By Joel Silverberg / @JoelSilverberg
SEC Media Days took a detour from its usual stop in Hoover and made its nest in Atlanta last week. After four days of hearing from 14 head coaches and 42 players the media ballot was revealed for the upcoming season. The media’s results are below.
1. Georgia (271)
2. South Carolina (8)
3. Florida (4)
5. Kentucky (1)
6. Tennessee (1)
1. Alabama (263)
2. Auburn (19)
3. Mississippi State (2)
4. Texas A&M
6. Ole Miss
1. Alabama (193)
2. Georgia (69)
3. Auburn (14)
4. South Carolina (4)
5. Florida (2)
6. Mississippi State (1)
6. Missouri (1)
You read that correctly. Someone picked Missouri to win the conference championship game without winning its division, and yes, that is indeed impossible.
Other than that, not too much to get wild about. Though it is odd to see Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi State with votes to win their respective divisions, especially with the last two having first-year head coaches. Any team picked to win the SEC outside of Alabama, Georgia or Auburn is a bit of a stretch.
Georgia is a heavier favorite than Alabama to win its own division, but the Crimson Tide are nearly three times as favored as the Bulldogs to win the title game if they get there.
Kentucky and Tennessee both received a vote to win the SEC East, but it wouldn’t be the first time a team with low expectations won the conference’s lesser division. Missouri was picked to finish sixth in 2013 before winning the division. They were selected fourth the following year and ended up in Atlanta again.
However, the SEC East didn’t have a heavy favorite to start those two years like it has Georgia this season. Kirby Smart’s team is the easy pick to meet the SEC West champ in Atlanta and potentially return to the College Football Playoff. Last year Georgia became the first SEC East team to win the division as the media favorite since 2012. There’s little evidence to believe the same won’t happen this year.
Here are my picks for the 2018 SEC season:
3. South Carolina
3. Texas A&M
4. Mississippi State
6. Ole Miss
SEC Champion: Alabama
Georgia gets LSU out of the West and the Auburn game is at home. It visits South Carolina in week two and Missouri in week four. There are some potential pitfalls, but not enough to think the Bulldogs won’t return to the SEC Championship.
The reason South Carolina is a spot lower than the rest of the media’s vote is it’s schedule. Along with the Georgia game the Gamecocks head to Lexington followed by visits from Missouri and Texas A&M, all of which are winnable, but none are gimmes. They head to The Swamp in November in a game that could decide second place in the East.
Missouri has a tough draw with a road trip to Tuscaloosa, but the Tigers get Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Arkansas at home. They travel to South Carolina after their bye week. Don’t expect the Barry Odom-Derek Dooley experiment to be a hit, but Drew Lock is talented enough to help Mizzou snuff out a couple of toss-ups.
Tennessee’s schedule is too brutal for Jeremy Pruitt to overcome in year one, but expect him to have things figured out for later in the season against Kentucky and Vanderbilt. Right now though, it’s hard to justify putting the Vols in the top four. A bowl game would be a huge win for Tennessee in Pruitt’s first season.
In the SEC West it’s hard to imagine Auburn sweeping Alabama and Georgia again. This year the Tigers get both of those games on the road. Auburn hasn’t won in Tuscaloosa since its national title season in 2010 and hasn’t beaten Georgia in Athens since 2005. Outside the two daunting games at the end of November this team always seems to find an opponent to stub its toe against, such as LSU last year. Auburn doesn’t have any room for error if it wants to return to Atlanta.
As if being the favorite wasn’t enough Alabama gets Missouri out of the East to go along with its permanent opponent in Tennessee, where Jeremy Pruitt will attempt to become the first Nick Saban assistant to beat him as a head coach. Key conference games against Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Auburn are all at home, too.
Mississippi State opens conference play at Kentucky before a visit from the Gators. Road trips to LSU, Alabama and Ole Miss might be too much for Joe Moorehead to handle in his first year despite his returning talent.
Texas A&M could take advantage of that when it visits Starkville after a bye week. Jimbo Fisher may not be able to do much in his first year in College Station, but he can get the Aggies to third in the division.
Arkansas gets a bump due to getting Vanderbilt and Missouri out of the East. The Razorbacks have the toughest start to conference play of any SEC team, with visits to Auburn and Texas A&M followed by a home game against Bama. The good news is Ole Miss, Vandy and LSU are all at home. The Missouri game is the season finale. If things go south for Odom and Dooley in Columbia the Tigers may be down for the count by the time Arkansas gets there.
Ole Miss in sixth looks a little low, but its four toughest games are all at home (Alabama, Auburn, South Carolina, Mississippi State) meaning the Rebels will need to claw out several road wins to get much higher. LSU brings up the rear after Ed Orgeron gets left off the team bus in Fayetteville following the Tigers’ loss to Arkansas on November 10.
The College Football Playoff committee has yet to put in a team that has suffered two losses or lost its conference championship game. If Georgia and Alabama do meet in the SEC title bout as expected, it would likely be a play-in game to the four-team field. A rematch of the national title game with a spot in the CFP on the line? The SEC would love to see that.