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SEC Football 2017 Predictions

Complete SEC preview for the 2017 season.

The SEC had a down year in 2016. While Alabama made the CFB Playoff, every other team in the league finished the season with at least four losses. But that was 2016, and the outlook for the SEC in 2017 looks a little brighter. The Crimson Tide is once again the preseason favorite to win it all, with LSU and Auburn returning enough talent to rank as top 10-15 teams. It’s a tight battle at the top of the East Division between Georgia and Florida. The Bulldogs get the nod over the Gators thanks to 11 returning starters on defense, and the emergence of quarterback Jacob Eason. However, the addition of quarterback Malik Zaire as a graduate transfer should provide a boost under center for coach Jim McElwain. Outside of the top contenders, South Carolina, Kentucky, Mississippi State and Arkansas headline some of the dark horse teams to watch in 2017.  

 

Here are five key storylines or discussions that shaped Athlon’s SEC predictions for 2017:

 

1. No Dispute: Alabama No. 1

A significant gap separated Alabama from the 13 other teams in the SEC last fall. While Auburn, LSU or the champion of the East Division could take a step forward this season, there’s still a sizeable space between Alabama and the No. 2 team. The Crimson Tide are the only program to make the CFB Playoff in all three years, and coach Nick Saban’s team is Athlon’s pick to win it all in 2017. However, Alabama isn’t without its share of question marks. Can quarterback Jalen Hurts take the next step as a passer under new coordinator Brian Daboll? The right side of the offensive line exited spring ball with uncertainty, and Hurts needs another receiver to emerge to take the pressure off of Calvin Ridley. On defense, the losses in the front seven were heavy. End Jonathan Allen and linebackers Reuben Foster, Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams all moved onto the next level. Thanks to elite recruiting classes, there is plenty of talent waiting in the wings. But how quickly will this unit mesh with several new faces in the front seven? With a non-conference opener against Florida State, along with road trips in league play to Mississippi State and Auburn, a loss in the regular season wouldn’t be a surprise. However, with Saban on the sidelines and the nation’s best roster, the Crimson Tide is the team to beat in the SEC and for the CFB Playoff once again.

 

2. Georgia vs. Florida

Picking the East Division champion was the toughest debate of Athlon’s SEC prediction meeting. Florida has claimed back-to-back East Division titles and should be in the thick of things once again despite heavy losses on defense. This debate took an interesting turn in early June, as Malik Zaire announced his intentions to transfer from Notre Dame to Florida for the 2017 campaign. Zaire will compete (and is expected to win) the starting quarterback job against Feleipe Franks. While Zaire has a limited sample size during his stint in South Bend, his mobility is a huge asset for a Florida line that is once again a concern. The Gators feature one of the league’s top receiving corps, and running back Jordan Scarlett is primed for a breakout season. New coordinator Randy Shannon inherits only three starters on defense, but this unit features several promising names to ensure a quick rebuild. Georgia finished 8-5 in coach Kirby Smart’s debut last fall, but three of those losses came by three points or less. The Bulldogs are primed to push for double-digit wins in 2017, thanks to a defense that returns 11 starters and one of the nation’s top backfield tandems in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Quarterback Jacob Eason is also due to improve with a full year to work as the starter. Smart’s biggest concern remains in the trenches and finding playmakers for Eason on the outside. In the Georgia-Florida debate for the top spot in the East, the schedule favors the Gators. Florida hosts Tennessee, LSU and Texas A&M, while the Bulldogs play Auburn and Tennessee on the road. This division will likely be decided on Oct. 28 in Jacksonville when these two teams meet in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.

 

3. Auburn vs. LSU

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The SEC East is improving, but the top challenger to Alabama is either Auburn or LSU. These two teams tied for second in the West at 5-3 last year, and there’s very little separation going into 2017. What might be the deciding factor between these two teams? Quarterback play. Auburn landed Jarrett Stidham as a transfer from junior college/Baylor, and the sophomore should be the missing piece for an offense that averaged 31.2 points per game last fall. In addition to Stidham, Auburn’s attack features a promising group of receivers, one of the SEC’s top offensive lines, and the one-two punch of Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway at running back. The departure of defensive linemen Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams and safety Johnathan Ford leaves a few big shoes to fill on defense for coordinator Kevin Steele. But this unit still features rising star Marlon Davidson off the edge, one of the league’s top linebacker trios, and All-SEC cornerback Carlton Davis. Ed Orgeron’s first full season at the helm in Baton Rouge features one of the nation’s top running backs in Derrius Guice and a defense that will rank among the best in the SEC. However, LSU still features a question mark under center. How much of a difference can new coordinator Matt Canada make in his first season working with quarterback Danny Etling? Additionally, the Tigers have a revamped (but talented) group of receivers to break in this fall.

 

4. Arkansas, Texas A&M, Ole Miss or Mississippi State?

The tough predictions in the SEC’s West Division continue with sorting out the finishing order of Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Arkansas and Mississippi State. The Rebels were one of the toughest teams to a get a read on in our preseason predictions. While the offense should be explosive behind quarterback Shea Patterson, the defense finished last in the SEC in points allowed last season and remains a concern. Additionally, the ongoing NCAA uncertainty and no postseason opportunity will have some impact on this team in 2017. We slotted Ole Miss in seventh, but this team has enough firepower to challenge for the fourth spot. Arkansas eventually earned the nod as the No. 4 team in the West, and as evidenced by the 3-5 records, there’s very little distance between the Razorbacks and Texas A&M or Mississippi State. Bret Bielema’s team returns one of the SEC’s top quarterbacks in Austin Allen, and the defense should take a step forward with Paul Rhoads calling the plays. The gap between the Razorbacks and the other two teams closed a little more after running back Rawleigh Williams retired following a neck injury in spring ball. However, Arkansas catches Mississippi State at home, and plays Texas A&M on Sept. 23 – will the Aggies find an answer at quarterback by then? Behind dynamic junior quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State is the dark horse to watch in the SEC West. The addition of coordinator Todd Grantham and a handful of junior college recruits should provide an instant impact on a defense that surrendered 31.8 points per game last fall.

 

5. Kentucky and South Carolina on the Rise

In our prediction meeting, Georgia, Florida and Tennessee were a clear top three in the East Division. However, keep an eye on South Carolina or Kentucky for sleeper potential. The Gamecocks finished 6-7 in coach Will Muschamp’s first year in Columbia and have a promising core of talent to build around in 2017. Sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley is a rising star, and he’s surrounded by one of the SEC’s top receiving corps. The defense is a work in progress – especially in the trenches – but the Gamecocks will regain the services of linebacker Skai Moore, who missed all of 2016 due to a neck injury. Kentucky showed marked improvement last fall, finishing 7-6 after three straight losing seasons under coach Mark Stoops. The Wildcats can lean on running back Benny Snell and one of the league’s top offensive lines until the passing attack finds its rhythm in 2017. Kentucky needs to get tougher against the run, but the back seven should be a strength.  

 

SEC 2017 Unit Rankings

Best RB

Units

Best WR

Units

Best OL

Units

Best DL

Units

Best LB

Units

Best DB

Units

1.  1.  1.  1.  1.  1. 
2.  2.  2.  2.  2.  2. 
3.  3.  3.  3.  3.  3. 
4.  4.  4.  4.  4.  4. 
5.  5.  5.  5.  5.  5. 

 

SEC Football 2017 Predictions

         
East Division
Rank Team   Projected SEC Record Projected Overall Record
1 Georgia 6-2 9-4
2 Florida 6-2 8-4
3 Tennessee 4-4 8-4
4 South Carolina 4-4 6-6
5 Kentucky 4-4 7-5
6 Vanderbilt 3-5 6-6
7 Missouri 1-7 5-7
         
West Division
Rank Team   Projected SEC Record Projected Overall Record
1 Alabama 7-1 12-1
2 Auburn 6-2 9-3
3 LSU 5-3 9-3
4 Arkansas 3-5 7-5
5 Mississippi State 3-5 7-5
6 Texas A&M 3-5 7-5
7 Ole Miss 1-7 5-7
         
SEC Championship Game
 Alabama over Georgia  

 

 

SEC 2017 Superlatives and Season Predictions

 

Steven

Lassan

Mitch

Light

Mark

Ross

  @AthlonSteven @AthlonMitch @AthlonMarkR
Offensive POY

Derrius Guice

RB, LSU

Kamryn Pettway

RB, Auburn

Derrius Guice

RB, LSU

Defensive POY

Minkah Fitzpatrick

DB, Alabama

Minkah Fitzpatrick

DB, Alabama

Minkah Fitzpatrick

DB, Alabama

Coach of the Year

Gus Malzahn

Auburn

Gus Malzahn

Auburn

Kirby Smart

Georgia

Coach on Hot Seat

Kevin Sumlin

Texas A&M

Kevin Sumlin

Texas A&M

Kevin Sumlin

Texas A&M

Top Freshman

Trey Smith

OL, Tennessee

Ty Chandler

RB, Tennessee

Jerry Jeudy

WR, Alabama

Top Newcomer

Jarrett Stidham

QB, Auburn

Jarrett Stidham

QB, Auburn

Jarrett Stidham

QB, Auburn

Sleeper Team Mississippi State South Carolina Ole Miss

Key Position

to Watch

Georgia OL Auburn DL Georgia WR
Best Coordinator Hire

Matt Canada

OC, LSU

Todd Grantham

DC, Miss. State

Matt Canada

OC, LSU

Hardest Team

to Evaluate

Ole Miss Tennessee Tennessee
Coach on the Rise

Dave Aranda

DC, LSU

Dan Enos

OC, Arkansas

Dave Aranda

DC, LSU

Must-See Game

Alabama at

Auburn

Alabama at

Auburn

Alabama at

Auburn

Breakout Player

Shea Patterson

QB, Ole Miss

Tyrie Cleveland

WR, Florida

Shea Patterson

QB, Ole Miss

Comeback Player

Skai Moore

LB, South Carolina

Skai Moore

LB, South Carolina

Skai Moore

LB, South Carolina

 

Ranking the SEC Quarterbacks for 2017

 

1. Jalen Hurts, Alabama

2. Jarrett Stidham, Auburn

3. Austin Allen, Arkansas

 

Click here to view the full QB Rankings for 2017

 

Ranking the SEC Coaches for 2017

 

1. Nick Saban, Alabama

2. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State

3. Jim McElwain, Florida

 

Click here to view the full SEC Coach Rankings for 2017

Event Date: 
Friday, June 2, 2017 - 22:26

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