The 2019 college football season officially ended Monday night, Jan. 13, and while we probably shouldn’t close the book on the latest campaign so fast, it’s difficult to not already be looking ahead to next season.

Living in Southeastern Conference country this league has become even more entertaining in recent weeks. It’s hard to believe it but the conference, especially the SEC West, is going to have storyline after storyline once league play begins, even more so than usual.

LSU was certainly one of the top stories for 2019 in the conference and in the nation. The Tigers surprised most experts with their dominant play, winning the SEC West, the conference championship and then the national title.

Many people didn’t think Ed Orgeron would be successful as the Tigers head coach. Most felt he was a good recruiter and a good assistant coach but being the overall leader of a program was a different story.

It’s not difficult to understand why. His tenure as head coach at Ole Miss was an overall disaster. Yet “Coach O” took what he learned from that experience and is clearly much more comfortable this time around as a head coach.

He has a solid coaching staff (always a key thing in college football) and news in recent days indicated that Joe Brady, credited with a good bit of the team’s offensive success, signed a three-year extension to stay with the program. LSU fans no doubt breathed a sigh of relief as many other programs, both professional and collegiate, were interested in Brady’s services.

Alabama coach Nick Saban knows 2020 has to be a big season for his program or he risks no longer being the dominant program not only in the SEC but the entire country.

Texas A&M is making positive strides under coach Jimbo Fisher. The Aggies were a little bit of a disappointment in 2019 but this is a program with all the tools and resources to be successful.

Auburn defeated Alabama in the annual Iron Bowl, which is always a huge deal. Few outside of the state of Alabama truly understand what this game and its outcome means each fall.

Gus Malzahn seems to be the proverbial cat with nine lives. Each year we hear rumblings that he will be cut loose but a win against Alabama always throws cold water on that fire.

Two schools in the SEC West made big splashes with their head coaching hires and another made a solid choice. First, Ole Miss surprisingly fired Matt Luke. In no time at all, Luke resurfaced as the offensive line coach at Georgia, making Bulldog fans quickly forget about Sam Pittman leaving to be the new head coach at Arkansas.

Ole Miss hired Lane Kiffin away from Florida Atlantic, where he had three quality seasons under the radar. Kiffin, who was fired as offensive coordinator at Alabama during the days before a national title game, will try to make the Rebels competitive in the extremely tough SEC West.

Kiffin’s offensive mind is certainly a plus for Ole Miss. It will be fun during game week when the Rebels play Alabama. Hopefully that will translate into a fun game to watch on the field.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was Mississippi State’s hiring of Mike Leach from Washington State. The pass-first and pass-often coach has a long history of being a great quarterback tutor. His quarterback at WSU was the national passing leader in 2019. It’s a common thing when you play for Leach.

Leach is somewhat of a free spirt and is not above criticizing his own team, his coaches, himself and taking jabs at opponents. Having him in the SEC is like a gift from the college football gods.

Mississippi State was rumored to be interested in a wide variety of candidates for their head coaching positions, including the coaches for Army and Air Force. Leach was a home run hire, though.

Of course, the SEC East is going to be interesting to watch. Georgia fans were nervous when quarterback Jake Fromm declared for the NFL draft, but their tension eased some with the signing of a graduate transfer from Wake Forest.

Florida is a program which posted another double-digit number of wins in 2019 and appears set to truly challenge for the East title under Dan Mullen.

Mark Stoops has built a solid program at Kentucky, something that is not easy to do. It’s somewhat surprising another school has not lured him away.

The addition of Mike Bobo as offensive coordinator at South Carolina will certainly benefit the Gamecocks. South Carolina, however, still has Will Muschamp as head coach and many (myself included) are puzzled as to why.

Missouri enters 2020 with a new head coach as well. In only one season as head coach of Appalachian State, Eli Drinkwitz has entered the SEC for a program that is not exactly a rock bottom.

Vanderbilt will be, well Vanderbilt, in 2020 but the Commodores play well enough on defense to cause opponents trouble.

With all of the news surrounding the SEC in recent weeks, one can only hope the offseason goes by fast. The anticipation for what will transpire with the SEC alone is enough to make one count down the days to kickoff. We haven’t even touched on other conferences and storylines. Stay tuned this offseason for thoughts on all of it.

Winder resident Chris Bridges is a former sports editor of the Barrow News-Journal. He welcomes feedback about this column at pchrisbridges@gmail.com.

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