The Teal Tailgate

The Teal Tailgate

Andre L. Sullivan is a graduate of Jacksonville University with a BA in Sports Business and a minor in Communications with emphasis in Radio...Full Bio


2024 College Football Conference Preview: SEC

As always, the SEC will be pure cinema again this year. Many would be shocked to see anything less than six teams entering the expanded playoff bracket. It's a new era in the South with the legendary Nick Saban retiring as head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide. Let’s dive right in.

Let’s start with Kirby Smart and Georgia. 2023 was the first season since 2020 where they did not hoist the national championship trophy following the SEC championship loss to Alabama and dominant victory over Florida State in the Orange Bowl.

Carson Beck returns for his junior season at quarterback and is projected to place as a Heisman finalist. The transfer portal acquisition of Florida RB Trevor Etienne will provide a welcomed boost to the tailback room, which hasn’t posted a 1,000-yard rusher since DeAndre Swift in 2019. 

Two other notable transfer portal additions include TE Benjamin Yurosek (Stanford) and WR Colbie Young (Miami FL). With Brock Bowers and Ladd McConkey off to the NFL, the two pass catchers will look to add another layer to what is still a talented receiving core. 

Georgia did lose some pieces in the portal. EDGE Marvin Jones Jr. is now with Florida State, following in the footsteps of his father. LB Jamon Dumas-Johnson and QB Brock Vandergriff are staying in the SEC, this time with Kentucky and Mark Stoops.

The strength for the dawgs is similar to recent years, there is no real weakness on the roster. Georgia was one of only two schools nationally to place top 10 in every one of the Pro Football Focus position rankings. The only question that remains is the development and evolution of the pass rush. 

Georgia’s schedule is interesting. They open with a road matchup against Clemson, are on the road in Tuscaloosa vs Alabama, and get Texas and Ole Miss on the road.

Pending any massive injuries to the roster, Georgia will be back in contention for the SEC title and fighting for a top seed in the new-look college football playoff bracket. 

How will Kalen DeBoer fare in his first season in Tuscaloosa after taking over for the great Nick Saban? After leading Washington to a Pac-12 championship and national title game appearance, he takes his winning track record down to SEC country. 

DeBoer surely has his hands full in his inaugural year in the SEC, inheriting a turned-over roster that saw 40 players exit the program via the transfer portal or NFL draft. This list includes LB Dallas Turner, LB Chris Braswell, DB Kool-Aid McKinstry, DB Terrion Arnold, DB Caleb Downs, RB Roydell Williams, RB Jase McClellan, and OT JC Latham.

Jalen Milroe is back at quarterback, looking to build on his 2023 campaign. While Milroe did portray more of a running-focused dual-threat approach to the gridiron, it should be expected that the new offensive staff will develop and evolve his ability as a passer. Expect a deeper passing attack and an exponential jump in explosive play rate from the offense.

The backfield will be headlined by five-star sophomore Justice Haynes, yet questions remain at offensive line and receiver. Five-star freshman receiver Ryan Williams may play a pivotal role early in the season along with Washington transfer Germie Bernard. 

The defensive traditions in Tuscaloosa were built on the ideologies and schemes of Nick Saban, with him entering retirement the Crimson Tide will turn to Kane Womack as defensive coordinator.

Womack stepped down as the South Alabama head coach to join DeBoer’s staff, a connection that was built when they previously worked together at Indiana. His scheme presents a 4-2-5 “Swarm” defense, yet has stated its pending evolution to resemble the great Saban 3-4 defensive schemes we are all familiar with. 

The Crimson Tide did not pull the most favorable of schedules. They do host Georgia in Tuscaloosa early in the season, but face Tennessee, Oklahoma, and LSU all on the road. 

Many skeptics have hinted at a down-year loading in Tuscaloosa, but I struggle to accept that premise with the track record Kalen DeBoer brings. The September 28th game vs Georgia will be an early test. Carson Beck and the Dawgs will be looking to enact revenge following the SEC championship lost last season at the hands of Alabama.

What should we expect from Brian Kelly in his third year in Baton Rouge? This team lost extensive talent on both sides of the ball: Heisman QB Jayden Daniels, WR Malik Nabers, WR Brian Thomas Jr., DT Mekhi Wingo, DT Jordan Jefferson, and DT Maason Smith.

The Tigers posted the best offense in the country in 2023, a step-back in offensive production in any form should be expected. The team still holds an elite offensive line and retooled the receiving room through the transfer portal with the additions of Zavion Thomas from Mississippi State and CJ Daniels from Liberty. WR Kyren Lacy and TE Mason Taylor return as the veterans of the pass-catching unit. 

The LSU staff find themselves in a favorable circumstance following the departure of their Heisman-winning quarterback. Garrett Nusmeier arrived at LSU in 2021 and has patiently waited for his opportunity. He’s seen playing time the past two seasons, including against Georgia in the 2022 SEC Championship game.

This will be his third year working with QB coach and offensive coordinator Joe Sloan. This in addition to the track record of Brian Kelly offenses projects another productive season. 

Much like last year's team, questions remain on the defensive side of the ball. Had it not been for a brutal #108th ranked defensive unit in 2023, the Tigers likely would have found themselves in the college football playoff competing for a national title.

Brian Kelly completely revamped his defensive staff, bringing in former LSU linebacker Blake Baker as defensive coordinator and Tiger alums Bo Davis and Corey Raymond. These hires will aid Kelly’s quest to return the defense in Baton Rouge to the LSU roots.

The Tiger's schedule opens up with a true test on the road against USC and Lincoln Riley. Outside of that, the rest of the way is manageable. They get Alabama, Oklahoma, and Ole Miss all at home with a sneaky road matchup against Florida in the swamp to end the year.

In the expanded postseason format welcoming 12 teams into the bracket, LSU will be right in the thick of a playoff berth in 2024. 

Is this the year that Ole Miss and Lane Kiffin break through and compete at the top of the SEC? With the mix of returning talent and key transfer portal additions, it just might be the year for Hotty Toddy. 

Last season, the Rebels won 11 games for the first time in program history capped off with a 38-25 victory over Penn State in the Peach Bowl. Despite the success, it felt like a stepping stone to what the 2024 team could be.

Kiffin’s offense returns several key pieces including QB Jaxson Dart, WR Tre Harris, WR Jordan Watkins, and TE Caden Prieskorn. They also added South Carolina WR transfer Antwane (Juice) Wells Jr from the portal, a dynamic playmaker when healthy. 

RB Quinshon Judkins did exit the program, opting to transfer to Ohio State. The staff was quick to fill the void in the transfer portal, bringing in Henry Parrish JR. (Miami) and Logan Diggs (LSU). The running back room returns former SMU transfer Ulysses Bentley IV.

The revamped defense for Ole Miss will do wonders, transfer portal acquisitions of EDGE Walter Nolan and IDL Princely Umanmielen bring an explosive playmaking element that the defense has been missing.

Ole Miss is another SEC team that will be met with challenges on the offensive line. The unit ranked just 105th in PFF grades in 2023. The addition of four new linemen via the portal will aid in this endeavor yet it remains to be seen, chemistry is pivotal on the offensive line.

The Rebels yielded a favorable schedule in 2024. Their first true test will come in early October as they go on the road to Baton Rouge for a matchup with the LSU Tigers. They get Oklahoma and Georgia both at home late in the year before a road matchup with Florida in the swamp, a potential trap game for Kiffin and company.

If this team is firing on all cylinders, don’t be surprised if this team finds themselves in the SEC title game and college football playoff.

Let’s take a look at the SEC newcomers, starting with Texas. The Longhorns officially declared themselves back last season with a Big-12 title on the back of an explosive run game and dominant defensive front which propelled them into the college football playoff.

Steve Sarkisian and the Longhorns will be poised to make an SEC championship run and return to the postseason following the semi-final loss to Washington. 

Quinn Ewers is back at quarterback and projects to be a finalist in Heisman voting. Outside the signal caller position, the offense lost key pieces in WR Xavier Worthy, WR Adonai Mitchell, WR Jordan Whittington, TE Ja’Tavion Sanders, and RB Jonathan Brooks. 

Sarkisian and his staff were proactive in the transfer portal, adding WR Slade Bolden (Oregon State), WR Matthew Golden (Houston), WR Isaiah Bond (Alabama), and TE Amari Niblack (Alabama). 

Much like LSU, the Longhorn secondary was the downfall of their playoff run. The addition of DB Andrew Mukuba from Clemson via the transfer portal adds a dynamic chess piece to the defensive side of the ball in 2024. 

Texas yielded a favorable schedule, getting Georgia and Florida at home. They are faced with an early road test, as they will travel to Ann Arbor to take on the defending national champions, the Michigan Wolverines. 

The regular season finale however will be absolute cinema as they return to Kyle Field for their first matchup with Texas A&M since 2011.

We should expect the Longhorns to be competing with the top of the SEC in 2024 and returning to the college football playoff.

Now let’s dive into the other SEC newcomer, the Oklahoma Sooners. Brent Venables enters his third season at the helm in Norman, coming off a 10-3 season that ended with a 38-24 loss to Arizona in the Alamo Bowl.

The Sooners offense will be met with challenges in its inaugural year of SEC play. Last year’s signal caller, Dillon Gabriel, is off to Oregon to join Dan Lanning and company. They have a new starting quarterback and offensive coordinator, not to mention a completely different offensive line.

Sophomore QB Jackson Arnold will take over as the head signal caller. The former five-star recruit in the 2023 class showcased flashes of his talent in the Alamo Bowl loss to Arizona despite some struggles. He went 26-45 for 361 yards with two touchdowns alongside three interceptions.

They return quality production at the skill positions with RB Gavin Sawchuk, WR Jalil Farooq, and WR Nic Anderson. On the defensive side of the ball, depth at the second and third levels will prove pivotal. They feature a top-10 secondary room and linebacker unit highlighted by 2023 third-team AP All-American Danny Stutsman. 

Their schedule isn’t the friendliest. We’re all aware of the Red River matchup with Texas, but in the last five weeks of the regular season, they are on the road against Ole Miss, Missouri, and LSU. Not to mention a home matchup with the new era Alabama slated between the Missouri and LSU games.

Oklahoma’s performance in the new-look SEC will hinge on the development of Jackson Arnold and the ability to install an offensive line featuring all new faces. 

The Tennessee Volunteers could be one of the biggest wildcards in the conference this season. Year 3 of the Josh Heupel tenure in Knoxville may not have bred the same magic as the 2022 season, yet the Volunteers still finished 9-4 with a Citrus Bowl victory over Iowa. 

For the first time in 19 years, the program finished Top-20 in the AP poll in back-to-back seasons and is entering 2024 with high expectations.

Sophomore QB Nico Iamaleava will be the full-time starter in Heupel’s offense, a unit we saw finish top 5 in every major statistical category in 2022 under the command of Hendon Hooker. Let’s imagine how the Volunteer offense will look with another elite talent at quarterback, get your popcorn ready folks.

The skill positions on offense return several key pieces outside of running back. The Volunteers lost RB Jaylen Wright, RB Jamari Small, & WR Ramel Keyton to the recent NFL draft. Returning players include WR Squirrel White and WR Bru Mccoy. WR Chris Brazzell II is a transfer portal addition via Tulane that projects to plug into this scheme seamlessly. 

The concern for Tennessee will be on the defensive side of the ball. Outside of the nation’s best pass rusher in James Pearce Jr, there isn’t much to write home about for this unit. The secondary lost 11 defensive backs from last year’s team, which doesn't even seem possible. 

The Volunteer's schedule is extremely manageable. Their road schedule does however present some challenges: NC State in the first week of September, Oklahoma two weeks later, and Georgia in the middle of November. The Third Saturday in October matchup with Alabama will be back in Knoxville this season, let’s hope for a similar matchup to the 2022 classic.

This will be an exciting team to watch, expect shootouts every Saturday for Tennessee.

How about Eli Drinkwitz down there in Missouri? Drinkwitz was on the hot seat entering last season following a 16-19 start to his campaign. Those talks have been completely sidelined following an incredible 2023 season where the Tigers finished 11-2 with a Cotton Bowl victory over Ohio State, the best season for the program in a decade.

They return one of the nation’s most dynamic passing attacks, headlined by QB Brady Cook. They return their top three pass catchers in Luther Burden III, Theo Wease Jr, and Mookie Cooper. Burden projects as a Biletnikoff award finalist and first-round NFL draft pick.

The run game will take a step back with Cody Schrader, the SEC’s leading rusher last season and single-season rushing leader in program history, leaving for the NFL.

The defensive side of the ball presents several questions. The unit lost several key starters to the NFL draft including DL Darius Robinson, CB Ennis Rakestraw Jr, LB Ty’Ron Hopper, CB Kris Abrams-Draine, and DB Jaylon Carlies.

Missouri yielded a favorable schedule in 2024, the only true road tests being Texas A&M in early October and Alabama later that month. They do not face LSU, Ole Miss, Georgia, Texas, or Oklahoma in the regular season. 

Despite the key losses on the defensive side of the ball, with the returning production on offense and a favorable schedule, the Missouri Tigers could very well secure back-to-back double-digit winning seasons, which hasn’t been done at this program since the 2011-2012 seasons.

Now we’re gonna dive into the next tier of SEC teams. Texas A&M could be a fascinating program to follow in 2024. The Jimbo Fisher era in College Station was nothing short of a disaster that ended with a record-breaking $77.5 million buyout.

Mike Elko comes over from Duke to take over the reins. He spent the 2022 and 2023 seasons bringing the Duke program out of complete darkness, with 9 and 8 win seasons respectively. He has ties to the A&M program, having served as defensive coordinator under Fisher from 2018 to 2021. 

Elko and his staff will have exponentially more resources to work with, not to mention a top quarterback prospect for the 2025 NFL draft in Connor Weigman returning from injury.

Don’t expect a flashy display, but don’t be surprised if you turn on the TV and Texas A&M is in a one-score game entering the fourth quarter vs a top-ranked team. Expect a dog fight every week.

What is expected of Hugh Freeze in his 2nd season at the helm at Auburn? His first season was similar to the two seasons before his arrival, finishing 6-7 and securing their third straight losing season. This stretch of losing seasons hasn’t happened at Auburn since the 1970s.

Freeze has heated up on the recruiting trail and does feature a quality collection of skill players on both sides of the ball, but questions at quarterback remain. Peyton Thorne being slated as the starter with a questionable offensive line doesn't bode well in the SEC.

I’m looking to the 2025 season for the Auburn Tigers, one more offseason cycle of recruiting and transfer portal acquisitions may result in a winning season in Jordan-Hare. 

Is Billy Napier going to be the coach of the Florida Gators at the end of the season? He enters his third season on the hot seat, posting an underwhelming 11-14 record in the years prior.

The schedule doesn’t help Napier’s case to secure his job whatsoever. They open with a home game vs Miami that very well may project the outcome of the 2024 season. They are also slated to face Texas A&M, Tennessee, Georgia, Texas, LSU, Ole Miss, and Florida State. The textbook definition of a gauntlet.

2024 could very well be the fourth straight losing season in the swamp, the last time the program experienced anything resembling this phenomenon was during The Great Depression.

The last five teams: South Carolina, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt are programs I am not buying much stock into for the 2024 season.

Kentucky could be interesting with QB Brock Vandergriff transferring in from Georgia. Shane Beamer and South Carolina may win a few games they shouldn’t, but classically also lose a couple they shouldn’t. Mississippi State is a program I’m looking at in the 2025 season once Jeff Lebby gets a full offseason cycle under his belt. Vanderbilt is Vanderbilt.

As always, the SEC will be pure cinema again this year. Many would be shocked to see anything less than six teams entering the expanded playoff bracket. 

Be sure to follow us on socials @FSRJax to stay up to date on all things college football. We will have more conference previews coming out later this week. College football is almost back.

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