Yahoo Sports’ Dan Wetzel and Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde break down what they expect from the SEC this season, and select their picks for Champion, Dark Horse and Most Intriguing team.
DAN WETZEL: Why don't we start with the SEC?
PAT FORDE: OK.
DAN WETZEL: Just means more.
PAT FORDE: Yeah.
DAN WETZEL: Wondering who your favorite is. I know this could--
PAT FORDE: Well, there's two choices, and I'm going with the one that didn't win last year. That's Alabama. They have the Heisman Trophy winner. They have the best player in college football in Will Anderson.
And they got a lot of other stuff, too. They've got some things they've got to rebuild and replace a little bit-- wide receivers. But they went out and got like multiple good wide receivers in the transfer portal.
This is what Alabama can do now is like, yeah, all right. Where's the one area where we're not just completely flush? OK, we'll just go get some of the best players that are already in college football. I am rolling with the Tide as my favorite in the SEC.
DAN WETZEL: Yeah. I hope this turns out to be a really interesting season. It will because it's college football. But in terms of like, when you just sort of look at it, it's like, oh, can any of these guys beat Alabama this year? And you've got to kind of talk yourself into Georgia and Ohio State and maybe somebody else. I don't know.
I mean, when your best player on your team is not your returning Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, you're loaded. So, yeah, 'Bama-- Georgia is gonna have to do it again. Your dark horse bet?
PAT FORDE: My dark horse-- we were just talking about them, the Vols. I like Tennessee.
DAN WETZEL: Really?
PAT FORDE: Yeah, yeah. I mean, they've got a long way to look. They were 7 and 6 last year. It's not like they were 9 and 3.
DAN WETZEL: That's good. It's a real dark horse. It can't be, like, Georgia, right?
PAT FORDE: No, right.
DAN WETZEL: Georgia's not a dark horse, right?
PAT FORDE: Right, yeah, no.
DAN WETZEL: That's not-- yeah.
PAT FORDE: It's a legit dark horse. But I think they do take another step forward with Josh Heupel.
I like their schedule. Six of the first eight are at home. They're at Pitt, which won't be easy. They're at LSU, which might be kind of easy. I just-- I'm not convinced LSU is gonna be that great.
But you've got Ball State, Akron, Florida, who I think is not that good. Alabama-- you're not gonna beat Alabama. Then you got UT Martin, and then you got Kentucky, which could be a really big game.
So I think, Dan Wetzel, on November 1, when they first roll out the college football playoff TV show and those idiotic rankings, then I think Tennessee is gonna be 7 and 1 at that point and in the top 10. There you go.
DAN WETZEL: Wow. I'm going with the team you just mentioned, Kentucky.
PAT FORDE: Yeah?
DAN WETZEL: So I was gonna say Arkansas or something like that. But I just can't do anyone in the West, other than Alabama.
PAT FORDE: Right.
DAN WETZEL: It's too big of a fight. Kentucky-- the defense is always solid under Mark Stoops. Will Levis is very good. And you got a QB, and you're in the East.
And their schedule-- they don't play Alabama. They don't play A&M. And they don't play LSU.
PAT FORDE: Yep.
DAN WETZEL: So do they lose to Georgia? Maybe. But does Georgia get knocked off somewhere? I don't know. Maybe they pull an upset.
Hard to find someone that could actually win this thing other than Alabama and Georgia, but I'm gonna go with Kentucky. I think they're gonna be maybe-- they're gonna be really good. They're gonna be good, like they normally are. And it's can they pop?
And you've got a quarterback. You've got a chance.
PAT FORDE: Yeah, and they've got a really easy non-conference schedule. So they're gonna play Miami, Ohio, Youngstown State, and Northern Illinois all in September, plus at Florida. That's a big one there for them.
But, yeah, they could get on a roll very easily, I think. And one thing-- Chris Rodriguez, their excellent running back, a 1,400-yard running back, eh, got himself into a little DUI issue over the summer here.
Mark Stoops hasn't really been the iron-fisted disciplinarian as far as keeping guys out of the lineup. So I would imagine Chris Rodriguez will play. But that's one to keep an eye on.
DAN WETZEL: Oh, you can miss non-conference, you know.
PAT FORDE: Yeah.
DAN WETZEL: Non-conference is fine.
PAT FORDE: Sit him out against Miami of Ohio, and you've made your big statement.
DAN WETZEL: Most intriguing.
PAT FORDE: Most intriguing-- I'm going with A&M. Jimbo Fisher talked all his noise, brings in the number one recruiting class-- those guys are young. And I think if you're counting on too many of them too soon, that may not work. But I want to see how many of those guys get on the field, how good they are, what they do at the quarterback position.
They got Max Johnson, who transferred in from LSU. And they got Haynes King, who got hurt early last year. They have their own star player with off-the-field issues in Aeneas Smith if he comes back and plays. We'll see.
They've got a lot of talent, but they also have a lot of inexperience. And Jimbo talked himself into a bit of a corner. We'll see how he comes swinging out of it.
DAN WETZEL: Very intriguing. Very young, but that is a lot of talent. I'm gonna go with LSU. How does this Brian Kelly situation work? How patient are the fans if they don't win? There's still a lot of talent on that roster.
PAT FORDE: Yeah.
DAN WETZEL: And there is a lot of potential there. What constitutes a good season? Does he say stuff-- more foot-in-the-mouth situations?
Kelly's always interesting. And there's never, like, a dull Notre Dame season. There's always-- something happens.
PAT FORDE: Right.
DAN WETZEL: So now we put that little bit of crazy in with this big old cauldron of crazy. You get a nice crawfish boil out of that.