We are officially less than 90 days away from the start of the 2018-19 college football season. Last season was capped off by a 41-yard game winning touchdown pass by Alabama’s freshman hero, Tua Tagovailoa. The play came on a 2nd and 26 in overtime of the National Championship game against Georgia. Devonta Smith was on the receiving end of the pass as he blew past the Georgia secondary to earn Alabama a 26-23 victory — head coach Nick Saban’s 5th championship with the Crimson Tide.
Both Alabama and Georgia surpassed their projected regular season win totals for the 2017-18 season. Alabama’s total was set at 10.5 (they won 11), while Georgia’s was set at 8.5 (they also won 11). It’s never too early to take a look at the season win totals for next season. So without further ado, I present to you the season win totals and my initial leans for every team in the SEC West.
Alabama season win total: 10.5
Alabama opens the season in a showdown with ACC opponent Louisville, in the 2018 Camping World Kickoff game. The game will be played in Orlando, Florida. No Lamar Jackson, no problem. I don’t need to spend much time on this, the Crimson Tide will roll and they will continue to roll through their schedule until they face hated rival Auburn in the Iron Bowl on November 24th. After a 14-26 upset loss to the Tigers in 2017 which almost eliminated them from the CFB Playoff picture, Bama will be looking for revenge in 2018. I can almost guarantee they leave zero doubt in the minds of the playoff committee this season. Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts are currently locked in a battle for the starting quarterback position this season. No matter who is named the starter, both are more than capable of leading Alabama to 11 or more wins. Their week 4 matchup with Texas A&M and new head coach Jimbo Fisher, should be an intriguing game, but Alabama will hardly be tested with their schedule. Expect another College Football Playoff appearance for Saban and the Crimson Tide in 2018.
Auburn season win total: 9
Auburn will open the season against the Washington Huskies in the Chick-fil-A kickoff game at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. This will be a matchup between two talented quarterbacks in Jarrett Stidham and Jake Browning. This will be an early challenge and wake up call for the Auburn Tigers. Washington returns 75% of their total production on offense and defense, along with 6 linemen with starting experience, and one of the nations best running backs, Myles Gaskin. If Auburn can pull out a win against Washington, it’ll be a huge lift of confidence for them as they enter their SEC slate. The Tigers will face Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Georgia, and Alabama on the road. Unless I am completely wrong about this team, I see at least two losses in those four games. The total of 9 wins seems to be dead on for Auburn in 2018, so my confidence in this pick is low.
Mississippi State season win total: 8
Look out for the Bulldogs this season. This is a dangerous team simply based on how much they return from the previous year. They are 8th in the nation for returning production, and will have 100% of their passing and rushing production returning (with two experienced QB’s on the roster). Former head coach Dan Mullen is now with Florida, but in comes Penn State offensive coordinator, Joe Moorhead, stepping in to replace Mullen. Moorhead helped Penn State increase their offensive output by nearly 100 yards per game compared to the few years prior to his arrival. He was also named the #1 rising assistant in college football in 2017, by Sports Illustrated. You may be familiar with names like Saquon Barkley, Trace McSorley, and DaeSean Hamilton. Mississippi State will have a tough week 2 matchup at Kansas State but get Florida, Auburn, Texas A&M, and Arkansas at home. With a veteran quarterback and dark horse Heisman candidate Nick Fitzgerald leading the charge, this is a team that is capable of a 10-win season. However, this is also a team that will be adjusting to a new coach and offensive system in one of the more difficult divisions in college football.
LSU season win total: 7.5
There are some saying that third-year head coach Ed Orgeron is on the hot seat this season. The Tigers finished the 2017 regular season with a 9-3 record and concluded the season with a 17-21 loss to Notre Dame in the Citrus Bowl. A loss to unranked Troy in week 5 of the season did not help Orgeron’s case, but they bounced back with back-to-back wins against Florida and Auburn. LSU returns only 39% of their total production on offense and defense this season and will go on the road at Auburn, Florida, Arkansas, and Texas A&M. Fortunately for them, they host Georgia, Mississippi State, and Alabama. However, those games are played consecutively in that order. The Tigers will seek revenge against Mississippi State after last season’s blowout loss but are likely to fall short again to the Bulldogs who rank 8th in returning production in the country. A season opener with Miami will tell us a lot about LSU this year, but I expect them to lose that one and go on to drop at least four more games over the course of their tough SEC slate. Take the Under.
Texas A&M season win total: 7
Head coach Jimbo Fisher begins his first season in College Station, after 8 seasons with the Florida State Seminoles. He will inherit an extremely young team, comprised of all sophomore wide receivers and a promising sophomore quarterback, Nick Starkel. The Aggies finished the 2017-18 season with a 7-6 record, which ended with a heartbreaking loss to Wake Forest in the Belk Bowl, 55-52. Starkel threw for 500 yards and 4 touchdowns in the loss. This season they will be tested early, with a week 2 matchup against the Clemson Tigers. Two weeks later they will begin their SEC schedule on the road at Alabama. I expect a 2-2 record after they face Alabama, and the schedule doesn’t get any easier as they will be on the road at South Carolina, Mississippi State, and Auburn in consecutive weeks. The Aggies will be lucky to get a single road victory in 2018, and that is why the lean is on the Under here for Jimbo Fisher’s first year in College Station.
Ole Miss season win total: 6
Ole Miss finished 6-6 last season, with their best win coming in their final game on the road at #14 Mississippi State. The Rebels will miss their star quarterback Shea Patterson, who transferred to Michigan this offseason. They will also look to move past the shadows of 2016 when the NCAA charged the university with numerous recruiting violations. Evidence turned up that Ole Miss employees and boosters had arranged a number of impermissible benefits for players (ex. cash and car loans). The investigation has caused a lot of distraction in Oxford, and forced the University to give head coach Hugh Freeze an ultimatum — resign or be fired for violating the moral clause of his contract. Freeze resigned, and now interim head coach Matt Luke will take over the job for the 2018-19 season.
Ole Miss opens the season at home where they will host Texas Tech. There are only three confident wins I see on the Rebels schedule, and they are all part of their non-conference schedule (So. Illinois, Kent State, and UL Monroe). Road trips to Arkansas and Vanderbilt are winnable matchups, but even if they are able to win both, that would still put them at 5-7 on the season. Leaning under, and at best I see this team putting up another .500 season.
Arkansas season win total: 5.5
Former Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema got the boot last December after five seasons with the Razorbacks. Arkansas finished the 2017-18 season with a 4-8 record (1-7 in conference play). This year they welcome in new head coach Chad Morris, who spent three seasons with the SMU Mustangs. Morris turned the SMU program around from a 2-10 season in 2015, to a 7-5 winning season in 2017 (their first winning season since 2012). The Razorbacks are ranked 40th in returning production, but will not be naming a starting quarterback until after the summer during Fall camp.
Cole Kelley looks to be the front-runner for the job, ahead of sophomore Ty Storey. Kelley is a whopping 6’7”, 265 pounds with some slight dual-threat ability. He also has the most experience, backing up Austin Allen last season and throwing for over 1,000 yards and 8 touchdowns in his game appearances. Arkansas will travel to Colorado State in week 2 of their non-conference schedule, which will be no walk in the park. Their other three road games are at Auburn, Mississippi State, and Missouri. The only confident wins I see on their schedule would be Eastern Illinois, North Texas, and Tulsa. Besides that, their schedule is not too favorable. I believe Morris will be able to get the Arkansas program back on track, but Razorback nation will need to be patient. I’m leaning under here in Chad Morris’ first season with the Razorbacks.