Alabama: Jalen stays
A year ago, we all knew Jalen Hurts would transfer. Now, it’s a year later … and everybody is still certain he’s leaving. What if he isn’t? Seriously, Hurts has shown enough to earn his NFL shot, and he’ll do it with a cleaner bill of health than 99.9% of NFL prospects. Is transferring and learning a new system really worth it? Particularly when being part of a college football dynasty is on the line? Jalen Hurts stays in Tuscaloosa for another year.
Arkansas: Bowling in 2019
Obviously, Arkansas is a tremendous favorite to be the SEC’s most improved team in 2018. There’s really nowhere to go but up. And given the recruiting class that Chad Morris has cobbled together, we’ll go out on a limb and say the Razorbacks will find their way to 6 wins in 2019.
Auburn: The Tigers are a Playoff factor in 2019
We know, we should know better. But the Music City Bowl showed us something — namely that it’s personal for Malzahn in 2019. The Gus Bus is going to get decommissioned if Auburn sits through another brutal season, but knowing that, Malzahn will go all in with the offensive explosion we all expected in 2018. Now, we’re not saying Auburn will win the national championship, just that those late games with Georgia and Alabama will leave the Tigers as a meaningful part of the 2019 CFP race.
Florida: UF upsets UGA in 2019 … but doesn’t win the East
Florida’s schedule generally stacks up tougher in 2019 than in 2018, but Dan Mullen will have his team ready. How ready? Ready enough to knock off Georgia in the East’s showdown game of 2019. Mullen’s blood-in-the-water offensive coaching will give UF and edge over Georgia, although it might ultimately help the Bulldogs more than the Gators.
Georgia: D’Andre Swift leads the SEC in rushing
Kirby Smart takes a lot of pages out of the Nick Saban playbook, and the way he’s used running backs has been one such lesson. But in 2019, Kirby will recognize that UGA needs that marquee star who might help UGA get over the hump in the event of a potential Playoff snub. Swift is that back, and his four 100+ yard games in the last five regular-season games is a sign of what is to come for UGA in 2019.
Kentucky: Chris Oats will be an All-SEC linebacker in 2019
True freshman Oats struggled in Lexington this year — not with his play on the field, but with actually getting on the field. He sat behind a group of veteran linebackers, but with guys like Josh Allen and Jordan Jones moving along, Oats will get his shot in 2019. Given how impressive he was this season in limited time, don’t be surprised if he has a 100 tackle season and asserts himself as a young leader in Lexington.
LSU: Justin Jefferson emerges in 2019
LSU and a forward passing game are rarely discussed in the same sentence, but Joe Burrow brought a level of competence to the Tigers not seen in many years. His best target might have been sophomore Justin Jefferson, whose combination of size and experience makes him a natural to star in 2019. Jefferson broke 50 catches this season, and he might well lead the league in 2019.
Mississippi State: SEC’s most improved offense
State had the outstanding defense that everybody knew they could in 2018, allowing just 12 points per game. They ran the ball well, rushing for 226 yards per game, but try as he might, Joe Moorhead couldn’t fit the round peg that was Nick Fitzgerald into the square hole that is his passing attack. Next year will be better. MSU won’t hold opponents to a dozen points a game, but they’ll put up 35 a game on offense, as Keytaon Thompson (or whoever wins the job) will improve the passing yardage from 175 per game to 225 per game. That extra 50 yards will lift State from 8-4 to 9-3 or maybe 10-2.
Missouri: Running machine in 2019
With the Kelly Bryant transfer, the popular notion is that Bryant is the next Drew Lock, and Missouri will still be a pass-heavy team in 2019. But the running game is better than the passing attack will be next year. Bryant isn’t the pure passer that Lock was, and meanwhile Larry Rountree finished his season with three consecutive 100-yard games. Missouri will lead the East in rushing in 2019, and will have another 7-5, 8-4 type season.
Ole Miss: The Matt Luke Era ends in 2019
Given how badly the Rebels finished 2018, their 2019 feels almost inevitable. It’s a shame really — most of the problems with this program have very little to do with Luke. But he’s the head coach, and while the defense will improve in 2019, Jordan Ta’amu isn’t walking through the door, either. Another losing season will motivate the Rebels to move on.
South Carolina: The end of Muschamp
Before 2018, it was cool. Muschamp was a defensive guy with an offense that let him down. But for much of 2018, it was Muschamp’s defense that kept the Gamecocks stuck in the middle of the SEC East pack. There’s a lot on the line in 2019 for Muschamp, and another 7-6 season just won’t get it done.
Tennessee: UT misses a bowl again
This isn’t an indictment of Jeremy Pruitt, who will still be fine in Knoxville. The upsets over Auburn and Kentucky camoflauged just how bad this UT team can be … and still will be in 2019. So long as Pruitt can keep recruiting, the long-term picture is fine, but it’s another 5-7 year for the Big Orange in 2019.
Texas A&M: Kellen Mond will be second team All-SEC in 2019
There were QB feel-good stories galore in the SEC, but none was as profound as Mond’s. Here he was, a talented but still very much unformed prospect at a school where starting QBs were swapped out like pairs of athletic socks. By the end of the year, we had a 7-OT shootout in which he simply refused to lose to LSU. Mond came farther in 2018 than anybody else, and Jimbo Fisher will give him every chance to be the best QB not named Tua in SEC 2019.
Vanderbilt: Mason moves on
Whether Vandy manages to reach 6 wins again or not, one thing is for sure. The failure of VU to address its ancient facilities and the competitive gap the school feels with the rest of the SEC means that it’ll be jumping off time for Derek Mason. It’s hardly Mason’s fault that he wasn’t as glamorous as James Franklin, but it’s also hard to blame him for wanting to go someplace where his own fans occasionally fill the stadium.