2018 SEC expert picks: Overrated, underrated teams and predicted order of finish
The last time we saw SEC teams in a real game, it was the College Football Playoff National Championship when Alabama walked off with the crown in a stunning win over SEC champion Georgia. That game elevated the league back to the top of the conference pecking order. But will it be that way for long? Aside from the two title game participants and defending SEC West champion Auburn, are there any national championship caliber teams in the SEC this year?
Mississippi State is loaded with experience, Texas A&M lured Jimbo Fisher to with a trail of green, Florida upgraded by bringing Dan Mullen back from MSU, and South Carolina quietly returns a solid group of experienced stars who could give the Gamecocks a boost in the SEC East. With a few top-tier teams and a loaded middle, the SEC should be fun to watch in 2018. Keep on reading to see the CBS Sports college football team’s unique takes on the SEC entering the 2018 season.
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Most overrated team
LSU: It’s 2018, and the Tigers are still trying to figure out what to do at quarterback and coach Ed Orgeron needs a breakthrough year. This sounds familiar. A season-opening game against Miami will be a good test to see where this team, but in addition to navigating through the SEC West, LSU gets crossover games against Florida and Georgia. Yikes. — Ben Kercheval (also Tom Fornelli, Chip Patterson, Barton Simmons)
Auburn: The West is turning into a division of quarterbacks. For all the love Jarrett Stidham is getting, don’t forget Tua Tagovailoa and Nick Fitzgerald. Mississippi State has 16 starters back. Alabama is Alabama. I like the Bulldogs to win nine or 10 and finish second in the West. — Dennis Dodd
Florida: Gators football has had problems on and off the field since at least when Urban Meyer left. It’s not that they have always been mediocre. They did play in the SEC title game the first two seasons under Jim McElwain but got blown out both times. They have also had a pair of four-win seasons, something that hasn’t been seen in Gainesville since a winless 1979 season. Mullen came over from Mississippi State and immediately had to deal with off field problems. Mullen may eventually get Florida back to being “Florida,” but do not expect that right away. — Jerry Palm
Missouri: I know Drew Lock is a top-tier NFL prospect and set the SEC record with 44 touchdowns passes last year. But don’t be fooled by the buzz, because his 2017 season was incredibly deceiving. He threw 11 touchdowns to seven interceptions and completed 52 percent of his passes against the six teams the Tigers played with winning records. He lost his best receiver in J’Mon Moore, offensive coordinator Derek Dooley has never called plays, and the defense has been nowhere near as solid as it was prior to Barry Odom’s arrival. I get it. Somebody has to contend with Georgia in the East. But it won’t be Missouri. — Barrett Sallee
Most underrated team
Florida: The 2017 season was an abject failure on many levels, and it’s causing people to overlook the Gators in 2018. I don’t expect Mullen to step in and have Florida competing with Georgia right away, but this is still a talented team and an experienced one. The Gators have 10 returning starters on offense, nine on defense. They have plenty of talent and experience on both lines, and Mullen is a major upgrade from a coaching standpoint. Don’t be surprised when this team finishes second in the East. — Tom Fornelli (also Ben Kercheval)
South Carolina: The great thing about this pick is that I should have an answer on my sneaking suspicion that South Carolina is the second-best team in the SEC East by the end of Week 2. Getting Georgia early in the year in Columbia presents an incredible opportunity for an upset win that could spark a run that ends in a top-10 or top-15 finish. Either that or a reloaded secondary isn’t ready for Jake Fromm, the Gamecocks whiff on an upset chance and end up 7-5 or 8-4. Even if the Bulldogs get a tough road win, I’m guessing South Carolina looks the part and finishes 9-3 with only one other SEC loss. — Chip Patterson (also Dennis Dodd)
Texas A&M: The Aggies have done well since joining the SEC, but they haven’t been able to break through in the West division and play for a conference title. TAMU paid Fisher a fortune to come over from Florida State and take the program to the next step. In his first season at FSU, Fisher took a talented, but underachieving Seminole squad to a division title in his first season. He needs to build momentum right away. Having games with Clemson and Alabama early may not make that easy, but we should see some of that building after that. — Jerry Palm
Mississippi State: Of all the new hires in all of college football, I don’t think anyone inherited a roster better positioned for immediate success than Moorhead. So already he’s ahead of the game. But Moorhead also happens to be one of the most respected offensive minds in college football. Penn State’s rise to national contention coincided with Moorhead’s hire, and I see a similar spark coming to Starkville. He’s got a loaded defense, especially up front. He’s got the kind of quarterback he likes with athleticism and a downfield arm. And he’s got fellow SEC West contender, Auburn, at home. If somehow Alabama slips up and doesn’t win the West, it will be Mississippi State that will swipe it away. — Barton Simmons
Ole Miss: The Rebels went 6-6 in 2017 — a year that saw first-time head coach Matt Luke unexpectedly take over the job in mid-July — and beat rival Mississippi State at their place. That in and of itself is pretty solid. Toss in the loss of quarterback Shea Patterson mid-season, and Luke had a solid debut considering the circumstances. The Rebels found out last year that Jordan Ta’amu is a better option at quarterback than Patterson, and Ta’amu has a loaded receiving corps to throw to that includes first-team All-American A.J. Brown. The Rebels are capable of scoring 40 on anybody. Now if that defense can avoid giving up 41, Luke’s crew will be a tough out. — Barrett Sallee
- Dennis Dodd: South Carolina will beat Georgia, win 10, finish in the top 10 and still finish second in the East. Mississippi State will win nine, beat Auburn, finish in the top 15 and still finish second in the West.
- Jerry Palm: Alabama will win the national championship again this season but will not finish undefeated.
- Tom Fornelli: Tagovailoa will win Alabama’s starting QB job to begin the season but will be benched at some point during SEC play.
- Chip Patterson: Fromm is the SEC Player of the Year. The addition of Demetris Robertson only gives me more confidence in a big step forward for the 14-game starter under center.
- Barton Simmons: Tagovailoa sets Alabama’s single-season passing yardage record this fall.
- Barrett Sallee: LSU will dismiss Ed Orgeron before the end of the season
- Ben Kercheval: The SEC gets two teams into the playoff for a second straight year.
SEC predicted order of finish
Alabama: We’ve been here before with Nick Saban having to replace several starters — eight to be exact — on defense. Throw in a couple of linebacker injuries and things look dire for the Tide. Not. Bama will indeed “shit” players to replace Chris Allen and Terrelle Lewis. Even if the Tide don’t win the division, they could win the national championship. We’ve seen it twice before. — Dennis Dodd (also Jerry Palm, Tom Fornelli, Barton Simmons, Barrett Sallee)
Georgia: Going against Alabama here depends on two things. Either the Crimson Tide don’t make it to Atlanta at all, or Nick Saban loses his first SEC Championship Game since 2008. I’m sticking my neck out on the latter. However, all streaks are broken at some point and if there’s ever a year for that, this one feels like the best possibility. Georgia doesn’t return a ton of starters from last year’s team, but a lot of big-time contributors are back. And it’s the only SEC program currently recruiting on the same level as Alabama. — Ben Kercheval (also Chip Patterson)