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2017 SEC PREVIEW AND PREDICTIONS

My college previews kick off with the Southeastern Conference! I think there are some very interesting storylines going on within each division this season. In the West I think it’s going to be very difficult to knock off Alabama given all the weapons they return on offense along with what should be another top-10 defense, but after Alabama it gets really interesting. Auburn draws the Tide at home this year and if Jarrett Stidham takes the reigns for War Eagle and starts rolling, Auburn could make a legit run for the SEC West. I don’t think you can say the same about LSU because their QB situation isn’t ideal and they have to travel to Tuscaloosa, but if they beat Auburn on October 14th in Baton Rouge, then LSU could very well be 8-0 and coming off a bye against a potentially 8-0 Alabama team coming off a bye as well. Those 3 teams will make it interesting but the Auburn/LSU game could determine quite a bit.

After the Big 3 in the West it gets interesting. I think Mississippi St. has some of that 2014 feel to them when they started 9-0 and were ranked #1 in the nation before traveling to Tuscaloosa and dropping a game to Alabama 25-20. Nick Fitzgerald could be on the cusp of being a star and it’ll be interesting to see how he plays. Kevin Sumlin is on the hot seat in College Station and I could see the bottom dropping out on on the Aggies as they try to replace so many players on defense and at receiver. Arkansas should be better or even Bret Bielema could start feeling heat and of course the Ole Miss situation is unfortunate as the Rebels looked to have a talented team with a very talented QB in Shea Patterson. The #4-#7 spots could get interesting in the West and I even think Mississippi St. has a chance to climb into that top-3.

The East is even more interesting as I think teams like Kentucky and South Carolina have a real chance to upset the apple cart and move ahead of division stalwarts Florida and Tennessee. Mark Stoops has built up the Kentucky roster to where I think it can compete if it is a veteran led squad with a favorable schedule. The Wildcats have 17 returning starters and get both Tennessee and Florida in Lexington! South Carolina can be a squad that can compete with Florida and Tennessee on the recruiting trail, and I think Will Muschamp is on his way to doing so with the Gamecocks. Carolina returns 10 starters on offense, but QB Jake Bentley is special. SC gets both Kentucky & Florida at home which I think pushes them to 2nd place behind Georgia in the East. I also think it’ll be interesting to see how much heat Jim McElwain’s seat gets in Gainesville if the Gators have a disappointing season and if Butch Jones can survive another year in Knoxville without an SEC title or even a 10-win season. Would 5-years be enough?

Finally, keep an eye on Missouri & Vanderbilt. Missouri under Barry Odom is quietly getting better and while I think they should be better than last year’s 4-8, it’ll be interesting to see what strides they can take in 2017 because 2018 should be their coming out party. Vanderbilt is also interesting to watch. The program is making strides under HC Derek Mason and it’ll be interesting to see if Mason can take the Commodores to the heights that his predecessor James Franklin reached.

The SEC is the best conference in college football for a reason so it’s no surprise the storylines are endless as we head into the 2017 season!

# TEAM SEC WEST
1 Computer Hope Impossible to go against the Tide at this point. QB Jalen Hurts returns behind a dynamic O-Line. Bo Scarbrough & Damien Harris return at tailback and WR Calvin Ridley is poised to become a 1st Team All-American. Lose LT Cam Robinson? Replace him with Jonah Williams! Defensively the Tide lost a truckload of star talent to the NFL, but it’s Alabama where there are 3-4 five star players on the depth chart. Minkah Fitzpatrick could move to safety alongside Ronnie Harrison. Da’Ron Payne & Da’Shawn Hand are going to dominate up front. I think the 2016 version is better, but they’re still good enough to win it all.
2 Computer Hope If the Tigers didn’t travel to Tuscaloosa on November 4th, I probably would have taken the Bayou Bengals to win the West. Derrius Guice is a MAN playing against boys in college. What makes him scarier is that he’s playing in front of a couple of interior O-Linemen in Will Clapp & Maea Teuhema who could be All-Americans. I think QB Danny Etling will make fewer mistakes & keep LSU away from turnovers. The Tigers lost a TON on defense but return Arden Key who is the best pass rusher in American and DC Dave Aranda is outstanding. With the talent LSU has, they’ll post another top-10 defense in 2017.
3 Computer Hope I’m buying QB Jarrett Stidham and he could be the best QB Auburn has had since Cam Newton was screaming War Eagle and we saw how that worked out in 2010! Gus Malzahn is an offensive genius so if Stidham works out Auburn is going to score in spades with weapons like RB Kamryn Pettway, WR Darius SLaton, WR Nate Craig-Myers & WR Kyle Davis. Defensive the Tigers bring back 6 of their top-7 tacklers but losing Montravius Adams & Carl Lawson will be felt. I think DE Marlon Davidson will need to be huge. This Auburn team has crazy upside & gets Alabama at home. They are playoff contenders.
4 Computer Hope In case you didn’t know, his name is Nick Fitzgerald and the QB is a MONSTER! Last year Fitzgerald passed for 2423yds & 21TD while also rushing for 1375yds & 16TD! The Bulldogs have a little but of that 2014 feel to them and if they can beat LSU at home and upset Georgia & Auburn in back-to-back road games, they have a clear path to 9-0 before they welcome in Alabama on November 11th, a week after the Tide host LSU. That’s a lot to ask but back in 2014, Mississippi St. beat 3 top-10 ranked teams in a row (at LSU, Texas A&M, Auburn) en route to 9-0 and the #1 ranking before being upended by Alabama 25-20.
5 Computer Hope Things haven’t gone exactly to plan for Bret Bielema since leaving Wisconsin, but this season should provide him with a chance to play his style of football. The Hogs lose RB Rawleigh Williams, but Devwah Whaley has immense talent and should be able to replicate Williams production because the O-Line he’ll be running behind is tremendous led by All-American C Frank Ragnow. QB Austin Allen is a senior and should be solid. Defensively Arkansas returns 6 starters and 5 of their back-7. They’ll struggle to get pressure on opposing QBs which I think limits their upside but if they ball control they could win close ones.
6 Computer Hope I don’t know if there is a better RB/WR duo in college football than Trayveon Williams & Christian Kirk, but the Aggies are going to try and break in a rFR at QB in Nick Starkel behind a fairly inexperienced O-Line. Even with Kirk returning, the Aggies lost a ton of outside talent. Defensively I don’t even know how A&M replaces Myles Garrett, Daeshon Hall, Justin Evans & Shaan Washington! HUGE LOSSES. I think there is a good chance A&M loses their opener at UCLA and if that happens then HC Kevin Sumlin’s seat is going to be blisteringly hot! A&M also has some brutal home games. This could get bad in a hurry!
7 Computer Hope Ole Miss is somewhat of a wild card with Hugh Freeze leaving the program and Matt Luke taking over as interim HC. It’s too bad really because the Rebels have some upside to this team. The offense has a potentially outstanding O-Line with 4 starters returning and Greg Little manning LT. QB Shea Patterson has some tremendous upside and the Rebels have solid skill position players. Defensively, Ole MIss returns 6 starters & 5 of their top-7 tacklers. DE Marquis Haynes returned for his senior year & he’ll be one of the best edge rushers in the nation. NT Benito Jones should also be a force up front. Very tough to predict.

 

# TEAM SEC EAST
1 Computer Hope There might be some questions surrounding the offense with the O-Line being young and QB Jake Fromm potentially pushing QB Jacob Eason for starting time but worst comes to worst how hard is it to hand the ball off to Nick Chubb or Sony Michel? These hairy dogs have enough talent on the outside to keep defenses honest. What stands out about UGA is their defense. Trenton Thompson might be the best DT in college football while Davin Bellamy & Lorenzo Carter might be the best pair of edge rushers. Georgia returns their ILBs and secondary as well. HC Kirby Smart knows a thing or two about top defenses!
2 Computer Hope This could be the most surprising team in college football this season. QB Jake Bentley completed 66% of his passes last year as a true frosh and the Gamecocks have 10 returning starters back on offense including all their skill players. TE Hayden Hurst has a chance to make a HUGE impact. Defensively South Carolina is going to need Dante Sawyer to provide a legitimate threat off the edge but LB Skai Moore returns & will combine with Bryson Allen-Williams to give SC a solid pair of LBs. Both corners return & I think Will Muschamp is going to do some great things in Columbia just like another former Florida head coach.
3 Computer Hope I think the SEC is a little topsy-turvy this season and Kentucky benefits by getting both Tennessee and Florida in Lexington. If they can get those wins I think the Wildcats could have a banner season. HC Mark Stoops has a talented roster and UK returns 8 starters on offense & 9 on defense. If there is going to be a time for Kentucky to make a move, it’s this season. CJ Conrad, Benny Snell & Stephen Johnson should keep the offense humming with 4 returning starters on the O-Line. Denzil Ware, Jordan Jones & Mike Edwards should be solid up front on defense. Kentucky could potentially get to 8-9 wins this season.
4 Computer Hope I think Florida is in a precarious situation. They are probably already behind Florida St. when it comes to recruiting the top tier talent within the state, but Mark Richt going to Miami-FL makes things extremely difficult as well. I love Jim McElwain as a HC, but right now I’d say he’s behind Richt & Jimbo Fisher in recruiting. Florida also already has turmoil coming out of the program with the suspensions including WR Antonio Callaway for the opener against Michigan. Florida isn’t sold on Luke Del Rio being the starting QB either & the defense returns just 5 starters. After 2 SEC East titles, this year feels like transition.
5 Computer Hope Like Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M, I’m going to be surprised to see Butch Jones make it out alive in Knoxville this season. The Vols have talent to be sure, but I think losing guys like QB Josh Dobbs, DE Derek Barnett, LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin and CB Cameron Sutton are going to be hard to overcome. UT also has road games against Florida, Alabama, & Kentucky. They get LSU, Georgia & South Carolina at home which are going to be exceedingly difficult games to win. I think losing Alvin Kamara is going to be bigger than people think. Josh Malone is a loss too. I like the talent here but a lot of key pieces are gone from 2016.
6 Computer Hope It is going to be very difficult for Derek Mason to recreate what James Franklin did here at Vanderbilt but Mason is trying his best. In his first year, Vandy went 3-9. Last year in his 3rd,  the Commodores were 6-7 and got to a bowl game. This year Vandy returns 9 starters on offense including QB Kyle Shumur who has generated some buzz this offseason. Ralph Webb is a work horse out of the backfield & Vandy returns their top-9 receivers from a season ago. Defensively, Vanderbilt has made huge strides since Mason’s first season & while they do lose Zach Cunningham, they return 7 starters from a unit that was solid.
7 Computer Hope I would have had Missouri in 6th but they play at Vanderbilt so I put the Commodores one spot ahead. HC Gary Pinkel is a legend in Columbia, but I hope Barry Odom sticks around because he’s on the cusp of doing something great at Mizzou. This season the Tigers have a TON coming back on offense, but I want to see QB Drew Lock improve his accuracy. Missouri has a chance to be REALLY SPECIAL in 2018 assuming Lock comes back. RB Damarea Crockett is a MONSTER. Defensively I think Missouri misses Charles Harris & Aarion Penton quite a bit. They return 5 starters but again look towards 2018 for this unit.



SEC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

EAST SEC CHAMPIONSHIP WEST
Computer Hope I think this could be a lot closer game than people would expect and here is why. Alabama is going to try and run the football which they should, but Georgia is STOUT in the middle with Trenton Thompson & John Atkins on the line and LBs Roquan Smith & Natrez Patrick filling it up. If Alabama goes pass then UGA has some ELITE pass rushers in Davin Bellamy & Lorenzo Carter. This of course is assuming that Alabama’s offense can actually be stopped and Georgia can get anything going against what will surely be a tough Tide defense. Alabama wins. Computer Hope

August 18, 2017 Posted by | Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi St., Missouri, NCAA, Predictions, Preseason, Previews, SEC, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas AM, Vanderbilt | Leave a comment

RANKING POWER-65 COLLEGE FOOTBALL COACHES – #49 to #40

If you missed the rankings for the coaches ranked #65 to #50, you can find it here or just keep scrolling and it’s the post directly after this one. We left off with Arizona HC Rich Rodriguez at #50 so let’s take a look at the coaches landing in the forties.

#49 – Kliff Kingsbury – Texas Tech

I’m not as down on Kingsbury as some people are. He’s heading into 2017 on the hot seat to be certain, but I don’t think it’s been all bad. Texas Tech isn’t the easiest place to win and so far in his 4 years in Lubbock, Kingsbury is 24-26 overall and 13-23 in conference play. Those aren’t tremendous numbers, but if you look at the league historically, the Red Raiders are following Oklahoma, Texas, Oklahoma St., TCU, Kansas St. and West Virginia. That makes them 7th in the league and a good coach at Baylor puts Tech 8th. Kingsbury has yet to record a winning record in conference play, but he recruits fairly well and I think he’s good for the university and the program. If trends hold, he should be in for a 7-9 win season in 2017.

#48 – Dave Doeren – North Carolina State

Doeren didn’t walk into a great situation given how NC State AD Debbie Yow dismissed his predecessor Tom O’Brien. Yow essentially cited lack of enthusiasm for the football program as justification for canning O’Brien, but in O’Brien’s last 3 seasons, NC State went 24-14 (13-11). In Doeren’s last 3 seasons as HC, the Wolfpack have went 22-17 (9-15). Yow wanted a football coach who could bring in Top-25 classes. Doeren hasn’t done that either. With that said, Doeren has been consistently 7-6/8-5 in his last 3 years, but he’s also went 3-5 in conference play those same three seasons. I think a coach can win at NC State & Doeren is doing just that, but he needs a breakthrough season with 9-10 wins.

#47 – Todd Graham – Arizona State

A lot of what I wrote about Rich Rodriguez can be written about Todd Graham as well. Graham is better than this but the Sun Devils have been regressing for a couple of year now. In 2013-2014, the Sun Devils posted a 20-7 record. The last two years that total has dropped to 11-14. Graham has been better than Rodriguez in conference play, but only marginally so. ASU went 8-1 in the Pac 12 South in 2013 and won the division. Just 3 years later they finished 2-7 and this is with USC still somewhat regrouping. Graham has recruited top-25 level classes to Tempe and Sun Devil Stadium can be a bear to play in for opposing teams. ASU was pretty young last year and I think 2017 will see a much improve Sun Devils squad.

#46 – Kevin Sumlin – Texas A&M

Sumlin’s star could have been any brighter after the 2012 season when he took the Aggies to an 11-2 record and a final ranking in the top-5. A&M would beat a #1 ranked Alabama team that year and then go on to humiliate a solid Oklahoma team in the Cotton Bowl. QB Johnnie Manziel wasn’t quite as spectacular in 2013 and the Aggies dropped to 9-4. Life after Manziel hasn’t been promising either as Sumlin has turned in 3 consecutive 8-5 seasons with a slew of QB transfers that can’t help morale down in College Station. Making matters worse is that Texas A&M is 15-17 in SEC play over the last 4 years & Alabama isn’t going away. Life in the SEC West isn’t easy and Sumlin probably enters 2017 on a seat that is heating up.

#45 – Derek Mason – Vanderbilt

Mason has to deal with some of the difficulties of being a HC at a school like Vanderbilt in much the same way that Northwestern, Duke, Stanford and even possibly Virginia has to deal with. Stanford is somewhat of an exception, but Vanderbilt is the only one of those schools playing the SEC which makes their ceiling quite a bit lower. You can’t help but be impressed with Mason so far in taking over for James Franklin. Mason cut his teeth under Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw at Stanford so he knows the drill. His first year in Nashville saw Vandy post a 3-9 (0-8) record. Last year, Mason’s 3rd, Vandy improved to 6-7 (3-5) with a bowl appearance. The rebuild wasn’t as fast as James Franklin coming in, but the Commodores are in good hands.

#44 – Mark Stoops – Kentucky

Like Mason, you can’t help but be impressed by the work Stoops is doing in Lexington. Stoops took over a disaster of a program left behind by Joker Phillips and turned them into a bowl team 4 years later. In Stoops’s first year (2013), UK was terrible going 2-10 (0-8) but last year the Wildcats jumped to 7-6 (4-4) and got a rivalry win over Louisville! Stoops has shown the ability to recruit top-25 level classes to Kentucky which is borderline amazing considering they are surrounded by football blue bloods which is another feather in Stoops’ cap. UK was smart to stick with their HC despite back-to-back 5-7 (2-6) seasons. It paid off in spades last year with UK having their best season since 2009. The talent is there for UK to be even better in 2017.

#43 – Dave Clawson – Wake Forest

Wake Forest hasn’t been relevant since the days of Riley Skinner and Aaron Curry. When Clawson took over in 2014, the Demon Deacons hasn’t had a winning season since 2008 nor had they had a bowl win since 2008. Winning in Winston-Salem isn’t exactly easy which is why it was so amazing what Jim Grobe was able to accomplish with Wake. He couldn’t sustain that and eventually Wake ended up being a sub-.500 team which led to Clawson’s hire. Clawson had to do some rebuilding his first two seasons which saw WF finish with back-to-back 3-9 (1-7) seasons, but the Deacons broke through last year finishing 7-6 (3-5) including a bowl win over a very good Temple squad. That’s solid progress for this program.

#42 – Butch Jones – Tennessee

This is probably too low for Jones. I’m of the opinion that the Vols should have never fired Fulmer, but I’m also not sure Fulmer was going to get Tennessee another national title which should always be the goal in Knoxville. Tennessee made a couple of bad hires in Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley and Jones was hired to clean up the mess. In his first season UT went 5-7. In his 2nd the Vols went 7-6 followed up by back to back 9-4 seasons. That’s progress, but to a degree Jones’s tenure at Tennessee has been marked by disappointment. In and SEC East where Missouri won a couple of division titles, Tennessee has come up empty despite SC not being very good and Florida being in a holding pattern until McElwain showed up. Is that a missed opportunity? It sure seems like it. Throw in the fact that UT is 14-18 in SEC play during Jones’s stay and he doesn’t look so good.

#41 – Jim Mora – UCLA

Like Jones, I think Mora is somewhat disappointing which is why he’s ranked in the 40s instead of the 20s. Last season was depressing with expectations that weren’t close to being met. The Bruins entered the 2016 season as the odds on favorite to win the Pac 12 South. With Washington thought to still be a year away, with USC still in rebuilding mode and with Oregon headed towards disaster, the conference and potential playoff spot was ripe for the taking. Instead, UCLA turned in a 4-8 season that saw star QB Josh Rosen miss half the season and potential 1st round NFL Pick DT Eddie Vanderdoes turn in an underwhelming season. The talent is here & Rosen is great so there is time for Mora to improve his stock in 2017.

#40 – Pat Narduzzi – Pittsburgh

Narduzzi was a tough one to figure out. On the one hand it seems as if he’s a little underrated. Since coming to Pittsburgh, he’s led the Panthers to a 16-10 overall record with an 11-5 mark in conference play. Last year’s Pitt squad was the best they’ve fielded since Dave Wannstedt took Pitt to a 10-3 final record back in 2009. On the other hand, the team under Narduzzi has also been puzzling. The 16-10 record is nice, but if you have watched Pitt the last two years, it could have been so much more. Last year the Panthers lost 4 games by a total of 18 points! The year before they lost 4 games by a total of 27 points. If Narduzzi can figure out how to win close games, we might be looking at a dominant Panthers team. However, Pittsburgh is also 0-2 in bowl games under Narduzzi’s watch & the defense got worse from 2015 to 2016 despite Narduzzi’s reputation as a defensive wizard. Narduzzi loses a truck load of talent so we’ll see how he responds in 2017.

May 15, 2017 Posted by | ACC, Arizona St., Big XII, Coaching, Kentucky, NC State, Pac 12, Pittsburgh, Rankings, SEC, Tennessee, Texas AM, Texas Tech, UCLA, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest | 4 Comments

2016 NCAA FOOTBALL – BOWL SEASON PREVIEW!

AWAY QUICK THOUGHTS HOME
Computer Hope New Mexico Bowl: New Mexico in the New Mexico Bowl seems fitting. You really can’t say enough about what a tremendous job Bob Davie has done for the Lobos. New Mexico was a combined 3-33 in the 3-years before Davie took over. How he has them at potentially a 9-4 season with back-to-back bowl games in his 5th year. As for the game, New Mexico has the nation’s best rush offense so UTSA will need to figure out a way to stop it if they’re to win. Computer Hope
Computer Hope Las Vegas Bowl: Talk about a consolation bowl for early watching! The 9-3 Cougars take on the 10-3 Aztecs! Both of these teams were thought to win their respective conferences. Houston didn’t but SD State did get their revenge win over Wyoming to take the Mountain West. Tune in for Houston QB Gary Ward & DT Ed Oliver. Both guys have been outstanding this season. The Cougs won’t have Tom Herman but this is a fantastic early game. Computer Hope
Computer Hope Camellia Bowl: Jason Candle did an outstanding job in his first year as HC of Toledo. The Rockets went 9-3 and won the MAC East. Their 3 losses came against W.Michigan, Ohio & BYU. Not bad at all. Appalachian St. has an outstanding defense. At 9-3 they have 2 losses to Tennessee and Miami-FL! It’ll be interesting to see if the Mountaineers can put a stop to Toledo’s Cody Thompson, Logan Woodside & Kareem Hunt. This game will be very compelling. Computer Hope
Computer Hope Cure Bowl: Somewhat of a ho-hum bowl game as 6-6 UCF takes on 7-5 Arkansas State. UCF has a couple of tremendous corners in Shaquill Griffin and DJ Killings. They’ve been a terror to QBs all season long & that shouldn’t change. Helping them is OLB Shaquem Griffin who has totaled 11 sacks and 19 TFL on the season. Ark State is mostly a running team although they don’t do it particularly well. I’d tune in for the Knights defensive playmakers. Computer Hope
Computer Hope New Orleans Bowl: A couple of 6-6 teams going at it from CUSA and the Sun Belt conference. Obviously this is going to be one of those games that nobody is paying particular attention to but both teams feature a pretty good running back. Southern Miss’ Ito Smith ran for 1300+ yards & 15TD averaging 5.5ypc, while ULL’s Elijah McGuire ran for 1,028 yards & 7TD. This is HC Mark Hudspeth’s 5th bowl in 6 years as HC for the Ragin’ Cajuns. He’s done well. Computer Hope
Computer Hope Miami Beach Bowl: This game is played in Marlins Park which is the home of the Miami Marlins which is pretty cool. This is a bad matchup for C.Michigan. After a nice 3-0 start which saw them beat Oklahoma St., CMU went just 3-5 in MAC play & 3-6 in their final 9. Tulsa’s offense is prolific! They have a couple of thousand yard rushers, a thousand yard receiver & a three thousand yard passer. I think Tulsa scores 50+ in this game & dominates. Computer Hope
Computer Hope Boca Raton Bowl: Every time I hear the words Boca Raton I always think of Episode 9 of Season 1 of The Sopranos entitled Boca about Junior Soprano going down to Boca with one of his girlfriends, Bobbi Sanfillipo. The entire episode revolves around Junior’s amazing cunnilingus skills that eventually gets out. The part I always liked best is the end when Junior shoves Bobbi’s head in pie. Oh the game! Lots of scoring here with two good offenses. Computer Hope
Computer Hope Poinsettia Bowl: This is one of the underrated bowls I’m interested in. Wyoming HC Craig Bohl did a helluva job this year with the Cowboys. Nobody picked them to be this good, but Wyoming pulled off a coup to win the MW Mountain division & posted wins over Boise St. and San Diego State! BYU is tough. They went 8-4 but their 4 losses came by a total of 8 points! The Cougars are THIS CLOSE to being 12-0! Kalani Sitake did a GREAT job at BYU! Computer Hope
Computer Hope Idaho Potato Bowl: What a job Paul Petrino has done in Moscow! The Vandals were 3-21 the two years before Petrino took over and in his first two seasons they were even worse at 2-21. Last year they improved to 4-8 & in Petrino’s 4th season the Vandals are bowl bound at 7-5! They also went 6-1 in their last 7 games! They’ll have it tough with Colorado State. The Rams can score with a very balanced offense. Tough game for Idaho but great year. Computer Hope
Computer Hope Bahamas Bowl: If Old Dominion doesn’t lose on the road to W.Kentucky, the Monarchs finish 10-2 and undefeated in CUSA. The probably win the conference title and get to 11-2. HC Bobby Wilder has this program humming & I wouldn’t doubt if they become THE premier team in CUSA. A win here makes them 10-3 on the season & I expect them to take care of E.Michigan. EMU HC Chris Creighton was 3-21 his 1st 2 seasons. This year EMU went 7-5!! Computer Hope
Computer Hope Armed Forces Bowl: How is this for disappointing! If Navy blows out Temple in the AAC Championship game, they had an outside shot at jumping W.Michigan & getting to the Cotton Bowl to play Wisconsin. Instead the Middies are playing Louisiana Tech in the Armed Forces Bowl. The Bulldogs had a solid year but their defense is suspect & if Navy comes to play they should have no issues forcing the issue on offense. Win & Navy finishes at 10-4. Computer Hope
Computer Hope Dollar General Bowl: Frank Solich has done an outstanding job with the Bobcats. Western Michigan got all the publicity this season, and rightly so, but Ohio’s 8-5 record is a bit misleading. The Bobcats never lost a game by more than 9 points and 4 of those 5 losses were by 7 points or less. That 8-5 record is close to 12-1! Troy is exactly the same. The Trojans had a great 9-3 season but 2 losses were close so 9-3 could be 11-1. This should be a very good bowl. Computer Hope
Computer Hope Hawaii Bowl: And this is where we make the case for too many bowl games as the 6-7 Rainbows get in via exemption to play Middle Tennessee State. A lot of credit has to go to Hawaii 1st year HC Nick Rolovich for getting Hawaii into a bowl given that over the past 4 seasons the Rainbows have an 11-39 record. Hawaii’s last bowl game was in 2010 & their last bowl win was in 2006. Tune in for MTSU QB Brent Stockstill & RB I’Tavius Murray. They’re big! Computer Hope
Computer Hope St. Petersburg Bowl: LOVE THIS GAME! Talk about a wild season for Miami-OH! They lose their first 6 games, but win their final 6 to get bowl eligible! Some of that was schedule, but the switch to QB Gus Ragland made a HUGE difference. Ragland is 6-0 as a starter this season with 15TD to ZERO picks! Nobody picked Miami-OH to get to 6-6 & now they get an SEC team in a bowl! Outside of WMU/Wisconsin, this is the MAC bowl game to watch! Computer Hope
Computer Hope Quick Lane Bowl: Potentially a snoozer, Maryland and Boston College are a couple of high major squads coming off 6-6 regular seasons. These are a couple of teams still finding their way. Steve Addazio at BC is still figuring out his rushing attack without Andre Williams and Tyler Murphy. DJ Durkin obviously has a defensive reputation & the Terps improved defensively but still have a ways to go. The bowl is nice here but both teams actually need the reps. Computer Hope
Computer Hope Independence Bowl: The funny thing about Vanderbilt is that their 6-6 record could easily be 10-2. The Commodores have some excellent wins on the resume. They beat MTSU, WKU, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Georgia. Four of their 6 losses were close! Derek Mason has done an outstanding job! They’ll be competitive. I want to see which NC State shows up. The NC State against Clemons & Florida St? Or the NC State against Louisville? I hope the former. Computer Hope
Computer Hope Heart of Dallas Bowl: The Black Knights get to their first bowl since 2010! If you feel like you are having deja vu, don’t worry. These two teams actually played each other on October 22 when North Texas upended Army 35-18! Making matters worse? North Texas got to a bowl game by exemption given their 5-7 record. That’s too bad. Army deserves better. How amazing is it that the Knights have wins over both Temple & Navy? What are the odds? Computer Hope
Computer Hope Military Bowl: Temple wins the AAC so they get Wake Forest in the Military Bowl? No wonder Matt Rhule left out in a hurry for Baylor!! This feels like a huge slap in the face to the Owls. Temple is on a 7-game winning streak. They are 10-3 & a conference champion. Wake Forest is 6-6 & 2-6 in their last 8 games. They finished 5th in the ACC Atlantic with a 3-5 conference record. I get the conference tie ins but this is a huge opportunity lost for college football. Computer Hope
Computer Hope Holiday Bowl: This should be a pretty cool game regarding contrasts in styles. Minnesota wants to control the clock with their running game while Wazzou obviously wants to light up the scoreboard with their passing attack. What’s interesting here is the Gophers have a very good run D but a suspect pass D. I wonder if they’ll try to rush 3-4 and drop 7-8 and dare the Cougars to run the football? Teams have tried this and the Cougs have made them pay! Computer Hope
Computer Hope Cactus Bowl: A couple of close road losses to Wyoming & Air Force prevented the Broncos from a 12-0 & potentially 13-0 season which would have robbed Western Michigan of the Cotton Bowl. WMU is a better story so I’m glad it worked out, but Boise has to be fairly happy it was able to keep Bryan Harsin. There was some rumor about a move to Oregon which would have been tough. A win here make Harsin 32-8 in his first 3 years on the blue turf. Computer Hope
Computer Hope Pinstripe Bowl: This is a pretty neat bowl game that will be played in Yankee Stadium. I thought the Panthers had a good shot at winning the Coastal this year but 3 close losses took them from 11-1 to 8-4. The same could be said for Northwestern. I thought the Wildcats became the team nobody wanted to face in the Big 10. A couple of odd losses early & a loss to Minnesota took a potential 9-3 & made it 6-6. Both teams are going to try & run the ball. Computer Hope
Computer Hope Russell Athletic Bowl: OLD SCHOOL BIG EAST!!! I love this game. Couple of interesting subplots here. Miami-FL isn’t great but the Mountaineers are still looking for some validation of their 10-2 record. A win here to get to 11-2 at least shows they can win outside the Big XII. For the Canes, they were 0-3 in close games so that 8-4 is VERY close to 11-1. They’ve won 4-straight & really want to go out on a high note. Brad Kaaya can improve his stock here. Computer Hope
Computer Hope Foster Farms Bowl: Getting better by subtraction? Former Indiana HC Kevin Wilson led the Hoosiers to back-to-back bowl games for the first time in 25 seasons yet resigned over philosophical differences and DC Tom Allen takes over. I don’t think Hoosier Nation could be any happier with Allen as HC and some think it was a preemptive move to keep Allen from taking a different HC job. What a wild ride in Bloomington! GO HOOSIERS! Computer Hope
Computer Hope Texas Bowl: This is an intriguing game on paper given that both teams are 8-4, but this has the feel to me of a K-State blowout win potentially because I’m not sure a lot of the A&M players will feel like this one is worth playing. Guys like Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall have nothing really to gain here. On the other hand, would Texas A&M dare to make a move away from Kevin Sumlin should the Aggies get blown out and turn in another 8-5 season? Computer Hope
Computer Hope Birmingham Bowl: Outstanding season for the Bulls and former HC Willie Taggart. Unfortunately Taggart has taken his talents to Eugene Oregon as the next HC of the Ducks so a new era in USF football starts with Charlie Strong! I love the move for South Florida because I think Strong is an OUTSTANDING recruiter and putting him in Florida should put a lot of teams on notice. It would be pretty cool to see USF finish the season 11-2. Computer Hope
Computer Hope Belk Bowl: This should be a really fun game. In his first season at Virginia Tech, HC Justin Fuente has really done some solid things with the Hokies offense making more of a run-centric unit and that will pay massive dividends down the road given Bud Foster’s defensive prowess. It’s not unlike what Arkansas does under Bret Bielema. VT will utilize their pass a bit more, but you get the gist. I really hope VT gets that 10th win but Arkansas needs a W too. Computer Hope
Computer Hope Alamo Bowl: This is the first game you can really start looking at conference strengths. By all accounts, Oklahoma St. was the 2nd best team in the Big XII. I’d say the Buffaloes were the 3rd best team in the Pac 12 behind Washington & USC. Does a #3 Pac 12 team beat the #2 Big XII team? The big matchup here will be the UC secondary against Mason Rudolph. I don’t think the Cowboys are going to able to air it out & Coach Mac gets the Buffs to 11-3! Computer Hope
Computer Hope Liberty Bowl: I think some people are a bit disappointed in Kirby Smart’s first season as HC of the Bulldogs but Georgia’s 7-5 record includes 3 games that were lost by a total of 4 points. The ball bounces the other way & UGA is 10-2 & SEC East champs. They beat UNC & Auburn. I don’t think Nick Chubb was 100% all season & Jacob Eason was a true frosh QB. Leonard Floyd & Jordan Jenkins were huge losses. Win or lose here, Georgia did well. Computer Hope
Computer Hope Sun Bowl: Not saying this was a wasted season because the Tar Heels could still get a bowl win & finish 9-4, but when you look at back at their season, the Tar Heels should be 11-1. That would have won the Coastal & given UNC a good shot at New Year’s 6 bowl even if they lost to Clemson. Don’t dismiss Stanford in this one. I think the Cardinal is looking for respect & getting to 10-3 could potentially put them in the final AP Top-15. Love this game. Computer Hope
Computer Hope Music City Bowl: Games like this are sort of neat because both are historically great programs and if you look at the jerseys alone it’s cool to see them, but this isn’t the mid-1990s. Nebraska is Big 10 #6 going up against The Vols are are SEC #6/7. What could make this game interesting is a blowout win for the Huskers. Butch Jones is on thin ice as it is. Could a blowout win for Nebraska combined with the 49ers firing Chip Kelly lead Kelly to Tennessee? Computer Hope
Computer Hope Arizona Bowl: It’s pretty cool for South Alabama to get to a bowl game even if it is with a 6-6 record, but this is a massive mismatch that the Falcons should take advantage of. Air Force is 8-4 and on a roll having won 5 straight including wins over Colorado St. and Boise State. They have one of the most dominant rushing attacks in the nation & South Alabama is going to be overwhelmed when they see it. This opened with AF -15. They cover. Computer Hope
Computer Hope Orange Bowl: I’d expect Michigan to come out and dominate this game. Florida St. is better than their 9-3 record, and as talented as Dalvin Cook is at tailback, I have a hard time believing he’s going to get away with running against Michigan when Ohio State couldn’t. If Deondre Francois tries to air it out, it’s turnover season & the Wolverines really start blowing it out. This might be the sexiest game outside of the playoffs, but Michigan kills it. Computer Hope
Computer Hope Citrus Bowl: Love the storylines here. For LSU this is a chance for Ed Orgeron to really put this program at 100% going forward. It’s also a chance for Lenoard Fournette to boost his draft status & for Derrius Guice to start a Heisman campaign in 2017. For Louisville it’s a chance to end the season on a high note & a chance for Lamar Jackson to prove what a great player he is by taking on and beating by far the best defense he’s seen all season. Can’t wait. Computer Hope
Computer Hope Taxslayer Bowl: Great bounce back season for Paul Johnson and the Yellow Jackets. Georgia Tech was 3-9 last year & has a shot at 9-4 this year with a win over Kentucky. It was also a solid year for the Wildcats who got to a bowl game for the first time under HC Mark Stoops and beat Louisville to finish the regular season. I think this is a big jump off game for the 2017 season as both teams return a lot of players & should be even better in 2017. Computer Hope
Computer Hope Peach Bowl: Chris Petersen is an exceptionally creative coach so the thing to watch here is how well the Huskies can play in the 1st quarter while Alabama could potentially be taken off guard. At some point in time talent is going to settle in and the Tide have a GIGANTIC advantage here, but if UW gets out to a 14 point lead, can they hold on for dear life? This is best case for Washington. Worst case is that they’ve never seen anything like Bama’s front-7 and lose by 30. Computer Hope
Computer Hope Fiesta Bowl: I’m not a fan of this game. I understand the reasoning behind putting Ohio St. in the playoffs but Penn St. beat them and won the Big 10 championship. I think the Nittany Lions got a raw deal which taints the playoff regardless. A lot of talk here about how this game is Deshaun Watson against JT Barrett, but I think Clemson’s defense is going to be tough & the Tigers have so many weapons on offense against a fairly young defense. Still should be a great game. Computer Hope
Computer Hope Outback Bowl: This is a great game for Iowa to end the season on a high note. The Hawkeyes have won 3 straight games which includes wins over Michigan and Nebraska. Their 8-4 record is a lot closer to 11-1 given their close losses than people imagine & it’s easy to forget that some thought Iowa had the schedule this year to set up another 12-0 run. Finishing 9-4 is great albeit somewhat disappointing. As for the Gators, they really need to avoid another late season collapse. Computer Hope
Computer Hope Cotton Bowl: ROW THE BOAT!!! The Western Michigan story is a fantastic one, but this is a situation for Wisconsin that is almost unwinnable. Lose and you lost to a MAC school. Win and all you did was beat a MAC school. It’s interesting to note that WMU is 2-0 against Big 10 schools this year having beat Illinois and Northwestern by a combined 25 points. The Badgers beat both by a combined 59 points. It would be so cool to see PJ Fleck pull of a 14-0 season! Computer Hope
Computer Hope Rose Bowl: Two teams couldn’t be any hotter coming into this one. Penn St. has won 9 straight games including wins over Ohio St. & Wisconsin in the Big 10 championship game. USC has won 8 straight games including wins over Colorado, Washington, Notre Dame & UCLA. I really think these teams are out to prove they should have been in the playoffs. USC beat both UW & Colorado. Penn St. beat Ohio State. This might be the best bowl outside of the national championship. Computer Hope
Computer Hope Sugar Bowl: Love this game. If the season started tomorrow and the Tigers were healthy, knowing what we know now, I think they’d go 11-1. War Eagle has a top-5 defense that is massively underrated in my opinion. Their running game is also exceptional so Auburn can put a lot of pressure on Oklahoma. I think OU is playing for respect. A win over Auburn legitimizes them as a team that maybe should have been in the playoffs. A loss here hurts the Big XII quite a bit. Computer Hope

December 16, 2016 Posted by | Air Force, Alabama, Appalachian St., Arkansas, Arkansas St., Army, Auburn, Baylor, Boise St., Boston College, Bowl Season, BYU, Central Michigan, Clemson, Colorado, Colorado St., Eastern Michigan, Florida, Florida St., Georgia, Georgia Tech, Hawaii, Houston, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas St., Kentucky, Louisiana Lafayette, Louisiana Tech, Louisville, LSU, Maryland, Memphis, Miami-FL, Miami-OH, Michigan, Middle Tennessee St., Minnesota, Mississippi St., Navy, NC State, NCAA, NCAA Playoffs, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Texas, Northwestern, Ohio, Ohio St, Oklahoma, Oklahoma St., Old Dominion, Penn St., Pittsburgh, San Diego St., South Alabama, South Carolina, South Florida, Southern Miss, Stanford, TCU, Temple, Tennessee, Texas AM, Toledo, Troy, Tulsa, UCF, USC, Utah, UTSA, Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, Washington, Washington St., West Virginia, Western Kentucky, Western Michigan, Wisconsin, Wyoming | Leave a comment

2016 SEC PREVIEW AND PREDICTIONS

It’s that time of year again! Football is in the air! Kicking off my previews this season is the SEC. You might as well start with the best and there is no question that the SEC is the best conference in college football. Here are my predictions along with a brief preview of how the SEC divisions will shake out in 2016.

SEC WEST #1 – ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE

Offense: There has been an awful lot of talk about Alabama’s potential drop off in offense given the loss of RB Derrick Henry & QB Jake Coker, but Alabama has lost offensive starters before and the team seems to pick up right where they left off. Losing Henry isn’t a huge deal. When TJ Yeldon left Henry picked it up. When Trent Richardson left, Yeldon picked it up. When Mark Ingram left, Richardson picked it up. This year it’ll be up to Bo Scarbrough, Damien Harris, DeSherrius Flowers & BJ Emmons to pick up the pace. Which of them becomes the lead back is anyone’s guess, but somebody for Alabama is going to run the football & run it effectively. I also think it’s somewhat irrelevant whether or not Blake Barnett or Cooper Bateman become the starting QB. The QB will have weapons galore in the form of potential 1st Team All-Americans Calvin Ridley at WR & OJ Howard at TE. Throw in ArDarius Stewart & Robert Foster and the offense looks almost unstoppable. Alabama returns 3 OL including LT Cam Robinson would is a potential #1 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. True frosh Jonah Williams & JUCO Charles Baldwin could also play significant time along the O-Line. It sounds crazy to think an offense wouldn’t take a step back after losing a Heisman Trophy winner in their RB & their starting QB after both of those guys were key cogs on a team that won a national championship, but Alabama might be able to say just that.

Defense: Nasty. Downright NASTY! Alabama has 4 guys on my preseason 1st team All-SEC. They have 7 on my first & second team. I listed 1st, 2nd, 3rd & 4th team All-SEC players in my preview & Alabama has 9 players represented! Alabama got a couple of big boosts defensively when DE Jonathan Allen & S Eddie Jackson decided to return to school. Both are potential 1st Team All-Americans. Like the offense, the Alabama defense suffered some losses, but it’s possible they actually got better! A’Shawn Robinson & Jarran Reed were 2nd round picks in the draft but replacement Dalvin Tomlinson & Da’Shawn Hand have the ability to be just as good. Throw in an improving Jonathan Allen & the D-Line is INCREDIBLE. Tim Williams & Ryan Anderson return at OLB where they combined for 16.5 sacks & 24TFL in 2015. Reggie Ragland departs but Rueben Foster is being touted as a potential 1st Team All-American. CB Cyrus Jones is another draft pick but Alabama has Minkah Fitzpatrick & Marlon Humprhey at corner who were both just freshman a year ago! Throw in Ronnie Harrison & Tony Brown in the secondary & there isn’t anyone that can touch them. It’s conceivable that Alabama could have the best collection of players of any team in the nation at all 3 levels of the defense. The best defense since Nick Saban has been in Tuscaloosa was Alabama’s 2011 version when the Tide allowed 8.2 points per game. You can make an argument that the 2011 Alabama defense was the best defense in college football history. The 2015 version has a chance to top it.

Schedule: Alabama doesn’t have the easiest road back to a national championship. They open the season in Arlington with a game against USC. They have conference road games against Arkansas, Ole Miss & LSU. They drew Tennessee & Kentucky out of the East which isn’t fantastic. They play in Knoxville against a Vols team that could very well be a top-5 team themselves. Even Western Kentucky isn’t awful. The worst part of the schedule is a 5-week span where the Tide go: @Arkansas, @Tennessee, Texas A&M, bye, @LSU. Even with a more difficult schedule, I can’t see anyone beating Alabama unless a team lucks up & stops their offense & is able to score 7-9 points. Remember that in 2011, the Tide did lose in the regular season to LSU 9-6. That is the only plausible scenario in which Alabama loses.

Bottom Line: Even with the losses of a Heisman Trophy winner and your starting QB. Even with a schedule that looks pretty daunting. Even with the mindset of complacency after a national championship win. Even with all those things, I can’t see Alabama losing a game. The defense is going to be historically good at the very least and that in and of itself will separate Alabama from the rest of the teams in the country. The offense will find a way to figure itself out as the Tide get their 5th title under Saban, their 2nd turn as back-to-back champions under Saban, and Saban gets his 6th national championship cementing his status as the greatest collegiate head football coach that has ever walked a sideline.

SEC WEST #2 – LSU TIGERS

Offense: LSU returns 8 starters from an offense that scored 33PPG a season ago. There is no question this offense is going to revolve around 1st Team All-American and Heisman Trophy favorite RB Leonard Fournette. Fournette was outstanding last year rushing for almost 2,000 yards & 22TD. If not for a bad 3-game span against Arkansas, Ole Miss & Alabama, Fournette probably would have walked away with the Heisman with a great opportunity to win back-to-back awards for the first time since Archie Griffin at Ohio State! I’d also expect Derrius Grice to get some carries as well. As a true freshman last year, Grice averaged 8.6ypc with 3TD on only 51 carries! The only issue preventing LSU from being able to score 50PPG is the play of QB Brandon Harris. Harris is under tremendous pressure to produce & there is no reason why he shouldn’t given the plethora of weapons. WRs Malachi Dupre & Travin Dural are big play receivers with great size & experience. TE Collin Jeter is a HUGE target at 6’7/244lbs and could be a mismatch on every passing play LSU runs. During conference play last season Harris completed 54.9% of his passes with a TD:INT ratio of 8:5. That simply isn’t good enough & teams know it. As great as LSU’s running attack might be, the Alabama defense can stop it if it is the only thing they have to worry about. LSU returns 3 starters on the O-Line & the skill position players are outstanding. Harris has to come through now as LSU’s starting QB.

Defense: Let’s forget about the players for a second & concentrate on first year DC Dave Aranda. Aranda’s career as a DC really took off when he joined Gary Andersen’s staff at Utah State in 2012. In 2011, Utah State ranked 68th in scoring defense allowing 27.8PPG. In Aranda’s first year as DC in 2012, Utah St. improved to #7 in the nation allowing just 15.4PPG en route to the Aggies finishing 11-2 which included a WAC championship & a bowl win. When Andersen left Utah St. for Wisconsin, Aranda followed him. The Badgers ranked 16th in scoring defense at 19.1PPG allowed the year before Aranda took over so it isn’t like Wisconsin didn’t defend well, but in his first season the Badgers jumped to #6 in the country at 16.3PPG. In 2014 they dropped to #17 at 20.8PPG allowed but last year Aranda guided the Badgers to the #1 scoring defense in all of football at 13.7PPG allowed. During his 3 years as DC, Wisconsin would amass a 30-10 record. Gary Andersen departed for Oregon St. after the 2014 season but Aranda stayed on for one more season in Madison before coming to LSU. He’s going to switch things up a bit in LSU by turning them into a base 3-4, but Aranda is known for mixing up his fronts. What’s amazing is what this guy has done with the talent on hand and that becomes a VERY SCARY proposition now that he has the very best athletes in the world playing for his defense.  The talent & experience here is INSANE. LSU lost Deion Jones to the NFL but getting Kendall Beckwith back was a huge gain. With guys like Beckwith, Lewis Neal, Davon Godchaux, Arden Key, Tashawn Bower, Tre’Davious White, Kevin Tolliver, Ricky Jefferson & Jamal Adams at his disposal, there is no telling how good the LSU defense will be under Aranda. There could be 6-7 All Americans in that group. Alabama has the best defense in the nation, but LSU could be a lot closer to being the best defense than being the 3rd best defense.

Schedule: Casual fans won’t get the irony but it is interesting that LSU opens up at Lambeau Field against Wisconsin, the team Aranda left to go to Baton Rouge. That isn’t as easy game, but it is an entirely winnable game. The schedule is actually what puts quite a bit of pressure on Les Miles and the Tigers. LSU gets both Alabama & Ole Miss at home. Granted, they play both squads back-to-back but their bye week is sandwiched between with an extra week of rest before Alabama comes to town. Ending the year at Texas A&M isn’t easy and drawing a road game against Florida was a tough one, but getting Bama & the Rebels in Baton Rouge is the real key here. If the Tigers can stay perfect at home, there is no reason why they don’t finish the season 12-0.

Bottom Line: If things go as I see them, LSU is going to push hard to be a 2nd team in the 4-team playoff from the same conference. This smacks of what we saw in 2011 when LSU went 13-0 only to lose to an 11-1 Alabama team in the BCS Championship game in a rematch of the 9-6 LSU win earlier in the year that Alabama would avenge with a 21-0 win & a national title. Any rational argument would have LSU #1 and Alabama at #2 given the losses Alabama has, but Nick Saban has Alabama on a completely different leven than any other college football program at the moment, not to mention, with Les Miles it’s always wait & see. Hiring Aranda might have saved his job because Miles will stick it out here if he finishes 12-1.

SEC WEST #3 – TEXAS A&M AGGIES

Offense: I think people are sleeping on Texas A&M as some publications out there are predicting A&M to finish anywhere in the SEC West from 5th to 6th! That’s insane & it starts with the offense. Anywhere HC Kevin Sumlin has went, his teams have scored big time points, and it’s not always a by product of Johnny Manziel. A&M averaged 35+PPG in 2014 when Kenny Hill & Kyle Allen were playing QB. In 2010 the Houston Cougars under Sumlin averaged 37.7PPG with freshman David Piland playing for the injured Case Keenum. Last year the QB position was a disaster with Kyle Allen & Kyler Murray not playing all that well. Both transferred which looked bad, but this game an opportunity for former Oklahoma QB Trevor Knight to enter the picture. Knight isn’t a world beater but he played in some TOUGH games at Oklahoma & the stage won’t be too big for him. He’s also an experienced leader. There won’t be any questions regarding the QB position which will filter into the INCREDIBLE array of talent around him. WRs Christian Kirk, Josh Reynolds, Ricky Seals-Jones & Speedy Noil have to be hands down the best WR corps in the nation. Any QB in the country would be envious to have those guys. How can Knight not flirt with 4,000 pass yards & 30TD? Keith Ford, another former Oklahoma player, takes over as RB. Ford is a big time talent that will finally get to start. The O-Line is a little raw, but the added stability to the QB position completely changes the complexion of the team for the better.

Defense: If you believe in QB pressure is a good predictor of team success, then Texas A&M should rank right up there with some of the best teams in the country. DE Myles Garrett returns for his junior year & is looking to become the #1 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. Teams can’t completely worry about him though because Daeshon Hall is a load at 6’6/260lbs & can get after the QB from the other side. Daylon Mack & Kingley Keke are big time space eaters up the middle who can command double teams giving the Aggies a stout front-4. The secondary should also be a strength behind safeties Justin Evans & Armani Watts along with CB Donovan Wilson. UCLA transfer CB Priest Willis should step in immediately and help at 6’2/200lbs! The linebackers are probably the weakest of the 3 levels of the A&M defense but they are young & talented. Josh Walker is projected as the MIKE LB and he’ll be responsible for bringing that unit up to speed. John Chavis is in his 2nd year as A&M’s DC coordinator & his reputation speaks for itself. A&M ranked 77th in the nation in 2014 in scoring defense allowing 28.1PPG the year before Chavis took over. Last year in his first season, A&M improved to #28 allowing 22PPG. Given the talent assembled here, one thing is for certain is that Texas A&M should be able to bring quite a bit of pressure & they have quite a few guys such as Walker & Watts who can fill up the running lanes. If the LBs can do a good job aggressively stopping the run, this defense will be TOUGH.

Schedule: There is never really an “easy” road in the SEC West, but the Aggies have a schedule they can work with. Their non-conference slate is fairly easy outside of a season opener against UCLA, but that game is in College Station  which is a big break for A&M. The Aggies really benefit by getting Ole Miss & LSU at home. Those two games could really determine whether or not the Aggies finish 2nd or 4th in the division. Sure they play Alabama on the road, but A&M’s other road conference games are against Auburn, South Carolina & Mississippi State. Those are all winnable games. They do draw Tennessee out of the East which isn’t great, but at least it’s a home game. You could make an argument that it would have been easier for the Aggies to play UT in Knoxville & get the Auburn game in College Station if you want to talk about maximizing opportunities for wins. The upshot here is a 10-2/11-1 season if Texas A&M can capitalize on it. If they can’t then Sumlin might be looking for a new job.

SEC WEST #4 – MISSISSIPPI REBELS

Offense: A good & simple way to gauge what teams are best is to see how good the QB is. Who is going to win the AFC East? The Patriots are the safe bet because of Tom Brady. Who is going to win the AFC South? The Colts were a safe bet because of Peyton Manning. Who is going to be really good in the SEC? Ole Miss is a safe bet because Chad Kelly is the best QB in the conference. Kelly had a banner year last season throwing for 4,000+ yards with 31TD & completing 65% of his passes. This year Kelly come emerge as an All-American & Heisman Trophy candidate while playing his way into the 1st Round of the NFL Draft. It would seem like Ole Miss lost quite a bit of skill players with Laquon Treadwell, Cody Core & Jaylen Walton all departing, but TE Evan Engram returns along with WRs Quincy Adeboyejo, Damore’ea Stringellow & Markell Pack. It might not be quite as good as the quartet Texas A&M throws at you, but Ole Miss’s receiving corps looks pretty dominant to me. Kelly should have no issues replicating his 2015 numbers. The big question for Ole Miss is their O-Line. Akeem Judd will be fine replacing Walton, but the O-Line is going to have to block well & pass protect to give Kelly time to operate. Given the pass rushing capabilities of Auburn, Alabama, A&M & LSU, it is imperative the O-Line gels quickly! True frosh Greg Little will replace Laremy Tunsil while Sean Rawlings, Javon Patterson & Robert Conyers provide some continuity. The O-Line is the key to Ole Miss offensive success.

Defense: The Rebels are taking on a few heavy losses with the departures of Robert Nkemdiche, Trae Elston, Mike Hilton, CJ Johnson & Denzel Nkemdiche, but Ole Miss has the chance to have a VERY good defense on the field in 2016. DE Marquis Haynes broke out last season as a reshirt sophomore with 16.5TFL and 10 sacks. I’d expect big numbers again from Haynes although he’ll be a tricky draft prospect next year because his size at 6’3/220lbs is extremely light as a 43DE and he’ll make the transition to 34OLB. At 6’4/280lbs, Fadol Brown makes up for size at the other DE spot. DJ Jones & Breeland Speaks are the DTs at 6’2/310 & 6’4/315lbs. Losing Robert Nkemdiche is a blow but I really like the makeup of this D-line. All 4 guys can get to the QB & Haynes is a potential All-American. The LB corps took some losses but leading tackler DeMarquis Gates and Oregon St. transfer Mageo Rommel will be good enough not to notice losses. Terry Caldwell will also play an important role. Ole Miss runs a lot of 4-2-5 fronts so the LB should have quite a bit of rotation ability. Losing Trae Elston & Mike Hilton from the secondary is tough, but Tony Bridges & Tony Conner are all conference type players with big time size. KenDarius Webster also has a lot of upside as a starting corner. The secondary shouldn’t be a problem. Ole Miss has the makings  of a great defense, but it a tick behind Alabama, LSU & even Texas A&M. With that said, I don’t think the Rebels will have any issues improving upon their 2015 numbers.

Schedule: The schedule burns Ole Miss. While they do get Alabama at home, you have to feel at some point the Tide are going to get sick & tired of losing to Ole Miss every year & figure out a way to beat them. Can Mississippi really beat Alabama for 3 straight years during the Nick Saban era? It sounds ridiculous. The other problem facing Ole Miss is that they draw both LSU & Texas A&M on the road. The schedule might not be as daunting with a veteran QB like Chad Kelly at the helm, but those 3 games looks brutal and I wouldn’t be surprised in the least for Ole Miss to be a top-10 team & yet lose all 3 games. They drew Georgia from the East but that game is in Oxford & the Rebels open the season in Orlando against Florida State. For Ole Miss to have had a national championship run in them, they might have substituted home games against Auburn & Mississippi St. with the road games against LSU and Texas A&M.

Bottom Line: Head coach Hugh Freeze has improved his record at Ole Miss by one game in each of his first 4 years in Oxford. To continue to do so would mean a season in which the Rebels finished 11-2, but I’m not sure that is going to be possible with the schedule at hand. The fact I have Ole Miss as the 4th best team in their own division just adds to the insanity that is also known as the SEC West. When you look at Ole Miss’s roster, you see a team that should be competing for a conference championship & with that a potential national title. In the SEC West it’s good enough for 4th. The one caveat I’ll put on Ole Miss is that they do have the best QB in the conference. The QB counts for a ton of potential victories, then Ole Miss could win the SEC. We’ll find out early as the Rebels host Alabama on September 17th. If they win that game, they CANNOT blow it like they’ve done the last 2 seasons with bad subsequent losses that cost them SEC West titles.

SEC WEST #5 – AUBURN TIGERS

Offense: Running an offense the way Gus Malzahn does is so dependent upon good QB play that it tends to come apart at th seams when the QB isn’t fantastic. The Auburn offense was terrible last season because neither Sean White nor Jeremy Johnson could run the read option/hurry up offense style that Malzhan wants to run. This worked with Cam Newton in 2011 when Malzhan was OC. It also worked in 2013 with Nick Marshall where the Tigers got to the national championship and fell just short of beating Florida St. for the national championship. Jeremy Johnson is 6’5/245lbs but he doesn’t have that other worldly athleticism that Cam Newton has. Sean White’s biggest asset is his arm, but at 6’0/195lbs, you can’t exactly turn him loose. Auburn will turn to John Franklin III this season to play QB. He’s slight of build as well at 6’1/175lbs, but Malzahn hopes that both he & RB Jovon Robinson can find the chemistry that Nick Marshall/Tre Mason and Cam Newton/Mike Dyer had. I think it’s going to work. Robinson is ready to bust out & he’s too talented of a back to not run well. Kerryon Johnson should also play a big role running the football. The Tigers lost quite a bit at WR, but Tony Stevens, Marcus Davis & Jason Smith are all upperclassman with size & experience. TEs Jalen Harris & Landon Rice could both become big time producers as safety valves for Franklin. The interior O-Line should be lights out with Alex Kozan, Braden Smith & Austin Golson. The tackles will have to step up, but Auburn’s offense should be vastly improved.

Defense: It sounds like a broken record, but Auburn has a defensive line that should be one of the best in the entire nation. A big reason why Auburn would be MUCH MUCH better than people are expecting is the play of DE Carl Lawson. Lawson was plagued by injuries last year but he did record 11 QBH in just 7 games. A year to improve & a full slate of games could see that number inch towards 25 which is incredible. Montravious Adams is one of the best DTs in the conference while DT Donatvius Russell & DE Byron Cowart are both only sophomores. Russell showed tremendous ability last year as an interior pass rusher which puts even more pressure on the offense. True freshmen Derrick Brown & Marlon Davidson could also see playing time. At LB War Eagle lost both Kris Forst & Cassanova McKinzy. Both where high productive but Auburn does get Tre Williams back who will move to the middle & QB the defense. Illinois transfer TJ Neal will be a big bonus at LB as he was a 3rd Team All-Big 10 caliber LB last year. Darrell Williams & Jeff Holland will also contend for playing time. Both are very young & very talented. I think Auburn has the chance to have an oustanding secondary. True frosh Carlton Davis was incredible his first year at Auburn & can only get better. He has great size at 6’1/190. Joining him is Ohio St. transfer Jamel Dean who looks spectacular after a knee injury ended his career in Columbus. Jonathan Ford & Tray Matthews are returning starters & safety & Ford is all-conference. It’s potentially a great secondary.

Schedule: Auburn plays in the SEC West with potentially 4 teams having the ability to be in the top-10 so it’s not like the schedule is easy. Their home slate of games though is interesting. They draw Clemson, Texas A&M, LSU & Arkansas at home. They also draw Vanderbilt from the East and get a winnable road game against Mississippi State. The tough road games for Auburn come against Ole Miss, Alabama & Georgia, but if Georgia can’t get it’s QB situation figured out fast enough, Auburn could steal a game in Athens. If they can stay perfect at home, War Eagle could be looking at a 10-2 mark which would be in stark relief over the past 2 seasons in which the Tigers combined to go 15-11. There are a lot of “what if” propositions here which means Auburn can run the table on all of them. With that said, there are some winnable games & Auburn should easily get back to a bowl. The first 4 weeks should tell us a lot as Auburn hosts Clemson, Arkansas State, Texas A&M, and LSU. Going 3-1/4-0 in those games puts Auburn back in the title hunt.

Bottom Line: I think patience is the key here for Auburn. This is a building block year in what should be a fantastic 2017 campaign. The 2017 season could be a banner year as Alabama will lose so much on defense. Chad Kelly won’t be around in Oxford. Texas A&M will be looking at a new starting QB with Trevor Knight moving on and if LSU loses 2-3 gams, I could see Les Miles being dismissed. That opens up a lot of doors for Auburn which is already a massively talented team, but who might be a year away. Another thing to think about is that Auburn hosts Alabama in 2017. Auburn in the sort of program that expects championships in football, but they shouldn’t be disappointed this season. If Malzahn can get his QB situation going with Franklin then War Eagle should set up for a national championship run in 2017.

SEC WEST #6 – ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS

Offense: Arkansas under Bret Bielema is going to play smash mouth football, but that is going to be an interesting propsition in Fayetteville in 2016. Arkansas is going to run the ball. It’s what they do, but their passing game might be better of the two components to the offense this season. You can’t overstate the effect of losing QB Brandon Allen & RB Alex Collins. Allen took a lot of heat during his tenure as a Razorback, but the guy was great last year completing 66% of his passes for 3,440 yards & 30TD on a team that is clearly run first. Alex Collins was also phenomenal rushing for 1,577 yards & 20TD. Little brother Austin Allen takes over for big brother Brandon & I think he’ll be a quick study. He’s been around the Arkansas program his entire life & while he still has to prove it on the field, I think he’ll transition well. Helping him is a great receiving corps headed by WRs Keon Hatcher, Drew Morgan & Dominque Reed and also TE Jeremy Sprinkle. The loss of Hunter Henry is big at TE, but Sprinkle is going to be something special this year & at 6’6/255lbs, he’s got incredible size & skill. Taking over for Collins will be RBs Kody Walker & Rawleigh Williams. They’ll try to emulate the Alex Collins/Jonathan Williams duo Arkansas rode in 2014, but I’m not sure they’ll replicate that success. Another problem for is Arkansas lost 3 starting O-Linemen. Dan Skipper & Frank Ragnow are all-conference type players but the new starters will have to gel. There is a TON of upside to this offense, but A LOT of new guys.

Defense: When you think Arkansas football under Bret Bielema you think immediately think running the football, but this season you might think defense because the Razorbacks bring back 15 of their top-17 tacklers from a season ago! Like the 5 teams listed above them, Arkansas brings back an elite edge rusher in DE Deatrich Wise. A potential All-American, the 6’5/280lbs Wise is a beast of a human being who broke out last year as a junior with 8 sacks & 10.5TFL. He could easily play his way onto All-American lists & a 1st Rd. NFL Draft pick as an ideal fit in a 3-4 scheme at DE. Helping Wise attack the edges will be Jeremiah Ledbetter (6’3/275) & Tevin Beanum (6’4/271). Bijhon Jackson (6’2/324) & Taiwan Johnson (6’2/273) man the interior. This is a solid D-Line that is very big & very physical. Brooks Ellis & Dre Greenlaw were Arkansas’ top-2 tacklers last year & both return as LBs for 2016. The two combined for 197 tackles last year & with the D-Line as good as it is, I’d expect those two to hunt down ball carriers with abandon. Arkansas’ entire secondary returns. CBs Jared Collins & DJ Dean return alongside safeties Josh Liddell & Henre’ Tolliver. Nickle Kevin Richardson also returns. The experience in the secondary is crucial as Arkansas was a terrible pass defense team last season. They ranked 117th out of 128 BCS teams! DC Robb Smith has a solid track record & specializes in defensive backs. I’d expect quite an adjustment for Arkansas last year in the secondary which would give them a complete defense.

Schedule: I think the big reason why I have Arkansas here at #6 is that they get both Texas A&M and Auburn on the road. They get Alabama & LSU at home which is a tough get because the Razorbacks are going to have a very difficult time beating those two teams anyway and I don’t see them beating Ole Miss either to be honest with a first year QB going up against that Ole Miss offense led by veteran Chad Kelly although the Rebels do tend to give a game away here & there. That said, the Razorbacks really do look like they have 4 losses on the schedule at a minimum and that doesn’t include the road game against TCU. They didn’t get a great draw out of the East with Florida & a road game at Missouri which I think is going to be A LOT tougher than people realize. Arkansas could very well be a top-25 program, but getting to 9-10 wins seems almost like an impossibility especially with the loss of their starting QB.

Bottom Line: We know that Arkansas has the type of program that can not only compete for SEC Championships but also be in the national championship discussion. Bobby Petrino proved that in 2011 when Arkansas finished 11-2 with both losses coming on the road to LSU & Alabama. Those two teams would go on to play for a national championship. If LSU & Alabama were the top-2 teams, then Arkansas could make a great case to be the #3 team in the nation that year. Things have been trending downward for the Razorbacks, but HC Bret Bielema seems to have Arkansas trending in the right direction although he isn’t progressing as fast as Petrino did before Petrino went off the rails. The trick now is to get Arkansas back into that elite category. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem like the year to do it. Like Auburn, Arkansas has a relatively young team that could really come into its own in 2017. Patience will be key this year, but I think Arkansas will be primed for 2017. It’s never fun to have a “transition” year, but I think that is what is in store for the Hogs.

SEC WEST #7 – MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS

Offense: Mississippi St. obviously has big time issues at QB having to replace arguably the best QB in Mississippi St. history in Dak Prescott. A 3-year starter, Prescott led the Bulldogs to a combined 19-7 record over the past two seasons which is the 3rd best record in the SEC during that span behind only Alabama (26-3) & Georgia (20-6). That’s amazing when you think about it as Hail State has been better than Tennessee, Florida, LSU, Texas A&M & Ole Miss during that span. Replacing Prescott is rSO Nick Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald has IDEAL size at 6’5/230lbs with a strong arm so you can expect the Bulldogs not to utilize the QB as much in the running game as Prescott was used. Fitzgerald will likely have to grow into the role on a weekly basis, but he’ll have some help along the way. Senior WR Fred Ross has great size at 6’2/210lbs & is a reliable receiver. Ross had over 1,000 receiving yards last season. The passing attack would have been better had Fred Brown not gotten kicked off the team & DeRunnya Wilson not declared early for the NFL draft, but Donald Gray & Malik Dear hope to pick it up. Gray showed some excellent explosion while Dear should get better. Brandon Holloway returns as the tailback. He’s pretty slight so expect Ashton Shumpet & Dontavian Lee to get some significant time. Another solid for MS State going forward is their O-Line. Justin Senior will move to LT & is a solid starter. JUCO transfer Martinas Rankin will play RT giving Fitzgerald solid protection leaving Fitzgerald needing to come into his own.

Defense: DC Manny Diaz left Starkville for Coral Gables so new DC Peter Sirmon is going to attempt to move the Bulldogs into more of a 3-4 style defense, but I wouldn’t expect too much of that early on. Mississippi St.’s defense is pretty good already & they are a lot more experienced this year than last. While it doesn’t appear that Hail State has the big time front-7s of the other SEC West teams, they do have quite a bit of talent. At edge rusher is AJ Jefferson & Will Coleman. These are big guys at 6’3/277lbs & 6’5/250lbs respectively. They both need to do A LOT more to improve their pass rushing abilities, but the size is there. On the inside DTs Nick James (6’5/330) & Torrey Dale (6’6/275) are massive. The presence of James gives MS State the ability to go 3-4 if you have James at NT along with Dale & Jefferson at DEs. This actually plays more into MS State’s strength as a defense. In this situation Coleman & JT Gray are the edge rushers although Gray is more of a S/LB hybrid which turns MS State into a 3-3-5 squad playing nickle. Richie Brown & Gerri Green are two very good & very productive interior LBs so givein them opportunity to hunt is paramount. There is a lot of ways the Bulldogs can play it and I think giving multiple looks is the way to go. The front-7 has a lot of potential. The secondary should be good as well with safeties Brandon Bryant & Kivon Coleman being a fantastic pair. CBs Tolando Cleveland & Cedric Jiles are experienced seniors. This defense has a tremendous amount of potential.

Schedule: Mississippi St.’s schedule actually sets up well. They get Texas A&M, Arkansas & Auburn at home while having to travel to Alabama & LSU. The games against the Crimson Tide & Bayou Bengals were probably losses anyway so getting them on the road is actually a good thing. If you believe the SEC West is a toss up from #3 to #7 then the schedule doesn’t work much better than what Mississippi St. has. They draw Kentucky & South Carolina out of the East and while the UK game is in Lexington, it’s not like Mississippi St. can’t match up well with the Wildcats. The non-conference slate has 3 cupcakes mixed in with a road game at BYU. That should be interesting. The Bulldogs season will come down to their home schedule. If they win their 6 home games & steal road games against UMass & Kentucky, then MSU will be 8-3 when they travel to Oxford for the Egg Bowl where they haven’t won since 2010. Even with a loss, MSU could finish 8-4 this year after losing Prescott which is amazing considering Prescott himself went 8-4 his senior season.

Bottom Line: I really like the MSU program and I really like Dan Mullen as a head coach. It’s almost impossible not to root for Mississippi State, but I think the loss of Dak Prescott is almost too much to overcome. The one saving grace for MSU is their schedule which sets up about as well as it possibly can for a team who plays in the SEC West. I think if Prescott returned for another year, then the Bulldogs could be in contention because I think he’d find a way to win with so many questions surrounding other teams. Instead, MS State will have to settle for being a 7-5 team most likely that would be a 10-win squad in any other conference. Keep an eye on the D-Line & O-Line. The O-Line could be a lot better than people think & MS State brought in a recruiting class that was heavy on the D-Line. If Mississippi State can dominate the trenches then they could make a significant run. I’m going to bet on them struggling because of the QB transition.

SEC EAST #1 – TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS

Offense: The Volunteers bring back arguably the most complete offense in the SEC. Given the transient nature of college football, Tennessee brings back a plethora of talent & experience from a team that averaged 35+PPG! Leading the way is QB Josh Dobbs who could emerge as a Heisman candidate if he can increase his completion percentage & find the endzone a few more times through the air. The 6’3/210lbs senior spent his first two seasons splitting times with Justin Worley, but Dobbs  made the offense his own last year & excelled leading the Vols to a 9-4 record including a 45-6 blowout win over Northwestern in the Outback Bowl. Helping Dobbs is an ELITE RB combination consisting of Jalen Hurd & Alvin Kamara. Hurd is a monster at 6’4/240lbs & Kamara provides plenty of pop as well at 5’10/220lbs. Dobbs can make plays with his feet as well and the trio combined to rush for 2,657 yards with Hurd leading the way with 1,288. None of them have that nasty home run hitting ability but all 3 can grind you down & shorten games up. Jauan Jennings, Preston Williams, Josh Smith & Josh Malone give UT a talented quartet at WR that has lots of size. Teams will not be able to load the box or these guys will have a field day. The O-line returns 4 starters as well with their only loss being Kyler Kerbyson & has a chance to be truly great as their is only one senior projected to start on the line. Expect a big year out of TE Ethan Wolf. He’s a big time “X” factor. If you are looking for a weakness here, you won’t find it.

Defense: A scary thought about Tennessee is that for as good as the offense is, the defense might be even better. The Vols have ELITE players at every level of the defense starting up front with DE Derek Barnett. Barnett racked up 10 sacks & 12.5TFL last season as a sophomore. He’s got a good chance to become a 1st Team All-American & go in the top-15 or so picks in next year’s NFL Draft. On the other side is Corey Vereen who wasn’t bad last year with 9.5TFL & 3.5 sacks at 6’2/250lbs. UT has some experience in the trenches, but I think Shy Tuttle (6’2/315lbs) & Kahlil McKenzie (6’3/345lbs) will get tons of time this year. Both were BIG TIME recruits. Danny O’Brien & Kendall Vickers will add to this depth & give UT a strong rotation on the inside. LB Cameron Reeves-Maybin is OUTSTANDING and like Barnett has a shot to be a 1st team All-American. The 6’1/230lbs senior is a do-it-all WIL is certain to bring former UCLA LB Myles Jack to mind as there is literally nothing he can’t do on a football field. MIKE Darrin Kirkland is going to be even better as a sophomore. The secondary is led by CB Cameron Sutton who also has All-American potential. At 6’0/190lbs, Sutton has lockdown corner potential. Justin Martin is on the opposite of Sutton & bring solid size at 6’1/190lbs. Malik Foreman & Emmanuel Moseley should factor in as well. Todd Kelly & Rashaan Gaulden are the safeties. Tennessee only allowed 20PPG last year & they’ll be better this season. UT has the makings of a potential top-10 defensive unit.

Schedule: Tennessee didn’t do themselves any favors with the scheduling. Three of their non-conference opponents are Virginia Tech, Appalachian St. & Ohio. I don’t think Tennessee loses any of those games, but you never know. Virginia Tech is no slouch even if they aren’t quite where they used to be. Ohio is a MAC school so they shouldn’t represent trouble but the Bobcats could contend this year & they have an experienced team. Appalachian St. isn’t afraid of big games. Go ask Michigan. App St. should win the Sun Belt & QB Taylor Lamb is going to keep them in games. The point is those games aren’t complete walks and after those 3 openers, the Vols get Florida, @Georgia, @Texas A&M and then back home to face Alabama. Drawing the Aggies & Tide out of the West wasn’t the best of draws & having to go to Athens won’t be easy either. I think Tennessee wins their first 3 games but the next 4 will be tricky before winning their last 5. What we can definitely say is that if UT wins the SEC, they’ll certainly have earned it.

Bottom Line: Tennessee is one of the most storied programs in college football history that has been trapped in mediocrity for quite some time. From 2002-2015 the Vols have accumulated a record of 101-76! That is on average a record of 7-5 over a 14-year period! That’s not Tennessee football in the SEC. That’s more like Mississippi St. or Missouri. Fourteen years is a long time to be walking around in the desert! Fortunately this Tennessee team is good enough to get UT back to where they were in 1998 or 2001. Butch Jones has UT ready to bust out. This team should compete for a national championship and the Volunteers simply need to take that next step. Keep in mind that UT was 9-4 last year with all 4 losses being close. Their toughest game will come against Alabama, but the game is in Knoxville so an undefeated season is a possibility. UT is back & Big Orange Nation isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. This could be potentially be an EPIC year in Knoxville.

SEC EAST #2 – GEORGIA BULLDOGS

Offense: In 2014 when Nick Chubb was completely healthy, he ran for 1,547 yards & 14TD. As a result, Georgia averaged 41.3PPG on offense and ranked 8th in the nation in scoring offense. Last year Chubb missed half the year due to injury & Georgia averaged 26.3PPG and ranked 85th in scoring offense. Clearly getting Nick Chubb healthy is of greatest concern for the Georgia faithful. His recovery from a knee injury last year has went swimmingly well so far this year & the thought is that he might miss the season opener but not much else. I’m leaving out a big piece of the puzzle. In 2014, Georgia started the year with Todd Gurley as their RB, but the Bulldogs have Sony Michel who has been great this first two years & even rushed for over 1,000 yards last year in Chubb’s absence. So why the big decrease in offense? Well, Greyson Lambert wasn’t even close to being as good as Hutson Mason and the trio f Chubb/Gurley/Michel was a lot better than the trio of Chubb/Michel/Marshall both in yards per carry & getting in the endzone. This of course evolves into the question of who will be the QB for Georgia? Greyson Lambert, Brice Ramsey or incoming freshman Jacob Eason? It’s an important question because Georgia is loaded everywhere else. Greg Pyke, Brandon Kublanow & Isaiah Wynn lead a solid OL. Terry Godwin & Jeb Blazevich should be receiving weapons. The running game speaks for itself. LSU & Georgia are somewhat in the same boat as they look like powerhouse offenses as long as they get solid QB play. That’s the question.

Defense: You can’t begin a discussion of Georgia’s defense without talk of their secondary. Georgia led the nation in pass defense last season & return every starter from their secondary which is a scary thought given how new HC Kirby Smart wants to employ those DBs. An even scarier thought is how much time Smart spent with Nick Saban who specializes in defensive backs. Safeties Dominick Sanders & Quincy Mauger are the stars here. Sanders has All-American potential while Mauger has 1st Team All-SEC potential. Both are legitimate ball hawkers who can turn the ball over on a whim. CBs Aaron Davis & Malkom Parrish came into their own last year as true sophomore. Davis at 6’1/190lbs has fantastic size while Parrish at 5’10/195lbs can play press man & doesn’t shy away from big hits. Smart is going to play a lot more press with these athlete CBs which opens up Georgia defense to a lot of options for pressuring the QB. That is ideal because Georgia does have to replace Jordan Jenkins s& Leonard Floyd as their edge rushers. Lorenzo Carter (6’6/240lbs) & Davin Bellamy (6’5/240lbs) give UGA some big freakish edge rushers. Carter could emerge as an All-American. Trent Thompson, John Atkins & Jeremiah Ledbetter anchor a D-Line that is very young but exceptionally talented. LB Tim Kimbrough is a solid high production player & he’ll be joined by Natrez Patrick, a freak of nature at LB who is 6’3/255lbs! The defense is fairly young, but the secondary is outstanding. Expect UGA to have a dominating defense.

Schedule: Georgia’s schedule alone makes them ripe for thinking they’ll be a truly ELITE team in the SEC. They avoid Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M from the West. They also get Auburn, Tennessee and Georgia Tech in Athens. They do have to go on the road to play Ole Miss and that could be a risky proposition as well as the Biggest Cocktail Party in Jacksonville to take on a Florida team that beat the Bulldogs 27-3 last season. Those two hurdles might be in for Georgia. They do play South Carolina, Kentucky & Missouri on the road, but SC & Mizzou have new head coaches this year while UK will have a new starting QB. On top of that, those 3 teams can’t match the Dawgs in talent. Georgia does have a tricky season opener when it takes on North Carolina in Atlanta, but that is practically a home game for UGA and UNC will be breaking in a new QB. The season might come down to October 1st when Georgia hosts Tennessee. A win there & Smart just might get a shot at this former boss in the SEC Championship game.We’ll know early though. Georgia has a tough stretch from September 17th through October 8th when they go @Missouri, @Ole Miss, Tennessee and finish @South Carolina.

Bottom Line: Mark Richt couldn’t quite get Georgia over the hump and into the national championship picture. Kirby Smart was brought in to finish the job. To be honest, I can see the frustration from UGA fans. When I started looking at the SEC, my initial thought with Georgia is that they’ll need some adjustment time because of a coaching change along with the emergence of Tennessee. I also didn’t want to discount what a phenomenal job Jim McElwain has done in Gainesville as Florida won the SEC East last season. I figured Georgia would settle in behind the Vols & Gators. THINK AGAIN! This team is absolutely loaded and when you look at their schedule, the only game I think they probably won’t be favored in is when they travel to Oxford. If they play to the odds they go 11-1 & win the SEC East. If they protect home field advantage they are AT WORST 10-2 and SEC East champions. Georgia feels a lot like LSU & Alabama in that they need to figure out their QB situation, but beyond that, the team is devastating. The season comes down to October 1st when they play Tennessee. It’s too much to ask Kirby Smart to finish the job Mark Richt started in just one season, but don’t be shocked when it happens.

SEC EAST #3 – FLORIDA GATORS

Offense: Like every team in the SEC save Tennessee & Ole Miss, Florida has question marks on offense, but Florida has extensive question marks instead of one or two. The Gators offense was humming last year when Will Grier was under center for the first 6 games. Florida averaged 32+PPG & was 6-0. Then Grier got suspended for a year due to PED use & Treon Harris took over. From that point Florida averaged 16.5PPG & finished 4-4. Heading into this year, Grier transferred to West Virginia & Harris is now a WR. Making matters worse, Florida lost their star RB Kelvin Taylor to the NFL who accounted for almost 1300 total yards & 13TD. If that wasn’t enough, Florida’s star freshman WR Antonio Callaway was dismissed from the team & still hasn’t come back. Callaway led the team in receiving last season & had a very good chance at being a 1st Team All-SEC WR this year. That’s still a possibility but Callaway needs to at least rejoin the team! Florida will look to Oregon St. transfer Luke Del Rio to QB this team. Del Rio was originally an Alabama recruit & hasn’t thrown a pass in college football although Jim McElwain has been extremely impressed by him thus far. Jordan Scarlett & Jordan Cronkrite were true frosh RBs last year who got some run time. They should be better. I think TE DeAndre Goolsby could be a star & the Florida O-Line returns tackles Martez Ivey & David Sharpe along with C Cameron Dillard. Tons of questions, but if Del Rio is for real & Callaway can make it back, the offense could gel rather quickly.

Defense: Florida’s defense was its strong suit last year as the Gators finished 11th in scoring defense & 8th in total defense. If not for the defense, Florida doesn’t finish 10-4 & win the SEC East, but the losses are HEAVY. Gone are DT Jonathan Bullard, DE Alex McCalister, LB Antonio Morrison, CB Vernon Hargreaves & S Keanu Neal. CB Brian Poole is also gone meaning the Gators lost 5 of their top-9 tacklers, 3 of their 5 top tacklers for loss, and their two top sack guys. That’s significant loss, but this is Florida so the talent is in abundance. CB Jalen Tabor was thought to be a better CB than Hargreaves last season so he enters the season as the best CB in the nation. You can’t complain about a 1st Team All-American taking away half the field! S Marcus Maye also returns & has All-American potential. Both of those guys will fill up a stat sheet. LB Alex Anzalone is healthy & if he can stay that way (a big if) then I don’t think Florida feels the effects of losing Morrison. WIL LB Jarrad Davis could be in for a MONSTER year and could play himself into the 1st round of the NFL Draft. Bullard is a big loss but CeCe Jefferson is a talented guy who will kick inside. He along with Taven Bryan & Caleb Brantley should give the Gators a formidable interior D-Line. Bryan Cox & Jordan Sherit should start at the DEs. Both bring size, speed & talent to the position. As you can see, this is the very definition of reloading. Florida’s defense should once again be one of the very best in the country & it’ll keep the Gators in games with a chance to win.

Schedule: This isn’t a forgiving schedule. Florida gets a road game against Tennessee and a neutral site game with rival Georgia. They draw LSU & Arkansas from the West which isn’t exactly hitting the lottery & the venues didn’t work either as Florida has to travel to Arkansas while hosting LSU. Both could be losses in those environments. Florida does well to avoid big time confrontations in their non-conference slate. I’m not a big fan as Florida has built in games within their own state they could play every year that would guarantee big time games. The Gators get it right with playing Florida State every season. They get it wrong by not playing Miami-FL. Ideally the Gators would play the Seminoles & Hurricanes every year & then at the very worst play Central Florida & South Florida as their other two non-conference games unless Florida takes on bigger opponents such as Notre Dame, Oklahoma, USC, Michigan, Ohio State, or Clemson. They draw Florida State in Tallahassee which is another bad break. If things go wrong, Florida could be looking at 7-5, but to be fair, the only game I see them definitely losing is the road game against Tennessee and even then they’ll most likely be competitive.

Bottom Line: It’s easy to sort of disregard the Gators after the way they ended the season in 2015. They lost their regular season finale to Florida St. 27-2. They then lost to Alabama in the SEC Championship game 29-15 in a game they were clearly overmatched in. Florida saved the worst for last as they were blown out 41-7 by Michigan in the Citrus Bowl. Florida finished 10-4 but were they mostly a paper tiger? There are three reasons why I wouldn’t sleep on Florida. The first is Jim McElwain. The guy gets it and he’s going to be a tremendous HC. He’ll win a national championship at Florida during his tenure. He’s that good. Urban Meyer went 9-3 in his first season at Florida. McElwain went 10-4 & won the SEC East. The second reason is Luke Del Rio. Del Rio most likely gives the Gators their best QB since Tim Tebow’s last season in 2009. Florida has had to suffer through Jeff Driskel, John Brantley, Jacoby Brissett, Tyler Murphy, Treon Harris & Will Grier. Grier showed some promise but ended up being a disaster. I think Del Rio finally gives Florida a QB it can depend on. The third & final reason is the defense. It could be outstanding at every level and has championship quality to it. Florida may have problems on offense, but defensively they are going to hold opponents in check. It’ll give them opportunities to win games & it will also force other teams into turnovers. The Gators are probably playing catchup to Tennessee & Georgia by a hair at this point because of all the question marks surrounding the offense and the schedule isn’t that friendly within conference play, but last year wasn’t a fluke as far as McElwain was concerned. If the offense doesn’t gel this could still be an 8-9 win team. If the offense comes together, the fireworks between Tennessee, Georgia & Florida will be off the charts.

SEC EAST #4 – MISSOURI TIGERS

Offense: Offense was a MAJOR problem for Mizzou last year as the Tigers averaged a paltry 13.6PPG which ranked 127th of 128 teams! Only Kent State had a worse offense than Missouri! The problems started when QB Maty Mauk was suspended forcing true frosh Drew Lock into a starting role. I like Lock and think Mizzou has found a QB who can start for the next three seasons, but he didn’t have much help. RB Ish Witter wasn’t ready for the starting gig when Russ Hansbrough didn’t play well. The Mizzou receivers were also fairly young after seeing guys like Dorial Green-Beckham, Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt, Darius White & L’Damian Washington leave over the course of 2013 & 2014. Missouri did have 4 senior starters on the O-Line, but nothing for them to block. This year the job is Lock’s without question & he’s definitely a big time talent with prototypical size at 6’4/220lbs. Oklahoma transfer Alex Ross takes over with Witter moving to backup which helps Mizzou out tremendously as Ross is 6’1/230lbs & gives the Tigers a more bruising downhill runner. The receivers should be better too as J’Mon Moore & Nate Brown get a year better. Alabama transfer Chris Black should also help a receiving corps that is very big. TE Sean Culkin (6’6/245lbs) can also play. The O-Line this year is very inexperienced as Nate Crawford is the only returning starter. There is nowhere for the offense to go but up after such a dismal 2015, but I’d temper expectations. If the Tigers average 24-25PPG it’ll be considered massive progress.

Defense: You can’t begin talking about Missouri’s defense without starting with their D-Line! Missouri has a great argument for having the best D-Line in college football especially if you only look at teams playing a 4-3 base defense. DEs Charles Harris & Walter Brady were outstanding last season combining for 31TFL, 14 sacks & 17 QB hurries! Both are 6’3/255lbs & Harris has a shot at being a 1st Round NFL pick. Brady was just a true frosh last season so he could still get quite a bit better which is a scary proposition. DTs Terry Beckner & Josh Augusta are big time talents & BIG TIME specimens. Augusta is 6’4/345lbs & fits the bill as a true 3-4NT giving Missouri some flexibility in their fronts. Beckner was a true frosh last year & played exceedingly well. Harold Brantley & AJ Logan provide fantastic depth. The LB unit will miss Kentrell Brothers for certain but MIKE Mike Scherer and SAM Donavin Newsom return and both are high production players who have All-SEC ability. WIL Joey Burkett will have to replace Brothers & his insane production, but spread to Scherer & Newsom could make Burkett have an easier transition to starter. CB Aarion Penton & S Anthony Sherrills are the returning starters in the secondary. Both are high impact/high production players who have all-conference ability. Missouri’s defense ranked 5th in the nation last year with 16.2PPG. It was the reason Misssouri could win 5 games with their offense. They have a chance at being even better & be potentially Mizzou’s greatest defense ever.

Schedule: Missouri’s schedule isn’t bad & most importantly they get both Kentucky & Vanderbilt at home. Those should be wins for the Tigers. The bad news is that they do draw South Carolina in Columbia, but the Gamecocks are going through their own massive transition this season and with the defense Missouri can bring to the table, I think the Tigers can escape the Palmetto State with a win & ensure they are the 4th best team out of the SEC East. Missouri drew LSU & Arkansas out of the West which isn’t fantastic but it could have been worse. The season finale is a home game against the Hogs so a 5-6 Missouri team might have extra incentive to beat Arkansas. They get both Florida & Tennessee on the road which were losses anyway & I have a hard time believing they’ll be Georgia either. Eastern Michigan & Delaware St. should be cupcakes. Mizzou opens in Morgantown to take on West Virginia. Tough game and a likely loss, but the schedule still sets up for 6-7 wins.

Bottom Line: Barry Odom takes over the HC duties from Gary Pinkel after Pinkel spent 15 years as HC for Missouri. Pinkel leaves some big shoes to fill, but Odom might be a perfect candidate given his ties to the university. Odom played at Mizzou and spent 10 of the past 13 years on Pinkel’s staff in varying capacities. Last year Odom returned to Mizzou as DC after a 3-year stint as DC at Memphis. Luckily for him, Pinkel did not leave the cabinets bare & Missouri should be a lot better than the 5-7 record the Tigers endured last season. On the other hand, Odom faces an unenviable task of competing in the SEC East just when the big players in the East seem to be getting their acts together. Butch Jones has Tennessee primed to regain their national prominence as a perennial national championship contender. Jim McElwain in my opinion is the 2nd best HC in the conference behind Nick Saban & is in a ridiculously good position at Florida. Kirby Smart was brought in to bring a championship to Georgia. These are going to be difficult times in the SEC given how powerful those teams are so it’ll be interesting to see how Odom navigates the proposition. I think getting to a bowl game this year with 7-8 wins is a good goal to have in Columbia this season.

SEC EAST #5 – KENTUCKY WILDCATS

Offense: Kentucky is in position to have the best offense they’ve had in a long time. The offense returns 9 starters from a unit that average 24.7PPG. That isn’t fantastic but if the Wildcats can improve by 7-8 points then they are averaging 32-33PPG which would certainly be significant. RB Boom Williams is the star of the offense & he’s likely the best RB you haven’t heard of. He’s not huge at 5’9/195lbs, but he ran for 855yds/6TD while averaging 7.1ypc! If anything, UK didn’t feed him the ball enough! UK’s top-5 receivers also return in WR Dorian Baker, WR Garrett Johnson, WR Jeff Badet, WR Blake Bone & TE CJ Conrad. All the receivers were inexperienced sophomores last year while Conrad was a true frosh. Baker (6’3), Bone (6’5) & Conrad (6’6) give QB Drew Barker some outstanding targets to hit while Johnson & Badet should be able to settle into the #2 & slot receiver spots effortlessly. Barker is a first time starter as a true soph. He got some mop up duty behind Patrick Towles last year but he’s a big upgrade over Towles and at 6’3/220lbs fits the bill as the face of a program. The O-Line is led by potential All-American center Jon Toth and has 3 other returning starters. Cole Mosier is the only non-starter & he’s an upperclassman giving UK 4 juniors & 1 senior on the line. It has taken Mark Stoops a couple of years to get to the offense ready, but Kentucky is ready to fly this season with a big & talented group of players. Barker needs to step into his role & play well. If he does, this is a balanced offense that will give opponents fits.

Defense: Unfortunately for Mark Stoops, a renaissance on offense doesn’t coincide with the defense. Kentuck loses their top-3 tacklers from a year ago & 7 of their top-8 including NFL Draft pick LB Josh Forrest. With only 5 returning starters the Wildcats look like they might have to take a step back but that could be a bit premature. Kentucky runs a 3-4 base which means their NT is of prime importance & the Wildcats just happen to have 6’7/360lbs Matt Elam clogging up the middle. Elam needs to play to his ability but if the light switch goes on for him, then Elam immediately becomes a tremendous NFL prospect & gives UK’s LBs a lot of room to be on the hunt. The Cats rely on this inside pressure because while they do run a 3-4 it’s somewhat of a 4-2-5 in that OLB Denzil Ware is their only reliable pass rusher. Jordan Jones & Courtney Love are new starters at LB, but they will mostly play on the inside & try to make up for the losses of Josh Forrest, Khalid Henderson & Ryan Flannigan. Ware has some big upside & will be fascinating to watch this season. What might be most interesting for Kentucky is their secondary. CB Chris Westry has been OUTSTANDING and at 6’4/195lbs, bring mind blowing size to the edge. Opposite Westry is Derrick Baity who is 6’3/180lbs himself giving UK a pair of corners with unprecedented size. Both were just freshman last year so the sky might be the limit for both. UK lost a lot last year but they have some very exciting players at every level of the defense. We’ll see how they pan out.

Schedule: The good news is that Kentucky got both South Carolina and Vanderbilt at home. That was paramount given the state of the SEC this season. It was a tough break getting Missouri on the road, but you can’t have everything. Kentucky has a brutal road schedule with away games against Florida, Alabama, Missouri, Tennessee & Louisville. Four of those 5 games were probably losses in Lexington so getting them on the road is no big deal, but it puts UK under the gun as those 5 games could easily be losses meaning there is little room for error. A home game against Georgia pretty much ensures UK has to win their other home games to simply get to 6-6. Even then that won’t be easy as UK gets home games against Mississippi St. and their opener against Southern Miss. Kentucky’s opener will be a harbinger. Get by Southern Miss and the season starts off right. Lose to Southern Miss and the pressure is extreme the rest of the way.

Bottom Line: Former UK head coach Rich Brooks had a simple formula that said Kentucky had to win the games they were supposed to win along with an upset or two in order to get bowl eligible. This isn’t rocket science as most teams like Kentucky follow the same example and hopefully after a few years of 6-7, 7-6 & 8-5 seasons, they can break through to a 9-4, 8-5, or 10-3 seasons. It’s how programs are built, but the problem is, and always has been, that there are a finite number of coaches that are legitimate program builders. When they show signs of this at 2nd-tier schools, they are snatched up pretty fast. Look at Brian Kelly at Cincinnati or Butch Jones at Cincinnati or Urban Meyer at Utah. Mark Stoops at Kentucky is trying to abide by this rule but his seat is getting hot & the SEC East is getting tougher & tougher to navigate. The problem for Kentucky is that where are the games they “should” win? There are no weaknesses in the SEC West. They can’t draw a downtrodden Mississippi State team every year & have them come to Lexington. So let’s assume 2 losses to the West. They aren’t beating Tennessee, Georgia or Florida. That’s 5 losses. Say what you will about Bobby Petrino’s personal life, but the guy is a MONSTER of a head coach & UK plays Louisville every year. That’s 6 losses. That means UK has to win their other 3 non-conference games & also beat Missouri, South Carolina & Vanderbilt every season. It’s a tall order. At the end of the day, I think this UK roster is pretty darn talented and if I were Kentucky I’d leave Stoops to his own devices. Kentucky might not get bowl eligible this season, but that doesn’t mean the team isn’t improving. At the very least this season I think Kentucky will be one of the most interesting to follow regardless of outcome.

SEC EAST #6 – VANDERBILT COMMODORES

Offense: Vanderbilt is very similar to Kentucky when it comes to offense this season. Like Kentucky, Vandy has a very good RB you might not have heard of in Ralph Webb. At 5’10/200lbs, Webb isn’t much of a home run threat but he can grind defenses down. Last year he ran for 1,152 yards and averaged 4.2ypc while scoring 5TD. Webb is also a legit 3-down back as he’s a receiving threat out of the backfield which increases his value. The Commodores also return receivers who got quite a bit of action last year. Trent Sherfield & Caleb Scott where the two top receivers last year & CJ Duncan was only a fresh in 2015. Vandy doesn’t have the size that Kentucky has at receiver, but the talent is pretty good & TE Nathan Marcus should provide a big target at 6’5/242lbs. The O-Line returns 3 starters including C Barrett Gouger & both tackles in Andrew Jelks & Will Holden. Vandy should have a big physical O-line protecting QB Kyle Shurmur. Shurmur was a true frosh last season & opened up behind Johnny McCrary, but McCrary didn’t play that well paving the way for Shurmur to pick up some action. Shurmur wasn’t great completing just 42.7% of his passes with 5TD to 3INT, but he’s a prototypical QB at 6’3/223lbs with a big arm. He fits more into what HC Derek Mason wants to do with a more pro-style attack so Vandy can’t help but improve under center with Shurmur being the guy. Vandy’s offense was putrid last year but should see improvement as Mason finally has his guy under center.

Defense: The Commodores will be led on defense by S Oren Burks & LB Zach Cunningham. Cunningham at 6’4/230lbs is an All-SEC performer who could wind up being an All-American at ILB. He’s ultra productive raking up 4.5 sacks, 16.5 tackles for loss & 103 tackles while also breaking up 3 passes. Burks is one of the new breed of hybrid S/LB at 6’3/215lbs. Burks led the team in interceptions last year with 3 and also kicked in 59 tackles. He’s one of the few Vandy players who ball hawks consistently. As with Kentucky, Vandy plays somewhat of a 3-4 defense but only has one real rusher (Josh Smith) so they devolve into a sort of hybrid 4-2-5 with Burks alternating between S & LB. Vandy would do just as well to be a 4-3 as they don’t have a true 3-4NT and Jonathan Wynn at 6’4/255 is more like Smith at 6’4/240 & both could act as 43DEs. The DTs are Adam Butler & Nifae Lealao. Both can be effective inside players & hopefully they get better this season. Joining Cunningham at ILB is Nigel Bowden who was hurt last year. Getting Bowden healthy is a big plus for the Commodores as he’s a high impact/high production player. In the secondary, corners Tre Herndon & Torren McGaster return as starters. Both are 6’0+ with McGaster leading the team with 13 passes broken up last year. Emmanuel Smith is a big physical FS at 6’2/222lbs who could develop into something special. Vandy’s defense improved by 12.3PPG in Mason’s 2nd year. It’s a stout group & there is a lot of potential for it to be even better in 2016.

Schedule: It’s tough. Vanderbilt has tough non-conference road games against Western Kentucky & Georgia Tech. WKU has a chance to win CUSA while Georgia Tech is a bear to defend with the triple option attack that Paul Johnson uses Vanderbilt has a stout defense so it’s possible they can beat the Yellow Jackets, but it won’t be easy as Vandy doesn’t see that type of offense every week. They draw both Kentucky & Missouri on the road which probably limits their ability to climb too high in the East. Auburn & Ole Miss are their West opponents but Auburn is on the road & Ole Miss is likely a loss no matter where they play. Derek Mason did quite an improvement job from year 1 to year 2. He won an extra game and two extra conference games. The defense improved by 12+PPG as well. For the Commodores to take the next step they’ll have to win a few tough road games.

Bottom Line: This is a good football team. I think what hinders Vanderbilt are the reasons that will hinder Missouri, Kentucky & South Carolina and that is the fact that the top of the SEC East is becoming dominant once again. It’s easy to compare Derek Mason with James Franklin because of what Franklin did before he bolted to Penn State, but let’s not forget that Florida & Tennessee were in the toilet by their own standards when Franklin was going 9-4 in 2012 & 2013. Does James Franklin lead Vanderbilt to 9-4 records right now with UT, UGA & Florida being this good? It seems doubtful which is why Vanderbilt is once again enslaved by the formula of winning the games they should win & hoping for an upset or three to get bowl eligible. Another layer of crazy for Vanderbilt is that it is an academic school so why can’t they achieve what Stanford has or what Northwestern has been able to achieve for the most part? The easy answer is that Northwestern & Stanford don’t play in the SEC. It’s a different kind of animal. Vanderbilt should have an exciting year and they’ll be fun to watch, but 6-8 wins should be what people are hoping for which would be a dramatic improvement for Derek Mason & his staff. I don’t think there is heat on Mason and like Mark Stoops at Kentucky, he’s making big strides.

SEC EAST #7 – SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS

Offense: What always seemed interesting to me about the Steve Spurrier years in South Carolina is the battles he had with his QBs. When South Carolina put up a huge run from 2010-2013 (SC went 42-11 in that span) they lucked up on Connor Shaw being a lot better than people probably imagined. Last season the Gamecocks struggled mightily with Perry Orth & Lorenzo Nunez. Neither played well. That fed into the running game as well as Brandon Wilds & David Williams weren’t very good. Pharoah Cooper was an outstanding WR who put up a 66/973/8/14.7 line, but the next highest receiver had 28 catches and he was a TE. South Carolina had a poor offense, but it isn’t all doom and gloom. True frosh Brandon Mcilwain is the likely starter & was a heavily touted recruit. Sure he’ll have a learning curve in the SEC, but that experience should pay off. David Williams comes back at RB & Williams has some talent and is also big at 6’1/220lbs. True frosh WR Bryan Edwards is a big target at 6’3/200lbs and sophomore Deebo Samuel was a starter last year. The O-line has some talent as well. C Alan Knott & LT Mason Zandi are returning starters. G Cory Helms was a starter at Wake Forest before transferring over. T DJ Park & G Zack Bailey have some talent. Last season was South Carolina’s worst offensive output since 2009 when they averaged 20.6PPG. The good news is that SC increased their PPG by 10.3PPG in 2010! If that happens in 2016 then the Gamecocks will average 32.2PPG! They’ll take it!

Defense: The defense took a significant blow this May when potential All-American LB Skai Moore went down with a neck injury. Moore was going to be a senior & had nasty intentions coming back to Columbia for his senior season. He wanted to finish what he started with SC which was music to fans’ ears, but the injury now puts a tremendous dent into SC’s defensive hopes. TJ Holloman returns as the MIKE but Larenz Bryant is going to have to replace Moore at WIL and that is almost an impossible task. SC needs to get better at rushing the passer as well. DEs Marquavius Lewis & Darius English led the Gamecocks in sacks a year ago & both return. Daniel Fennell is a rFR that SC hopes can contribute to getting to the passer as well. Kelsey Griffin & Taylor Stallworth return as the DTs. Both are 6’2/302lbs so the size is OK but their production isn’t all that great. There is a lot of synergy that goes between the ILBs, DEs and DTs and a lot of that is sometimes dependent on the DTs. South Carolina isn’t dominant in the trenches. The secondary is most likely SC’s strongest level. They have 3 returning senior starters in CB Rico McWilliams, S Jordan Diggs and S Chaz Elder. SC also did a great job nabbing JUCO CB Jamarcus King who at 6’1/170lbs has great size on the outside. Like the offense the defense has a lot to work on but Wil Muschamp is a defensive minded coach & I think SC can turn it around. Losing Moore had to make Muschamp sick to his stomach, but overall it can improve from 2015.

Schedule:  South Carolina could be better than the 3-9 team they were last year but the schedule doesn’t do them any favors. If McIwain is the starter, he’ll have some bumps to start the season, but SC’s first 3 games include 3 road SEC games against Vanderbilt, Mississippi State & Kentucky. For SC to have a successful season, those 3 games are almost must wins, but because all 3 are on the road, the Gamecocks are going to be underdogs and SC is 3-11 over the last 5 years as road dogs. They do have a home game mixed in there against East Carolina which could give them a victory. Those their first 3 games they come home to play Texas A&M and Georgia before going on bye. After the bye they get UMass and then Tennessee in Columbia but the Vols are coming off a bye that week. To end the season SC has road games against Florida & Clemson in 2 of the last 3 weeks. Ouch! That’s a brutal schedule to navigate but SC definitely had 3 non-conference wins & I think the games against Vandy, Kentucky & Mississippi State could be winners as well. They get Missouri at home so there is another that could break their way.

Bottom Line: Last year was a rough on for the Gamecocks as essentially it was a rebuilding year in Columbia. What made matters worse was Carolina starting the year 2-4 and then having their HC skip town. I would have liked to have seen Spurrier stick around until the end of the season if only for the players, but it sort of destroyed the rest of the season. SC would finish 1-5 in their last 6 for an abysmal year. It was South Carolina’s worst season since 1999 when Lou Holtz took over for Brad Scott & SC went 0-11. The good news is that SC went 8-4 in Holtz’s 2nd year! Can we expect that sort of turnaround in Columbia under Muschamp? It’s hard to say but I do think Carolina could be a little better than we think. Last year, SC lost 5 games by a total of 20 points. If those 5 go the other way then SC is 8-4 and not 3-9. They also would have had wins over Clemson, Florida & Tennessee. Last year ended miserably, but the rebuild starts right now & SC can expect not to have to endure an 0-11 season the way the 1999 fanbase did.

July 1, 2016 Posted by | Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi St., Missouri, Predictions, Previews, SEC, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas AM, Vanderbilt | Leave a comment

2016 PRESEASON ALL-SEC TEAMS

POS TEAM FIRST TEAM OFFENSE
QB Computer Hope Chad Kelly: Kelly was the SEC leading passer last year as he threw for 4,042 yards & 31TD to only 13 picks. He completed 65.1% of his passes en route to leading the Rebels to a 10-3 record & handing Alabama their only loss of the season. Kelly wasn’t as dominant in SEC play as he was during the non-conference slate but Ole Miss finished 6-2 & beat Bama so how bad could he have been? At 6’3/225lbs, Kelly should light it up this season. If his decision making improves and he can cut down on his interceptions (especially in conference play), he’ll start jumping up draft boards for the 2017 NFL Draft. LSU & Alabama will dominate SEC West talk, but Ole Miss could contend because of Kelly.
RB Computer Hope Leonard Fournette: Forget the SEC, Fournette might be the best RB on the planet! Entering into the 2016 season I think Fournette is the Heisman front runner and if the Mad Hatter can stick to a gameplan, it’s hard seeing anyone stopping this rushing attack. Fournette had a monster freshman season but didn’t disappoint in his sophomore campaign rushing for 1,953 yards & 22TD! Fournette had a 3-game span last year against Alabama, Ole Miss & Arkansas where he didn’t run well & LSU lost all 3 games. Clearly the Tigers will go as far as Fournette can take them. With Derrius Grice, Fournette won’t have to shoulder as much load but enjoy him while you can because he’ll be in the NFL next year.
RB Computer Hope Nick Chubb: I don’t care about his knee injury & I don’t care that he might miss the first game or two of the season. When Nick Chubb is on the field, he completely changes the complexion of a game by taking it over whenever he wants. As a freshman when Todd Gurley went down, Chubb ran for 1,547 yards & 14TD averaging a ridiculous 7.1ypc! Last year before the injury Chubb ran for 747 yards & 7TD in 5 games. He averaged 8.1ypc! At 5’10/230lbs, he’s built like a tank and can be an asset in the passing game. Chubb has exceptional first step quickness and a ridiculous initial burst. He’s hard to take down & rarely goes down on first contact. Like Fournette, he’ll be playing on Sundays next year.
WR Computer Hope Calvin Ridley: It’s easy to forget that in 2014, Alabama’s leading receiver was Amani Cooper who caught 124 balls for 1727 yards & 16TD en route to being a 1st Team All-American and a 1st Round draft pick by the Oakland Raiders. All Calvin Ridley had to do was come in as a true frosh & replace him! Ridley didn’t disappoint! The 6’1/185lbs WR tore the SEC up going for 89 reception for 1,045 yards & 7TD leading his team in receiving on their way to a national championship. He was named a freshman All-American and is the leading returning receiver in the SEC. Ridley should continue the Alabama legacy of top flight receivers in the NFL behind both Amani Cooper and Julio Jones. An outstanding talent.
WR Computer Hope Christian Kirk: Like Ridley, Christian Kirk was a true freshman facing incredible expectations. Kirk wasn’t replacing a legend like Cooper, but he was facing incredible competition to get on the field in the forms of Josh Reynolds, Ricky Seals-Jones & Speedy Noil. Kirk didn’t waste much time. At 5’11/190lbs, Kirk has 4.4 speed & is practically a perfect fit as a slot which made him a perfect fit between Reynolds & Seals-Jones. Kirk capitalized on this with 80 catches for 1,009 yards & 7TD. Kirk was also an OUTSTANDING punt returner for the Aggies. Getting a more experienced QB this season in Trevor Knight could do wonders for Kirk as he continues to get better. I’d expect a huge year!
WR Computer Hope Quincy Adeboyejo: Adeboyejo walks into a perfect situation in Oxford as the Rebels #1 receiver heading into 2016. Last season being the 4th option, Adeboyejo had 38 catches for 604 yards & 7 TD. He averaged 15.9ypc showing he’s got speed, big play ability, and he can also find the endzone. At 6’3/190lbs, he’s got the size/athleticism to challenge for any ball that comes his way and you know Chad Kelly is going to light it up this season. With Evan Engram returning and Damore’ea Stringfellow on the other side of the ball, Adeboyejo should see single coverage most of the time & if that happens I’d expect a HUGE season from him. He could top Laquon Treadwell’s numbers from last year rather easily.
TE Computer Hope OJ Howard: Howard gave us a little taste of what he could do in the national championship game as he TORCHED Clemson for 208 yards & 2TD on only 5 receptions. A freak of nature at 6’6/250lbs, Howard surprised quite a few people when he didn’t come out for the 2016 NFL Draft where he most certainly would have been the #1 TE on most draft boards. He’ll stay the #1 TE on draft boards for 2017, but I’d expect his role in Alabama to expand greatly this year & he provides a ridiculous mismatch on every play regardless of the defense. He needs to work hard this year to consolidate his game by improving his route running & blocking, and he’ll get chances to do this as he should play a bigger role.
OC Computer Hope Ethan Pocic: Pocic was the best center in the SEC last year not named Ryan Kelly. Started his career at LSU as a guard & has since moved to the center to QB the offensive line. A lot can be said for Leonard Fournette’s running ability or Brandon Harris being able to use his legs a bit, but LSU’s O-Line did a tremendous job protecting the QB & opening up running lanes for LSU rushers. Pocic was a big part of that. What’s interesting about Pocic is that LSU lists him at 6’7 which is ENORMOUS for a center. Teams inflate numbers all the time so I wouldn’t be surprised if Pocic was 6’5 which would probably be better for him. Solid in both run & pass blocking, Pocic is the best of a lot of very good SEC centers.
OL Computer Hope Cam Robinson: Robinson is a monster at 6’6/330lbs with the feet & agility to stay at LT. He wasn’t as good as Laremy Tunsil this past season, but there isn’t much question that Robinson would have been the 2nd highest graded tackle in the 2015 NFL Draft & he’ll be the highest rated LT in the 2016 NFL Draft. It’s hard to believe he’s a true junior. Robinson is a bit long on potential at this point as his 2015 didn’t go exceedingly well. He has consistency issues & the off the field issues this past offseason can’t be much of a help. I think he’ll turn in a big year for the Tide as he’ll want to work on his game. He doesn’t seem like the kind of guy that really wants to spend more time in college than he has to.
OL Computer Hope Dan Skipper: I can’t remember seeing a tackle as big as Skipper who comes in at 6’10/330lbs! Massive road grader who was an all SEC performer his sophomore year at LT before moving to RT last year where he was again an all-SEC performer. Skipper should be one of the top tackles in 2016 regardless of conference & if Robinson doesn’t show well, then Skipper should be the best in the SEC. It’ll be interesting to see where Skipper goes from here because we’ve never really seen a guy this long play before. You would think that length would be an advantage at LT, but given the speed/size combination of edge rushers in the NFL, I wonder if Skipper’s eventual home will be on the right side of the O-Line.
OL Computer Hope Greg Pyke: Pyke is a big interior O-Lineman who runs about 6’6/320lbs. The Georgia Bulldog had a great sophomore campaign in 2014 where he was a 2nd Team All-SEC selection and did a great job run blocking for both Todd Gurley & Nick Chubb. His 2015 was somewhat of a disappointment and at one point the Georgia coaching staff actually benched Pyke for uninspired play. Pyke has quite a bit to play for this season which will be his last in Athens, and he’s owned up to his less than stellar efforts last season which is a great sign of maturity on his part. He’s penciled in to take over at RT for the Bulldogs this season which is a solid move given his size. Pyke is a potential All-American this year.
OL Computer Hope Alex Kozan: Kozan had a nasty year in 2013 where he was a freshman All-American and had a huge part in the Auburn ground game that saw Nick Marshall rush for 1,068 yards & Tre Mason rush for 1,816 yards! That Auburn team finished 12-2 & was 3 points away from beating Florida State for a national championship. Kozan was put on all sorts of watch lists & was a potential 1st team All-SEC player heading into 2014 before he hurt his back & missed the entire season. He played in every game last year but coming into this season, Kozan will be 2-years removed from his injuries and I expect we’ll see a big year out of the 6’4/300lbs guard. I think a lot of people will be sleeping on him. I think that’s a mistake.

2ND TEAM OFFENSE

QB-Josh Dobbs/Tennessee: Completion % needs to come up but everything is in place for Dobbs to have an incredible senior season and win the SEC.
RB-Jovon Robinson/Auburn: 2015 didn’t go as well as the JUCO transfer thought, but the 6’0/235lbs Robinson could be huge in Malzahn’s offense.
RB-Jalen Hurd/Tennessee: Huge at 6’3/235lbs! Grinds defenses down and is a 1st Team All-Conference player in any conference except the SEC!
WR-Malachi Dupre/LSU: Big at 6’3/190lbs. LSU’s leading receiver last season. Can get to the paint & make big plays. Imagine if he had a legit QB?
WR-Josh Reynolds/Texas A&M: Outstanding size at 6’4/200lbs! Has averaged 17.0ypc during this 2 previous seasons in College Station & can score.
WR-Fred Ross/Mississippi St.: Not flashy but the 6’2/205lbs Bulldog is reliable. Caught 88 balls for 1,000+yds last season. Very consistent play at WR.
TE-Evan Engram/Ole Miss: A bit undersized at 6’3/230lbs but strong & can create mismatches. More of a Jordan Reed/Aaron Hernandez type of TE.
OC-Jon Toth/Kentucky: Ideal size at center at 6’5/300lbs. Toth is without question the general of the Kentucky O-Line & is arguably the best center here.
OL-Braden Smith/Auburn: Big interior guard at 6’6/290lbs, Smith was an all-SEC performer last year & will be a big part of Jovon Robinson’s success.
OL-Justin Senior/Mississippi St.: 6’5/300lbs senior who has started for 2 straight years. With Dak Prescott gone, he’ll try to keep his QB upright.
OL-Jashon Robertson/Tennessee: Has started 23/26 games since he’s been on campus. Incredibly important part of Tennessee’s interior offensive line.
OL-Alphonse Taylor/Alabama: Has had some trouble getting his weight down to Nick Saban’s liking, but he’s a big part of Alabama’s rushing attack.

3RD TEAM OFFENSE

QB-Trevor Knight/Texas A&M: He might not be outstanding, but how does Knight not put up huge numbers with all the receiving options he’ll have?
RB-Bo Scarbrough/Alabama: Scarbrough looks to be next in line in Alabama’s RB factor. The 6’0/230lbs runner should start to breakthrough in 2016.
RB-Keith Ford/Texas A&M: Like Knight, a Oklahoma transfer, Ford should have plenty of room to run with defenses keying on the A&M passing attack.
WR-Drew Morgan/Arkansas: Solid receiver at 6’0/190lbs. Led Arkansas in receiving last year & also caught 10TD passes. I think he can replicate that.
WR-Antonio Callaway/Florida: On talent alone Callaway probably should be a 1st team player but off-field issues might keep him off the field entirely!
WR-Keon Hatcher/Arkansas: Hatcher’s first senior year didn’t go as planned due to injury so he’ll try again. If healthy, he could put up big numbers.
TE-Jeremy Sprinkle/Arkansas: Don’t be shocked if Arkansas doesn’t miss Hunter Henry as much as you think. The 6’6/250lbs Sprinkle is dangerous.
OC-Brandon Kublanow/Georgia: If Jacob Eason is the starter in Athens, Kublanow could very well end up being the most valuable OL in the SEC.
OL-Avery Gennesy/Texas A&M: Gennesy takes over for Germain Ifedi at LT & is A&M’s best bet to keep their streak of 1st Round OL NFL Draft picks.
OL-David Sharpe/Florida: Massive at 6’6/350lbs, Sharpe will protect Luke Del Rio’s blindside in what could be a very good Florida OL that plays nasty.
OL-Maea Teuhema/LSU: How special is this guy? At 6’5/330lbs, he’s a true sophomore that is already starting at LT for a national title contending team.
OL-Martez Ivey/Florida: True sophomore that was #1OL recruit in 2015. The 6’6/310lbs will be at LG biding his time until he takes over for Sharpe.

4TH TEAM OFFENSE

QB-Brandon Harris/LSU: Much scrutinized to this point, Harris is only a junior and has a chance to start rewriting his legacy over the next 2 years at LSU.
RB-Derrius Grice/LSU: A 5’11/220lbs monster, Grice could easily wind up with over 1,000 yards rushing in relief of Fournette. A starter anywhere else but LSU.
RB-Sony Michel/Georgia: Ran for 1,100+ yards in relief of Chubb last season. Has all the tools to rush for another 1,000 yards even with Chubb healthy.
WR-Travin Dural/LSU: 2-year starter at 6’2/190lbs. RIDICULOUS PLAYMAKER. In his 3 years has averaged 19.9ypc! Needs to get the ball a lot more!
WR-Damore’ea Stringfellow/Ole Miss: I think Adeboyejo & Engram are going to be the first 2 options, but Stringfellow will get his fair share of balls.
WR-Ricky Seals-Jones/Texas A&M: TE size at 6’5/240lbs, I can’t figure out how this guy doesn’t get 100 balls for 1700 yards & 19TD. Very exciting to watch.
TE-DeAndre Goolsby/Florida: Has a chance to be really special in this offense. Showed great ability with 16+ypc last year at 6’4/240lbs. Needs ball more.
OC-Frank Ragnow/Arkansas: Ragnow being a 4th team All-SEC player proves how talented and deep the center position is in the SEC this year.
OL-Austin Golson/Auburn: Another center, Golson is a 6’5/310lbs transfer from Ole Miss. Auburn’s interior offensive line should be one of the very best.
OL-Will Clapp/LSU: Clapp is the 8th LSU starter listed on my 4 SEC teams. The 6’5/300lbs sophomore will play guard & open up holes for Fournette.
OL-Zack Bailey/South Carolina: The 6’6/330lbs guard is a true sophomore & probably SC’s most talented lineman. Will protect against pocket collapse.
OL-Ross Pierschbacher/Alabama: Regardless of whether he lines up at guard or center, the 6’4/300lbs redshirt sophomore deserves to be among the elite.

POS TEAM FIRST TEAM DEFENSE
DL Computer Hope Jonathan Allen: When you look at SEC games only, you can make an argument that Allen was more effective than Myles Garrett and did so at the 34DE position instead of the 43DE position which is more geared towards a pass rush. Allen is somewhat of a tweener at 6’3/272lbs. He doesn’t have the ideal height as a 34DE but he’s such a darn good football player it might not matter where you line him up in any defensive scheme. A 3rd team All-American last year, it was somewhat of a surprise to see Allen return to Tuscaloosa, but Nick Saban can’t happier about it. Allen should be a 1st Team All-American & if Alabama wins another national championship, Allen will be a big reason why.
DL Computer Hope Myles Garrett: Garrett has been an all-world talent since he stepped foot on the A&M campus & he’s done nothing in his first two seasons that would make us believe he doesn’t live up to the hype. At 6’5/255lbs, Garrett practically defines “perfection” for a 4-3DE. In his first two seasons he’s totaled 24 sacks & 33.5 tackles for loss. A first team All-American last year, you have to wonder if the Titans would have been as eager to trade down if a talent like Garrett had been available? There isn’t a question of whether he’s All-SEC or All-American? The question now will be the degree in which he dominates & if he can navigate his junior year without injury. Something Jaylon Smith & Myles Jack didn’t do.
DL Computer Hope Marquis Haynes: While all the talk centered around Robert Nkemdiche last year, Marquis Haynes put together a fantastic sophomore season that was All-SEC worthy. Haynes was a freshman All-American & followed that up with a year where he recorded 16.5TFL and 10 sacks! Haynes isn’t huge at 6’3/220lbs & is probably miscast as a 43DE in Ole Miss’s defense, but I don’t think it matters at the collegiate level. Outside of Nkemdiche, the Rebels return their entire D-Line. Fadol Brown, DJ Jones & Breeland Speaks is going to take up quite a bit of attention so Haynes shouldn’t have any trouble getting one on one matchups. I expect a monster year and I think Haynes will play his way into the first round.
DL Computer Hope Derek Barnett: At 6’3/267lbs, Barnett is giving Myles Garrett a run for his money in being the most productive SEC DE over their first two seasons. Garrett has 24 sacks & 33.5TFL, but Barnett has recorded 20 sacks & 33TFL! The numbers aren’t that different. Barnett was a freshman All-American in 2014 & followed that up with a 2nd Team All-SEC selection last year. Barnett is a little different from Garrett in that he’s already a stellar run defender. It’ll be interesting to see how Barnett improves his pass rushing ability even more. He’s going to be an All-American and a potential top-5 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. The real question is whether or not Barnett will surpass Garrett as the top rated DE!?
LB Computer Hope Rueben Foster: Regardless of how talented a player you are, typically a LB has to wait a couple of years to start at Alabama because the depth is absurd. Foster waited his two years as a reserve & then jumped on the scene last year & didn’t disappoint, recording 73 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 9 passes broken up & a sack for good measure. At 6’1/240lbs, Foster is a legit thumper in the middle with the ability to cover the intermediate middle of the field. He’ll take over as the lead dog in the middle now that Reggie Ragland is in the NFL & I wouldn’t be surprised to see Foster play his way to 100+ tackles and All-American status. Given what Alabama has up front, Foster has plenty of room to hunt.
LB Computer Hope Zach Cunningham: Cunningham is an ultraproductive force as a middle LB with outstanding size at 6’4/240lbs! Cunningham would have been an intriguing NFL prospect & was eligible for the draft as a redshirt sophomore, but chose to come back to Nashville for his 4th season in the Vandy program. Cunningham led the Commodores in tackles, sacks & tackles for loss. He’s the best defender Vandy has but that doesn’t mean Vanderbilt isn’t short on defenders. Cunningham is going to be solid & will put up the numbers to earn this spot, but I don’t think it was an unusual move for to return. Vanderbilt has a ton returning on both offense & defense so Cunningham may think something special could happen.
LB Computer Hope Jalen Reeves-Maybin: For all the talk the Tennessee offense will get this year behind Josh Dobbs, Jalen Hurd & Alvin Kamara, don’t forget about the defense. The Vols defense is what sets them apart & Reeves-Maybe is a HUGE part of that. The 6’1/240lbs senior can argue rather easily he’s the best LB in college football and certainly the best weakside LB. Reeves-Maybin has led UT in tackles the last two seasons going over the 100 mark both times. Last year he tacked on 14TFL & 6 sacks to go along with 4 passes broken up. Reeves-Maybin shows outstanding sideline to sideline speed. There isn’t much he can’t do on a football field. He’s a more limited version of Myles Jacks but without the injuries.
LB Computer Hope Tim Williams: The 6’4/230lbs 3-4OLB had a breakout season in 2015 going for 10.5 sacks and 12.5 TFL. Williams along with Jonathan Allen & Ryan Anderson provides Alabama with something defensively they haven’t completely relied upon since Nick Saban took the gig which is a legitimate pass rush! Since Saban took the job in Tuscaloosa, he’s never had a pass rusher with double-digit sacks until last season when both Allen & Williams did so. Williams has incredible explosion off the line & is an easy 1st round talent as a pass rusher. If he can work on his run support, he’ll vault himself into the top-half of the first round. If he gets the snaps expect 16-19 sacks and a nod as a first team All-American.
DB Computer Hope Jalen Tabor: Teammate Vernon Hargreaves was a top-10 pick in the 2015 NFL Draft & Tabor outplayed him in 2015. Tabor wasn’t draft eligible because he was a true sophomore, but Tabor probably would have been the 2nd corner off the board after Jalen Ramsey had he been able to come out. Tabor has incredible size at 6’1/190lbs for a CB and he also runs quick enough to play legit press man coverage off the line. Tabor had a ridiculous 14 passes broken up last year to go with 4 interceptions, 2 of which he returned for TDs. In my opinion Tabor is the best corner in college football this year. He doesn’t shy away from contact either & has a physical element to his game. Can easily play on an island.
DB Computer Hope Tre’Davious White: White brings 35 career starts to the table making him the most experienced CB in the SEC. White doesn’t have the same size as Tabor, but isn’t awful at 5’11/190lbs either! White had a great junior season in Baton Rouge going for 44 tackles & 7 passes broken up. He’ll get knocked by NFL guys that he’s too short & stringy to go up against NFL WR size, but I wouldn’t worry too much about that. White could have actually come out last season & been a high draft pick. I love the fact he came back to LSU & his return makes this defense THAT much better. Between White, Tabor, Desmond King & Adoree Jackson, there is some serious competition for All American honors at corner.
DB Computer Hope Eddie Jackson: Jackson had a solid year last season ball-hawking in Alabama’s secondary. His 6 interceptions ranked 7th in the nation and he’ll be an integral part of an Alabama secondary that is extremely young at corner. The 6’0/191lbs safety ended the year as a 1st Team All-SEC safety & a 2nd Team All-American. Jackson is actually a converted corner giving him the advantage of having good cover skills as a safety which is why you see the big numbers in picks & passes defended. Jackson doesn’t shy away from contact either and can at times drop down in the box. Alabama does an EXCEPTIONAL job of blurring the lines between strong safety & free safety and Jackson fits this strategy to perfection.
DB Computer Hope Jamal Adams: Adams is one of my favorite players in the SEC. What is it about LSU defensive backs that looks so incredible on Saturdays? When these guys put on the uniform it looks like they were born to play football. Adams has been ridiculously consistent in his first two years in Baton Rouge. He’s had 66 & 67 tackles over his first two seasons. His had 5 tackles for loss in both seasons. He’s had 5 & 6 passes broken up in each season. Adams showed tremendous ball skills & ball-hawking ability last year with 4 interceptions. I think Adams is the best safety in America & he’s primed for a MONSTER season! I could see 100+ tackles, 1st Team All-American status and being a high 1st round pick in the NFL draft.

2ND TEAM DEFENSE

DL-Deatrich Wise/Arkansas: Wise broke out last year with 8-sacks/10.5TFL. The 6’5/271lbs rSR has incredible size & could play himself into Round 1 as a 3-4DE.
DL-Davon Godchaux/LSU: The 6’4/300lbs DT had a great season in last year as a true soph. Has fantastic athleticism for a man this big. Had 6 sacks & 8TFL last year.
DL-Da’Shawn Hand/Alabama: Hard to find playing time with Jarran Reed, A’Shawn Robinson & Jonathan Allen ahead of you. Hand finally gets to play this season.
DL-Dalvin Tomlinson/Alabama: Like Hand, Tomlinson had to wait his turn, and like Hand, Tomlinson will run with. Both guys could be 1st round picks in 2017.
LB-Kendell Beckwith/LSU: The 6’2/245lbs senior MLB should be the unquestioned leader of what could be an incredible LSU defense. Crazy to think he’s a 2nd teamer.
LB-Jarrad Davis/Florida: Davis had an incredible year as a 1st year starter at the WIL for the Gators. Davis had 98 tackles, 11 tackls for loss & 7 QB hurries.
LB-Arden Key/LSU: DO NOT SLEEP on this guy. Key might be the most exciting defensive player in the nation. At 6’6/231lbs, it’ll be interesting to see his progress.
LB-Richie Brown/MS State: The 6’2/245lbs MLB is highly productive & entering his senior year. MS State is always going to compete & Brown is a big reason why in ’16.
DB-Tony Bridges/Ole Miss: At 6’2/190, Bridges has outstanding size for a CB. The JUCO transfer had a great 1st season in Oxford with 9 passes defended & 3 picks.
DB-Minkah Fitzpatrick/Alabama: Fitzpatrick came in last year as a true freshman & made a case as to why he was the best CB in Tuscaloosa! A true freshman did this!
DB-Marcus Maye/Florida: Keanu Neal’s counterpart at safety last year at Florida, Maye could easily find himself being taken in the 1st round of next year’s NFL Draft.
DB-Dominick Sanders/Georgia: The 6’0/187lbs Sanders has been a starter since he stepped on the field in Athens. Good coverage & ball skills as a free safety.

3RD TEAM DEFENSE

DL-Charles Harris/Missouri: Good size at 6’3/255lbs. Harris broke out last year as a rSO with 7 sacks & an incredible 18.5 tackles for loss. Likely a 34OLB in the NFL.
DL-Walter Brady/Missouri: Another 6’3/255lbs Mizzou DE, Brady had a great year last year as a rFR with 7 sacks & 12.5 tackles for loss. He’ll get even better in ’16.
DL-Terry Beckner/Missouri: The 6’4/300lbs true frosh made a case for being the best DL in the 2015 class. Beckner clogged up the middle & showed some pass rush.
DL-Bryan Cox/Florida: A redshirt senior, Cox is going to put up big numbers this year along the Florida D-Line. Cox finally got a shot last season & did very well.
LB-Ryan Anderson/Alabama: With a ridiculous amount of talent everywhere on Alabama’s defense, don’t be surprised if Anderson emerges as the sacks & TFL leader.
LB-Alex Anzalone/Florida: Injuries have really taken a toll on Anzalone’s career at UF but you can’t deny the talent of the 6’3/240lbs LB. Let’s hope he stays healthy.
LB-Darrin Kirkland/Tennessee: The 6’1/224lbs Indianapolis native wasted no time becoming UT’s starting MIKE as a true frosh! Kirkland is an outstanding talent.
LB-Michael Scherer/Missouri: Big time production with Scherer that sometimes gets over looked because Kentrell Brothers played alongside of him. He’ll be the man.
DB-Cameron Sutton/Tennessee: Sutton is outstanding and if he winds up as a 1st Team All-SEC player I wouldn’t be surprised in the least. Offenses try to avoid him.
DB-Marlon Humphrey/Alabama: Humphrey, like Fitzpatrick was also a frosh last year although a rFR. Big time size at 6’1/192lbs combined with big time talent.
DB-Armani Watts/Texas A&M: Undersized strong safety at 5’11/190lbs, but Watts shows up every week. He led the Aggies in tackles last year totaling 126! 2nd in the SEC.
DB-Oren Burks/Vanderbilt: Burks is big at 6’3/220lbs & I wouldn’t be surprised to see him shoot up draft boards as a hybrid WIL/S type of player the NFL covets.

4TH TEAM DEFENSE

DL-Carl Lawson/Auburn: Injuries have plagued Lawson but the talent is INCREDIBLE. Wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Lawson ended the year as SEC defensive POY!
DL-Lewis Neal/LSU: Neal has odd size at 6’1/255lbs. The switch to a 3-4 hurts him in my opinion. He’s an edge rusher with the size of a 3-4 ILB. It’ll be interesting to see.
DL-Josh Augusta/Missouri: MASSIVE at 6’4/350lbs! Augusta does more than clog up running lanes. He also had 8.5 tackles for loss & 27 tackles. Can be a legit 34NT.
DL-Caleb Brantley/Florida: Brantley is a big guy at 6’2/320lbs with some first step quickness & wiggle. His ability to provide interior pressure will be big for Florida.
LB-Brooks Ellis/Arkansas: Ellis led Arkansas in tackles last year with 102 but also showed ability as a pass rusher. The 6’2/248lbs senior should have a great year.
LB-Donavin Newsom/Missouri: A 6’2/230lbs thumper as the SAM, Newsom is going to have massive opportunity to excel. Missouri’s front seven looks ridiculous.
LB-Tim Kimbrough/Georgia: Kimbrough is a solid interior LB in UGA’s 3-4 scheme. There is nothing overtly fancy about his game, but he knows his job & gets it done.
LB-Lorenzo Carter/Georgia: Unbelievable size at 6’6/240lbs, Carter has the responsibility of replacing Leonard Floyd & Jordan Jenkins. I think he has a monster year.
DB-Carlton Davis/Auburn: The true freshman established himself as Auburn’s best CB last year with 3 picks & 8 PBUs. Good size at 6’1/182lbs, he’ll continue to improve.
DB-Donovan Wilson/Texas A&M: Isn’t defined by a set position at A&M other than “playmaker”. The idea is to get this kid on the field & wait for big plays to happen.
DB-Quincy Mauger/Georgia: Solid safety for the Bulldogs, Mauger wasn’t quite the player for Georgia last year as he was in 2014, but I think he’ll have a big senior season.
DB-Kivon Coman/MS State: Great size at 6’3/200lbs, Coman has pretty good cover skills while also being able to come into the box and play against the run. I like him.

June 18, 2016 Posted by | Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi St., Missouri, Preseason, Previews, SEC, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas AM, Vanderbilt | Leave a comment

2015 SEC PREVIEW and PREDICTIONS

RANK SEC EAST COMMENTS
#1 OFFENSE: Tennessee is BACK! Offensively the Vols improved by 5.1PPG in Butch Jones’ 2nd year as HC. If they keep that trajectory then UT scores 34PPG which will be more than enough to win the SEC East. The scary part is that they might score closer to 40PPG. The Vols have 10 starters back on offense which is ABSURD! Of their projected starting 11, 7 were frosh/soph last year meaning they all come with significantly more experience in 2015. Josh Dobbs is the QB who played well last year & RB Jalen Hurd rushed for 900yds as a frosh. UT has their top-9 receivers back & there is talent up & down the offense. The one issue last year was poor O-Line play, but the line is so much more experienced this season. It’ll be wait & see with the O-Line but I expect improvement. Hurd is going to be big this year. DEFENSE: Like the offense, the defense improved by 5PPG in Jones’ 2nd year & if the same holds true this year UT will allow 19PPG! However, I think UT could improve this as well. The Vols bring back 8 starters 5 of their front & back 7. LB AJ Johnson is a big loss but UT brings back 5 of their top-6 tacklers. LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin led with 101 tackles last year & DE Derek Barnett was a monster last year as a true frosh with 10 sacks & 20.5 tackles for loss! LB Curt Maggitt chipped in 11 sacks himself & is a potential All-American! S LaDarrell McNeil & CB Cameron Sutton can be All-SEC. UT has 5 legit all-SEC defenders. SCHEDULE: I have UT winning the East because they get Georgia in Knoxville & the upside of this team is outstanding. OOC games against Oklahoma & Bowling Green will be interesting. The Vols draw Arkansas & Alabama out of the West & also have road games against Florida & Missouri. It’s not an easy task, but if the Vols win their homes games, they’ll be OK. BEST CASE: 12-0!!! WORST CASE: 5-7
#2 OFFENSE: With all due respect to Ezekiel Elliott, Nick Chubb is the best RB in college football & is almost reason enough to have Georgia win the East, but UGA simply doesn’t rise to the occasion. The SEC East should have been the Dawgs’ playground, yet Missouri has won the division the last 2 seasons! Chubb headlines an offense that also returns 4 starters on the O-Line. It’s potentially the best O-Line in the nation & G Greg Pyke is an All-American candidate. The one issue Georgia has is that they’ll be starting a new QB & they lose their top-2 receivers. QB Hutson Mason did a fantastic job last year for UGA & of course there is talent galore at the receiver spot. Georgia is going to run the ball & then run it some more but they’ll need to show the ability to pass as well to make the running game more effective. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Georgia average 40PPG again. DEFENSE: DC Jeremy Pruitt is in his 2nd year & I’d expect Georgia to keep improving. Georgia improved their PPG allowed  by 8.3PPG in Pruitt’s 1st season so the upside is there. What I like about this 3-4 defense is DE Jordan Jenkins & OLBs Lorenzo Carter & Leonard Floyd. All 3 can get to the QB & having a 3-4DE with pass rushing ability is a huge asset. They also bring back 3 of 4 DBs with safeties Quincy Mauger & Aaron Davis as potential All-SEC players. The corners also have good size. UGA did lose their ILBs who accounted for 225 tackles a season ago, but I think this defense can be just as good this year! SCHEDULE: UGA got no breaks drawing Auburn & Alabama out of the West! They also have to go on the road to Tennessee and Georgia Tech. The rest of the schedule isn’t bad, but Georgia has to watch out for the early game against South Carolina. That seems to trip them up all the time & they are 1-4 in their last 5. BEST CASE: 12-0. WORST CASE: 5-7
#3 OFFENSE: Missouri’s offense took a step back last year by almost 12PPG which was to be expected as Chase Daniel left & new starting QB Maty Mauk took over. The results didn’t differ that much as the Tigers were able to win a 2nd consecutive SEC East title en route to an 11-3 season! This year Mauk & RB Russell Hansbrough enter their 2nd year as full time starters with an O-Line that returns 4 of 5. Hanbrough rushed for 1084yds/10TD/5.3ypc & I think those numbers will improve. The one area Missouri has to be concerned with is Mauk & the passing game. Missouri loses their top-4 receivers including Bud Sasser (77rec/1003yds) & Jimmie Hunt (17.5ypc!). Those 2 were obviously safety guys for Mauk who has all new receivers this year. TE Sean Culkin should play a huge role, but for Missouri to be successful, Mauk has do better than 53.4% & a 25:13 TD:INT ratio. DEFENSE: Losing Markus Golden, Shane Ray, Lucas Vincent & Matt Hoch along the D-line would seem BRUTAL and it is, but Mizzou has done an outstanding job of restocking the D-Line. Marcell Frazier is a monster JUCO talent coming in to the DE at 6’5/270lbs! Charles Harris at 6’3/255lbs is the other DE. Top recruit Terry Beckner comes in at DT  & the Tigers also have Harold Brantley & Josh Augusta. The D-Line will take a hit because of the losses, but it’s an interesting group with massive upside. Missouri also returns LBs Kentrell Bothers & Mike Scherer who were #1 & #2 in tackles last year with All-SEC potential. The secondary returns 3 of 4 starters including both corners. SCHEDULE: OOC is a joke outside of BYU late in the year in Kansas City. Mississippi St. & Arkansas out of the West isn’t horrific. They do play at Georgia but get Tennessee, South Carolina & Florida at home. This is a VERY manageable schedule. BEST CASE: 10-2. WORST CASE: 4-8
#4 OFFENSE: The Gamecocks have averaged 30+PPG since 2010, but that is going to be a hard precedent to follow with an offense that is completely rebuilding. The offense essentially loses everyone outside of potential All-American WR Pharoh Cooper & 3 offensive linemen. SC loses QB Dylan Thompson & RB Mike Davis along with 4 of their top-5 receivers! The Ol’ Ball Coach is still on the sidelines so it’s not like the offense won’t have some firepower, and this is South Carolina so there is obviously talent. Connor Mitch takes over at QB & I think he’s going to have a good year. Brandon Wilds & David Williams are the RBs & both have some upside although it’ll be different than seeing Mike Davis/Marcus Lattimore in recent seasons. The offense has a chance if the O-Line can gel, LT Brandon Shell keeps Mitch upright & Cooper & TE Jerell Adams act as safety valves for the new QB. DEFENSE: Carolina’s offense was downright TERRIBLE last season allowing 30.4PPG! That is so unlike SC football that it’s hard to believe the Gamecocks were that bad. Luckily, they return 8 starters so the unit should be a lot better. Carolina returns 6 of their top-7 tacklers including 6 of the front-7. The problem is production. MLB Skai Moore is the only defender who could be an All-SEC type players. The front-4 is huge averaging 6’3/325lbs at DT & 6’3/270lbs at DE! Marquavius Lewis should have an immediate impact. The secondary returns 2 of 4 starters. There is a lot of potential here & I have a hard time believing SC won’t be better. SCHEDULE: The OOC is tough with games against UNC, Clemson & UCF! They have road games against Tennessee, Georgia & Missouri which limit the upside of how high SC could go. They draw LSU & Texas A&M from the West. It’s a brutal schedule that will be hard to overcome. BEST CASE: 9-3. WORST CASE: 2-10! 
#5 OFFENSE: The Gators are in rebuilding mode offensively but new HC Jim McElwain is an interesting fit. He spent the last 3 years at Colorado St., guiding the Rams to continuous improvement. CSU was 4-8 in McElwain’s first year. They were 10-3 last season! What’s interesting about him is that before Colorado St., McElwain was Alabama’s OC from 2008-2011! He understands SEC football and he’s accustomed to winning football games. Florida brings back just 4 starters on offense, but the talent is undeniable. It’ll be interesting to see what McElwain will do with QBs Will Grier & Treon Harris. Remember what Garrett Grayson was able to accomplish at Colorado St. during McElwain’s time there. WR Demarcus Robinson has great upside & while the O-Line welcomes in 4 new starters, the big uglies up front average 6’4/320lbs. Keep & eye on RBs Kelvin Taylor & Adam Lane as well. Florida might struggle a bit offensively but it’ll be fun to watch. DEFENSE: The Gator defense has a lot more experience & has 2 potential All-Americans in CB Vernon Hargreaves & LB Antonio Morrison. DT Jonathan Bullard & CB Brian Poole should also be All-Conference contenders. This is the unit Gator Nation won’t have to worry about as Florida allowed just 21.1PPG & could be better. The secondary is arguably the best unit in the nation & the D-Line anchored by Bullard should be solid. Losing Dante Fowler is tough but Florida should be alright. This is a defense that shouldn’t have many problems allowing fewer than 20PPG making them a scary team. SCHEDULE: OOC is cake except season finale hosting Florida State. They get Ole Miss & LSU from the West which hurts & also have road games against SC & Missouri. They do get Tennessee at home which is a huge break. Still a tough schedule for such a young team. BEST CASE: 8-4. WORST CASE: 4-8
#6 OFFENSE: In Mark Stoops’ 2nd year in Lexington, the Wildcats improved their offense by 9PPG! This year Kentucky brings back 7 starters on offense including their QB, leading rusher, leading receiver & 4 offensive linemen. When you think of SEC football you typically don’t think about Kentucky, but Stoops is doing an AMAZING job thus far & if UK improves as much this year as they did between Years 1 & 2, they would celebrate an 8-4 season! The talent isn’t overwhelming here but it fits. QB Patrick Towles is huge at 6’5/241lbs. While not amazing last year, if he improves his accuracy & decision making, UK is immensely better. RB Stan Williams averaged 6.6ypc in limited time. He’ll be the feature back this season. The O-Line averages 6’5/305bls with C Jon Toth being a potential All-SEC player. TE CJ Conrad & WR Dorian Baker are big targets while Ryan Timmons  is old reliable who can be outstanding! UK averages 30+PPG this year! DEFENSE: Kudos to Stoops for switching the defense to a 3-4 which better matches the personnel. Melvin Lews is a legit NT at 6’4/350lbs. What UK really needs to have in 2015 is a pass rush after losing Bud Dupree & Za’Darius Smith. Dupress is irreplaceable but Jason Hatcher, Denzil Ware, Alvonte Bell & Jabari Johnson are going to try & get a pass rush going. UK also brings back three quarters of their secondary with both CBs intact. LB Josh Forrest led the team in tackles last year with 110 & will anchor the LB corps & is an All-SEC candidate. I like the upside of this defense & think it works a lot better as a 3-4. It’ll improve. SCHEDULE: OOC is a joke outside of Louisville. They draw Auburn & MS State from the West. OUCH! They get UGA & SC on the road but UT, Mizzou & Florida at home. Kentucky is going to surprise some people this year. I wouldn’t overlook them. BEST CASE: 8-4. WORST CASE: 4-8
#7 Let’s not worry so much about Vanderbilt’s breakdown as far as offense, defense & schedule are concerned. Vandy is in an interesting situation because they had a couple of 9-4 seasons under former HC James Franklin before Franklin picked up for Penn State in the hopes of restoring that once proud & storied program. If you are coaching Vanderbilt & Penn St. comes knocking, you pack up & move to Pennsylvania. No question. On the other hand, Vanderbilt was left with this feeling that they could actually compete in the SEC. The question is whether that is a legit proposition or not? From 2012-2013 the Commodores were 18-8 with a couple of bowl wins. In their previous HISTORY, Vanderbilt had only one other season in which they won 9 games. However, notice these other records during those 2 seasons: Florida 15-10; Tennessee 10-14; Georgia 20-7; South Carolina 22-4; Missouri 17-9. For the most part Vanderbilt was better than all of those teams save South Carolina although even the Gamecocks couldn’t win an SEC East title despite those 22 wins. What’s interesting here is that Vandy sort of seized on an opportunity presented by Florida & Tennessee who were having downward spikes in their program’s history. Coaching uncertainty seemed the norm as Will Muschamp wasn’t the answer in Gainesville & Derek Dooley wasn’t the answer in Knoxville. The problem Vanderbilt faces now is that the coaching situations have seemed to have stabilized. Georgia is always Georgia, but Butch Jones has seemingly been a great hire for Tennessee & by all account Jim McElwain looks like a winner in Florida. Kentucky has upped the ante considerably with Mark Stoops while Mark Richt & Steve Spurrier & great coaches. I don’t think there is anything to exploit here which spells trouble for Vanderbilt. BEST CASE: 7-5; WORST CASE: 2-10

 

SEC EAST OVERALL OUTLOOK: This is a very interesting time to be in the SEC East. The division has played little brother to the West for quite some time now, but that might be on the verge of changing with a lot of new coaches coming into the division & making once proud programs relevant again. Butch Jones looks to be “the guy” and I’m very high on Jim McElwain at Florida. Gary Pinkel can coach with ANYONE and of course we still have Georgia with Mark Richt & Steve Spurrier with South Carolina. What also makes this division interesting is what Mark Stoops is doing in Kentucky. It’s a difficult cycle to be in for Wildcat fans because of Stoops keeps succeeding at the rate he has in Lexington, it won’t be long before a bigger football school comes calling. On the other hand, he’s HC in the SEC which is something so persuasive that Bret Bielema left a Wisconsin program that had been to 3 straight Rose Bowls to take over an Arkansas program on the rocks after the Bobby Petrino fiasco! I don’t think the East has caught up to the West just yet, but it’s coming. The race this year should come down to Tennessee & Georgia, but every program in this conference will be competitive. I’m bearish on what Derek Mason can do at Vanderbilt because his timing in Nashville isn’t quite as good as James Franklin’s was relative to the rest of the division, but Mason is a good football coach & Vanderbilt will come to play. I love the East this season. I think it’s a great division & the fireworks should be never ending in 2015!

 

RANK SEC WEST COMMENTS
#1 OFFENSE: The offense returns just 4 starters but this is Gus Malzahn & the Tigers are in the 3rd year of his schemes. War Eagle has scored 39.5PPG & 35.5PPG in his 1st 2 years respectively. Auburn is going to score points. There is a lot of lost players though. QB Nick Marshall, RB Cameron Artis-Payne, WR Sammie Coates, TE CJ Usomah & 2 O-Linemen, but this offense could be just as explosive. QB Jeremy Johnson is huge at 6’5/240lbs & has shown uncanny accuracy in limited time. RB Jovon Robinson is a monster as is RB Roc Thomas. WR D’haquille Williams is the best WR in college football & RT Avery Young is an All-American candidate. The O-Line returns 3 starters but G Braden Smith was a frosh All-SEC guy so they have essentially 4. The talent is incredible & the roster is stacked. There is some thought that the rushing numbers will down without Artis-Payne & Marshall. The O-Line is going to be really good & I think the receivers are better than people think. DEFENSE: I think defense is what’s going to separate Auburn from the rest of the West this year as they return 8 starters & 6 of their top-8 tacklers! LB Cassanova McKinzy is arguably the best ILB in the country this year. DT Montravius Adams & DE Carl Lawson give the Tigers 2 All-SEC players up front & Lawson is returning from injury so War Eagle didn’t even have him last season. LB Kris Frost, DE DaVonte Lambert & S Johnathan Ford also return! Auburn also has both corners returning. Eight of the 11 starters are upperclassmen & this defense just fits well to me. Expect big numbers. SCHEDULE: OOC against Louisville. They draw Kentucky & Georgia out of the East but get UGA at home. Alabama comes to Jordan-Hare this year which decides the West. They do travel to Arkansas & LSU, but the LSU game is early & I love how this team sets up. BEST CASE: 12-0; WORST CASE: 5-7
#2 OFFENSE: Alabama is going through a tremendous rebuild on offense this year as they return just 3 starters & lose their starting QB, their best RB & their top-3 receivers including all-world WR Amari Cooper who caught 124 balls last year for 1727yds/16TD! The only players returning for Alabama is RB Derrick Henry, C Ryan Kelly & LT Cam Robinson! Kelly & TE OJ Howard are All-American candidates & all-4 players mentioned could be 1st-Team All-SEC! Obviously there is a massive amount of talent on board at every position but how well QB Jake Coker plays will probably determine how effective the Tide can be this year. Henry is going to be the focus of the offense & he & Howard will take some pressure off of Coker who should be OK as a senior, but I don’t think Alabama’s offense is going to put up close to 40PPG the way they have the last 3 years. OC Lane Kiffin has his work cut out for him. DEFENSE: Alabama has a few losses here, most notably S Landon Collins, but the D also returns 7 starters & have 3 potential All-Americans in NT A’Shawn Robinson, LB Reggie Ragland & S Eddie Jackson! Fiver other Tide defenders could be All-SEC which means Alabama has the potential to put 8 of their defensive players on the 1st Team All-SEC Defense! That’s insane! DC Kirby Smart has plenty to work with & I’d expect the Tide to get back to allowing fewer than 15PPG! Keep an eye on Ryan Anderson & Jonathan Allen. SCHEDULE: FILTHY! Alabama didn’t get any favors getting both Tennessee & Georgia from the East with a trip to Athens. They also draw A&M, Mississippi St. & Auburn on the road. Throw in Wisconsin as an OOC opponent & you are looking at arguably the most difficult schedule in the BCS! Alabama is 46-3 at home the last 7-years. They’ll win at home. What is hard this year is the road slate. BEST CASE: 12-0; WORST CASE: 3-9
#3 OFFENSE: Get ready! In HC Bret Bielema’s 2nd year, he’s improved Arkansas’ offense by 11.2PPG & went from 3-9 to 7-6. Arkansas was 4-2 in their last 6 including wins over LSU & Ole Miss! This year the Razorbacks bring back 9 starters including QB Brandon Allen, RBs Jonathan Williams & Alex Collins who both rushed for at least 1100yds, TE Hunter Henry & 4 O-Line starters! The offense averaged 31.9PPG last season. They might average 50 this season! Henry might be the best TE in the game & Collins & Williams should form an almost unstoppable duo in the backfield. Brandon Allen already has good decision making on his resume. If he improves his accuracy (56% in ’14), he’ll be a potential All-SEC player. The O-Line has 3 guys (Dan Skipper, Sebastian Tretola & Denver Kirkland) who could be All-Conference. If there is a weakness to this offense, I don’t see it. DEFENSE: Arkansas lost a ton on defense which included 4 NFL Draft picks! LB Martrell Spaight is the biggest lost as he was the heart & soul of the defense. DE Trey Flowers was also a huge loss as their best pass rusher & CB Tevin Mitchell was their best corner guy. There is some OK talent left though. DE JaMichael Winston could have a big year getting after the passer & the secondary returns 3 of 4 starters. LB Brooks Ellis was 2nd in the team in tackles last season & DT Taiwan Johnson is an interior defender who can get to the QB. The defense won’t match last year’s 19.2PPG allowed, but it could be OK. With the way Arkansas runs the football, they are going to control the clock quite a bit so the defense won’t have a ton of pressure. It’ll work. SCHEDULE: OOC is a joke but they draw UT & Mizzou from the East. Arkansas has road games against Bama, LSU, Ole Miss & Tennessee. Schedule is BRUTAL but something special is happening here. BEST CASE: 12-0; WORST CASE: 7-5
#4 OFFENSE: The Rebels have averaged 30PPG in HC Hugh Freeze’s first 3 seasons, but this might be the best edition yet. Gone is QB Bo Wallace but almost everyone else returns. The O-Line returns all 5 starters led by All-American Laremy Tunsil. In fact, Tunsil probably won’t be the only 1st Team All-American on the offense as TE Evan Engram & WR Laquon Treadwell could also join him! WR Cody Core also returns & WR Damore’ea Stringfellow rounds out the receiving corps which could be the best in the nation. RBs Jaylen Walton & Jordan Wilkins return as well. The QB looks like it’ll be Chad Kelly who originally was at Clemson, but transferred & won a NJCAA national title last season! He has the keys to an offense that could be extremely special. The O-Line has to get a bit better in pass protection, but this should be an extremely powerful offense. DEFENSE: The offense isn’t the only unit with an All-American as DT Robert Nkemdiche is outstanding from the interior! DE Marquis Haynes, LB Denzel Nkemdiche & CB Tony Conner are also outstanding defenders with All-SEC potential. Freeze is an offensive guy, but the dramatic improvements have come on defense where the Rebels allowed 27.6PPG his first year but 16.0PPG last year (his 3rd)! The talent is overwhelming here. DT DJ Jones & DE Breeland Speaks are new starters & I’m really excited to see what they can do. CB Tee Shepard also enters the starting lineup. Ole Miss does lose 5 of their top-8 tacklers including CB Senquez Golson & S Cody Prewitt. Those are huge losses but I still love this defense. SCHEDULE: Hard to put Ole Miss #4 but they play on the road against Auburn, Alabama & Mississippi St. They also draw a road game against Florida. OOC is a joke & Freeze has improved every year so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ole Miss with 10-11 wins. BEST CASE: 10-2; WORST CASE: 5-7
#5 Like we did with Vanderbilt, let’s not worry about breaking LSU down from a unit perspective. I don’t think there is a more polarizing coaching figure in college football than LSU’s Les Miles. Some people believe he is a mad genius and one of the best coaches in the game. And who could argue with that? He’s 103-29 in 10-years with the Tigers. He’s won a national championship & played for another one. LSU can argue they are the most talented football team on a yearly basis with the way the program recruits. On the other hand, you have those who believe that Miles is over his head. That he’s sort of a bumbling coach that just happens to be at a place that will always have tremendous talent, but in some odd way has under performed given the talent level. I mean, hasn’t that guy in Tuscaloosa won 3 titles and a 4th at LSU!? Why isn’t LSU seeing that kind of dominance? I think LSU could be in trouble regarding talent relative to coaching acumen. LSU played for a title in 2011 but in 2012 they lost a couple of SEC games. In 2013 they lost 3. Last year they lost 4 SEC games & finished 8-5, the worst record they had since 2008! The coaching talent at Ole Miss, Mississippi St., Arkansas & Auburn has been massively upgraded in recent years. Texas A&M has joined the conference & Kevin Sumlin can coach. Oh, and there is that guy at Alabama still hanging around. If you wanted to argue that Miles might be the worst coach in the SEC West, I wouldn’t necessarily quibble with you. I mean, how far does a national championship take you? Is Barry Switzer a great NFL HC because he won a Super Bowl with the Cowboys? Once again LSU is star studded & despite the big losses on defense, they should still be one of the best teams in the country, but I think rough times are in store for the Tigers and you have to wonder how long Miles will be around. BEST CASE: 12-0; WORST CASE: 5-7
#6 OFFENSE: The Aggies were down last year in offense (only 35PPG!!!), but this year the unit brings back 8 starters along with QB Kyle Allen who now has a season under his belt. The fireworks are going to be incredible offensively. WRs Ricky Seals-Jones (6’5), Josh Reynolds (6’4), & Speedy Noil (5’11) are OUTSTANDING giving Allen ridiculous options to throw too. All 4 players could be all-SEC by the time the season is over! In fact, I think Seals-Jones & Reynolds could put up All-American numbers! RB Tra Carson also returns for his senior season & Brandon Williams is around to back up. The one area where A&M could struggle is the O-Line. They lose 3 starters including LT Cedric Ogbuehi & LG Jarvis Harrison who were both NFL Draft picks. Still, there is a lot of talent there with 3 guys who could be All-Conference. I think Allen takes a jump & A&M goes back to 40+PPG! DEFENSE: The D-line is RIDICULOUS! It didn’t take long for DE Myles Garrett to make a statement. The 6’5/255lbs true frosh had 11.5 sacks & 14TFL! DT Alonzo Williams can get good pressure on the QB & DE Daeshon Hall is no slouch himself! I think this is a great D-line. Everyone returns & Garrett is an All-American in the making. The D-Line averages about 6’5/280lbs! The LB corps is a little thin but new starters Otaro Alaka & Josh Walker are now sophs who got some good run time in last season. They’ll be better. Shaan Washington was 4th in tackles a year ago. The secondary returns 3 of 4. It’s probably their weakest unit but there is plenty of talent there. I’d keep an eye on S Justin Evans & CB Nick Harvey. SCHEDULE: Arizona St. OOC won’t be easy but A&M draws both Bama & Auburn at home! They draw SC & Vandy out of the East & only travel to Ole Miss & LSU! They get Arkansas in Arlington. Not easy but A&M could be a surprise playoff team. BEST CASE: 12-0; WORST CASE: 4-8
#7 OFFENSE: The good news is QB Dak Prescott returns & could be a Heisman candidate. The bad news is that Mississippi St. returns just 3 other starters on offense & are incredibly inexperienced. WR De’Runnya Wilson returns & at 6’5 is a matchup nightmare. He caught 9TD a season ago & is one of the best WRs in the SEC. The O-Line returns a couple of starters as well. The losses are huge. Up front the Bulldogs lose 3 starters, but the good news is that none of those starters were NFL Draft picks & they have quite a bit of talent coming in. Fred Ross & Donald Gray should be good options at receiver & it looks like Ashton Shumpert will take over as RB & could do a really good job replacing Josh Robinson. There is a lot of loss here but there is a lot of talent too & if Prescott plays like a Heisman/All-American, then that covers up a lot! They might not score 37PPG like last year but they’ll be in good shape. DEFENSE: Even worse than the offense, the defense returns just 3 starters, but they do return 5 of their top-7 tacklers! CB Will Redmond & DT Chris Jones could be all-SEC guys while DE Ryan Brown should be a force on the outside pass rush. LB Beniquez Brown ranked 2nd on the team in tackles a year ago & of course HC Dan Mullen has upped the talent level with another recruiting cycle. The losses are huge though. DE Preston Smith, DT Kaleb Euls and DT PJ Jones are gone from the D-Line. LB Benardrick McKinney is probably an even bigger loss than Smith! LB Matt Wells & both safeties were also lost. Last year’s defense was amazing so there is some drop off but I still like the upside of this unit: SCHEDULE: OOC is a joke & have road games against Auburn & Arkansas. They draw Mizzou & UK out of the East. They do get Ole Miss, Bama & LSU in Starkville. This could be the worst team in the West & still a top-25 program. BEST CASE: 10-2; WORST CASE: 4-8

 

SEC WEST OVERALL OUTLOOK: The best division in college football without question. Every team in the division is a possible playoff threat which is ridiculous when you think about it. Mississippi St. was the #1 team in the nation for a large portion of the year in 2014 & they come into 2015 looking like the worst team in the West given the losses they have to endure this year and I still think it’s possible for them to grab 10 wins if everything breaks right for them. Win a bowl game & arguably the worst team in the division is looking at a final record of 11-2 & a top-10 finish! I’m not sure any of these teams couldn’t win the division except for Mississippi St. who I think can’t overcome such crippling losses in personnel although I wouldn’t want to play them either. The most interesting thing for me coming into the season will be watching the rise of Arkansas and the fall of LSU. I’m not sure it’s inevitable that Miles’ days in Baton Rouge are numbered, but it sure does seem that way. I also think watching Bielema having so much success at Arkansas is interesting. We hear a lot about how Urban Meyer brought the SEC to Big 10 football with his leaving Florida & going to Ohio State. What we don’t hear about is how Bielema is bringing Big 10 football to the SEC & having success with it. Has that success been as fast as Meyer has had at Ohio State? No, but Arkansas is a legit playoff threat & I wouldn’t be surprised to see them post an 11-2 record. I haven’t mentioned either Auburn or Alabama yet, the two teams I think are the best in the entire conference. If things go to plan, I think Auburn & Alabama finish 11-0 before the Iron Bowl. What will be interesting is to see if the loser can somehow still make it into the playoffs. You can’t go wrong watching SEC football this season.

August 23, 2015 Posted by | Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi St., Missouri, Predictions, Previews, SEC, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas AM, Vanderbilt | Leave a comment

SEC OUTLOOK WITH 6 WEEKS LEFT

The big question moving forward when thinking about the remainder of the season & the playoff implications is whether or not the SEC is going to be able to get a couple of teams into the playoff picture. I think the only way this can happen is if the SEC has an undefeated 13-0 champion which means either Mississippi St. or Ole Miss has to continue in their journey and combine that undefeated team with a 1-loss SEC squad who lost to one of those teams. This means if Ole Miss & Mississippi St. are 11-0 at season’s end then the loser of the Egg Bowl still has an incredible case for being included into the playoff picture even if they didn’t win the conference championships. This is true if Ole Miss wins out & Alabama finishes 11-1 or if Mississippi St. wins out and Auburn finishes 11-1. Another scenario would be to complicate matters by having an 11-1 Georgia squad beat a 12-0 Ole Miss/Mississippi St. team forcing both teams to finish the season 12-1.

What makes the SEC so unique is that they have 5 teams right now that can make legitimate cases for playoff inclusion. The ACC has one team. The Big 10 has 1 team. The Big XII has 1-2 teams and the Pac 12 might have 1-2 teams. That’s it. The worse case scenario for non-SEC conferences is having 2-loss conference champions. It could easily happen in the Big XII & Pac 12. That will almost certain exclude those conferences from the playoffs with a glut of 1-loss SEC schools. As if you already didn’t know, this is the most exciting, most dynamic and best conference of any in college football & it’s not even close. Buckle up for the last 6 weeks!

 

SEC EAST

 

TEAM REC WHAT TO WATCH FOR OVER LAST 6 WEEKS OF 2014
6-1 The win over Arkansas is impressive but the Razorbacks have yet to win an SEC game so how great can it be? The loss at South Carolina looks worse by the week unless the Gamecocks can start reeling off victories. With all that said, Georgia is 6-1 & is very much alive in the playoff race. Beating Auburn in Athens on November 15th would be amazing & if the Georgia can get to 11-1 they’ll be in prime condition to win the SEC title game. That is their only way into the playoff. If they lose a 2nd game I don’t see a way in because there are likely going to be more than one 1-loss SEC West squad. At worst UGA should finish 10-2, but they should have their sights set high.
5-2 I don’t see anyway Mizzou can sneak into the playoff picture unless they win out, finish 12-2 as SEC Champions and hope that there are other 2-loss conference champion teams. What I do find interesting about Missouri is that the Tigers won a battle of attrition last season & it could very well happen again. Mizzou’s only loss right now is against UGA who has lost to South Carolina. Missouri draws Arkansas & Texas A&M from the West so winning out could be in the cards. If Georgia were to lose to Auburn, Missouri would win the SEC East & head back to the SEC Championship game! How awful does the loss to Indiana in Columbia look? If they win that game, the Tigers are on the periphery of playoff chatter.
5-2 The loss to Florida looks worse & worse as the Gators implode, but Kentucky is sitting at 5-2 which should have Big Blue Nation happy. Moving forward, the Wildcats need to worry about bowl eligibility. They’ve already beaten Vanderbilt & only have SEC games left on the ledger needing an elusive win to get bowl eligible. Their remaining schedule is: Mississippi St., at Mizzou, Georgia, at Tennessee, bye, at Louisville. It would have been much easier had Kentucky drawn Missouri or Tennessee in Lexington, but their “easiest” remaining opponents are road games which means the Cats could easily drop their final 6 games & finish the season 5-7. That would seem disappointing given their 5-2 record, but it’s 3 wins better than 2013.
4-3 With 3 losses in SEC play it’s going to be darn near impossible for South Carolina to be a factor in the SEC East race. They do have a win over Georgia, but for SC to climb the rankings they are going to have to win out. It’s not as far fetched as it seems outside of a road date with Auburn. Let’s say they get lucky & beat Auburn. If Missouri loses a couple of games & Georgia loses to Auburn & Kentucky then it’s possible for SC to finish the season 9-3 as SEC East champions! Those are EXTREMELY long odds, but it’s possible. With South Alabama & Florida on the schedule, the Gamecocks should be bowl eligible at worst at 6-6. A bowl is better than nothing but disappointing.
3-3 It’s amazing that at the end of the season we are likely looking at openings at both Florida & Michigan! Those are HUGE names in the college football world! As with Brady Hoke, I don’t think there is anything Will Muschamp can do to save his job, but Florida has games against Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Idaho, & Eastern Kentucky they could win. Beating Georgia & Florida St. is out of the question, but if Florida can go 4-2 the rest of the way & finish 7-5 & bowl eligible, isn’t that an improvement on the 4-8 record from a season ago? In Gainesville, they aren’t watching for bowl eligibility, the date with Georgia & certainly not playoff dreams. They wait is on for the firing of their HC.
3-4 Tennessee reminds me a little of Arkansas in that they are living a season of “what could have been”. Tennessee couldn’t find ways to win tight games over Florida & Georgia which would have made them 5-2 even with their losses to Oklahoma & Ole Miss. If the Vols would have won those games then they’d be 2-1 in the SEC & effectively 2 games up on Georgia which would have been ideal because UT hosts Alabama this upcoming week. As it stands now the Vols need 3 wins in their last 5 to get bowl eligible. They have home games against Kentucky & Missouri along with a road date to Vanderbilt. They should get to 6 wins & possibly 7 if they can beat the Ole Ball Coach in Columbia!
2-5 A lost season in HC Derek Mason’s first year. Vanderbilt’s 2 wins have come by a combined 4pts over Charleston Southern & UMass! I’m not really sure they can beat Old Dominion in 2 weeks & unless a miracle occurs, I don’t see how Vanderbilt escapes an 0-8 SEC mark. At best this team is 3-9 with the win over ODU, but at worst they are a very real 2-10 which the Commodores haven’t been since Robbie Caldwell directed the program for the 2010 season, the year before James Franklin took over. There really is no postseason aspirations for Vandy so the best the fanbase can look forward to is continued improvement from the players who will return next season.

 

SEC WEST

 

TEAM REC WHAT TO WATCH FOR OVER LAST 6 WEEKS OF 2014
7-0 It’s pretty simple. If Ole Miss can win out then there is no denying that they will not only make the playoffs, but they’ll also be the #1 team in the nation. I don’t think Ole Miss has been quite as tested as Mississippi St. yet & there are still a few landmines awaiting the Rebels. This week they play LSU at night in the Swamp which is never easy. Sure Mississippi St. won there a few weeks back but LSU is playing awfully well & will put up a difficult test for Ole Miss. The Rebels also host Auburn a week after. They get a road game against Arkansas & host the Egg Bowl against Mississippi State. If Ole Miss slips up, will an 11-1 record be enough to get into the playoffs? The million dollar question is if a 1-loss SEC team can put two SEC teams in.
6-0 Hail State has the most impressive 3-game streak of any team in the nation having won their last 3 against LSU, Texas A&M & Auburn. QB Dak Prescott is a Heisman candidate and the defense is playing as well if not better than that defense up the road in Oxford. Like Ole Miss, the Bulldogs have a couple of more tests to navigate as they have 2 road games against Alabama & Ole Miss left to finish the undefeated season. At worst MSU should finish the season 10-2 which will be the best mark of the Dan Mullen era but as with Ole Miss, if the Bulldogs finish with 1 loss, will that still be enough to get them into the playoff hunt should they not win the SEC West or SEC Championship? In the end it’s simple. Keep winning.
6-1 Losing to Ole Miss hurts, but it was a road game & the loss was just 23-17. The Tide are a little more fun to talk about than Ole Miss or Miss. St. because it isn’t as simple as it is for those two schools. With the one loss, Alabama has to win out but they still have a road date with LSU and a couple of home games against Mississippi St. & Auburn. They simply can’t afford to lose any more games because a 2-loss Alabama team is going nowhere unless the landscape really implodes. It would also do well for Ole Miss to lose a couple with MSU either losing 2 or losing to just Alabama. That would give the Tide the SEC West title. If Alabama finds a way to finish 12-1 & SEC Champions then they are in. Maybe it is as simple as keep winning!
5-1 As with Alabama, if Auburn keeps winning then they’ll end the season beating teams like Ole Miss, Georgia & Alabama, all on the road. If that happens & Auburn finishes 11-1 then I think they get into the playoffs because one of two things will have happened. Either Mississippi St. has won the SEC West outright and it would be hard to punch Auburn for losing a road game to the Bulldogs or Auburn will win the West themselves & put them in position to finish 12-1 & SEC Champions which punches their ticket. It’s amazing to think there are 4 teams here who have simple roads to the playoffs in that they just have to keep winning. These 4 teams also made history this week by being 4 of the top-5 teams in the nation!
6-2 It’s tough to be too mad at LSU when their losses have come against Mississippi St. (6-0) & Auburn (5-1)! With the Tigers having 2 conference losses, I think their playoff hopes are shattered unless all hell breaks loose, but is it still possible for LSU to win the West? They have home games against Ole Miss & Alabama. Beating Alabama would slide them ahead of the Tide. Auburn would have to lose 2 more conference games which is possible with 3 road games left against UGA, Ole Miss & Bama. The tough one is figuring a way for Mississippi St. to lose 3 conference games. LSU might be screwed but could they get to 10-2? If LSU holds serve at home they’ll create havoc not only in the SEC but in the playoff picture.
5-3 Texas A&M has to be reeling with their 3 straight losses punctuated by a humiliating 59-0 drumming at the hands of Alabama. There is no way in the world Texas A&M can make the playoffs and with a game coming up against UL-Monroe, the Aggies can be confident they are going to get bowl eligible but they probably lose at least 1 more game at Auburn meaning 8-4 is the best they can do although home games against LSU & Missouri are not a given. At this point A&M has to be feeling pretty lucky about their win over Arkansas because right now they are easily the worst team in the SEC West. The expectations were entirely too high & the win over South Carolina didn’t mean nearly as much as it did in Week 1.
3-4 Arkansas couldn’t find a way to close the door on Alabama or Texas A&M. They couldn’t maintain their ability in the 2nd half against Auburn & they completely shot themselves in the foot against Georgia. It’s not farfetched for Arkansas to be 5-2 or even 6-1 had things broke the right way, but the best Arkansas can do is bowl eligibility. They have home games against LSU & UAB along with a road date with Missouri to try & get to 6 wins. They play Ole Miss & Mississippi St. as well but I don’t think Arkansas’ offense is going to have much success against those defenses. I think Arkansas & Tennessee are sort of in the same boat this year. They are going to be fun to watch next season.

October 19, 2014 Posted by | Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi St., Missouri, Playoffs, SEC, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas AM, Vanderbilt | Leave a comment

2014 SEC PREVIEW & PREDICTIONS

RANK SEC WEST COMMENTS
#1 PROJECTED RECORD: 12-0 (8-0); OFFENSE: Alabama brings back 7 starters from an offense that scored 38.2PPG last season. The biggest question for Alabama will be at QB & LT as they lose all-time leading passer AJ McCarron and 1st Team All-American Cyrus Kouandjio respectively. Replacing McCarron is Florida St. transfer Jake Coker who Jimbo Fisher said was tied with Jameis Winston for the chance to start for last year’s FSU national championship team. If Coker is as good as he can be, I don’t think the Tide will miss a step offensively especially with RBs TJ Yeldon & Derrick Henry return along with WR Amari Cooper & TE OJ Howard. Alabama’s offense won’t be a problem. DEFENSE: It’s Alabama so the defense will be outstanding. The biggest questions will be the Tide’s front 7 as they bring back just 2 starters from last season, but new starters such as Jarran Reed, Denzel Devall, A’Shawn Robinson, Reggie Ragland & Dillon Lee should step in and do an amazing job. Alabama’s defense is so big! It’s worth noting that the last time Alabama returned just 5 starters on defense was 2012. They allowed 10.9PPG and won a national title. SCHEDULE: Most will think it unfair but Bama probably has the easiest schedule of any SEC team. They avoid Georgia & South Carolina out of the East and get Florida, Texas A&M & Auburn at home. Their 2 toughest road games come against LSU & Ole Miss but the Tide have a bye week before each game! It’s hard to imagine Alabama not being favored in every game they play & getting Auburn at home pushes them to 1st.
#2 PROJECTED RECORD: 11-1 (7-1); OFFENSE: It’s scary to think that in his first season HC Gus Malzahn took Auburn’s offense from averaging 18.7PPG to 39.5PPG! What’s even more scary is that the Tigers will be in Malzahn’s 2nd season & have 8 returning starters including QB Nick Marshall who should be a Heisman contender. The big losses for War Eagle is RB Tre Mason & LT Greg Robinson, but Cameron Artis-Payne, Corey Grant & Roc Thomas will more than fill the void left by Mason and the O-Line has 4 returning starters despite the loss of Robinson. At least 7 Tigers will be playing for all-SEC honors * C Reese Dismukes could be an All-American. DEFENSE: Defensively the Tigers lose DE Dee Ford which is a big loss, but DE Carl Lawson & DT Gabe Wright should help out as Auburn brings back 6 starters from a unit that allowed 24.7PPG, a mark that was their lowest since the 2010 National Championship team. Malzahn has greatly increased the talent level on the defensive side of the ball and while the defense isn’t as good as the offense yet, it doesn’t necessarily have to be when Auburn is scoring 45PPG! Look for big years from LB Cassanova McKinzy & CB Jonathon Mincy as well. SCHEDULE: Auburn’s schedule is as tough as Alabama’s is easy. They draw both South Carolina & Georgia out of the East and have road games against Alabama, Ole Miss, Kansas St., Mississippi St. & Georgia! There is no real break in the schedule for War Eagle, but this will be an opportunity for Auburn to show they can win big games on the road. They are good enough for 11-1.
#3 PROJECTED RECORD: 8-4 (4-4); OFFENSE: The Aggies suffer significant losses in QB Johnny Manziel, WR Mike Evans and LT Jake Matthews. Matthews & Evans were All-Americans while Manziel was a Heisman Trophy winner! Sound awful, but Kevin Sumlin has the A&M offense averaging 44.4PPG in his 1st 2 years in College Station! QB Kenny Hill takes over for Manziel and he too is an overlooked dual threat QB who was extremely successful in HS. Sound familiar? Speedy Noll, Josh Reynolds & Ricky Seals-Jones should provide fireworks at receiver & the OL returns 4 starters with 3 playing for all-SEC honors. LT Cedric Ogbuehi could be an All-American. Sumlin is an offensive wizard so don’t expect much dropoff even with the losses. DEFENSE: The Aggie defense was terrible last season giving up 32.2PPG but should see significant improvement this year as the unit returns 9 starters including 6 of the front 7. LB Darian Claiborne & CB Deshazor Everett should star for the unit which also has quite a bit of talent in the depth chart. Keep an eye on true frosh Myles Garrett who at 6’5/250lbs could provide the pass rush A&M sorely needs. Texas A&M will be better defensively & if the offense keeps pace they’ll be fine. SCHEDULE: The Aggies face a difficult schedule so it’ll be tough to repeat the performance they had the last 2 seasons but they do draw LSU & Ole Miss at home. They have road games against South Carolina, Mississippi St., Alabama & Auburn, but the non-conference is weak. Win out at home & get a road upset & 10 wins is possible with a bowl victory.
#4 PROJECTED RECORD: 8-4 (4-4); OFFENSE: The Bayou Bengals had a great year offensively last season averaging 36PPG, their highest mark since 2007. However, LSU suffers major losses including top QB Zach Mettenberger, leading rusher Jeremy Hill, and their top-2 receivers in Odell Beckham & Jarvis Landry. The good news for LSU is that they return 4 starters on the O-Line and frosh RB Leonard Fournette is drawing comparisons to Adrian Peterson! This is LSU so there is immense talent everywhere but LSU could have a QB controversy all season long with Brandon Harris & Anthony Jennings. LSU doesn’t want to go back to the days of Jarrett Lee/Jordan Jefferson! If Fournette is as good as advertised it might not matter, but nobody wants issues at QB. DEFENSE: The Tigers bring back 7 starters from a defense that allowed 22PPG, the worst mark since LSU went 8-5 in 2008! A bastion of DTs, LSU has to replace both Ego Ferguson & Anthony Johnson up the middle as well as DB Craig Loston. There is talent everywhere but look for DEs Jermauria Rasco & Danielle Hunter along with LB Kwon Alexander & CB Tre’Davious White to step up and become the faces. SCHEDULE: It won’t be easy for LSU. They draw a road game against Florida out of the East and play Auburn & Texas A&M on the road. Ole Miss & Mississippi St. won’t be cakewalks and LSU gets Wisconsin to open the season on a neutral field. They open with 9 games before a bye! There are a lot of landmines to dodge early but they get Alabama at home. LSU is inexperienced but greatly talented.
#5 PROJECTED RECORD: 8-4 (4-4); OFFENSE: Ole Miss returns 6 starters including QB Bo Wallace from a unit that averaged 30PPG a year ago. It’s worth noting that Ole Miss averaged 16PPG in the year prior to Hugh Freeze being hired as HC. In his 2 seasons in Oxford, the Rebels have averaged 31PPG! Wallace is a darkhorse Heisman candidate. He threw for 3346yds last season completing 65% of his passes. WR Laquon Treadwell, TE Evan Engram & RBs I’Tavius Mathers & Jaylen Walton return. Ole Miss returns just 2 starters on the O-line but they average 6’4/326lbs! Treadwell, Engram, Wallace & OT Laremy Tunsil will compete for all-SEC honors. The offense should be the best it’s been under Freeze. DEFENSE: Ole Miss returns 9 starters from a unit that allowed 23.7PPG. It’s worth noting that Freeze inherited a defense that allowed 32.1PPG! That’s almost a 10PT improvement & this is the best defense Freeze has had. They return 8 of their top-9 tacklers! S Cody Prewitt & DT Robert Nkemdiche could be All-Americans! LB Serderius Bryant led the team in TFL and they return both CJ Johnson & Isaac Gross at DE. Ole Miss’ defense should be improved. SCHEDULE: Ole Miss drew bad on schedule. They get Texas A&M & LSU on the road and also get Auburn & Alabama at home. This could have been a 10-2 team had they gotten Tennessee & Mississippi St. on the road with A&M & LSU at home. They also have non-conference games against Boise St. & Louisiana. The talent is there to have an incredible year. A couple of road upsets & Ole Miss turns a lot of heads.
#6 PROJECTED RECORD: 8-4 (4-4); OFFENSE: Potentially the most underrated team in the SEC, MSU returns 8 starters from an offense that averaged 28PPG. QB Dak Prescott is an unknown name but he turned in 1940 passing yards along with 829 rushing yds with a combined 23TD. The Bulldogs return RB Josh Robinson & their top-4 receivers from a year ago. They have 4 seniors along the O-Line. WR Jameon Lewis & TE Malcolm Johnson are all-SEC candidates along with Prescott. Mississippi St. has never averaged more than 29.5PPG under HC Dan Mullen, but it looks like the Bulldogs are poised to reach that level. DEFENSE: Mississippi St. also returns 8 starters on defense led by LB Benardrick McKinney, CB Jamerson Love & DT Chris Jones. Jones is one to look for. The 6’5/300lbs behemoth was a 1st team freshman All-American & could make a huge leap forward this season. McKinney is the rare MLB with exceptional size at 6’5/250lbs & could be an All-American. The secondary is a concern but MSU gets Jay Hughes back this season & Justin Cox should be better. The unit should go back to allowing less than 20PPG. SCHEDULE: MSU got a gift drawing Kentucky & Vandy out of the East but get LSU, Alabama & Ole Miss on the road. They do get A&M & Auburn at home & the non-conference slate is easy. Mississippi St. is a quality football team that could be a 10-win team in any other conference, but unfortunately they play in the SEC West! The Freeze & Malzahn hires didn’t make life easier, but MSU could get to 9 wins with a little luck & maybe a 10th with a bowl win.
#7 PROJECTED RECORD: 3-9 (0-8); OFFENSE: New HC Bret Bielema only averaged 20.7PPG in his first season in Fayetteville, but Arkansas returns 7 starters on offense & should see greatly increased numbers. Bielema is trying to bring the Big 10 style of running to the SEC and the first year didn’t turn out so well. Arkansas does bring back their top-2 rushers in Alex Collins & Jonathan Williams, but this isn’t Melvin Gordon & James White…….yet. QB Brandon Allen returns along with WR Keon Hatcher & TE Hunter Henry. The O-Line returns 3 starters. Collins, Williams & Henry are solid players and should compete for all-SEC honors along with OT Brey Cook. The Arkansas O-Line averages 6’6/325lbs & are one of the hugest lines in the country! Arkansas averaged 5.3ypc and this should be one of the most lethal running attacks in the nation. DEFENSE: The Hogs bring back 7 starters from a unit that allowed 31PPG! Losing DE Chris Smith is a big blow but DE Trey Flowers is a BEAST and should compete for All-America honors. There is some talent here with DT Darius Philon, DE Deatrich Wise, LB Brooks Ellis & CB Tevin Mitchell, but Arkansas can’t play ball control offense if the defense gives up too many points. SCHEDULE: Arkansas will be MUCH better this year but the schedule is arguably the toughest in the nation! They draw Georgia & Missouri from the East and play road games against Auburn, Texas Tech, & Mississippi St.! They get Alabama, LSU & Ole Miss at home & those teams are outstanding. A couple of surprises could equal 4-5 wins but Arkansas comes out in ’15!

 

SEC WEST OVERALL OUTLOOK: As you can see, after Alabama & Auburn, the SEC West is wide open. I think #3-#6 could really be in any order with all 4 teams having real strengths and weaknesses. I think it is telling that Arkansas is the worst team in the division, projected at 3-9 (0-8), although they have the talent to be a bowl team in any other division in college football. Arkansas in the Big 10 West is probably a 9-10 win team competing for a Big 10 championship. In the SEC West they don’t even win a game. Some of that is scheduling. Their home games are ridiculous and they draw Texas A&M on neutral ground. To me the big story here is what happens on November 29th when Alabama & Auburn collide in Tuscaloosa. The insane FG miss kickoff return for a TD that Auburn pulled off last season cost the Tide an SEC Championship and a potential NCAA Championship had the Tide beaten Florida State in the BCS Championship game. A lot of revenge will be on the minds of the Alabama faithful and I think this game once again determines the SEC West and the eventual SEC Champion. What could be interesting is if either Auburn or Alabama go on to win the SEC Championship game and end the season at 13-0 while the loser is sitting at 11-1. Is the 1-loss Auburn/Alabama team really not going to get an invite to the playoffs? I think the other big stories in the SEC West are RB Leonard Fournette of LSU and how good can Ole Miss be? If Fournette really does live up to the hype then LSU could throw a real wrench into the SEC West by beating Alabama at home and Alabama beating Auburn in the season finale. Ole Miss is primed to have a great season and draw both Alabama & Auburn at home. Beating Alabama on November 4th would propel the Rebels to incredible heights and potentially make them the odds on favorite to win the SEC. Arkansas has the chance to play big time spoiler this season. The Razorbacks draw Alabama, Georgia, LSU & Mississippi at home and you get the feeling Arkansas is going to get an upset this season. They also get A&M on a neutral field so while I do project Arkansas to be 3-9 (0-8), I would be be surprised to see them jump to 5-7 (2-6) or even 6-6 (2-6).

 

RANK SEC WEST COMMENTS
#1 PROJECTED RECORD: 10-2 (7-1); OFFENSE: The offense can’t be much worse than it was last season when the Gators averaged 18.8PPG, an historically abysmal figure in Gainesville! Florida returns 7 starters from that unit and should be much improved. QB Jeff Driskel catches a lot of flack from Gator Nation but in 2012 he completed 64% of his passes & completed 69% last year before injuries hit. RB Kelvin Taylor, WR Demarcus Robinson & LET DJ Humphries should all be playing for all-SEC honors. It’s Florida so there is talent everywhere. The offense should see improved numbers across the board. It’s not Urban Meyer’s offense led by Tim Tebow, but the Gators should get closer to averaging 30PPG this season. DEFENSE: The one bright spot in Florida’s 4-8 2013 season was the defense which allowed just 21PPG despite returning just 4 starters. This year the unit returns 7 starters including 7 of their top-9 tacklers. CB Vernon Hargreaves might already be the best corner in the nation despite being just a true soph while DE Dante Fowler led the team in TFL last season with 10.5. Both are All-American candidates. LBs Michael Taylor & Antonio Morrison should have very good seasons. SCHEDULE: The Gators have a great schedule. They get South Carolina, LSU & Missouri at home with Georgia in Jacksonville. They do play Alabama & Florida St. on the road but those are the only 2 clear losses. Florida was -2 in TO margin & 0-4 in close games last season. If they take care of business at home & in Jacksonville, they’ll be playing for an SEC Championship & a playoff berth.
#2 PROJECTED RECORD: 10-2 (6-2); OFFENSE: The last time the Gamecocks didn’t have a starting QB returning was 2009 when Stephen Garcia was a first year starter. In that year, South Carolina averaged 20.6PPG and finished the season 7-6! Luckily for Steve Spurrier, SC returns 8 starters from a unit that averaged 34PPG in 2013! South Carolina is stacked everywhere offensively. RB Mike Davis ran for close to 1200yds & 11TD. WRs Damiere Byrd & Shaq Roland are huge threats as is TE Jerell Adams who brings mismatch size at 6’6/250lbs! The O-line returns 4 starters. QB Dylan Thompson doesn’t have to fantastic to win in this situation but playing QB for the Ol’ Ball Coach is never easy. Davis & OG AJ Cann could be All-Americans. Unless Thompson is awful, this Gamecocks offense will be much better than the 2009 version. DEFENSE: The D takes on MASSIVE losses in losing Jadeveon Clowney, Kelcy Quarles & Chaz Sutton! Spurrier has brought in some nice JUCO pieces but the D-Line is completely rebuilt. Luckily SC returns 5 of the back 7 including LB Sharrod Golightly and S Brison Williams who should compete for all-SEC honors. LBs Skai Moore & Kaiwan Lewis should also be big contributors, but it looks like the D could take a step backwards. SCHEDULE: SC’s schedule isn’t bad drawing A&M, Georgia, Missouri & Tennessee as home games, but they get Auburn & Florida on the road which could get them. They own Clemson so who cares. The Nov. 15 game in Gainesville should determine the SEC East winner & 10 wins should be easy for SC in 2014.
#3 PROJECTED RECORD: 9-3 (5-3); OFFENSE: The Bulldogs return 6 starters from a unit that averaged 37PPG in 2013! It’s hard to be down on an offense that has a running back duo in Todd Gurley & Keith Marshall who could make a case for being the best 1-2 punch in the nation. WRs Chris Conley & Michael Bennett return along with 6’6 TE Jay Rome. Don’t forget about WR Malcolm Mitchell who missed last year but could easily be an all-SEC WR! What could be problematic is their QB & O-Line situation. Hutson Mason takes over for Aaron Murray who left as Georgia’s all-time leading passer. Those are big shoes to fill. The O-line loses 3 starters. This could be an explosive offense & there are certainly the weapons available to get it done, but you have to realize how injury prone this team actually is & the fact that Mason is already a senior. Gurley could be an All-American and is worth the price of admission. DEFENSE: The Dawgs had a horrible defensive year as the unit brought back just 3 starters and allowed 29PPG in 2013. This year Georgia brings back 8 including 12 of their top-14 tacklers! The LB corps is ridiculous with Ramik Wilson & Leonard Floyd being potential All-American candidates! Jordan Jenkins & Amarlo Herrera are all-SEC candidates giving Georgia the best LB crew in the nation! This defense is much improved. SCHEDULE: Not bad but drew Auburn & Arkansas from the West. They play South Carolina on the road & get Florida in Jacksonville. Not a bad schedule but Auburn, SC & Florida look like losses which means 9-3. Bowl win gives them 10.
#4 PROJECTED RECORD: 6-6 (3-5); OFFENSE: In Lane Kiffin’s final year in Knoxville the Vols averaged 36.2PPG. That number dropped significantly in Butch Jones’ first year to 23.8PPG. The Vols bring back 5 starters from that unit including QB Justin Worley. I think Tennessee will be better this year but there are problems. Worley isn’t that good and I’m not sure Joshua Dobbs is the answer either. Compounding the issue is that UT should have 5 brand new starters along the O-Line. There is talent along the O-line but a tremendous amount of inexperience. It’s really too bad because UT has some playmakers at the skill positions. Marquez North has all-conference ability & RB Marlin Lane averaged 5.3YPC last season. Tennessee has an incredibly big & lanky receiving unit so if Worley can get them the ball, they could be a very dangerous passing team. DEFENSE: UT returns 5 starters from a unit that allowed 29PPG in ’13. LB AJ Johnson is a STAR! He makes a brilliant case for being the best LB in the SEC and a bonafide All-American candidate. Unfortunately he’s the only returning starter from UT’s front 7! CB Cameron Sutton & SS Brian Randolph give UT a couple of good DBs, but Tennessee is going to struggle stopping the run & getting pressure on the QB. Could be a ROUGH year on defense for the Vols. SCHEDULE: Lucky for UT they get Kentucky & Missouri in Knoxville. Vanderbilt is WAY down this year so UT should win that won. Getting those & 3 non-conference games makes UT bowl eligible. They get Oklahoma, UGA, Ole Miss & SC on the road! Oh & Alabama!
#5 PROJECTED RECORD: 4-8 (3-5); OFFENSE: Missouri takes on massive losses on the offensive side of the ball from a unit that averaged 39.1PPG & won the SEC East! Missouri loses RB Henry Josey (1166yds/16TD), QB James Franklin (2429yds/19TD), their 3 top receivers (combined 167rec/2468yds/25TD) & 2 O-Linemen! They return only 4 starters! The last time Mizzou had 4 starters returning was 2012 & they averaged 25.8PPG en route to a 5-7 season & even then they had their QB as one of the starters. A lot is being made of QB Maty Mauk and his ability to make Missouri even better this year but despite his 11:2 TD/INT ratio last year, Mauk completed just 51% of his passes! That isn’t encouraging. Mauk & the skill players have to step up huge or this season could get out of hand. DEFENSE: Last year Missouri allowed just 23.1PPG but lose as much as the offense does as only 4 starters return. The Tigers lose 7 of their top-11 tacklers including All-American DE Michael Sam & 2nd Rd. NFL Draft pick Kony Ealy! CB EJ Gaines is a huge loss as are LBs Andrew Wilson & Donovan Bonner! DEs Shane Ray & Markus Golden will be pretty good but not Sam/Ealy. S Braylon Webb should be strong, but the defense should be down. SCHEDULE: Missouri did OK drawing Texas A&M/Arkansas out of the West but they have road games against SC, Florida, A&M & Tennessee. Georgia at home will be very tough & Arkansas is sneaky good. Non-Conference games against Indiana & Toledo won’t be easy. This looks like a rebuilding year but with just 8 returning starters, why not?
#6 PROJECTED RECORD: 4-8 (1-7); OFFENSE: Mark Stoops has brought the talent level up a notch in Lexington but this will still be a tough year offensively for the Wildcats. UK brings back 7 starters from an offense that scored 20.5PPG in 2013, but new QB Patrick Towles hasn’t started a game in his life & redshirted last season. He’s got some talent and great size (6’5/236lbs), but having question marks at QB is never a good sign. UK is especially small at the skill positions meaning the windows for Towles are going to be small. Kentucky is heading in the right direction but it’s just Stoops 2nd year. They’ll struggle. DEFENSE: The Wildcats return 8 from a squad that allowed 31.2PPG! There is some room to get excited. UK brings back 10 of their top-12 tacklers and DEs Alvin Dupres & Za’Darius Smith look like solid D-Line bookends that can cause some havoc rushing the passer. Like the offense, everything else is a work in progress but there are good signs. UK returns 6 of their back 7 and projected starting DTs CJ Johnson (6’3/280lbs) & Matt Elam (6’7/375lbs) bring a lot of beef up front that should be hard to deal with. SCHEDULE: The schedule makers didn’t do UK any favors. They draw LSU/Mississippi St. out of the West and get road games against Florida, LSU, Missouri, Tennessee & Louisville! Even Ohio won’t be awful. Getting SC & Georgia in Lexington is a bad break. UK will at least get to 3 wins which is one more than they had in 2013 & I think Mark Stoops is bringing in enough talent. There are some reasons to watch UK this year & they should be better.
#7 PROJECTED RECORD: 4-8 (0-8); OFFENSE: Vanderbilt has never had great offensive numbers but in his final 2 years at Vandy, James Franklin led the Commodores to 30PPG & an 18-8 record including 2 bowl wins. This year Vandy returns just 6 starters, losing their QB & their top-3 receivers. New QB Patton Robinette is going to have to come in and dominate right away although last year the rFR completed just 52% of his passes in limited duty. The good news is that Vanderbilt brings back 4 starters from the O-Line and it’s never a bad thing to have the big uglies as your strength. The running game should also improve but it’s hard not to imagine Vandy averaging considerably less than 30PPG. DEFENSE: Vanderbilt brings even less back on defense with 4 starters returning from a unit that allowed 24.6PPG. The Commodores run a 3-4 defense & bring back just 1 D-Linemen and have to replace their entire secondary. Luckily LBs Kyle Woestmann, Darreon Herring, Jake Sealand, Nigel Bowden & Caleb Azubike given Vandy a potent LB corps. DEs Barron Dixon & Adam Butler are also decent. With that said, there are just too many losses & Vandy will struggle. SCHEDULE: Getting Ole Miss & Mississippi St. out of the West didn’t do them any favors. They also get Florida & South Carolina at home! Playing Missouri & Kentucky on the road is brutal as those might have been winnable games. Tennessee does come to Nashville but don’t expect a Vandy win. At least the non-conference slate looks promising which should prevent Vandy from double digit losses.

 

SEC EAST OVERALL OUTLOOK: To me this division is about opportunity and Florida capitalizing on the fact that Georgia, and South Carolina are bringing in new QBs and that Missouri is trying to replace an entire team for the most part. Florida’s schedule is favorable and I think the SEC East comes down to the November 15th showdown between the Gamecocks and Gators at the Swamp in Gainesville, which is 2 weeks prior to Auburn/Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Georgia and their QB Hutson Mason is really one to watch. The Bulldogs have as much talent as anyone in the nation and if Mason can avoid mistakes and play well while the rest of the team avoids injuries, it’s going to be hard for UGA to lose games with Todd Gurley & Keith Marshall running the football with a ball controlled offense. Georgia’s schedule looks rough with Florida, Auburn, South Carolina, Arkansas, Clemson & Georgia Tech populating the weeks but the only tough road game Georgia has is at South Carolina. If Mason plays well & they stay healthy then Georgia could easily finish the season 11-1 with their 1 loss coming at South Carolina. It will be interesting to see if Georgia can play spoiler. The bottom-4 teams in the East aren’t that compelling. They are 4 teams entering massive rebuilds. Of those 4 teams Tennessee could be interesting if the O-line comes together quickly because the Vols could be dangerous at the skill positions. At the end of the day this division comes down to Florida, South Carolina & Georgia.

August 24, 2014 Posted by | Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi St., Missouri, Predictions, Previews, SEC, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas AM, Vanderbilt | Leave a comment

2014 SEC: A Look At Predictive Analytics From 2013

It’s always fun to look at the big picture when evaluating college football teams to get an idea of where their season might be headed. There are some advanced metrics that can give us some insight into some of the “luck” that teams will have in the coming season based on these particular stats regression to the mean in most cases. For the discussion below, I use the following:

CLOSE GAMES: Games decided by 7 points or fewer
TURNOVER MARGIN (TO Margin)
PYTHAGOREAN: A theoretical winning percentage based on points scored & allowed; (PS*PS)/((PS*PS)+(PA*PA))
LUCK: The difference between Pythagorean & a team’s actual record

This doesn’t always mean that teams will trend opposite of what they did the previous year. You have to look at context and previous years to get a sense of where a team might be headed in the upcoming season. It also doesn’t mean that regression to the mean will be reflected in the overall record. A team could be 0-7 in close games with a TO margin of -25 and a Pythagorean suggesting they were 2.62 wins better than their win total from the previous season, but if the team is short on talent and has an extremely difficult schedule ahead without many opportunities for home wins, regressing might not mean that much in the win column.

Starting with the SEC here are the overall trends for each team. Discussion follows:

TRENDING UP: Florida, Arkansas, Kentucky
TRENDING DOWN: Missouri, South Carolina, Auburn, Vanderbilt, Mississippi St.
TREADING WATER: Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, Georgia, Ole Miss, Tennessee

From this perspective you wouldn’t expect much fluidity between the seasons. No matter how much Kentucky or Arkansas improves, they aren’t going to contend for division championships. You would expect Auburn & Missouri to trend down a bit. They are coming off remarkable years. While every now & then you will get a perfect balance of a team with extreme talent regressing towards the winning side of the ledge, what is also interesting is looking at the teams treading water. These are the teams that could go either way. On the one hand, they could be in for a year in which everything goes wrong in which case we’d expect them to regress towards winning in 2015, but for those that everything breaks right for, you can expect serious runs to a national championship. In the SEC we definitely could see that with Alabama, LSU, Georgia & even Ole Miss.

Teams are listed in descending order of their Pythagorean winning percentage. Following the chart are the raw numbers in each category.

RANK TEAM COMMENTS
#1 You can’t quarrel too much with an 11-2 record and Alabama was essentially what they were last season. They were 1-1 in close games & +2 in TO margin. Their Pythagorean was .882 so their luck was a -0.47 which is nothing when you round off. Alabama returns 8 starters on offense & 4 on defense. They ranked 17th in scoring offense last year & 4th in scoring defense. They’ll have to replace QB AJ McCarron, but Phil Steele ranks them as the 2nd most talented team in the land. The Crimson Tide don’t trend in either direction so there is no regression to be seen in either direction. They get 4 home games & a bye week for new QB Jake Coker to get his feet wet but Alabama travels to Oxford to take on an good Ole Miss team. The kinks should be worked out by then & even with only 4 starters returning on defense, this is Alabama. They’ll be plenty good.
#2 Missouri is coming off a great season going 12-2, winning the SEC East & winning the Cotton Bowl. Unfortunately Missouri got REALLY lucky in a couple of areas that spell significant regression for 2014. Their Pythagorean of .742 gives them a luck value of +1.61 meaning they were 1.61 wins worse given their points scored & points allowed than their record indicates. The Tigers were also +16 in TO margin which regresses, but not always in the follow up year. Missouri is also +35 in TO margin over the past 5-years! Some of that is attributable to the excellent HC Gary Pinkel & his staff. Mizzou was 1-1 in close games which is insignificant. What compounds this even more are the losses suffered on both sides of the ball for Mizzou. They return just 4 starters on offense & defense and lost every significant contributor from 2013 save Braylon Webb. A 7-8 win season is due if that!
#3 You could make an argument that South Carolina was even luckier than Missouri. The Gamecocks were 4-1 in close games with a +13 in TO margin! Their Pythagorean of .738 suggests they were 1.41 wins worse than their 11-2 record would indicate. Unlike Missouri, however, South Carolina has quite a bit coming back. Granted they took on significant losses on defense (Clowney, Hampton, Quarles, Sutton, Legree) but they return 6 starters & some incredible JUCO D-Linemen to a defense that ranked 12th in the nation in points allowed. Like Alabama they’ll have to replace their QB, but almost everyone else on offense returns outside of WR Bruce Ellington. The schedule is more favorable too with SC’s 2 toughest games being road dates against Auburn & Clemson. Regression is in store based on the numbers but winning 9-11 games would still be possible oddly enough.
#4 Like Alabama, the 10-3 LSU Tigers were pretty much who they were. They were 2-2 in close games and had a ZERO in TO margin. Their Pythagorean of .726 gave them a luck factor of +0.57, hardly significant. The Tigers return 5 starters on offense & 7 on defense. They ranked 23rd in scoring offense & 21st in scoring defense. Unfortunately they lost a lot on the offensive side of the ball, losing their QB, their top rusher & their 3 top receivers. The O-Line should be awesome & the defense should go back to being a top-10 level unit. Oddly enough the last time LSU had a similar situation in 2007 and the Tigers went on to finish 12-2 and national champions! New QB Brandon Harris has to hit the ground running (LSU opens up against Wisconsin!), but if he plays well LSU could get to 10-12 wins. They get Alabama at home but travel to Auburn. No trending here.
#5 According to Pythagorean, Auburn was the luckiest team in the SEC last year with a +1.94 mark! Their Pythagorean of .719 was only 5th best in the league and suggests a 10-4 squad rather than a 12-2 national finalist & SEC Champion! Auburn also had the best close game record in the SEC at 5-1! Their TO margin was ZERO. These numbers would suggest some regression for War Eagle, but Auburn returns quite a few players (8 starters on offense & 6 on defense) & will be in HC Gus Malzahn’s 2nd year. What’s interesting is 2012. In that season Auburn was -12 in TO margin & 1-2 in close games Pythagorean showing they were 1.13 games better than their record indicated. It was still a bad season but 2013 could easily be seen as a regression from 2012 so I’m not sure we’ll see a regression from Auburn. What’s scary is that this team could be even better in 2014!
#6 After going 11-2 & finishing as a top-5 team in 2012, the 9-4 spot Johnny Football & the Aggies put in 2013 would seem disappointing. On the other hand, A&M’s defense was atrocious & they were who they were. Texas A&M was 2-3 in close games with a TO margin of +1. Their Pythagorean suggests they were 0.51 games worse than their record but that is hardly substantial. HC Kevin Sumlin has enjoyed a 20-6 record over his first 2 seasons in College Station, but he’s in for a bumpy ride this year. Road games against South Carolina, Mississippi St., Alabama & Auburn don’t help the cause while Ole Miss, LSU & Missouri are also on the schedule. Rice & SMU won’t be pushovers. There is no trending here but what would have been nice for 2014 is if 2013 had a lot of data that would suggest a significant rebound for A&M. It doesn’t & it could spell a tough year ahead.
#7 In his last 5 seasons HC Mark Richt is 44-23. That doesn’t seem right at Georgia. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, Georgia was pretty much their 8-5 record last season. They were 4-4 in close games and amazing enough their Pythagorean of .616 pegged them at 0.00 wins better than their record would indicate. Georgia’s TO margin was -7 but it was +11 in 2012 so there is nothing there to really say Georgia will see a big different in TO margin. UGA ranked 21st in points scored & a very uncharacteristic 79th in points allowed! Todd Grantham is out as DC with Jeremy Pruitt taking over. Pruitt was Florida St.’s DC last season & before that spent 3-years under NIck Saban. With 8 starters returning, expect the DAWGS to get stingier on defense. If QB Hutson Mason can produce, this could be a significant year for Georgia. Their toughest road game is against South Carolina.
#8 With 19 returning starters back in Hugh Freeze’s 2nd season as HC, I think the 8-5 mark in Oxford was somewhat disappointing. Unfortunately for the Rebels, the advanced metrics work out. Ole Miss was 2-2 in close games and just +1 in TO margin. Their Pythagorean suggested Ole Miss was 0.01 wins better than their record. The Rebels return 6 starter on offense & 9 on defense. They ranked 57th in scoring offense & 27th in scoring defense in 2013. With no trends either way this could be a year that goes either way for Ole Miss. With that said, the odds are in their favor. Another year under Freeze. QB Bo Wallace returns. The defense is going to be absolutely filthy & their schedule is manageable. They get Auburn & Alabama at home & draw Vandy & Tennessee out of the East. It’ll be interesting to see which way Lady Luck shines on Ole Miss in 2014.
#9 You can’t post 9 win seasons at Vanderbilt without getting a little bit of help. Vanderbilt was one of the luckier teams in the SEC last year going 3-1 in close games with a +7 in TO margin. Their Pythagorean of .599 suggested Vandy was 1.21 wins worse than their actual record would indicate. All of his suggests regression and there is nothing in prior years to suggest 2013 was a progression from a bad 2012. That doesn’t bode well for new HC Derek Mason, but therein lies the rub. While all indications point to Vandy having a tough time, what compounds the problem is the losses suffered. They lose their HC, QB, top-3 receivers, 6 of their top-8 tacklers and an offensive lineman. Drawing Ole Miss & Mississippi St. out of the West doesn’t help & Mason having come from Stanford knows what it’s like at rigorous academic schools, but Vandy is in for a rough season.
#10 An odd type of year for Mississippi State. They were 4-1 in close games with a +7 in TO margin but their Pythagorean of .592 suggests they were 0.59 games better than their 7-6 record would indicate. Looking at these trends you’d expect MSU to trend downwards and this is especially true given that over the last 4 years MSU is +30 in TO margin and 11-4 in close games! On the other hand MSU returns 8 starters on both defense & offense from a pretty decent team. The Bulldogs ranked 33rd in scoring defense last year & should move into the top-20 range in 2014. The schedule is also soft with a weak non-conference slate while drawing Kentucky & Vandy from the East. They get Texas A&M & Arkansas at home. MSU has 8 wins on the schedule & if Lady Luck turns up due to Pythagorean regression this team could get to 9-10 wins, Mullen’s best season to date.
#11 Will Muschamp is feeling the heat after turning in a 4-8 season in Gainesville which is not even Ron Zook accomplished. In his favor however is the fact the Gators were very unlucky. They were 0-4 in close games, the worse mark in the SEC and -2 in TO margin. Their Pythagorean of .444 has them being 1.33 wins better. It’s not much but 5-7/6-6 is a lot better perception wise than 4-8. It’s interesting to note that Florida’s TO margin in 2011 was -12 & they went 7-6. In 2012 it was +15 & they went 11-2! There isn’t much in way of regression for the Gators in that respect but you’d expect some rebound given the close games & Pythagorean. It could go either way with the Gators but I’d expect a bounce & they return 7 on both offense & defense. The schedule isn’t forgiving however. They draw LSU & Alabama from the West & get Florida St. in Tallahassee.
#12 I like what Butch Jones is doing at Tennessee but the Vols were what their 5-7 record suggested in 2013. They were 2-2 in close games with a +1 TO margin on the season. UT’s Pythagorean of .403 suggested they were 0.16 games worse than their record which isn’t even worth mentioning. It all essentially points to Tennessee having a year in which they could go either way. The Vols are sort of interesting because they haven’t had much variance over the past 7 seasons. Typically a team will have one of those years in which they are 5-1 in close games with a +19 TO margin, but UT hasn’t had that kind of luck. Conversely their luck hasn’t been all that bad either, but these numbers represent some opportunity for the teams. Tennessee is a sleeping giant & with a little luck they could catapult themselves back onto the national stage. The schedule is MURDER so……….
#13 Things could get fairly interesting at Arkansas. In 2012 the Razorbacks were -19 in TO margin & 1-3 in close games. In 2013, Arkansas was -9 in TO margin & 0-3 in close games! Pythagorean indicated that Arkansas was 0.49 wins better than their record in 2012. Last year Pythagorean had the Hogs at 0.73 wins better! There looks to be significant regression to the winning side of things for Arkansas if things average out. The problem is that Arkansas isn’t THAT talented and their schedule is a BEAST. They play at Auburn, at Texas Tech & at Missouri. They have Georgia. Heck, even a home game against Northern Illinois won’t be easy. A 2-10 season is very possible for Arkansas & if Lady Luck hits it might be only 3-4 wins. This is a season where Arkansas is greatly improved but the record won’t look good, but this is more out of circumstance. The SEC West ain’t easy!
#14 Like Arkansas, Kentucky is another team that should be much improved but might not show much in the standings. They were 0-2 in close games last year and their Pythagorean shows them to be 1.62 games better than their final 2-10 mark in 2013, but what’s interesting is their TO margin which was ZERO! Kentucky was the unluckiest team in the SEC regarding their point differential but for some reason they were able to keep turnovers in check. The Wildcats return quite a bit & Mark Stoops enters his 2nd year in Lexington so regression towards winning could really happen for UK this season. The problem, like for most of the bottom tier SEC schools, is schedule. Kentucky draws LSU & Mississippi St. from the West and plays Florida, Missouri & Tennessee on the road. They should get to 4-8 which is a 2-game improvement. Maybe 5-7 if they catch regression from 2013.

PYTHAGOREAN WINNING PERCENTAGE

Alabama: .882
Missouri: .742
South Carolina: .738
LSU: .726
Auburn: .719
Texas A&M: .653
Georgia: .616
Mississippi: .616
Vanderbilt: .599
Mississippi St.: .592
Florida: .444
Tennessee: .403
Arkansas: .311
Kentucky: .302

LUCK

Auburn: +1.94
Missouri: +1.61
South Carolina: +1.41
Vanderbilt: +1.21
LSU: +0.57
Texas A&M: +0.51
Tennessee: +0.16
Georgia: +0.00
Mississippi: -0.01
Alabama: -0.47
Mississippi St.: -0.69
Arkansas: -0.73
Florida: -1.33
Kentucky: -1.62

TURNOVER MARGIN

Missouri: +16
South Carolina: +13
Mississippi St.: +7
Vanderbilt: +7
Alabama: +2
Mississippi: +1
Tennessee: +1
Texas A&M: +1
Auburn: 0
Kentucky: 0
LSU: 0
Florida: -2
Georgia: -7
Arkansas: -9

RECORD IN GAMES DECIDED BY 7 POINTS OR FEWER

Auburn: 5-1
Mississippi St.: 4-1
South Carolina: 4-1
Vanderbilt: 3-1
Georgia: 4-4
LSU: 2-2
Mississippi: 2-2
Tennessee: 2-2
Alabama: 1-1
Missouri: 1-1
Texas A&M: 2-3
Kentucky: 0-2
Arkansas: 0-3
Florida: 0-4

July 10, 2014 Posted by | Alabama, Analytics, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi St., Missouri, Predictions, Previews, Rankings, SEC, South Carolina, Statistics, Tennessee, Texas AM, Vanderbilt | Leave a comment

2013 NCAA Football Week 3 – Must See Games!

I say this every season but it is true every season! It seems like yesterday that I’m talking about the beginning of the college football season and now we are getting ready for Week 3 which is effectively 20% of the college season! That’s amazing! Week 2 seemed to be a bit down, but some interesting events transpired that caused some shifts in the college football landscape. This week looks to be no different as there are some heavy hitting games that could have big time implications.

ROAD WHY IT IS MUST SEE! HOME
This one is interesting because I think a win by Texas Tech would shake up the Big 12 just a bit. The Red Raiders have a new HC in Kliff Kingsbury who spent time on Kevin Sumlin’s staff at both Houston & Texas A&M. QB Baker Mayfield is 64/90 (71.1%) for 780yards & 7TD without an interception. Oh yeah, he’s a walk on QB! The 6’2/220lbs true frosh also leads the team in rushing! TCU’s defense was uncharacteristically bad against LSU giving up 37 in a 37-27 loss but rebounded to beat Southwestern Louisiana 38-17 last week. QB Casey Pachall is done for the most part & won’t play. The Red Raiders haven’t played anyone either outside of SMU, but the current line is TCU by 3 points so it’s not like Texas Tech can’t win. If the Red Raiders do pull off the victory, it is likely they’ll start the season 7-0 before traveling to Norman to play Oklahoma! A win here by Texas Tech definitely changes things.
In the preseason UCLA was ranked #21 in the AP Poll. The Bruins went out and beat Nevada 58-20 in the first week led by QB Brett Hundley & RB Jordan James. That win propelled UCLA up to #18 in the AP Poll. Last week UCLA had the week off but moved up to #16 in the AP Poll. Nebraska has won their first 2 games but ranks a little lower at #23. It’s a great momentum game for UCLA because it will most certainly catapult them to Top-10 status. They get Arizona State at home & with the way USC played, you have to think the Bruins have the inside track to the Pac 12 South. Unfortunately, UCLA has 4 road games in the Pac 12 against Stanford, Oregon, USC & Arizona. The game is important for Nebraska too. Nebraska wants to be nationally relevant & that means wins. The 9-10 wins seasons are getting old. QB Taylor Martinez is playing his best football. If the blackshirts can D up, the Huskers should win. The current line is Nebraska by 4.5, but this could be a statement game for the Pac 12.
Revenge baby! The current line is Alabama by 7 points even with the game being in College Station. Keep in mind that Texas A&M has been an offensive powerhouse so far this season scoring 117 points in their first 2 games & the Aggies are ranked #6 in the nation! If this game was in Tuscaloosa, Alabama would be 13-point favorites over arguably one of the 5 best teams in college football! Is Alabama that far ahead of everyone else? I think so. Alabama put the smack down on Virginia Tech & they didn’t play that well. Texas A&M defense is allowing 30PPG to Sam Houston St. & Rice! The Tide will put things together offensively against a suspect Aggies defense & you can be sure the defense isn’t going to give up 60! This is it for Alabama. They get Ole Miss & LSU at home. Their toughest road game is at Mississippi State! A win here & it’s 12-0. A win by Texas A&M and the Aggies have to be the #1 team in the nation! They have road games against LSU & Ole Miss but beating Alabama has to put them at #1.
I don’t think this will be much of a game and neither does Vegas as the current line has Oregon as 27.5 point favorites! I still think it’ll be an interesting test for the Volunteers. Tennessee has been in the wilderness for a long time. Phil Fulmer never really got things going at the end of his tenure. Tennessee got it wrong with both Derek Dooley & Lane Kiffin, but I think Butch Jones could be the right man for the job. UT hasn’t played anyone so far, but last week they did beat Western Kentucky 52-20 which I didn’t expect. Tennessee has some talent on defense along with some experience. Offensively they are running the ball at will against lesser opponents. Oregon should win the game but this is more about growth. If the Vols can stop the Oregon rushing attack just a bit and control the clock, then they can maybe cover the spread.
Washington has climbed to #19 in the nation but I still think they are being a bit underrated in the polls. Thew blew out Boise St. 38-6 to open up the season which looks good now, but Boise St. has to show they are a good team or that win won’t look so hot in retrospect. Before the season started I would have thought a road game against Illinois in Chicago would have been an easy win, but I didn’t expect Illini QB Nathan Scheelhaase to start playing like Jeff George. It could still be an easy win for the Huskies given how well they played to start the season. Washington hasn’t been the best road team in recent years. They are 1-10 in their last 11 road openers and are 1-11 in their last 12 non-conference road games! The current line is Washington by 9.5 which I think is reasonable, but can you imagine an Illinois win? Tim Beckman did a helluva job at Toledo. A win here could catapult Illinois to a great season.
Don’t sleep on this one. The current line has South Carolina by 13.5 points and they might blow Vanderbilt out, but Ole Miss is a solid team that could wind up in the final Top-10 and Vanderbilt took them to the wire in an eventual 38-35 loss. South Carolina is coming off a very disappointing loss to Georgia and there seems to be some dissension in the ranks. Star DE Jadeveon Clowney isn’t happy. They have assistant coaches fighting on the sidelines. Maybe it doesn’t mean anything. Maybe it means the Gamecocks are cracking early. Keep in mind that South Carolina beat Vanderbilt last year by just a 17-13 score! If Ole Miss scored 38 on Vanderbilt, the Gamecocks should find the endzone easily as well so if Vandy were to win it might be a high scoring affair like the Ole Miss game. What we do know is that SC has to regroup and take care of business. They should be 10-1 when they play Clemson in the season finale. They can’t throw up a doughnut against Vandy.
Purdue is terrible and the current line has Notre Dame by 20.5 points! I’m an Irish Homer so Notre Dame games are always going to find their way onto my “must see” list but this should be interesting to see how Notre Dame reacts after losing to Michigan 41-30. There are things to work on, but the Irish really need a game where they run the ball exceedingly well and their defense puts on a clinic. Purdue could be just what the doctor ordered considering how weak they seem to be. I don’t think losing to Michigan in Ann Arbor is a bad thing, but the Irish now have to prove they can punish lesser opponents. The Michigan loss is only avenged if ND can go ahead and beat teams like Michigan St., Oklahoma, USC & Arizona State. Lose those games and the program almost seemingly takes a step backwards.
Potentially a game that means everything. I’ve been pimping Ole Miss since the beginning of the season. They have a ton of starters returning from a solid 8-5 team in Hugh Freeze’s first season in Oxford. Now the players are in their 2nd season under Freeze and he recruited a tremendous class of freshman that has Rebel Nation salivating at the future possibilities. They’ve opened up 2-0 but aren’t getting a ton of respect in the polls. Texas is coming off a BRUTAL BEATING at the hands of BYU, a team that lost to Virginia a week prior. DC Manny Diaz was fired the next day! The Longhorns have opened up as 3.5 point favorites! A win here by Ole Miss shows that they are for real. A win here by Texas could mean the BYU game was a major blip. An Ole Miss win has more potential storylines as Mack Brown would be on the HOT SEAT and Ole Miss’ schedule sets up for them to potentially got 10-2/11-1. I’m pulling for Johnny Reb but Texas could rebound. Great great game to watch.
It is interesting that Arizona St. opens up as 5.5 point favorites because it means that ASU would be about 2.5 point favorites in a neutral site. Arizona St. played their first game of the season last week, beating Sacramento St. 55-0! Not much competition but QB Taylor Kelly threw for 300yds & 5TD while RB Marion Grice rushed for 59yds & a TD. Neither one of these teams have allowed a point so far this season & this is the first true test for either squad. Some interesting developments have also helped these teams out. Braxton Miller’s injury status might prove that Wisconsin is the team to beat in the Big 10 Leaders division. USC’s poor play last week might prove that Arizona St. is the team to beat in the Pac 12 South. A big part of this game will be the Sun Devils ability to prevent Wisconsin from running the football. If Wisconsin can run then they’ll control the clock & keep Kelly & Grice off the field. If ASU can shut the run down then I don’t think Wisconsin can pass enough to win. Should be a good one.

September 9, 2013 Posted by | Alabama, Arizona St., Illinois, Mississippi, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Oregon, Purdue, South Carolina, TCU, Tennessee, Texas, Texas AM, Texas Tech, UCLA, Vanderbilt, Washington, Week 3, Wisconsin | Leave a comment