The RTI Team’s SEC East and West Predictions for 2019

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    With SEC Media Days officially over, it’s time to look at our predictions for the upcoming 2019 SEC season.

    Managing editor Nathanael Rutherford and staff writer Ben McKee share their predictions for how the SEC East and SEC West will shake out in 2019. The media in Hoover, Alabama voted on their predicted order of finish this week, and you can view those results as well as where Tennessee was predicted to finish here.

    Here’s a look at how the RTI team thinks the SEC season will play out this year.

    Nathanael’s Picks

    To me, picking the best and worst teams in each division of the SEC this year was pretty easy. I had almost no qualms about picking the winner of each division and the worst team of each division. It’s spots 2-6 of each division where I had the most trouble.

    When making my picks, I put a big emphasis on the line of scrimmage play and the viability of quarterback play on each team. I went through all 14 teams’ schedules and picked each game for them all. Once that was all said and done, I had my projected SEC records and order of finish done for me.

    With that in mind, here are my predictions for how the SEC East and West will play out in 2019.

    SEC East
    1. Georgia
    2. Missouri
    3. Florida
    4. Tennessee
    5. Kentucky
    6. South Carolina
    7. Vanderbilt
    Reasoning:

    No big surprise here, but I have Georgia winning the East again. To me, they’ll have more competition this year than last season, but they’ll still rise to the top barring any significant injuries. They have the best quarterback in the division and maybe in the entire SEC, and they have a solid offensive line. Their receivers are thin and inexperienced, but they’re very good just about everywhere else.

    I have Missouri second because, frankly, they have the easiest schedule of any team in the SEC. I don’t have them losing a game till past the halfway point of their schedule. I think Florida is overrated by most this year, though that doesn’t mean they’re going to be awful. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them go 8-4 this season, however.

    Tennessee comes in at No. 4 in the East for me because I have them winning the head-to-head contest with Kentucky, giving them the tiebreaker there. I have both the Vols and Wildcats finishing with a 3-5 SEC record, but UT’s win over Kentucky will push them in front of them. I think Tennessee will look quite a bit better this season, but I don’t see them beating Alabama, Georgia, Florida, or Missouri, especially considering three of those four games are on the road. I also think Mississippi State is going to squeak my the Vols.

    South Carolina and Vanderbilt bring up the rear for me. I think the Gamecocks could be in danger of missing a bowl game just because their schedule is absolutely brutal. It wouldn’t shock me at all to see them only win two SEC games this season. Vanderbilt won’t be dreadful, but I don’t think their offense is going to click as well as it did last season after they have to replace Kyle Shurmur, and their defense only returns five starters and wasn’t very good last season anyway. It actually wouldn’t surprise me a great deal to see Vanderbilt finish ahead of South Carolina, really.

    SEC West
    1. Alabama
    2. LSU
    3. Auburn
    4. Texas A&M
    5. Ole Miss
    6. Mississippi State
    7. Arkansas
    Reasoning:

    Again, picking a winner for the division wasn’t that tough. Alabama is head and shoulders better than everyone else, even Georgia. I think LSU will be their biggest competition, but I honestly think the Tide could go undefeated this season. They don’t have a particularly rough schedule, and they’re just ridiculously talented.

    I think LSU wins 10 games, but they’re going to slip up in a game they shouldn’t and also lose to Alabama, giving the Tide a comfortable room for error. Auburn, I think, is going to finish third, but their fans won’t be happy about it. The only reason I have them ahead of Texas A&M is because I have the Tigers beating the Aggies in their head-to-head match-up. I actually have both schools going 8-4 and 5-3 in SEC play. That should be enough to keep Gus Malzahn from being fired, but only barely.

    Ole Miss probably won’t have a very good defense, but their offense is going to be a nightmare to stop. I have them finishing just ahead of Mississippi State because I think the Rebels will win the Egg Bowl to end the regular season. The Bulldogs were a very tough team for me to gauge while doing this, but I have them making a bowl and taking only a slight step backwards. Though a loss to Ole Miss to end the season would leave a very sour taste in their mouths.

    Arkansas will improve, but they’re still easily the worst team in the West. I don’t think I need to go into too much detail with them, though I will say I have them winning an SEC game at least.

    SEC Championship Game: Alabama over Georgia

    While I think this game will once again prove to be exciting, I think Alabama again triumphs over the Bulldogs. It might only be exciting for three quarters, but I think it’ll at least be entertaining for that long.

    I know we all are hoping for different results so we don’t get the same thing again in the SEC, but unfortunately I just don’t see it playing out any differently this year.

    Ben’s Picks

    In terms of how I gauge how good I think a team will be, I place a heavy emphasis in the trenches. If a team has a good offensive line, can run the ball, and defensively they can stop the run while forcing turnovers, I’m going to be high on that particular team. Quite simply, you can’t win in the SEC without controlling the trenches. I believe my predictions reflect that.

    On another note, quarterback play is incredibly crucial as well. It’s the most important position in all of sports, and I’m hesitant to believe in teams with a first-time starter. Especially if that quarterback is young. I believe my predictions reflect the importance of quarterback play as well.

    Anyhow, here are my 2019 SEC predictions, which I’m sure every SEC football fan will agree with.

    SEC East
    1. Georgia
    2. Missouri
    3. Florida
    4. Kentucky
    5. Tennessee
    6. South Carolina
    7. Vanderbilt
    Reasoning:

    Georgia is the clear-cut, best team in the SEC East from top to bottom. Led by Jake Fromm, D’Andre Swift, and the Bulldogs’ offensive line, UGA should be in contention for the playoffs come November.

    Picking Missouri over Florida in the No. 2 spot had more to do with Mizzou’s very favorable schedule. Sign me up to play Arkansas and Ole Miss — the two teams projected to finish 6th and 7th in the West — over Auburn and LSU. Plus, I have more trust in Kelly Bryant than I do Feleipe Franks as of today.

    My other two bones to pick with the Gators is their inexperience at offensive line and their depth on defense. Though I think Florida will have a strong team, I don’t think they’ll be better than the Tigers and the Dawgs for those two reasons. But that wide receiver room is going to give teams problems all throughout the year, and if Franks takes a big step forward, it could be a deadly combo.

    As for four-through-seven in the East, I truly went back-and-forth on each of the reaming teams. To me, I could see Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt finishing anywhere in this range, but not any higher than fourth.

    I rolled with Kentucky to finish fourth place for the same reason I picked Missouri to finish second – the schedule. While South Carolina draws Texas A&M and Alabama out of the West, Tennessee draws Mississippi State and Alabama, and Vanderbilt draws Ole Miss and LSU; Kentucky draws Arkansas and Mississippi State.

    Sure, the Cats will take a step back, but I don’t believe it’ll be as big of a step back as many anticipate. Led by Kash Daniels, Lynn Bowden and Terry Wilson, Kentucky still has the pieces to win seven or eight games – a number I don’t know if Tennessee, South Carolina, or Vanderbilt can reach.

    For Tennessee, it’s simple. I don’t trust the offensive line or the defensive line. I’m a big believer in Jarrett Guarantano, the receivers, the running backs, and Dominick Wood-Anderson, but I believe the offensive line will hold them back. Same goes for the defense. The linebackers and secondary are good enough to win games, but the defensive line has too many question marks for me to bet on them going into the season. The Vols are good enough to win eight games in the regular season if the O-line and D-line take a step forward, however.

    As for South Carolina, its schedule is brutal, and I don’t completely trust Jake Bentley, despite them returning 14 starters. I’m the least confident in picking the Gamecocks to finish sixth.

    I love the trio of Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Jared Pinkney, and Kalija Lipscomb, but I don’t trust a Vanderbilt team that is replacing one of the best quarterbacks in school history. Oh, and they return only five starters on a defense that struggled to defend the run last year.

    SEC West
    1. Alabama
    2. LSU
    3. Auburn
    4. Texas A&M
    5. Mississippi State
    6. Ole Miss
    7. Arkansas
    Reasoning:

    Do I really need to have an explanation for why I’m picking Alabama to win the SEC West? The Crimson Tide are the best team in the SEC this season, and I don’t believe it’s as close (with Georgia) as we want to believe.

    I’m a big believer in the Joe Brady hype at LSU, which is why I believe the Tigers will finish No. 2 in the SEC West. Plus, they draw Vanderbilt out of the East this year. With Brady opening up the offense more for senior quarterback Joe Burrow, I believe it’ll be another solid 10-win season for the Tigers in which they can’t get over the hump against Alabama.

    Auburn has the best defensive line in the country and a solid offensive line, but I’m hesitant to pick them at No. 3 in the West simply because they’ll be playing a freshman quarterback in either Joey Gatewood or Bo Nix. But because of the emphasis I place on the line of scrimmage, I like Auburn’s potential. Especially if Gus Malzahn can get the running game going with JaTarvious Whitlow.

    As for Texas A&M, the Aggies’ schedule is why I pick them to finish fourth in the SEC West, although they’ll have a better team than what their record will indicate at the end of the season. I believe in Jimbo Fisher and Kellen Mond, but the schedule terrifies me.

    I like Mississippi State to finish fifth in the SEC because they’ll be more balanced on offense with Tommy Stevens or Keytaon Thompson at quarterback. The offense was too one-dimensional under Nick Fitzgerald last season. Plus, I’ll always believe in a Bob Shoop defense – unless he’s working for Butch Jones.

    Ole Miss and Arkansas round out the bottom of the West because quite frankly, the defenses aren’t going to be very good this season. The Rebels have some nice weapons on offense with Matt Corral and Scottie Phillips, but the defense was horrid last season. Not even Mike MacIntyre, a defensive guru, can solve those problems in one year.

    The Hogs will be better on offense, whether it’s Ben Hicks or Nick Starkel at quarterback. The two are very talented, and when you pair them with the running back duo of Devwah Whaley and Rakeem Boyd, the offense should put up some points. But like Ole Miss, the defense will really struggle.

    SEC Championship Game: Alabama over Georgia

    When it comes to knit-picking these two teams, I trust Alabama’s depth more than I do Georgia’s. What prevents me from thinking the Bulldogs can win a championship is that outside of D’Andre Swift, I don’t trust Jake Fromm’s weapons. Especially when you compare them to Tua Tagovailoa’s weapons.

    One aspect of Georgia’s offense I do like better than Alabama’s, however, is the offensive line. The Bulldogs have the best offensive line in the country, and if Fromm can manage the game while Swift has a big day, Georgia has a chance of winning.

    Defensively, both teams have to replace elite talent. And both teams have the players to do so. The question becomes who will do so more efficiently. At this point, I refuse to pick against Nick Saban.