10 bold predictions for SEC football in 2017
The calendar may say it’s the offseason, but those of us who follow these things know better. There is no SEC football offseason. There’s just more time to make some predictions. Here are 10 bold ones for SEC football 2017.
1) Two CFP teams
It’s time. The SEC is the top league in the nation and this is the year that they bust the CFP with a second team. Who will it be? A couple of possible scenarios jump to mind. Maybe LSU loses only to Alabama and goes 11-1. Or maybe Georgia runs the table in the East and loses the SEC title game to Bama. Or maybe one or the other actually upsets Bama (and Bama is the fourth team). But the best guess is that Auburn either loses only to Bama or maybe upsets the Tide and two-fourths of the CFP comes from the state of Alabama.
2) Two fired coaches
This may not even be bold. But the way the games line up, two SEC head coaches won’t win enough games to keep their jobs. The early guesses? How about Kevin Sumlin and Butch Jones? It’s hard to imagine A&M getting past Bama, LSU or Auburn. Given their annual November swoons, Sumlin could be gone. As for UT, finishing third in the East won’t cut it — and UGA and Florida both are likely to be better than the Vols this year. Butch may become a Champion of Unemployment.
3) One Heisman Trophy winner
Half of the past 10 Heisman winners played in the SEC. The league didn’t have the winner last year because the best candidate was Jalen Hurts (above), who was a true freshman. Well, Hurts isn’t a true freshman this year, and he has to be the odds-on favorite to keep Lamar Jackson from repeating. If not Hurts, who? Whoever keys an upset of Alabama basically. Derrius Guice? Jarrett Stidham? Nick Chubb? All possibilities.
4) The league’s leading rusher will be Nick Fitzgerald
Hey, he was second in the SEC in rushing last year in his first meaningful playing time, and Dan Mullen is going to improve his defense and ride Fitzgerald as far as defenses let him go. Fitzgerald won’t break Dak Prescott’s passing stats, but he is a superb rusher — and will be the SEC’s 2017 rushing champ.
5) The league’s newcomer of the year is Jarrett Stidham
If he can stay upright and resemble the player he is supposed to be, Stidham will be such a massive improvement from Auburn’s 2016 QB situation that he could win Player of the Year. Add Stidham to Pettway and Johnson on the ground and you could have the most electrifying offense in college football.
6) If Arden Key plays, he’ll be Defensive Player of the Year
Sure, he missed most of spring with some unclear personal issue. But Arden Key gets to the quarterback early and often, and if Ed Orgeron has him close to 100 percent by Week One, he will terrorize opposing passers.
7) Shea Patterson will lead the SEC in passing
Look, this has more to do with Ole Miss than with the strength of the league’s passers. The Rebels are desperate for something, anything to emerge as a non-probation related story. Patterson (above) is a superb talent, and Hugh Freeze will turn him loose. Not only will Patterson pass for 3,000 yards, but he has a puncher’s chance at 4,000 — even without a bowl game.
8) Either Muschamp or Stoops will be Coach of the Year
Crazy isn’t it? The SEC East is eternally up for grabs. Florida lost a ton of talent and is relying on untested skill players. Georgia is talented, but Kirby Smart still coaches like Coach Red Beaulieu from The Waterboy stole his special playbook. Butch Jones is as likely to get fired as to improve. The opening is there. The guess is that one of these defensive-minded coaches, both of whom relied on young talent throughout 2016, will lead his program on a big step forward. Watch the match-up of the two teams for a clue as to which.
9) ESPN unveils stand-alone platform for SEC sports
I have no inside information. But ESPN is struggling like a fish out of water, and more SEC is sports would be a rare prescription to heal some things. Given the massive amount of cable cutting, the guess is that ESPN unveils something with inside information, maybe some homer broadcasts like the Final Four, the ability to watch everything from press conferences to classic games. And it’s an individualized, subscription-based thing. And I’ll buy it. And you probably will too.
10) Early signing period beginning of end of Bama Dynasty
Don’t misunderstand — they’re not going away. They’re still going to be one of the top programs in the SEC and the nation. But Alabama football has enjoyed a golden decade and the adoption of an early signing period is the first of a series of events that will bring the Tide somewhat back to earth. College football is the one sport level where the rich are set up to constantly get richer. The early signing period is a move back in the other direction, and it won’t be the last one.