Gus Malzahn

1. Alabama 

Not much of a surprise here. The Tide were one win away from yet another national championship and with 2018 Heisman runner-up Tua Tagovailoa under the helm once again, it wouldn’t be out of the question to predict Alabama to run the table in 2019.

Nick Saban’s squad won’t have very many weaknesses, and with a weak out of conference schedule, expect another dominant season for the team in Tuscaloosa. Alabama had 10 players drafted in this year’s NFL Draft, but the talent level this team possesses will likely offset many of the key losses.

2. Georgia 

Last year’s SEC Championship representative from the East should once again be among the conference’s elite teams. 

Star QB Jake Fromm is one of the best in the country, but the Dawgs did lose a considerable amount of talent at receiver with Riley Ridley, Mecole Hardman and tight end Isaac Nauta all gone.

Having to play Notre Dame in September won’t be easy and away games against Auburn and Florida will be tough. There are some questions about the defense but other than that, Georgia has enough talent to compete with anyone in the country.

3. LSU

Playing Texas in Austin in game number two will be a big early-season test for Ed Orgeron and company, and having to play Bama in Tuscaloosa will likely be even tougher considering the Tigers haven’t beaten the Tide since 2012.

As usual, LSU will feature one of the best and most tenacious defenses in the entire country despite losing star linebacker Devin White and cornerback Greedy Williams to the NFL.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Bayou Bengals return a crop of wide receivers, four starting offensive linemen and one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the nation in Joe Burrow.

4. Auburn

It might be a bit optimistic to put Auburn this high, especially considering their three biggest rivals happen to be the three teams ahead of them on this list. Not only that, but the Tigers have to open the season against Oregon and Heisman candidate Justin Herbert.

However, the Tigers have one of the best defensive lines in the country, return every starter on the offensive line and have exciting playmakers at nearly every position.

There are big questions at linebacker and of course quarterback, a position that will be manned by either redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood or true freshman Bo Nix.

Whether it’s Nix or Gatewood under center, I believe the two freshmen fit the traditional Malzahn offense better than Jarrett Stidham did in 2018.

5. Florida

Head coach Dan Mullen did an impressive job in his first year at Florida. The former Mississippi State head coach transformed quarterback Feleipe Franks from an average-at-best SEC starter into an absolute star (31 TDs in 2018).

Senior running back Lamical Perine is a potential star and their wide receivers are long and athletic. The Gators lost major talent on the front seven but regardless Florida will have a chance to compete for an SEC East title. 

6. Texas A&M

Having to play Clemson, Georgia and LSU all away from home makes me hesitant to put the Aggies higher on this list.

On the other hand, Kellen Mond is one of the better QBs in the SEC and the receiver quartet of Quartney Davis, Camron Buckley, Jhamon Austin and Kendrick Rogers are all 6-foot-2 or taller and should provide matchup nightmares for opposing cornerbacks.

A&M lost talent in the front seven but perhaps the most gutting loss was the SEC’s leading rusher in 2018, Trayveon Williams. Along with Williams, the Aggies lost the leader of their offensive line in Erick McCoy.

7. Missouri

Success for the Tigers in head coach Barry Odom’s fourth year  at the helm is heavily predicated on the success of former Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant. Bryant led the Tigers of Clemson to the College Football Playoff in 2017 and while that same success is unlikely for Mizzou, Bryant, if anything, knows how to win.

Mizzou lost its lead receiver in Emmanuel Hall (828 yards and 6 TDs) as well as two of its top defenders in defensive lineman Terry Beckner Jr. and linebacker Terez Hall.

On the bright side, junior running back Larry Rountree III is one of the SEC’s best and with a fairly easy schedule, Missouri could surprise some people.

8. Mississippi State

The Bulldogs have a lot of talent from 2018’s team to replace. Most notably, Nick Fitzgerald, one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in SEC history. 

Other than Fitzgerald, Mississippi State will have to replace a ton of talent from last year’s stingy defense. The Bulldogs had five key contributors from the 2018 defense leave for the NFL, three of whom (Montez Sweat, Jeffrey Simmons and Johnathan Abram) were selected in the first round.

Junior Keytaon Thompson is a big, athletic dual-threat quarterback and with Fitzgerald gone, much of the team’s success will fall on him.

9. Kentucky

The Wildcats won double-digit games last season for the first time since 1977, and while I wouldn’t expect them to do that again, this team could win around seven or eight games if things go well.

The Wildcats lost two absolute superstars from last year’s team in running back Benny Snell Jr. and edge rusher Josh Allen as well as two key players from the secondary.

Those losses from a traditional non-football school may be enough for others to push the Wildcats to the bottom of the SEC. But, if quarterback Terry Wilson can take the next step and junior running back Asim “A.J.” Rose can build off a solid 2018, Kentucky may once again enjoy a solid season.

10. Tennessee

The Vols finished dead last in the SEC East last year — I’d be surprised if that happens again. The team had its moments in 2018 — cough cough ... beating a ranked Auburn team at Jordan-Hare Stadium— but if second-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt wants to get his team back to a bowl game, improvements must be made.

The Vols have a fantastic trio of tall, veteran receivers in Marquez Callaway, Josh Palmer and Jauan Jennings that should give quarterback Jarrett Guarantano some weapons to throw to before he gets pressured every play like last year.

11. South Carolina

Talent-wise, the Gamecocks are certainly not eleventh in the SEC. However, a grueling schedule that pits South Carolina against Georgia, A&M, Alabama and Clemson is preventing me from putting them much higher on this list.

Fans were hoping three-year starter and former Opelika quarterback Jake Bentley would make the leap to stardom last year, and while Bentley did throw 27 touchdowns in 2018, the senior struggled against tougher competition.

The Gamecocks will also be tasked with replacing one of the SEC’s most versatile weapons in receiver Deebo Samuel (882 yards and 11 TDs,) who is now a member of the 49ers.

If Bentley develops further, the defense stays healthy and the Gamecocks find a consistent running game, they may end up higher than No. 11.

12. Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt has some real talent. Leading rusher Ke’Shawn Vaughn (1244 yards and 12 TDs) and the ‘Dores leading receivers in Kalija Lipscomb and Jared Pinkey are all returning to school and give Vanderbilt one of the best RB-WR-TE trios in the country.

On defense, Vanderbilt was a nightmare in 2018, giving up over 430 yards per game to opponents. The defense might improve but don’t expect to see the Commodores among the SEC’s elite defenses.

The big question marks come in the form of Ball State graduate transfer quarterback Riley Neal. The 6-foot-6 QB compiled 61 total touchdowns in 34 career games at Ball State and if he can transfer those skills to the SEC, Vanderbilt may have one of the best offenses in the conference.

13. Ole Miss 

The Rebels lost starting quarterback Jordan Ta’amu and 2018’s top three receivers in A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf and DaMarkus Lodge. 

The Rebels will have to rely on running backs Scottie Phillips and Isaiah Woullard as well as highly touted quarterback Matt Corral to spearhead the offense.

New defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre will have to be successful changing the Rebels to a 3-4 defensive scheme if the Rebels want to be competitive in 2019.

14. Arkansas

First-year head coach Chad Morris and the Razorbacks were awful in 2018. The Razorbacks finished with a 2-10 record, marking the first double-digit-loss season in program history.

To make matters worse, quarterbacks Ty Storey and Cole Kelley, the team’s top two options at the position, have transferred to other programs. Additionally, the Razorbacks leading receiver, La’Michael Pettway announced his intent to transfer to Iowa State.

Arkansas has some solid talent returning on the defense and SMU transfer QB Ben Hicks has a chance to be successful. But the team just does not have enough pieces to help the team climb out of the conference cellar.

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