SEC East Predictions & Breakdowns
Can Missouri make it three straight SEC East titles? Will Georgia be able to get back into the championship mix, is Tennessee ready, and can South Carolina become special again? Here’s what you need to know about each SEC team, along with the predicted finish. (Scroll down for the SEC West predictions & breakdowns.)
What You Need To Know About The Offense: New offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has an easy task – give the ball to Nick Chubb and keep on giving the ball to Nick Chubb. The Georgia running back situation is once again phenomenal with Chubb leading the way and with a slew of very, very talented options behind him. The line loses mainstay center David Andrews, but overall it should be another strong, tough group that paves the way for another big rushing season. The passing attack will be a big question mark without any truly established playmakers at receiver and with the quarterback situation still a work in progress. There are good options in the derby, but no one has taken the quarterback gig by the horns.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: Jeremy Pruitt did a great job in his first year at the helm of the defense, turning in a great year with a pass D that finished fifth in the nation and was outstanding on third downs. The best part is that it was a young group of defensive backs that’s still growing and improving around safety Quincy Mauger. The stars are at linebacker where the 1-2 punch of Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd should wreak havoc on opposing backfields all season long. The line needs a bit of an overhaul, but Georgia is a factory for solid linemen – they just have to hold their own while the linebackers do the heavy lifting.
2. South Carolina
What You Need To Know About The Offense: Only four starters are back, but the offense should be fine because Steve Spurrier’s offenses are always fine. Even so, can the backfield find the right replacements? It’s not like the Gamecocks are losing Tom Brady at quarterback, but even with Connor Mitch named the starter, the situation isn’t 100% settled – it never really is under Spurrier. The ground game loses an all-around playmaker in Mike Davis, but Brandon Wilds is a good next-back-up. The line has bulk and talent, but it’s losing some key parts to what was one of the best front fives of the Ball Coach era. Even with all the concerns, the O will get the job done.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: After a disastrous season against the run and without any pass rush, there’s hope for a massive instant improvement. Nine starters return and coordinator Jon Hoke comes in to get things back to normal. The D will work out of more of a 4-3 alignment, and it starts with two massive 325 tackles trying to gum things up inside. The linebackers should be solid with Skai Moore leading the way, and there’s potential in the secondary to be far more consistent. Expect a more aggressive, disruptive group.
What You Need To Know About The Offense: The attack wasn’t nearly as dangerous, consistent or as explosive as an SEC champion O should’ve been, and it’s going to take a few minor miracles to hope for a massive change. Maty Mauk is back at quarterback, but he has to be more consistent and has to make everyone around him better considering the receiving corps needs a total overhaul. There’s a ton of talent and athleticism, but there’s little experience to count on. Russell Hansbrough should run wild behind a veteran line that has the potential to be terrific if the left tackle situation is settled quickly.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: Will there once again be a strong pass rush? Shane Ray and Markus Golden are both gone, and now it’ll be up to Charles Harris to get the first look to be the new star up front. Fortunately, the linebacking corps should be fantastic with size, experience and the SEC talent needed to be solid against the run again. The secondary was strong last season, but that was partly due to the tremendous pass rush. If the line doesn’t do its job again, the Tiger defensive backs will be okay, but not special.
What You Need To Know About The Offense: Can the Gators find their offense again right away? Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier is coming off a miserable year at Michigan, but he’s expected to join in with Jim McElwain and give Florida some semblance of production. The passing attack that was non-existent at times needs to get efficiency and effectiveness out of either Treon Harris or Will Grier, and the receivers are there to make that happen. Demarcus Robinson leads a corps that should be ready to blossom – and that includes the tight ends now. Can the O line do its part? It’s a rebuilt group, but it’s talented. The rushing punch of Kelvin Taylor and Jordan Scarlett should be solid.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: There should be a bit of a drop after finishing 15th in the nation in total D, but not by much – the parts are back to be terrific once again. Defensive coordinator Geoff Collins will bring the pressure from a dangerous front four that has athleticism and skill from inside and out, starting with the versatile Jon Bullard and needing Alex McCalister to shine from the end. The secondary has the talent to be among the SEC’s best, and the linebacking corps has playmakers starting with Antonio Morrison once he’s healthy again.
What You Need To Know About The Offense: New offensive coordinator Mike DeBord inherits a tremendous group of young skill stars starting with rising QB Joshua Dobbs and pounding back Jalen Hurd in the backfield. The receiving corps is among the most dangerous young groups in college football with the top ten targets of last year all back. There’s speed to burn and more than enough options for Dobbs to spread the ball around to. However, it all comes down to a leaky line that didn’t do nearly enough last season to protect the passer or pound away for the ground attack. The offense has to consistently put up more points after an up-and-down year. This group should be able to explode.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: By SEC standards the run defense wasn’t up to snuff – it was still pretty decent, though. The line wasn’t full of massive bodies on the inside, and that’s where 340-pound super-recruit Kahlil McKenzie might help the cause. It’s already a decent-looking front starting with pass rushing terror Derek Barnett on one end. The linebacking tandem of Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Curt Maggitt should be among the most disruptive in the SEC as part of a dangerous pass rushing group. Brian Randolph is a terrific safety in a decent secondary that returns three starters.
What You Need To Know About The Offense: Can the offense start to come up with more big moments on a consistent basis? The Wildcats never seemed able to come up with the same game twice in a row over the second half of the season, but there’s enough experience returning to hope for more. Patrick Towles should be a good leader now that he’s solidified as the starting quarterback. There’s a good stable of running backs to work with and a promising receiving corps, but the O line has to be stronger and has to provide more of a push.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: After allowing 157 points in the last three games, and giving up 36 points or more in seven of the last ten games, there’s lots of work to do. Who’ll come up with the pass rush now that Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith are gone? It’s a big line, but it’ll have to manufacture pressure. The linebacking corps should be terrific at times around Josh Forrest in the middle, while the secondary has a few good playmakers in S A.J. Stamps and hybrid Blake McClain. Will that mean more third down stops? Will that all end up with stronger production against the run?
What You Need To Know About The Offense: Totally miserable last season, the Vanderbilt offense couldn’t settle its quarterback situation, couldn’t get any production out of the line, and couldn’t put points on the board on a regular basis. The Commodores scored 17 points or fewer eight times and finished 122nd in the nation in total offense. There’s hope for a big improvement with nine returning starters including all the key skill players of last year, a good running back rotation, and more stability at quarterback – potentially – with Johnny McCrary and Wade Freebeck. If the more experienced line doesn’t improve, then the offense will keep on struggling.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: Nine starters are back on a defense that tried to do what it could to overcome a horrible offense. 13 of the top 14 tacklers return, and nine of them were underclassmen. The linebacking corps has the potential to be strong in the 3-4 alignment, only losing Kyle Woestmann on the outside. The front three has good bulk, but the line has to be stronger against the power teams while letting the linebackers take care of things in the backfield. The secondary gets everyone back from a very, very young group that had too many problems making big plays, but there’s enough returning talent to expect more production.
Is Alabama going to do it again? Auburn is better, Arkansas is nasty, and Texas A&M, LSU, Ole Miss and Mississippi State are still strong enough to make this the best division in college football. Again.
SEC West Predictions & Breakdowns
What You Need To Know About The Offense: Lane Kiffin took his share of criticism throughout last year, and he was hammered a bit after the loss to Ohio State, but he did a terrific job with an inexperienced quarterback and a few question marks. For all the complaints at times, Alabama finished 17th in the nation in offense and 15th in scoring. However, this time around there’s no Amari Cooper to throw to and the quarterback situation is even more of a concern. The line will be terrific once again with Ryan Kelly anchoring things as one of the nation’s top centers, and Cam Robinson growing into an NFL starting left tackle. The 1-2 rushing punch of Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake will be unstoppable at times, and there are plenty of fantastic receivers – along with underutilized TE O.J. Howard – to make up for the loss of Cooper. But it all comes down to the quarterback situation that’s going to be a battle up until the date with the Badgers.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: You know what you’re getting – it’s going to be another fantastic year. The Crimson Tide D finished fourth in the nation against the run last season, and it might be even better this year with, possibly, the nation’s best line. A’Shawn Robinson is about to become a national name on the nose, while massive Jonathan Allen and Jarran Reed fit the mode. The linebacking corps might have to find a few new parts, but it’s going to be outstanding again working around Reggie Ragland. The one concern is a secondary that has all-star potential across the board, but needs to find a safety to replace Landon Collins and get steadier corner play.
What You Need To Know About The Offense: New offensive coordinator/former Central Michigan head coach Dan Enos isn’t going to mess with what’s working, but he’ll try to spread the ball around a little bit more with the passing game while continuing to pound away with the tremendous ground attack. The line is undergoing some reshuffling, but four starters are back to what should be one of the nation’s best blocking units. The rushing punch will still be phenomenal without Jonathan Williams – who was knocked out for the season. Alex Collins will be devastating, taking the pressure off the passing game. Brandon Allen is a veteran quarterback who should be fine, but he needs more out of a middling receiving corps that needs more pop.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: The defense got better and better as the year went on and ended up dominating against the run. The Hogs finished tenth in the nation in total D and had the 12th-best run defense, but some of the key parts are gone including pass rusher Trey Flowers and star linebacker Martrell Spaight. Even so, this is a rising group with good depth and plenty of options to work around Taiwan Johnson on the defensive front and rising linebacker Brooks Ellis, who can play inside or out. The secondary needs to be a bit tighter, but there’s good size and some decent playmakers in safety Rohan Gaines and corner Jared Collins.
What You Need To Know About The Offense: Coordinator Cam Cameron had a different quarterback situation and a different offense to work with after an impressive 2013, and it showed. The Tigers ran the ball well, but the offense sputtered too often and didn’t have enough of a passing game. The O line should be its typical solid self with all-star Vadal Alexander leading the way, and the running attack will be dominant if Leonard Fournette avoids the sophomore slump. Travin Dural, John Diarse and Malachi Dupre are next-level receiver talents, and the tight ends should have decent years, but they need someone to throw them the ball. Quarterbacks Brandon Harris and Brandon Jennings are fine, but they need to be sensational at times.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: There was almost no pass rush, and there were a few rough patches, but the defense overall was outstanding, finishing third in the nation against the pass and ninth in total defense. New coordinator Kevin Steele and line coach Ed Orgeron will ramp up the pressure from the line, but they need some ends to emerge to do it. The tackles will be as good as ever, led by Christian LaCouture, and the linebackers should be excellent. The real strength is a secondary that was so good last year and gets corners Jalen Collins and Tre’Davious White back on the outside to go along with safeties Jalen Mills and Jamal Adams.
What You Need To Know About The Offense: It might not have been the epic juggernaut of 2013, but the 2014 Auburn attack was still explosive and devastatingly effective. Don’t expect two years ago, but the numbers should be fantastic again with a slew of excellent new skill starters around a strong O line. C Reese Dismukes is done, but OT Shone Coleman leads a good group that should be sharp from the start. The loss of Sammie Coates to the NFL takes away a deep threat, but the surprising return of D’haquille Williams gives the passing game a No. 1 target for new starting QB Jeremy Johnson to work with. Veteran Roc Thomas and JUCO star Jovon Robinson give the Tigers a stellar 1-2 rushing punch.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: The defense allowed 31 points or more in the last seven games – let’s not count the date with Samford thrown in there – and couldn’t seem to hold up against anyone with pop or explosion. That’s where new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp comes in, returning to the gig he held in 2006 and 2007 when he made the Auburn D among the nation’s best. Almost everyone is back on the defensive front that needs to attack a bit more. Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost lead a veteran linebacking corps, while the secondary has the potential to be terrific with CB Jonathan Jones, S Johnathan Ford, and Georgia transfer Tray Matthews all ready to put up huge numbers.
5. Texas A&M
What You Need To Know About The Offense: It was a weird year for the offense that blew up with the passing game early on against all the teams with no secondaries, and then everything ground down to a halt over the second half. The goal is to get more of the running game involved, and the rotation of backs should be able to do that. Starter Kyle Allen showed this spring that he’s ready to take his game to the next level, but super-recruit Kyler Murray will be right in the mix for time, just like Allen was last season. The line needs some reshuffling and work, but there’s too much talent not to be fine. The real key, though, is a receiving corps that’s in the team photo for the nation’s best. Six of the top seven are back, and it’s an even better group with freshman Christian Kirk one of the new stars.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: Veteran defensive coordinator John Chavis is stepping in to change up the tempo and ramp up the aggression after the Aggie D allowed 451 yards per game. His defenses fly around and get after the ball and the quarterback, and he has the tools to do just that with the potentially devastating end tandem of Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall leading the way. The linebacking corps is young and skilled, but it’s banged up and needs to be far tighter against the run. The real problem is a secondary that loses three starters, but the improved pass rush should help that out.
6. Ole Miss
What You Need To Know About The Offense: The offense was way too erratic and seemed to go bye-bye at the worst times, scoring a total of ten points in the three losses. The first step is settling the quarterback situation with Clemson transfer Chad Kelly the first option. The receiving corps is in place to come up with bigger plays down the field – especially if Laquon Treadwell is back to 100% coming off a broken leg – and the ground game should be decent. Jaylen Walton isn’t a special back, but he’s a sound veteran working behind a potentially dominant O line that returns all five starters – assuming OT Laremy Tunsil is healthy after suffering a broken leg in the bowl loss to TCU.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: The Landsharks – what the Ole Miss D calls itself – is coming off a whale of a season finishing first in the nation in scoring D and doing a tremendous job for most of the year – except for the three losses. The Rebels allowed fewer than 30 points in all nine wins, and more in each of the three defeats. This year, the line should be even more of a brick wall with Robert Nkemdiche controlling the middle of a big, strong front. End C.J. Johnson is moving to middle linebacker in what should be yet another strong unit. The secondary should be able to rebound from the loss of three key starters anchored by Tony Conner and Mike Hilton, likely the nation’s best safety tandem.
7. Mississippi State
What You Need To Know About The Offense: While there’s rebuilding to be done, the offense that scored 35 points or more eight times should keep on rolling. It’s all up to the shuffling on the line that should be fine with a little bit of time, but needs to quickly develop the depth. Dak Prescott will once again be the steadying force as the leader and playmaker to work everything around, and he gets back his two top targets in De’Runnya Wilson and Fred Ross. The backfield lost Josh Robinson early to the NFL, but it’ll be more than fine with three excellent runners to work around to help out Prescott.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: The Bulldogs were strong against the run, great at getting into the backfield, and struggled mightily against the pass. New defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has a ton of work to do from a D that loses seven starters and needs help developing the depth. The line should be fine in time needing Chris Jones to rise up and shine in a full-time role with Ryan Brown a good pass rusher next to him. Even after losing Benardrick McKinney, the linebacking corps should be okay with Richie Brown ready to take over in the middle next to Beniquez Brown. Can the secondary be better after finishing 114th in the nation? It’ll have to shine with a lesser pass rush and without two key starters.