By Ron Wynn
Despite a lot of talk throughout the 2017 season that the Southeastern Conference was no longer the nation’s best among colleges, an SEC team once again took the national championship as Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide prevailed in an all-SEC clash against Georgia, coached by his former assistant Kirby Smart.
The smart money is on a repeat of that occurring at minimum in the conference once more, if not also for the championship. With both his quarterbacks returning, Saban’s quest for NCAA title number seven looks very solid. Their toughest challenge in the Western Division, which incidentally they did NOT win last season, remains Auburn. The league overall is still unbalanced, as the West again looks stronger than the East.
Georgia remains an overwhelming pick to repeat as Eastern Division champions. Florida was so disappointed by its progress it’s now brought in Dan Mullen, who previously rebuilt Mississippi State from a perennial also-ran into a SEC title contender. It’s hoped that he can help the Gators recapture the offensive magic of the past. South Carolina has also become quite a force, particularly in the East. Missouri offensively is quite strong, but defensively were below average.
Whether the trio of Kentucky, Tennessee and Vanderbilt will be improved remains to be seen. Tennessee’s 4-8 season last year included them losing all eight SEC games, the first time in their history that happened. New coach Jeremy Pruitt, formerly Alabama’s defensive coordinator, was brought in to hopefully turn things around. At Vanderbilt, hopes are high for Derek Mason’s fifth season, thanks to senior QB Kyle Shurmur. Kentucky simply hopes to not slip back into the cellar, and possibly get to a bowl game.
After Alabama and Auburn, there’s a lot of attention focused on Texas A&M in the Western Division. They hired former national titlist coach Jimbo Fisher, who isn’t talking about winning championships right away, but steady improvement. LSU has some premier players, but perhaps the roughest schedule of any SEC team. Ole Miss is ineligible for anything, even a bowl game, and Arkansas is regrouping under new coach Chad Morris after their dismal 4-8 season.
The Big 10 may have more teams in the Top 25, but even one division undeniably stronger than the other, the SEC remains at or near the top of the college football hierarchy.