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    (Photo via Andrew Ivins/247Sports)

    The Vols continue to go after several wide receivers in the 2020 class as they look to bolster their numbers at the position moving forward. One of their targets listed his top schools on Twitter, and Tennessee was included.

    Kentron Poitier, a wideout who plays for Miami Palmetto in Miami, Florida, released his list of top six schools in his recruitment on his Twitter account. The Vols made the cut along with Florida, Florida State, South Carolina, Louisville, and Syracuse.

    According to the 247Sports Composite rankings, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound receiver is the No. 562 overall prospect, No. 103 wide receiver, and No. 82 player in the state of Florida in the 2020 class. Despite his somewhat lower ranking, he’s picked up offers from some notable programs. Schools like Alabama, Georgia, Auburn, Michigan, Miami, and Oregon have all extended offers to him along with the teams in his top six.

    Poitier got an offer from Tennessee back on February 25th, and he visited UT’s campus for a camp on June 8th. He made an unofficial visit to Miami a few days later and followed that up with a trip to Florida’s campus. Syracuse has been the most active in his recruitment thus far.

    On the field, Poitier shows off a great catch radius and has a myriad of skills at his disposal. He has great speed for his size, and he displays good instincts. Poitier also has some solid footwork skills and already seems to have a firm grasp on what it takes to be a successful wideout other than just using his raw ability. He knows when to jump to high point the ball, and he makes catches that are nearly impossible to defend.

    As a junior last season, Poitier totaled 29 receptions for 538 yards and eight touchdowns, giving him an 18.6 yard per catch average. He’s also a stellar basketball player for Miami Palmetto, as he averaged 14.1 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.5 steals, and 2.0 blocks a game as a sophomore according to MaxPreps.

    Tennessee currently has a commitment from one projected wide receiver and an athlete who may fit in there as well. Three-star athlete Jimmy Calloway will likely play wide receiver in college, and in-state athlete Darion Williamson has the option of playing wideout or on defense.



      Every year, there are deserving players who get left completely off the preseason All-SEC teams after the voting from SEC Media Days are finalized. This year, there are two Vols in particular who just got chips placed on their shoulders because of that.

      Redshirt senior outside linebacker Darrell Taylor and sophomore cornerback Bryce Thompson were two of the most productive players on the Vols’ defense last season. Taylor was inconsistent, but he was dominant when he was at the top of his game, tying a school record with four sacks in a game against Kentucky, totaling three sacks and two forced fumbles against Georgia, and three tackles for loss and a sack against Vanderbilt. Thompson was so impressive as a first-year player that he was voted a Freshman All-American by after the season. Not bad for a player who played primarily wide receiver in high school.

      Yet, none of that was good enough to get either one a spot on the first, second, or third teams on the All-SEC teams on Friday.

      When the All-SEC teams were announced at the conclusion of the 2019 SEC Media Days on Friday, there were no Vols on either the offensive or defensive teams. The lone Tennessee selection was Marquez Callaway, and it wasn’t even at receiver. The Vols’ senior wideout was voted a second team return specialist.

      Callaway deserved that, and he might even deserve a spot on at least the third team offense. But he’s not the most obvious and egregious snub on Tennessee’s roster.

      No other player in the SEC has more sacks from last season among returning defenders than Taylor. His eight sacks are the most among any returning SEC player, and his 11 tackles for loss are among the most as well. Granted, the 6-foot-4, 255-pound Virginia native wasn’t always a dominating force off the edge and struggled with consistency, but he proved to be a major talent on the field last season.

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      Despite that, he didn’t earn a place on any of the All-SEC linebacker spots. But you know who did? A linebacker who missed the entire 2018 season due to injury.

      Alabama’s Terrell Lewis was superb in 2017 in limited action, totaling 16 tackles, a sack, and two tackles for loss in just four games. He suffered an arm injury in the Tide’s season opener against Florida State and missed 10 games after that.

      As a junior last season, Lewis sustained a season-ending knee injury prior to the start of the 2018 season. He didn’t appear in a single game for Alabama. Yet, for some reason, the media at SEC Media Days voted him as a third-team linebacker.

      Yes, a linebacker who has played in a total of 15 games in his career, has two career sacks, and missed the entirety of the 2018 season earned a spot on one of the All-SEC teams. Yet Darrell Taylor didn’t.

      At corner, Thompson was one of the premier young talents last season, totaling 34 tackles, a team-high three interceptions, 10 passes defended, four tackles for loss, a sack, and a forced fumble. He was voted a Freshman All-American by the Football Writers Association of America and was on the 2018 SEC All-Freshman team.

      Yet the voters clearly forgot all about that when it came time to cast their ballots for preseason All-SEC teams.

      Alabama’s Trevon Diggs — yes, another Tide player — only appeared in six games last season, yet he earned a spot not on the third or second team, but on the first team defense. A foot injury he suffered at Arkansas sidelined him the remainder of his junior season, though he was solid in his first six appearances.

      But “solid” in six games shouldn’t outweigh a Freshman All-American caliber season in 12 games.

      Diggs had 20 tackles, an interception, seven passes defended, and a forced fumble in his limited action. He’s probably deserving of a spot on an All-SEC team based off his limited production and talent alone, but a first team selection is mind-blowing to me.

      Alabama’s freshman All-American corner got a spot on one of the All-SEC defensive teams even though Tennessee’s didn’t.

      Patrick Surtain II was voted a Second-Team All-SEC cornerback after posting similar, if not slightly weaker, numbers than Thompson last year. He totaled 37 tackles, an interception, seven passes defended, 1.5 tackles for loss, and a forced fumble.

      When you’re Alabama, you’re going to get the benefit of the doubt. Media members and fans alike are going to assume your players are better than others. And most of the time, that’s accurate. But there’s a clear bias in favor of the Tide. Vol fans know that, and most other SEC fans do, too.

      On the other hand, when you’re Tennessee, you’re not going to get the benefit of the doubt. At least, not right now. Not coming off of 4-8 and 5-7 seasons in back-to-back years. Not with a second-year head coach who had never been a head coach at any other stop prior to now. Not when you’ve lost three-straight games to Vanderbilt and been blown out in back-to-back years by Missouri.

      Life is far from fair. I assume I’m not the only media member out there who thinks a player or two from the team he covers got snubbed from the preseason All-SEC teams. There are probably multiple writers out there right now penning similar columns. But both Darrell Taylor and Bryce Thompson proved last season that they’re deserving of All-SEC selections to start the 2019 season, and the only reason they missed out is because of the team they play on.

      The bright side is this should only add extra fuel to the fires for both players.



        (Photo via The State)

        Tennessee is in on some truly elite talent in the 2020 recruiting cycle in men’s basketball. The Vols are legitimate contenders for five-star guard Jaden Springer, are the perceived favorites for borderline five-star guard and No. 1 in-state player Keon Johnson, and have a commitment from high four-star small forward Corey Walker. On Friday evening, another highly-rated player who is high up their board released his list of finalists, and UT made the cut.

        PJ Hall is a four-star power forward who plays for Dorman High School in Roebuck, South Carolina. He’s been high on Tennessee’s recruiting list for a long time, and on Friday he released his list of five finalists. The Vols were included along with Florida, Clemson, Virginia Tech, and Georgia Tech.

        The 6-foot-9, 220-pound forward is rated as the No. 65 overall player, No. 9 power forward, and No. 1 player in the state of South Carolina in the 2020 class according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.

        Hall has a sister who attends Florida, but he’s developed a strong relationship with Tennessee and head coach Rick Barnes throughout his recruitment. In an interview with Jed Blackwell of GoUpstate.com, he had nothing but positive things to say about Barnes and the culture at UT.

        “It’s hard to find something not to like about Coach Barnes,” Hall told Blackwell. “He loves his guys, and they love him back. And I like their style of play and the way they get up and down the floor.”

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        Due to a scheduling error, Hall wasn’t able to make an official visit to Tennessee earlier this year, but he plans on making a trip to Knoxville in the near future. He’s taken official visits to Clemson and Florida so far.

        Hall is the type of athletic, versatile power forward that can have major success in Tennessee’s system. He moves very well for his size, and he has a very high basketball IQ. Hall is able to stretch the floor and hit threes as well, and he has plenty of confidence in his shot from distance. That doesn’t mean he’s a finesse forward, though; Hall is gritty and fights inside both on offense and defense. He can nail fadeaway jumpers and drive into the paint and muscle his way forward for tough baskets. He’s also a solid rim protector and doesn’t budge easily in the paint.

        During the NBPA Top 100 Camp back in June, Hall also had this incredible highlight outlet pass:

        In the Adidas Gauntlet series this year, Hall played in 14 total games with Upward Stars, and he was a standout player. According to ExposureSportsNews.com, Hall averaged 14.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks a game in 18.6 minutes a contest. He shot 59.1 percent overall and was 24-of-43 from three (55.8 percent).

        As a junior with Dorman, Hall averaged 14.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game while shooting 56 percent from the floor. He was voted an All-Region and All-State player and helped the Cavaliers win their third-straight 5A state title.

        The Vols are one of five finalists for five-star guard Jaden Springer and one of three finalists for top-30 overall guard and No. 1 in-state prospect Keon Johnson in the 2020 class along with being named finalists for Hall. Tennessee has one commit in their 2020 class so far, and that’s from four-star small forward Corey Walker.



          (Photo via Noah Taylor/UTK Daily Beacon)

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          Managing editor Nathanael Rutherford and staff writer Ben McKee answer your best questions about Tennessee athletics and anything else in our weekly mailbag, Insider Mailing.

          “What’s the realistic worst case scenario for this team? I see stuff like the FPI saying 9-3 and some media members saying 8-4 but I haven’t seen anything about what’s the floor for this team. And since it’s Tennessee the worst case usually happens.” – Sam

          Nathanael: Let’s start off with a nice, cheery question, shall we?

          But honestly, Sam, I can’t really fault you or other Vol fans for feeling this way. It does seem like more often than not the “worst case scenario” has happened or come closer to happening than the best case scenario in football. I think the floor for this team would be another 5-7 season. A complete disaster scenario such as 4-8 or 3-9 would only happen if there were catastrophic injuries on both sides of the ball, in my opinion. That would include Jarrett Guarantano going down for the season early on in the year and losing a star player or two on defense. Outside of that happening, I think 5-7 is the floor for the team this year.

          Ben: Nine wins is possible including a bowl win, but not in the regular season. Because of the offensive line and defensive line, I believe the ceiling for the team in the regular season is eight wins. As for the floor, that’s a different story.

          I believe Tennessee will lose to Florida, Georgia and Alabama. That leaves BYU, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt as all possible games Tennessee could lose. Obviously I don’t think the Vols will lose all of those games, but there is a realistic chance in each of those games that they could lose. Meaning, in my mind, there are only three guaranteed wins – Georgia State, Tennessee-Chattanooga and UAB. So, 3-9 could happen simply because I don’t view the other nine games against legitimate competition as automatic wins. I would be stunned if Tennessee doesn’t go to a bowl game, however.

          “How much of a role will Eric Gray have this year?” – Michael

          Nathanael: I don’t think he’ll have a huge one this season. He might even be able to redshirt this year depending on how the other backs perform. If Jeremy Banks can’t fix his fumbling issues, then he’ll get benched/moved to linebacker real quick. That would open up more time for Gray. But as it is, he’ll have Ty Chandler, Tim Jordan, and Banks ahead of him, and Carlin Fils-aime will probably get some touches too. I do think Gray gets used this year, but I think he’ll see a bigger role in 2020 and definitely in 2021.

          Ben: I could see him having an important role as he brings a dynamic to the running back room that only he and Ty Chandler can. That being that he is quick and shifty. I believe Tim Jordan is going to have a nice year, but if he struggles with hitting the holes once again and Jeremy Banks can’t hold on to the football, I could see Gray being the No. 2 back at some point. The question for me is how healthy will be Gray be at the beginning of the season after having off-season shoulder surgery that sidelined him in the spring.

          “What’s your take on the Henry To’oto’o situation?” – @EvilNiedermeyer

          Nathanael: That it was a major overreaction by a small minority of fans. I think To’oto’o was homesick and had hit a wall with offseason conditioning. I also don’t think he realized how it was going to look with him liking those tweets from Washington fans. Keep in mind that “home” for him isn’t Washington. He’s from California. It would’ve been a different situation and more worthy of a freakout had he been from Washington or if he was liking comments from fans of USC or UCLA.

          Ben: He was homesick like any 17-or-18-year old is when they’re on their own for the first time and that he’s not going anywhere.

          “Are you getting a feeling that we may land Darnell Washington? He is spending some time in KVille as of late. Also how many LBs do we take in this class. Pruitts comments the other day about DPRs led me to think he wants more rushers!” – @hesenij

          Nathanael: I’m not going to get too optimistic about UT’s chances with either Washington or Arik Gilbert. With that being said, though, there does appear to be a little momentum moving Tennessee’s way with Washington. But he’s still more of an Alabama or Georgia lean right now in my opinion. And yes, I do think Pruitt would like to have more outside linebackers/defensive ends in the 2020 class. They didn’t get as many in the 2019 class as he wanted. I expect you’ll see Tennessee take around three DPRs (Designated Pass Rushers) in this class if they can.

          Ben: No. Tennessee has a legit chance, but I think Alabama and Georgia are bigger players for Washington right now.

          They’ll probably take four or five in this class. Tennessee only loses Darrell Taylor but the Vols need plenty more talent off the edge. You win and lose football games in the SEC based off if you can get to the quarterback. Right now, the Vols need more of a pass-rush, which is why there is a heavy emphasis on defensive ends and outside linebackers right now.

          “What are our chances of flipping Rakim Jarrett? And when do you think NCAA decides on eligibility for Solomon and Gibbs?” – @The_Klassens

          Nathanael: Right now, I’d say fairly high. If you’re Tennessee, you probably want him to hold off on flipping for a while, but not too late. If you wait too late, who knows what could happen. He could stay with LSU or end up getting love from another school and flipping to them. But right now, it does feel like Tennessee has the momentum with Jarrett if he doesn’t stick with the Tigers.

          As for your second question: No idea. At all.

          Ben: Very good chance. At this point, I believe it’s just a matter of time before he decommits from LSU. At that point, it’ll be between Tennessee and Maryland, which the Terrapins are major players for the 5-star wide receiver’s services.

          I’ll take a stab at your second question and say by the beginning of fall camp, but that’s a pure guess. It sounds like the NCAA is wrapping things up if they can get some people to cooperate.

            The SEC media may not be giving the Vols any love, but the people in charge of compiling preseason award watch lists sure are.

            Three Vols have already been named to preseason watch lists for annual awards in the past week, and two more were added to watch lists on Friday.

            Senior tight end Dominick Wood-Anderson and redshirt senior offensive lineman Brandon Kennedy were both named to preseason watch lists on Friday afternoon. Wood-Anderson was named to the Mackey Award watch list while Kennedy landed on the watch list for the Rimington Trophy.

            The Mackey Award is given annually to college football’s best tight end, and the Rimington Trophy is presented annually to the top center in college football.

            Wood-Anderson is the first Vol to be named to the preseason watch list for the Mackey Award since Ethan Wolf in 2017. No Vol has ever won the award, but both Jason Witten (2002) and Luke Stocker (2010) were named semifinalists for the award.

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            Last season, Wood-Anderson joined the Vols’ roster as a four-star JUCO transfer from Arizona Western and made an impact immediately, catching a touchdown pass in Tennessee’s first game of the 2018 season. Wood-Anderson played in 11 games and started 10 of them, and he finished with 17 catches for 140 yards and two touchdowns. He was asked on many occasions to help the Vols’ beleaguered offensive line in pass blocking, minimizing the impact he had in the passing game. He also had much to learn about collegiate offenses.

            It’s clear, however, that Wood-Anderson is expected to have a much better 2019 season than he did last year, though.

            Kennedy came to Tennessee as a transfer from the Alabama Crimson Tide, and much was expected of the grad transfer with two years of eligibility. He started at center for the Vols’ season opener against West Virginia, but then he sustained a season-ending injury in practice the following week.

            According to Jeremy Pruitt at SEC Media Days, Kennedy is progressing well and could’ve participated in spring practices if needed, but he and the coaching staff elected to hold Kennedy out to make sure he was 100 percent healed and ready to go before he got on the field again.

            Prior to joining Tennessee, Kennedy spent three years at Alabama and appeared in 10 games. He redshirted after suffering an injury with the Tide, but he was primarily a backup.

            Wood-Anderson and Kennedy are the fourth and fifth Vols to be named to preseason watch lists this offseason. Redshirt junior quarterback Jarrett Guarantano was named to the Maxwell Award watch list, redshirt senior outside linebacker Darrell Taylor was named to the watch list for the Chuck Bednarik Award, and junior running back Ty Chandler was named to the Doak Walker Award watch list.



              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.