Conference Championship Top Contenders:
There are two types of contenders in the SEC:
Type A – Alabama
Type B – Teams that have a slight chance of beating Alabama
Alabama (#1) will start the season as the top team in the Coaches Poll. The Crimson Tide have won the SEC title for three consecutive seasons. They are favored heavily to make it four in a row and also earn their fourth consecutive trip to the College Football Playoff with hopes to avenge their National Championship loss to Clemson last year. With the loss of so many players to the NFL (9 total selected in rounds 1-3), it’s hard to imagine that they can return as strong as the 2016 team that went 14-1. But, with top recruiting classes year after year, Head Coach Nick Saban will once again reload and have one of the top teams in the nation. Alabama will be led on offense by returning starters: quarterback Jalen Hurts, running back Bo Scarbrough, and wide receiver Calvin Ridley. The SEC West title will likely be at stake when they play at Auburn on Nov. 25th to close out the regular season.
Auburn (#13) enters 2017 as an intriguing pick to supplant their arch rival Alabama from the SEC throne. They return junior running backs Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson from the 2016 team that led the SEC in rushing. At quarterback, Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham has been named the starter and looks to elevate the passing attack. Combining a more potent offense with the Tiger defense that finished 5th in the nation and the opportunity to face Alabama with home field advantage might be the right recipe to win the SEC West.
LSU (#12) has been placed in the top 15 for the 6th consecutive season and has consistently competed at the top of the SEC. However, there are some sources of concern for the 2017 season. New head coach, Ed Orgeron, who took over following the firing of Les Miles midseason last year, has lost 19 seniors and 8 starters from the defense. The offense struggled at times averaging 9.3 pts/gm in their four losses last year. In spite of these factors, the Tigers can contend by riding the coat tails of running back Derrius Guice who led the SEC in rushing last season and averaged 7.6 ypc.
Florida (#16) makes the list of contenders as a candidate from the SEC East. The Gators have represented the East in the SEC championship game in each of the past two seasons. Both games resulted in defeat at the hands of Alabama with a combined score of 83-31 over the 2 games. Quarterback Malik Zaire transferred to Florida from Notre Dame and hopes to revitalize the offense that finished last in the SEC with only 344 yds/gm in 2016. Florida has also recently suspended 7 players for their week 1 matchup with Michigan.
Georgia (#15) looks to have the best chance at winning the SEC East. They return Sophomore Jacob Eason at quarterback who was highly recruited and showed signs of top end talent during his freshman season in 2016. Running back duo Nick Chubb and Sony Michel add depth to an offense with very high scoring potential. The Bulldogs also have a favorable schedule that does not include a matchup with Alabama or LSU in the regular season.
PREDICTION: Alabama defeats Georgia in SEC Championship
2017 SEC Pivotal Matchups:
9/2 – Alabama vs. Florida State (non-conference game of the year)
10/7 – LSU @ Florida
10/14 – Auburn @ LSU
10/28 – Georgia @ Florida
11/4 – LSU @ Alabama
11/11 – Georgia @ Auburn
11/25 – Alabama @ Auburn
2017 SEC Players To Watch:
Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn, Sr.*
Jalen Hurts, QB, Alabama, So.*
Derrius Guice, RB, LSU, So.*
Bo Scarbrough, RB, Alabama, Jr.*
Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia, Sr.*
Kamryn Pettway, RB, Auburn, Jr.*
Jacob Eason, QB, Georgia, So.*
Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama, Jr.
Nick Fitzgerald, QB, Miss. State, Jr.
Damarea Crockett, RB, Missouri, So.
Austin Allen, QB, Arkansas, Sr.
Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M, Jr.
Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama, Jr.
Arden Key, LB, LSU, Sr.
Jordan Jones, LB, Kentucky, Jr.
Armani Watts, DB, Texas A&M, Sr.
*Heisman Watch List