2016-08-29 08:11

Here come the last conference to talk about before the season starts next weekend, the

Southeastern Conference

The SEC had a great season in 2015, capped with a win of the National Championship by Alabama over Clemson.
It was the 1st title by a SEC team since 2012, when also Alabama won it (against Notre Dame).
It would need many very competitive teams inside the SEC to make a SEC NOT a playoff candidate.
So far did the SEC produce each season a max 1-loss SEC Champ since LSU won the SEC with 2 losses in 2007.
That means the SEC can be a bit relaxed to get a playoff spot each season as one of the 5 power5 conference (plus Notre Dame with special treatment).
Chances that a team out of the SEC is left out are slim.
Except the field of teams is getting closer together and starts preying over each other.
This could happen this season.

The 14 teams are:

Eastern Division:
University of Florida Gators
University of Georgia Bulldogs
University of Kentucky Wildcats
University of Missouri Tigers
University of South Carolina Gamecocks
University of Tennessee Volunteers
Vanderbilt University Commodores

Western Division:
University of Alabama Crimson Tide
University of Arkansas Razorbacks
Auburn University Tigers
Louisiana State University Fighting Tigers
University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) Rebels
Mississippi State University Bulldogs
Texas A&M University Aggies

There are several changes inside the teams and even many experts do have clear favorites to win the divisions, it's not sooooo clear.
Almost every team has some questions marks on the roster and losses like Alabamas game against Ole Miss last season or in 2014 can't be foreseen, teams do progress different than anticipated and injuries can shift the power to be significantly.
For me, both divisions might produce 2-loss division champs and what that means on national scale is hard to figure out.
In case all other conference do produce unbeaten champs, the SEC might not get a spot.
With some 1-loss teams in other conferences, a 2-loss SEC team might still jump a 1-loss non-SEC-conference champ.
I'm really curious to see the SEC teams playing and I really hope for a rough season, just to make it more interesting.

My way-too-early-TIP for the SEC teams is:

Eastern Division:
Tennessee Volunteers
Georgia Bulldogs
Florida Gators
Kentucky Wildcats
Missouri Tigers
Vanderbilt Commodores
South Carolina Gamecocks

Western Division:
LSU Tigers
Alabama Crimson Tide
Mississippi (Ole Miss) Rebels
Arkansas Razorbacks
Texas A&M Aggies
Auburn Tigers

Mississippi State Bulldogs

With is result I think LSU will beat Tennessee for the conference championship.

Here some explanations:

Eastern Division

South Carolina Gamecocks
Steve Spurrier is gone and the Gamecocks did s e l e c t Will Muschamp as new HC.
I'm not a real fan of him, he looked not in control while he was the HC of the Gators from 2011 to 2014 and I think he saw the firing coming a long time before it really happened.
Last season he was the DC of Auburn and that went good enough to get the considerations to become HC of the Gamecocks.
That team had a rough season last year, when Spurrier lost total control over his team and he "retired" after 6 games and a 2-4 record, an interim coach did finish the season to a total record of 3-9 which did include also a loss to Citadel, a FCS team.
I don't think the Gamecocks did burry themselves so deep down that they are on Kansas level, but Muschamps will have a hard time to get the program back on the standard Spurrier and before him Holtz has brought it.
To be fair, Spurrier had some great seasons with the Gamecocks, 3 back-to-back 11 win seasons in 2011, 2012 and 2013, including each season bowl wins.
Muschamps will have to make South Carolina attractive again, which might become a tougher task then you might expect.
His reputation did hurt a bit after the Florida gig and South Carolina is not Florida or Georgia, so to land the top talents he and his staff will have to work hard.
This season I expect a complete letdown and rebuilt season.
They play spread over the whole season East Carolina (probably the toughest game), UMass and a FCS team as non-conference games.
They should be able to win all 3 based on SEC player material, but we all thought the same last season and they lost to Citadel ....
The rival game against Clemson is a very likely loss.
From the West the face Mississippi State on the road, which might cost them a win, and Texas A&M at home which I expect to be stronger this season.
The rest is inside the division and there they will likely have to play against Mizzou and Vanderbilt for a spot between 5th and 7th inside the division.
Vanderbilt is the season opener, on the road, which I don't see them winning and Mizzou is a home game they will lose because Mizzou is likely a bit stronger this season.
I would be a bit surprised if the Gamecocks would really rock the house under the management, a better result than last season is possible.
I pick them 7th in the division.

Vanderbilt Commodores
Derek Mason is in his 3nd season and did so far had a 3-win season and a 4-win season.
They did benefit from last seasons circumstance around South Carolina and Mizzou and did beat Kentucky.
Will they win more games this season?
Not sure.
The non-conference games are as usual for Vanderbilt a bit challenging.
Middle Tennessee should be beatable, Georgia Tech will be likely too much, WKU is also likely too strong and the FCS team should be beatable.
Dependent on the progress of the team they can win all 4 or even lose 3 game here.
Playing Auburn from the West on the road might hurt them also, Ole Miss, even at home, should be too much.
That leave the division for more wins and those might come from South Carolina and ... well ... I can't see more.
Kentucky and Mizzou are from my point of view the best options, both road games. Mizzou might be not ready enough this season, so they might fall, but at the moment I have doubts.
I would not pick Vandy in those game.
That leave the Commodores as likely 6th place team.

Missouri Tigers
Well, the Tigers were destined to be great last season, but it went all down the toilette.
The team lost some games, the HC did announce his retirement because of health problem (Cancer) and the school were in a heavy internal fight against racism and bigotry, which included the football team.
A strike was called out and at the end no game was canceled but it was close.
The team did lose games, but (so it seems) won pride on campus.
Now in 2016 the Tigers can hopefully concentrate on learning and playing.
Barry Odom, last seasons DC of Missouri, was selected as new HC and he will try to walk in Gary Pinkels left behind huge shoes (Pinkel is the HC with most wins in Tigers History).
It won't be easy and honestly I think the team will take some time to adjust, not only to the HC, but also to get that emotional season of 2015 out of their heads.
They will start the season against West Virginia which can go either way, but I pick Mizzou here.
Eastern Michigan is next and that will be a walk in the park, a FCS team should also be a win and Middle Tennessee is not bad, but should also be a win.
So in best case they will win all 4 games.
The hard part will be against the conference.
LSU and Arkansas from the West will be too much I think.
Inside the division they have South Carolina on the road and Vanderbilt at home.
Those are the games they will probably win, to get a bowl ticket they need another win, maybe Kentucky or they can upset Arkansas at home.
I see them not winning many games and they will likely battle it out against Vanderbilt for 5th or 6th spot.
I pick them 5th.

Kentucky Wildcats
As far as I know is Mark Stoops not under big fire in his 4th season.
Sure two 5-win season in 2014 and 2015 will not help to sell a building or progressing picture of the Wildcats, they do on the other side show that Kentucky keeps the quality of business high, which is not given as Basketball school.
Can they further improve this season?
Will they improve above the top 3 contenders?
Likely not, depended on Georgias and Floridas development.
They will start against Southern Miss and even when this team is a quite good one, Kentucky better win this.
New Mexico State shouldn't be a problem, a FCS team 1 week before the rival game against Louisville will be a sure win and the Cardinals game is open, but likely a Cardinals win.
So 3 wins from here.
Inside the conference they play a quite easy schedule and if we aim for the med-level teams, they have good one.
South Carolina at home, also Vanderbilt at home and Mississippi State from the West, at home.
They play the big guys on the road, so no chance from my point of view.
Overall they have the chance to get 6 to 7 wins this season, go to a bowl and add another one, if possible.
Some do see Stoops under fire, but I think he is save for now.
I pick the team to finish 4th inside the division.

Florida Gators
I'm sure Jim McElwain got a nice tap on the shoulders after his 1st season last year.
The Gators won the division, lost the Conference final against later National Champion Alabama and lost against Michigan in the Bowl.
Still the team got 3 more wins than 2014 and for sure will Florida expect big things in the next few seasons.
This season might be a small step back, since other teams do also improve and Florida has some open questions.
Especially the offense has to improve and a long term QB has to be found.
This will make the repeat as division champ questionable.
As usual are the non-conference games more a warm-up or a training session, with 3 teams (UMass, North Texas and a FCS team) being very easy, even in compare to other SEC teams.
Only the rival game against Florida State at season final will be a hard one, this season on the road.
I expect Florida to lose this one, the rest they must win.
From the West they get LSU (home) and Arkansas (road), which is OK, but far from easy.
LSU will compete for the division title and Arkansas will try to build up as major spoiler team, which might also hit Florida.
I think Florida might lose 1 game here.
Inside the division they will aim of cause for the top and therefore have to beat of cause the top teams.
The Georgia game is as always on neutral site, but the Volunteers game is a road trip.
Not the best circumstances to repeat, indeed.
I think they will battle Georgia for 2nd place inside the conference and whichever team will emerge with a bit better offense will likely get it.
I pick Florida to drop to 3rd place.

Georgia Bulldogs
What a strange season in 2015.
When the season did start, all was quite normal.
UGA territory was happy and it was clear the team would play for the division title.
The Bulldogs did lose to Alabama at home and a week later against Tennessee on the road, which made the division title a lot more unlikely.
When the team did lose to Florida at home 2 weeks later it became clear the season will not end with a title.
But there is always next season and also a bowl game, so ...
At the end of the regular season they won the rival game against Georgia Tech and had a 9-3 record, when Mark Richt was fired after his 15th season with the team.
Richt went to Miami in under a week and Georgia selected Kirby Smart, former DC of Alabama as new HC.
Now, in 2016, Smart will face expectations as high as they can get.
His reputation is good, but it's his first HC gig, so nobody knows what will happen.
Could be that Smart will lead the team to new heights, and higher than Richt ever did, could be he will bust as Will Muschamp did in Florida.
It's hard to predict the Bulldogs for this season, but with the current talent and recruits they should be able to win some games.
They will start the season against North Carolina on neutral site and they could be able to win this, if all pieces fall into places.
More likely is a loss under the given conditions as first game under a new coach against a well-established team.
The following week they play against a FCS team and the last 2 games of the season are against Louisiana-Lafayette and Georgia Tech.
Those should be won, especially the rival game against the Yellow Jackets at home.
Of the West they will face Ole Miss on the road and Auburn at home.
I have little doubts for the Ole Miss game, I pick that as a loss for the Bulldogs this season, but the Auburn game could be a gift.
Auburn has question marks all over the place and at home, late in the season, the Bulldogs might win here easily.
The rest is open.
The talent should lift them to top3, the coaches should better win the big games.
Tennessee I see out of reach, but Florida on neutral site late in the season could be the final win to lift the team to 2nd place.
There is a big chance the team will finish NOT on 2nd place, but whether they will rise or fall is not clear to me.
I had to put them somewhere and as much as I respect the other teams, I can't see them losing so many games that they would drop behind Kentucky, Missouri, Vanderbilt or South Carolina.
That Georgia/Florida game will likely decide their fate, I pick them 2nd now.

Tennessee Volunteers
I was quite good on the Volunteers pick last season and this season I think they can build a division title season based on the rebuilding and reloading season of other teams.
Butch Jones is in his 4th season, it's his team and he did improve it every season so far.
With Florida and Georgia likely not in top strength mode the Volunteers are built to win this season.
Their non-conference schedule is the usual SEC one, playing Appalachian State, Virginia Tech, Ohio and a FCS team.
In fact it could be a quite soft one, depended on the progress of VT.
All games should be won.
The games against the West are against Alabama at home and Texas A&M on the road.
Both tough games, both possible to win, but I think they will lose one of those, at least.
Inside the division they face Florida at home and Georgia on the road and that means they will likely stand and fall regarding their division title ambitions based on the strength of a reloading Florida team searching for a QB and a Georgia team under new management.
They can come through this untouched and win it all or will drop fast.
I pick them to win the division, probably in a tie with some other team and winning the direct compare.

Western Division

Mississippi State Bulldogs
Honestly I think Dan Mullen, in his 8th season, has pushed MSU to the highest points he can bring the team.
The Bulldogs will have a hard time to overcome the dominance of the other more prominent teams in the West.
This season I expect them to lose more games than the last few seasons.
It's rebuilding time at Mississippi State.
Especially their QB Dak Prescott will be missed.
Under such conditions do some teams take a major dive and I think at least inside the conference will the Bulldogs do exactly that.
South Alabama, UMass, BYU on the road and a FCS team will give the team at least some wins, even when a win against BYU on the road might be too much to ask for.
But 3 wins would be great for them, 4 would be fantastic.
They play from the East South Carolina at home, which should add another win and Kentucky from the East on the road, likely a loss.
In best case they need just one win to get to a bowl, which might deliver Auburn or Texas A&M, both at home.
I doubt that and don't see the team bowling this year, but those 2 games might be worth a look to score an upset.
Overall I see them falling hard and deep, to eventually climb back next season.
I pick them 7th in the division.

Auburn Tigers
Gus Malzahn is in trouble.
When you have 12-2 in the first season, 8-5 in the second and 7-6 thanks to a bowl in your 3rd season you are in trouble.
When your arch rival Alabama wins National Titles regularly while you lose crucial games and pay your coach top dollars for med-level results you get angry.
Malzahn will have to deliver fast results or he will be off the Tigers ship faster than he can say Gene Chizik (that's the predecessor of Malzhan who was fired after 4 season and HE won a national title).
The Tigers start the season against the Clemson Tigers at home and that will be likely a loss.
From that point of they better start winning against Arkansas State as next non-conference opponent.
The other non-conference matches are between the conference games, facing Louisiana-Monroe and a FCS team.
Likely a 3-1 campaign outside the conference, but the real test will come from the inside.
I see Auburn as a Joker with potential to land between 3rd and 7th inside the division.
They should be better than the Bulldogs from Mississippi State, but for all other games inside the division I see losses.
Their best chance for another win is the home game against Texas A&M at home on the 3rd gameday.
I have the feeling the Aggies are stronger than Auburn this season that's why I picked them as winner here, but everything is possible.
Arkansas at home would be next, but I trust Bielema more than Malzahn to get this done.
Potential wins do also come from the East, facing Vanderbilt (they also face Georgia which I assume as a loss, played on the road).
The Commodores are not really good and the game is at home.
Overall they should earn enough wins to separate themselves from the last place and finish higher.
I pick them 6th since they lost the direct compare to A&M.

Texas A&M Aggies
If nothing big changes, I think the Aggies will lose their HC after the season.
The Aggies did fall from Almost-Division-Champ to mid-level or low-level within 4 seasons.
The record last season was 8-5 with a bowl loss.
I can almost smell the fire under Kevin Sumlin, the HC of the Aggies in his 5th season.
Whether this is OK or not is not relevant, I think the expectations inside the A&M administration is higher than the results.
So win or get lost is likely the motto of the season.
The Aggies play UCLA at season start and I expect a close game.
Both teams can win and I haven’t figured out who is my pick.
I'm leaning towards UCLA.
A FCS team, then New Mexico State end of October and UTSA in mid-November is their non-conference schedule.
THOSE games should be won.
Inside the conference they play South Carolina on the road (likely a win) and Tennessee at home (likely a loss after a close game).
With 4 teams competing an A&M team will have a hard time to squeeze out win against all those teams.
I think they can win against Auburn and MSU, both road games, both close games and both can also be lost and sink A&M much deeper.
I don't see them winning against any of the 4 contenders at the moment, even I have to admit that a change on the QB situation and great defense would change that quickly.
Overall I haven't made up my mind completely on A&M.
They might rise fast, they might fall faster.
I did put them in between, since it looked plausible that the team will win and lose enough to get into mid-field.
I see them at 5th inside the division.

Arkansas Razorbacks
It was a rollercoaster ride for the Razorbacks fans in 2015.
They started in a bad way, lost games they were expected to win clearly, especially against Toledo and Texas Tech.
After the A&M game the team was suddenly at 1-3 and looked like a sure loser.
Then the team did wake up and showed some teeth (or tusks).
Especially the road wins against Tennessee, LSU and Ole Miss were impressive.
At the end they were 7-5, went to a bowl and won 1 more.
I have the feeling Bret Bielema did come through to his players and we might see a good Razorbacks team this season, maybe even a great one.
He gets a lot of critics for his media style and his humorous approach, but it seems for now does the school support him 100% and his long term approach.
In his 4th season we might see him stepping out of Bobby Petrinos shadow as former Razorback HC, which firing had led to the down years of the program in the first place.
The non-conference schedule is a bit more challenging than last year, facing Louisiana Tech, TCU, a FCS team and Texas State.
Well, only TCU does really stick out of this list as tougher than last season.
I think Arkansas will have their hands full here and might lose this, there rest should be wins.
From the East they play Florida at home and Missouri on the road, which is a great combination.
The Florida game might be lost, chances are good they can stay in the game and even win it.
Mizzou will likely lose that game.
The Razorbacks do face Alabama, LSU and Ole Miss at home and in my mind the other games will likely be won, so those three will determine the fate of Arkansas.
The others are won?
MSU is on a down year, so yes this should be won and Texas A&M is on neutral site and will be close but I pick also Arkansas here.
A bit of a joker is Auburn and I think they might be better than expected.
Enough to win against Arkansas?
This season I doubt that.
Now let's face Alabama, LSU and Ole Miss.
Do I see Arkansas on the same level?
Not really.
Can they play in some games on that level?
Now add those home games to the equation and you get some game where the favorites do NOT win.
Which game they might win is a bit of a mystery.
So 1 win? 2 wins? Or even 3 wins?
I guess 1 win and 2 losses, which does add up with the potential lost Florida game to 3 conferences losses and a likely 4th place inside the division.
Look out, Arkansas could easily be better.

Mississippi (Ole Miss) Rebels
When I made up my mind about the SEC I did see Ole Miss as clear contender.
I even expected them to win the division, with a good if not great returning QB and a 5th year coach in Hugh Freeze.
But a look on their schedule and the schedule of the other contenders inside the West did make me rethink the expectations.
I still think Ole Miss will field a great football team, but as will do Alabama and LSU and likely Arkansas.
But Ole Miss games are just tough this season.
They do start the season against FSU in Orlando, so semi-neutral site.
Regardless of the outcome (I did pick a Rebels win in the FSU preview) this will take a toll.
A week later (actually 5 days later) they play a FCS team, so that's fine, but then they face Alabama, at home.
So tough, cupcake after 5 days and then major contender.
Even at home, this is tough.
A week later, also at home, Georgia.
Memphis then as another better non-conference game.
Then Arkansas and LSU both on the road.
After that it gets a bit easier and they play Auburn and also the last non-conference game against Georgia Southern, until they get Texas A&M on the road, Vandy on the road and MSU.
It looks like the team will play quite rough until End of October and then whatever is left of the team will have to deal with the remaining games.
Can they win all games?
I think so.
Will they win all games?
No I don't think so.
I think they will win many games, but will also lose too many to compete for the division.
I see them finishing 3rd.

Alabama Crimson Tide
The Tide did win again the National Championship and Nick Saban is close to overcome the so called best coach ever, Bear Bryant.
I can't stand such compares, since every era is different and such compares don't make sense, but for sure did Saban accomplish something special with Alabama as did Bear Bryant with the Crimson Tide in his time.
Regardless those discussions, the Tide will have to work hard to get back to the title game.
Last season they did basically benefit from Ole Miss, which won against the Tide but lost later against Florida and Arkansas.
That team could have won the division.
But it did not and Alabama used all their chances and won later against Clemson the national title game.
This season Ole Miss QB will be a bit more mature and LSU will also be stronger than in recent years.
Lucky us the Tide is not shy the competition and will start the season against USC, will play a strong WKU team, Kent State and a FCS team.
I have no doubts they will win all 4 non-conference games, but that USC game might be the most interesting one and I can even imaging them to lose that.
From the East the play Kentucky and Tennessee, which is quite tough selection, especially with the Vols on the road.
It's likely they will win against Kentucky, but that Vols game will also be interesting and they might lose it.
Inside the conference the competition is very tight.
On the road.
Ole Miss?
On the road.
On the raod.
Those are from my point of view the 3 closest competitors and it's likely they will lose at least one game here.
Is that enough to win the division?
I don't know.
I pick them 2nd in the division.

LSU Tigers
This is the strangest team of all the SEC this season.
Imagine you are a long standing coach for the LSU Tigers, since 2005, won 110 games and list only 32 in that time.
You lost unfortunately 3 of those game in a row against Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss, 2 of them on the road.
And suddenly there are OPENLY talks about replacing you before the last game coming.
You players admire you, the fans do at least respect you and the school does THAT.
Yes, you did win a National Title, but ages ago (2007) and were not able to win another one since then, losing constantly to rival Alabama and even when you win against them they do beat you in the National Title games in the same season to take away the big price AGAIN.
That's probably the thought behind the actions which did happen last season.
OK, you win the final game in a close game (and get carried out of the stadium by players and fans) and you win also the bowl game and can stay, no, you were always part of the family, of cause.
That's what Les Miles had to face last season and I don't know what his contract status this season will be. Officially his contract runs until 2019, so 3 seasons left.
Will the AD fire him after another 9 win season?
Who knows.
Chances are good he might get more wins than that this season.
They will start the season in the home of the Green Bay Packers against Wisconsin.
Tough, but I have confidence they can win this.
Wisconsin is far from being dominant and LSU has a great running game.
The other 3 non-conference games are easy, the usual FCS game, South Alabama and Southern Miss should be no contest.
Mizzou (home) and Florida (road) are a bit unfortunate regarding the home/away distribution, but I have confidence they can beat Florida, even on the road.
Now let's face the main competition.
Alabama and Ole Miss are played at home and Arkansas on the road.
Tough to evaluate the games, I think LSU can do all of them, might lose 1.
Overall I think they can win enough games to win the conference, especially against Alabama.
I pick them surprisingly 1st in the division.

The SEC will be a fun part to watch this season.
I think it is closer than in years and we might see something very strange this season:
A very competitive SEC which does not get a playoff spot, because all teams, including the SEC Champ might lose too many games to get a high enough playoff spot.
To make this happen, all other Champs need to be perfect or almost perfect, which is not that likely, but given the current team strength assessment, all contenders might lose 2+ games and that might lead to a bad ranking.
Personally, I don't care, it will only fire up the 8-team-playoffs discussion if something like that might happen, which I would like to see, since this would open the door wider for non-power5 teams to be in the playoffs regularly.

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