2019 SEC expert picks: Overrated, underrated teams and predicted order of finish
Taking a close, detailed and opinionated look at the SEC as the college football season approaches
The 2018 SEC season did not close the way fans of the conference expected after Alabama got smoked by Clemson in the College Football Playoff National Championship and Texas dominated Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. While those two losses didn't knock the SEC off its perch as the nation's toughest conference, they did inject some doubt as to how much different SEC powers are from those in other conferences.
There are plenty of questions outside of the top two contenders. LSU hired former New Orleans Saints assistant Joe Brady to inject some life into its offense. Auburn is rolling out true freshman Bo Nix at quarterback in a critical year for coach Gus Malzahn. Texas A&M has momentum after finishing second in the SEC West last season. Florida is looking to build off a 10-win season in Dan Mullen's first year in Gainesville. Toss in Clemson transfer quarterback Kelly Bryant at Missouri, Jeremy Pruitt's second year at Tennessee and Kentucky's quest to build off of last season's success, and you have a conference that's dripping with intrigue. Keep on reading to see the CBS Sports college football team's unique takes on the SEC entering the 2019 season.
Most overrated team
Texas A&M: This isn't that complicated. Texas A&M is starting the season ranked 12th, and it's certainly a team that has potential to be a top 10 team in 2019. The problem is the Aggies have to play Clemson, Georgia and LSU on the road this season with Georgia and LSU coming in consecutive weeks to finish the regular season. Oh, and there's that game against Alabama in mid-October ... as well as the rest of the SEC schedule. This might be one of the better teams in the country, but it could also be a team that easily finishes at 8-4 with this schedule, and it's hard to imagine an 8-4 team being ranked near the top 10 at the end of the season. So I'm calling the Aggies overrated in the most basic use of the term. -- Tom Fornelli (also Dennis Dodd)
Florida: Dan Mullen's debut in Gainesville was about as good as one could expect. No one's going to complain about wins over Tennessee, LSU, Florida State and Michigan. Still, this program is a ways behind Georgia, and the meat of this year's schedule will determine just how good the 2019 Gators can be. Getting Auburn, LSU, South Carolina and Georgia in a month's time is brutal. Make no mistake: Florida will be good given its veteran offensive pieces, but I'm not sure it will be good enough to improve upon last year's debut for Mullen -- and its preseason No. 8 ranking is a bit lofty considering how much further ahead Georgia appears to be. -- Ben Kercheval (also Barton Simmons)
Georgia: The Bulldogs are my pick to win the SEC East, but unlike others that have Jake Fromm and Co. playoff bound, I think this group -- after changes at both offensive and defensive coordinator -- could take a slight step back and drop a couple games in the regular season. -- Chip Patterson
LSU: Yes, LSU went to the Fiesta Bowl last season. Despite that, the coaching staff has felt the need to sell the idea of a more dynamic offense all offseason. Pardon my cynicism, but I'll believe it when I see it. I have doubts about Joe Burrow taking another step and becoming the difference maker that he will need to be in order for LSU to become an actual national title contender. Until then, the Tigers are a nice team that'll get nine or 10 wins and be on the outside looking in. -- Barrett Sallee
Missouri: The addition of quarterback Kelly Bryant, the transfer from Clemson, gives the Tigers a chance to score a lot of points this season. They may even be undefeated heading into the game at Georgia on Nov. 9, but that may be a function of their schedule as much as anything. Mizzou could get to 8-0 by playing only one team that finishes with a record above .500 (Troy). I think the Tigers are are the third-best team in the division but not a strong challenger to the top two. It will be interesting to see how their season turns if the appeal of their bowl ban is denied. -- Jerry Palm
Most underrated team
Auburn: Gus Malzahn's team will win 10 games in 2019, and that includes beating Georgia or Alabama in Jordan-Hare Stadium in November. It's probably not going to be both, but I think they can get one of the two playoff contenders there in the home stretch of the season. -- Chip Patterson (also Tom Fornelli, Jerry Palm)
Texas A&M: The bravado coming out of College Station on quarterback Kellen Mond is tremendous talkin' season fodder, and Mond will prove that it's more than talk from the moment they tee it up to start the season. A full season as the unquestioned starter combined with one of the best wide receiving corps in the country will take pressure off a running back situation that is a little shake after the departure of Trayveon Williams. The Aggies finished second in the West last season, have one of the best defensive linemen in the country in Justin Madubuike and a star calling the defensive plays in Mike Elko. The Aggies have also added stability that they have desperately needed. The record might not show it because it's the toughest in the country, but Texas A&M is fully capable of springing an upset on any of the big boys. -- Barrett Sallee (also Ben Kercheval)
Mississippi State: After Joe Moorhead's offense came up woefully short in his first season and three first rounders departed from what was arguably the best defense in college football, I get the skepticism on Mississippi State. But with an improved receiving corps, one of the best running backs no one's talking about in Kylin Hill, and a quarterback in Tommy Stevens that has a firm grasp of the system from his time at Penn State, I would expect the offense to improve dramatically. The defense will dip, but I think this team is more prepared to reload than many believe. Cam Dantzler is an NFL cornerback, there's plenty of edge pass rush talent, and Eroll Thompson and Willie Gay make up an elite linebacking corps. This team is probably capable of beating anyone not named Alabama on its schedule. -- Barton Simmons
Missouri: I'm trying to find a reason why Missouri can't be 8-0 headed to Georgia on Nov. 9. The Tigers don't go on the road in the SEC until Oct. 19. Except for the Georgia game, all the tough SEC East games are at home. They've got a championship quarterback in grad transfer Kelly Bryant. Larry Rountree III is a 1,200-yard rusher. Tight end Albert Okwuegbunam is a preseason All-American.This could be a 10-win team. Yeah, typical Missouri optimism from a school and its fans that specialize in such hype, but this time it looks real. Barry Odom is maturing as a coach. -- Dennis Dodd
- Dennis Dodd: Gus Malzahn will not make it to 2020 as Auburn's coach.
- Jerry Palm: None of the current coaches will get fired for performance either during or after the season.
- Tom Fornelli: As a whole, SEC teams will not lose more than four nonconference games in the regular season.
- Chip Patterson: Kelly Bryant thrives at Missouri. Who needs rings ... or a bowl game? Even with sanctions in place, I think Bryant and the Tigers are going to play a huge role as spoiler in the SEC East race.
- Barton Simmons: The SEC will have two teams in the playoff, and that includes the possibility that both teams will come out of the West (LSU and Alabama).
- Barrett Sallee: Georgia and Alabama will run the table in the regular season. The Crimson Tide will get the best of the Bulldogs in the SEC Championship Game for the second straight season, but both will make the CFP.
- Ben Kercheval: Texas A&M will win two of these three games: Alabama, Clemson, Georgia.
SEC predicted order of finish
Alabama: The standard at Bama is a national championship, so yeah, the Tide will win the West. They have a good chance of going 12-0 in the regular season. Even if they don't, a loss to Georgia in the SEC Championship Game may not derail the playoff train. The pressure will be taken off Tua Tagovailoa by a more power running game out of the spread. That means more Najee Harris and less Tua freelancing with deep shots down the field just because he can. Alabama has the best set of receivers in the country. You've never read those words before, but they're true. Jerry Jeudy is the first returning Biletnikoff Award winner since Marqise Lee in 2013. If Alabama doesn't win the SEC, put it this way: The Earth will fall of its axis in Tuscaloosa. Georgia's rising, but until Kirby Smart knocks off Nick Saban, it's Bama vs. the field in the SEC. -- Dennis Dodd (also ... everyone else)
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