup Malik Willis threw all of seven passes last season, and for all of the Joey Gatewood-Cam Newton comparisons, Tigers fans should hope that holds off for another year.