It’s almost that time of year. In just two short days, televisions around the country will once again be tuning in to college football allday. Yesterday, we broke down each team in the Big-12. Now, we are tackling the biggest and baddest conference in all of the NCAA, the SEC Conference. The last year of the BCS Championship broke a seven year run of National Champions from the SEC, and Auburn was just seconds away from making it eight years. Now the question seems to be not if, but how many teams, the SEC will be putting into the four team playoff this year. Let’s break down each division, starting with the East.
1. Georgia Bulldogs
There are few college team fan bases that are more eager to put last year behind them than UGA. Riddled by a slow start, and injuries all season long, the Bulldogs put up a solid 8-4 record, but that was a huge disappointment for fans that had National Championship on their mind. Just like last year, they have a brutal start to their schedule, hosting #16 Clemson before traveling to play #9 South Carolina in what could be one of the most pivotal games in the whole college football schedule all year.
Georgia is one of several teams in the SEC that lost one of it’s long standing QB’s after Aaron Murray graduated, so they will be looking to fifth-year Hutson Mason, who has waited patiently behind Murray his whole career. Star running back Todd Gurley figures to be the x-factor for this offense, as Mark Richt will be relying heavily on him to help ease the learning curb for Mason.
2. South Carolina
It figures to be a two-man race in the East between these two teams, but we give the slight edge to Georgia because of the amount of talent that departed from this Gamecocks squad last year. They lost their top defensive player, eventual #1 pick Jadevon Clowney, as well as Connor Shaw, who has been Steve Spurrier’s Quarterback for what seems like the past decade. There is still a ton of talent left on this deep squad, but there’s no doubt the team will go through some growing pains this year. It won’t be an easy start either. The Gamecocks host #21 Texas A&M to start the year, then have to play East Carolina before the huge early showdown with Georgia, who will have a bye week to prepare for the game. Look for South Carolina to be a perennial top 15 team all year, but don’t expect them to make the inaugural playoff final four.
Florida will try to bounce back from one of the worst offensive seasons in the school’s history. The lone bright note for that offense is that they are simply a year older, and surely can’t wait to get out on the field and silence the pundits and criticism they heard all summer long. Fortunately for them, they have one of the best defenses in college football to bail them out in some of these inevitable defensive struggles. Look for the Gators to bounce back and put together a season in the 8-4 range, which will be good enough for a decent bowl, and should save Will Muschamp’s job.
Few teams in all of college football lost more from last season then these Missouri Tigers. A team that shocked the world by winning this division last year will come in this year with a new Quarterback, running back, and for the most part, a new receiving core. Add on the losses on the defensive side, and you have a team that will certainly be regressing from last year. Despite the losses, Coach Gary Pinkel has built a solid program here in Missouri that should be able to weather most of the losses. The Tigers still figured to have one of the best playmakers in all of football until they dismissed troubled wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham from the team in April.
Long gone are the days when the Volunteers were one of college football’ biggest powerhouses. Now, they are simply trying to rekindle the glory days in what looks to be another subpar season for the mid-state team. Football is a game won in the trenches, and in the physical SEC, this factor is amplified. Look for Tennessee to make a bowl game, but not do much else this year.
The Commodores will have the benefit of a soft schedule that should allow for some easy wins. Unfortunately, it will be a mirage, as this team won’t be competing with the higher level teams in the conference.
The one think the Wildcats have going for them is experience at the skill positions on offense. In an off-season where several of the top teams were depleted in that category, Kentucky will be returning their top four guys. Sadly, it won’t be for much, as Mark Stoops looks to have a longggg season ahead of him.
Now let’s take a look at the SEC West, which has powerhouse Alabama, Auburn, and LSU.
The old adage is: defense wins championships. And that is why I’m giving the Crimson Tide the slightest of edges here. I’m very concerned about the QB spot on this team after AJ McCarron finally graduated, and while Jacob Coker looks to step in and take the starting role, there figures to be some growing pains. Luckily for Coker and company, they don’t figure to have any sweat until their fourth game against Florida, and even that might end up being a cupcake. The road game against LSU will be a big test, as it’s the final road game in a stretch of four out of five games away from home.
The National Championship runner-ups suffered two huge losses in the offseason, with RB Tre Mason and OT Greg Robinson heading on to the NFL. For a team that was based around the run last year (a nation leading 328 yards), they might need to change up their game plan. Fortunately for them, Nick Marshall figures to have a huge year, as one of the best dual threat weapons in all of college football. Auburn has a brutal schedule, facing six Top 25 opponents in their last eight games. It’s going to be a tall mountain for the Tigers to climb, and I’m not sure they will be able to do that this year.
3. Ole Miss
Ole Miss has been stuck in the middle to bottom half of this conference for the last decade, but this could be one of the best seasons in recent memory for this squad. With LSU and Texas A&M in the midst of a “rebuilding” season, the time is now for Ole Miss to try and secure one of the top three spots in the division. The Rebels figure to be 4-0 when they host juggernaut #2 Alabama which could be a matchup of Top 10 teams depending on what ends up happening elsewhere.
The Tigers figure to be a contender once again in a year or two, but this is going to be a down year, at least for the standards that LSU has made for themselves over the last few years. Gone are their starting QB, RB, and top two wide receivers, not the best combination for any team, let alone a SEC powerhouse. LSU is faced with an early test right away against Wisconsin, one they will likely lose. But after that, they have four cupcakes to work out the kinks before they face off with Auburn. There are few teams and coaches that recruit better than LSU and Les Miles, so don’t be surprised to see this team fighting it out for the conference title again next year.
5. Texas A&M
There arguably isn’t a team that lost more talent from last year’s team than the Aggies, who lost Johnny Manziel, Mike Evans, and Jake Matthews, amongst others, to the NFL. The bright spot could be the experience of the defense, which returns eight starters from last year’s squad. It will certainly be a rebuilding year for the Aggies, but don’t be surprised to see the 12th man will this team to an upset over one of the big guns in the conference.
6. Mississippi State
A poor offense will be protected at times by one of the toughest defenses not only in the SEC, but all of the nation. They ranked 18th last year nationally, and they will need to keep up that pace if they want to try and get a winning record.
The Razorbacks went 0-8 in the SEC last year, and I’m not expecting much more from them this year. A solid running game might sneak them a game or two, but that’s about it in this brutal part of the conference.
That wraps up the team breakdowns in the SEC Conference this year. We expect Alabama to once again compete for the National Championship, knocking off Georgia in the SEC Championship. What do you think will happen in the SEC? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!