This is the time when we were supposed to be drowning in mostly insignificant details gathered at SEC Media Days in Atlanta.
The annual meeting was canceled and now we’re left to wonder whether the entire season will suffer the same fate.
Even in a normal year, SEC Media Days is more about the symbolic return of another season than it is any breaking news. Sure, it’s fun to talk to coaches, players and even other media members about specific teams.
It certainly makes those in attendance feel more informed as they make their inevitably unreliable predictions for who will win each division and the overall championship. For proof of that, look no further than the most recent season, when the LSU Tigers were dominant on their way to a 15-0 record and national championship. They did that after receiving only five of 260 first-place votes to win the West division in the preseason poll conducted at Media Days. Auburn and Mississippi State received one each, while Alabama was tabbed by 253 voters.
That’s more than 97 percent of voters who chose the Tide. It wasn’t an outrageous pick. (I’m motivated to say that because I was one of the 253 voters who got it wrong.)
But, as William Ernest Henley wrote in his poem “Invictus,” “My head is bloody, but unbowed.”
That’s a highfalutin way of saying I’m ready to make public how I would have cast my vote if we had gathered in Atlanta as scheduled last week.
SEC East order of finish: 1. Florida, 2. Georgia, 3. Tennessee, 4. Kentucky, 5. Missouri, 6. South Carolina, 7. Vanderbilt.
The three longest current winning streaks in the SEC belong to LSU (16 in a row), Tennessee (six) and Kentucky (four). The Volunteers and Wildcats ended 2019 on a roll, but neither has proven to be able to beat the league’s blue bloods.
Georgia has the benefit of three straight elite recruiting classes, but there are few proven stars returning for the Bulldogs. The quarterback position will be a battle between Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman and Southern Cal transfer JT Daniels. Both come with strong credentials, but neither has ever taken as much as a practice snap at Georgia.
Georgia’s depth of talent may be best in the division, but it’s Florida’s time to break through. Quarterback Kyle Trask is an upgrade over what the Gators have had in recent years, and there’s no denying Dan Mullen’s ability to develop players at the position.
Former Blount star Kadarius Toney will be one of the most electrifying playmakers in the league. He could be the difference in a win over the Bulldogs that lifts the Gators to the top of the division and back into the SEC Championship Game.
SEC West order of finish: 1. Alabama, 2. Auburn, 3. LSU, 4. Texas A&M, 5. Ole Miss, 6. Mississippi State, 7. Arkansas.
It would be unfair to call LSU a one-hit wonder because there is still lots of talent in Baton Rouge. But has a national champion ever had to answer so many questions the following season? The Tigers have arguably the league’s best offensive player (receiver Ja’Marr Chase) and defensive player (cornerback Derek Stingley). But all the other stars have moved on to the NFL.
Will they have enough talent to win at Auburn late in the season? It’s a close call but I say no.
This time I finally believe Gus Malzahn when he says he’s committed to turning the offense over to his offensive coordinator. Chad Morris will be working with a talented and experienced quarterback, Bo Nix. The defense loses a lot of firepower on the front, but the Tigers have proven they can reload on that side of the ball.
Despite two close losses last season by a total of eight points, Alabama is the clear favorite again in 2020. Quarterback Mac Jones returns after being forced into action last season when Tua Tagovailoa was injured. In his last two games, Jones had a higher quarterback rating against Auburn than Heisman winner Joe Burrow and a high quarterback rating against Michigan than Ohio State’s Justin Fields (who finished third in the Heisman voting).
If the defense isn’t ravaged by injuries again, the Tide should look more like we’ve become accustomed to on that side of the ball.
If Alabama makes it to the SEC Championship Game, the Tide will be a heavy favorite to win the conference title and enter the playoffs for the sixth time in the seven year history of the four-team tournament.
I’m sure that’s how it’s going to play out. In fact, I’m as sure of it as I was last year.
Randy Kennedy, who has been a leading voice on the Gulf Coast sports scene for 18 years, writes a weekly column for Lagniappe. His sports talk show airs weekdays on the new Sports Talk 99.5 from 7-10 a.m.
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