With the SEC Media Days 2015 coming to a close, we have started a new journey on a preview of the entire nation before the start of the 2015 season. However, we didn’t want to stray too far to begin so we start at the very top. Or what used to be the very top.
“The best conference in college football” is what they call(ed) it. The conference won seven consecutive championships in the sport so it was a little hard to argue against them. There was even one year that had two schools from the same conference play in the national championship and it felt that some years, the national champion was decided a month early in Atlanta. However, things have changed.
The SEC has now gone two years without a national champion and did not even have a team in the final game in 2014. An ACC team and a Big 10 team have been the last two champions with the PAC 12 and Big 12 coming up quickly. The depth of last year’s conference, 12 bowl teams, made for a lot of talking points but the conference fell short of the national title game for the first time since 2005. This season may be no different as some of the most talented SEC teams face some of the nation’s toughest schedules.
We take a look at the five biggest talking points going into the season and then predict how the conference will finish.
1. Quarterback Battles
The biggest question for most teams is at the same position: the quarterback. Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Ole Miss, South Carolina and Vanderbilt have open slots at quarterback going in to fall practice. Auburn has full confidence in the arm of Jeremy Johnson but they are another team that has to replace a starting quarterback. Some of these teams will be putting their season in the hands of unproven players while many of them may become very one dimensional offenses.
Alabama and Lane Kiffin were in this situation last season but it doesn’t seem like Blake Sims is going to come out of the shadows to save the Tide this season. Jacob Coker and David Cornwell are battling it out but no matter who wins the job, chances are Kiffin will not be able to run the same style offense as he did last season.
Georgia is in a very similar situation but they technically have a leader on their depth chart. Brice Ramsey was listed as Mark Richt‘s number one guy but the battle has just begun as Virginia transfer Greyson Lambert comes on campus with experience and a great arm. The Bulldog quarterbacks may never need to pass it though with Nick Chubb in the backfield.
Ole Miss is looking to junior college transfer Chad Kelly, which should make Rebels fans excited. Kelly had a terrific year at East Mississippi Community College, completing 67 percent of his passes while throwing for more than 3900 yards with 47 touchdowns and just 8 interceptions. The problem: the reason Kelly was not already on an FBS team was issues with his discipline.
The others just seem like a big mess. Kentucky and Texas A&M both have returning starters but are thinking about replacing them with freshmen. Vanderbilt lost their presumed starter to medical school. South Carolina has Connor Mitch, who has thrown 6 career passes, two freshmen and a Publix grocery bagger. LSU has Anthony Jennings suspended and Brandon Harris, who started one SEC game (a 41-7 loss to Auburn). Florida’s quarterback situation hasn’t been pretty since Tim Tebow so there’s no explanation for what Jim McElwain can work with.
With all the questions at quarterback, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi State and Missouri could have a serious advantage against the rest of the conference.
2. SEC West dominance
The SEC West has won six consecutive SEC Championship Games and the division looks poised for another one with seven different teams that are legitimate national contenders. Alabama once again boasts a great front seven on defense. Auburn thinks they have answered their biggest question from last season with Will Muschamp. Arkansas has an offense that will be near impossible to stop unless you have a defense like Ole Miss. LSU has Leonard Fournette. Mississippi State has a returning Heisman candidate. Texas A&M has a favorable schedule.
Nothing comes easy in this division but they manage to get better with each season. All seven SEC West teams made a bowl game last year and it would come as no surprise to see all seven of them in the top 25 at some point in the season.
The SEC East has some good talent but don’t seem as deep as their conference counterparts. Tennessee and Georgia may be the favorites in the division but Missouri has made the last two trips to Atlanta. Gary Pinkel‘s squad may have a different fate this year with trips to Athens, Lexington and Fayetteville.
3. Strength of Schedule
With the depth of this year’s SEC, it would come as no surprise if every team finished the season with at least two losses. It seems like every team faces a ridiculous stretch of games that you can’t find in any other conference. Many teams’ seasons will be decided by these stretches of four or five games in the middle of the schedule. Each of these are without any bye weeks.
Alabama: at Georgia, Arkansas, at Texas A&M, Tennessee
Arkansas: Texas Tech, Texas A&M in Arlington, at Tennessee, at Alabama
Auburn: at Kentucky, at Arkansas, Ole Miss, at Texas A&M, Georgia
Florida: at Kentucky, Tennessee, Ole Miss, at Missouri, at LSU
Kentucky: Auburn, at Mississippi State, Tennessee, at Georgia
LSU: at Alabama, Arkansas, at Ole Miss, Texas A&M
Mississippi State: Thursday night game at Missouri, Alabama, at Arkansas, Ole Miss
These are some really ridiculous schedules. Every single week the SEC will have at least one game that will have an impact on the national title race. These stretches don’t even include some of the biggest games of the year. The Iron Bowl isn’t on this list and neither is the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. The list for Arkansas doesn’t include their back to back road games against Ole Miss and LSU in November. This may be the year that the SEC just beats up on each other and Vanderbilt comes out as champions. This is why it was so hard for the media to pick their champion.
4. Coaching changes
The SEC is welcoming many new coaches to new teams this season but many of them already have experience within the conference.
The Florida Gators hired McElwain to take the reins after Muschamp failed to bring Florida back to national contention. The former Alabama offensive coordinator brings an offensive mind to Gainesville that Gator fans have desperately missed. McElwain brings in a whole new staff but the players that Muschamp helped coach on defense could help make this a complete team and a real competitor in the SEC East.
Muschamp has made his way back to the Plains and takes over a defense that has lost its luster over the past few seasons. Everyone knows of Auburn’s offense and what Gus Malzahn can do with the ball but the defense has face big questions. Can Muschamp and his staff, Travaris Robinson and Lance Thompson in particular, come in and get an immediate fix to the Tigers defense?
John Chavis left his spot in Baton Rouge after six seasons to fix a run down defense in College Station. Texas A&M spent big money on the new defensive coordinator and expects results immediately. Whether that happens or not, Chavis will be getting a guaranteed $4.65 million coaching the Aggies.
LSU has filled their defensive coordinator spot with a familiar face. Kevin Steele was a former defensive coordinator at Clemson and has spent the last two seasons on Kirby Smart’s staff in Tuscaloosa. Steele was close to Chavis and runs many of the same schemes so don’t expect there to be much change in LSU’s defense.
Arkansas, Georgia and Vanderbilt all hired new offensive coordinators for the 2015 season. Dan Enos joins the Razorbacks and is expected to open up the passing game more, making sure that defenses can’t pack the box to stop Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins. Brian Schottenheimer has gotten NFL experience and returns to his alma mater to help the Bulldogs figure out there quarterback situation and make a run at the college football playoff. Andy Ludwig comes from Wisconsin to help Derek Mason in Nashville. Ludwig’s old offense mostly consisted of handing the ball off to Melvin Gordon, which will help the Commodore’s offense with talented sophomore running back Ralph Webb.
5. Iron Bowl
The biggest game in the SEC and possibly the country has garnered much attention over the past few seasons for good reason. Over the last six seasons, the winner of the Iron Bowl won the SEC championship five times and the national championship four times. With those stakes and the madness that has happened the last two seasons, it’s hard not to get excited for this rivalry.
Alabama and Auburn were the two top picks to win the SEC by the media; the Tide picked to win the West and the Tigers to win the conference. With the addition of a new coach to Auburn, the matchups in this year’s Iron Bowl go beyond the talent of the players.
Rhett Lashlee’s offense against Kirby Smart’s defense. Lane Kiffin’s offense against Will Muschamp’s defense. Nick Saban‘s genius against Gus Malzahn’s genius. You can’t find coaching like that in any matchup across the country this season. Expect the nation’s top rivalry to once again produce an SEC champion and a national title contender.
SEC Predicted Finish
|Eastern Division||Record||Western Division||Record|
|Georgia||10-2 (6-2)||Auburn||11-1 (7-1)|
|Kentucky||8-4 (4-4)||Alabama||10-2 (6-2)|
|Tennessee||8-4 (4-4)||Ole Miss||9-3 (5-3)|
|Missouri||6-6 (3-5)||Arkansas||9-3 (5-3)|
|South Carolina||6-6 (3-5)||LSU||8-4 (4-4)|
|Florida||6-6 (2-6)||Mississippi State||7-5 (3-5)|
|Vanderbilt||4-8 (1-7)||Texas A&M||7-5 (3-5)|