If you’re a Georgia football blogger who also opines on the SEC, there’s going to come a point in time when you’ve got to handicap the conference’s coming season. Well, I tell you what – I’ve been thinking about the chances of Alabama, LSU and Mississippi on and off this summer, and I’ll be damned if I can figure out which school is going to come out on top.
So I thought that maybe I’d go through the exercise of drawing that virtual line down that virtual sheet of paper, list the pros on one side and the cons on the other and see what I wind up with. Hey, that worked great when you were trying to figure out which girl to ask out in the eleventh grade, didn’t it?
Pros: Significantly upgraded roster. Terrific defense, the best in the West. Great depth at running back. An elite play maker in Julio Jones. A schedule that, once you get past the opener with Virginia Tech, is clearly manageable (i.e., no Florida or Georgia from the East; LSU at home).
Cons: A rebuilding year on the offensive line. A noob at quarterback. The program not being a surprise this year. Saban’s track record of failing to coach teams to double digit wins in back-to-back seasons.
Bottom line: For all the talk about Ole Miss’ schedule, the Tide’s is pretty sweet as well. And if there’s an offense designed to withstand less than great quarterback play, it’s Alabama’s. (John Parker Wilson was fifth in SEC passing efficiency last year, with a nothing-to-write-home-about 122.3 rating.) But defenses are going to gear up to stop the run until ‘Bama can prove differently. And don’t brush off that Saban futility record too quickly, Tide fans. A trend’s a trend, no matter the underlying reasons for it.
Odds to win the West: 35%.
Pros: Still the most overall talented team in the West. Miles was aggressive about dealing with shortcomings at quarterback and defensive coordinator. Regression to the mean with regard to turnover margin (and seven pick-sixes!). Charles Scott and Keiland Williams comprise the best one-two RB combo in the conference.
Cons: By far the toughest schedule of the three. Depth on the defensive line maybe not as great as it’s been in years past. Questions at wide receiver after LaFell. Inexperience at quarterback – again.
Bottom line: This is the team of the three whose record is hardest to predict, because it seems to have the greatest upside, but at the same time the most questions. Ask me again in a month and I may very well have a totally different opinion.
Odds to win the West: 35%.
Pros: Jevan Snead is head and shoulders above his counterparts at the other two schools. The Rebels have the best offense in the SEC West. Dominant defensive line and solid starters at linebacker. Very soft schedule.
Cons: Below average secondary. History. Significantly less overall depth than Alabama or LSU. And if you’re marking ‘Bama down for the loss of Andre Smith, it’s hard to do differently here with Oher’s departure.
Bottom line: It would be foolish to write off Ole Miss’ chances with that schedule and that quarterback, but I’m slightly less enamored over their chances to win, although it’s not because of any of that hunter-instead-of-hunted stuff, or the long dry spell. My concerns are more concrete. This team is more susceptible to injury than its competition. I’m not sure that schedule is as big an advantage as people think – Alabama’s isn’t much tougher and LSU hasn’t lost in Oxford since 1998. And that secondary is bad, as in offer-Jamar Hornsby-a-scholarship bad. But Nutt’s a good enough coach to use the schedule as a way to protect the team against injury problems, and there may not be that many opponents that are going to be able to exploit the Rebels pass defense. So I’m torn.
Odds to win the West: 30%.
That didn’t help much at all.