The 2020 college football season is going to be one of the most bizarre the sport has ever seen, but a familiar face is still poised to be at the top of the sport -- the Southeastern Conference. LSU ran through the SEC en route to the national title last season after putting together one of the most magical campaigns in college football history. The new decade brings new questions in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as coach Ed Orgeron has lost a medium-sized village of players to the NFL Draft and others, including wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, to the opt-out craze.
The Tigers will have familiar foes champing at the bit to unseat them, including a veteran-laden Alabama squad, a Georgia program that has been on the brink of greatness, a talented Florida team with a quarterback in Kyle Trask who has Heisman Trophy potential, and an Auburn team that has plenty of talent to go around.
As is the case during most seasons, the conference is loaded with superstars who could push for the Heisman. Alabama running back Najee Harris and wide receiver DeVonta Smith returned for their senior seasons in the hopes of avenging Bama's "disappointing" two-loss season last season. Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond is in Year 3 of the Jimbo Fisher system, which should keep the Aggies in the mix in the SEC West. Trask returns for the Gators and could go from backup-turned-starter last year to the league's leading passer.
Who could forget the new faces? The State of Mississippi got a face lift when Lane Kiffin took over Ole Miss and Mike Leach got the Mississippi State job in the hopes of righting the ship. Missouri lured Eliah Drinkwitz from Appalachian State after dismissing Barry Odom, and veteran assistant Sam Pittman took over for Chad Morris at Arkansas.
Our CBS Sports college football experts have provided their picks and predictions for the SEC ahead of the 2020 season, which is starting in Week 4 with the ACC and Big 12 already underway while the Big Ten is still a month away from playing.
Most overrated team
Texas A&M: TAMU faced four legitimate top-10 teams last year: Clemson, Alabama, Georgia and LSU, plus another very good Auburn squad. The result: 0-for. Can Jimbo Fisher's Aggies actually live up to some preseason hype this time and notch some big wins? The schedule, though more condensed, isn't much easier out of the SEC West; plus, getting Florida out of the SEC East as part of the new schedule is a stinger, too. Not to put too much pressure on quarterback Kellen Mond, but he needs to peak in 2020. While there's no denying his raw talent, he was wildly inconsistent last year, especially against better opponents (55.6% completions with a 3/2 TD-INT ratio vs. ranked opponents). It wasn't all his fault -- he was frequently under pressure -- but that leads to another concern: Has Texas A&M's pass protection improved enough? There are some stingy defensive fronts on the Aggies' schedule this year. Texas A&M has four or five marquee games: at Alabama, vs. Florida, at Tennessee, vs. LSU and at Auburn. With a preseason top 15 ranking, it's going to need to beat at least a couple to not get the "overrated" title. -- Ben Kercheval (also Chip Patterson, Jerry Palm)
Georgia: Let me get this straight. We are going to put faith in a Georgia offense that has a revamped offensive line, a No. 1 running back in Zamir White who hasn't held that job in previous years, a transfer quarterback in J.T. Daniels who inherited the job after Jamie Newman's departure and hasn't been medically cleared to play, a wide receiving corps that has one established weapon in George Pickens, and a brand new offensive coordinator in Todd Monken? Nope. In a normal offseason with spring practice season? Maybe. But not in 2020. Georgia's defense is stellar and will keep the Bulldogs in every game. There's no doubt about that. But will that offense be consistent enough to put Georgia in the College Football Playoff? Not a chance. -- Barrett Sallee
Tennessee: I'm just not there with the Volunteers yet. That was a fine six-game winning streak at the end of last season, but the SEC has proven you need a quarterback to win. I don't know if Jeremy Pruitt has one. When the standard is Shawn Robinson at Missouri -- that's who Jarrett Guarantano is ranked behind by some in the SEC -- then there is a problem. Even with the loss of Joe Burrow, this one of the SEC's best collection of quarterbacks. The Vols aren't going anywhere meaningful without inspired quarterback play. -- Dennis Dodd
Auburn: The quarterback has always been the most important position in football, but in recent years, it's become even more important. When I look at the teams expected to compete in the SEC West this season, Auburn's quarterback situation is the one I have the most questions about. Elsewhere, there's been a lot of attention on how much LSU has to replace -- and it's a lot -- but Auburn loses a lot of production as well. I think there's just a little too much assuming going on with this Auburn team. Of course, keep in mind that when I call Auburn "overrated," I mean it in the sense that I'm comfortable calling it a top 15 team ... just not a top 10 team. -- Tom Fornelli
LSU: Aside from Ed Orgeron saying "go Tigahs" in his pregame interview, this LSU team will be unrecognizable when it takes the field for its opener against Mississippi State on Sept. 26. The Tigers were already returning fewer starters than any team in the league before players starting opting out of the season. Now, they have lost four more projected starters due to opt outs with star receiver Ja'Marr Chase's departure serving as an especially crushing blow. Sure, LSU has recruited at an elite level, and the program deserves respect as the defending national champion. but this team is losing too many stars -- and too many key assistant coaches -- to compete for a league title this year. -- David Cobb
Most underrated team
Auburn: If Chad Morris can assist in opening up the passing game -- and the potential is there with Seth Williams and Anthony Schwartz as one of the top wide receiver duos in the SEC -- then we could see a big step forward for Bo Nix in year two. The losses of Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson are significant, but the defense still has elite players at all three levels and has recruited well enough to avoid a drop off on that side of the ball. But go ahead and keep underrating Auburn because that's exactly how they like it. It doesn't have to make sense, and it probably won't. Doesn't matter if it's Ole Miss, Georgia, LSU or Alabama, pretty much everything is a one-score game with the Tigers. I think Auburn ends up on the right side of those enough to exceed expectations in 2020. -- Patterson (also Dodd)
Kentucky: Always thought of as the only SEC school that cares more about basketball than football, Kentucky's football team tends to fly under the radar. However, Mark Stoops has taken the Wildcats to four straight bowl games, peaking in 2018 with a 10-3 record. Kentucky took a little step back last year but still finished 8-5, including a blowout of Louisville. It has to replace do-everything quarterback Lynn Bowden, but Terry Wilson is back from injury. If the offense can continue to produce, Kentucky will be a team to watch. -- Palm (also Kercheval)
Texas A&M: It seems like every year is finally going to be the year for Texas A&M, and that's created some Aggies fatigue among pundits. But if you look objectively at the SEC West, it's evident that Fisher's third team is well-positioned to take a significant leap. The Aggies return a bevy of starters on both sides of the ball from a team whose only losses came against top-10 opponents last season. Even this year's 10-game conference slate might seem easy compared to last year's daunting schedule that required TAMU to play three teams that were ranked No. 1 in the nation at the time. The Aggies may not win the conference title, but you can bet they'll finish in the top three of the SEC West for just the second time since Johnny Manziel's freshman season. -- Cobb (also Fornelli)
Ole Miss: First-year coach Lane Kiffin made his mark on the college football world as an offensive genius. That reputation will be further solidified this season when he puts fuel additive in an already-potent Rebel attack. The trio of quarterback John Rhys Plumlee, running back Jerrion Ealy and wide receiver Elijah Moore is the most underrated three-headed monster in the nation. They finished 0-5 last season in games decided by one possession (eight or fewer points). As long as the defense is decent, that kind of bad luck will not continue in 2020. The Rebels won't contend for the division title, but they're going to scare the daylights out of a lot of contenders. -- Sallee
- Dennis Dodd: Mississippi State's KJ Costello will lead the SEC in passing.
- Chip Patterson: After LSU crashed the party in 2019, the road to winning the SEC West will be back in its former position with the division being decided in the Iron Bowl.
- Tom Fornelli: Since the SEC wasn't smart enough to schedule a game between Arkansas and Vanderbilt, it will have to live with the indignity of having two winless teams this season.
- Barrett Sallee: Florida's Kyle Trask will lead the SEC in passing en route to the SEC East title and a berth in the SEC Championship Game.
- Ben Kercheval: Similar to Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts, Bryce Young will eventually be thrust into the spotlight at Alabama even though Mac Jones starts the season as QB1.
- Jerry Palm: The SEC will do more schedule shuffling than any other league and not all of the games will get played.
- David Cobb: Vanderbilt and Arkansas will both go winless
SEC predicted order of finish
Alabama: Crimson Tide quarterback Mac Jones might not have the same upside as other SEC signal callers, but his supporting cast is better. The Tide have an established offensive line, studs at wide receiver in DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle along with one of the best all-around running backs in the nation in Najee Harris. Plus, the best defensive player in college football -- linebacker Dylan Moses -- returns after a year off and joins a defense that has experience up front and an established star at corner in Patrick Surtain II. Experience matters more so this year than in regular seasons, and Alabama has it in spades. The rest of the SEC teams with top-end talent have glaring holes in the experience department in one or more spots. Not Alabama. This won't be a competitive SEC season. The gap between Alabama and the field is the size of the Grand Canyon. -- Sallee (also Dodd, Patterson, Kercheval, Palm, Cobb)
Georgia: The Bulldogs have come so close to getting that SEC title in recent years, and I believe 2020 will be the time they get over the hump. Not only is this one of the most talented teams in the country, but they're finally upgrading offensively with their scheme. They've made the same kind of changes we've seen at Alabama and LSU, and that will even the playing field a bit. Also, while most of the attention on Georgia this offseason has been those offensive changes, this team still has one of the best defenses in the country. -- Fornelli