In six days, Arkansas will host Florida A&M in what amounts to the soft opening of the 2017 SEC football schedule. The real action begins two days later, with an 11-game slate set for Saturday, Sept. 2.
College football is on our doorstep.
As we inch through fall camp toward Week 1, SEC Country will post a weekly roundup packed with news, storylines, players to watch, game previews and more that’ll interest football fans.
Here’s what you need to know this week.
Rank ’em: The top SEC championship contenders in 2017
Vegas Insider has thoughts on which teams will clash in Atlanta for the conference crown. SEC Country does, too. Here are five programs we view as the most likely to hoist a trophy this December.
- VI says: 17/2
- SECC says: 15/1
- Projected record: 8-4
The Gators are great at winning their division, but the Crimson Tide have proved problematic in each of Jim McElwain’s two years at the helm. Quarterback remains an unknown, and the defense once again loses a boatload of NFL-caliber talent. Still, Florida is a decent bet given Mac’s track record, an improved offensive line and a solid replacement for departed defensive coordinator Geoff Collins in Randy Shannon.
- VI says: 6/1
- SECC says: 9/1
- Projected record: 9-3
Ed Orgeron enters his first full season as LSU’s coach with two of the best coordinators in the country handling the X’s and O’s. Matt Canada, who excelled during his lone season calling plays at Pittsburgh, is a potentially dynamite hire. Dave Aranda has already established himself as one of the premier defensive minds in college football. Derrius Guice is a Heisman-caliber running back, and the relatively inexperienced defense attracts elite talent like few other units out there. But how much confidence does quarterback Danny Etling inspire? And who is he throwing to, besides DJ Chark?
- VI says: 5/1
- SECC says: 15/2
- Projected record: 9-3
The Bulldogs, traditionally the beneficiaries of preseason hype, are a boom-or-bust bet. If Jacob Eason can take the next step, and the offensive line can give Nick Chubb and Sony Michel room to run, this roster is deep enough — particularly on defense — to give the eventual SEC West champion a tough fight. If those things don’t happen, Georgia could fall flat and wind up back in the TaxSlayer Bowl. A three-week stretch of games against Florida, South Carolina and Auburn will tell us a lot.
- VI says: 5/1
- SECC says: 4/1
- Projected record: 10-2
Auburn is one of two SEC teams that, in this writer’s opinion, has a shot at rolling through its SEC schedule unscathed. Much of this program’s hopes rest on the arm of new quarterback Jarrett Stidham, whose hype-meter is reading at dangerously high levels. But the rest of the roster looks fantastic on paper. Kamryn Pettway, Kerryon Johnson, a stout O-line and a slew of promising receivers will be complemented by a Kevin Steele-led defense that should be as good as last year’s. As always, Auburn’s season boils down to the Iron Bowl.
- VI says: 2/3
- SECC says: 1/2
- Projected record: 11-1
What’s left to say? Nick Saban is going for the rare conference championship three-peat, and with guys such as Jalen Hurts, Bo Scarbrough, Calvin Ridley, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Rashaan Evans leading the way, there’s no reason to think the Crimson Tide can’t pull that off. Auburn is a tough matchup, and LSU is usually tricky, but those are the only two hurdles Alabama needs to clear.
Two freshman to watch: Quarterback
Myles Brennan, LSU: Etling might be the team’s starter heading into Week 1, but the fact Brennan has emerged as his primary backup — Orgeron called the newcomer a “ very close second” to Etling, a senior with starting experience — speaks volumes to his potential. Canada told reporters Brennan has grown more comfortable in the offense, and his 4-star recruiting pedigree will excite fans. If Etling’s play dips, or if he gets hurt, it’ll be Brennan’s time to shine.
Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama: The Hawaiian 4-star, a major part of another top-ranked Crimson Tide recruiting class, will “play some” this fall, said Saban — even with Hurts returning after an all-time great freshman season for a quarterback. In what capacity is unclear, but between his A-Day performance and a likely role as Hurts’ primary backup, Tagovailoa is a guy Alabama fans can’t help but follow this fall.
Hitting the links: SEC Country news you don’t want to miss
- 4-star CB Jaycee Horn commits live in the SEC Country studio … Horn, an Alpharetta (Ga.) native and the son of former NFL wideout Joe Horn, had narrowed his decision to Tennessee, Alabama and South Carolina.
- Exclusive: Bobby Bowden says Jimbo Fisher could replace Nick Saban as ‘sheriff’ … The Florida State legend hopped on SEC Country’s Alabama podcast with Ryan Fowler to discuss FSU’s chances against the Crimson Tide, and how Saban compares to Bear Bryant.
- Florida staff deciding on QB, but a Gators WR has idea of who it will be … Jim McElwain has a competition of sorts going between Malik Zaire, Feleipe Franks and Luke Del Rio. Zach Abolverdi and Jeff Cardozo update us on the latest with that battle.
- It only Hurts in the wallet: Alabama quarterback takes offensive line out to dinner … Christopher Walsh has the story about Alabama’s star sophomore quarterback, Jalen Hurts, spreading love to the teammates who do all that dirty work in the trenches.
- SEC quarterbacks be-Ware, Kentucky’s best pass rusher is refocused … Denzil Ware, a rising junior for the Wildcats, is poised to follow up last year’s 5.5-sack campaign with a bigger season, writes Kyle Tucker.
- Bigger and healthier, LSU LB Donnie Alexander is ready for his senior season … Our Tigers reporter Nick Suss has an illuminating story about Alexander, the once-undersized linebacker who added nearly 20 pounds in the past year.
- What if Peyton Manning had declared for the 1997 NFL Draft? … Alex Smith takes us down the rabbit hole into an alternate reality where Manning leaves Tennessee as a junior, and Tim Tebow becomes an NFL star.
SEC BBQ spot of the week: Martin’s Bar-B-Q Joint (Nashville)
Nashville is a fantastic place that so happens to have an SEC school within city limits. Martin’s is a fantastic BBQ spot, but like Music City itself, it’s more of a sprawling, six-location entity that serves elevated ‘cue as opposed to a one-smoker shack in the country.
And that’s fine. Both are excellent venues to serve up those tasty, succulent smoked meats, even if the latter is what you traditionally envision. Martin’s menu runs the gamut from whole hog to pulled pork, brisket, smoked turkey, smoked sausage, ribs, wings and the “redneck taco” — cornbread hoe-cake topped with BBQ. This in addition to taco trays, other sandwiches and salads.
But let’s be honest, we’re not going there for anything green and/or healthy. We’re going there for beauty like this:
— MARTIN'S BBQ JOINT (@martinsbbq) April 20, 2016
The post SEC football countdown: The top-5 conference title contenders in 2017 appeared first on SEC Country.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.