Nothing stays the same. That’s especially true in the SEC.
Every year, teams improve or regress. Only the severity varies. Last year, 8 teams added at least 1 victory to their 2017 win total (see chart below).
Each offseason, I predict which teams have the best chance to add 3 more wins to their total. In 2017, 4 teams accomplished that feat. In 2018, 2 teams did it.
Last February, I predicted Florida, Missouri and Tennessee would do so in 2018. The Gators easily cleared the bar, winning 6 more games in 2018 than 2017. Missouri and Tennessee were both better, albeit by just one game. I missed on Kentucky, which jumped from 7 wins to 10 in 2018.
So, which teams have the best chance to win 3 more games in 2019 than they did in 2018? As always, but worth repeating, the key to this exercise is you have to have that much room to improve.
Alabama won 14 games in 2018. The Tide don’t even have the opportunity to add 3 more victories in 2019.
Everybody else does though. These teams have the best chance to get it done.
2018 record: 5-7
Why the Vols will win 8 games: Tennessee hasn’t been to a bowl game in 2 consecutive seasons. To outsiders who still view the Vols as a magic name, that seems unthinkable. Vols fans remember all too well that they missed 3 consecutive bowl games earlier this decade. So, nothing is given.
However, Jeremy Pruitt seems to have turned the corner. There were significant breakthrough moments in 2018. Progress also can be measured in ways the scoreboard can’t. In that regard, it just feels like Pruitt’s plan is ahead of pace. He has quickly revamped the roster. Both lines are more menacing, and the 2019 recruiting class merely served as the greatest indication of how he wants to play football.
The schedule obviously includes Georgia and Alabama. So the Vols essentially have to go 7-3 with a bowl win or 8-2 in their remaining games. Others like Jarrett Guarantano more. That’s fine. For all of the questions I have about his lack of big play ability, he’s still a veteran SEC QB. That’s never a bad place to start fall camp.
The final 3 games will tell all. Two are on the road: at Kentucky and at Missouri, with Kelly Bryant. Then there’s the pesky home finale against Vanderbilt, which has won 3 in a row.
2018 record: 2-10
Why the Razorbacks will win 5 games: Circle Week 2. That might be the Hogs’ best chance to get Chad Morris his first SEC victory. And the Hogs will need at least 1 SEC win this year to reach 5 wins.
Arkansas came close in 2018, falling 37-33 after blowing a 9-point lead in the final 5 minutes. Ole Miss will be starting anew on offense (OC, QB, WRs) and is still a wreck on defense.
Getting to 5 wins likely means sweeping the nonconference. That schedule is hardly daunting (their 4 opponents went a combined 11-36 last year), but the Hogs lost to a Colorado State team that only won 2 other games last season. They get CSU at home this year. It seems silly that location would matter, but that’s where the Hogs are right now.
Could the Hogs start 4-0? It’s possible.
2018 record: 11-3
Why the Dawgs can win 14 games: Disclaimer: I’m not sure they can; I just try to have 3 teams on this list each year and I don’t see any other team having even a puncher’s chance. (Texas A&M has the talent, but that schedule is a dream-crusher.)
Any hope Georgia has of reaching 14 wins likely hinges on winning the SEC Championship and getting to the National Championship Game. That’s a demanding ask of any program.
The schedule is more challenging than last season. One slip-up and this prediction will look silly, but regular-season perfection is not impossible. Alabama would be favored in every one of these games …
Notre Dame visits, but Georgia has faced scarier QBs than Ian Book.
Given the second round of Signing Day shots fired, the Cocktail Party figures to be all sorts of fun. People forget Florida had a second-half lead and that was a 6-point game in the fourth quarter last year. That’s hardly a gimme.
There’s a payback opportunity on the road against the SEC West. Three years ago, Ole Miss destroyed Georgia in Oxford. Two years ago, Auburn crushed the Bulldogs on The Plains. Last year, LSU demolished the Bulldogs in Baton Rouge. This year, Georgia is back at Auburn.
Texas A&M visits in what could be one of the better late-season showdowns in college football. It’s certainly a Week 13 GameDay candidate.
There certainly are potential pitfalls, but there’s also too much talent to dismiss the idea that a motivated Georgia team could finish 11-1 or even 12-0, win the SEC title and play for it all again in 2019.