The Daily Mountain Eagle continues its rankings of SEC football teams this week with the scheduled start of the season less than two months away.
Publisher James Phillips, Sports Editor Johnathan Bentley, Sports Writer W. Brian Hale and New Media Coordinator Jeffery Winborne look at teams 3 through 6 starting today.
All four will predict their top two later this week.
Here is a look at Bentley’s and Hale’s predictions.
2020 Prediction (10-2, 6-2)
The Bulldogs have been the team to beat in the SEC East each of the last three seasons. However, since the arrival of Dan Mullen at Florida, the Gators have made this a two-man race. The ‘Dogs’ season could very well come down to the three games — at Alabama, home against Auburn and the Florida game in Jacksonville. If Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs get past the Gators on Halloween, Georgia will most likely be in Atlanta again for the SEC Championship game. While it’s easy to look at the big games, you can’t forget that a home loss to a bad South Carolina team cost the Bulldogs a chance at making the College Football Playoff last year. An upset loss is not out of the question.
2020 Prediction (10-2, 6-2)
LSU had its miracle season in 2019, clobbering everyone — except Auburn and Alabama — on its way to the national championship. Now the Tigers, minus offensive genius Joe Brady and Heisman-winning quarterback Joe Burrow, can slip back to the norm, which is actually still very good. At this point, Ed Orgeron has proven himself to be one of the top coaches around, but LSU will still have to take at least a small step back in 2020. The schedule is tough with a home game against Texas highlighting the non-conference schedule. The Tigers travel to Florida in October, host Alabama in early November and close the season with trips to Auburn and Texas A&M.
5. Texas A&M
2020 Prediction (9-3, 5-3)
Jimbo Fisher is entering year three in College Station and it’s time to prove that Texas A&M made a good $75 million investment a few years ago. The Aggies return more starters than any other SEC team and the schedule sets up favorably for Fisher and crew. The Aggies face Vandy and South Carolina out of the East and their toughest non-conference games are Colorado and Fresno State. If A&M could get past Auburn in mid-October the Aggies could be battling for the SEC West title heading into a home stretch of Alabama and LSU. The experience factor will help A&M, considering no team got in any spring practice.
2020 Prediction (8-4, 4-4)
Gus Malzahn enters the 2020 with no hot-seat chatter for the first time in a couple of years. That usually means a disappointing season is right around the corner. This year’s schedule does include some spots for an upset, namely North Carolina and a sneaky-good Kentucky team. Also, the usual suspects are still there — Georgia, Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M. If the Tigers can somehow split those four games and win the games they are favored in, which is easier said than done, they could be in line for a 10-win season. With a brand new offensive line, this team will hopefully get better as the season goes on.
W. Brian Hale
There will be a definite step back for the defending national champions this year, though not a catastrophic one. Ed Orgeron has done a good job in recruiting, so there’s no question that the roster is stocked with talent — the team lacks experience. After barely surviving the Week 2 showdown with Texas, LSU will have two losses on the season — to Alabama then Auburn. In lieu of Auburn’s loss to Kentucky, LSU will actually finish second in the SEC West Division standing for a 10-2 overall mark in 2020.
Since the 1990’s, the third year for the head coach at Florida has been where a downward slide takes place. Steve Spurrier had one of his few single-digit win seasons, Ron Zook got hooked after the fireronzook.com saga and a seven-win season, Urban Meyer regressed after a national championship year, Will Muschamp won four games and Jim McElwain was fired during the season after being 3-4. The headache for the Gators will come in three parts in 2020 — losses to LSU, Georgia and the most galling, against FSU to close the year.
The Vols are one year away from being a very serious threat in the SEC East. This year, however, will be geared towards the future as Tennessee isn’t quite ready for the big time just yet, but it also doesn’t mean that the Vols won’t have a pretty good year. Though I fully expect it to be a loss, look for the Vols to be pesky against Oklahoma in their Week 2 battle. Afterward, Tennessee’s losses will come all in the SEC — Florida, Georgia and Alabama, giving the Vols a 8-4 mark on the season.
Here’s what I expect: yet another ho-hum 9-3 regular season where Gus Malzahn loses a game he shouldn’t that wrecks what could have been a great year. The depth chart at this early point reveals Auburn has some returning starters (the key being QB Bo Nix) and some new faces, but chances are good Malzahn runs his “NASCAR” system that by now, surprises no one and most teams have long adapted to. So Auburn goes undefeated for the first four weeks (although the Week 2 matchup with the Mack Brown-led North Carolina Tar Heels is very intriguing) then the game they should lose — the Kentucky Wildcats. The second-consecutive loss of the year will follow against Georgia, but the Tigers will rally on a winning streak until they travel to Bryant-Denny for the final loss of the season.