Wednesday, July 20, 2016

2016 College Football Preview: The Southeast Conference.

Every year the SEC (S.E.C!) is the conference with the most hype, and the most passionate fans. This hype machine is fueled, in part, by the Network known as ESPN and a group of SID's that are second to none in the industry.  It was also fueled by an impressive run of National Titles under the old B(C)S system that was undoubtedly rigged in their favor.

Fast forward to the College Football Playoff however and the more things change the more they stay the same. For two year's running the SEC has placed a team in the CFP, and in both years there has been serious discussion about them having two teams in the top four.  Last year, Alabama won the entire thing and enters the season as a strong favorite to do it again.

This year the conference appears to be on the verge of approaching something resembling competitive balance between the divisions, but they're not there yet.

Conference Divison Projections:
LSU   12 0
Alabama 11 1
Arkansas 9 3
Auburn 7 5
Ole Miss 6 6
Mississippi State 5 7
Texas A&M 5 7

Tennessee   10 2
Georgia 9 3
Florida 8 4
South Carolina 6 6
Missouri 4 8
Kentucky 4 8
Vanderbilt 3 9

Conference Championship:
LSU over Tennessee
Bowl Teams: 9
Big Six Bama
CFP 2: None
Others: Tennessee
South Carolina
Ole Miss
Most Underrated: Arkansas
Most Overrated: Ole Miss
Coaches on Hot Seat: Texas aTm
Ole Miss
As you can see (above) I have LSU going undefeated, beating Tennessee in the SEC Championship game and getting the nod into the CFP. In my opinion the Alabama/LSU game is a coin-flip this year, and I decided to have the coin end up on the home team's side. (LSU)

Let's look at the teams:

1. LSU. - We all know that they are going to have a strong running game. Provided Fournette stays healthy.  He is the best running back in the country and there should be no debate over that. They also will have a strong O-line, a monster defense and a talented WR corps.  The question for LSU surrounds quarterback Brandon Harris. Can he play well enough to win the "other 4" games that LSU is going to need above the 8 wins that Fournette himself will basically carry them to?  I say he will.

2. Alabama. - The fighting Saban's don't rebuild, they reload.  And that's the same story this year as quarterback Cooper Bateman is predicted to take the reins of an offense that will be built primarily, again, around a bruising two-headed run game of Bo Scarborough and Damien Harris. Defensively the Crimson Tide might be the best team in the country. The experienced LB grouping of Tim Williams, Ruben Foster and Shaun Hamilton will give opposing defenses fits. Also, Bama is coached better than any other team in the country outside of Ohio State.

3. Tennessee. If Butch Jones and the Volunteers are ever going to win the East, this might be the year. They have a ton of talent on offense (QB Dodds and RB Jalen Hurd for example) but it's young. They have experience on defense and the talent level seems higher than other teams in the division. Experience on offense and coaching will be their two glaring question marks, followed by speed on defense. that said, I think they have more talent in Knoxville than at any other place in the East.

4. Arkansas. - The "smallest" offensive lineman on the Razorbacks starting roster is listed at 303 lbs. They have a running back that weighs 249 lbs, (Kendrick Jackson) more than some DE's he's going to be facing. And a halfback (Sr. Kody Walker) who tips the scales at 251 lbs. In short, the Razorbacks are going to run the ball and try to chew up clock. Just like coach Brett Beilema wants them to. When not running the ball watch for QB Austin Allen to try and get the ball to slot receiver Jared Cornelius, the latter has game-breaking speed. They have talent on defense, but depth is a concern. They must stay injury free. I do think they are the most underrated team heading into this season however.

5. Georgia. - I probably have the Bulldogs too high in my predictions.  But I do that because I don't predict injuries and I think Nick Chubb and Sony Michele are one of the best 1-2 running back duos in the league. I also think Greyson Lambert is gong to have a good Sr. season throwing the ball (at least, at the beginning of the season, but there will be pressure to bring the Freshman in) to a talented group of wide receivers behind a very experienced, and cohesive offensive line. I also think the Bulldogs will be improved on defense because that is what new Head Coach Kirby Smart is known for. Plus, they'll be more mentally disciplined which was a bugaboo of theirs during the Richt era.

6. Florida. Unlike Gator teams of the past, it appears Florida's best players are on the defensive side of the football. They are going to field a formidable defensive line in the persons of Brian Cox Jr, Joey Ivey, CeCe Jefferson and Caleb Brantley. They have an all-Sr linebacking corps that should be among the better groups in the league. Their defensive backfield is solid. It's on offense where I question the Gators. They have two transfer quarterbacks in the top two spots on their depth chart that I think will need time to sort things out. They have talent at WR, but nothing spectacular. Their success will depend on whether the Jordans (Cronkite and Scarlett) can run the ball with any consistency. The team improved under 1st year head coach McIlwain last year, the question is will they continue improving in year 2.

7. Auburn. - This is a big year for the Tigers/Plainsmen(War Eagle!) (huh?) but I don't think it's going to end up quite like they want it to. They have a lot of experience on both sides of the ball coming back but I question them at QB (JuCo transfer John Franklin) and RB (Small school transfer Jovon Robinson). Defensively they should be OK but if you don't think a 7-5 season will put head coach Gus Malzahn on the hot-seat you don't know Auburn football fans.

8. After last year's debacle of a season (and the retirement of the ol' ball coach in mid-season) the Gamecocks find themselves in a mess of a rebuilding phase. They lack talent on both sides of the ball and, to add insult to injury, I don't think they made a good coaching hire in the form of former Texas DC and Florida HC Wil Muschamp. Still, their true Freshman QB Brandon McIlwain appears to have talent and might improve as the year progresses. That said I think 6-6 is just about right for them.

9. Ole Miss. The Rebels have a talent that's only being overshadowed by the amount of distractions they are going to face this season.  Coach Hugh Freeze' program is currently under multiple investigations due to Laremy Tunsil's draft day collapse and admission he received improper benefits. I think this is going to hang like a cloud over this team all year and they're going to end the season as one of the more overrated teams going in.

10. Mississippi State. Coach Dan Mullen will find himself rebuilding this year. And he's going to rely on a pair of Sophomore quarterbacks to try and get him there.I don't see much space between Nick Fitzgerald and Elijah Staley but Fitzgerald is listed #1 on the depth chart for now. I've a feeling we'll see both.  Defensively they return a lot, but lose a lot and are going to rely on Seniors who have spent their careers 2nd on the depth chart to fill the gaps. I think they're going to step back some this year, especially if players continue to get in trouble with that law.

11. Texas A&M. - Amazingly, Aggie fans are optimistic after the dumpster fire of an off-season endured by Kevin Sumlin and crew. Both highly touted QB's up and left leaving the team banking it's offensive hopes on former OU quarterback Trevor Knight, who had one good bowl game and then was...meh.  They do have a decent WR corps in Speedy Noil & Ricky Seals-Jones, but can Knight get the ball to them?  Running back Keith Ford was highly recruited, but he's a true Freshman. On defense it's largely, the same cast that was OK, but not spectacular, last year. The question there is whether or not former LSU DC John Chavis can get more out of them. I don't think so, and Kevin Sumlin is officially on the hottest of hot seats. I don't think he survives to coach at aTm next year.

12. Missouri. Tough times in Columbia as new Head Coach Barry Odom and Missouri boosters are now being hit with the reality of recruiting in the hyper-competitive SEC. To be blunt, the cupboard is pretty bare. Sophomore QB Drew Locke might develop into an OK player, but his WR corps is average, and Jr College transfer RB Natereace Strong feels like a stop-gap at best. On defense the Tigers have some experience (5 starting Srs) but lack overall team speed. This is going to hurt them against speedier offensive units within the conference.

13. Kentucky. Amazingly, the Wildcats are not already looking forward to basketball season as they are carrying high-hopes for their team under a Stoops.  No, not THAT Stoops, 2nd year head coach Mark Stoops.  Drew Barker is a RS Sophomore QB who might have some talent and most of their players on offense are either Jr's or Sr's other than the QB and TE.Defensively they're are relying on a LOT of Sophomores to get a LOT better than they were last year to see a meaningful improvement. I don't think they do so coach Stoops will have to go back and mine that "recruiting powerhouse" that he claims is Kentucky once again.  Is it basketball season yet?

14. Vanderbilt. - I know the Commodores hate being called the "academic help" for the SEC but it's true. Recruiting wise they cannot compete with the rest of the SEC so they go 3 & 2 star and hope.  MAYBE some players on this Jr & Sr laden team will take giant leaps forward and produce seasons that results in more wins than losses and MAYBE So QB Kyle Shurmer is just that good but I don't think so. It's another long football year in store for Vandy fans but at least they know the fans of other teams will probably be calling them "boss" in years to come right?

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