Bittersweet day! Today, with the publishing of the SEC East preview, the Rotoworld CFB team’s summer college football preview series is officially complete. But boy oh boy – that means that college football is mere days away! And that means that tomorrow (Thursday) I’ll be publishing my first ATS column of the 2019 season covering Saturday’s games between Florida-Miami and Arizona-Hawaii.
The CFF fantasy projections for the SEC below are courtesy of my colleague Hayden Winks. Check the end of this column for links to every conference preview Mark Lindquist, Chris Crawford, Connor Allen, Mr. Winks and myself wrote this summer. Each is chalk full of analysis, stat projections, projected records, over/under win total predictions, and NFL Draft prospects for every FBS team.
|Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama, JR)||3716||36||214||27|
|Kellen Mond (Texas A&M, JR)||3143||24||497||25|
|Kelly Bryant (Missouri, SR)||3193||21||482||23|
|Feleipe' Franks (Florida, JR)||2591||24||341||22|
|Joe Burrow (LSU, SR)||2911||19||374||21|
|Matt Corral (Mississippi, rFR)||3061||22||272||22|
|Tommy Stevens (Mississippi State, JR)||2559||21||350||20|
|Riley Neal (Vanderbilt, SR)||2346||20||277||20|
|Jake Fromm (Georgia, JR)||2797||27||33||18|
|Jake Bentley (South Carolina, SR)||3000||23||90||18|
|Terry Wilson (Kentucky, JR)||2031||12||459||15|
|Jarrett Guarantano (Tennessee, JR)||2372||17||43||14|
|Bo Nix (Auburn, FR)||1751||15||201||18|
|Ben Hicks (Arkansas, SR)||1892||13||53||14|
|D'Andre Swift (Georgia, JR)||1069||11||238||21|
|Kylin Hill (Mississippi State, JR)||1050||8||248||21|
|Jashaun Corbin (Texas A&M, SO)||905||8||300||19|
|Ke'Shawn Vaughn (Vanderbilt, SR)||1079||11||118||19|
|Najee Harris (Alabama, JR)||1099||11||134||19|
|Larry Rountree III (Missouri, JR)||1173||11||66||18|
|Scottie Phillips (Mississippi, SR)||973||11||173||18|
|JaTarvious Whitlow (Auburn, SO)||958||7||156||16|
|Ty Chandler (Tennessee, JR)||694||6||219||15|
|Lamical Perine (Florida, SR)||831||7||147||14|
|AJ Rose (Kentucky, JR)||823||9||74||14|
|John Emery (LSU, FR)||696||7||147||13|
|Clyde Edwards-Helaire (LSU, JR)||731||8||110||13|
|Rakeem Boyd (Arkansas, JR)||758||3||160||12|
|Tavien Feaster (South Carolina, SR)||535||8||86||11|
|Tyler Badie (Missouri, SO)||591||5||114||10|
|Jerrion Ealy (Mississippi, FR)||521||6||99||10|
|Tim Jordan (Tennessee, SR)||510||3||111||8|
|Brian Robinson Jr. (Alabama, JR)||562||4||40||8|
|Rico Dowdle (South Carolina, SR)||405||2||115||8|
|Brian Herrien (Georgia, SR)||379||4||63||8|
|Devwah Whaley (Arkansas, SR)||482||3||85||7|
|Dameon Pierce (Florida, SO)||499||3||22||7|
|Zamir White (Georgia, rFR)||471||4||18||7|
|Cordarrian Richardson (Texas A&M, SO)||423||4||23||6|
|Malik Davis (Florida, SO)||409||4||36||6|
|Kavosiey Smoke (Kentucky, rFR)||412||4||16||6|
|Kam Martin (Auburn, SR)||304||3||58||6|
|Chris Rodriguez (Kentucky, rFR)||370||3||16||6|
|Chase Hayden (Arkansas, JR)||283||1||78||5|
|Jamauri Wakefield (Vanderbilt, JR)||347||2||45||5|
|Shaun Shivers (Auburn, SO)||334||3||9||5|
|Jerry Jeudy (Alabama, JR)||61||1048||10||19|
|Kalija Lipscomb (Vanderbilt, SR)||83||867||7||18|
|Bryan Edwards (South Carolina, SR)||58||865||7||15|
|Seth Williams (Auburn, SO)||54||952||5||15|
|Henry Ruggs III (Alabama, JR)||49||765||8||15|
|Elijah Moore (Mississippi, SO)||67||732||5||14|
|Jaylen Waddle (Alabama, SO)||49||787||7||14|
|Lynn Bowden Jr. (Kentucky, JR)||63||722||4||13|
|Justin Jefferson (LSU, SR)||53||754||4||13|
|Braylon Sanders (Mississippi, JR)||48||769||5||13|
|Jhamon Ausbon (Texas A&M, JR)||53||698||5||13|
|Devonta Smith (Alabama, JR)||42||641||6||12|
|Quartney Davis (Texas A&M, JR)||47||609||5||12|
|Ja'Marr Chase (LSU, SO)||49||664||4||12|
|Anthony Schwartz (Auburn, SO)||40||588||3||14|
|Johnathon Johnson (Missouri, SR)||50||604||3||11|
|Jalen Knox (Missouri, SO)||41||615||4||11|
|Trey Knox (Arkansas, FR)||48||561||4||11|
|Marquez Callaway (Tennessee, SR)||41||608||4||10|
|Van Jefferson (Florida, SR)||38||551||5||10|
|Demetris Robertson (Georgia, JR)||39||524||5||10|
|Trevon Grimes (Florida, JR)||39||550||4||10|
|Jauan Jennings (Tennessee, SR)||41||560||3||10|
|Shi Smith (South Carolina, JR)||39||555||4||10|
|Jonathan Nance (Missouri, JR)||39||516||3||9|
|Dontario Drummond (Mississippi, JR)||38||472||4||9|
|Isaiah Zuber (Mississippi State, SR)||40||441||3||8|
|Kendrick Rogers (Texas A&M, JR)||35||435||3||8|
|C.J. Bolar (Vanderbilt, SO)||36||424||3||8|
|Miles Battle (Mississippi, rFR)||33||409||3||8|
|Osirus Mitchell (Mississippi State, JR)||32||441||3||8|
|Josh Palmer (Tennessee, JR)||28||450||2||8|
|Terrace Marshall (LSU, SO)||32||428||3||8|
|Kadarius Toney (Florida, JR)||25||263||2||7|
|Lawrence Cager (Georgia, SR)||24||405||4||7|
|OrTre Smith (South Carolina, JR)||28||397||3||7|
|Camron Buckley (Texas A&M, JR)||33||381||2||7|
|Dominick Blaylock (Georgia, FR)||27||388||3||7|
|George Pickens (Georgia, FR)||27||380||3||7|
|Deon Stewart (Arkansas, SR)||37||297||3||7|
|Michael Woods (Arkansas, SO)||31||340||3||7|
|Josh Hammond (Florida, SR)||29||341||2||7|
|Tyler Simmons (Georgia, SR)||20||314||3||7|
|Stephen Guidry (Mississippi State, SR)||19||382||2||6|
|Freddie Swain (Florida, SR)||24||322||2||6|
|Josh Ali (Kentucky, JR)||26||328||2||6|
|Deddrick Thomas (Mississippi State, SR)||23||346||2||6|
|Kam Scott (Missouri, SO)||24||322||2||6|
|Justice Shelton-Mosley (Vanderbilt, SR)||25||253||2||5|
|Josh Vann (South Carolina, SO)||24||226||3||5|
|Eli Stove (Auburn, SR)||21||273||2||5|
|Jared Pinkney (Vanderbilt, SR)||47||599||7||12|
|Albert Okwuegbunam (Missouri, JR)||42||466||5||10|
|Cheyenne O'Grady (Arkansas, SR)||38||488||4||9|
|Glenn Beal (Texas A&M, rFR)||31||320||3||7|
|Stephen Sullivan (LSU, SR)||25||378||2||6|
|Dominick Wood-Anderson (Tennessee, SR)||26||263||2||6|
|Charlie Woerner (Georgia, SR)||21||250||3||5|
|Farrod Green (Mississippi State, SR)||24||274||2||5|
|Kyle Pitts (Florida, SO)||21||241||2||5|
|Cameron Latu (Alabama, rFR)||17||225||2||4|
|Kiel Pollard (South Carolina, SR)||14||157||1||3|
|Justin Rigg (Kentucky, SR)||15||141||1||3|
1. Georgia Bulldogs
2018 record: 11-3 (7-1)
Best NFL Draft prospect: OT Andrew Thomas is my preseason OT1 in the 2020 NFL Draft. A well-built banger with easy athleticism and plenty of brute strength, Thomas’ game blends supreme flexibility and explosion with ferocious power. The consensus 2018 All-American needs to clean up his footwork and hand usage, however, in order to develop into an NFL All-Pro. He could also stand to play with more goal-oriented purpose and less bloodlust.
The case for: Georgia has one of the two best offensive lines in the nation (along with Oregon) and R1 NFL Draft prospects at QB/RB in Jake Fromm/D’Andre Swift. The receiving corps is a question mark, but Fromm’s efficiency paired with one of the nation’s best RB groups and OL units ensures that Georgia will be able to move the ball and control the clock against most defenses even if no true WR1 emerges.
The defense returns six starters and ranks No. 36 in the nation in production returning. As with the offense, the defense’s floor is very high. Georgia allowed less than 20 points per game last season and will do so again if it can improve in two areas: Against the run, and getting after the quarterback. The front seven is experienced and packed with beef (the three projected DL starters are all over 300 pounds). Georgia will likely be tougher to run on than they were last year.
Georgia needs to find a few immediate difference-makers from its collection of inexperienced, blue-chip edge rushers. If they can, a playoff run is feasible. The schedule isn’t breezy (No. 13 S&P+), but it’s manageable. The Bulldogs will likely be favored in all 12 games. They have preseason S&P+ win expectancies of at least 66% in every game except for the November 16 tilt at Auburn (51%). Outside of that, UGA hosts Notre Dame and Florida and will likely be double-digit favs in the other nine games. Georgia ducks Alabama, LSU and Mississippi State in the regular season.
The case against: The returning talent is tremendous, but the Bulldogs will have to overcome key offseason losses to get back to the playoffs. I don’t care that the other three starters are back in the secondary – no secondary improves after losing a Jim Thorpe winner (first-round CB Deandre Baker). Baker defanged a procession of WR1s the past few seasons, resulting in more stalled drives and less explosive plays against.
Georgia has a lot returning on defense, so this isn’t Mission Impossible, but the defensive strategy is going to be different this time around against the Jerry Jeudy’s and Bryan Edwards' and Kalija Lipscomb’s of the world. And with sack leader D’Andre Walker off to the NFL, the pass-rushing issue isn’t as easy to project improve in as the run defense, which could put even more pressure on the Baker-less secondary.
But the DB room isn’t what’s keeping Georgia fans up at night. That’d be the WR/TE room. The Bulldogs lost Riley Ridley, Mecole Hardman, Terry Godwin and Isaac Nauta to the NFL Draft, and then kicked leading-returning receiver Jeremiah Holloman off the team earlier this summer. I see Fromm as more of a high-end facilitator than a singular playmaker. He hits open receivers, and he can throw good ones open.
But what if Demetris Robertson no-shows again? What if Lawrence Cager is exactly what he was at Miami? What if George Pickens is too green to contribute heavily right away? Is Fromm capable of elevating a mediocre receiving corps? And what if Fromm gets injured? This team has some margin for error – but a key injury along with the cratering of the receiving corps and a regression of the secondary would light what could be a dream season aflame.
Vegas over/under win total: 11
2. Florida Gators
2018 record: 10-3 (5-3)
Best NFL Draft prospect: CB CJ Henderson (6’0/191) is frighteningly fast and very sticky in coverage. On 36 targets last year, Henderson allowed only 50% completions and less than 7.0 YPA while picking off two balls. He posted an 81.8 PFF coverage grade. He has more utility than that, though. Henderson has shown to be extremely disruptive on the blitz. His PFF pressure grade of 94.1 in 2018 was out-of-this-world, with three sacks and five TFL. The No. 34 Freak on Bruce Feldman’s list this summer, Henderson boasts a 40.5-inch vertical and 10-4 broad jump. Despite only carrying around 4.3 percent body fat, Henderson squats 545 pounds and can do 16 reps of 225 on the bench.
The case for: Dan Mullen can coach his butt off, can’t he? After years of overachieving at Mississippi State, Mullen returned to Gainesville and immediately cleaned up Jim McElwain’s mess (4-7 in 2017) en route to a 10-3 finish. The triumphant campaign concluded with methodically dominant wins over Florida State (41-14) and Michigan (41-15). The defense was stout, allowing 20.0 ppg.
With eight starters back – including mega-studs EDGE Jabari Zuniga and CB CJ Henderson – it could be even better in 2019. And one of the “new” starters is CB Marco Wilson, a standout himself who was knocked out for the season in Week 2 last year. He’s a legit NFL talent. Florida additionally poached disruptive DT Adam Shuler from West Virginia as a grad transfer. The defense is going to be awesome.
Only five starters return on offense. But over the years we’ve learned that it’s not in your best interest to doubt Mullen’s ability to manufacture a strong offense out of spare parts, castoffs, and three-star recruits. I’m supposed to project an offensive drop-off in Year 2 of his system at Florida? Please. After watching Mullen turn accuracy-allergic QBs Nick Fitzgerald and Feleipe' Franks into above-average SEC starters, I'm starting to think this guy could have reached a bowl game with Art Sitkowski behind center last year.
Franks’ accuracy issues persist, but Mullen was able to coax him up to 58.4% completions with a 24/6 TD/INT ratio one year after Franks completed 55% for a 9/8 ratio (his passing efficiency jumped in kind from 113.3 in 2017 to 143.4 last year). Just as impressive, Mullen was somehow able to turn the enormous pocket passer into a Fitzgerald-lite presence on the ground. Taking out sack yardage, Franks ran for 452 yards and seven TD on almost five yards per carry. If Franks can manage 60% completions -- I'm telling you, don't put this past Mullen -- and the rebuilt offensive line comes together, Florida is going to be wickedly efficient again on offense. If they are, this team is going to threaten double-digit wins again. The defense will see to that.
The case against: An earthquake of defections wiped out Florida’s infrastructure positions over the winter. Four starting offensive linemen – including powerhouse RT Jawaan Taylor and four-year starter Martez Ivey – are gone. Havoc-wreaking sack artist Jachai Polite is gone. Leading tackler Vosean Joseph is gone. I’m most concerned about the offensive line, as it opened the gaping holes for Franks and Lamical Perine that the offense was built upon. If Franks’ accuracy doesn’t improve, and the running game regresses a bit as the OL is overhauled, will the offense take a step backwards despite Mullen’s best efforts?
If it does, the Gators could have a difficult time reaching their Vegas win total of 9. Florida will likely be underdogs in the (vs.) Georgia and (at) LSU games, and they also might be when they host Auburn. Lose those three games, and the only chance of recouping cash for an OVER 9 ticket would be going 9-0 over the rest of the slate and getting your money back. If you’re as concerned about a limited quarterback like Franks playing behind an OL with this many question marks as I am, the schedule doesn’t provide a ton of hope that Florida will finish over that total. The bet here is UNDER or pass.
Vegas over/under win total: 9
3. Missouri Tigers
2018 record: 8-5 (4-4)
Best NFL Draft prospect: TE Albert Okwuegbunam (6'5/255) is long, thick and fluid — and hell to deal with down the seam. He’s got long arms on that 6’5 frame, and his basketball background is apparent when he goes airborne to high-point rebounds. Okwuegbunam has been a red zone killer in the SEC. In only 18 career games, he’s caught 17 TD (along with 72 catches and 881 yards).
But he’s a poor route runner. Okwuegbunam telegraphs where he’s going because athletic limitations force him to round off routes instead of snapping. Because of that, he isn’t able to create a ton of separation. And indeed he’s had several career TD catches in which he was wide-open when the ball arrived because of coverage breakdowns. Okwuegbunam a straight-line athlete in the Alizé Mack mold. He gives more effort as a blocker but will top out at average in that area.
The case for: Missouri’s schedule is a cakewalk. Missouri has an S&P+ win probability of at least 72% in each of its first eight games. Say they hold serve in all of them, okay? On November 9, the 8-0 Tigers would head into Athens to play the vaunted Georgia Bulldogs. The next week brings a coin-flip home game against Florida, and Missouri finishes the season with two games (Tennessee and Arkansas) it’ll be favored to win.
That makes 10-2 easily in play. Missouri may not even have to spring an upset to get there. I’m not the biggest Kelly Bryant fan, and I wonder how Missouri is going to rejigger its offense to compensate for the enormous drop-off in arm talent behind center. But if there is an occasion for a Kelly Bryant offense, it’s against this schedule. Bryant’s ground-centric, zone-read heavy game is a good fit with Larry Rountree III, one of the conference’s best backs. And Missouri retains a strong receiving corps and one of the best TEs in the nation in Okwuegbunam for when the defense cheats up.
If the offense skews more ground-heavy and conservative as I expect, Missouri should be able to cook up an efficient, clock-controlling, turnover-averse offense centered around Bryant, Rountree, and play-action passes to Albert O, Johnathon Johnson and Jonathan Nance. That would play right into the hands of Missouri’s defense, which should be rock solid again. It won’t look like your older brother’s Missouri Tigers, but this outfit could easily ground-and-pound its way to double-digit wins. In the regular season. (See below).
The case against: The Tigers are playing under a one-year bowl ban for self-reporting violations. Right now, the program is painting the NCAA’s draconian penalty as a motivator – without a bowl game or championship to play for, Missouri will attack the regular season even harder. But what if Kelly Bryant’s popgun arm neuters Missouri’s aerial attack and the Tigers get ambushed a few times, like in the opener against Wyoming? What if Missouri is 4-4 on November 9 heading to Georgia instead of 8-0? Would the coaching staff elect for a youth movement at that point, knowing that they aren’t going to get the extra bowl practices used in part to hasten the development of the next crop of starters?
The Tigers ranked No. 86 in S&P+ offensive explosion last fall… with Drew Lock, Damarea Crockett and Emanuel Hall. Bryant’s game is completely devoid of an explosive element, which became all the more painfully clear after Trevor Lawrence replaced him last year and Clemson’s offense immediately became high-octane (with Tee Higgins instantaneously turning into the player he was billed as after 1.5 years of pedestrian play shackled to Bryant). Without the ability to stress defenses deep, Bryant is going to notice more and more defenders sneaking up to try to clog things up for he and Rountree in the zone-read game. If Missouri’s offense starts sputtering, all bets are off, even with the breezy schedule.
Vegas over/under win total: 8