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Wrapping Up the Spring: Thoughts on LSU’s SEC Opponents

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Working through some preseason thoughts before we hit the summer.

LSU v Auburn Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Now that we finished our run through of talking spring football with LSU’s scheduled 2019 opponents, it felt like a good time to work through some of my own thoughts and observations regarding the SEC, or at least how the conference stacks up in relation to the Tigers right now:

Vanderbilt

  • Feels like the Commodores are finding their level under Derek Mason, and he might be able to keep them around .500ish and in bowl contention. But it also seems like there may be some Vandy fans that aren’t satisfied with that, crazy as that may seem.

Florida

  • You know that old saying about God not likin’ ugly? Dan Mullen might not want to talk about other teams losing players for a while, given that it now appears that the Gators are losing their top 2019 prospect Chris Steele, who has already announced that he’s going to Oregon, plus linebacker Diwun Black, quarterback Jalon Jones, and according to rumors, possibly tight end Keon Zipperer. That would represent three of the top six members of the Gators’ class — its first top-10 class since 2014.
  • Feels like its setting up for a better year/worse record situation for the Gators. The schedule beefs up a bit with Miami, plus SEC road games LSU, South Carolina, Kentucky and Mizzou. Although it does at least seem that the holes on the offensive line will have some veterans on hand to fill them, which is certainly better than depending on first- or second-year guys.
  • There’s still some solid talent back on defense, so it’ll be interesting to see if there’s the same regression under Todd Grantham that we saw from his defenses at other stops.

Mississippi State

  • I tend to really focus on the offense here because Joe Moorhead has such a reputation for it — and he earned that at Penn State, to be fair — but he committed such a foreseeable mistake in year one last year. Trying to fit your players to your system instead of the other way around is up there with the whole “Land War in Asia” thing, and Moorhead seemed to overestimate both Nick Fitzgerald’s throwing ability, and the talent level of the Bulldog receivers compared to what he had previously.
  • The good news for 2019, is there’s enough returning talent here that they should at least be able to match 2018’s production. And while the defense loses some very big names, there’s still enough back that they shouldn’t fall off a cliff there. But is a four- or five-loss season with another mediocre-to-bad offense what State fans want out of this arrangement?

Auburn

  • Auburn and firing Gus Malzahn may be the Ross and Rachel of the SEC West, but I don’t think they’re on a break quite yet. My “its a Good Gus Year()” theory currently revolves around the fact that the Other Tigers return five senior starters on the offensive line, plus a couple of experienced tailbacks in JaTarvious Whitlow, Kam Martin and Shaun Shivers. When you look at Auburn’s best teams under Malzahn, the quarterback has been much less important than those other factors — in 2013 with Tre Mason, and 2017 with Kerryon Johnson. And neither of those two backs had been particularly impressive prior to that point, either. Plus, the defense should still be one of the best in the conference.
  • That said, in our discussion with Jack from College & Mag, he did raise an interesting point about the quarterbacks: navigating the depth chart might be tough for the coaches. Joey Gatewood seems like the obvious choice as a better fit for how Malzahn typically likes to use his quarterbacks, but when it comes to five-star quarterbacks like Bo Nix, recent history tells us if they ain’t playin’ they ain’t stayin’. Of course, Nix is an Auburn legacy (his father played QB in the mid-90s), so that might factor in. Rotating quarterbacks for its own sake rarely works out the way coaches want it to.
  • Auburn feels like the wild card in this year’s West race. They seem a step behind Bama, and LSU/Texas A&M, but I think they set up well to be a better team in 2019. But the early part of that schedule isn’t fun with road games against Oregon, at A&M and Florida.

Alabama

  • The gap between the Tide and LSU may be at the smallest its been in a few years, at least with experience factored in, but there’s still a gap. Alabama shouldn’t have a problem out-talenting every team they play in the regular season. They have some rebuilding to do on the line of scrimmage, but with the talent on hand they still don’t have an excuse for that to matter really, against anybody on the schedule.

Ole Miss

  • Ole Miss feels like the bottom of the West barrel this year. That offense was built around the receivers for the last three or four years, and that group is all gone now. And the real affect of the NCAA investigations wasn’t the scholarship losses themselves — it was the years of recruiting it killed. The Rebs haven’t finished in the SEC’s top nine since the 2016 class, which had AJ Brown, Greg Little, Shea Patterson, etc...
  • I kind of feel bad for Matt Luke. I’m not sure there’s any coaching around this roster right now. Although it was pretty sad watching him turtle and kick sad field goals last season as LSU was dominating them.

Arkansas

  • The Chad Morris Era at Arkansas is going to be a case study in patience for program building. To date, he seems like he’s done almost everything except win football games. This program’s been pretty talent-deficient for a while now, as neither Bobby Petrino nor Bret Bielema really brought in the talent to compete consistently. Snagging some transfer quarterbacks was also a really smart move.
  • The good news on the wins part is Arkansas should be able to double last year’s win total in the first month of the season. Of course, the second half of the schedule will feature trips to LSU and Bama, and visits from Auburn, Arkansas, Mississippi State and Missouri. So a bowl game may not be in the cards this year, but if he can continue to bring in talent, that breakthrough will come. But patience is rarely in surplus in this conference.

Texas A&M

  • Like Florida, Texas A&M also looks set up for a better team/worse record scenario with road trips to Clemson, Georgia and LSU, plus the home game with Bama. That week four match-up with Auburn in College Station could play a big part in setting the pecking order of the West’s second tier.
  • And just like the Gators, evening out the quarterback play will probably be what sets all that up. Both Kellen Mond and Feliepe Franks had pretty big gaps in their play versus the better teams on their respective schedules last year. How that gap closes (or widens) will probably determine whether either team have a real shot at pushing for a division title.
  • Although the Aggies get Georgia right after the Bulldogs go to Jordan-Hare. That could set them up to pick the bones a bit after what will either be a beat up UGA team off a tough game, or a sky-high one ripe to fall in a trap.