The fall chill is not in the air quite yet, but football is back nonetheless. Fall practice has commenced across the nation. Here in the South, SEC Football is about as big as it gets.
Soon, the car flags will fly. Arguments between fans of rival schools will begin at school, work, and even church.
Because you may need some fuel for those arguments, here's an early look at what the 2018 season may hold for SEC football fans.
Alabama is still the team to beat
Not exactly a shocker here, but Nick Saban's Alabama program is still the class of the SEC. The much-ballyhooed quarterback controversy was never really a controversy in the first place. Tua Tagovailoia is going to be the guy especially after two-year starter Jalen Hurts expressed dismay to reporters last week about the lack of attention from his coaches throughout the spring.
You may remember Tua Tagovailoia rescued the Tide in the second half of the national title game against Georgia in January. Hurts had been largely ineffective in the first half when the young freshman replaced him at halftime and threw three touchdowns to lead the championship charge for 'Bama over the Dawgs.
It's not just the quarterback position that looks to be stellar in 2018 for the Tide. Key starters return on defense and the offensive line. And of course, Alabama is ridiculously deep at every position.
Perhaps the Tide's biggest advantage comes because of the man roaming the sidelines. Saban is the top coach in the country and will be considered one of the best in the history of College Football when he's done.
Watch out for the Bulldogs... of Mississippi State
When former Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen left Starkville for Florida this past offseason, he didn't leave the cupboard bare. The Bulldogs of the SEC West are stocked with loads of returning talent from a 2017 team that went 9-4 and nearly toppled Alabama last November.
State struggled at Auburn and Georgia, losing both in lopsided fashion (49-10 & 31-3 respectively), but it has a healthy Nick Fitzgerald back at QB as well as the entire starting offensive line from 2017 returning.
New head coach Joe Moorhead has had much success as an offensive coordinator at multiple stops. He was also a successful head coach at the FCS level, leading Fordham to three straight playoff appearances while amassing a 38-13 record in four seasons.
The SEC East crown still goes through Athens
Under Nick Saban protege' Kirby Smart, the Dawgs exceeded expectations last season. Everybody expected Georgia to win the meager SEC East, but the playoff win and national runner-up status was a surprise even for many Dawg fans.
Last year's true freshman stud quarterback Jake Fromm is back for his sophomore year, but the offense may have to rely much more on his young arm since running backs Sony Michel and Nick Chubb are on NFL rosters.
Also gone is Georgia's heart and soul on defense, linebacker Roquan Smith. All of those losses will be felt, but Smart is steadily building a program that will only reload rather than having to rebuild. Don't expect a return to the playoff, but Georgia will easily win the east and challenge Alabama for the SEC Crown in December.
New coaches at six SEC programs
Some prominent SEC programs are debuting new head coaches in 2018. Tennessee hired another Saban assistant in Jeremy Pruitt. His mark has already been felt in recruiting and in the weight room. The Vols may not be drastically better on the field in 2018 than they were last season, but Pruitt is building a foundation.
Down in Gainesville, Fla., Dan Mullen hopes to bring the glory years back to Florida. With some of his team already wading through legal issues, the Gators may not be far off from their storied and troubled history.
Four programs in the SEC West hired new head coaches as well. Texas A&M's Jimbo Fisher leads the pack as the most successful of the bunch. Joe Moorhead (Mississippi State) and Matt Luke (Ole Miss) are now in charge of the Mississippi schools and the offensively-minded Chad Morris took over at Arkansas. They're all tasked with the unenviable task of taking on Nick Saban. Good luck, fellas.
2018 SEC Prognostication
- Mississippi State
- Texas A&M
- Ole Miss
- South Carolina
Final Four Prediction
No. 1 Clemson vs. Washington
No. 2 Alabama vs. Michigan State
Clemson over Alabama for the national title.
Joel A. Barker is a sports writing preacher. Joel was a longtime Featured Columnist covering College Football for The Bleacher Report before beginning his pursuit in pastoral ministry studies. Follow Joel on Twitter @joelabarker.