Our boldest predictions about the 2018 SEC college football season
We’ve ranked the SEC’s teams and top players. We’ve predicted the outcome of every game every SEC team will play.
There’s not a whole lot left to reveal, except, perhaps this.
What’s our boldest prediction about the 2018 SEC college football season? That’s something we’ve been discussing all month.
All in on Mississippi State
Connor O’Gara, senior national columnist: I’ve been saying it all offseason, so why deviate now? I believe that Mississippi State will go 10-2 in the regular season, with the lone SEC loss being at Alabama. I’m all sorts of high on Joe Moorhead and the roster that the Bulldogs return. They have the most returning production of any team in the SEC, and that’s from a 9-win team. Having someone like Moorhead to step in and maximize the ability of MSU’s skill players will be huge.
I’m not sure people give enough credit to the MSU defense, which had a massive turnaround last year under Todd Grantham. Even though he’s gone, obviously Jeffery Simmons and Montez Sweat are not. With Gerri Green and Mark McLaurin, the Bulldogs aren’t lacking playmakers on the defensive side of the ball.
The schedule doesn’t scare me, either. Going to Death Valley and Tuscaloosa will obviously be tough, but home games against teams like Auburn, Florida and Texas A&M will be a chance for the Bulldogs to shine. I’ve got a lot of confidence in MSU, though I’m not sure any human has as much confidence as Moorhead.
Florida will win the SEC East
Jon Cooper, director of operations: It’s a general consensus that Georgia will win the division again, with South Carolina finishing second. If we’re going bold, I’m going Florida winning under Dan Mullen.
The Gators are a QB away from going 9-3, and with a track record like Mullen’s with signal callers, it could happen quicker than most think. Games at Tennessee and Mississippi State will be huge. The annual showdown with Georgia in Jacksonville is usually a battle, and Florida hosts LSU and South Carolina in Gainesville. That’s a rather favorable schedule.
Auburn won’t win a single game outside Jordan-Hare Stadium
Adam Spencer, SEC reporter: If you look at the Tigers’ away (and neutral) schedule, they face Washington, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama away from the friendly confines of The Plains. None of those games is easy, and it wouldn’t be too hard to predict a 1-4 mark in those games. However, I think even Ole Miss, with talented QB Jordan Ta’amu and superstar WR A.J. Brown, will be able to do enough to pick up a victory in Oxford.
That means Auburn will have to win all seven home games to finish above .500, and that won’t be easy, either. With LSU and an improved Texas A&M squad coming to town, it could be tough for the Tigers to even qualify for a bowl game this fall. Losing RB Kerryon Johnson is going to hurt this offense a lot more than people think.
Dooley will become Mizzou’s interim head coach
Michael Bratton, news editor: Derek Dooley makes his return to Neyland Stadium not as offensive coordinator of Missouri but as the interim head coach of the Tigers.
Coming into the 2018 season with the most hype of the Barry Odom tenure, the rug will be pulled out from Mizzou by Week 2 when Wyoming travels to Columbia and walks off Faurot Field with the win in hand. Things won’t get much better with a road trip to Purdue, a return home to face Georgia before hitting the road to take on South Carolina and Alabama in back-to-back games. By the time the Nov. 17 trip to Tennessee arrives, Odom will have been relieved of his duties at Missouri, leaving Dooley to take over the program on an interim basis.
Needless to say, I’m picking Missouri to be the league’s most disappointing team in 2018.
Grad transfer Jalen Hurts picks …
Chris Wright, executive editor: First, I have to credit Cooper and Bratton for going out on a limb that belongs to a tree I didn’t know had been planted.
Like Cooper, I think Florida has a chance against Georgia. I’m not quite as sour on Mizzou, but the Tigers’ schedule is tough. Playing at Alabama in the rotational cross-over is every East’s team nightmare. Doing so two games after facing Georgia just seems cruel. Those two games alone probably tripled the cost of whatever insurance policy Drew Lock took out this season. However, Danny Sheridan certainly has higher hopes for Mizzou than Bratton …
— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) August 28, 2018
Transitioning, it’s hardly bold to suggest Jalen Hurts is leaving Alabama after the season. His father has said he’s gone if he doesn’t win the starting job. Hurts has said, regardless, he’s staying until he graduates in December.
It’s safe to assume Hurts won’t be with the Tide when spring ball opens.
But if my prediction comes true, he won’t be far away. If you were going to send a message to Alabama, to Nick Saban, to Tua Tagovailoa, where is the one place they would fear the most?
LSU? Nah. They’re a talented rival, sure, but in all honesty, Clemson has posed a bigger threat to Alabama’s annual goals than LSU. Texas A&M? Sure, Hurts is a Texas kid, but no Texas school is ready to rip off the King’s crown.
Only one place guarantees Hurts that opportunity.
What I’d love to see is Hurts pulling on that blue and orange No. 2, just down the road at Auburn, maybe even after relieving Tagovailoa and leading his own comeback in this year’s Iron Bowl, only to be relegated back to the bench during a Playoff run. And, as if there wouldn’t already be enough drama, let’s just say that emergency performance in 2018 was the fifth game in which Hurts appeared.
For two years, we’ve had Jalen vs. Tua, the battle for QB1. Can you imagine if, in November of 2019, it’s Jalen vs. Tua, in Jordan-Hare, with everything on the the line? In order to stick it to the man, you have to play the man. Jalen Hurts seems like he’s competitive enough to want every single part of that.
It takes something monumental to raise the stakes of the Iron Bowl. Hurts in an Auburn uniform — Tide tamer Cam Newton’s old number, no less — would do it.
I root for the best story. I can’t think of one any bigger or bolder, maybe ever.