It’s time to roll them out again. After a few years doing this, I’m in a groove, but as a reminder to those of you who haven’t read my previous excursions, here are the ground rules:
The format for my picks, in case you haven’t tuned into this broadcast before, hasn’t changed.
Rather than give you my predicted records, I’ll list the schools in the order they finished in the conference last year, look at areas of potential improvement and decline and assess in what direction I expect each to go by comparison to 2010.
In other words, pure seat of the pants BS.
Based on that, the teams are listed in the order of their 2014 conference order of finish. Remember that, before you start freaking out over where a school shows up in this post.
Update 2014 to 2015 and we’re good. With that in mind, here goes nothing.
ALABAMA (14-1, 7-1)
- Pros: Unparalleled team depth; Nick Saban and The Process; best defensive front seven in the country; receiving corps; great advanced stats
- Cons: Depth in the secondary; inexperience at quarterback; games against three highest ranked conference opponents on the road
- Outlook: I’m really having to stretch to pick holes. It’s hard to find many flaws with this team. It’ll take some freaky bad luck for ‘Bama to lose two games this season.
MISSISSIPPI (10-3, 6-2)
- Pros: Favorable advanced stats; coaching stability; quarterback; linebackers
- Cons: Significant losses to NFL; running back; offensive line; turmoil surrounding program; tough early schedule
- Outlook: Lots of talent and lots of controversy that threatens to distract. With that difficult early run of games, if things don’t break right, I could see this team let things get away from it, especially when you consider the loss of top-flight talent on defense. For the moment, I’ll stick with nine wins.
LSU (9-3, 5-3)
- Pros: More talent than any team in the conference outside of Alabama; home game against Alabama; upgrade at defensive coordinator; running backs; offensive line; secondary
- Cons: Scheme change on defense; quarterback; offensive coordinator
- Outlook: It’s not often that I have something as a plus and a minus, but the hiring of Dave Aranda qualifies. I have little doubt he’s a major upgrade over Kevin Steele, but he’s moving LSU from a base 4-3 to a base 3-4 and I feel like there will be some growing pains as they sort out the inevitable personnel issues that come with that. Still, this should be at worst the second-best team in the West. If they get improvement at quarterback, the Tigers could exceed that.
ARKANSAS (8-5, 5-3)
- Pros: Offensive line; improving defense
- Cons: Secondary; special teams; last seven games on schedule against SEC opponents
- Outlook: This team is the poster boy for steady improvement. Can they continue to build on that? Arkansas plays in a tough neighborhood. The Hogs look like an eight-win team that goes .500 in the conference to me.
MISSISSIPPI STATE (9-4, 4-4)
- Pros: Coaching stability; favorable cross-divisional schedule; wide receivers
- Cons: Running backs; offensive line; quarterback
- Outlook: I don’t see how you can look at the Bulldogs post-Prescott and not think they’re in reset mode. I’m thinking eight wins, tops.
TEXAS A & M (8-5, 4-4)
- Pros: Great recruiting; second year under John Chavis; defensive line; receivers
- Cons: New offensive coordinator; turnover at quarterback; linebackers; tough strength of schedule
- Outlook: Last year I said Chavis was a great hire, but warned Rome wasn’t built overnight. The defense still has some holes, but should be improved. Not sure how Mazzone fits with what TAMU does, though. Eight or nine wins seems right.
AUBURN (7-6, 2-6)
- Pros: Solid recruiting; healthy Carl Lawson; offensive line; special teams
- Cons: Brutal schedule; third defensive coordinator in three years; quarterback; wide receivers; linebackers
- Outlook: This is the year the “Auburn plays its best when it’s under the radar” meme gets its stress test. Given the schedule, I’m not sure it survives. From where I sit, I have a hard time seeing any improvement in the record.
FLORIDA (10-4, 7-1)
- Pros: Defense; coaching stability
- Cons: Offensive line; quarterback; running back, receivers; schedule with eight conference games in a row
- Outlook: Jim McElwain did a heckuva job in his first year. Can he keep it going? There are depth issues on offense that concern me; it’s a team that could go south in a hurry with a few key injuries. Even if Florida’s health doesn’t suffer, it’s hard to see ten wins again. That defense and a weak East should keep the Gators in contention, though.
TENNESSEE (9-4, 5-3)
- Pros: Quarterback; upgrade at defensive coordinator; most returning experience in the conference; running back; special teams
- Cons: Offensive line; schedule; mental outlook
- Outlook: The Vols have improved their talent base steadily under Jones, and their record has followed. Shoop is the best offseason hire in the SEC. In the end, he’s why I think you have to pick Tennessee to win the East. Vols win ten in the regular season and do no worse than lose two conference games.
GEORGIA (10-3, 5-3)
- Pros: Running back; tight ends; secondary; easy coaching transition on defense; upgrade at offensive coordinator and offensive line coach; softest schedule in the East; solid recruiting
- Cons: Quarterback; experience and depth of defensive front seven; wide receiver depth; coaching turnover; special teams
- Outlook: After the quietest 10-win season in major conference history, exit Mark Richt and enter Kirby Smart. There’s talent, but it’s not spread out evenly. The schedule eases significantly in the second-half of the season, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see a modest start followed by a win streak to close out the season. I’ve waffled between nine and ten wins, but I think I’ll take nine at this point.
KENTUCKY (5-7, 2-6)
- Pros: Running backs; offensive line; coaching stability
- Cons: Defensive front seven; special teams; schedule
- Outlook: The only team in the conference whose 2015 record was identical to 2014’s. I like UK to make it three years in a row.
VANDERBILT (4-8, 2-6)
- Pros: Linebackers; softer schedule than most teams in the division; Ralph Webb
- Cons: Offense; special teams
- Outlook: Mason is a top notch defensive coordinator and it showed last season. The Commodores have an SEC-quality defense. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Vandy’s offense. That being said, Vanderbilt’s saving grace is that it doesn’t appear to be the worst team in the division. Bowl eligibility may be a stretch, but I can see the ‘Dores squeezing out one more win in 2016.
MISSOURI (5-7, 1-7)
- Pros: Defensive line
- Cons: Offense; new coaching staff
- Outlook: Things sure went south in a hurry last season, didn’t they? It’s hard to see how the offense can be fixed quickly, especially with a new staff. Bowl eligible at best.
SOUTH CAROLINA (3-9, 1-7)
- Pros: New energy on the coaching staff; offensive line
- Cons: Lack of talent on both sides of the ball; new staff
- Outlook: The HBC didn’t do Boom any favors in the personnel department, that’s for certain. Having a staff that’s more focused is a plus, but the SEC is a Jimmies and Joes conference and there isn’t enough focus in the world to offset the disadvantage Muschamp faces. He’ll win more games than he’ll get thrown out of, but that’s about it.