It’s the most wonderful time of the year everyone, college football is back! I know I am excited just like all of you are I’m sure and I’m here to break down probably the toughest division in college football, the SEC West. This division alone gave us some memorable moments last season along with the rest of the conference and I expect more of the same. Every team has its strengths and weaknesses and it will be interesting to see who can survive the trek through this daunting conference and division. Along with these great teams, there are several individual stars that I will give recognition too as well, because they certainly deserve it. Now, without further a due, I am going to show you exactly how this division will play out and tell you why.
1. Auburn Tigers
Auburn certainly had a magical season last year and although you can’t count on that magic again, you can count on them being a better football team just with a harder schedule. They return their starting quarterback and Heisman candidate Nick Marshall which gives Auburn an advantage over other schools. Marshall now has had a full season, spring, and summer under his belt. Look for Auburn to have the best receiver duo with Sammie Coates and D’haquille ‘Duke’ Williams and make the passing game very dangerous. This will make Auburn more balanced and even more dangerous on offense.
Questions will remain on defense and special teams having to replace starters due to injuries and guys graduating. For the defense, Auburn needs to continue forcing turnovers and guys like Gabe Wright and Kris Frost must lead, and for special teams, the young guy at kicker and punter will need to progress to give Auburn a formidable kicking unit. Their schedule is tough at home and even tougher on the road, but I see Auburn navigating it and winning the right games to get to the SEC Championship game.
2014 record: 10-2 (6-2)
2. Alabama Crimson Tide
For Alabama, last year ended rough for them which gives them all the motivation in the world to reclaim top spot in the SEC. They will be good again, as they always seem to be no matter who they lose after each season. Their biggest concern of course is the question to be answered at quarterback. Transfer Jacob Coker and last year’s back up Blake Sims are in a tight competition for the starting job. Sims has a better grasp on the system so I would give him the early nod as of now. Regardless of who it is, their offense will be driven on the running game with T.J. Yeldon leading the way and when they do throw expect Amari Cooper to be there snagging the passes.
I would say their defense is going to be their strength, but what else is new right? They lost some key pieces but always seem to reload. Look for Trey DePriest and Nick Jones to be the leaders on that defense and make them just as good as they have ever been. Their kicking game is well their biggest weakness, Cade Foster was good, except in last year’s Iron Bowl and replacing him will be tough. Word of advice Alabama, don’t put the new guy in a stressful situation to have to make a game winner from whatever distance. All in all the Tide will roll on again and manage their schedule but just miss the SEC Championship game for the second straight year.
2014 record: 10-2 (6-2)
3. Ole Miss Rebels
Spoiler Alert: My surprise team in the SEC. These guys are dangerous and now that they are back under the radar, they should perform better than expected. Hugh Freeze will have his guys chomping at the bit after last year’s disappointing season ending in a dreadful loss in the Egg Bowl to hated rival Mississippi State. They return their quarterback Bo Wallace, inconsistent at times, but don’t sleep on this guy. Ole Miss has a veteran offensive line and returns one of the better receivers in Laquon Treadwell. Just get him the ball Bo and you, your starting job and the offense will be just fine.
I believe where Ole Miss will win their games this year will be through their defense, mainly because of their sophomore phenom in Robert Nkemdiche. He is going to be lined up at defensive tackle and I think give every team they face fits. This guy will no doubt be one of the top defensive players in the country this year and make everyone else on the defense better because of it. As far as special teams go, they got a new guy at punter and kicker, so that remains their biggest question mark in my opinion. Ole Miss has the chance to be very dangerous, they get a lot of their tougher opponents at home and could surprise some teams. In reality though, I think they have an improved season, just not enough for winning the West.
2014 record: 9-3 (5-3)
4. LSU Tigers
Another team that lost its starting QB after last year, LSU looks to Anthony Jennings and/or Brandon Harris to replace Zach Mettenberger. Each one will get equal looks in their tough opener against Wisconsin. A two QB system has worked in the past for Les Miles, so this could be the start of that all over again. They are weak at receiver but strong on the offensive line and running game. That will be their bread and butter no doubt. LSU back to the ground and pound, win with defense strategy.
For their defense, they have to replace guys yet again, but never a problem for the Tigers. Led by returning defensive end Jermauria Rasco, this Tigers unit will be good, and maybe a little underrated. They will be looking to Rasco to make plays and lead this young unit every week. A main strength for the Tigers will yet again be their kicking game. They return their starting kicker and punter who were both very effective last year and I see them being even better this year. LSU will be good but a year away from great. Their inconsistency at QB will plague them and cost them a few games when they will need big plays from their quarterback. Other than that, the Tigers will be right in the thick of things.
2014 record: 9-3 (5-3)
5. Mississippi State Bulldogs
It’s another season where Mississippi State is looking to be pretty good, can they handle the pressure though? Returning their quarterback Dak Prescott certainly helps, along with a very experienced offensive line. State looked good in games last year and had rough ones as well. Finishing the season beating Ole Miss sure left a good taste in their mouth. The running game will be in good hands with Josh Robinson, as I think he will be one of the better backs in the league. If Dak and Robinson can move this offense on the ground effectively, it will open up the passing game and make this offense dangerous for anyone to face.
Defensively, they will be pretty strong, led by defensive end Preston Smith coming off the edge to provide the pass rush. A very senior laden defense bodes well for the Bulldogs because you can never have too much experience on that side of the ball. They will be tough to score on for anyone, and with teams taking a step back at quarterback, they should have a good season. Their kicking game certainly needs to improve for them to get better on special teams, but no where to go but up from last year. Their home schedule is favorable but it’s the road schedule that will give them problems and keep them in the middle of the pack in the SEC.
2014 record: 8-4 (4-4)
6. Texas A&M Aggies
Johnny Football comeback! Is what all the A&M fans have been saying since he decided to go pro. Granted their now starter Kenny Hill has the potential and talent to be good, just going to be a rough learning curve this year for him but much needed experience. Their strength on offense will be their offensive line which will keep them relevant in games and make them a frustrating offense to get off the field.
Their problems are going to lie on the defensive side of the ball. This team struggled all of last year to stop anyone and they haven’t had a good defense in some time now. They need guys like Howard Matthews and Deshazor Everett to really step up and be leaders to make this defense any good. They will be able to hang their hats on their kicking game though, which is big for them. This gives them the chance to really help out their defense as well as have the potential to win those close games. In the end though, it’s going to be tough for them to make a bowl game, which I think they will, and if they do it will be a success.
2014 record: 6-6 (2-6)
7. Arkansas Razorbacks
Oh those Razorbacks, led by Bret Bielema trying to turn this program around. It certainly will be a trying season for them for sure. Doesn’t look good when your quarterback’s car catches on fire on game week, that can’t be a good omen but nonetheless this team will take a step in the right direction this year. Quarterback Brandon Allen will have the luxury to hand the ball to a dangerous running back tandem in Johnathan Williams and Alex Collins. These guys are going to combine for lots of yards this year. They will have a solid offensive line and be very physical up front, but if you stop their ground game, not going to be hard to beat these guys I think.
Their defense will remain to be their biggest concern and will hurt them because if they are behind a lot, they can’t run the ball to stay in games. Hopefully for them they can improve behind the likes of defensive end Tray Flowers and linebacker Braylon Mitchell. If they can be better on defense then they can be a dangerous team, I just don’t see their defense being that good. Their kicking game on the other hand will be strong and will need to be strong to help out their offense and defense for sure. Their schedule is brutal but I believe they get better, it’s just the record won’t show it.
2014 record: 4-8 (1-7)
MVP: Auburn QB Nick Marshall
The most dangerous player in the SEC and a Heisman contender for sure. He will be electric and make this Auburn offense even more dangerous than last year with his improved passing.
Offensive Player of the Year: Alabama RB T.J. Yeldon
The bell cow for the Alabama rushing attack. He will be leaned on heavily early on as they figure out their QB situation. Even though they are deep RB, he will get a majority of the touches.
Defensive Player of the Year: Ole Miss DT Robert Nkemdiche
Hands down the most impactful player in the SEC. His presence upfront will make Ole Miss one of the better defenses in the conference and give them a chance in every game.
Newcomer of the Year: Auburn WR D’haquille ‘Duke’ Williams
Another Auburn diamond from the JUCO ranks. He will be a dominant receiver and have that A.J. Green/Julio Jones type presence where any ball thrown his way is going to be his.
Coach of the Year: Ole Miss HC Hugh Freeze
He will have his Rebels in every game this year and sneak up on some teams as well. They can challenge anyone in the conference and compete for a SEC West Division Championship. If nothing else, A nice back bounce season will easily make him Coach of the Year.
SEC Championship Game: South Carolina vs. Auburn
A rematch of the 2010 matchup of these teams and it will certainly be much closer than that one. I think South Carolina gets out early but withers late with the rushing attack of Artis-Payne, Marshall and Grant and Auburn repeats.
SEC Champion: Auburn
Auburn wins back-to-back SEC Championships and gets a look for the College Football Playoff. I think the SEC Champ is a lock for it but with 2 losses, who knows. Either way, it’s another successful season for Malzahn and his Tigers.
Well there you have it! Exactly how the West and SEC will play out this season. There will certainly be lots of great games and many to keep your eye on. I know I am excited for it! Enjoy the season everyone and the best of luck to your teams. To see how the East will play out, check out the SEC East Preview on our blog, and also tell us your predictions for the SEC, we would love to hear them!