SEC preview: With Georgia, Bama, LSU and Tennessee, it’s crammed

  • Chris Low Close Chris Low ESPN Senior Citizen Writer College football press reporter Signed up with in 2007 Graduate

  • of the University of Tennessee
  • Alex Scarborough Close Alex Scarborough ESPN Staff Writer Covers the SEC.Joined ESPN in 2012. Graduate of Auburn University.Aug 25, 2023, 07:00 AM ET The SEC is the undeniable champ of the college football world, with Georgia, the leading Dawg, looking
  • for its third consecutive national title. Heady things even for the very best conference in

    the land.And with the abundant getting richer next season, when the league welcomes Texas and Oklahoma to its ranks, we have one last year with the present 14-team, two-division format.Georgia’s course to another championship game– and even to a conference title– will consist of obstacles as old foe Nick Saban and Alabama have reloaded, however both groups will be breaking in new quarterbacks.

    LSU and Tennessee also figure to be top contenders, Ole Miss and Texas A&M are preseason Top 25 teams, then there’s South Carolina, Florida, Kentucky, Arkansas … as we stated, this is the very best conference in the land.ESPN reporters Chris Low and Alex Scarborough break down the leading newbies, holes to fill, finest early-season games, MVP and championship choices and more. Three (or four)transfers to know

    LB Omar Speights, LSU: We understand

    after last season how excellent outside linebacker Harold Perkins can be hurrying the passer and generally being a hazard all over the field. And, if you have a longer memory, you’ll keep in mind how dominating protective lineman Maason Smith can be when healthy, whether it’s stifling the running game or utilizing his speed to ferret out quarterbacks. However the difference for LSU this season if it goes from good to terrific will be the addition of former first-team All-Pac 12 middle linebacker Speights, who coach Brian Kelly thinks has a future in the NFL, from Oregon State.– Alex Scarborough Editor’s Picks 2 Related WRs Rara Thomas and Dominic Lovett, Georgia: This is going to be a new-look Bulldogs offense. Not only is quarterback Stetson Bennett gone, so is perennially underrated offending planner Todd Monken. All-American tight end Brock Bowers is back together with All-SEC receiver Ladd McConkey, however it will take more than that to support Carson Beck, who opens the season as Kirby Smart’s QB1. Get In Lovett and Thomas, who were Missouri’s and Mississippi State’s leading receivers last season, respectively.– Scarborough

    QB Graham Mertz, Florida: It was tempting to go with the other top transfer quarterbacks in the conference– Payton Thorne at Auburn, Devin Leary at Kentucky, Tyler Buchner at Alabama and Spencer Sanders at Ole Miss. But Mertz remains in a special position since of the pressure he’s under to reverse a Florida offense that was so bad last season it cranked up the heat on coach Billy Napier after just one year on campus. It’s simple to cross out Mertz, who was underwhelming in 32 starts at Wisconsin. However don’t forget he was when the top-rated pocket passer in the 2019 class, and don’t discount the advantage of a fresh start. Napier is positive about Mertz’s “extraordinary motor and work ethic.”– Scarborough

    3 essential positions to fill

    Alabama QB: If Nick Saban and his personnel were confident in either Jalen Milroe or Ty Simpson, why did they bring in Tyler Buchner from Notre Dame after spring practice was over?– Scarborough LSU WR: For the Tigers’ offense to take the next action, not only does Jayden Daniels need to enhance as a down-field passer, he requires more playmakers to step up at receiver, whether it’s Malik Nabers, Kyren Lacy or Brian Thomas Jr.– Scarborough

    Georgia QB: Carson Beck got in preseason camp as the front-runner to replace Stetson Bennett and was given the nod Saturday, but Brock Vandagriff and Gunner Stockton will be nipping at his heels.– Scarborough

    3 instant-impact freshmen

    How they’ll end up: SEC LOW SCARBOROUGH 1. Georgia 1. Georgia 2. Alabama 2T. Alabama 3. LSU 2T. LSU 4. Tennessee 4. Tennessee 5. Texas A&M 5. Ole Miss 6. Kentucky 6. South Carolina 7. Ole Miss 7. Kentucky 8. South Carolina 8. Texas A&M 9. Mississippi State 9. Arkanas 10. Arkansas 10. Mississippi State 11. Auburn 11. Florida 12. Florida 12. Missouri 13. Missouri 13. Auburn 14. Vanderbilt 14. Vanderbilt

    S Caleb Downs, Alabama: Spring practice was enough for the Alabama coaches to know Downs will be one of their 4 best defensive backs. He was the No. 1-ranked safety prospect in the 2023 class by ESPN– No. 11 general– and is poised to fill a huge hole for the Crimson Tide.– Chris Low

    RB Rueben Owens, Texas A&M: After hurrying for more than 7,000 yards during his high school profession, Owens was a late flip to Texas A&M after initially devoting to Louisville. Jimbo Fisher liked what he saw out of Owens in the spring with his agility, speed and work ethic. It will not take him long to be a crucial element in Bobby Petrino’s offense.– Low

    OLB Damon Wilson, Georgia: The Bulldogs were in need of outdoors linebackers, which was why beating Ohio State for Wilson in the early signing period was such a huge offer for Georgia. Wilson was whatever Kirby Smart and the staff hoped he would be in spring practice with his capability to rush the passer and be a disruptive force off the edge.– Low

    3 must-see September games

    Texas at Alabama, Sept. 9: Alabama needed a late basket to slip by the Longhorns 20-19 in Austin a year back, and that was with Bryce Young at QB. The scene moves to Tuscaloosa this year as Alabama adjusts to life without Young and with a brand-new quarterback. Although it’s only the 2nd week of the season, this game will go a long way toward forming the playoff race. The winner gets a critical nonconference win over what will probably be a nationally ranked challenger at season’s end.– Low

    Tennessee at Florida, Sept. 16: The Vols finally broke through against the Gators last season after losing 16 of the previous 17 conferences in the series. Tennessee last won at the Swamp in 2003, so it has actually been a while. Florida requires to develop some early momentum in Year 2 under Napier, and taking down the Vols in the SEC opener would be a fantastic way to do it. Believe we’ll hear much about Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton III’s “I don’t lose in Florida”

    proclamation leading up to the game?– Low LSU at Ole Miss, Sept. 30: LSU is getting tons of love this preseason, however it will not be an easy September for Brian Kelly’s Tigers. The trip to Ole Miss will be their 3rd game far from house in the first month of the season. For Ole Miss, it’s the second leg of a grueling two-game stretch that has the

    Rebels taking a trip to Alabama a week earlier. Both teams should be dynamic offensively, and the loser of this game is going to have a high climb back.– Low MVP pick A D-lineman for league MVP? LSU’s Maason Smith merits. Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire

    Low: RB Quinshon Judkins, Ole Miss

    Judkins was Mr. Consistency for Ole Miss last season as a freshman in leading the SEC in hurrying with 1,567 backyards. Lane Kiffin is always going to have a powerful running game, and there’s no factor to think Judkins will not set up similar numbers again this season.

    Scarborough: DL Maason Smith, LSU What’s the enjoyable of preseason projections if you go by the book? That’s boring. Which’s why I’m selecting Smith, who is under the radar after missing out on all of last season with an injury. When healthy, the 6-foot-6, 315-pound sophomore is a game-wrecker in the style of Jalen Carter, possessing the size and strength to block running lanes and the speed to rush the passer. I asked LSU running back Josh Williams about Smith and this is what he told me: “He’s about to control. He’s the one that everybody ought to be stressed over.”

    On the hot seat

    Billy Napier’s heading into just his 2nd

    season at Florida

    , and already he’s on the hot spot. David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire Low: Billy Napier, Florida It’s crazy to believe Naper is (or ought to be) on the hot seat going into simply his 2nd year at Florida, but if the Gators are hovering around the.500 mark once again after going 6-7 in his very first season, the uneasyness in Gainesville will reach an uneasy level for everyone included.

    Scarborough: Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M Do not tell me about Fisher’s buyout, which at last check is more than $ 70 million. I’m wagering the Aggies, with rival Texas poised to join the conference next season, will cut that check if they stumble to another sub -.500 finish. A workable September slate will either be a launching pad to better things with games versus Austin Peay, Miami, Louisiana Monroe, Auburn and Arkansas, or it will be the beginning of completion for Fisher.Sleeper group With Joe Milton III under center, Tennessee could surprise in the SEC this season. Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire

    Low: Texas A&M The Jimbo Fisher-Bobby Petrino pairing will be the storyline everyone focuses on leading into the season, however the real story will be the Aggies, who are barely lacking for skill, putting everything together, rebounding from a losing season and making some genuine noise in the West Department race.

    Scarborough: Tennessee Why aren’t more individuals talking about the Vols after they beat Alabama, LSU and had an all-around breakout season? Josh Heupel’s offense took the SEC by storm in 2015 and all anybody wants to go over is how Georgia will run away with the East once again. While quarterback Hendon Hooker is off to the NFL, Joe Milton actions in with a cannon for a best arm and the perspective of a senior who knows this is his last shot.Conference title


    Low: Alabama 28, Georgia 24 For the 10th straight season, the SEC national championship will feature either Alabama or Georgia, this one being the 3rd time in the last six years they have actually faced each other. Both groups will be breaking in new quarterbacks, but the difference is an Alabama running game that takes over in the 4th quarter.

    Scarborough: Alabama 21, Georgia 20

    In spite of all the questions dealing with the Crimson Tide– the quarterback, the offense under a new organizer and the defense, which has slipped rather in the last few years– I believe Nick Saban will find a method to beat LSU in your home and make it back to Atlanta. And if he does, I’m betting Alabama is more battle-tested than Georgia, whose schedule is average at finest.

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