The 2019 LSU Tigers had their cake and ate it, too. No defense in college football could stop Joe Burrow’s Heisman Trophy campaign. No offense dared throw in the direction of All-American Derek Stingley Jr. — The scariest part is that he was just a freshman. No head coach could duplicate Ed Orgeron’s drawl, as “Geaux Tigers” bookended his 15 postgame interviews en route to LSU’s undefeated run to a College Football Playoff National Championship.
But 2020 is a new year. Quite literally, it’s something we’ve never seen before. Dozens of college football programs will not be playing in the fall. Thousands of local businesses are at the mercy of cancellations brought on by COVID-19. But amidst all this chaos, there is one pillar on which we all will lean: A fresh batch of elite Southeastern Conference football.
The SEC is joining the ACC and Big 12 in playing a regular season schedule, while fellow Power 5 conferences in the Big Ten and Pac-12 chose to postpone fall sports. The American Athletic Conference, Conference-USA and Sun Belt Conference plan to play fall football, as well as a few FBS Independents like BYU, Army West Point and Liberty.
Speaking on FOX Sports’ Big Noon Kickoff, the three-time national champion dove deep on all-things SEC. In naming his top five teams for the 2020 campaign, Meyer revealed his prediction for the team that will come away with an SEC Championship Game victory.
Urban Meyer Picks Florida Gators as 2020 SEC Champions
“[The expectation level is] very high, and it’s why I picked the Florida Gators to be the SEC champs. I agree with everything said so far. The only difference-maker that I’ve said, No. 1, is going to be culture. I think the programs you have at the top of the SEC have a very strong culture with LSU, Alabama, Georgia. Dan Mullen is a winner. He won at Mississippi State, a very hard place to play. He’s got an elite culture.
“The two other criteria I had: A returning quarterback and returning system. LSU, Alabama, Georgia all lose their quarterback. With the limited spring practice and all the other issues that we’ve had to face through this lockdown, that’s why I’m picking Florida. I think they’re going to have another top 10 defense they’ve had the last couple years under [defensive coordinator] Todd Grantham. I think it’ll be very close … I think there’s going to be teams that lose two games each, top teams, because they’re not used to playing that 10-game schedule.”
Meyer went on to point out (accurately) that the Alabama Crimson Tide almost always play an FCS opponent before a big game and rarely leave Tuscaloosa — Meyer ranked Alabama second behind Florida in his top SEC teams, followed by the Georgia Bulldogs, Auburn Tigers and Texas A&M Aggies.
Things are a lot different in 2020.
“It’s going to be survival of the fittest,” Meyer said.
Florida returns starting quarterback Kyle Trask along with a strong supporting cast. The Gators kick off the season against Ole Miss, one of four road matchups that include Texas A&M, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee, as well as “The World Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” in Jacksonville against Georgia. Dan Mullen’s squad hosts South Carolina, LSU, Missouri, Arkansas and Kentucky for conference games at home inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Meyer isn’t the first one on the Florida football bandwagon, and he won’t be the last. But getting the endorsement of a former head coach who won 65 games in six seasons, including five bowl game wins and two SEC titles, is one that University of Florida fans should be salivating over as we await the 2020 college football season.