The SEC never has enough intrigue, but as early predictions and rankings show, the 2020 season could include two open races at the top of the divisions. In the east, Florida and Georgia should be involved in a close battle for the top spot. Tennessee is expected to close the gap and fight for a place in the top 25. The Gators have a slight edge over the Bulldogs for now, but Georgia’s addition of Jamie Newman could turn the leader in spring training. Alabama is number two in the West Division with LSU and Texas A & M in third place.
It’s never too early to think about predictions or placements for the 2020 college football season. With this in mind, Athlon delivers its early power rankings for the SEC for 2020:
Early SEC soccer predictions for 2020
It is a close connection between Florida and Georgia to reach first place in the east for the very early predictions for 2020. The Gators currently have a small advantage. Under Dan Mullen’s observation, Florida has won 21 games and has been in the top 10 for two consecutive years. For the alligators to take the next step, the offense requires a line that returns four starters to improve and create a little more balance in the offense. Kyle Trask is one of the SEC’s top quarterbacks for 2020, but Emory Jones is too talented to keep himself apart. Four of the six major statistical reception options need to be replaced, including Van Jefferson (49 catches) and Freddie Swain (38). However, the cabinet is not empty from the outside. Tight end Kyle Pitts (54.) and the recipients Trevon Grimes, Jacob Copeland and Kadarius Toney form a strong group for Trask. Dameon Pierce is the frontrunner in replacing Lamical Perine, but Lorenzo Lingard of Miami could be an option if he comes in 2020. Todd Grantham’s defense loses key pieces in linebackers David Reese, cornerback CJ Henderson and pass-rushers Jabari Zuniga and Jonathan Greenard. However, this unit should remain at a high level next year as the transfer of Georgia from Brenton Cox will increase the passport increase and secondary education is still among the best of the SEC thanks to Marco Wilson’s return and the rise of Kaiir Elam. The Jacksonville vs Georgia encounter will likely determine the East Division winner, but Florida has an advantage in crossover planning as the LSU comes to Baton Rouge and Georgia to compete against Alabama.
As mentioned above, Georgia and Florida separate very little in this early rankings for next season. The Bulldogs have a head start in the entire squad talent, but the coach of Kirby Smart’s squad starts in 2020 with a few important question marks on the offensive. Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman should replace Jake Fromm in the quarterback. Despite the departure of D’Andre Swift and Brian Herrien, the backfield remains strong. Zamir White, James Cook, Kenny McIntosh and newcomer Kendall Milton are among the SEC’s top backfields. After an outstanding season for newbies, receiver George Pickens is ready for even bigger challenges in 2020. The offensive line lost key gears such as Andrew Thomas, Isaiah Wilson, Solomon Kindley and Cade Mays, but there is a good foundation for the new line coach Matt Luke. Georgian defense was at the top of the SEC in yards per game (4.3) and least points per game (12.6). Security J.R. Reed and Lineman Tyler Clark are missing, but this unit is returning largely intact and can continue to carry this team until the offense finds its rhythm behind Newman. Crossover games against Alabama and Auburn will be huge, but the SEC East title should last until the October 31 showdown in Jacksonville.
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The volunteers are on the right track to start coach Jeremy Pruitt’s third season in Knoxville. After a 0-2 start with defeats against Georgia State and BYU, Tennessee recovered by winning its last six competitions. In order for Pruitt’s team to land in the east of Georgia or Florida, the quarterback position needs to be more consistent. Whether it’s Jarrett Guarantano, Brian Maurer, J.T. Shrout or newcomer Harrison Bailey, the evolution of this position is probably the difference between whether Tennessee ends up in the top 25 or not. The offensive line has been a vulnerability in recent years, but volunteers should have been one of the best in the SEC with Guard Trey Smith’s return in 2020. This unit could get a boost if Georgia Transfer Cade Mays is immediately eligible. Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway leave the reception corps, but the offensive should have a solid double strike when Ty Chandler and Eric Gray return. The volunteers took a step forward in defense in 2019, holding the teams just 5.01 meters in an instant. To improve this amount, some key players need to be replaced – linebackers Darrell Taylor and Daniel Bituli and Safety Nigel Warrior. Linebacker Henry To’o-To’o is an aspiring star after finishing second in 2019 with 72 stops. Kicker Brent Cimaglia should push for All-America titles next fall, after failing 23 out of 27 attempts last season. A huge showdown in Oklahoma is scheduled for September 12, but Florida and Alabama are coming to Knoxville.
After 26 wins in the first five seasons under Mark Stoops, Kentucky has posted 18 in the past two years. Stopping 8: 5 in 2019 was an achievement for Stoops and his team. Quarterback Terry Wilson had to retire for the season in early September due to an injury, which later prompted the team to move receiver Lynn Bowden to the position in October. Bowden went to the NFL after completing 1,871 yards in 2019, but Wilson is expected to be back on the grid. He is joined by one of the SEC’s most important offensive lines and a field with three returns, which totaled at least 500 rushing yards in 2019. Kentucky’s defense finished fourth in the SEC in the fewest points allowed per game (19.3) and allowed 5.3 yards a snap. The line will be Calvin Taylor and T.J. Carter and the departure of linebacker Kash Daniel are important. Despite these staff reductions, this unit should be solid again in 2020. The Wildcats will be tested immediately in week 2 with a trip to Florida.
5. South Carolina
The Gamecocks had a tough time in 2019, but pressure on coach Will Muschamp increases after a 4-8 record. Muschamp took steps to remedy an offense that was an average of 5.2 meters from the site by hiring former Colorado coach Mike Bobo to call the games in 2020 and newcomer Luke Doty is fighting for the starting place. The team’s top three second half is starting, but newcomer MarShawn Lloyd could spark a offensive line that largely returns intact. The departure of Bryan Edwards (71 catches) is a significant loss for the reception corps. Muschamp’s defense will be Javon Kinlaw, Safety J.T. Ibe or Linebacker T.J. Brunson will be back next fall, but if players like cornerbacks Israel Mukuamu and Jaycee Horn and Lineman Zacch Pickens evolve, this unit on the stats could improve after scoring 26.1 points per game in 2019. South Carolina could compete against three top 10 teams in November with Georgia, LSU and Clemson planned for the final 2020 race.
After an 8/5 record in 2018 and the arrival of transfer quarterback Kelly Bryant, Missouri had a lot of momentum into the 19th season. That quickly resolved with a defeat against Wyoming at the start and culminated in the dismissal of Barry Odom after a 6: 6 record. The new coach Eli Drinkwitz had a successful year in his only season in the state of Appalachian, but the task of coming to a bowl in 2020 is significantly more difficult in Colombia. Taylor Powell, Connor Bazelak and TCU transfer Shawn Robinson will compete for the starting job in the center, but the offense also has question marks in the trenches and on the recipient. The duo of Larry Rountree and Tyler Badie running back is the strength of the offense. The Tigers have one of the SEC’s best defenders in linebacker Nick Bolton (107 tackles), and Drinkwitz ensures continuity for a unit that limits the number of teams to 4.86 meters by keeping Ryan Walters as the coordinator. Missouri registered the least (19) bags of a team in the SEC and has to replace the outstanding tackle Jordan Elliott. Home games against Central Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Eastern Michigan in September should help Drinkwitz get off to a quick start in its first year.
Derek Mason relies on redesigned staff to help the Commodores get back on track after a 3-9 record in 2019. Todd Fitch (Offensive) and Ted Roof (Defense) are experienced signalers, but both will have their hands full. The offensive must find the quarterback Konstanz after four players got a jump on the position in 2019. In addition, leading Rusher Ke’Shawn Vaughn (1,028 yards), recipient Kalija Lipscomb (46 catches) and Jared Pinkney’s close end all ended their eligibility. Left tackle Devin Cochran also decided to leave as a graduate transfer, adding concerns about an offensive line that allowed 28 sacks in 2019. The Commodores allowed most yards per game (6.6) for a team in the SEC last year. Since most of the depth map is about to return, Roof and Mason are optimistic that the defense will be headed in the right direction and statistics will improve next fall. Non-conference games against Kansas State (road), Colorado State and Louisiana Tech are on the program, while Vanderbilt contracts Texas A&M and Ole Miss in a crossover game with the West.
The race for SEC West 2020 will be fascinating. At first glance, the distribution seems to be more open than in previous years. However, it is difficult to face Alabama as the earliest leader for next fall. The quarterback game is in the spotlight with Tua Tagovailoa in the NFL, but Mac Jones played well in late 2019, and real newcomer Bryce Young will get involved in this offseason. Those who win their first quarterback job can rely on one of the best offensive lines in the country and a deep stable of running backs, including Najee Harris, after passing the NFL draft. Even though Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs left for the next level, Jones or Young with Jaylen Waddle, John Metchie and DeVonta Smith didn’t hurt themselves externally because of their talent. For the first time since 2013, Alabama’s defense allowed more than five meters in the SEC game. Youth at the top and injuries took a toll on this group, but there is optimism for 2020. The linebacker unit will get a boost with Dylan Moses and Joshua McMillon after being completely absent in 2019 due to injury. The youth movement at the top should go into production while cornerback Patrick Surtain is back to anchor a secondary that will lose cornerback Trevon Diggs and security Xavier McKinney. The search for Edge Rusher to succeed Terrell Lewis and Anfernee Jennings (24 combined TFLs in 2019) is a priority this spring. The Crimson Tide opens with USC in Arlington and will face Georgia on September 19 in Tuscaloosa. The November 7 LSU showdown will likely decide the SEC West title.
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The incumbent national champion is a small step behind Alabama and ranks second in SEC West’s early forecasts. For coach Ed Orgeron’s team to repeat themselves, the offense – the main reason for the 2019 national title – has to answer a few questions. How will play calling and the scheme work with Joe Brady, who is leaving for the NFL? Who is eligible for quarterback Joe Burrow? Myles Brennan is the favorite who wins the job, but a transfer cannot be ruled out. The supporting actor made a few hits when Clyde Edwards-Helaire and receiver Justin Jefferson left the NFL prematurely. The backfield is not entirely empty as John Emery, Chris Curry and Tyrion Davis-Price should be an effective trio when Edwards-Helaire leaves. Biletnikoff award winner Ja’Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall will anchor the reception corps after scoring 33 touchdown draws and more than 100 catches in 2019. However, Orgeron has a lot to do in the trenches after Center Lloyd Cushenberry and tackle Saahdiq. Charles declared himself the NFL and joined the start guards Damien Lewis as key exits. The LSU defense ended 2019 with the best game of the season in the last five games. Coordinator Dave Aranda is one of the best in college football. Despite some early defeats against the NFL, this unit should continue to perform at a high level. After an outstanding youth season, cornerback Derek Stingley is already one of the top players in college football. Orgeron’s team certainly won’t have an easy return to the CFB playoffs. The LSU hosts Texas in week 2 and plays the SEC game in Florida, Auburn and Texas A&M. The November 7 matchup against Alabama will play a major role in deciding the winner of the West Division.
3. Texas A&M
Can Texas A&M take a step forward and fight for the SEC West title if Alabama and the LSU lose key positions? Coach Jimbo Fisher’s team has a much easier path following a brutal schedule in 2019. The Aggies trade Clemson for Colorado, while Vanderbilt replaces Georgia in crossover mode. Most of the offensive depth is expected to return for the Fisher team in 2020. Isaiah Spiller (946 meters) is back after a solid refresher fight, the offensive line returns largely intact and the reception corps is led by receivers Jhamon Ausbon (66 catches) and Ainias Smith (22) and close ends Jalen Wydermyer and Baylor Cupp. Can quarterback Kellen Mond take the next step in his senior development next fall? The defense are also returning most of their key pieces for 2020 and will benefit from continued security developments Demani Richardson and Lineman DeMarvin Leal after promising newbie campaigns. Linebackers Buddy Johnson and Anthony Hines III paced the duels in 2019 to re-anchor the defenses next fall. For coordinator Mike Elko, it will be a off-season priority to replace the outstanding tackle Justin Madubuike and generate a larger pass rush after taking in only 29 sacks.
Auburn should have one of the SEC’s top quarterbacks for 2020, and Bo Nix could improve after a promising season for newbies. Nix connected 57.6 percent of his throws for 2,542 yards and 16 touchdowns with six picks and ran for 313 yards and seven scores. Former Arkansas coach Chad Morris has been hired as the team’s new offensive coordinator, and his experience with quarterbacks should help Nix develop as a passer. The Tigers deliver a solid setback and the team’s top three statistical receivers – including likely 2020 all-SEC candidate Seth Williams (59 catches). Nix’s development doesn’t matter, however, unless Auburn can top up an offensive line that loses four starters. Turnover in the trenches continues on the defensive side. Derrick Brown, Marlon Davidson and Nick Coe each retired at the end of the 2019 season. The secondary sector also struggles with its share of sales, but the linebacker should be among the best in the SEC. A neutral location comparison against North Carolina on September 12th should be a good litmus test for Auburn’s defense. The Tigers will have to play in Alabama and Georgia next fall, but major games against LSU and Texas A&M will take place at home.
5. Ole Miss
Ole Miss lost eight games in 2019, but five came with eight points or less. The new trainer Lane Kiffin is not going to be completely rebuilt as the rebels could push a bowl because of the losses and young talent in 2020. John Rhys Plumlee returns as favorite for quarterback with Jerrion after a dynamic season Ealy (722 yards) was preparing for a breakout year when he ran back. The team’s top three receivers are back, but the line will need to be retooled after both duels have ended. Ole Miss showed a significant improvement in defense in 2019. Having posted 36.2 points per game in 2018, this unit allowed 26.5 last season. The new defensive staff has a few holes to plug in the front and in the secondary area the leading tackler Lakia Henry (88 stops) is back. The rebels open with Houston in Baylor, but have a brutal three-game streak (Auburn, at LSU and Alabama) before mid-2020.
6. Mississippi State
The state of Mississippi will certainly not lack intrigue in 2020. Mike Leach was hired after Joe Moorhead was released after serving two years in Starkville. Leach has done tough jobs (Texas Tech and Washington State), and his violent offense is being tested against some of the country’s best defenses in the SEC. Finding a quarterback is Leach’s top priority this off-season, but the receptionist squad also needs to be staffed with four key seniors who are out of the question. All-SEC runs back Kylin Hill decided to return for his senior year, and a few starters are returning to the trenches. Mississippi led the SEC in goal defense in 2018, but slipped to 12th place after losing a handful of key pieces, including three round-first picks. The Bulldogs will have to replace seven of the team’s top 12 tacklers from 2019, but linebacker Erroll Thompson joined the NFL to stay another year in Starkville. The transition from staff to the leach system can take a year or two, but this team should still be in the running for a bowl next fall.
New coach Sam Pittman has a tough job in Fayetteville when Arkansas starts 2020 after 19 defeats in the SEC. And the 2020 plan will not do Pittman and his employees a favor. The Razorbacks play in the Notre Dame when there is no conference and in the crossover game against Tennessee. Pittman is a first-time FBS-level head coach, but hired good people, including coordinators Kendal Briles (offensive) and Barry Odom (defensive). Whether it was K.J. Jefferson or a graduate transfer, Arkansas must find an answer at quarterback to have a shot to end his losing streak within the SEC. Pittman’s return to Fayetteville will help develop the trench talent. The talent includes some promising players, including Rakeem Boyd (1,133 meters) and the recipients Mike Woods, Treylon Burks and Trey Knox. Odom is one of the season’s best young coordinators, but inherits a defense that has ranked 13th or lower in the SEC over the past three years. Positive for Odom: this unit doesn’t lose much in relation to important seniors. Linebacker De’Jon Harris, Lineman McTelvin Agim and Safety Kamren Curl – arguably three of the best players in the unit – will not return in 2020. A small step forward in overall competitiveness would be a good sign for Pittman next fall.