Earlier this week, the AP Top 25 Poll released its preseason edition with seven SEC schools cracking the initial rankings. Take a look at whose stock is up or down in the league heading into the 2020 season.
No. 3 Alabama – Up
It’s hard to imagine Alabama’s stock increasing after the departure of Tua Tagovailoa, but in comparison to a two-loss season in 2019, it’s equally as hard to imagine the Crimson Tide having a worse season in 2020. While Mac Jones doesn’t inspire confidence in every college football pundit, he does have a versatile and electric receiving corps to connect with. Similar to 2017 when Tagovailoa was a freshman behind Jalen Hurts, the quarterback room has another talented freshman in Bryce Young should things not go as planned for Jones as the starter in 2020. The offensive line returns four starters with four projected seniors to play. The defense is the main question surrounding Alabama. Over the last five years, the defense had its worst statistical year, allowing 18.6 points per game. The Crimson Tide only return five starters, but years of stellar recruiting have prepared this unit to bounce back.
No. 4 Georgia – Down
Georgia is putting their 2020 hopes and dreams on the shoulders of Wake Forest grad transfer Jamie Newman. Considering the talent surrounding him, it’s impressive Newman was able to lead Wake Forest to seven and eight wins respectively in 2018 and 2019. Will Newman’s game rise with the talent level around him at Georgia and in opposition to him in the SEC? With only three starters returning on offense, Georgia will go as far as Newman can take them. The Bulldogs are tasked with a difficult schedule featuring both Alabama and Auburn from the West and a much-improved East slate. Inexperience on offense and a brutal schedule could make Georgia miss out on the SEC Championship in 2020.
No. 6 LSU – Down
LSU is not primed to repeat as national champions in 2020. Heisman-winning quarterback Joe Burrow, pass game coordinator and offensive technician Joe Brady, defensive coordinator Dave Arranda and 14 starters depart from what was billed as the “greatest college football team” of all-time. It is a monumental task to overcome the volume of departures. Quarterback Myles Brennan, who has little game experience, walks into a situation where only three starters are back on offense, including only one offensive lineman. With a 10-game SEC schedule in 2020, LSU doesn’t have time to waste in answering all of the questions. If the Tigers take too long, the season could get out of hand in a hurry.
No. 8 Florida – Up
This year, it is a rare commodity in the SEC to have a returning quarterback. Of returning quarterbacks in the SEC, Kyle Trask has the second-highest completion percentage at 67 percent, and, now entering his senior year, he is one of the most polished quarterbacks in the league. In order to head to Atlanta, Florida has to knock off Georgia. In comparison to Georgia’s offensive outlook, Kyle Trask and the Florida offense might have enough firepower to finally push the Gators past their arch-rival.
No. 11 Auburn – Down
Auburn is the most enigmatic team in the SEC. It is hard to find a program that returns as much talent at skill positions but also lost high volumes of talent on the offensive and defensive lines. If the trenches don’t end up being an area of concern for Auburn, the Tigers are poised to compete for the SEC West. Nonetheless, with Kentucky and Georgia being the first two opponents on the schedule, Auburn doesn’t have long to answer the questions on the roster. The Tigers have to come together quickly or hopes of an SEC Championship will be dashed before the midway point of the season.
No. 13 Texas A&M – Up
Jimbo Fisher’s third season at the helm of the Aggies is going to be a pivotal year. The hype surrounding the most experienced team in the SEC elevates the pressure and scrutiny on Fisher. Anything less than second in the SEC West will be considered a total failure for a team that returns 17 starters, including senior quarterback Kellen Mond. Mond’s top target at wide receiver, Jhamon Ausbon, is back alongside 900-yard rusher Isaiah Spiller. Since 2017, the defense has improved in points allowed per game from 30.7 to 25.3 in 2018 and 22.5 last season. Everything is pointing towards an upward trajectory for Texas A&M in 2020.
No. 25 Tennessee – Up
Could Tennessee be back? Define “back”. There has been steady improvement in Knoxville since Jeremy Pruitt’s arrival in 2018, and one could argue the Volunteers should have won 10 games last year considering two of Tennessee’s losses were against Georgia State and BYU. Tennessee won seven of their last eight games, and 17 starters return from a team that showed legitimate improvement. For the first time since Josh Dobbs was quarterbacking the Volunteers, Tennessee feels secure at the position with Jarrett Guarantano. All starters are back on the offensive and defensive lines. Points per game and points allowed per game have improved each of the last three seasons. This is Jeremy Pruitt’s most experienced group. Will the hunger be enough to bring the Vols back into relevancy in the SEC?