The SEC report

The 2019 SEC football preview: Aggies, LSU hope to challenge Alabama

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The 2020 SEC season shapes up as one of the more interesting in recent years. Alabama is loaded as usual, but Texas A&M and LSU could surprise in the West. Meanwhile, Georgia may be ready to make a run at the playoffs again from the other side. The Aggies open their season Thursday night against Texas State.

Are the Aggies poised for a jump?

Year 1 of the Jimbo Fisher era saw the Aggies go 9-4 against one of the toughest schedules. It does not get easier this year, with games against Clemson, Alabama, LSU and Georgia on the slate.

The Aggies will need further development from quarterback Kellen Mond, who completed less than 60 percent of his passes last season but showed a lot of flashes.

They will need to replace productive running back Trayveon Williams, but Mond should have plenty of options in the passing game, despite the loss of highly touted tight end Baylor Cupp to season-ending injury. The offensive line is solid, despite losing Erik McCoy. If Mond takes the next step, this could be a very productive offense.

On the other side of the ball, they lose some key elements, but they improved dramatically in Year 1 with DC Mike Elko calling the shots. They are loaded on defense again, and could easily improve despite losing several key contributors.

The bottom line: A&M might be better this season, but the record might not reflect that. An early upset of Clemson would vault them up the polls, but there will still be serious dragons to slay.

Big year for LSU?

Hopes are high in Baton Rouge that this might finally be a breakout year for the Tigers. Joe Burrow will be in his second season at quarterback, and if he can improve, the Tigers offense should be very good. He was not all that accurate last season, but did a good job protecting the football. Coming off their first 10-win season since 2013, expectations are through the roof. Offensively, they have four starters back on the offensive line, but that group was not great last year. Still, there is talent and they should improve.

On defense, the Tigers are loaded again, especially in the secondary. Freshman Derek Stingley is an intriguing cornerback.

The Tigers have a serious early test in Austin against Texas, and will have to find out a way to beat Alabama, which they have not done in the last eight matchups. Games against Florida and A&M loom as well, but the rest of the schedule is very manageable.

The bottom line: The Tigers should be very good again this year, and a dark horse playoff contender. But getting past Alabama will not be easy.

The rest of the West 

Alabama will once again be favored to win the West, the conference and make the playoffs. Auburn is in a key year for Gus Malzahn and will be starting a true freshman at quarterback, so it is hard to know what to expect. Mississippi State could be a dark horse, but will need a new quarterback. Not much is expected of Ole Miss, and Arkansas appears to have a long way to go under second year head coach Chad Morris.

Eastbound and down

Georgia is the clear favorite in the East, although much is expected of Dan Mullen's Florida Gators, who looked shaky in an opening-week win over Miami, but they should improve. Missouri is a potential dark horse, but the rest of the division looks like also-rans.

The bottom line

Once again it looks like Alabama and Georgia, but Florida, A&M and LSU are all contenders.

Key games to watch

Aug. 31: Auburn vs, Oregon

Sept. 7: A&M at Clemson

Sept. 7: LSU at Texas

Sept. 21: Notre Dame at Georgia

Oct. 5: Auburn at Florida

Oct. 12: Alabama at A&M

Oct. 12: Florida at LSU

Nov. 2: Florida vs. Georgia

Nov. 9: LSU at Alabama

Nov. 23: A&M at Georgia

Nov. 30: Alabama at Auburn

Nov. 30: A&M at LSU



5 players to watch

1. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama: The "tank for Tua" strategy might not be a thing in the NFL after all this year, but the 'Bama QB could raise his stock quite a bit.

2. D'Andre Swift, RB, Georgia: The Bulldogs seem to have great backs every year, and Swift fits right in. Could be a dark horse Heisman contender.

3. Kellen Mond, QB, A&M: For the Aggies to take a jump, Mond will have to do so as well. He has shown incredible flashes, but has been inconsistent. With a second year working with Fisher, a breakout could easily happen.

4. Grant Delpit, DB, LSU: Delpit is an absolute monster who will be an anchor on what should be a very good defense. He plays multiple positions and is one of the most exciting players in college football.

5. C.J. Henderson, DB, Florida: The Gators defense will be the key to their success, and a lockdown corner like Henderson is critical. If they are going to make noise this year, Henderson will be a big reason. He struggled badly with tackling in week 0, but a lot of players did. He can and should improve.

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