SEC

The two best teams in the SEC might be the two best in the country — again

Alabama wide receiver Devonta Smith catches the game-winning touchdown pass past Georgia defensive back Malkom Parrish for a 26-23 victory during overtime of the College Football Playoff National Championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Monday, Jan. 8, 2018 in Atlant, Ga.
Alabama wide receiver Devonta Smith catches the game-winning touchdown pass past Georgia defensive back Malkom Parrish for a 26-23 victory during overtime of the College Football Playoff National Championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Monday, Jan. 8, 2018 in Atlant, Ga. TNS

Expect more of the same old stuff from the Southeastern Conference.

Alabama, which has won the SEC 26 times, was selected by 193 of the 284 voters at last month’s SEC media days to beat Georgia, last year’s SEC champion, in a rematch of last year’s national championship game.

Only six times since 1992 has the predicted champion at SEC Media Days proceeded to win the SEC championship.

Alabama had an SEC-leading seven first-team picks on the media’s preseason all-SEC team.

Here’s a team-by-team look at the SEC in the media’s predicted order of finish:

EAST DIVISION

1. GEORGIA BULLDOGS

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Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm throws during the first half of the NCAA college football playoff championship game against Alabama Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman) David Goldman AP

Coach: Kirby Smart (3rd season, 21-7)

Players to watch: DB Deandre Baker, DB J.R. Reed, DL Jonathan Ledbetter, LB D’Andre Walker, K Rodrigo Blankenship, WR Mecole Hardman, RB D’Andre Swift, WR Terry Godwin, TE Isaac Nauta, OL Andrew Thomas, C Lamont Gaillard, QB Jake Fromm, WR Riley Ridley

Key games: at South Carolina (Sept. 8), at Missouri (Sept. 22), at LSU (Oct. 13), vs. Florida (Oct. 27), vs. Auburn (Nov. 10)

Overview: Eight starters are back on offense and five on defense for the nation’s runner-up, which had six players taken in April’s draft including three first round picks. This season, Baker, a 5-11, 185-pound standout out of Miami Northwestern High, is Georgia’s only top 100 draft prospect according to CBS. He is rated the top cornerback prospect in the country.

University of Georgia Bulldogs football head coach Kirby Smart said that his team always plays to the same standard, regardless of who the Dawgs are playing. UGA opens against the Austin Peay Governors Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018.

2. SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS

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South Carolina wide receiver Bryan Edwards (89) pulls in a 21-yard touchdown reception in front of Michigan defensive back Brandon Watson (28) during the second half of the Outback Bowl NCAA college football game Monday, Jan. 1, 2018, in Tampa, Fla. South Carolina won the game 26-19. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara) Chris O'Meara AP

Coach: Will Muschamp (7th season, 43-32)

Players to watch: WR Deebo Samuel, OL Zack Bailey, P Joseph Charlton, WR Bryan Edwards, QB Jake Bentley.

Key games: vs. Georgia (Sept. 8), vs. Missouri (Oct. 6), vs. Texas A&M (Oct. 13), at Florida (Nov. 10), at Clemson (Nov. 24)

Overview: After having only one player taken in last year’s draft (tight end and Ravens first round pick Hayden Hurst), the Gamecocks have a pair of top prospects in Samuel (6-2, 210) and Edwards (6-3, 216), who are rated the fourth and seventh-best receivers in the country respectively according to CBS (43rd and 57th overall). New offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon has eight returning starters to implement his new up-tempo system. Six starters return on defense.

3. FLORIDA GATORS

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Florida running back Jordan Scarlett (25) is brought down as he carries the ball against Vanderbilt in the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. Florida won 13-6. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) Mark Humphrey AP

Coach: Dan Mullen (10th season, 69-46)

Players to watch: DE Cece Jefferson, OT Martez Ivey, RB Jordan Scarlett, DB Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, CB CJ Henderson, LB David Reese, DB Marco Wilson, AP Kadarius Toney

Key games: at Mississippi State (Sept. 29), vs. LSU (Oct. 6), vs. Georgia (Oct. 27), vs. South Carolina (Nov. 10), at Florida State (Nov. 24)

Overview: Florida endured its second four-win season since 2013 and then had five players taken in April’s NFL Draft. Mullen, who won national titles in 2006 and 2008 as offensive coordinator at Florida and then went 69-46 as the head coach at Mississippi State before replacing Jim McElwain in November, has nine starters back on each side of the ball. Jefferson (6-1, 242) is Florida’s only top 100 NFL prospect according to CBS (98th overall).

4. MISSOURI TIGERS

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FILE - In this Nov. 4, 2017, file photo, Missouri quarterback Drew Lock looks for an open receiver between Florida defenders during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Columbia, Mo. Missouri (4-5, 1-4) is building off of a 45-16 trouncing of Florida last weekend. Lock threw for 228 yards, three touchdowns and an interception on 15-for-20 passing in the win, and the Tigers rushed for 227 yards. Missouri plays Tennessee this week. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson, File) L.G. Patterson AP

Coach: Barry Odom (3rd season, 11-14)

Players to watch: QB Drew Lock, TE Albert Okwuegbunam, DT Terry Beckner, P Corey Fatony, K Tucker McCann, WR Emanuel Hall, RT Paul Adams, RB Damarea Lockett, DT Jordan Elliott, CB DeMarkus Acy

Key games: at Purdue (Sept. 15), vs. Georgia (Sept. 22), at South Carolina (Oct. 6), at Alabama (Oct. 13), at Florida (Nov. 3)

Overview: The Tigers bring back eight starters on offense including Lock (6-4, 225), who was tabbed the second-best quarterback prospect in the country according to CBS Sports (17th overall). Seven starters return on defense led by the 6-4, 305-pound Beckner, who is likely to be the eighth defensive lineman drafted out of Missouri in the last seven years. The special teams unit is one of the best in the country. McCann was 15 of 17 on field goals last season and Fatony was named to the SEC preseason first team.

5. KENTUCKY WILDCATS

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Kentucky linebacker Josh Allen reminds is a true difference maker, Louisville interim head coach Lorenzo Ward said. “I was blessed to coach Jadeveon Clowney and you had to know where he was on offense or he would destroy your game plan, so you’ve definitely got to know where Josh Allen is.” Sean Rayford AP

Coach: Mark Stoops (6th season, 26-36)

Players to watch: LB Josh Allen, RB Benny Snell Jr., TE C.J. Conrad, S Mike Edwards, DE Josh Paschal, NG Quinton Bohanna, LB Jordan Jones

Key games: at Florida (Sept. 8), vs. South Carolina (Sept. 29), at Texas A&M (Oct. 6), vs. Georgia (Nov. 3), at Louisville (Nov. 24)

Overview: The Wildcats didn’t have a player chosen in last year’s draft, but have a top 100 prospect in Allen (6-5, 252), who was tabbed the third-best outside linebacker prospect by CBS (44th overall). Eight starters return on defense and seven on offense, but Kentucky does not have a quarterback on the roster who has taken a D-1 snap. Snell (5-11, 213) became the first rusher in Kentucky history to have back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and has four starters back on the offensive line to open holes for him.

6. TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS

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Tennessee quarterback Keller Chryst (19) runs on the field during the first NCAA college football practice of the season in Knoxville, Tenn., Friday, Aug. 3, 2018. (Caitie McMekin/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP) Caitie McMekin AP

Coach: Jeremy Pruitt (1st season)

Players to watch: OL Trey Smith, LB Darrin Kirkland Jr., QB Keller Chryst, WR Jauan Jennings, WR Marquez Callaway, DB Nigel Warrior

Key games: vs. West Virginia (Sept. 1), vs. Florida (Sept. 22), at Georgia (Sept. 29), at Auburn (Oct. 13), vs. Alabama (Oct. 20), at South Carolina (Oct. 27)

Overview: Pruitt, who won national titles as defensive coordinator at Florida State (2013) and Alabama (2017), takes over a program that went 4-8 last season and brings back five starters on offense and six on defense. The Vols had three players taken in last year’s draft, but don’t have any players ranked among CBS’ top 100 prospects. Chryst (6-5, 234) was 11-2 as a starter in Stanford’s Pro Style offense each of the last two seasons and is the favorite to start.

7. VANDERBILT COMMODORES

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In this Aug. 15, 2018, photo, Vanderbilt senior quarterback Kyle Shurmur runs a drill during an NCAA college football practice in Nashville, Tenn. The Commodores are hoping to improve on last season’s 5-7 record that began with a three-game win streak but was dimmed by a five-game skid that included a 59-0 loss to eventual national champ Alabama. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) Mark Humphrey AP

Coach: Derek Mason (5th season, 18-31)

Players to watch: QB Kyle Shurmur, RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn, WR Alex Stump, WR Kalija Lipscomp, TE Jared Pinkney, LB Charles Wright, CB Joejuan Williams

Key games: vs. (Sept. xx)

Overview: Six starters return on offense and four on defense for Vanderbilt, which has now had four consecutive losing seasons since James Franklin left for Penn State following a 9-4 campaign in 2013. Shurmur (6-4, 227) threw 26 touchdown passes in 2017, but has few experienced playmakers returning. Former Stanford assistant Jason Tarver takes over as defensive coordinator and must improve a unit that allowed an SEC record 43.3 points per game last season.

WEST

1. ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE

APTOPIX Playoff Championship Georgia Alabama Football.JPG
Alabama players celebrate after overtime of the NCAA college football playoff championship game against Georgia Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, in Atlanta. Alabama won 26-23. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) John Bazemore AP

Coach: Nick Saban, (23rd season, 223-62-1)

Players to watch: DT Raekwon Davis, OT Jonah Williams, RB Damien Harris, OLB Anfernee Jennings, C Ross Pierschbacher, OL Lester Cotton, WR Jerry Jeudy, OL Matt Womack, LB Mack Wilson, DB Deionte Thompson, DL Isaiah Buggs, LB Dylan Moses, RS Trevon Diggs

Key games: vs. Louisville (Sept. 1), vs. Texas A&M (Sept. 22), at LSU (Nov. 3), vs. Mississippi State (Nov. 10), vs. Auburn (No. 24)

Overview: Coming off its fifth national title in nine seasons, Alabama has questions with an unsettled quarterback situation, major losses on defense (only 3 starters return) and changes at both coordinator positions. But the Tide, who had nine players taken in April’s draft including four first round picks, are still uber-talented and the favorite to win the national title. Five players are ranked among CBS’ top 100 prospects and four are in the top 30: Davis (13th), Williams (16th), Harris (25th) and Jennings (29th).

2. AUBURN TIGERS

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Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham (8) scores a touchdown as Alabama defensive back Levi Wallace (39) defends during the second half of the Iron Bowl NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 25, 2017, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill) Butch Dill AP

Coach: Gus Malzahn (7th season, 54-25)

Players to watch: QB Jarrett Stidham, WR Ryan Davis, OL Marquel Harrell, OT Prince Tega Wanogho, DL Derrick Brown, LB Deshaun Davis, DB Jamel Dean, DL Dontavius Russell, DL Marlon Davidson, DB Javaris Davis

Key games: vs. Washington (Sept. 1), vs. LSU (Sept. 15), at Mississippi State (Oct. 6), at Georgia (Nov. 10), at Alabama (Nov. 24)

Overview: Four players from last season’s 10-4 team, which won the SEC West and beat national championship finalists Georgia and Alabama in the regular season, were drafted in April. Five starters return on offense led by Stidham (6-3, 214), who is rated the Tigers’ top draft prospect, ranked 48th overall and fourth among quarterbacks by CBS. Wanogho (6-7, 301) was rated the eighth-best offesive tackle, 64th overall by CBS. Seven starters return on defense led by one of the more dominant defensive fronts in the country.

Led by quarterback Jarrett Stidham, the Auburn Tigers get ready for the 2018 season, in hopes of building off of their 10-4 season last year.

3. MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS

Mississippi St Preview Football.JPG
In this Aug. 10, 2018, photo, Mississippi State defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons, right practices a blocking drill with fellow lineman Lee Autry, left as they prepare for the upcoming 2018 NCAA college football season in Starkville, Miss.The Bulldogs are betting on the leadership of returning starters like Simmons to help lead the team under first-year coach Joe Moorhead. (AP Photo/Jim Lytle) Jim Lytle AP

Coach: Joe Moorhead (1st season)

Players to watch: DL Montez Sweat, DL Jeffery Simmons, QB Nick Fitzgerald, RB Aeris Williams, DB Mark McLaurin, WR Stephen Guidry, S Mark McLaurin, S Johnathan Abram, LB Willie Gay

Key games: at Kansas State (Sept. 8), vs. Florida (Sept. 29), vs. Auburn (Oct. 6), at LSU (Oct. 20), at Alabama (Nov. 10)

Overview: The Bulldogs bring back eight starters on offense and seven on defense and have two highly-touted standouts in Sweat (6-6, 241), who is rated the second-best outside linebacker prospect by CBS, and Simmons (6-4, 300), who was rated the sixth-best defensive tackle prospect. Fitzgerald (6-5, 230) was tabbed the 10th best quarterback, 92nd overall by CBS. Moorhead, the offensive coordinator at Penn State, will open the offense up for Fitzgerald to attack more downfield.

4. TEXAS A&M AGGIES

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Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher holds his SEC Media Days press conference at the College Football Hall of Fame on Monday, July 16, 2018 in Atlanta, Ga. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS) Curtis Compton TNS

Coach: Jimbo Fisher (9th season, 83-23)

Players to watch: RB Trayveon Williams, C Erik McCoy, DL Kinsley Keke, DL Landis Durham, K Daniel LaCamera, WR Jhamon Ausbon, WR Camron Buckley, LB Tyrel Dodson, S Derrick Tucker

Key games: vs. Clemson (Sept. 8), at Alabama (Sept. 22), at South Carolina (Oct. 13), at Mississippi State (Oct. 27), at Auburn (Nov. 3), vs. LSU (Nov. 24)

Overview: Fisher left Florida State for a 10-year, $75 million deal in College Station where the expectation is to eventually win a national title. Seven starters return on offense and eight on defense. The Aggies had three players taken in April’s draft, but have no players listed among CBS’ top 100 prospects. Fisher hired Mike Elko from Notre Dame to be his new defensive coordinator and he has talent to work with.

5. LSU TIGERS

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FILE - In this Nov. 4, 2017, file photo, Alabama running back Bo Scarbrough is tackled by LSU linebacker Devin White (40) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. White was selected to the AP Preseason All-America team, Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File) Brynn Anderson AP

Coach: Ed Orgeron (7th season, 31-33)

Players to watch: LB Devin White, DB Greedy Williams, OL Garrett Brumfield, DL Rashard Lawrence, P Zach Von Rosenberg, RB Nick Brossette, RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire, QB Joe Burrow

Key games: vs. Miami (Sept. 2), at Auburn (Sept. 15), at Florida (Oct. 6), vs. Georgia (Oct. 13), vs. Mississippi State (Oct. 20), vs. Alabama (Nov. 3)

Overview: The Tigers, who had four players taken between the second and third round of last year’s draft, have a pair of first round prospects in Williams (6-2, 182) and White (6-1, 260), who are rated eighth and 24th overall regardless of position by CBS Sports. But there’s only five returning starters on each side of the ball and new offensive corodinator in Steve Ensminger. For the first time since 1974, LSU doesn’t return a running back who rushed for a touchdown in the previous season.

The LSU Tigers are ready to build off their 9-4 record from last year, and Ed Orgeron is encouraged by his team's progress in the offseason.

6. MISSISSIPPI REBELS

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Mississippi wide receiver A.J. Brown (1) dives into the end zone to score a touchdown past Louisiana-Lafayette defensive back Corey Turner (6) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Oxford, Miss., Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017. (AP Photo/Thomas Graning) Thomas Graning AP

Coach: Matt Luke (2nd season, 6-6)

Players to watch: WR A.J. Brown, OL Greg Little, OL Javon Patterson, WR DK Metcalf, TE Dawson Knox, QB Jordan Ta’amu, RB D’Vaughn Pennamon

Key games: vs. Texas Tech (Sept. 1), vs. Alabama (Sept. 15), at LSU (Sept. 29), vs. Auburn (Oct. 20), vs. South Carolina (Nov. 3), at Texas A&M (Nov. 10)

Overview: The Rebels had four players taken in last April’s draft and have a pair of top 35 prospects in Brown (6-1, 225), who is rated the top receiver prospect in the country by CBS (sixth overall), and Little (6-6, 325), who is the fourth-best offensive tackle prospect (35th overall). Eight starters anre back on offense and seven on defense. Barring a reprieve, Ole Miss will be banned from a bowl game for the second consecutive season for previous NCAA infractions.

7. ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS

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Arkansas running back Devwah Whaley pushes past Costal Carolina defender Eric Church, right, to score a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods) Michael Woods AP

Coach: Chad Morris (4th season, 14-23)

Players to watch: OL Hjalte Froholdt, LB De’Jon Harris, DB Santos Ramirez, RB Devwah Whaley, RB Chase Hayden, DE Randy Ramsey

Key games: vs. at Colorado State (Sept. 8), at Auburn (Sept. 22), vs. Texas A&M (Sept. 29), vs. Alabama (Oct. 6), at Missouri (Nov. 24)

Overview: Eight starters are back on offense and seven on defense for new coach Chad Morris, who was the head coach at SMU and the offensive coordinator at Clemson before that. The Razorbacks were 4-8 last season and has had the worst defense in the SEC in terms of yards per play allowed for three straight seasons. Veteran coordinator John Chavis, now at his fourth SEC stop, is implementing a 4-3 scheme.

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