College football season is right around the corner and that means it is time to preview the year. The Bat Flip’s 2018 college football preview will feature several different conference previews along with a comprehensive preview looking at the entire season. If the past few seasons are any indication, 2018 should be filled with drama and chaos until the very end when Alabama wins another National Championship.
Depending on who you talk to, college football begins and ends with the Southeastern Conference, better known as the SEC. To many fans, the SEC is the premier conference in college football and it’s very hard to argue against that claim. Since 2003, 11 of the 15 schools who won the National Championship have come from the SEC. Led by Alabama (five titles since 2009), the SEC has produced a laundry list of great teams over the last few years.
As the 2018 season prepares to kickoff in the coming days, the SEC looks poised once again to have a team or two in the College Football Playoff come January. Alabama, Auburn, and Georgia lead the pack of early national title contenders from the conference but once the games begin, it becomes anyone’s game.
Most of the strength in the SEC comes from the West division that includes Alabama, Auburn, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and LSU. Defending SEC champion Georgia enters the season the heavy favorite in the East division but everyone else will be gunning for the Bulldogs this year.
In this preview you will find a full breakdown of everything you will need to know about the SEC this coming season from the teams, to the players, to who will be crowned conference champion in Atlanta.
Let’s get started shall we.
Fourteen schools comprise the SEC with the teams being split evenly into two divisions of seven schools a piece. The divisions are as follows:
East: Florida Gators, Georgia Bulldogs, Kentucky Wildcats, Missouri Tigers, South Carolina Gamecocks, Tennessee Volunteers, Vanderbilt Commodores.
West: Alabama Crimson Tide, Arkansas Razorbacks, Auburn Tigers, LSU Tigers, Mississippi State Bulldogs, Ole Miss Rebels, Texas A&M Aggies.
Each team will play everyone in its division along with two sides from the opposite division for a total of eight conference games during the 2018 season. Once the regular season ends, the winner of the East division and the West division will face off at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta for the SEC Championship.
- Official Name: University of Florida
- Head Coach: Dan Mullen (1st season)
- Location: Gainesville, Florida
- 2017 Recap: 4-7 (3-5 SEC), 5th in SEC East
2018 Outlook: A turbulent 2017 season saw Florida change head coaches and bring in Dan Mullen from Mississippi State in the offseason. This will be Mullen’s second stint at Florida following a successful run as offensive coordinator from 2005 to 2008. The Gators are returning 19 starters from last year and should be much improved with Mullen at the helm.
- Official Name: University of Georgia
- Head Coach: Kirby Smart (3rd season)
- Location: Athens. Georgia
- 2017 Recap: 13-2 (7-1 SEC), 1st in SEC East, 2017 SEC Champion, National Runner-Up
2018 Outlook: You cannot come any closer to a national championship without winning one than Georgia last season. Leading in the fourth quarter over fellow SEC side Alabama in the National Championship game, the Georgia defense could not hold at the Bulldogs ultimately fell in overtime. Some big names left for the NFL but Kirby Smart and his staff should have the Bulldogs back in Atlanta as the class of the East division.
- Official Name: University of Kentucky
- Head Coach: Mark Stoops (6th season)
- Location: Lexington, Kentucky
- 2017 Recap: 7-6 (4-4 SEC), 3rd in SEC East
2018 Outlook: You never quite know what you will be getting with Mark Stoops and Kentucky year in and year out but they manage to put a respectful team on the field for the most part. They will not be a favorite to win the division but it is possible they could put a scare into some teams. Beating Florida will be the main goal which has not happened in over three decades.
- Official Name: University of Missouri
- Head Coach: Barry Odom (3rd season)
- Location: Columbia, Missouri
- 2017 Recap: 7-6 (4-4 SEC), 4th in SEC East
2018 Outlook: Missouri is another unspectacular team from a weak East division of the SEC. The Tigers returned to bowl play last season and look to be a team on the rise under head coach Barry Odom but it is hard to see them pushing Georgia for the East division crown this season. Another season of improvement in 2018 will show the Tigers are on the right track.
South Carolina Gamecocks
- Official Name: University of South Carolina
- Head Coach: Will Muschamp (3rd season)
- Location: Columbia, South Carolina
- 2017 Recap: 9-4 (5-3 SEC), 2nd in SEC East
2018 Outlook: If there is any threat to Georgia in the East it may reside right here in Columbia, South Carolina with the Gamecocks. A solid showing in 2017 was capped off with an impressive Outback Bowl victory over Michigan and gave the school momentum heading into 2018. Entering the season, South Carolina only has two ranked opponents on the schedule in Georgia and Clemson. Avoiding an inexplicable loss to a fellow East side could see the Gamecocks back in a New Year’s Day bowl.
- Official Name: University of Tennessee
- Head Coach: Jeremy Pruitt (1st season)
- Location: Knoxville, Tennessee
- 2017 Recap: 4-8 (0-8 SEC), 7th in SEC East
2018 Outlook: Good news for the Volunteers? Things cannot get much worse than last year. Bad news? Their 2018 schedule features Georgia, Auburn, and Alabama all in a row. First year head coach Jeremy Pruitt enters with a lot of pressure to resurrect a once proud program. It will not happen overnight, but there needs to be signs of improvement or the fans will be restless once again.
- Official Name: Vanderbilt University
- Head Coach: Derek Mason (5th season)
- Location: Nashville, Tennessee
- 2017 Recap: 5-7 (1-7 SEC), 6th in SEC East
2018 Outlook: Historically, Vanderbilt is bad at football. They have been somewhat more respectable in recent seasons with former head coach James Franklin bringing the program out of obscurity. Since Franklin left, the Commodores have taken a step back with only one bowl appearance since 2013. An improving East division could spell trouble if the Commodores fail to improve.
Alabama Crimson Tide
- Official Name: University of Alabama
- Head Coach: Nick Saban (12th season)
- Location: Tuscaloosa, Alabama
- 2017 Recap: 13-1 (7-1 SEC), 2nd in SEC West, National Champion
2018 Outlook: It is very hard to win consistently in college football. It is even harder to win at the rate Alabama has one since Nick Saban took over as head coach. The Crimson Tide have been the class of the SEC and college football over the past decade and are the preseason favorites to lift another national championship trophy. It almost feels like a given to pencil them in for the College Football Playoff.
- Official Name: University of Arkansas
- Head Coach: Chad Morris (1st season)
- Location: Fayetteville, Arkansas
- 2017 Recap: 4-8 (1-7 SEC), 7th in SEC West
2018 Outlook: A wasted year in 2017 brought about a much needed coaching change for the Razorbacks. Seventeen starters are returning to this year’s squad but a stacked SEC West will make it hard to compete right off the bat for Chad Morris. The schedule is favorable with only three SEC road games and a rather bland non-conference slate. A return to bowl play is not out of the question.
- Official Name: Auburn University
- Head Coach: Gus Malzahn (6th season)
- Location: Auburn, Alabama
- 2017 Recap: 10-4 (7-1 SEC), 1st in SEC West, SEC Championship Runner-Up
2018 Outlook: Based on what they showed last season, Auburn should be a favorite to win the SEC and possibly the National Championship. There is no doubt the talent is there for the Tigers, but the 2018 schedule is an absolute gauntlet. Road games at Mississippi State, Georgia, and Alabama in the second half of the season will decide where Auburn ends up. They also kick off against No. 6 Washington in Atlanta. If they can find some big wins on the road, the Tigers should be in mix at the very end.
- Official Name: Louisiana State University
- Head Coach: Ed Orgeron (2nd season)
- Location: Baton Rouge, Louisiana
- 2017 Recap: 9-4 (6-2 SEC), 3rd in SEC West
2018 Outlook: Another SEC West powerhouse that could easily play for a national title or settle for a middling bowl depending on how things shake out. They will open the 2018 season against No. 8 Miami where a win could go a long way come December. They will have to face Georgia, Mississippi State, and Alabama in a three week span but all three games will be taking place in Death Valley. That stretch will likely determine the Tigers’ fate in 2018.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
- Official Name: Mississippi State University
- Head Coach: Joe Moorhead (1st season)
- Location: Starkville, Mississippi
- 2017 Recap: 9-4 (4-4 SEC), 4th in SEC West
2018 Outlook: Head coach Dan Mullen bolted for Florida so the Bulldogs went out and poached Joe Moorhead from his offensive coordinator position at Penn State to replace Mullen. Moorhead comes to Starkville having turned Penn State into an offensive powerhouse and has the weapons to do the same in Starkville. Winning in the SEC is never easy, but if one side is poised to play dark horse it could be the Bulldogs under the leadership of Moorhead. Seventeen starters, including quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, will be returning.
Ole Miss Rebels
- Official Name: University of Mississippi
- Head Coach: Matt Luke (2nd season)
- Location: Oxford, Mississippi
- 2017 Recap: 6-6 (3-5 SEC), 6th in SEC East, Postseason ban
2018 Outlook: Regardless of record, Ole Miss will not be participating in a bowl game this season due to a self imposed bowl ban for NCAA violations. Head coach Matt Luke did a fine job last season after taking over in late spring to lead the Rebels to a 6-6 record. Their hardest conference games are all on home soil so that will be going into their favor. If Luke can inspire this group once again with no postseason to play for, the Rebels could cause some issues among the SEC West elites.
Texas A&M Aggies
- Official Name: Texas A&M University
- Head Coach: Jimbo Fisher (1st season)
- Location: College Station, Texas
- 2017 Recap: 7-6 (4-4 SEC), 5th in SEC West
2018 Outlook: The biggest SEC recruitment this past offseason wasn’t a player, but a coach. Jimbo Fisher left Florida State and headed west to College Station, Texas where the former national championship winning coach will take over the Aggies program. It won’t be instant success for Fisher at A&M but he has the chance to make an early statement with games against Clemson and Alabama in the first month of the season. Any step forward for the program is positive for recruiting and this time next year A&M could be a national favorite.
Five Game to Watch
Auburn v. Washington (September 1st): One of the marquee games of the opening weekend of the college football season. Should be a good measuring stick for two sides with dreams of a playoff berth.
Texas A&M v. Clemson (September 8th): This will be Jimbo Fisher’s first chance to make a real impression with the Aggies and it comes in primetime against a familiar for for Fisher.
Mississippi State v. Auburn (October 6th): If things go right, Mississippi State should enter this game 5-0 and close to the top 10 in the rankings. To this point, the schedule is light for the Bulldogs so this could be a major statement game.
Florida v. Georgia (October 27th): It’s hard to predict just exactly where these teams will be sitting at the end of October but this could game could play a very large role in determing the SEC and the national championship picture.
Alabama v. Auburn (November 24th): When both sides are on top of their game, the “Iron Bowl” just feels a little more special. Auburn got the win last year but Alabama took home the ultimate prize with another national title.
2018 SEC Predictions
It would not be a preview post without making some season predictions that will surely be wrong before the calendar hits October. Here is the Bat Flip’s official 2018 SEC football predictions.
Projected Order of Finish
East: Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
West: Alabama, Mississippi State, Auburn, LSU, Texas A&M, Ole Miss, Arkansas
SEC Championship Game
Alabama def. Georgia 42-38
SEC Offensive Player of the Year: Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn
SEC Defensive Player of the Year: Raekwon Davis, DL, Alabama
SEC Coach of the Year: Joe Moorhead, Mississippi State
That’s a wrap on our 2018 SEC football preview. Stay tuned throughout the week for more conference recaps along with a special college football preview episode of The FlipCast coming later in the week,