How many times during an SEC football fall do you glance up to the heavens and whisper or scream for some good old-fashioned luck to hit your beloved team?
Maybe it’s on a third-and-7 in the red zone, down by four, on the road with the home crowd howling, needing a win in late October to stay undefeated or just to stay relevant. Or maybe it’s luck in more general terms, for something to just kind of work out instead of collapsing before your eyes.
I see you nodding your head. You can relate. You’re SEC fans. Passion is dialed into your football pulse. With that passion comes a deep-rooted desire to win, and winning is so much about being good — and being lucky. Every championship team needs some luck along its path to glory. Every winning team needs some, too. And the teams that struggle to win any games at all surely need luck the most.
So with that, on St. Patrick’s Day, we hand out a theme of good fortune that each SEC team can use for 2017, whether it’s a position of concern on the team turning out just fine, or finally winning the crucial games on the schedule, or a new assistant turning out to be the right hire.
New offensive coordinator Brian Daboll won’t stop Jalen Hurts’ progress — he’ll enhance it. Some wondered when Daboll was hired if he was the right guy. Heck, some wondered who he was until they looked him up and saw that he came from the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. Still, there are doubters among the hard-to-please Alabama fan base, which expects excellence each season and doesn’t like it when it has to look up the bio of its new offensive coordinator.
Well, guess what? Those doubters looked up Daboll and they liked what they saw, and this fall they’ll see Nick Saban’s “low-key” hire pay huge dividends as Hurts comes back the same dynamic athlete but with the motivation of being one play from a national title last year and with a different voice in his ear directing him to further greatness.
The art of the blown lead has been perfected in Fayetteville during the Bret Bielema Era. Some have delved into those exact, horrid numbers from those Saturdays gone bad that Razorback fans would rather just forget. So this fall, with a wish on St. Patrick’s Day, we’ll say that finally a Bielema Arkansas team will stop torturing its fans so much and hold on to some leads.
We’re not saying this is going to be a special season for Arkansas, just one that doesn’t include the slew of annual leads that have evaporated before the agony-filled eyes of Hogs fan.
We’ll leave Jarrett Stidham out of this and just say that, if he wins the starting quarterback job, the guy he’ll be handing the ball off to, one of those guys, will become one of the best running backs in the country if not one of the best two in the SEC West along with Derrius Guice. As Auburn was (again) sorting through its quarterback situation and getting solid if not spectacular play from Sean White last fall, Kamryn Pettway was busy punishing defenses with an amazing stretch of greatness that coincided with Auburn’s climb from nowhere to SEC contender.
Yes, Pettway, who exploded for 1,224 yards rushing, gaining nearly 6 yards per carry, will have Kerryon Johnson as his sterling sidekick, and Johnson will get his yards. But 2017 will be about Pettway becoming a bona fide Heisman candidate.
The one thing Florida faithful have been clamoring for for the better part of a decade will come true this fall, or will start to, anyway. He won’t be the next Tim Tebow, at least not yet, give him time folks, but Feleipe Franks will win the job this fall and be the answer to what has held the Gators back for too many years.
Franks will use his returning array of weapons and get the most out of them, at least for a first-year starter, and at last Florida’s offense won’t be something the Gators have to overcome but rather something foes must fear, for the first time in many seasons.
If there’s any fan base in the SEC that will be grasping for good fortune it will be in Athens, where the stars seem aligned, at last, for another run at glory. Jacob Eason won’t have the freshman excuse anymore, and neither will Kirby Smart for that matter. Sony Michel and Nick Chubb both decided to chase an SEC title instead of NFL riches. And the defense returns 10 starters from a 2016 unit that was already vicious. Everything seems to be in place.
But what will be present in 2017 that hasn’t been in a very long time is the ultra-talented Bulldogs will be ultra-clutch when it matters the most, instead of the exact opposite. On both sides of the ball. Late in the fourth quarter, when throats are dry and SEC dreams die. Only they won’t in Athens, because this team that has no excuses finally won’t need them. It will thrive in the biggest moments and represent the SEC East in Atlanta.
Often times, at programs like Kentucky, breakout years are often followed by busts. The balloon gets popped. The party ends quickly, because what’s made mediocre programs mediocre is their inability to believe in themselves for an extended period of time. But that won’t happen on Mark Stoops’ watch. We’re not predicting an SEC East title here. But neither are we forecasting a return to 4-8 or 3-9. The Wildcats will win that crucial mental battle in 2017, from spring ball all the way through the Louisville rivalry game.
And by fall’s end, Kentucky fans will feel, well, lucky that they stayed with the program and didn’t go basketball only.
Here’s some soothing fortune for frustrated Tigers fans: Matt Canada won’t have all the answers in his first fall in Baton Rouge, but he’ll finally have LSU’s offense maximizing its talent instead of seeing those athletes somehow lose 16-13 in a big game. Guice will win the Heisman Trophy under Canada’s energetic guidance but he won’t be the entire LSU offense. Danny Etling will thrive in Canada’s system and with the knowledge that he has one of if not the best player in the country to hand the ball off to.
And the Tigers, under Canada’s watch, will return to their rightful place of being Alabama’s top team to worry about in its own division.
We can see the worry on Bulldogs’ fans faces, but stop worrying and start counting your blessings, because Dan Mullen will totally vindicate the four-year extension he received last month. It hasn’t always been a smooth ride in Starkville for Mullen, but it beats what’s going on in Oxford right now, and by the way Nick Fitzgerald will only be better in 2017.
This might be a stretch but it’s St. Paddy’s Day, and anything good and cheerful is possible. So we’ll say that the Tigers defense will have some good karma in 2017 with head coach Barry Odom calling the plays again and defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross being the good soldier and doing what’s best for the program. Josh Heupel’s offense with returning quarterback Drew Lock will carry the team as expected, but the defense will be shockingly adequate and enable the Tigers to break even and get to a bowl game.
Hugh Freeze and the Rebels program could use St. Patrick’s Day every day for the next few years after the offseason in Oxford. So this is our honest and true lucky charm for Ole Miss: That the penalties to hit the program will be fair but not excessive, and that the mountain of adversity will be met with the greatest resilience and pride.
This could be on the minds of many Gamecock fans or I could just be imagining it on St. Paddy’s Day, that they’re thinking (or hoping) Jake Bentley was more than just a passing fancy, that he’s here to stay and wasn’t something of a fluke. I say, with good fortune attached at the hip, that Bentley will indeed be the answer in 2017 as he was in helping South Carolina rescue its 2016 season. And he’ll be better not because he’s one year older but because he wants to prove to his fans that he’s the real deal and wasn’t successful because the SEC simply wasn’t ready for his emergence. So stop worrying and get ready for more Bentley magic in 2017.
The loss of Joshua Dobbs among others from last year won’t make the transition pleasant in 2017. But we’re going to embrace the wild quarterback derby that will be staged in Knoxville this offseason and say that Butch Jones, the man on the hot seat, will do his best coaching job yet this year in not only making sure Dobbs’ successor is the right guy moving forward but also making sure the bottom doesn’t fall out of a program that had moved toward what it used to be for the better part of 2016.
Myles Garrett, who might be the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft, is gone along with a wealth of talent. And the fans in College Station are demanding, so this isn’t likely to buy Kevin Sumlin, on the hot seat like Jones, a lot more time. So here’s a St. Paddy’s wish for Sumlin that while he won’t find Garrett’s replacement overnight, he will make all the crucial calls in 2017 to make sure he’s not out of a job by the end of 2017.
Ralph Webb is back to further his Commodores football legend, and the horribly timed injury that often greets loyal guys like Webb who come back for one too many years won’t this time. So calm down Vandy fans and get ready for a senior season that will be the perfect final chapter and validate Webb’s decision to come back. No bad thoughts here, only positive, and that means Webb staying injury-free, with no back-of-his-mind regrets, and leading the Commodores to seven or eight wins and another bowl game.