Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a member and past president of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year 10 times and has been inducted into the Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame.
Wait a minute! Who's atop the SEC West?
LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (22) carries in the second half of an NCAA college football game against Alabama in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018. Alabama won 29-0. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
On the surface, it seems like predicting the SEC standings is easy. Almost automatic.
Every time yours truly picks someone besides Alabama to become the overall champion, the Crimson Tide win again.
So the Tide should win it all, because they are not the pick here to win the SEC West and will need some luck to make it back to the Alabama Invitational, aka the College Football Playoff.
Below the surface, the Tide have a tough schedule. Here’s this year’s picks:
LSU The Tigers return 16 starters from a 10-3 team, but one of those losses was a bad one: at Alabama 29-0. That game was a wake-up call for LSU. The Tigers go to Alabama this season, but Ed Orgeron’s teams are not afraid of road games, or for that matter much of anything.
Alabama The Crimson Tide have three road challenges compared to one for LSU. The Tide go to South Carolina, Texas A&M and Auburn. Alabama has been wearing the biggest target on its back in college football, and this may be the season it takes a toll.
Texas A&M Jimbo Fisher continues to build the Aggies with homegrown players, and that’s a good thing. The Aggies have lots of question marks on defense, but offense will carry them until answers are found.
Auburn Will the Tigers faithful fork out $29 million to buy out the Gus Bus if he finishes fourth with another eight-win season? Probably not. Their mouths may be that big, but their pockets aren’t that deep. Next season will be a different matter.
Arkansas The Razorbacks probably aren’t going to be the turnaround team of the season, but they have nowhere to go but up after a dismal 2018. Improvement should occur at quarterback, receiver and defensive line. The linebackers are solid. All of that should mean a couple of conference wins, right?
Mississippi State The Bulldogs appear to be slipping without Dan Mullen and return only four starters on defense. Arkansas gets the edge over the Bulldogs because their head-to-head game is in Fayetteville.
Ole Miss The sanctions are over, but they took a toll. The Rebels will be solid on defense but may have trouble finding the end zone.
Georgia Kirby Smart is 30-10 as the head coach. He returns 12 starters, but his recruiting has put himself in a Nick Saban-type position to say “next” when he loses a starter.
Florida The defense will be good, and Dan Mullen should fill in the holes on offense. He is one of the best coaches in the country and is breathing down Smart’s neck for that top spot in the East.
Missouri Graduate transfer Kelly Bryant at quarterback moves the Tigers ahead of South Carolina. They have to keep him healthy.
South Carolina Will Muschamp has 14 starters back and the toughest schedule in the country, which should make the Gamecocks better as the season progresses.
Tennessee Jeremy Pruitt was not impressive in his first season, but he does have 10 offensive and six defensive starters back. The Vols still have a ways to go.
Kentucky Last season’s surprise team returns to its position of basketball powerhouse after losing seven defensive starters. Expect them to be bowl eligible, but winning 10 again is asking too much.
Vanderbilt All things considered, Derek Mason is doing a great job at Vanderbilt, the SEC’s academic giant. The offense should put up points, but it may not be enough for a defense that returns five starters back.
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