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SEC West Preview by Nick Hebenstreit, @NickHebenstreit

Win totals and odds as of August 20, 2020. These odds are being changed pretty frequently, and

taken on and off sites due to all the unknowns of the upcoming season.*

LSU- o/u7 (-140o/+110u)

I think it’s only fair that we start with the defending national champs. For years, I heard

people say, “Man, if LSU just had a quarterback...,” and I was totally in agreement with them.

Over the last decade, LSU could not stop the tide from rolling. Top ten matchup after top ten

matchup, I watched LSU fight and claw to stay in games with Alabama, but the quarterback play

was never on par. I think the day LSU came to life under Coach Ogeron was on October 13,

2018, when #2 ranked Georgia came to the Bayou and got smacked. I remember watching that

game and thinking, “This Burrow kid is better than Fromm.” Then when LSU opened up the

season at Texas in 2019, I remember thinking, “This Burrow kid could win the Heisman.” Okay,

so this is coming from a guy who knew the caliber of athletes LSU had, knew that they just

needed a quarterback, and knew that they had one in Joe Burrow. I still did not think they were

going to walk into Bryant-Denny stadium and outscore Tua Tugavialoa and his unbelievable cast

of wide receivers, and I definitely did not think that Coach Ogeron was going to out-coach Nick

Saban. I was wrong of course, and the 2019 LSU Tigers went on to have one of the most

impressive college football seasons of all time.

Enough about last year, let’s talk about the upcoming season. LSU is only returning two

starters from its record-setting offense. Myles Brennan at least knows the system, but this is

where losing Ja’Marr Chase really hurts because now he really only has experience with

Marshall. LSU got the number one player in the country coming out of high school, and he’ll be

expected to come in and see immediate playing time at TE. Something that I think is being

overlooked is how good their offensive line was last year. It’s harder for guys to step in and gel

at offensive line compared to other positions. They return five starters on defense, including first

round talents Dereck Stingley and JaCoby Stevens. Having a limited fan capacity will also hurt

LSU, as many regard Death Valley as one of the hardest environments to play in, especially at

night. While I am a believer in Coach O, and I think he is a master motivator and probably a

top-five coach. I don’t see how LSU can even attempt to replicate the passing attack they had in

2019. The loss of OC Joe Brady also hurts themI can’t recall ever seeing an offense that was as

aggressive as LSU’s last year. We’re about to find out how much of that was Brady and how

much was Steve Esminger.

A compelling argument can really be made for LSU either way on this total. Their first

three games are Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, and Missouri. I think this could possibly give them

enough time to get things clicking with all the new pieces on offense. They play at Florida, at

Auburn, Alabama, and at A&M, but they got really lucky with the scheduling. The only games

that are back-to-back are Alabama after Auburn, and both LSU and Alabama have a bye week

before. I also imagine that the players in the locker room are getting a little tired of hearing about

how last season was basically an anomaly, and that they’re a seven-win team now without

Burrow. Now, on the other hand, I think that the players on Florida, Alabama, and A&M are

probably a little tired of hearing about the, “greatest college football team of all time” and would

love to get some revenge. Like I said, I could go either way on this one.

Alabama- o/u8 (-170o/+140u)

It appears that people are pretty bearish on Alabama headed into the 2020 season. The

consensus seems to be that Alabama is still a potential playoff team, but a tier below Clemson

and Ohio State. Alabama went undefeated in 2018 until losing to Clemson in the National

Championship game–a year where they practically blew everyone out, and Tua got snubbed out

of a heisman. They lost two games in 2019, 46-41 against LSU and 48-45 against Auburn. So

Saban loses two close games to two good teams, and we start to hear the whispers that he’s done

or that they won’t be able to win without Tua. Look, the defense was the issue for Alabama last

year. I believe they’ll be able to win games with Mac Jones at the helm. They won’t be able to

run the same spread offense as they did with Tua. So what? They didn’t run a spread when they

won a championship with Greg McElroy, AJ McCarron, or Jake Coker. The biggest positive for

this team headed into 2020 was the decision of Alex Leatherwood, Najee Harris, and Devonta

Smith to forego the draft and play their senior season. I think having those guys in the locker

room will help immensely in a season where motivation will be an especially crucial factor. With

some conferences still up in the air about playing football this fall, I can see many players just

going through the motions and focusing more on the draft. I think that as long as these seniors on

Alabama believe that they’ll be able to play against Clemson in January, they'll keep that chip on

their shoulder. As I touched on earlier, I think we could see more singleback offense sets this

season with Mac Jones under center. This team will still be able to throw the ball, and they still

have Devonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, who should both be first round picks. I think Najee

Harris is going to get a lot more touches in what could be reminiscent of the Derrick Henry or

Eddie Lacy days at Alabama. The Tide returns four out of five offensive lineman. Alex

Leatherwood is the most popular returning starter, but the interior offensive lineman deserves

more recognition. Left guard Evan Neal started all thirteen games as a true freshman and was the

number one offensive line prospect coming out of high school. He is 6’7 360lbs. At center, they

have a redshirt senior who transferred from FSU. He held up very well for the Tide last season.

Deonte Brown is at right guard, a very physical run blocker who is 6’4 340lbs. When the

Heisman odds got released, I liked Najee Harris at 40/1. He’s currently at 30/1 because some

players, who presumably won’t be playing, have been taken off that list. Quarterbacks usually

win the Heisman, and how is Trevor Lawrence going to not win at least once? I think the Harris

bet has some good value though, and is worth some dinner money. If a non-quarterback is going

to win the Heisman, this could be the year.

On defense, the tide lost some significant production out of their secondary with Xavier

McKinney, Trevon Diggs, Shyeim Carter, and Jared Mayden all turning pro. They return

defensive back Patrick Surtain II, a former five star recruit who earned honorable mention All

American honors by pro football focus last season. Surtain II had forty-two tackles last year, as

well as eight pass breakups and three forced fumbles. I think Surtain has first round potential,

and he will have to be the leader of this secondary if they want to improve from last year. Jordan

Battle will most likely play a more pivotal role in the Alabama secondary as well, as he looks to

follow up his solid freshman season where he played in all thirteen games, and started in four.

Battle was a unanimous four star prospect coming out of football powerhouse, St. Thomas

Aquinas in Florida.

Alabama is going to have a fantastic linebacking core this season. Everyone knows about

Dylan Moses returning for his senior season. Moses was one of the most coveted high school

prospects I can remember. Christian Harris and Shane Lee were both thrown into the fire as

freshman last season and responded very well. The two combined for 147 total tackles and

fourteen tackles for loss while both earning freshman All American honors. Moses is 6’3,

240lbs; Lee is 6’0, 240lbs; and Harris is 6’2, 230 lbs–these boys can absolutely bring the wood.

The defensive line was the weakest part of the defense last year, as they were unable to

generate the kind of pass rush we’re accustomed to seeing. Raekwon Davis stayed for his senior

season and played very well. He drew many double teams but did not receive much help from his

supporting cast. They’re also returning Byron Young and Labryan Ray . They have a handful of

four star freshman defensive lineman coming in who could very well improve this unit, but

there’s plenty of uncertainty there. They should be a solid unit. There’s just not that Quinnen

Williams, Jonathan Allen, or Daron Payne standout-type player. Dylan Moses will most likely

play more of an edge rush position, where he’ll be able to help the defensive line this year.

I like this team to go over their win total. In fact, I think they’ll most likely go

undefeated. Georgia is the only team I could realistically see beating them. The offensive line is

just too good, as are their other weapons on offense . I don’t know what film people have been

watching on Mac Jones because the kid can flat out play. Is he as good as Tua? Well, no, not

many are. But we’ve all seen Alabama dominate even with less-than phenomenal quarterbacks,

and Jones is nothing to scoff at. I expect him to impress this year. I also love Jaylen Waddle.

This kid made so many big plays on special teams last year, and I honestly thought he was their

second most valuable receiver behind Jeudy.

Auburn- o/u6.5 (-115o/-115u)

Auburn went 9-4 last season after playing the third hardest schedule in the country. Their

losses came at Florida, LSU, Georgia, and in the Outback Bowl against Minnesota. The offense

was led by true freshman Bo Nix, who threw for 2,500 yards and sixteen touchdowns and ran for

313 yards and seven touchdowns. Nix had four games where his completion percentage was

below fifty percent; those games were against Oregon, Florida, LSU, and Alabama. Nix also

threw all of his interceptions in three of those games. This year, we could see even better pass

production, as Auburn returns its top three pass catchers. Their leading rusher, JaTarvious

Whitlow, however, entered the transfer portal at the end of the 2019 season and is now at

Western Illinois. Apparently, Whitlow and the Auburn coaching staff did not get along. DJ

Williams will be the lead back headed into 2020. The true sophomore averaged 4.8 yards on

eighty-four carries last season. They also have junior Shaun Shivers who averaged 5.2 yards on

fifty-five carries last season. Concerning though is Auburn’s loss of four starters from their

offensive line. They did get a transfer who was rated as the #2 juco offensive lineman in the

country, who should help them reload. I don’t know if the Tigers will be able to run the ball as

effectively as they did last season, especially entering a year where continuity will presumably

play a huge role. Bo Nix may be forced to make more plays with his feet. We should get an idea

of how this line is going to hold up by week two when they face a stellar Georgia defense.

On defense, this team lost some heavy hitters to the draft in Derrick Brown and Marlon

Davidson. They also lost their two leading tacklers from last season, who played in the

secondary. They will have a solid linebacking core that includes: KJ Britt (sr.), Zackoby

McClain (jr.), and Owen Pappoe (soph.). This defense kept them in a lot of games last year, and

Derrick Brown had a large part in that. However, they do have a pretty solid stable of four star

recruits, especially along the defensive line. Auburn is one of those schools that just breeds

defensive lineman. I think Auburn will be able to reload on defense more smoothly than on


This is a talented enough roster, but Bo Nix will have to step up his game if this team is

to go above their win total, which I think he is capable of doing. They face a very tough

schedule, ranked the 7th toughest by ESPN and 11th by Phil Steele. Assuming they can beat

Kentucky, Arkansas, @South Carolina, @Ole Miss, @Miss State, and Tennessee, they will only

have to win one game between @Georgia, LSU, @Alabama, and Texas A&M to go over their

win total. I like the over, but if you want to play it safe, I think their week two game against a

Georgia team that returns almost its entire defense will be a good indicator of how Nix and the

offensive line will perform this year.

Texas A&M- o/u7 (-115o/-115u)

Jimbo Fisher went 9-4 and 8-5 in his first two seasons as head coach for the Aggies.

A&M has the sixth ranked 2020 recruiting class and the fourth ranked 2019 recruiting class.

Kellen Mond is the senior quarterback. I don’t think this season is make or break for Jimbo

Fisher quite yet. A&M is returning eight starters on offense and defense, sixteen total. Spin zone:

their offense was ranked 62nd in PPG and their defense was 38th in opponents PPG last season.

The Aggies played an absolutely brutal schedule last season, and they finished last in the SEC in

turnover margin. They had to play three teams that were ranked number one at the time,

Clemson, Alabama, and LSU. This year, they play at Alabama week two, followed by Florida

week three. They have back-to-back road games at South Carolina with South Carolina off a bye,

then at Tennessee. They finish up the season with LSU and then at Auburn.

Kellen Mond is a very talented player with a big arm, who can also run. However, Mond

is very inconsistent and tends to sail throws occasionally. I don’t put all of the blame on him

though. The offense tends to play pretty passively, to the point where it looks like they’re trying

to lose by a close margin rather than trying to win. When I watched the film, A&M’s offensive

line just didn’t appear to have the same type of guys up front against Auburn and Alabama. They

do return some really talented skill players in Isiah Spiller, Jhamon Ausbon, and Jalen

Wydermyer. Wydermyer is a 6’5 265lb TE. He made eleven starts as a freshman and hauled in

thirty-two catches and six touchdowns. Look for him to improve this year.

Defensively, they’re losing tackle Justin Madubuike, who was probably their best pass

rusher. They should still be strong up front thoughTyree Johnson and Bobby Brown were both

named to the SEC All-Freshman Team in 2018 and combined for twenty-one starts last season.

Their linebackers are Anthony Hines III and Buddy Johnson. Buddy Johnson started all thirteen

games for the Aggies last year, leading the team in tackles. They have Demani Richardson at

safety. He was third on the team in tackles and named to the SEC All-Freshman Team. They also

have Jaylon Jones coming in, the number one ranked safety in the country. He could have an

instant impact on this defense.

This win total is a tough one for me. I think they lose to Alabama week two. They’re

going to have to win two games between Florida, LSU, and Auburn to reach eight wins. With the

line at seven, I think this is a push to under. I just don’t know which Kellen Mond I’m going to

see week in and week out. Could I see them winning eight games? Yes. It’s just not something

I’d put my money on. I know he’s only been there two years and they play a brutal schedule, but

Jimbo hasn’t convinced me yet.

Mississippi State- o/u4 (+140o/-170u)

New Head Coach, Mike Leach, got rid of Moorehead after going 8-5 and 6-7. They

played the 7th toughest schedule in the country last year. Unfortunately for them, they will face

the 2nd toughest schedule in the country this year. We all know Mike Leach as this kind of

oddball coach who runs this crazy aggressive air raid offense. Some fans may be thinking that,

you know, “It’s 2020. Our offense already threw the ball a decent amount last year. This

transition won’t be bad.” Wrong. Mississippi State ran the ball on roughly 63% of its plays last

year. A Mike Leach offense throws the ball close to 80% of the time. This team is just in a really,

really bad situation coming into the season with the lack of spring practices. Making such a huge

transition is hard, especially when you are about to play the second toughest schedule in the

country. The Bulldogs start out at LSU, followed by Arkansas, at KY, and A&M. Will Leach try

to maybe ease his team into his air raid offense, or will he go out against LSU week one and

throw the ball fifty times? I know which way I’m leaning. Just to be clear, I’m not knocking

Mike Leach or his offense. He’s shown he can win games at a high level. His all-time record is

139-90, but he had slow starts at Texas Tech and Washington State. I just think the transition is

going to be especially hard this season, and we’re definitely going to see some growing pains.

K.J. Costello transferred in the spring from Stanford. Leach said he is familiar with the

high school Costello graduated from, as well as from watching him play in the same conference.

Garrett Shrader stepped up and played nicely as a true freshman last year. He’s a really gritty

guy, who can run and throw. Coach Leach said there will be open competition for the starting

job. Kylin Hill is a stud running back and a true workhorse. He averaged over 100 yards a game

last year and has not fumbled in 430 career carries. They return leading WR Osirus Mitchell.

Returning starters along the offensive line are Greg Eiland and Dareuan Parker. Eiland is 6’8,

335lbs. He moved from left tackle to right tackle last season and is a very physical run blocker.

They’re pretty young along the defensive line, and this was a unit that didn’t produce

much of a pass rush last year. Jordan Davis will probably see some playing time as a freshman.

They lost three safeties and a linebacker to the NFL, and while these aren’t guys that went in the

first or second rounds, it’s still very hard to replace guys like that. They return their leading

tackler in Erroll Thompson. He will most likely be the leader and the voice of this defense.

Overall though, this defense is really young. I know they’re reloading with talented kids, but so

is everyone in the SEC, most at a higher level than Mississippi State.

I think this team is in a similar situation as Ole Miss, but they definitely have it worse. I

mean their schedule is absolutely terrible. They’re not going to have a second to catch their

breath. I think four wins would be a really successful season for this team. I really do. I think

they could finish as bad as 2-8 or even 1-9.

Ole Miss- o/u4 (-115o/-115u)

The Rebels acquired a new Head Coach in Lane Kiffin this off-season, a hire that I really

like. I think Lane will be great on the recruiting trail, and he has SEC coaching experience. As

far as this season goes though, I’m not too high on the Rebels. According to their practice

reports, the coaches really want to open up the offense. “Fast” is the word most commonly used

to describe it. Matt Corral has been taking most of the first team reps at QB, not John Plumlee. I

like Corral over Plumlee. They were both utilized last year in the offense. Plumlee is a pretty

good runner, but I think Corral is definitely the superior passer. This team is really deep at

running back, and the offense is designed to get them the ball in space. Jerrion Ealy will receive

the bulk of the workload. He averaged 6.9 YPC and 8.6 YPR last season. He’s a really fun player

to watch. The Rebels also bring back their leading receiver in Elijiah Moore. I think it’s going to

be a challenge implementing this new offense with the limited number of spring practices. They

still haven’t really said who their starting quarterback is going to be. I think it’ll be Corral, but

Plumlee could still get a decent amount of snaps.

Defense returns 64% of its production to a unit that was pretty bad last season. Ole Miss

was one of the worst teams in the FBS against the pass. Against the run, they are boom or bust.

The Rebels’ defense gave up less than sixty-four rush yards in games that they won, as opposed

to 176 in games they lost. They return their top two leading tacklers in Lakia Henry and Jacquez

Jones. Senior linebacker and team sack leader, Sam Williams, has been suspended for conduct

detrimental to the team. This is a big blow to this defense. Quinten Bivens and Tarigious Tisdale

will have to improve if this team is to generate any kind of threatening pass rush.

This team could very well start off 0-3. They play Florida week one, then they head to

Kentucky to play a team that runs the ball very well and has lots of returning production along

the offensive line. Week three they play Alabama. I’ll give them a win against Arkansas, loss

against Auburn, and a win against Vandy. That leaves SC, A&M, Miss State, and LSU. Could I

see Lane pulling off an upset against A&M or LSU late in the season? Yes, especially

considering that A&M has Ole Miss after back-to-back road games and before they play LSU.

Maybe they get caught in a look ahead spot, a real possibility. The talent gap is still pretty wide

between Ole Miss and the top teams in the conference though. I just can’t back this team under a

new head coach in a year with limited spring practices, especially with a tough beginning to the

schedule. I like the trajectory of this team under Lane Kiffin though. I think we could see a lot of

Ole Miss overs this season.

Arkansas- o/u1.5 (+125o/-155u)

Arkansas went 2-8 last year, including a loss to San Jose State and Western Kentucky.

Also, they didn’t just lose to Western Kentucky. They got gashed by Western Kentucky.

Arkansas started five different quarterbacks last year. This year, Felipe Franks will presumably

be the starting quarterback. I think Felipe is fine, and they have Rakeem Boyd at running back,

who is an absolute stud. I think many people were puzzled when he said he was going to stay for

his senior season. Arkansas lost four starters off their offensive line, and they’re bringing in a

new coach, Sam Pittman. I know a lot of people are high on Sam Pittman, but this team has a

brand new quarterback who is playing behind a new offensive line on a team that didn’t have a

single spring practice AND hasn’t won an SEC game since 2016! I’ll talk about the defense for a

little now. They’re bad too! They gave up almost 37 points per game last season. That ranks

124th out of 130th. If I was going to try to talk someone into Arkansas, I’d say that the team quit

on the coach last year, and they're excited to play for Pittman. I think it’s too little too late

though. Oh, and not to mention that they play what some are calling the hardest schedule in

college football history next year! I think the only winnable game on their schedule is week two

at Mississippi State. I think most people are looking towards the under here, and I get pretty

tempted to against what seems like a consensus pick. Not on this one though–I’ll take the under.

You can follow Nick on Twitter @NickHebenstreit

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