Just a few days ago we touched on what Kentucky will face at the beginning of the season, now it’s time to look ahead to October to see what lies ahead for the Wildcats.
Kentucky will have five games before their first open week and will then follow it up with three league games before the last bye of the season. The second segment of games will determine what bowl tier the Wildcats will be in. With two on the road and two at home, it will be important to defend their backyard.
South Carolina Gamecocks
Will Muschamp enters his fourth season in Columbia and the results have been mixed. Despite having a contract that will pay him over $4 million every season and over $5 million in 2024, some believe he is on the hot seat. The Gamecocks enter 2019 with perhaps the toughest schedule in college football. They could play at a top-30 level and finish 5-7.
Jake Bentley returns and the four-year starter has been in Columbia for a long time. The pocket passer is coming off a career year where he put up 8.2 yards per attempt and threw for 27 touchdowns in the new hurry-up scheme. If he takes another step forward he will be one of the best passers in college football.
Carolina is still having issues establishing the running game shown by not having one 1,o00-yard rusher in the Muschamp era. On the perimeter, the Gamecocks lose star Deebo Samuel, but Bryan Edwards is poised to be one of the best receivers in the SEC after recording 55 grabs and collecting over 15 yards per grab. Expect for Shi Smith to take a big jump forward (71.4 percent catch rate, 15 yards per catch) to replace the production lost by Samuel.
After sluggish offensive results, the Gamecocks took a big step forward in 2018 under first-year play-caller Bryan McClendon, but it sacrificed the defense. The Gamecocks went as fast as they can on offense, but it effected Muschamp’s defense. The Gamecocks ranked 11th in the SEC in scoring defense and the Gamecocks were horrible on a down-to-down basis (120th in success rate). If Carolina has any shot at making some noise this fall, this group must make a significant jump.
Due to some big recruiting wins, Carolina has some intriguing pieces. Javon Kinlaw recorded 10 tackles for loss from his tackle spot, T.J. Brunson ranked seventh in the SEC in tackles, and sophomores Jaycee Horn and R.J. Roderick both look like future stars in the secondary.
It was a brutal first season for Chad Morris in Fayetteville with many calling it the worst year in Arkansas history. The Razorbacks went winless in the SEC, lost to two Group of Five teams, and had a bunch of players transfer out of the program. It’s clear there is a culture change taking place in Woo Pig Sooie land. Morris is doing a great job on the recruiting trail, but classes in the twenties can only get you so far in the SEC West. The former Clemson offensive coordinator has to find a quarterback of the future.
To replace the two quarterbacks who started and transferred out of the program last year, Chad Morris hit the transfer portal to find some answers. SMU’s Ben Hicks and Texas A&M’s Nick Starkel are both grad transfers added to the roster. Both players are prototypical pocket passers that Morris seems to prefer and Hicks played well for Morris at SMU. He has the inside track, but Starkel is the more talented of the duo.
Quarterback isn’t the only place where Arkansas is swimming for answers. The Hogs lost their best receiver to Iowa State via grad transfer and it appears that they will be heavily leaning on tight end Cheyenne O’Grady and blue-chip wideout Trey Knox. At running back, Arkansas has three proven entities but no stars. The offensive line is a mess at the moment and it’s clear Chad Morris has his work cut out for him.
John Chavis has been a defensive coordinator a long time in the SEC and last season he was dealt a tough deck. Arkansas was at a severe talent disadvantage on defense, but there are some intriguing player returning. De’Jon Harris figured to be one of the league’s best inside linebackers after receiving second-team All-SEC honors last year. Bumper Pool flashed as a true freshman playing next to Harris. McTelvin Agim has NFL potential playing inside. This group should take a forward in year two.
Arkansas is still a major work in progress, but a soft non-conference schedule will give them a shot at six wins.
Kirby Smart is building a monster in Athens and after consecutive SEC East titles, it’s clear who is second to Alabama in the league. Smart is 32-10 through four seasons and is 8-0 with eight double-digit victories over every divisional foe the last two seasons. The Bulldogs flat out own the East until someone proves they can even make them sweat in the fourth quarter.
In a bit of a surprise, play-caller Jim Chaney left for Rocky Top in the offseason leaving UGA in a bind. After kicking the tires of Eddie Gran, Kirby Smart promoted former Miami offensive coordinator James Coley to the big chair. He’s got a lot of tools to play with.
Jake Fromm is back at quarterback and the junior will one of the first quarterbacks taken in the upcoming NFL Draft. He’s about as cool as they come. D’Andre Swift seems poised for a monster season at tailback and there’s a chance he could be the best runner in the country. The offensive line is a legit 10-deep with pros everywhere. They’ll be a problem for every defensive front they face.
On the perimeter, he Dawgs lost three pass catchers to the NFL Draft and leading returning wideout Jeremiah Holloman was just kicked off the team. There’s still talent on the roster, but it’s inexperienced and that’s a concern for a team that is in the College Football Playoff hunt.
On defense, UGA lost another coordinator and replaced new Colorado head coach Mel Tucker with another staff promotion. Dan Lanning is only 33 years old but it’ss clear Kirby Smart thinks very highly of him. The Bulldogs return seven starters on defense and there is talent all over the field. The two big weaknesses for this group last year were consistently stopping the run and creating a pass rush. If they can find some young guys to help eliminate these weaknesses the sky is the limit for this defense.
Barry Odom is entering year four in CoMo and he may have his best team in 2019. Unfortunately, the Tigers were hit with a postseason ban due some type of tutor fiasco so any damage from Mizzou must be done in the regular season. Drew Lock is off to the NFL, but Mizzou appears to be one of the biggest winners of the transfer portal.
Once the keys were handed to Trevor Lawrence, Kelly Bryant decided to call it quits at Clemson and sat out the majority of 2018. He was highly sought after in the transfer market and many believed that North Carolina and Auburn were the favorites. In a bit of a surprise, the former high three-star recruit pledged to the Tigers. Second year offensive coordinator Derek Dooley sold him on his NFL background and what Mizzou did for Drew Lock. Bryant will enter 2019 as one of the most intriguing players in the SEC.
The best thing going for Bryant is that Mizzou will be surrounding him with a lot of quality football players. Larry Rountree III rushed for 1,216 yards last season and figures to be one of the best backs in the SEC. He will be running behind an offensive line that has three returning starters including right guard Tre’vour Wallace-Simms who was first-team All-SEC last season. Trystan Colon-Castillo is one of the best centers in the country. Albert Okwuegbunam is one of the best receiving tight ends and Mizzou gets back two of their top three receivers plus adds Arkansas grad transfer Jonathan Nance. Dooley has a ton of pieces.
Defense was a major issue in Barry Odom’s first two seasons, but the Tigers appear to have found an answer in defensive coordinator Ryan Walters. The young coach has been with Odom since 2014 and after being promoted, the Tigers took off. Mizzou ranked 25th in S&P+’s defensive rankings after ranking 85th and 61st the previous two seasons. With three-all conference caliber players returning (one at each level), expectations are high entering the season.
Texas transfer Jordan Elliott was excellent at defensive tackle in his first season in Columbia and now he steps into a starting role. Inside linebacker Cale Garrett recorded over 10o tackles and collected 10.5 run stuffs on his way to second-team All-SEC honors. Corner DeMarkus Acy and Christian Holmes combined for five interceptions and 22 pass break-ups. Mizzou has the roster makeup to have a special season.
These part of the schedule will determine UK’s season. Georgia is most likely a loss and Arkansas better be a win or Kentucky is in trouble. The other two could go either way. The Wildcats are a combined 9-1 against both Mizzou and South Carolina since 2014. The only loss occurred to team that went on to win the SEC East. Pull off that sweep again and it sets up to be another special season.