By Brad Bradford
Editor’s note: As of press time, the Southeastern Conference had not made a decision regarding the 2020 fall schedule.
To say that 2020 has been in turmoil is sort of like telling Notre Dame quarterback Steve Beuerlein that Cornelius Bennet can knock you into next week. The coronavirus pandemic stopped the football world from turning. No spring training; no off-season workouts; no media days.
So, everything related to college football is based on two factors: 1. That we have football in some form this fall. 2. Predictions and assessments are based on what we know from last year’s teams. Without spring training, depth charts can be hit or miss.
Tide fans puff out their chests every year when the recruiting rankings come out. Bama is always in the top 3; often number 1. Nick Saban had BY FAR, his greatest recruiting news earlier this year. It had nothing to do with fuzzy-faced high schoolers. It was the fact that six starters, who were eligible for the NFL draft, decided to come back for their 4th year. This was not big; it was HUGE.
On offense, running back Najee Harris, ultra-productive wide receiver DeVonta Smith and first round lock at left tackle, Alex Leatherwood.
From the injury-plagued defense, All-American linebacker Dylan Moses, 6th year linebacker Josh McMillon and defensive end LaBryan Ray. The big question mark for the Tide is how QB Mac Jones is going to lead the offense, since record-setter Tua Tagovailoa is now with the Miami Dolphins. Mac Jones had the third highest passing efficiency rating in the SEC last year. Number 1 was Tua and number 2 was Joe Burrow.
Strengths: Running back, offensive lineman, linebackers. Concerns: Secondary and kickers.
Schedule analysis: Georgia will be breaking in a transfer quarterback from Wake Forest and has to come to Tuscaloosa in the 3rd week. Defending champ LSU lost everyone on the team but the water boy. Auburn comes to Bryant-Denny after playing a physical LSU team the previous week.
Prediction: 12-0, SEC champion, football playoffs.
Freshman quarterback Bo Nix proved that he was a winner last year. He will only get better. The big question has to do with Gus Malzahn and the offense. Gus hired ex- Arkansas coach Chad Morris to run the offense. Will Gus turn the keys over to Morris? Will he continue to have his finger in the offensive pie? Will he pull the string and take over if the offense is struggling?
Last year, defensive lineman Derrick Brown decided to come back for his 4th year. He made all the difference and ended up as the SEC defensive player of the year and 7th overall pick in the draft. As long as the Tigers have Coach Kevin Steele running the defense, their defense will keep them in all games.
The big question mark for Auburn is going to be the offensive line. They lost four of five starters. How long will it take new O-Line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. to mold them into a cohesive unit? Missing spring training and the off-season really affects these players as much as any position.
Auburn returns all four linebackers from last year, led by All SEC K.J. Britt. Their go-to weapons on offense are wide receivers Seth Williams and speedster Anthony Schwartz.
Strengths: Quarterback, linebacker, kicker. Concerns: offensive line and secondary.
Prediction: 9-3 with losses to Georgia, LSU and Alabama.
1. Alabama 2. LSU 3. Auburn 4. Texas A&M 5. Ole Miss 6. Mississippi State 7. Arkansas. Alabama gets its 2 toughest, Georgia and Auburn, at home. LSU has depth from last year but lost way too many, 15, to the NFL and both coordinators. Auburn has its two toughest on the road against Georgia and Bama. Malzahn has never defeated either one on the road. Playing LSU the week before the Iron Bowl will be a challenge.
1. Florida 2. Georgia 3. Tennessee 4. Kentucky 5. South Carolina 6. Missouri 7. Vandy. The Georgia-Florida game will determine the champions of the East. Florida gets a rebuilding LSU at home as their crossover game. Georgia has to go to Alabama. The Bulldogs have very little margin for error. Jeremy Pruitt has Tennessee headed in the right direction. Their annual crossover game with Alabama will be tough as well as an early road game to Oklahoma. Wait until next year.
Three teams are locks: Ohio State, Alabama and Clemson. The remaining slot will come from Georgia, Oklahoma, Florida, Penn State and Oregon.
Bama defeats Ohio State, 35-24.
Brad Bradford is former football staff member at Alabama and Louisville. His wife, Susan Moseley Swink Bradford, is a former Auburn cheerleader. His daily blog about Southern Life can be found at hairinabiscuit.com.