Eagle picks LSU 3rd in SEC

The Daily Mountain Eagle continues to rank the SEC, revealing teams 3-5 this week. All four staff members involved in the rankings — Publisher James Phillips, Sports Editor Johnathan Bentley, Sports Writer W. Brian Hale and New Media Coordinator Jeffery Winborne — have LSU as the No. 3 in the conference heading into next week’s picks of the top two teams. Florida made the top 5 for three of the four voters. ——— Here are this week’s picks, along with a brief outlook on each team. James Phillips No. 5 Mississippi State Bulldogs Projected — 8-4, 4-4 The Mississippi State Bulldogs lost a lot of talent, especially on the defensive side of the ball, but they are going to surprise some people by staying in the upper level of the SEC. I think they will lose one they shouldn’t, probably to Auburn on the road, but still finish the year with eight wins. ——— No. 4 Florida Gators Projected 10-2, 6-2 While a 10-win season might be a stretch for Florida in 2019, I think the Gators are on the rise. Florida falls to Georgia and LSU, but that is it for loses. They won’t make it to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game, but a New Year’s Day bowl game will happen. ——— No. 3 LSU Tigers Projected — 10-2, 6-2 LSU can’t beat Alabama. It hasn’t happened in a long time, and it won’t happen this year. But that is the only team in the SEC that will beat the Tigers. I’ve also got them falling to Texas early in the season. ————— Johnathan Bentley No. 5 Missouri Tigers Projected — 9-3, 6-2 At first glance, having Missouri in the top 5 may seem like a stretch, but just look at the Tigers’ schedule. Missouri was an eight-win team last year with Drew Locke under center. Now that Clemson-transfer Kelly Bryant is at quarterback, I think Missouri has the capability to up that win total. Missouri still won’t challenge Georgia or Florida, but I can see them winning the rest of their SEC matchups. No. 4 Florida Gators Projected — 10-2, 6-2 Dan Mullen needed just one season to right the ship in Gainesville, turning the 4-7 Gators into a 10-win team. I look for the rebuild to continue this season with another 10-win season. The SEC East is manageable outside of Georgia. Also, Florida has a tough draw out of the SEC West, picking up Auburn to go with its annual match against LSU. Quarterback Felipe Franks, who struggled as a redshirt freshman, showed great improvement under Mullen, throwing 24 touchdown passes with only six interceptions. No. 3 LSU Tigers

Projected — 10-2, 7-1 LSU had its first 10-win season in five years in 2018. Look for the Tigers to repeat that win total in the regular-season this year. Behind LSU’s one constant — a dominating defense — the Tigers should be Alabama’s top competition in the SEC West. LSU lost to Florida, Alabama and Texas A&M last season. The Tigers will get revenge against both the Gators and Aggies this season while dropping their lone SEC game on the road at Alabama. LSU has one of the SEC’s top non-conference matchups early in the season with the Tigers taking a trip to Austin to face the Longhorns. ————— W. Brian Hale No. 5 Kentucky Wildcats Projected — 10-2, 6-2 Kentucky lost a lot from the 2018 squad that was the best team the Wildcats fielded in decades. Despite the amount of stars that have departed, Mark Stoops has recruited extremely well in his time in Lexington and has shown his ability to not only assemble a great staff, but his coaching skills as well. The schedule for the Wildcats is quite possibly one of the easiest in the conference — the major challenges come against Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. No. 4 Texas A&M Aggies Projected — 8-4, 5-3 Jimbo Fisher had a pretty good debut season in College Station, finishing second in the SEC West and 9-4 overall. Unfortunately for the Aggies, the schedule is murderous for Year 2. Texas A&M plays four super heavyweight teams — Alabama, Georgia, LSU and a non-conference road trip to defending national champ Clemson. It’s certainly not a slate for the weak-hearted, but it also will serve as a gauge on the progress Fisher has made since his arrival. No. 3 LSU Tigers Projected — 10-2, 7-1 The Tigers came oh-so-close to a 10-win regular season, with slight losses to Florida and Texas A&M before shutting down the proverbial puffer fish UCF to end the season. This year, Ed Orgeron’s squad gets both of those close-loss games at Death Valley and should be a major force in the SEC West once again. Recruiting has never been a problem for LSU in the fertile in-state confines and the Tigers will come loaded for 2019. Still it won’t be enough for LSU to overcome ‘Bama, one of the few teams to not have a problem winning in Baton Rouge. ————— Jeffery Winborne No. 5 Kentucky Wildcats Projected — 9-3, 5-3 Mark Stoops’ team was world beaters in 2018 behind running back Benny Snell, going 10-3 with a bowl win over the Big 10’s Penn State. A lot of talent from last year is gone, but not all is lost. Kentucky’s biggest challenge is perception, but realistically the Wildcats aren’t fighting the academic standards of a school like Vanderbilt. Stoops has recruited well enough to have the talent on the roster to compete, with this past year’s class ranked 32nd by ESPN. Kentucky should remain competitive and continue to move forward in 2019 and beyond. No. 4 LSU Tigers Projected — 9-3, 6-2 Ed Orgeron and quarterback Joe Burrow are out to prove themselves this season. The Tigers’ defense under coordinator Dave Aranda has and will continue to be a force to behold in the SEC, but the offense hasn’t found its identity in years. LSU will have a week to work out the kinks against Georgia Southern before being tested on the road against Texas in week two. Burrow played out of his mind in a 7 overtime loss to Texas A&M last year, throwing for 270 yards and 3 touchdowns. No. 3 Florida Gators Projected — 10-2, 6-2 Despite the off the field problems that continue to plague the Gators this offseason, Florida is primed to challenge Georgia in the East. Dan Mullen is a proven winner dating back to his time at Mississippi State and is familiar with recruiting in Florida. Florida had the 28th ranked defense in the country a year ago and quarterback Feleipe Franks completed just over 58% of his passes for 26 touchdowns. If they can manage to improve just enough on both of those fronts, then Florida can finally get back to competing in the East.