The rise of Georgia was a fun twist for 2017 as the Dawgs won their first conference title in 12 years and nearly took home their second National Championship. But alas, Alabama! Nick Saban won his 5th National Championship with the Crimson Tide in 9 seasons, and is the favorite to repeat again in 2018, but a quarterback controversy threatens to derail the whole enterprise.
Summary of Last Year
Georgia breezed through a weak East division where all other teams lost at least 3 times within the league on the season. The Dawgs finished 4-2 against ranked opponents overall while everyone else in the division went a combined 0-14 against AP ranked foes.
The West, as is usually the case in modern times, was a much different story with 4 teams finishing inside the Top 20. Alabama coughed up their chance to enter the SEC Title Game with a regular season-ending loss at Auburn which means Saban is now stuck at 5 conference championship, same as his National Titles in Tuscaloosa.
Georgia would defeat Auburn 28-7 in the SEC championship. The second-tier teams in South Carolina, LSU, and Mississippi State all won 9 games but felt decidedly average in the bigger picture of history.
Alabama’s reign atop the recruiting rankings ended this past spring. Georgia took the national top spot while the Tide fell all the way to No. 6 overall. Auburn (#12), Florida (#15), LSU (#16), Texas A&M (#17), South Carolina (#18), and Tennessee (#20) rounded out an impressive 8 teams inside the Top 20.
In order to claim that top spot, Georgia hauled in 9 players inside the Top 41 of the rankings, including No. 2 overall player and quarterback Justin Fields.
Top Out of Conference Game: Auburn vs. Washington [Arlington]
This was the top game in our Pac-12 preview which makes it one of the best for the entire season. It’s probably much more important for Washington who won’t have the strength of schedule to recover the way Auburn will later in the season. For their part, the Tigers have faced and were defeated by Clemson in their big OOC games over the last two years. A win here would be enormous.
Most Important League Game: Auburn at Georgia
The tendency would be to choose the Iron Bowl here but what if it won’t matter by the time Auburn gets there? A slate of LSU, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Tennessee, and Texas A&M await prior to this game against Georgia. Presuming a loss in Athens, can the Tigers go undefeated against the aforementioned teams?
Sell 2018: LSU
Their unquestioned strength in the running game has been gutted by losses and yet again another transfer quarterback with little fanfare is set to start. Additionally, a very good defense from last year will be breaking in a lot of new bodies up front. Most worrisome, a brutal schedule awaits including Miami in the opener, both Georgia and Florida from the East, in addition to gauntlet in the West. Most win totals have them at 7.5 for this fall, take the under!
Buy 2018: Arkansas
For a team coming off a 4-8 season (92nd in FEI, yuck) folks generally think it will take new head coach Chad Morris a little while to get things going in Fayeteville. The passing game should immediately improve and he’s working with 17 returning starters overall, though. The schedule is super favorable, too. All non-conference games are entirely winnable and the Hogs miss the projected top 3 teams in the East (Georgia, South Carolina, Florida) as well as Tennessee. Vegas has their win total at 5.5 and I think they’ll go bowling.
Offensive Player of the Year: QB Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
If there’s any indication with Jalen Hurts’ recent comments he’s probably not feeling too well about beating out his younger teammate. I’m all in on the Tua hype train. An insanely talented dual-threat quarterback, surrounded by tons of playmakers, facing a very easy schedule by Alabama standards smells like Heisman to me.
Defensive Player of the Year: LB Devin White, LSU
White will be working with 3 new linebacker starters beside him which is concerning, as is his curiously low 37 solo tackles from 133 total tackles. That’s still a ton of tackles either way and he was super disruptive (14 TFL, 4.5 sacks) last year. He should thrive with another good Tiger defense that could be on the field a little more due to their poor offense.
League Title Game: Alabama vs. Georgia
This one feels too easy and in college football too easy means this can’t happen. It seems like Georgia could play at 75% and breeze through to the league title game. Maybe South Carolina surprises a little bit and the Dawgs drop a couple games including at Columbia in week two?
The quarterback controversy has the potential to disrupt Alabama’s quest for another conference title, and more. This will be an interesting juggling act for Nick Saban. Still, what’s the Tide’s second toughest game? Home games versus Texas A&M or Mississippi State? A road trip to LSU or Arkansas? They should not lose prior to the Iron Bowl.
This would be Alabama’s 12th appearance in the SEC Title Game, and only the second time facing Georgia after the 2012 matchup that bequeathed the Irish a massacre in Miami.