It’s that time again. You know, when I show my ass by trying to figure out what’s getting ready to unfold in the SEC over the next three months. Good luck with that.
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.
So, without further ado, away we go.
ALABAMA (12-2, 7-1)
- Pros: Impressive team depth; Nick Saban; unparalleled program stability; best defensive front seven in the country; punter (!); great advanced stats
- Cons: Secondary; Amari Cooper departure; inexperience at quarterback; schedule
- Outlook: Uncharted territory – as good as this team is in places, between the schedule, breaking in a new quarterback and losing Cooper (something I don’t think is getting near enough attention), I can actually contemplate the possibility of Alabama losing two regular season games. Mind you, I’m not predicting that, but I accept it could happen.
MISSISSIPPI STATE (10-3, 6-2)
- Pros: Coaching stability; Dak Prescott; soft non-conference schedule; defense
- Cons: Mediocre special teams; offensive line; least experienced team in the SEC West
- Outlook: Having the best quarterback in the conference return is nice, but this team is going to take a hit after losing a ton of experienced players. Getting Manny Diaz to come back to replace Collins was a good move. I’m thinking eight wins, tops.
MISSISSIPPI (9-4, 5-3)
- Pros: Receivers; favorable advanced stats; coaching stability; defense; favorable cross-division games
- Cons: Still lack depth in comparison to top teams in West; running back; quarterback
- Outlook: People forget how good this team was over the first half of the season, and most of the talent is back, especially on defense. Quarterback and running back are legitimate concerns. So is depth, which is what hurt Ole Miss over the second half in 2014. Still, with that defense, it’s hard to see how Freeze’s team will do any worse than last season’s record.
AUBURN (8-5, 4-4)
- Pros: Great offensive system with good personnel; excellent recruiting; Alabama and Georgia at home; soft non-conference schedule; strong advanced stats
- Cons: Departure of Nick Marshall; question marks on defense; turnover on offense
- Outlook: Last year, I wrote that “historically, Auburn doesn’t do well when it’s a preseason front-runner”, and that’s worth keeping in mind again. I think Johnson will do fine, but Marshall was perfect for Malzahn’s system. Based on getting some key defensive talent back and the schedule, I do think Auburn will rebound, but not as much as some would have you believe. Nine or ten wins looks about right.
LSU (8-5, 4-4)
- Pros: Loads of talent on both sides of the ball; soft non-conference schedule
- Cons: Loss of Chavis on defense; quarterback; Alabama on the road
- Outlook: I used to count dependably on Les Miles’ teams for two losses a year. This year, LSU is the hardest team to handicap in the conference. Plug the QB black hole and keep up defensive excellence, and this is a team that has enough going for it to make it all the way to the CFP. If not, given the toughness of the division, it’s not out of the question for the Tigers to lose four SEC games again this season. Tentatively, I’ll split the baby.
TEXAS A & M (8-5, 3-5)
- Pros: Great recruiting; addition of John Chavis; draws Vanderbilt from the East; best receiver group in the SEC
- Cons: Brutal mid-season stretch against six straight conference opponents; shaky defense; unimpressive advanced stats
- Outlook: Chavis is a great hire, but Rome wasn’t built overnight. I’m not seeing where people predicting the Aggies to win the West are coming from. Based on a tougher schedule, I’m not sure there will be much of a change in the record over 2014’s.
ARKANSAS (7-6, 2-6)
- Pros: Offensive line; running backs; better defense; favorable advanced stats
- Cons: special teams; schedule
- Outlook: I’m still a little amazed about what gets you a $4 million/year contract these days. But the defense improved enough last season to elevate Arkansas to a tough out in the SEC West. The question is, can they build on that in 2015? Maybe a little. The Hogs look like an eight-win team that goes .500 in the conference to me.
MISSOURI (11-3, 7-1)
- Pros: Coaching stability; offensive line; running back; secondary; schedule; (the good) Maty Mauk
- Cons: Big losses at receiver and defensive end; (the bad) Maty Mauk
- Outlook: As has been the case for the past couple of seasons, the schedule shapes up to be Missouri’s biggest friend. Pinkel knows what he’s doing and showed it again with the hire of his new defensive coordinator. Mizzou looks like it’s all about the running game (on both sides of the ball) and Mauk’s ability to show out in crunch time. I’ve learned my lesson with the Tigers: barring injury, I don’t expect more than two regular season losses. Will that be enough for a third straight division title? Stay tuned.
GEORGIA (10-3, 6-2)
- Pros: Running back; offensive line; tight ends; improved defensive depth; linebackers; Jeremy Pruitt; positive advanced stats
- Cons: Quarterback; defensive line; wide receiver depth; schedule; regression to the mean from conference-leading turnover margin
- Outlook: As I wrote the other week, a ten-win regular season is a justified expectation. Which doesn’t mean the Dawgs will win ten games. This team will go as far as its ability to avoid brain farts takes it.
FLORIDA (7-5, 4-4)
- Pros: Defense; an offensive coordinator who has a clue about what to do; soft early season schedule
- Cons: Offensive line; passing game; coaching staff overhaul; tough schedule (eight conference games in a row) down the stretch
- Outlook: The Gators are likely to be good enough on defense to avoid making this year a debacle, but not good enough on offense to show much improvement in the record, unless McElwain can steal a win somewhere.
SOUTH CAROLINA (7-6, 3-5)
- Pros: Steve Spurrier; linebacking; receivers
- Cons: Unproven quarterback; secondary; defensive line; schedule
- Outlook: The ‘Cocks have to hope they’re going to get good answers to a lot of questions, based on how last season turned out. Still, Spurrier’s got that chip on his shoulder again. It’s just that he can only throw the visor so many times for effect. Eight wins look about right.
TENNESSEE (7-6, 3-5)
- Pros: Receiver; improving talent base; returning quarterback, defense
- Cons: Offensive line; overall team depth; new offensive coordinator; preseason injuries; schedule
- Outlook: On the uptick? Okay, yes. But the only way I can see the Vols living up to some of the preseason hype is if the East completely falls apart. (Stranger things have happened, but still.) I’m seeing eight wins here.
KENTUCKY (5-7, 2-6)
- Pros: Improving talent base after a couple of solid recruiting classes; coaching stability; linebackers
- Cons: Secondary; overall depth; schedule
- Outlook: This is a team that has recruited well enough to return to bowl eligibility this season. But the schedule is tough enough to make that a close call.
VANDERBILT (3-9, 0-8)
- Pros: Changing offensive coordinators; relatively decent job of stocking talent by James Franklin; regression to the mean from horrendous turnover margin
- Cons: Offense; team depth
- Outlook: The bottom fell out under Derek Mason’s first year, as he appeared in over his head. Will he get that fixed? It’s hard to see where the Commodores get better. And the scary thing is that Mason’s window already appears tight, as Vandy’s recruiting has fallen off from where Franklin had taken it.