Which SEC teams will win 3 more games in 2018 than they did in 2017?
It happens every year.
Teams improve. Some more dramatically than others. In 2017, Georgia (+5), Mississippi State (+3), Missouri (+3) and South Carolina (+3) each won at least three more games than they did in 2016.
Which teams are candidates to make a similar jump in 2018? One key to the puzzle: They have to have room to improve. Georgia, for instance, won 8 games in 2016, South Carolina 6. They had room to grow.
Here are the three SEC teams with the best chance to boost their win total by three or more in 2018.
Why they can get to 7-5 or better? For starters, the Gators have plenty of room to improve. But even a 7-win season won’t be enough to make the natives happy. I doubt it would put a smile on Dan Mullen’s face, either, considering he won at least that many games in seven of his final eight seasons in Starkville.
I like the Gators’ chances for a big bounce back season primarily because of Mullen. I’m interested to see how much more he can get out of Feleipe Franks. We’re going to find out whether Franks’ struggles were due to poor coaching and vanilla play-calling or simply poor performance. We know the first two won’t be issues with Mullen. I’m higher on Franks than many. The arm strength is unmistakable, and that’s a really good place to start. I trust Mullen’s schemes will get receivers open. Getting Jordan Scarlett back will help the run game, too.
The Gators also went 1-2 in non-conference play last year. This schedule sets up for a 3-0 start going into the regular-season finale at Florida State.
Getting Kentucky in Week 2 at home will help. The Wildcats’ QB will be making his first SEC road start regardless of who wins the job. It’s a safe bet the streak expands to 32. Playing LSU, Missouri and South Carolina at home certainly is easier than the alternative. The Gators lost to Missouri and South Carolina last year on the road.
Some see Florida as a dark horse contender in the East. I’m not quite ready to go that far, but everything that could have gone wrong did in 2017. These Gators will be much better than that.
Why they can get to 10-3: It’s certainly bad luck that this is the year the Tigers rotate to Alabama. And nobody has a tougher three-game stretch than this: vs. Georgia, at South Carolina, at Alabama.
But if Missouri proved anything in 2017, it proved it is mentally tough. The Tigers rebounded from 1-5 to 7-5. They’ll need that resilience to survive that three-game gauntlet — and by survive, I basically mean keep Drew Lock healthy — and maintain a shot at 10 wins.
Three critical things have to happen, and the first two involve Lock taking out a bit of frustration and atoning for two forgettable performances:
First, they must win at Purdue in Week 3. Lock played one of the worst games of his career against the Boilermakers last year. He threw two picks, which led to 10 points. It was the only time in the past 19 games he failed to throw a TD pass. In other words: That game is circled. He’ll be ready to avenge that performance in West Lafayette.
Second, the Tigers have to win at Florida, the site of Lock’s worst game as a Tiger. He was 4-for-18 and threw 2 picks in his 2016 visit to The Swamp, a 40-14 Gators beatdown.
Third, assuming a 9-3 regular season finish, they’ll have to beat a ranked team in a bowl game.
It’s a lot to ask, but of the handful of teams in position to add three wins, Missouri has the best quarterback.
Lock certainly isn’ shying away from expectations, either. Earlier this week, he told Paul Finebaum the Tigers have the talent to win the SEC and compete for a national title.
Last year: 4-8
Why they can get to 7-5 or better? This is based more on theory than belief, but the Vols also have the necessary room to grow. The challenge is, they’ll have to win one, possibly two, of the following games: against Will Grier and Big 12 favorite West Virginia, vs. Florida, at Georgia, at Auburn, vs. Alabama or at South Carolina.
The Vols could play reasonably well and go 0-6 against that slate. The home date with Florida represents the best chance to get on the board.
But even a 1-5 mark means they can’t slip up against Kentucky or Missouri and would have to end a two-game losing streak against Vanderbilt.