Alabama, Georgia could be on an SEC collision course — again

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Georgia coach Kirby Smart gave mentor Nick Saban and Alabama a run for their money in the national championship game — and did it again in the offseason.Smart brought in the nation’s top recruiting class and stayed on point with Saban-like messages about guarding against complacency and embracing the pressure of high expectations while dismissing potential as “dormant ability.”

“We can’t allow complacency to slip into our program and slip into our staff because I know that will eat away at the core fundamentals that we started to believe,” Smart said during Southeastern Conference media days.

Clearly a sentiment Saban would endorse.

Alabama and defending SEC champion Georgia could very well be on a collision course for a championship again, though it’s more likely to be a meeting in the league title game this time. The Tide didn’t win the West last season after falling to Auburn in the regular-season finale.

The Crimson Tide approaches the season widely regarded as the favorite to win a sixth national title in the last decade. That overtime win over his former defensive coordinator’s team did leave Saban with a months-long quarterback controversy: Heralded championship game hero Tua Tagovailoa vs. two-year starter Jalen Hurts .

But neither mentor nor star pupil wanted their teams dwelling on that game or last season.

“We’re constantly looking for the next edge…” Smart said.

Saban’s message to his team: “Forget about what happened last year.”

The league welcomes five new head coaches, including Saban disciples Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M and Jeremy Pruitt at Tennessee. Fisher returned to his SEC Western Division roots from Florida State after past stints at LSU and Auburn with a 10-year, $75 million deal .

The primary SEC West challenger to Alabama might be defending champion Auburn, which returns quarterback Jarrett Stidham and has one of the league’s most talented defensive lines. But Fisher’s Aggies return 15 starters and Mississippi State has 17 back.

South Carolina and Dan Mullen’s Florida seem the most likely to challenge Georgia in the East.

Some other things to know about the SEC in 2018:

THE FAVORITES

East: Georgia. The clear division front-runner after making it to the brink of the Bulldogs’ first national title since 1980. Kirby Smart must replace tailbacks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, along with linebacker Roquan Smith and six other defensive starters. Quarterback Jake Fromm is back after an impressive freshman season (presuming he faces down a challenge from five-star recruit Justin Fields ).

West: Alabama. With enviable quarterback options and strong front lines, the Tide remains the team to beat — even after a runner-up division finish to rival Auburn. The Tide defense must replace eight NFL draft picks and the entire starting secondary. Tailback Damien Harris is a stalwart in the offense.

TOP PLAYERS

Deandre Baker, CB, Georgia. Baker had nine pass breakups last season to go along with three interceptions, including one in the national championship game.

A.J. Brown, WR, Mississippi. Might have a hard time matching his huge 2017 numbers (75 catches, 1,252 yards, 11 touchdowns) if only because of QB Shea Patterson’s departure.

Raekwon Davis, DL, Alabama. Anchors the defensive line after racking up 8.5 sacks as a sophomore.

Drew Lock , QB, Missouri. Led the nation with an SEC-record 44 touchdown passes, while flirting with 4,000 yards. First-team All-SEC quarterback.

Deebo Samuel , WR/RS, South Carolina. Tied for the team lead in 2017 with six touchdowns — three receptions, one run, two kick returns — despite breaking his leg in the third game.

Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn. His 3,158 passing yards as a first-year starter ranks second in school history.

Montez Sweat, DE, Mississippi State. Tied for the league lead with both 10.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss. The sack total was the highest by a Bulldogs player since 2005.

Devin White, LB, LSU. Led the league with 133 tackles and was SEC defensive player of the week four times.

NEW FACES

Texas A&M’s Fisher, Florida’s Mullen, Mississippi’s sort of new Matt Luke, Arkansas’ Chad Morris and Mississippi State’s Joe Moorhead . Also Alabama has six new assistants, including the coordinators on both sides of the ball. On the field, Georgia tailback Zamir White and Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain Jr. are among the potential impact newcomers.

ON THE HOT SEAT

With five new head coaches, there are fewer in precarious situations. Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason enters Year 5 seeking his first winning season. Kentucky’s Mark Stoops and LSU’s Ed Orgeron might be in some jeopardy with big drop offs.

18 COMMENTS

  1. Talk about Captain Obvious with that headline. Like the saying goes, and monkeys could be flying out of your butt. Go ahead and keep crowning Super Kirby before a single game is played as far as I’m concerned he still has a lot to prove since one very good season does not make a dynasty. Bur hey that ole Kirby is such a smart fellow that he already built that dynasty after 3 short years, 2 of which were nothing to write home about. Give me a freaking break.

    • I’m with you on that one. I’m getting so sick of hearing Georgia being talked about as if they’re the second coming of Bama after one season. They basically won every game by running the ball 50 times a game. It doesn’t take a genius to come up with that game plan. That strategy is not going to last and Smart is going to have to prove he can be innovative and call a game that’s going to keep the defense on their toes. Based on the fact that he lost both games that he had to make adjustments and get creative, I’m not sold on the fact that he can. Everyone’s acting like that entire team is coming back, instead of facing the fact that they’ve lost about 90% of the offensive production and pretty much the entire starting defense. Yeah he’s recruiting well, but that doesn’t automatically translate to wins. I’m not saying he isn’t going to be a good coach, but damn, lets see what he can do with his own players before anointing them the second coming. As Gator fans, we all know a great second season is by no means a guarantee of future success. I fully believe they’re going to come crashing back down to earth this season.

  2. Saban has a system that has worked extremely well. I wonder how much of a learning curve bringing in 6 new assistants and both OC and DC. He’s bound to make a bad hire some day. CO I am with you Smart came into the best gig in the conference. Richt was great at recruiting just couldn’t climb the hump into the top tier. Smart has to prove he can stay there or even deserves to stay there. Scandal aside Mac got us to two conference championships and couldn’t get over the top. Smart has a longer leash but loosing to us and Knoxville too many times may be bad. He now has some potentially very good talent there. Smart has a lot of new faces but their rankings are high I would expect a few failures in there. If I had to bet on Saban or Smart having a the better year I’d say Saban but because of his system of the talent. How fast Saban’s assistants gel is key. Likewise how fast UGA rookies get up to speed. If he chose good assistants they are professionals and should be up st speed faster than incoming players for Smart. Since their last run of beating us they have won 7 to our 21 since 1990. I hope that game we show up ears pinned back and ready to have a slobber knocker of a game. To use CDM phrase ‘even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then’ or something to that effect. GO GATORS!

  3. You guys saying not to worry about Smart at GA don’t understand recruiting. Probably only Bama and maybe Ohio State have anywhere close to the talent he has and continues to accumulate at GA. And our receuiting is not even average incthe SEC. And it will show. Sorry, coaching can overcome alot, but not THAT much.

      • Totally agree, so much of football is mental. A team motivated by a great HC will win alot of games and all the talent in the world wont matter if the HC cant motivate. Some examples: the aforementioned Richt, could recruit well but he didnt know how to motivate and he always underachieved! At SC Spurrier couldn’t get the top talent but every year he had those guys believing and they would win about the 1st 5 or 6 games, then when they lost a game they would realize the truth and lose some more. Both cases had nothing to do with talent but were all mental. If motivated and believing(confidence) you are going to win you will play beyond your talent. If unmotivated and not confident you will play below your talent. Been seeing this happen over and over in football for 50 years! Good coaches are teachers(like Richt), Great coaches are motivators! They get their players to believe that they will win and thus they buy-in to all they are asked and taught to do and they play with confidence! Except for a few exceptionable players there isnt alot of distance in college between a 3 star and a 5 star.

  4. SOS’s talent was comparable to GA’s most seasons. Sometimes a little better, even, though sometimes a little worse. What we’re talking about here is an immense difference in talent, GA has I believe 18 5 stars on their roster, UF has 3. And as far as I can tell, Smart motivates just fine. He ain’t Richt, I don’t believe, but even if he is, we need to close the talent gap.
    The facts don’t support saying there’s not alot of distance between 3 and 5 stars. Look at the percentage of 3 vs. 5 stars who make the NFL, and it is not close at all. We all know of the exceptions, but they are just that, the exceptions. There is a reason Bama wins all the time and Vandy doesn’t. Vandy will NEVER recruit well, and will NEVER win the SEC, even if Lombardi rises from the grave to coach them. SOS improved SCar, but didn’t win the SEC there, and probably never would have.

  5. Having said what I did, I remain hopeful that Mullen will show the world that he can really coach THIS season, and we can begin to close the gap with better recruiting. THEN, if he is a better coach than the others, we can win big again.

  6. UGA is recruiting well, but they ALWAYS have …. and what do they have to show for it ??? A whopping 3 SEC championships in TWENTY YEARS…. 20 YEARS PEOPLE ….. relax folks, as history smiles on gainesville…. the gators will return to owning the EAST soon enough… maybe even in 2018 …

  7. Kirby is to UGA what Spurrier was to UF. Kirby will consistently win 8 of 10 against the gators as long as he is coach. Helps also that he has a 3 year head start on Mullen, which UF will cycle out of after the 2020 season and his 3rd loss to UGA. UF fans are somewhat patient in losing to FSU, but not UGa.