So we can finally put the SEC season to bed for 2017. In 2018. Confusing how all of that works out — but also good, because it’s that much sooner until we’re starting the whole thing again.
Speaking of which, here are 25 names to know for 2018 in the SEC. Some of these are coaches, some are recruits, some are returning stars, some are contributors who could become stars.
Tosh Lupoi, Alabama
He was already co-defensive coordinator, but with Jeremy Pruitt Knoxville-bound, Lupoi is one guy who probably will have his hands in the mix for the 2018 Alabama defense. Of course, given the explosive offense and brilliant head coach, some will think anyone could do this. But Bama will lose a lot of talent, and Lupoi (and whoever else may co-coordinate) will be pivotal in Alabama’s title defense.
DeVonta Smith, Alabama
The true freshman wide receiver blew his cover by catching a touchdown to win the national title. With Calvin Ridley likely gone and Tua throwing bombs in ’18, look for Smith to have a breakout season. He’ll pass the 7 catches he had this past season very, very quickly.
Kam Martin, Auburn
When you are the odds-on favorite to replace starters who have rushed for 1,224 yards and 1,391 yards in the last two seasons, your life is looking good. Add in the fact that Martin, who will be a junior, has rushed for nearly 800 yards on 118 carries already, and you’re looking at a near-guarantee for a 1,000-yard season.
Myles Brennan, LSU
The Matt Canada experience ended in a hurry, largely because Ed Orgeron recognizes that LSU has to become a legitimate passing threat to compete in the West. That’s where Brennan comes in. The true sophomore-to-be threw just 24 passes this season, but he has all the tools to be the best passer the Tigers have had in more than a decade.
Devin White, LSU
You should already know him, but the league’s leading tackler (133 stops) was a true sophomore, so he’ll be back for another year. Offenses, you’ve been warned.
Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M
Sure, you already know him. But A&M didn’t sign the guy to a gigantic contract to come in and finish fourth in the West. Which raises the question of how he can finish better …
Jhammon Ausbon, Texas A&M
This true freshman receiver caught 50 passes for the Aggies despite a QB situation that was in constant turmoil. With Christian Kirk gone, he’ll be even better. In his last four games of 2017, the 6-foot-2 Ausbon totaled 25 catches for 308 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Project that production out to a full season, and it’s even better than Kirk’s stat line.
Cole Kelley, Arkansas
The massive, 6-foot-7 Kelley is a name to watch because he could implode before spring practice or could be the under-the-radar pick for best passer in the SEC. Backing up Austin Allen as a freshman, he threw for 1,038 yards and 8 touchdowns. He’s deceptively mobile, and Chad Morris will feature him heavily — if he can avoid more off-the-field hijinks.
Jordan Ta’amu, Mississippi
With the departure of Shea Patterson, the whole offense will now be built around the senior QB who stepped up so well when Patterson was injured this past season. Don’t feel bad for the Rebels. Ta’amu’s completion percentage, yards per attempt, touchdown ratio, and QB rating were all better than Patterson’s numbers.
A.J. Brown, Mississippi
Like Devin White, unless you were asleep, you already know Brown. The 6-foot-1 wideout just led the SEC in receiving yardage and tied for the lead in receiving touchdowns (1,252 and 11, respectively). He finished second in catches, which is good because it might give him something to improve on in ’18.
Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State
After being an exclamation mark in the past, there are questions around Fitzgerald this time. Can he recover medically for the 2018 season after that horrific leg injury? Will new coach Joe Moorhead’s offense fit him as well as Dan Mullen’s scramble-and-throw game did? Could he finish as the leading rusher in Mississippi State history (that would take 1,508 yards)? We shall see.
Montez Sweat, Missisippi State
The SEC’s co-leader in sacks with 10.5 decided to return for another year in Starkville. Between Sweat and mammoth tackle Jeffery Simmons, State could generate some incredible pass rushes in 2018.
Dan Mullen, Florida
Not a new face, but in a new place. The Gators didn’t cut loose a coach who had won consecutive division titles to settle for second behind UGA. Can Mullen extrapolate his success from Mississippi State into remaking the Gators into a legitimate SEC threat? And if not, how patient will they be in Gainesville?
Feleipe Franks, Florida
He’ll be the forgotten man, because he was a much-hyped QB who lost his job now and again during Florida’s season of hell. But if Mullen can reclaim him, Franks could provide the shortest path to a decent Gators offense.
Emory Jones, Florida
Or it could be Jones, who — given his own impressive skills (No. 41 player in the class per 247sports.com) and Mullen’s QB whisperer gifts — might just take over as a true freshman. You know about true freshman quarterbacks, right? Doing pretty well at last check.
D’Andre Swift, Georgia
Somebody’s got to run behind that mammoth offensive line, and for the first time in a while, it won’t be Chubb or Michel. Swift lives up to his name (7.8 yards per carry as a true freshman). He’s also an excellent receiver, which makes him a good bet for an all-SEC season.
Justin Fields, Georgia
Jake Fromm, meet Justin Fields. The all-everything dual-threat QB (247sports.com’s No. 2 prospect in the country) could well end up playing Tagovailoa to your Jalen Hurts. Just warning you.
Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee
Can UT be rehabbed? Is the last decade, when UT went 62-63, an aberration or is it the new normal in Knoxville? Considering his pedigree and what a mess the program is in, UT couldn’t have hired better. But Pruitt is a first-time head coach who will be learning by fire.
Kevin Sherrer, Tennessee
The UT rehabilitation will start on the defensive side of the ball, where the Vols have allowed 449 and 413 yards per game over the last two seasons. Sherrer is the coordinator, fresh from Georgia. Can the combination of UA and UGA defensive wizards create improvement on Rocky Top?
Rico Dowdle, South Carolina
Dowdle was a stud in 2016 as a true freshman (784 yards rushing in only a partial season). His 2017 season was disappointing, as he finished with just 251 yards rushing. But he showed a return to form in Carolina’s Outback Bowl comeback win over Michigan, and Will Muschamp might just end up relying on the stout back in 2018.
Matt House, Kentucky
House is Kentucky’s returning defensive coordinator. Despite a second consecutive winning season, few in Lexington were happy about a defense that went from allowing 434 yards to allowing 427 yards per game. Particularly with a defensive-minded head coach, House’s defense needs to step up in ’18.
Josh Allen, Kentucky
The good news for House is that a group of players on the defensive side of the ball who might have gone pro all chose to stay in Lexington, including Allen. He’s an undersized linebacker who is a beast off the edge. He followed up 62 tackles and 7 sacks in 2016 with 65 and 7 in 2017.
Drew Lock, Missouri
The SEC’s leading passer, who set a league single-season TD record in 2017, decided to forego the NFL Draft for another season terrorizing SEC secondaries. Whoever replaces offensive coordinator Josh Heupel will have no problem drawing up some explosive plays for the big-armed Lock.
Albert Okwuegbunam, Missouri
The 6-5 redshirt freshman receiver was a red-zone killer for the Tigers in 2017, and with J’Mon Moore gone, he’ll see more passes in 2018. Okwuegbunam finished the year with 29 catches, and 11 of them went for touchdowns, which tied him for the SEC lead.
Kyle Shurmur, Vanderbilt
The steadily improving Vandy passer is just under 3,000 yards away from eclipsing Jay Cutler as the school’s leading passer. Can he get there and return the Commodores to a second bowl game in his career?