All eyes will be on the SEC as 2019 preseason practices begin. Here's what you need to know entering fall camp.
As the calendar flips to August, it can only mean one thing: college football is here. Fall camps are opening or getting ready to open all across the country, and the first game of the season—the big Florida vs. Miami showdown in Orlando—is less than four weeks away. But there's plenty of work to be done before the first snaps that count are taken. This week, we'll be previewing August practice for each major conference, plus the Group of Five. Up first, it's the SEC:
Top August Story
The SEC was somewhat embarrassed last season in the postseason, and that’s unusual. The league went 5–5 in non-College Football Playoff bowls and its two best teams, Alabama and Georgia, were rolled in their final games. Clemson bashed the Clemson Tide by 28 points in the national championship game, and Texas, up 28–7 at one point, beat Georgia 28–21 in the Sugar Bowl. All eyes are on the Bulldogs and the Crimson Tide as the conference’s two best chances at postseason redemption for 2018.
Positional Battle to Watch
Dak Prescott, Nick Fitzgerald and… who’s next? The hot topic in Starkville is a camp competition that will determine the next quarterback in a recent impressive lineage. Prescott and Fitzgerald combined for 51 school records and delivered the Bulldogs 44 wins over six seasons. Many pegged junior Keytaon Thompson as the favorite, but that’s before coach Joe Moorhead brought in Penn State graduate transfer Tommy Stevens, who operated under Moorhead’s system while the coach served as offensive coordinator for the Nittany Lions in 2016–17.
Positional Group Under Pressure
Florida enters the season as a top-10 ranked team, with a veteran quarterback and a salty defense, but there is an unproven bunch in Gainesville that could wreck it all: the offensive line, which returns a single starter. The Gators lost four starters last season who took the first snap in a combined 138 games. That’s a lot of replacing to do and precious little time to do it. The Gators open the season in Orlando against Miami, and might be doing it with at least two players who have never started a college game and a third with two starts.
New Coach Spotlight
For the first time since 2006, no SEC school has a new head coach. No school fired its coach. No coach left its school. No coach was involved in a motorcycle accident with his mistress. No coach resigned because of alleged health problems. Everyone is back, all of them; Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason, LSU’s Ed Orgeron. What’s that mean for this coming offseason? Maybe lots of change. Those in the crosshairs include Matt Luke (Ole Miss), Malzahn (Auburn), Will Muschamp (South Carolina) and Mason (Vanderbilt).
Week 1 Game to Circle
You should circle two. Miami and Florida kick off the season with a Week 0 matchup in Orlando. They’re renewing an in-state rivalry series that dates back to 1938. The Hurricanes have won seven of the last eight. The next week, Auburn and Oregon tangle in Arlington, a second consecutive season that the Tigers represent the league in a big-time neutral site game against the Pac-12. Auburn beat Washington last season. Without a returning starting quarterback and some other holes, the Tigers might have a tougher time this go-around. The Ducks are for real.