Well it is time for my prediction of the SEC West teams for 2018 and how they will finish the regular season. There are three new coaches in the West this year. Jimbo Fisher @ A&M, Chad Morris @ Arkansas and of course the BEST football coach Miss. State has ever hired, Joe Moorhead. I can’t see anyone actually losing their gig after the season but I can see one left sitting on the proverbial “hot seat”. It is impossible to foresee injuries that may come to teams but you can imagine dissension that may begin to infect those who struggle.
No matter what the season may bring in the way of surprises or disappointments (and both will come) it is the team that adjusts the best that will ultimately rise above the others in the SEC West, which is honestly still the strongest division in the strongest conference in NCAA Division I. Get ready for a wild ride in 2018!
7th Place: Arkansas 5 – 7 (1 – 7)
Chad Morris brings lot of energy and a completely new style of football to Fayetteville. The problem is that Bret Bielema believed in the old Big Ten (12 or 14 or whatever it is) style of 3 yards and a cloud of dust. Now I do believe that any team that wins championships must have a functioning running game mix in the proximity of 50/ 50. The shelves are pretty bare for Coach Morris though. It will take time to find, bring in and educate the players he needs. This year will be a struggle without a doubt.
There is some talent at the receiver and OL position. Problem is there is no experience at quarterback. A junior and a sophomore return and will have to try to just manage the ball. The defense gave up over 7 yards per play last year and 434 points, WOW!
Morris will try to slow the game down by going to a huddle on offense, running the clock more when they have possessions thus hopefully reducing the time the defense is on the field. The Razorbacks MUST win their first three non-conference games then they get Tulsa (2 – 10 in 2017) and Vanderbilt at home mid season. 2019 is the Year of the Hog in the Chinese calendar but that is not this year. Getting to 5 wins will be a good year for the Piglets. This season Morris needs to steer clear of anyone craving BBQ Pig.
6th Place: LSU 4 – 8 (1 – 7)
Orgeron is getting into that same form he had at TSUN a few years back when it all finally caved in on him. Now don’t get me wrong, I like Orgeron but he isn’t a head coach (in my personal view). A coordinator yeah but not a head coach. A coach can only give so many rah rah speeches with a gruff and deep growly voice. He needs abundant talent that hopefully he wouldn’t mess up but LSU hasn’t had a decent QB since JaMarcus Russell in 2006. Truthfully there hasn’t been a really good QB @ LSU in 30 years. Well, there still isn’t.
LSU had the 8th ranked recruiting class in 2017 (Rivals.com) but Orgeron’s Bayou Boys open the season with no proven QB, no RB who has EVER scored a touchdown in college and no proven receivers and another new OC. Get the message yet people? Last year the Tigerettes scored more than the offense (27 pts./gm).
The defense returns talent at linebacker and in the defensive backfield but they won’t score enough points to carry the offense. A Hurricane will flatten the Tigers right out of the gate. Then road trips to Auburn and Florida will most likely have emergency personnel on stand by before the trifecta of Georgia, Miss. St. and Alabama empty Tiger Stadium in succession leaving Orgeron’s bayou cubs wondering “What hap’N coach?”. Question is, will “Big Baby O” still be around to rally the meows for Pork (Arkansas) and Rice… gumbo at the end of the year? Perhaps Orgeron should talk to Saban before he leaves Baton Rouge to see if he might have a stool for another ex-coach for 2019.
5th Place: TSUN 6 – 6 (3 – 5)
Now of course you all know I AM NOT a fan of the Black Bears but give Matt Luke credit. He has held the Oxfart crew together somewhat and does recruit better than several others in the SEC, at least for now. With A. J. Brown catching them and Ta’amu chunking them mixed with running back by committee the Blue and Gray should score points easily in most games. The problem lies on the other side. On defense the Webels couldn’t catch a Snipe with a net across the field because the gapping holes are still in the net again this year.
If Luke can get his Cubs ready for an opening game at Texas Tech and leave Lubbock with a warm fuzzy feeling then they could get on a roll through the top half of the season except for a major concussion when them dang Pachyderms raid Oxford. Luke knows he has to roll the dice every game early because the back half of the season will have his Bears ready to hit their den and hibernate until the hurt goes away.
4th Place: Texas A&M 7 – 5 (4 – 4)
Jimbo has already secured his future with the huge oil money thrown at him. Fisher quickly secured funds to enlist Mike Elko (Notre Dame) to shore up the defensive side of the ball. For what big oil is throwing at what was a dumpster fire under Kevin Sumlin there will not be a long grace period but the financial commitment made to Jimbo will mean the hounds will watch this year before doing any howling.
The Aggies will have snaps shared to a point between Nick Starkel and Kellen Mond both sophomores. Neither one has a “golden arm” so this band of Collies will rely on churning out yards on the ground for now. Christian Kirk has graduated and there is no heir apparent star in the receiving corps.
The defense did improve last year but that is not saying much when compared to what it came from. Seven starters return for Mike Elko to work with but he must find new pieces to his defensive jig-saw quickly with Clemson arriving on the week two train and a deadly outing to Tuscaloosa in week four that will test the physicality and composure of Aggie Land. After three straight sojourns to South Carolina, Stark-Vegas and the Auburn plains trap games await with TSUN and UAB. Bill Clark at UAB will always have the Blazers ready to battle. Fisher and his tail-wagers may have the opportunity to pitch a going away party for Orgeron in the final week when TSUN (Ole Miss) wonders into College Station from the woods.
The next three could easily fit in any order depending on development pace, injuries and yes even a little luck. Every championship team must have a little of the favorable kind of luck as the season plays out.
I have a lot of friends across the country that read what I write here and other places including good friends around me where I live and teach a few miles from Auburn. Now I know they’re not going to agree with what I do in these final three spots but there are a few sayings I live by. First, opinions are like names, everybody has one. Second, You have to BELIEVE in something before it is going to happen. Third, IF you do believe in something then stand up for it until someone shows you that you were mistaken to some degree. Then accept the proof and move on. Fourth, RARELY does anything work out as we imagined but dreams sure are nice. So here I go predicting the way I think in my heart the way the last cookies will crumble.
3rd Place: Auburn 9 – 3 (5 – 3)
Old Gus decided to keep hanging with the “Village People” when $49 million was waved at his face. Christy made sure he understood that many clams would buy them a lot of western omelets and pancakes at the Waffle House. In fact rumor has it that Gus has a camper set up behind that establishment so he can catch some z’s after a fill-up.
Jarrett Stidham is primed for another run at a demanding schedule. Stidham is a talented driver for the Gus bus but if the OL cannot find new faces quickly to drive wedges for the run game and protect Golden Boy when he drops back to throw then he may feel like he’s in a Chinese fire drill. There isn’t anything of value after Stidham if he should go down.
Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway have moved on and no one is taken the position over yet. The pass catchers have been decimated with graduation and injuries in the spring that has left Stidham unsure who will catch it if he throws it and he’s not fast enough to do like we did in our childhood, throw it up and go catch it ourselves.
The defensive line is as good as any other in the SEC but the secondary is suspect with talented but inexperienced personnel including several freshmen. One group of northern Huskies will seek to exploit them early on and the next time Malzahn will have to take his kitty-cats into the middle of a pack of focused and hungry Dawgs that will leave them shaved bald and running for the safety of the closest trees.
When Gus gets the bus back home after two trips into purgatory at the end of the season he will hear the yack-yack but counting his greenbacks every night with his wife Christy will block it all out as they sit in their booth at Waffle House.
2nd Place: Alabama 11 – 1 (7 -1)
Yeah I know your probably saying Dawg, you are plum crazy dude and I can understand that. Maybe I am, teaching and predicting takes a toll! Yes I would probably agree with many now that Nick Saban may be the overall best college coach that I have seen in my lifetime. He runs things the right way (I believe) and gets things done year after year. Am I saying that he is losing his touch? No not at all.
Saban has an uncanny way of working his magic. Auburn caught Alabama down on the plains last year and broke their streak of SEC West Championships. Is it possible Saban could be knocked out of the West title again this year? Three years in a row now Saban has had to replace both coordinators. Alabama has sent numerous players to the KFL (Kneeling Football League) over the last two years especially. Is this the year it catches up to the performance level of the Tide?
Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa are in an awkward competition for the QB job. Both are dangerous but if the competition goes down the wrong path it could be divisive for the offense. Offense should carry this year’s version of the Crimson Tide. The OL is pretty solid and there are several backs that have experience led by Najee and Damien Harris. The receiving corps is not as strong as recent years but does have talent. The QB situation has to be sorted out on the field if the Tide is to ROLL.
Defensively, Saban only returns two starters. There is talent but players are inexperienced in the SEC wars. Confidence and communication will have to be built on both sides but especially on the defensive side. There are no take-charge players left on defense. Finding those leaders will be of the utmost concern for a young band of Elephants.
There are no serious challenges to Big Al’s dominance until November rolls around so perhaps the Pachyderms have a chance to toughen their skin before a trip to Baton Rouge and home visits from Miss. St. and Auburn. Saban may be spewing fire and chewing up reporters right and left by the time Thanksgiving week is over. Sooner or later change always comes to everything.
1st Place: Miss. State 12 – 0 (8 – 0)
There will be some speculations as to whether or not I have lost my mind or if too many hard licks on the head have cost me the ability to reason. Old T-Dawg will get scorned, ragged, put down, jeered, mocked and needled because everyone knows that the maroon belong in the cellar right?
If I have to eat my prediction then so be it but when you have a belief in something you have to stand up and proclaim it. Your never beaten until you quit. There is something in the air in Stark-Vegas now that has never been there before. Joe Moorhead has infected the DAWG Nation with his personality and expectations. Many believe Moor-Bell is coming and an upgrade has been put in place to what was.
Fitzgerald has to stay healthy. If he does, a tremendous coaching staff with deep KFL experience is equipping a deeply experienced, talented group of Dawgs to make a run of a lifetime. The backfield is deep with senior Aeris Williams (1000 yards + in 2017) leading the way and explosive sophomore Kylin Hill jerking at his leash to show his rocket power and speed. The OL is deep and arguably the best in the SEC.
Fitzgerald will be using his legs and arm to set SEC records for rushing and passing as he sets very close to breaking nearly all the records of the Dawg legend Dak Prescott. Many records will fall before mid-season. Receivers Devonta Jason, Malik Heath, Austin Williams, Malik Dear and the #1 JC receiver in the nation Stephen Guidry should put extreme pressure on secondaries. TEs Farrod Green and Justin Johnson have the experience and size that Moorhead will use to punish defenses both running and passing. The offense averaged 32 pts./game in 2017 and that should be accelerated this year.
On defense, my goodness, nearly everyone is back and this unit allowed 20 points a game last year. That should be reduced this year. Many have this defensive squad as the top defense in the SEC. I’m not going to list all the names back on defense to cause havoc on Saturdays but watching them attack like a pack of starving, rabid DAWGS should be extremely entertaining. Take care of the early games and Moorhead should take the DAWGS to Tuscaloosa 9 – 0 to play an epic game with Saban’s red tide. I BELIEVE! Do you?
The final piece of evidence for Cowbells to reign in the West is that this year on the Chinese calendar is ….”The Year of the DAWG!” OH YEAH!
The SEC Championship may very well come down to a Dawg on Dog-fight rematch of last year but a very different result. Let’s get there first though.
So there you have it sports fans. Like it, love it, rip it or despise it, you can agree, disagree or partially disagree but it doesn’t matter. This is my prediction for what should be one of the most exciting seasons in years. Many questions wait to be answered and that process begins in 3 weeks now!
No Salty Dawg, I’m not taking Kentucky this year. Last year, I think my fortune teller had a faulty crystal ball. This year? It’s a perfect world at least for now.
I hope to see many of you at the season opener and then when we skin some gators. Let me hear from you and we’ll share some food and stories. Personally I can’t wait to get this season going. It is time to let the DAWGS OUT!
Last I have to say this: As we see time after time lately coaches and schools failing kids with their unbelievable actions I hope that we as alumni and fans from whatever school realize this is a game. It should be a game that is about the kids not dollars. Yes we all want to win it all but there are life lessons to be taught to athletes no matter what sport they compete in as well as the youngsters who idolize many male and female athletes. Using our athletes or abusing them must stop. I take pride in our coaches at Mississippi State, our AD and president Mark Keenum that they do not put winning above running a class program. I like to think all the SEC schools are doing the same. If emotional and physical abuse of young people is accepted in the name of winning then I have no stomach for it, no desire to be a supporter of any such program. People come first!
It’s good to be a DAWG!