The SEC football season starts Thursday night when Texas A&M hosts Northwestern State, so now’s the time to put some thoughts about the league’s 2018 season on paper.
South Carolina defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson will have a chance to leave for a head coaching job at the end of the year. It might not be the type of job that will get him to leave, but people will start sniffing around in earnest as this season draws to a close. He’s young, 36; he’s intelligent and outgoing and will interview very well, and, most importantly, he’s got a track record that’s charting in the right direction working under Will Muschamp. When teams start looking for that next SEC assistant to poach, Robinson’s name is going to be near the top of the list.
Georgia’s starting quarterback won’t change. Bulldogs sophomore Jake Fromm helped the team to the national title game as a true freshman last year, but that didn’t keep five-start prospect Justin Fields from signing with Georgia this year. Fans being fans, there are pockets of people in Athens who think the dual-threat Fields can and will take over from the field general Fromm; but Fromm has a history of making every play he has to make and doing it with zero flash. That’s got to be appealing to Nick Saban clone Kirby Smart.
Clemson’s starting quarterback will change. Like Fromm, Kelly Bryant led the Tigers to the College Football Playoff last year and didn’t give anyone a reason to think he should lose the job. The difference in this situation is the newcomer. Bryant was named Clemson’s starter for the season-opener against Furman, but nobody around the Tigers has said a discouraging word about five-star freshman Trevor Lawrence. In fact, most folks seem wowed. Lawrence will play significant minutes against Texas A&M in Week 2 and start against Georgia Southern in Week 3.
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Florida will start three quarterbacks this year. First-year Gators coach Dan Mullen has a well-earned reputation for developing quarterbacks. He doesn’t do it by taking it easy on them, and he’s had a sometimes frustrating first fall in Gainesville trying to get sophomores Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask and true freshman Emory Jones to absorb all the information he expects his quarterback to master. Mullen named Franks the starter this week, but this feels like a situation where Franks and Trask, the two more veteran players, each get a shot to start early, and if they don’t meet Mullen’s high expectations, the new NCAA rule allowing players to play in four games without burning a redshirt year means there’s no reason not to throw Jones into the fire later in the season and see what happens.
Kentucky’s win streak against South Carolina will end. It’s, frankly, preposterous that the Wildcats have beaten anybody in the SEC four times in a row, even more so that it’s been a Gamecocks team that finished ahead of them in the league in two of those four years and has been on an upward track of late. It’s probably foolish to be too certain about this one considering the two teams play in Lexington, Ky., this year and South Carolina certainly hasn’t reached the stage it can assume any win the conference, but it just feels like fate will give the Gamecocks this one.
LSU is headed for a fall. Most Tigers fans knew they wanted Les Miles gone, but too many of them forgot what too many fans forget, that there’s a Step Two in the process of firing a head coach. That step is hiring someone who is better than the last one. LSU did not do that. Landing on Ed Orgeron gave the Tigers a home-state guy who is a better head coach now than he was during a rough patch at Ole Miss, but it was hardly a hire worthy of a program that considers itself a national threat. Too many people are putting too much pressure on Ohio State graduate transfer Joe Burrow, the Buckeyes third-string quarterback a year ago, to come and save the day. He won’t.
Nick Saban will improve to 15-0 against former assistants. This is a continuing cautionary tale for programs that want to run out and hire a Saban assistant. Alabama’s head coach got his closest call in last year’s national title game, but he held off Georgia’s Kirby Smart in dramatic fashion to improve to 12-0 against coaches who have worked for him. This year, Saban gets Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M and Jeremy Pruitt at Tennessee in the regular season and will likely face Smart again in the SEC title game.
Mississippi State will lead the SEC in sacks. Everyone is talking about the Bulldogs because of new coach Joe Morehead, and that makes sense. Morehead comes from Penn State, where he ran a fun and productive offense, and he’s had success as a head coach at Fordham. Mississippi State made a good hire, and Morehead will make the league better, but the story in Starkville this season is on the defensive line. With senior Montez Sweat coming off the edge, and junior Jeffery Simmons in the middle, the Bulldogs have the best pair of pass rushers in the SEC.
A.J. Brown will break the SEC’s TD receiving record. The Rebels junior, who South Carolina will see on Nov. 3, had 11 receiving touchdowns last year. This year, he’ll surpass the 18 that Reidel Anthony had playing for Steve Spurrier at Florida in 1996. The Ole Miss offense will be dynamic; Brown is incredibly talented, and this is a let-it-all-hang-out season in Oxford because of the NCAA probation that means there will be no bowl game.