The SEC dominated the 2021 offseason with the addition of Texas and Oklahoma.
The Longhorns and Sooners are not in the conference yet. On the field, Alabama will look to dominate the field again after a sixth national championship run under Nick Saban in 2020. The Crimson Tide have a new cast led by Bryce Young, but the expectations do not change.
SN’s Preseason Top 25 features seven SEC teams, including SEC East heavyweights Georgia and Florida. Texas A&M, LSU, Ole Miss and Auburn also made the list. Auburn welcomes first-year coach Bryan Harsin, while Tennessee’s Josh Heupel, Vanderbilt’s Clark Lea and South Carolina’s Shane Beamer also joined the coaching fraternity.
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Everyone is still chasing Saban’s machine in Alabama. Will someone catch up in 2021? Sporting News looks at the SEC and makes its predictions for 2021:
2021 predicted order of finish
SEC top storyline: Can Georgia break through?
Georgia is 52-14 since Kirby Smart arrived in 2016; the fifth-best record among Power 5 schools behind Alabama (65-5), Clemson (65-6), Ohio State (56-7) and Oklahoma (56-10).
The Bulldogs have been good enough to win the SEC and reach the College Football Playoff championship game, but that has not been good enough to break a national championship drought that extends back to 1980?
Georgia is a strong bet to reclaim the SEC East in 2021. JT Daniels showed command of the offense late last season, and Smart worked the transfer portal with LSU tight end Arik Gilbert, West Virginia safety Tykee Smith and Clemson cornerback Derion Kendrick.
Given how much Alabama lost to the 2021 NFL Draft, there is no better time than now for the Bulldogs to take that long-awaited next step.
Ga’Quincy McKinstry, CB, Alabama
McKinstry does not lack confidence. He is wearing the No. 1 jersey and goes by “Kool-Aid” on the official team roster. McKinstry is a five-star cornerback, and Saban has not been shy about working in talent on the back end if they are good enough to play right. McKinstry will find a role in the secondary, which lost Patrick Surtain II to the 2021 NFL Draft.
Jason Marshall, CB, Florida
Marshall is another five-star cornerback worth watching. The 6-2, 180-pounder is a huge get from Miami Palmetto High School. He should at minimum compete for time in nickel and dime packages in the Gators’ secondary along with fellow freshman Donovan Mitchell.
Henry To’o To’o, LB, Alabama
The Crimson Tide already have Christian Harris and Will Anderson Jr., so adding To’o To’o to the mix is almost unfair. To’o To’o averaged 74 tackles for Tennessee the last two seasons, and he was on Alabama’s radar in the recruiting process. He could emerge as an All-American with the Crimson Tide.
Arik Gilbert, TE, Georgia
Gilbert was coveted as a five-star recruit by LSU, and he had 35 catches for 368 yards and a pair of TDs as a freshman. Now, he will be a 6-5, 248-pound mismatch in the middle of the field for Daniels in Georgia’s offense. It’s a big get for the Bulldogs.
Tykee Smith, S, Georgia
Smith was a ballhawk at West Virginia the last two seasons. He compiled 121 tackles, four interceptions and nine pass breakups. Now, he fits as a safety for the Bulldogs with seniors Chistopher Smith and Ameer Speed.
Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss
Archie Manning (1970) and Eli Manning (2003) finished third in the Heisman voting as Rebel QBs. Corral brings that kind of excitement with his dual-threat playmaking ability. He led the FBS with 3,843 yards of total offense last season, and that came with 506 rushing yards. Paired with Lane Kiffin, Corral should have even more success in 2021.
JT Daniels, QB, Georgia
Daniels, who started his career at USC, settled in as the starter late last season. He averaged 10.3 yards per attempt with a 178.5 quarterback rating; high efficiency numbers that would compare with recent Heisman winner Joe Burrow and finalist Mac Jones. Daniels’ Heisman odds have improved throughout the offseason, too. Remember — three of the last four Heisman winners were quarterbacks who transferred.
Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
Tua Tagovailoa and Jones — Alabama’s last two quarterbacks — were Heisman finalists. Young averaged 7.1 yards per passing attempt with a 59.1 completion percentage in backup duty last season. He is raking in the NIL deals, and that will only continue if he puts up big numbers around the fresh supporting cast at Alabama.
Alabama at Texas A&M (Oct. 9)
The Aggies worked to the fringe of the Playoff conversation last season, and now the challenge is clear: Beat Bama. Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher called his shot this offseason; and that’s bold knowing the Crimson Tide won the last three meetings by an average of 23 points per game.
LSU vs. Florida (Oct. 16)
LSU spoiled Florida’s playoff hopes with a 37-34 victory last season, and this matchup is early enough on the schedule that the winner will know where they stand. Keep in mind Florida plays Alabama on Sept. 25 and LSU plays Auburn on Oct. 2.
Florida vs. Georgia (Oct. 30)
This is the game that decides the SEC East most seasons. Each school has represented the division in Atlanta three times the last six seasons. Florida’s Dan Mullen and Smart are not afraid to throw jabs back and forth either. It’s a huge spot on the schedule.
LSU at Alabama (Nov. 6)
It’s a battle of the last two national champions, and it’s on LSU to respond after the Crimson Tide won in a 55-17 blowout last season. The Tigers won in Tuscaloosa in 2021, and Saban likely hasn’t forgotten that.
SEC stat that matters
Offense is the name of the game now, and the SEC has followed the trend. Look at the numbers for total offense and scoring and total defense and scoring for the last four SEC champions:
This is the new standard to follow. The last two national champions averaged more than 48 points per game and averaged close to 550 yards. Total defense continues to increase with each year, too. The coaches who continue to adjust to the offensive inflation will be the most successful in 2021.
SEC champion: Alabama
The Crimson Tide have challenges given the heavy attrition to the NFL Draft, and Saban admitted at SEC Media Days that the Crimson Tide would be “a work in progress.” A tough opener against Miami and loaded SEC schedule are on the docket, and Georgia appears to be the closest challenger.
We are still picking the Crimson Tide. Look for Alabama to continue its run with another SEC championship and visit the usual suspects in the College Football Playoff.
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