There is really high-level college football, and then there is SEC-level college football. The conference is stronger than ever, as six teams were ranked in the final AP Poll of 2018, and another three received votes to just miss the cut. Four teams -- Alabama, LSU, Florida and Georgia -- all finished in the top 10, and only one team finished with less than five wins (sorry, Arkansas).
The Clemson Tigers are national champions and another college football season is in the books, but it's never too early to talk about next year, right? The Southeastern Conference released every team's football schedules back in September, and next season is loaded with marquee matchups. From Alabama to Vanderbilt and every team in between, the SEC is primed to give us another round of the best college football in the country.
1. Opening Weekend is Going to Be Fun...
Kickoff games are becoming the biggest schedule shakers for playoff contending programs, and next 2019 is no exception.
Opening weekend starts with the Auburn Tigers taking on the high-flying Oregon Ducks in Dallas, Texas. It's highly likely that both quarterbacks from this year's teams, Auburn's Jarrett Stidham and Oregon's Justin Herbert, will make the jump to the NFL in the offseason, so this game will be about finding new offensive stars for both programs.
The other big game will be the Camping World Kickoff between Dan Mullen's Florida Gators and Mark Richt's Miami Hurricanes in Orlando, Florida. Both programs battle for Florida's blue-chip recruits year after year, so why not let them set the tone for the entire season at a neutral site game inside the state?
2. ...But Week Two Might Be Even Better
Yeah, this season is going to be good.
When the LSU Tigers take on the Texas Longhorns at Texas Memorial Stadium, two of college football's all-time winningest programs will face off in the first of a two-year, home-and-home series. LSU would have the advantage this season, but Tom Herman's program has the chance to make waves next year in this matchup.
Next, two Heisman hopeful quarterbacks won't be here come 2019, but the high-scoring offenses of the West Virginia Mountaineers and Missouri Tigers should prove to one of the most fun non-conference matchups of the early part of the season.
Lastly, a rematch between the Texas A&M Aggies on the road against Clemson Tigers is going to be even more exciting than it was this season. Jimbo Fisher has the Aggies trending upwards into the future, and Dabo Swinney's roster is always loaded with elite talent. Expect this one to come down to the wire once again.
3. Alabama Needs to Stop Scheduling Cupcakes
Look at this filth. Alabama is so good that it doesn't matter who they schedule anymore.
The best non-conference team they'll play is the Duke Blue Devils in Atlanta, Georgia, who they should beat by 40-plus on opening weekend. Then, elite programs like the New Mexico State Aggies, the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles, and the always terrifying Western Carolina Catamounts will all visit Tuscaloosa.
I can already feel Nick Saban quivering in his championship boots...
4. Texas A&M Closes Their Season with Two Games of Death
Jimbo Fisher's second season in College Station starts off strong. He'll get to play SEC West powerhouses Auburn, Alabama and Mississippi State all at home before November. Then, it's going to get really difficult.
Texas A&M could easily be a one or two loss team when November hits, but they'll have to close their season, and impress the critics who will place them into their bowl game, by playing both the Georgia Bulldogs and LSU Tigers on the road in back-to-back weeks.
This will be a HUGE test to see how far the program has come in just two seasons.
5. Missouri Will Hate Playing Three-Straight Road Games
Getting five-straight home games looks great to start the year, but Missouri will have to turn around in a hurry and be ready for their season to get really difficult.
The Tigers play Vanderbilt and Kentucky in back-to-back weeks, get a bye week on November 2, and then will travel to Athens to play Georgia. The schedule isn't going to be kind to the Tigers, and they'll need every ounce of energy they can spare to challenge for the SEC East crown.
6. Mississippi State Has Their Hands Full in the Middle
Joe Moorhead is already starting behind the pack in a division with some of college football's elite programs, and he'll have to play all of them one after another.
First, it's Auburn on the road followed by an off week. Then, three of the next four are on the road with LSU sandwiched in the middle. After another bye, it's the Grim Reaper in Alabama. The Egg Bowl to round out the year at home is the only saving grace on this tough conference schedule.
7. Ole Miss' First Bowl Eligible Season in Two Years Will Be Rough
Matt Luke's team will be eligible for postseason play after two seasons of banishment, one by the NCAA and the other being a self-imposed ban by the school. It won't be easy, either.
The opener on the road against a Memphis program, which won 10 games in 2017, smells like a trap game. Add road games against Alabama, Auburn and the season finale on the road against Mississippi State, and you have a recipe for a 6 to 7 win season. Luke better hope to turn this program around in a hurry.
8. Georgia Has Their Hands Full
Kirby Smart's program is vying to become the dominant team in the SEC next to Alabama, and their schedule proves the Bulldogs are ready to take that leap.
Getting a tough Notre Dame team early in the season bodes well for their late season projections, but November will test the true legitimacy of this team led by Jake Fromm, who figures to be gone when the 2020 NFL Draft rolls around.
Closing the year with SEC West teams Auburn and Texas A&M gives them big conference bragging rights, then adding a challenging road game against Georgia Tech and the triple option makes preparation for that game crucial.
9. If Auburn Survives, November Could Put Them in the Playoff
Auburn kicks off the season with Oregon, Tulane and Kent State, then they hit a rough stretch with four of five games, inc on the road, but after that, the table is set for them to make a playoff run.
Getting both Georgia and Alabama late in the season give Gus Malzahn's team the opportunity to make at least one, and maybe even two, HUGE statements to impress the playoff committee. This team is poised to win the SEC next season if they handle business in the West.
10. It's Going to Be a Long Season for Vanderbilt
What's the worst way to open the season if you're Vanderbilt? Hosting Georgia.
Add the fact that they'll get a high-flying Purdue offense on the road, then a cross-conference game against LSU, and Vandy could easily start the season 0-3. Add road games against Ole Miss, South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee?
This could be a very, very long season for a Commodores program that hasn't had more than six wins since James Franklin left for Penn State after the 2013 season.
11. Georgia versus Florida Will Be Big in Jacksonville
If Dan Mullen wants to turn this program around, he's going to have to knock off the big Dawgs in the SEC East. Best way to do that is to play them at a neutral site.
The two teams will square off in Jacksonville, Florida to kick off November, plus they'll get to play Florida State, a team that the Gators just beat for the first time since 2012 last season.
In state rivalries are always fun, and this team gets two BIG ones in 2019.
12. Two SEC Teams are Going to Make the Playoff... Again
This conference is loaded with talent, and 2018 revealed just how much stronger it's gotten with the addition of coaches like Dan Mullen, Joe Moorhead and Jimbo Fisher.
In 2019, the conference is going to have a ton of teams coming off strong finishes, and they'll already be in the good graces of the College Football Playoff committee. Come the end of the season, at least two of these teams will have resumes worthy of going to the playoff.
The SEC is talented beyond belief and looking forward to next season just makes this conference even more exciting.
READ MORE: Ranking the 15 Greatest SEC Quarterbacks of All-Time
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