Leading up to the start of the season, Rotoworld will be pumping out previews for every Group of 5 and Power 5 conference (plus Independents), complete with fantasy projections courtesy of RW analytics guru Hayden Winks, draft prospects to watch and a full examination of each conference's team's best and worst case scenarios. Up in this installation: The SEC West. SEC East coming later this week.
*Note: While this preview will only specifically cover the SEC West, Hayden's fantasy projections are for the whole of the conference.
|Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama, JR)||3716||36||214||27|
|Kellen Mond (Texas A&M, JR)||3143||24||497||25|
|Kelly Bryant (Missouri, SR)||3193||21||482||23|
|Feleipe Franks (Florida, JR)||2591||24||341||22|
|Joe Burrow (LSU, SR)||2911||19||374||21|
|Matt Corral (Mississippi, rFR)||3061||22||272||22|
|Tommy Stevens (Mississippi State, JR)||2559||21||350||20|
|Riley Neal (Vanderbilt, SR)||2346||20||277||20|
|Jake Fromm (Georgia, JR)||2797||27||33||18|
|Jake Bentley (South Carolina, SR)||3000||23||90||18|
|Terry Wilson (Kentucky, JR)||2031||12||459||15|
|Jarrett Guarantano (Tennessee, JR)||2372||17||43||14|
|Bo Nix (Auburn, FR)||1751||15||201||18|
|Ben Hicks (Arkansas, SR)||1892||13||53||14|
|D'Andre Swift (Georgia, JR)||1069||11||238||21|
|Kylin Hill (Mississippi State, JR)||1050||8||248||21|
|Jashaun Corbin (Texas A&M, SO)||905||8||300||19|
|Ke'Shawn Vaughn (Vanderbilt, SR)||1079||11||118||19|
|Najee Harris (Alabama, JR)||1099||11||134||19|
|Larry Rountree III (Missouri, JR)||1173||11||66||18|
|Scottie Phillips (Mississippi, SR)||973||11||173||18|
|JaTarvious Whitlow (Auburn, SO)||958||7||156||16|
|Ty Chandler (Tennessee, JR)||694||6||219||15|
|Lamical Perine (Florida, SR)||831||7||147||14|
|Asim Rose (Kentucky, JR)||823||9||74||14|
|John Emery (LSU, FR)||696||7||147||13|
|Clyde Edwards-Helaire (LSU, JR)||731||8||110||13|
|Rakeem Boyd (Arkansas, JR)||758||3||160||12|
|Tavien Feaster (South Carolina, SR)||535||8||86||11|
|Tyler Badie (Missouri, SO)||591||5||114||10|
|Jerrion Ealy (Mississippi, FR)||521||6||99||10|
|Tim Jordan (Tennessee, SR)||510||3||111||8|
|Brian Robinson Jr. (Alabama, JR)||562||4||40||8|
|Rico Dowdle (South Carolina, SR)||405||2||115||8|
|Brian Herrien (Georgia, SR)||379||4||63||8|
|Devwah Whaley (Arkansas, SR)||482||3||85||7|
|Dameon Pierce (Florida, SO)||499||3||22||7|
|Zamir White (Georgia, rFR)||471||4||18||7|
|Cordarrian Richardson (Texas A&M, SO)||423||4||23||6|
|Malik Davis (Florida, SO)||409||4||36||6|
|Kavosiey Smoke (Kentucky, rFR)||412||4||16||6|
|Kam Martin (Auburn, SR)||304||3||58||6|
|Chris Rodriguez (Kentucky, rFR)||370||3||16||6|
|Chase Hayden (Arkansas, JR)||283||1||78||5|
|Jamauri Wakefield (Vanderbilt, JR)||347||2||45||5|
|Shaun Shivers (Auburn, SO)||334||3||9||5|
|Jerry Jeudy (Alabama, JR)||61||1048||10||19|
|Kalija Lipscomb (Vanderbilt, SR)||83||867||7||18|
|Bryan Edwards (South Carolina, SR)||58||865||7||15|
|Seth Williams (Auburn, SO)||54||952||5||15|
|Henry Ruggs III (Alabama, JR)||49||765||8||15|
|Elijah Moore (Mississippi, SO)||67||732||5||14|
|Jaylen Waddle (Alabama, SO)||49||787||7||14|
|Lynn Bowden Jr. (Kentucky, JR)||63||722||4||13|
|Justin Jefferson (LSU, SR)||53||754||4||13|
|Braylon Sanders (Mississippi, JR)||48||769||5||13|
|Jhamon Ausbon (Texas A&M, JR)||53||698||5||13|
|Devonta Smith (Alabama, JR)||42||641||6||12|
|Quartney Davis (Texas A&M, JR)||47||609||5||12|
|Ja'Marr Chase (LSU, SO)||49||664||4||12|
|Anthony Schwartz (Auburn, SO)||40||588||3||14|
|Johnathon Johnson (Missouri, SR)||50||604||3||11|
|Jalen Knox (Missouri, SO)||41||615||4||11|
|Trey Knox (Arkansas, FR)||48||561||4||11|
|Marquez Callaway (Tennessee, SR)||41||608||4||10|
|Van Jefferson (Florida, SR)||38||551||5||10|
|Demetris Robertson (Georgia, JR)||39||524||5||10|
|Trevon Grimes (Florida, JR)||39||550||4||10|
|Jauan Jennings (Tennessee, SR)||41||560||3||10|
|Shi Smith (South Carolina, JR)||39||555||4||10|
|Jonathan Nance (Missouri, JR)||39||516||3||9|
|Dontario Drummond (Mississippi, JR)||38||472||4||9|
|Isaiah Zuber (Mississippi State, SR)||40||441||3||8|
|Kendrick Rogers (Texas A&M, JR)||35||435||3||8|
|C.J. Bolar (Vanderbilt, SO)||36||424||3||8|
|Miles Battle (Mississippi, rFR)||33||409||3||8|
|Osirus Mitchell (Mississippi State, JR)||32||441||3||8|
|Josh Palmer (Tennessee, JR)||28||450||2||8|
|Terrace Marshall (LSU, SO)||32||428||3||8|
|Kadarius Toney (Florida, JR)||25||263||2||7|
|Lawrence Cager (Georgia, SR)||24||405||4||7|
|OrTre Smith (South Carolina, JR)||28||397||3||7|
|Camron Buckley (Texas A&M, JR)||33||381||2||7|
|Dominick Blaylock (Georgia, FR)||27||388||3||7|
|George Pickens (Georgia, FR)||27||380||3||7|
|Deon Stewart (Arkansas, SR)||37||297||3||7|
|Michael Woods (Arkansas, SO)||31||340||3||7|
|Josh Hammond (Florida, SR)||29||341||2||7|
|Tyler Simmons (Georgia, SR)||20||314||3||7|
|Stephen Guidry (Mississippi State, SR)||19||382||2||6|
|Freddie Swain (Florida, SR)||24||322||2||6|
|Josh Ali (Kentucky, JR)||26||328||2||6|
|Deddrick Thomas (Mississippi State, SR)||23||346||2||6|
|Kam Scott (Missouri, SO)||24||322||2||6|
|Justice Shelton-Mosley (Vanderbilt, SR)||25||253||2||5|
|Josh Vann (South Carolina, SO)||24||226||3||5|
|Eli Stove (Auburn, SR)||21||273||2||5|
|Jared Pinkney (Vanderbilt, SR)||47||599||7||12|
|Albert Okwuegbunam (Missouri, JR)||42||466||5||10|
|Cheyenne O'Grady (Arkansas, SR)||38||488||4||9|
|Glenn Beal (Texas A&M, rFR)||31||320||3||7|
|Stephen Sullivan (LSU, SR)||25||378||2||6|
|Dominick Wood-Anderson (Tennessee, SR)||26||263||2||6|
|Charlie Woerner (Georgia, SR)||21||250||3||5|
|Farrod Green (Mississippi State, SR)||24||274||2||5|
|Kyle Pitts (Florida, SO)||21||241||2||5|
|Cameron Latu (Alabama, rFR)||17||225||2||4|
|Kiel Pollard (South Carolina, SR)||14||157||1||3|
|Justin Rigg (Kentucky, SR)||15||141||1||3|
Alabama 12-0 (8-0 in conference)
Auburn 10-2 (6-2 in conference)
LSU 9-3 (6-2 in conference)
Texas A&M 8-4 (5-3 in conference)
Mississippi State 8-4 (4-4 in conference)
Ole Miss 6-6 (3-5 in conference)
Arkansas 5-7 (1-7 in conference)
Alabama Crimson Tide
2018 record: 14-1 (8-0 in conference)
Best NFL Draft prospect: QB Tua Tagovailoa Really, pick a name from a hat with this team. We'll roll with Tua over wideout pal Jerry Jeudy. Tagovailoa is a scintillatingly accurate quarterback who might not possess the arm of a Justin Herbert, but compensates for that lack of pure physical aptitude with an otherworldly ability to put the ball exactly where it needs to be. A contender for the No. 1 selection.
The case for: Don’t overreact to Alabama’s title game loss to a Clemson team which turned up the heat to absurd degree once they hit the Playoff. Sometimes, it’s not a problem with your team. Sometimes, the other squad just comes out possessed. And even Nick Saban, for all of his coaching brilliance, comes up short from time to time.
Alabama has had an entire offseason to chew on their lone defeat. An entire offseason to stew in people taking their opportunity to kick the Tide when they’re down. Alabama was humbled in January. They’re about to take out their frustrations on the rest of the FBS this year.
Tagovailoa remains the best quarterback in the country in our eyes -- he should have won the Heisman last season -- and returns his entire receiving corps, that terrifyingly monster corps headlined by Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, Devonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle. Lots of headliners, there. And while Damien Harris and Joshua Jacobs are no longer around to handle rushing duties, we have all the faith in the world that Najee Harris and Brian Robinson will be able to hold the standard.
The offense will again be one of the best in the country so long as everybody stays healthy, ditto a defense primed to loose destruction on the FBS, across all levels, be it the secondary (Xavier McKinney, Shyheim Carter, Patrick Surtain), the linebacking corps (Dylan Moses, Joshua McMillan, Terrell Lewis, Anfernee Jennings) or the defensive line (Raekwon Davis, LaBrayan Ray).
Everything is in place for another title run, here. We expect Saban to have his guys on the warpath upcoming. It's not often that he can play the motivation card to major degree in the way that he has been able to coming on the heels of Clemson's title game domination.
The case against: What concerns us most about Alabama is not anything they showed negatively in that title game defeat. Nor is it a personnel issue, though we did see the aforementioned Surtain overexposed in December and January (an offseason of development presumably did the true sophomore good). No, what concerns us most with Alabama is the unknowable -- just how well will Tagovailoa be able to maintain his health.
Tua was plagued by ankle and knee issues in the back half of the 2018 campaign, to the point where he actually underwent ankle surgery between the end of the regular season and the Playoff. Even this offseason, he was dealing with a minor hamstring injury. None of his injury concerns, to this point, have been serious enough to sideline him for a full game.
The real issue for Alabama is that should Tua go down -- like really go down, to the point where he had to miss a game or two -- the Crimson Tide no longer have an established name to fall back on now that Jalen Hurts is off to Oklahoma. Should Tagovailoa have to sit at some point, it would be Mac Jones (he of 13 career passing attempts) who would be tasked with starts.
Throw in the fact that Alabama, while deep on the line, is in the midst of shifting pieces around post-Jonah Williams, and Tagovailoa might not have the cleanest life, especially early on in the season. The saving grace, here, is that Alabama’s offense is so explosive that Tagovailoa will have plenty of half days where the team does not need him to take fire for four quarters.
If Alabama does not reach the Playoff -- and they have a cake of a schedule -- we are guessing it will be because Tagovailoa ended up missing time. There is simply so much stacked talent on roster that injury would almost have to come into play for them to whiff.
Vegas over/under win total: 11
2018 record: 8-5 (3-5 in conference)
Best NFL Draft prospect: DT Derrick Brown. Brown probably would have been a first-round pick had he declared over the winter, so we're talking an immense talent, here. And we do mean immense. The 6-foot-4, 318-pounder plays with suffocating, bone-crushing strength. At this juncture, the technical tweaks he requires relate to things like secondary moves and counters.
The case for: The natives seem perpetually uneasy in Auburn these days, when it comes to HC Gus Malzahn. Malzahn has two big feathers in his cap -- leading the Tigers to the BCS title game against Florida State in 2013 and very nearly crashing the Playoff party in 2017 -- but the rest of the cap, if we’re being honest, is a little worn and frayed around the edges. Malzahn has never led the Tigers to more than eight wins in a season outside of those two campaigns.
Rumors about Malzahn’s job security were swirling about after last fall’s letdown campaign, but we don’t think that will be the case when all is said and done this coming season. The Tigers intrigue on both sides of the ball, with a sick, multi-faceted defensive line led by DT Derrick Brown, who would have been a first-round selection in THIS spring’s draft and a deep, experienced secondary whose only notable loss came from Jamel Dean. The rest of the team’s starters in the defensive backfield return beyond Dean.
The defense should be its typically fantastic self and the offense could be downright dynamic depending just how ready freshman QB Bo Nix is to start in the SEC. Nix signed with the Tigers as a four-star recruit over the winter and has outpaced Joey Gatewood in competition. Nix might not possess a monster arm, but he plays with an infectious playground energy, able to breakdance something out of nothing when things begin to fall apart.
Making Nix’s life that much easier is one of the most underrated running backs rooms in the country. JaTarvious Whitlow has the potential to serve as the beating heart of this offense in the same way that Kerryon Johnson was the beating heart of that 2017 offense, while Kam Martin, Shaun Shivers, Mallik Williams and Mark-Antony Richards could all see meaningful snaps, too.
The receiving corps is likewise peppered with intriguing names like Anthony Schwartz, Will Hastings, Eli Stove and Seth Williams. There is a catch, here, though. All four of those receivers are dealing with health issues of various degrees as camp hits its stretch run. Schwartz is coming back from hand surgery, Williams is reportedly dealing with a back issue and Hastings/Stove are both receiving kid treatment due to past ACL tears. If all of these crazy kids can stay on the field once the season starts, it’s a very fun corp.
Perhaps Auburn fans will finally be head into the winter holidays without feeling gloomy on their team, their coach. Perhaps they will even have a Playoff game to look forward to. That would be the dream scenario. And it’s not impossible.
The case against: If Bo Nix is not ready for the big leagues, Auburn could easily find itself in a quarterback quagmire this season, with Nix still too green and Gatewood simply not good enough. That’s in play. Nix’s style of play, if he isn’t careful, is also one which could lead to undue turnovers. If the above receiver injuries linger, that severely cuts down on the offense’s upside.
While the defense is a strong one on the whole, it does have a weakness, Churchill’s rhetorical soft underbelly of the crocodile. That comes in a linebacking corps which must replace three starters in Deshaun Davis, Darrell Williams and Montavious Atkinson. Auburn will be throwing athletes into those vacancies -- athletes are not in short supply in the SEC -- but there’s an uncertainty in the linebacking corps that there simply isn’t elsewhere on the defensive roster.
Then there’s Auburn’s schedule, which opens with a bang in a non-conference showdown with Oregon on Aug. 31. That could trip the Tigers up from the start. Should they survive that contest, their SEC schedule is about what you would expect. That is to say, tough. Only games against Arkansas and Ole Miss should be considered (more or less) gimmes. Otherwise, it’s the Alabamas, LSUs, Georgias and Floridas of the SEC.
That’s the tough thing for Malzahn. Auburn is a good team. It could be a very good team. And it could still finish with three or four losses. SEC life, yeah?
Vegas over/under win total: 8
2018 record: 10-3 (5-3 in conference)
Best NFL Draft prospect: S Grant Delpit. Delpit fits the definition of the phrase "hard charging." He will singlehandedly wreck your play designs and loves to crash down on the run. Rangy and smart, Delpit does need to shore up his sometime-shoddy tackling technique, but on the whole possesses All-Pro potential for the NFL.
The case for: Just what is Joe Burrow’s ceiling? It might seem like a silly question given that he outwardly played modest ball last season, completing under 58% of his passes with a forgettable 16/5 TD/INT ratio. And yet. We were intrigued by the end of the season. Burrow closed out hitting 20 or more completions in each of LSU’s final three games, throwing for at least 270 yards in all three, 300 or more yards in two out of three.
If Burrow can carry those gains over, it he can keep that moxie going for a full season, LSU will be a Playoff contender, because everything else is in place around him. Established veteran and frisky frosh at running back? Check in the persons of Clyde Edwards-Helaire and John Emery. Returning offensive linemen? Check, four of five starters coming back from last fall. Typically loaded defense? Oh yeah, check.
And while we’re talking checks, check out true freshman CB Derek Stingley Jr., who has been dominating in practice essentially ever since stepping foot on campus. He could be a star right out of the gate. The best defender on this team, S Grant Delpit, is already a star, and a potential top-10 selection for next spring. This is as complete an LSU team as there has been in the recent past, especially if the offense ascends to a new plain. If Burrow can elevate, he might be elevating his outfit into the Playoff.
The case against: Putting a whole lot of faith in Joe Burrow, there, young buck. And we’ll check our more optimistic side’s stats on Burrow, just a bit, here. Yes, he did show out nicely in LSU’s final three games. The first of which came against Rice. The second of which went to seven overtimes. The third of which came in bowl action against an overmatched UFC team which was still trying to memory-erase the image of QB McKenzie Milton’s gruesome knee injury from its mind collective. None of this is to stay that Burrow is incapable of improving, of course.
But this isn’t your baby brother’s SEC, led by a string of pass-dubious quarterbacks and a grind-you-down phone booth style of play. This is an SEC where Alabama is one of the best offensive teams in the country, Georgia one of the most complete. That’s essentially it -- this is an SEC run by Tua Tagovailoa and Jake Fromm.
If Burrow and the Tigers are to crack the Playoff pistachio, he needs not be Tua or Jake. But he does need to show off a new Joe, one which can at least theoretically go toe-to-toe with Tua, one who can keep LSU on track and competitive to the end. We hate to place all the pressure on the quarterback -- it’s so easy to do, and it’s unfair -- but Burrow needs to come through in a big way upcoming.
In what is one of the key early games to circle on the calendar, LSU will play Texas in Week 2 of the season, in a contest which will force one squad onto the Playoff high wire for the two-and-a-half months to follow.
Vegas over/under win total: 9
Texas A&M Aggies
2018 record: 9-4 (5-3 in conference)
Best NFL Draft prospect: DT Justin Madubuike. Madubuike is not all the way there in terms of his timing -- he can have a tendency to rush his process -- but brings stellar quickness to the table. He should be viewed as a Day 2 prospect at this juncture, but a strong process could push him to late on Day 1.
The case for: When Texas A&M backed multiple Brinks trucks to Jimbo Fisher’s door to help persuade him to jump from FSU two winters ago, they were probably envisioning that in best-case scenario, the team would play as it did in 2018. Fisher turned Kellen Mond from the very-clearly-not-ready project he was as a freshman under Kevin Sumlin into a legitimate contender for the SEC quarterbacking crown (Mond might not be as accurate as Jake Fromm or as blindingly efficient as Tua Tagovailoa, but he has a little more grit to his game).
Mond still has work to do in his decision-making -- he threw nine interceptions last season -- but the more creative, on-the-fly aspects of his game are exactly what makes him so intriguing. And if Texas A&M is going to rise above a horrendous schedule (plenty more on that below) it will probably be because Mond has hit another gear. We wouldn’t put it past him.
The true junior will no longer be handing off to Trayveon Williams, but Texas A&M appears more than ready to fill that hole in the person of Jashaun Corbin, who averaged 5.7 YPC while backing up Trayveon last season. And even with TE Jace Sternberger no more, this is a team which has plenty of receiving weapons between Kendrick Rogers, Quartney Davis, Jalen Preston, Jhamon Ausbon and more.
The Aggies’ big deficiency last season came in their porous pass defense, a unit which ranked 98th in the country in passing yards allowed per game. Things might not get better beyond base statistical variance -- losing S Donovan Wilson to the draft did not help matters -- this fall, but Jimbo just needs to weather another season or two waiting for an inherited roster to truly develop into his own.
In the meantime, he has an outfit which will have all kinds of opportunities to slay dragons upcoming. Because schedules do not get more difficult than this one.
The case against: We have hinted at the Aggies’ doomsday schedule a few times. Here goes it. Breaking it down by month, Texas A&M will face Clemson and Auburn in September and Alabama and Mississippi State in October before wrapping with a blistering South Carolina-Georgia-LSU finish to the regular season. Mond needs not just to take another step in his development, he needs that step to be into a phone booth, after which he emerges with a cape.
The Aggies have a top-10 team on their hands in terms of talent, but could find themselves outside of the top-25 sitting with four losses (or more) come the winter. There is one cool offshoot of this schedule, though. A number of Playoff-contending teams are going to be entering the danger zone when they take on Fisher’s crew. It's an exhausting slate of games, even if Texas A&M does manage an upset or two along the way.
Vegas over/under win total: 7.5
Mississippi State Bulldogs
2018 record: 8-5 (4-4 in conference)
Best NFL Draft prospect: LB Erroll Thompson. An elite coverage linebacker -- his 2018 season graded out tops among returning SEC linebackers on PFF in that metric -- Thompson allowed all of 15 catches on 302 coverage snaps this past fall. He continues to refine his game in terms of his pass-rush and his run defense, but those coverage chops should earn him interest next spring with a declaration.
The case for: Fare thee well to Nick Fitzgerald, who crushed it as a runner in Starkville while offering scant in the way of passing fire. Enter Keytaon Thompson, who has shown all kinds of upside as a runner but offers only question marks as a passer. A tale as old as time. But even with Fitzgerald’s eccentricities (being nice) as a passer, HC Joe Moorhead still eased the Bulldogs to an 8-4 record, last season, and we’re betting he could do likewise with Thompson if he needed to.
But. The Bulldogs could potentially have a sneaky high ceiling, if Penn State transfer Tommy Stevens can provide ol’ pal Jo-Mo a little bit of a passing game. And if this marriage works, recall what Moorhead did with Trace McSorley two years back. That’s exciting. Now, Mississippi State doesn’t have a Saquon Barkley on roster to complete the comparison (drat), but they have, maybe, like 50% of a Saquon? Kylin Hill put up 734 yards and four touchdowns at a 6.3 YPC roll on the ground in 2018, while posting a 22-176-4 receiving line.
Stevens and Hill must carry very, very heavy responsibilities, as there are serious deficiencies elsewhere in the offense, as well as on a defense which lost multiple athletic studs this offseason. We feel nervous about the Bulldogs for a few reasons we’ll hit on below, but Stevens’ transfer at least gives them a possible answer through the air, rather than a hope and a prayer.
The case against: OK, so. Even if Stevens does spark a fire in Starkville -- and there is no guarantee that he will -- the problem is that beyond Hill (and Nick Gibson, who also showed backfield bounce in limited opportunity last season), the Bulldogs are painfully threadbare at receiver. Stevens could be Peyton Manning and he might not be able to coax even a 700-yard season out of the likes of Dedrick Thomas, Stephen Guidry and Osirus Mitchell.
Draft abdications, meanwhile, are going to smart on defense, most notably up front -- Jeffery Simmons and Montez Sweat -- and in the back -- Johnathan Abram. Mississippi State probably has too much talent still on hand, especially at corner in the persons of Maurice Smitherman and Cameron Dantzier, to fall off the table completely. The offense is going to be tasked with a lot, though. And that might be problematic given what's left in the cupboards for Moorhead to work with. This is a team desperately in need of a boss deep threat receiver. Without one, the offense is playing with a hand tied behind its back.
Vegas over/under win total: 8.5
Ole Miss Rebels
2018 record: 5-7 (1-7 in conference)
Best NFL Draft prospect: DT Benito Jones. Jones possesses slick athleticism which shows immediately off the snap. He has first-step quickness up to yin-yang. While he lacks for overt size at 6-foot-2, 315 pounds, Jones has NFL appeal as a three-technique.
The case for: Ah, old predictable Ol’ Miss. The Texas Tech of the SEC. Perpetually entertaining to watch but in a 47 Meters Down kind of way. You’ll have a good time, but it’s ultimately inconsequential popcorn fluff. You probably could have been doing something better with that time. But you enjoyed it anyway. There’s nothing wrong with that. We would all go mad without a little reprieve.
A mostly new set of faces in Oxford will be introducing themselves to the CFB community writ large this fall, led by four-star redshirt freshman QB Matt Corral, taking over for Jordan Ta’amu and WRs Elijah Moore, Miles Battle and Braylon Sanders (among others) seeking to make up for the deficits racked up with the departures of DK Metcalf, AJ Brown and DeMarkus Lodge.
The Rebels will also be replacing three-of-five starters on the offensive line. And Rich-Rod is now the team’s offensive coordinator. Just about the only familiar returnee is RB Scottie Phillips, one of the best backs in the conference. Ole Miss will have Phillips to lean on even if the rest of Rome ends up burning around him.
With Ole Miss finally beginning to emerge from the shadow of NCAA damnation, the program finally has a little more room to breathe. That HC Matt Luke has kept the ship so steady when it looked like it was heading right to the bottom of the Atlantic should be commended. Now the work commences in bringing the program back up to national relevance.
The case against: There are so, so many moving pieces on this offense heading into the season -- not only personnel-wise, but also schematic-wise -- that it would not surprise in the least if Ole Miss had their fair amount of early season travails. We don’t see the Corral ascension as a problematic one (your author was always a little underwhelmed by Ta’amu, anyway), but Corral is learning his guys right now. Heck, his guys are learning themselves right now.
Beyond the learning curve this offense figures to require, the Rebs boasted one of the soggiest run defenses in the country last season, ranking 116th among all comers. That’s rough and it’s not the only uncomfortable note with the defense. Not only was the front seven largely impotent against the run, the team is now out secondary defenders Ken Webster and Zedrick Woods.
Combining both sides of the ball, the offense does not have the luxury for a slow learning curve because the defense is not strong enough to offer any kind of a safety net. If Corral and crew struggle early, they aren’t going to be losing 27-13. They’re going to be losing 35-13.
Vegas over/under win total: 5
2018 record: 2-10 (0-8 in conference)
Best NFL Draft prospect: DT McTelvin Agim. Agim kicked around a draft declaration this past winter before ultimately opting back in with the Razorbacks. He is still learning the nuances of the interior, having begun his career on the edge. Nice hands with a strong first step, here.
The case for: If nothing else, Razorbacks HC Chad Morris has quarterbacks to choose from in Nick Starkel and Ben Hicks, transfers from Texas A&M and SMU, respectively. Hicks, of course, is all kinds of familiar with Morris’ power spread tendencies.
We view his transfer in the same light as we do that of Tommy Stevens-to-Mississippi State. Stevens has competition, sure, but he hooked up with his buddy Jo-Mo for a reason. Same thing with Hicks.
Cobble together a productive collective at running back between Chase Hayden, Devwah Whaley and Rakeem Boyd to pair with Hicks and suddenly the offense begins to bring a little more heat. It would help if Arkansas had a more robust receiving corps -- more on that below -- but so long as Hicks can give the Razorbacks just a lick of consistency, this is going to be a sturdier offense than it was last season.
Consider this Razorbacks team an unfinished home. You can begin to see where the kitchen would be and where the bathrooms are located, but you’re still waiting for a ceiling and walls. We are guessing that a bowl berth from Arkansas remains another year or two off.
The case against: As much as we appreciate Arkansas’ quarterbacks room -- there is legitimate talent there -- this is an offense which could struggle mightily to score points. The running back corp could probably best be described as average and underwhelming, the receiving corps is essentially an empty bank vault -- and as a result, everybody is overcompensating in their expectations for true freshman WR Trey Knox, who has the talent but probably shouldn't be tasked with carrying a receiving corps at this age.
The offensive line is replacing three starters, the defensive secondary is a watery soup lacking any real depth, while the linebacking corps -- led by De’Jon Harris -- and the defensive line -- led by McTelvin Agim -- offer at least a little stability.
As far as schedules in the SEC go, at least, Arkansas has a navigable one. They face Alabama and LSU (you can’t duck everybody), but miss both Florida and Georgia. Another plus side on this schedule, Arkansas’ first four games come against Portland State, Ole Miss, Colorado State and San Jose State. That is a nice, soft set of matchups which should allow Morris to iron out early kinks in the system so well as he can.
Vegas over/under win total: 6