Who are the SEC players to watch out for in 2018?

Regardless of what the pro-SEC fans say, a lot of stars left the conference in 2017. Just from the National Championship Game, Minkah Fitzpatrick (Alabama), and Roquan Smith (Georgia) are gone in their junior years, while Nick Chubb and Sony Michel (Georgia) departed after four years. The bigs are gone too, with ‘Big’ Bo Scarborough (Alabama) and Da’Ron Payne (Alabama) departing for NFL riches.

But that’s not all. From Auburn Kerryon Johnson and Kam Pettway are off, while at LSU Derrius Guice, Arden Key, Kevin Tolliver and Donte Jackson leave. For Texas A&M, the most exciting player in college football – Christian Kirk – is going to take his returning talents to the pros.

But despite the amount of heroes going to the NFL, there are more heroes that are going to come along. And yes, we know that we have mentioned five-star recruits that are going to start this year, but they could be arrested/dismissed/suspended before the season starts, so we’re not counting our chickens.

Here are our Top 12/13 (in no particular order):

  1. Drew Lock (Missouri): Lock exploded under OC Josh Heupel, passing for a breathtaking 3,339 yards and 23 TDs. In fact, he was the only QB to cause Georgia’s DB trouble all season long, and we’re expecting great things from him in 2018 – especially with a lot of pressure on him from NFL Draft ‘experts’ who expect him to go in the Top 5 in 2019. His only problem(s) could be his wide receivers not being able to catch, and new OC Derek Dooley (we still don’t understand why Barry Odom passed on former UCLA OC Jedd Fisch).
  2. Deebo Samuel (South Carolina): The most explosive, exciting player in the SEC last year – until he was injured. He can return punts, run the ball and receive throws, and he’ll rip a team’s defenses apart if they don’t watch out for him. He’s the next Christian Kirk and potentially the SEC’s answer to Christian McCafffery.
  3. AJ Brown (Ole Miss): Brown is going to be one of the greats of Ole Miss when he’s done with his career in Oxford. In a freakish sophomore year, Brown had 1,252 yards receiving and 11 TDs. We expect many more things from this exciting player come 2018.
  4. Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama): One amazing half of National Championship may not a starting QB at Alabama make, but Tua, with his strong arm and ability to move around in the pocket, is already prepped to Alabama’s next throwing star. Don’t get us wrong, Jalen Hurts could get his job back and slice up defenses with his legs (and he could also be extremely useful on trick plays), but now the starting Bama job is Tagovailoa’s to lose.
  5. D’Andre Swift (Georgia): Swift had 771 yards and 4 TDs for the Dawgs, and now Chubb and Michel have gone to the NFL, Swift will be the No.1 running back. Expect him to get 1,000.
  6. Jarrett Stidham (Auburn): If Stidham can play as well as he did against Georgia (Game 1) and Alabama, then he’ll be one of the biggest stars in the conference. He’s got good legs, a great arm, and we think Stidham could flourish.
  7. Nick Fitzpatrick (Mississippi State): Before he was injured against Ole Miss, Nick Fitzgerald was phenomenal for the Bulldogs. Statistically, he may have had a worse year than he did in 2015 last year, but he still had SIX rushing games of over 100 yards. We expect him to flourish in Joe Moorhead’s offense. Moorhead’s great with mobile QBs – just as Penn State’s Trace McSorley.
  8. Damien Harris/Najee Harris (Alabama): Harris’ decision to return for 2018 is a fantastic one – he’ll be vying with Stanford’s Bryce Love as the best RB in the country. He had 1,000 yards and 11 TDs this year, and we expect excellent things next year too. As part of the two-headed monster, Najee Harris has the speed to match Damien’s brawn, while is going to be great for Nick Saban and his new offensive co-ordinator.
  9. Jake Fromm (Georgia): Fromm’s going to go from ‘game manager’ to ‘star’ in Athens – particularly when Kirby Smart lets him throw the ball more.
  10. Tyrel Dodson (Texas A&M): As much fun as we’ve made of the Aggies’ ‘D’ in the past, there’s no denying what a star Dodson was in his second year. The freakish linebacker had 104 tackles and 3 INTs, and he could break out as the next Myles Garrett.
  11. Kyle Shurmur (Vanderbilt): You might make a lot of fun out of me for including a Vanderbilt player, but hear us out. As terrible as Vandy was in the SEC (their only win came over Tennessee), Shurmur still managed to throw for 2,823 yards and 26 TDs. It may not have lit up the scoreboards, but he’s proved himself a leader on the team. If he remains hot, there could be NFL discussions.
  12. Aeris Williams (Mississippi State): We didn’t consider Williams until we saw his numbers for this year, and then felt guilty. The sophomore RB reminded coaches of Le’Veon Bell with his running style, and made a lot of Cowbellers happy with his 1,107 yard, 6 TD performance – as well as 142 yards receiving. Expect him with better numbers under Moorehead.

Also considered: David Reese (Florida), Malik Davis (Florida), Mecole Hardman (Georgia), Traeyvon Williams (Texas A&M), Devwah Whaley (Arkansas), DeMarkus Lodge (Ole Miss), Javon Wims (Georgia), Emmanuel Hall (Missouri).

Will Georgia or Auburn win the SEC Championship Game?

Wow. The 2017 SEC Championship Game between Georgia and Auburn will be the first SEC Championship game since 2013 not to feature Alabama.

It’ll be Auburn’s first trip to the SEC Championship Game since it won a 59-42 shoot-out against Missouri in 2013, and it’ll be Georgia’s first trip to Atlanta since they lost 32-28 to Alabama in 2012 in one of the greatest SEC Championship Games in living memory.

This year, both teams come with one spot in mind: The College Football Play-Off. Basically, the winner will go to the College Football Play-Off, while the loser will be on the outside looking in.

Of course, there’s a revenge factor for Georgia. On November the Bulldogs were schooled at Jordan-Hare, losing 40-17. Auburn comes with momentum, having toppled two No.1 teams in a row in Georgia and Alabama in the Iron Bowl (with an untidy performance against Louisiana-Lafayette in the middle).

In other words, no-one in the South – or in college football – can wait for this one.

Here’s why both teams will win.

WHY GEORGIA WINS

The revenge factor. Georgia was hammered at Jordan-Hare. There are arguments that if WR Riley Ridley had caught Jake Fromm’s throw, things might have been different. Of if Georgia had decided not to give 75 yards on seven, stupid penalties. Having said that, that wasn’t the real reason the Bulldogs lost. The Bulldogs lost because they couldn’t stop Kerryon Johnson, who pummeled Georgia’s offensive line. They lost to an Auburn defensive line that shut down Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, and they lost to the better quarterback in Jarrett Stidham. But now, all this doesn’t matter. Kirby Smart’s team have been looking forward to this for a week (they are pretty well-rested after easily dusting Georgia Tech in ‘Clean Old-Fashioned Hate’ (or whatever that rivalry’s called), and they now know how to stop Malzahn.

Georgia’s also going to win because they are sick to death of being told how they will ‘Georgia’. In other words, how they will miss out on the epic victory, like Mark Richt managed over and over again (with the exception of the 2005 SEC Championship Game – the last time the Dawgs won the trophy). This time it’s different, it’s personal. Chubb and Michel are both fit – unlike Johnson, who is listed as ‘probable’ by the Tigers, but we both know that with the pain that he left the Iron Bowl in, he’s unlikely to be at the top of his game. They also know how to win, and how to take advantage of what is still a week Auburn secondary.

Oh, and the Mercedes-Benz Stadium isn’t going to be a game at Jordan-Hare, either. It could feel like a home game for Georgia.

WHY AUBURN WINS

There is no team in college football with greater momentum than Auburn at the moment. After all, they’ve dispatched of two No.1s. And not only have they beaten Georgia and Alabama, but they’ve comfortably beaten them. No-one’s playing as well as their defensive line, led by Jeff Holland, Marlon Davidson, Derrick Brown and Dontavius Russell. They’ve got back-up players (Nick Coe and Andrew Williams) who are nasty as well. This defensive line didn’t just stuff Georgia – they stuffed Damien Harris and Bo Scarborough. Unless Jake Fromm turns into the new Baker Mayfield, the invasion of the Georgia offensive line will continue.

Oh, and there’s the offense, too. QB Jarrett Stidham played two of the best games of his season against Georgia and Auburn – even if his TD stats didn’t show it against the Tide (he threw for 3 TDs and 214 yards against Georgia). He’s taken control of the offense at just the right time, and he’s going to cause Georgia’s defense problems on broken plays with his legs as well as with his arms. And we ‘almost’ (hee! hee!) forget about Kerryon Johnson. Not only does he throw touchdowns, but he’ll also run over defenses. He was IMMENSE before getting injured against Alabama, and even better against Georgia. All season long he’s been incredible, running for 1,276 yards and 17 TDs, running over defenses who have tried to stop him. Gus Malzahn’s confident he’ll play.

And in terms of offensive brains, you’d take Malzahn over Kirby Smart or his offensive coordinator, Jim Chaney. So we can’t wait for the pack of cards to come out.

WHAT VEGAS THINKS

Auburn’s a two-point favorite.

WHAT WE THINK

This is going to be a damned classic. There’s no way this is going to be as one-sided as people think. We think Georgia’s D is going to come in angry as hell, and they are going to target Johnson’s shoulder (fairly or unfairly). That’s going to mean that Stidham will be forced to throw more against a very good Georgia secondary. And the revenge factor – and the fact that it will be a home game for the Dawgs – is huge.

Oh, and we’re still quite smug about Vegas only making Georgia a 11-point favorite against Georgia Tech last week. They blew that out mid-way through the third quarter. Thanks for the money!! 

SO OUR PREDICTION…

Georgia 35, Auburn 28.

Other predictions: Oklahoma will slam TCU in the Big 12 Championship Game, Clemson will have no problem with Miami (thanks to the fact that not only is it the better team but also Charlotte’s a home game for the Tigers), and Ohio State will beat Wisconsin by 14 in the Big Ten Championship Game, and USC will beat Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship Game. And Lane Kiffin will win with FAU (beating North Texas) and Scott Frost will take UCF to an unbeaten season by beating Memphis in a high-scoring, must-watch classic.

Auburn boots former starting QB White

Auburn has booted former starter Sean White after he was arrested for public intoxication on Saturday night.

It wasn’t the first time White had been in trouble this season – he’d been suspended for the first two games of this season for undisclosed reasons.

He must have taken the fact that Auburn coach Gus Malzahn brought in Jarrett Stidham as a transfer from Baylor pretty badly. Last year White showed great improvement from 2015, throwing for 1,679 yards, 9 TDs and 3 INTS, but he improved his accuracy greatly, going from 58.0 in his freshman year to 63.9 in his sophomore year.

“Sean White is no longer a part of our football program at Auburn,” Malzahn said in a statement. “He has made poor decisions that are not in the best interest of our program, and more importantly, himself. We appreciate his time at Auburn and wish him nothing but the best.”

 

Auburn names Stidham as starting QB

Auburn has named transfer Jarrett Stidham as the Tigers starting quarterback for the 2017 season.

Stidham, who transferred from Baylor after amassing 1,265 yards, 12 TDs and 2 INTs in just three games of his freshman season before he decided to leave in May 2016 following Art Briles’ firing following his ignoring of mass sexual abuse by his players on random females.

Gus Malzahn will hope that Stidham will prove to be more successful than his trio of quarterbacks were in 2016. Jeremy Johnson, Sean White and Jonathan Franklin III all failed to catch fire. Franklin III announced on Tuesday that he is transferring to Lane Kiffin’s Florida Atlantic team after failing to get even considered for the starting position, while Jeremy Johnson was not drafted following a poor college career. Franklin was also trying to compete for a wide receiving job.

Stidham has given Auburn a new excitement going into the 2017 season, particularly bearing in mind how good he is at learning one of the top spread offenses in college football (we can blame Briles for many things, but he is still an offensive genius). Stidham also has a young, talented receiving attack  led by Ryan Davis and Eli Stove.

Also Stidham’s corps of running backs is also strong, with Kam Pettway and Kerryon Johnson very good SEC talent.

QBs in the SEC: Who’s in the best shape for 2017?

LSU always seems to have a quarterback problem, it’s been argued that Florida hasn’t had a good one since Tebow, and Georgia hasn’t won the SEC despite having good quarterbacks, while Alabama has won a lot of SEC titles without having any quarterbacks that you’d say are NFL-worthy. So for 2017, which SEC team is in the best shape at quarterback? And who is struggling? Clue: It’s probably not a team from Baton Rouge.

  1. Mississippi State: Nick Fitzgerald did wonders at Mississippi State last year. He led the SEC in total yards in 2016, throwing for over 2,400 yards and 21 TDs (and no interceptions) and rushing for nearly 1,400 yards and 16 TDs. He also beat Ole Miss, which pretty much makes him God in Starkville. There are worries because he didn’t have a sharp Spring Game, but it’s a Spring Game. Mississippi State’s in fine fettle at that position. Whether he’ll have the contributors he needs now Fred Ross he needs to give him the good stats is another thing altogether.

2. Auburn: After playing one Spring Game for Auburn, there was already Heisman hype around Jarrett Stidham on the plains. Some have even compared him to Drew Brees. Managing to get Stidham – who was already familiar with a high-octane offense by playing for Baylor in 2015 – to come play for you was a masterstroke by Malzahn and company. Stidham is a fantastic dual-threatt QB who’s going to cause defenses a lot of problems.

3. Alabama: Talk about an embarrassment of riches. Nick Saban keeps on getting hold of freshmen who are so good that that sophomore who had an insane season is suddenly worrying about his job. We see with Jalen Hurts – who had an incredible freshman year – in a sudden quarterback battle with Tua Tagovailoa. Tagovailoa – a five star from Hawaii – had a brilliant Spring Game which got the tongues about Hurts’ job stability. And next season? There will probably be someone else to scare the crap out of these two.

4. Georgia: With Jacob Eason, the Bulldogs have an entrenched starting quarterback. His problem might well be the same that haunted him last year – the offensive line. But for pure stability – and a cannon for an arm – the Dawgs are going to be juuuuust fine.

5. Arkansas: We quite like the shape the Razorbacks are in at this position. Allen’s got a cannon, and threw for 3,450 yards, 25 TDs and 15 INTs last year. His problem will be the offensive line, which got him sacked THIRTY FOUR times last year. But if that improves, the Razorbacks have one of the best weapons in scrimmage around.

6. Missouri: Drew Lock’s going to start at quarterback for the Tigers, and he’s got the arm to be a star. If his receivers (we see you, J’Mon Moore) could actually catch the ball, then he could put up some immense stats and lead the Tigers forward.

7. Kentucky: Drew Barker vs Stephen Johnson is an interesting QB battle. Barker was the 2016 starter before he hurt his back, and then Johnson took the team over and led the team to seven wins – including a win over hated rivals Louisville. There is hope in Big Blue Nation. Although Mark Stoops has been uncommittal about the QB battle, it’s Johnson’s team, and UK is in a good position.

8. Vanderbilt: Kyle Shurmur will start. He had 2,400 yards passing, although he threw more INTs (10) than TDs (9). He progressed nicely through the last few weeks of the season, throwing for 221, 252, 273 and 416 yards in his last four games of the year. The 416 came against Tennessee’s defense (just in case you were thinking it was against a ‘nobody’. Vandy should be in pretty good shape here.

9. Ole Miss: Shea Patterson was given a lot of love when he walked into The Grove, and during his first year he threw for nearly 900 yards with 6 TDs and 3 INTs. And the opposition (Texas A&M, Vandy and MSU) wasn’t terrible either. The problem won’t be about Patterson’s skills, but more if the team plays with confidence after the trouble that the school is going to be in with the NCAA. And we’d argue that’s going to be a lot.

10. South Carolina: A lot of people were excited about Jake Bentley, who came in mid-way through the season and threw for 1,420 yards and 9 TDs (and 3 INTs). His strong Spring Game got Gamecocks fans drooling (if they weren’t already bearing in mind they had a Final Four game to watch that day).

11. Florida: The QB battle between Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask is certainly an interesting one, although both aren’t particularly well-known quantities. Luke Del Rio’s coming back from a shoulder injury, and could compete for the job. While some are excited about Florida if the QBs prove capable, we still don’t know a massive amount about them. They should be helped by a nasty defense, though.

12. Texas A&M: Jake Hubenak, Kellen Mond, and Nick Starkel didn’t exactly stand out at A&M’s Spring Game, but Starkel was given the most love because of how he stood in the pocket – and that his receivers dropped passes. The good news for Aggie Nation is that the running game looks very solid indeed.

13. Tennessee: Former Josh Dobbs back-up Quinten Dormady and Jarrett Guarantano are fighting it out for the Vols QB position, but I’m not convinced about either of them. Sorry, Vols fans.

14. LSU: This is how bad the LSU QB competition is. Ed Orgeron – normally Mr Exuberant and Mr Confident in these situations – told the press: “No-one has earned the starting spot…. Most of the spring, [starter for most of 2016] Danny [Etling] has been there. Nobody has taken him over. But tonight, underneath the pressure, the guys didn’t perform the way we wanted to. They’ll have to show me who can perform under pressure and be the LSU quarterback.” Normally when the guy who ended last year as the starter is safe and hasn’t transferred or been arrested (ie doesn’t go to Oklahoma), he’s your man to be the starter for 2017. Not so for Louisiana State University. In the Spring Game, Justin McMillan passed only three times and Lindsay Scott didn’t pass once. And Etling was horrible. These could be bad, bad times for the Purple and Gold and trying to get a QB into Baton Rouge.