2016 SEC football preview

Home to seven of the last nine National Champions, the SEC will again figure prominently in the College Football Playoff discussion.  Its West Division is considered to be the best division in college football, while  the East is home to several teams that seemed to be poised to have great futures.  He’s what I see coming up this season.

WEST DIVISION

ALABAMA   Many pundits have the Crimson Tide rolling to another SEC Championship and into the College Football Playoff.   Three factors have me calling for something else this season.   The first, is the unsettled battle at the quarterback position.    My guess is that Cooper Bateman will get the call. He was the back up last fall to Jake Coker and had 57 passing attempts.  Secondly, new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt takes over a unit that lost three members of the front seven to the NFL.   Even though the talent level on this roster is top-notch, and at Alabama, it is next man up at every position, that is still a lot to lose.  The third factor is a brutal schedule.   They open with USC, but have to travel to Mississippi, LSU, Arkansas and Tennessee!   If there has ever been a year to roll the Tide, this is it.

IMPACT NEWCOMER:   Wide Receiver Gehrig Dieter, a Bowling Green transfer.

WATCH OUT:   Alabama out rushed opponents 2,999 to 1,135, look for more of the same!

ARKANSAS     Quarterback Brandon Allen is gone, he will be replaced by his little brother Austin.  The younger Allen beat out three highly touted competitors in the spring to win the job.  He’ll step into an offense that will be loaded, despite losing several key cogs to the NFL.   Running backs Rawleigh Williams and Devwah Whaley will spearhead a solid rushing attack, that will run behind another massive Bret Bielema offensive line.   Nine starters return to a defense that should much less generous than last year’s which allowed 27 PPG.   If the Razorbacks had an experienced starting quarterback returning, I would be calling for a double-digit win season!   The schedule sets up perfectly, with Alabama, Florida, Mississippi and LSU all coming to Fayetteville.  Home cooking and a good night of sleep should secure at least two victories from that group.   The Razorbacks will decide who wins the SEC West title!  Woo Pig Sooie.

IMPACT : NEWCOMER    TE  JEREMY SPRINKLE,  BIG, STRONG, FAST.

BETTER WATCH OUT:    Razorbacks could be 5-0 when they host Alabama.

AUBURN– There are so many questions surrounding this season’s Tiger team, that I could see them win anywhere from five to nine games.   The schedule is brutal, as the Tigers travel to Tuscaloosa, Athens and Oxford, plus host Clemson, LSU and Arkansas.  But the Tigers will be able to run the ball, and Jovon Robinson seems like a solid candidate to continue Auburn’s streak of 1,000 yard rushers, which has run for seven seasons.  There is speed everywhere and the secondary should be solid.

IMPACT NEWCOMER:     John Franklin III,  Florida State quarterback transfer.   Dual threat.

BETTER WATCH OUT:     The home team has won 14 of last 16 in LSU series.

LSU – The last four years have seen the Tigers looking up in the standings at division rivals Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi.   It got so bad last year that someone was calling for Les Miles to be fired!   Miles survived, and he should put any doubt about the program to rest this season — 17 starters return to what should be the best LSU squad in years.  They’ll be led by Brandon Harris, one of the top returning quarterbacks in the SEC, and he is poised for a breakout campaign. At running back, the Tigers feature a true workhorse in Heisman Trophy hopeful Leonard Fournette.  Dave Aranda, comes over from Wisconsin as defensive coordinator and inherits an athletic defense that returns nine starters.   He’ll install a 3-4 front that seems to fit the personnel and should bring vastly improved results.  The schedule sets up well as Mississippi and Alabama are at home with a bye in-between.

IMPACT NEWCOMER:    Defensive Coordinator, Dave Aranda.

WATCH OUT:     A road date at Arkansas, looms after facing the Rebels and Tide.

MISSISSIPPI   On the surface, this could be the toughest season in Oxford for Hugh Freeze.   Allegations surround the program, centering around the Laremy Tunsil saga.  Coupled with massive draft losses to the NFL, and a schedule that is brutal and you have a recipe for disaster.  But you know what, there is fight in these Rebels, they are no longer the laughingstock of the SEC.  I love how Hugh Freeze has built this program, and solid recruiting classes the last several years should help ease the pain.   The Rebels will be led by the best returning quarterback in the SEC, as Chad Kelly is back for his senior season and could be even better than last year.   The Land Shark defense must replace six starters from a year ago, but they will be hungry.  The season opener against Florida State could make or break the season.   A victory would give the Rebels a huge confidence boost, but a loss, along with all the off-the-field distractions, could send them spiraling downward.

IMPACT NEWCOMER:   Greg Little,  who should start at left tackle!

WATCH OUT:   Rebels own two-game winning streak over the Tide.  They’ll make it three!

MISSISSIPPI STATE   The Dak Prescott era is over — he was simply one of the best leaders to ever play here!   Nick Fitzgerald, a big, strong kid, with a big-time arm gets my vote to replace him.   He won’t dazzle you with his feet like his predecessor did.  Fred Ross is a big game receiver and he should help Fitzgerald settle into the role.   Head coach Dan Mullen has stated that he needs to find a consistent running game, and that will be a focus as fall camp starts.   Defensively the Bulldogs welcome back LB Richie Brown, who led the team with 109 tackles.   He will spearhead a defense that should be stout.   With so many questions on the offensive side of the ball, I am calling for the Bulldogs to miss a bowl game for the first time since 2009.

IMPACT NEWCOMER:    WR Donald Gray, speedy junior college transfer.

BETTER WATCH OUT:     The Bulldogs last beat South Carolina in 1999.   A must win for a chance at a bowl game.

TEXAS A&M    The Aggies will go as far as two Oklahoma transfers can take them.   Trevor Knight takes over at quarterback spot after losing the job at Oklahoma.   He is a talented dual threat, who should actually be an upgrade over former quarterbacks here.   Running Back Keith Ford also made the move, he could be the feature back here.  Knight will have what I think is the best receiving corps in the country to work with.    Superstar Myles Garrett turned down the NFL and could be the first man off the board in the 2017 NFL draft.    He will lead a defense that should be significantly improved!

IMPACT NEWCOMER    DT  Kingsley Keke,  a massive run-stopping tackle.

BETTER WATCH OUT:     A favorable home schedule could help get the Aggies to a nine-win season.

EAST DIVISION

FLORIDA   Like many of the SEC schools, the Gators have to find a quarterback.   Transfers Luke Del Rio and Austin Appleby are in a heated battle.   I think Del Rio has the bigger upside and should win the job.   The strength of the offense will be an outstanding receiver group.   The Gators will need to find a feature back to complement the passing game and  Mark Thompson appears to be the front-runner to tote the rock.   The Gators finished eighth in total defense last season, and might need those type of results to guarantee a solid finish.   The Gators are another team I would not want to play in the second half.

IMPACT NEWCOMER:    K Eddy Pineiro,   Big leg, who will surely improve on woeful kicking game.

BETTER WATCH OUT:    McElwain expects as many as five true freshman to have a big impact.

GEORGIA   Kirby Smart takes over the reins at head coach for Mark Richt, who was fired and moved onto Miami.  Unlike most first year coaches, Smart did not inherit a bare cupboard, there are plenty of bones for the Bulldogs.  Smart has history at Georgia, having played defensive back here in the 90’s.  His first big decision, will be to name a starting QB.  Super-recruit Jacob Eason is my choice to start.   It’s tough for a true freshman to have a major impact, but just remember the impact of Josh Rosen had on UCLA last season.  Capable veteran Greyson Lambert is still in the mix, as well as Brice Ramsey.   He’ll also have to complete a massive rebuild of the offensive line.   But the Dawgs could have the best running back tandem in the country with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel both back.   The defense should be solid — Georgia led the nation in pass defense last season, and have what could be the top secondary in the nation.   The front seven has several holes that need to be addressed, but Smart feels he has the horses to get the job done.  The Bulldogs have a favorable schedule, which will come in handy.  I expect the Bulldogs to dominate in the second half of the season, once the position battles are over.

IMPACT NEWCOMER:    QB Jacob Eason,  the top-ranked quarterback recruit

BETTER WATCH OUT:    A win over Tennessee, could vault Bulldogs to East Title.

KENTUCKY   The last two years I have called for the Wildcats to reach the 6-6 plateau and go bowling, and each year they have fallen short at 5-7.   I think this is a make or break season for Mark Stoops, as even the faithful are getting restless in Lexington.   Stoops hired Eddie Gran to take over as offensive coordinator.   He was very successful at Cincinnati.   Overall nine starters return on offense, providing high expectations.   Drew Barker figures to be under center, as Patrick Towles left the program.   Barker started two games last fall and showed he could handle the position.   Stanley “Boom” Williams will spearhead what should be a strong running game.   The defense is another story.   The front seven needs to be overhauled.   They do have a few nice pieces, but have a severe lack of depth.   The schedule sets up well at home, but I see no winnable road games.   I’ll call for a third consecutive 5-7 season.

IMPACT NEWCOMER:   NT Matt Elam,  6-7 360 pound monster!

BETTER WATCH OUT:    Stoops has failed to have a winning season at Kentucky.   Another losing season and his job could be in jeopardy.

MISSOURI  Improving an offense that ranked second-to-last (13.6 ppg) is the top priority for both new Head Coach Barry Odom and Offensive Coordinator Josh Heupel.   The Tigers have a solid quarterback in Drew Lock, who should be much improved over his freshman campaign.   Lock is a big strong kid, with a cannon for an arm.   The offense will also be bolstered by the addition of two high-impact transfers, RB Alex Ross (Oklahoma) and WR Chris Black (Alabama) could both be stars.    The problem on offense is upfront, where they lose 146 career starts to graduation!   The defense should be one of the best in the SEC.   Eight starters return, giving the Tigers a chance to improve on an already spectacular unit, led by a defensive line that is one of the best in the country.   The Tigers have a manageable home schedule, which should get them to six wins and back to a bowl.

IMPACT NEWCOMER:    Head Coach Barry Odom who played linebacker here and served as defensive coordinator last season.    He should make a seamless transition.

BETTER WATCH OUT:    If the offense improves,  MIZZOU could make some noise.

KENTUCKY   The last two years I have called for the Wildcats to reach the 6-6 plateau and go bowling, and each year they have fallen short at 5-7.   I think this is a make or break season for Mark Stoops, as even the faithful are getting restless in Lexington.   Stoops hired Eddie Gran to take over as offensive coordinator.   He was very successful at Cincinnati.   Overall nine starters return on offense, providing high expectations.   Drew Barker figures to be under center, as Patrick Towles left the program.   Barker started two games last fall and showed he could handle the position.   Stanley “Boom” Williams will spearhead what should be a strong running game.   The defense is another story.   The front seven needs to be overhauled.   They do have a few nice pieces, but have a severe lack of depth.   The schedule sets up well at home, but I see no winnable road games.   I’ll call for a third consecutive 5-7 season.

IMPACT NEWCOMER:   NT Matt Elam,  6-7 360 pound monster!

BETTER WATCH OUT:    Stoops has failed to have a winning season at Kentucky.   Another losing season and his job could be in jeopardy.

SOUTH CAROLINA   Will Muschamp has taken on the responsibility of resurrecting a football program that is entering into a full rebuild mode.  But he is the right man, to once again bring pride to “Gamecock Nation.”   It won’t be easy or quick, but given his pedigree, it will happen.   The offense is in shambles, the offensive line must be rebuilt, and the skill positions are wide open.   The defense is in better shape, but the loss of Skai Moore to an injury in the spring was a devastating blow.    Moore led the team with 111 tackles.   The defensive line now becomes the strength of the team.   It will be a long year in Columbia, as the team adjusts to a new scheme and an overall lack of talent.

IMPACT NEWCOMER:    QB Brandon McIlwain,  one of the top quarterback recruits this year.

BETTER WATCH OUT:    Five game home stand in October, could produce a devastating loss for one of the SEC title contenders.

TENNESSEE   This is the year “Rocky Top” will return to the glory days of the Phillip Fulmer era.   The last time the Vols won an SEC Championship was in 1998!when they went 13-0.    Head coach Butch Jones enters his fourth year, and is ready to claim a division crown.  This team is loaded with 17 returning starters, including QB Joshua Dobbs.    Dobbs has a full cast of weapons, that include 1,000 yard rusher Jalen Hurd, four returning offensive lineman, and a bevy of talented receivers.   The focus in the spring was to work on improving the deep passing game.   I believe that will payoff, and expect the Vols to have the top offense in the SEC.   Defensively the front seven is loaded, and will be among the best in the conference.    The only weakness could be the secondary, which must replace both safeties.   The schedule is tough as they draw Texas A&M and Alabama from the West.  The last time the Vols won an SEC Championship was in 1998, when they went 13-0.  Could this be the year of  the return to the glory days of the Phil Fulmer era?   Don’t know, but they will be singing “Rocky Top” when they end an 11-game losing streak to Florida.

IMPACT NEWCOMER    DT Kahlil McKenzie,  massive run-stopping tackle

BETTER WATCH OUT    Tennessee special teams had a huge edge over opponents last season.   Look for more of the same!

VANDERBILT   Last year the offense ranked 117th in the nation.   The good news is, eight starters return and they should be better.    Quarterback Kyle Shurmur and tailback Ralph Webb form a solid nucleus to build around.   Improving the passing game will be key, and the Dores have the athletes to accomplish that.   Head coach Derek Mason, took over the defense last year, and had sparkling results.  They will again be solid on that side of the ball with the return of a couple of guys who should play at the next level, including Linebacker Zach Cunningham, a potential All-American.   Get on the boat now, this team is a year away from going bowling, with only four seniors as projected starters!

IMPACT NEWCOMER:    LB Josh Smith,  highest rated recruit from last years class.

BETTER WATCH OUT:    Don’t blame it on scurvy, this team could pull a major upset.

 

HOW WILL THEY FINISH?

WEST

LSU                                      11-1       7-1

Alabama                             9-3         5-3

Mississippi                          8-4         5-3

Arkansas                             8-4         4-4

Texas A&M                        7-5         4-4

Auburn                                7-5         4-4

Mississippi State               5-7         2-6

 

EAST

Tennessee                          10-2       8-2

Georgia                               10-2       8-2

Florida                                 8-4         5-3

Missouri                              6-6         3-5

Kentucky                             5-7         3-5

Vanderbilt                          4-8         1-7

South Carolina                  4-8         1-7

VOLUNTEERS TO FACE BAYOU BENGALS IN SEC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME.    The 2016 season is upon us, and the SEC figures to play a dominant role in determining a National Championship once again.    I like four teams to possibly contend for the SEC title, three coming from the dominant Western division.    Alabama, Mississippi and LSU should be the teams to beat in the West, while Tennessee should finally breakthrough in the East.     I expect the Tigers to defeat Tennessee in SEC final and advance to the College Football Playoff!

*** I welcome your feedback on all my postings.***

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: