2015-09-02 09:56

And the last conference to talk about would be the SEC.
Southeastern Conference
The SEC was the dominating force for almost the last decade.
In 2005 was the last year with a SEC team participation in the National Championship game, beside last season.
Since 2006 did a team from the SEC battle for the national title, each year and they won all those games, except 2013.
The highlight for the conference was probably the 2011 final, when 2 SEC teams from the same division did play for the national championship.
For the 2014 season did then happen the playoff system and suddenly things did change.
Alabama did lose to later national champ Ohio State in the semis and for the 1st time since 2005 did no SEC team play for the title.
Probably a satisfying thing for the haters and a shock for the die-hard SEC fans.
Well, better get used to it.
Not that the SEC won't field competitive teams and potential national title contenders, no, they will have that.
But they will very likely have only 1 team in the mix and the other conferences did improve fast, so there won't be a walk in the park.
And with 1 more game to play to claim the title, there is 1 more game a team can lose and that extra game will very likely sort out the poser teams not worth the championship game spot.
The SEC looked overall better last season, but had problems in the bowl season.
So, maybe, we will see some seasons without dominating SEC teams.
Well ... some still are pretty good and there are several which can win it all, especially this season, so don't be afraid.
Overall did the team amount stay stable and the 14 teams are ready to kick ass (or get kicked).
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

Now let's get a bit into the details:
Eastern Division

Florida Gators
The Gator did not play very good football, since Urban Meyer did quit after the 2010 season.
Will Muschamp did win only 28 games in 4 seasons and lost 21.
Unacceptable for a team with TOP 5 ambitions.
Urban Meyer had 65 wins in 6 seasons (including 2 national championships).
So Muschamp had to go and Jim McElwain got the gig.
He was hired after 3 seasons with Colorado State, where he did bring the team from 3-9, before he worked there, to 4-8, 8-6 and 10-2.
He is one of those next-hot-thing-coaches.
We will see, how he does it with the Gators.
Before the Rams gig he was OC of the Crimson Tide of Alabama, so he is familiar with the SEC circus.
The SEC does normally play 4 non conference games, mixed over the season.
The Gators do start the season against New Mexico State, do play East Carolina after that and will then wait until end of November to play the last 2 non conference games against FAU and the rival game against FSU.
Now, all of those games should be won by the Gators, except maybe the FSU games.
The FSU match is a home game, so everything can happen, but overall it's hard to get a clear pick here.
They might win this.
Inside the conference the Gators do play Ole Miss and a road game against LSU from the west.
That's tough.
I'm not sure if Ole Miss will be that good as last season, but it won't be easy.
LSU in Louisiana is a nightmare and I pick that a loss.
The rest is a bit messy.
With road games against Missouri and South Carolina and the neutral site match against Georgia, which does cost them a home game, it won't get easy to win some games.
Last season they were 7-5 and 4-4 inside the conference.
This season I see them with 1 to 2 additional wins, if the team does play as a team, not as rebuilding program.
But this can only happen, of they can beat South Carolina on the road or do win all home games, including the Ole Miss and Georgia game.

Georgia Bulldogs
The Bulldogs are in a strange position.
They do field regularly a very competitive team, but in the last 10 seasons it wasn't enough to win the conference.
Mark Richt did win in 15 seasons 2 conference titles (2002 and 2005) and in addition 3 division titles (2003, 2011 and 2012).
His record is 136–48 overall.
Last season, they did win 10 games, but it was still not enough to get back into the championship game.
This season, they will have to work with a new managed Florida team, improving teams from Kentucky and Tennessee and a whatever-direction-going Vandy team.
Still I think they will have their wins, lots of them.
We will see.
The non conference games are weak beside the rivalry game against the Yellow Jackets at season finale.
Louisiana–Monroe, Southern (FCS) and Georgia Southern are very easy and honestly, I hope Georgia will get a minus on that strength of schedule evaluation.
Georgia Tech on the road will be a test, but normally the edge should be here on the Bulldogs side.
Regarding strength of schedule I have to admit that the Bulldogs got one of the hardest one regarding conference games.
You can't change a thing regarding the division games, so the only difference between all east teams are the inter division matchups.
The Bulldogs got from the west Alabama at home and Auburn on the road.
That's very likely one of the hardest combination, if not THE hardest combination of all combinations.
For Georgia this can be everything, from 0-2 to 2-0.
I expect them to split the games.
Inside the division, the interesting games are Tennessee on the road, Missouri at home and the neutral site rival game against Florida.
Tennessee could become a real threat, Missouri is the defending champ of the division and Florida is under new management and that game is played in Jacksonville.
The Bulldogs have all the tools to win it all and to reach the championship game.
My pick is, they will hold of Missouri, this time.

Kentucky Wildcats
The Wildcats are in the 3rd season of Mark Stoops reign.
So far this was rebuilding.
With 2-10 in his 1st season and 5-7 in his 2nd season did the team not really strike fear into the SEC-opponents hearts.
Main goal this season is for sure a bowl spot and whatever is possible above that.
Louisiana–Lafayette should be beaten, Eastern Kentucky (FCS) also, as should be Charlotte.
Totally weak schedule and no real test here.
The season finale is again the rivalry game against Louisville and that's a completely different story.
At the moment I see that game in favor of Louisville, which would mean, 3-1 games from the non conference matchups.
Like last season.
So they will need some conference wins.
Florida at home will be interesting.
If the team did really mature a bit, they have a good chance to beat them, this season.
Playing Auburn at home and the Mississippi State on the road from the west looks like a bad combination for some additional wins.
So, which games can be won?
Maybe Tennessee at home or Vanderbilt on the road.
Otherwise it will get hard to get the 6 wins.
I think they will fall short and Tennessee will make the bigger progress and will win their game against Kentucky.

Missouri Tigers
The Tigers are a great team, even most of the College Football fans won't see that.
Gary Pinkel is at that helm since 2001 and has won 5 division titles in 8 seasons while the team was part in 2 different conferences.
Overall did he win 113-66 games, with 6-4 in bowls.
Don't underestimate the Tigers.
The non conference games are weak, Southeast Missouri (FCS), Arkansas State and UConn are pushover teams for such a team as Missouri.
The BYU game as last non conference game in the middle of November will be nice, but should also be won.
The real test will be in the SEC, playing Mississippi State and Arkansas from the west should be a boost (compared to any mix which includes Alabama or Auburn).
And inside the division they have as crucial game the Georgia game on the road and the home game against Tennessee.
The Volunteers should be beaten, as far as I see, but I can't see them winning against a Bulldogs team.
They might end up with the same conference record as Georgia, but if Georgia wins the game, they will get to the championship game.

South Carolina Gamecocks
The Gamecocks did have a worse season in 2014 than in the years before.
Steve Spurrier is now in his 11th season with the team and had in 2010 the 1st sign of a lift in performance, winning 9 games and the division (but lost the conference championship game in a big way).
After that season was South Carolina a contender, even if they did not win the division again.
In each season of 2011, 2012 and 2013 they did win 11 games, which is huge.
Last season they dropped to 7 wins.
It will be interesting to see, if the team will be able to turn the ship around again.
The play as non conference games the rivalry game against North Carolina (which I pick as a win), they play UCF (which should also be won), the Citadel (FCS) (which HAS to be a win) and the rivalry game against Clemson (which might be a loss).
Those 4 games will become 3 or 4 wins, I'm sure.
Those games were not the problems last season.
The performance drop was a result of only 3 won games inside the conference.
The Gamecocks will have to face from the west LSU at home and Texas A&M on the road.
That's very likely the measurement you need for the season.
Losing both would set the picture of the 2015 Gamecocks, very similar to the 2014 version.
Winning the LSU games looks tough, the Texas A&M game might be winnable.
But the real tests will be the games against Georgia (road) and Missouri (road).
If the team really wants to contend, again, they have to beat them.
And there I pick them as losers in those games.
I can see them winning against Kentucky, Vanderbilt, maybe Tennessee on the road and Florida at home.
But that would add up to 3 to maybe 5 conference wins.
Not enough for a big turnaround.

Tennessee Volunteers
The Volunteers are used to be a good team.
In 1998 they won their last national title.
The HC of that team, Phillip Fulmer, did had some success with Tennessee, but was never able to copy that time end of the 90's.
2008 became his last season, when he did step down with a 5-7 record and 152 wins since 1992 with the team.
He was succeeded in 2009 by Lane Kiffin (7 wins), who went to USC a year later and Derek Dooley took over in 2010.
Dooley did coach the Vols to the ground, winning 6 games in his 1st season, 5 in his 2nd and 4 in his 3rd and final season.
Butch Jones came in for 2013 and so far he lifted the team from 5 wins to 7 wins last season.
Now in his 3rd season, the press is a bit undecided, if the team will really get a step up, or down.
Let's face the non conference games.
Bowling Green should be a win, Oklahoma at home, could be a win, but if team did struggle in their progress, they might lose here.
Western Carolina (FCS) will be more or less a training win and North Texas should also be an easy win.
So a 3-1 to 4-0 record is possible.
Assuming the Vols as mid field team in the SEC, the crucial games should be the road game against Kentucky, the South Carolina game and the road game against Florida.
They could win all of those, but nothing is sure.
The only sure thing for me is, that they will beat Vanderbilt at home.
And they will lose against Alabama on the road.
Arkansas from the west could be a chance for an additional win.
If I add up all the games I get 5 conference win and 8 total wins.
That would give the Vols a bowl spot and a potential additional chance for a win.
The progress might be ongoing, but I think there will be no big leap.

Vanderbilt Commodores
Vanderbilt is easy to preview.
They will lose most of their games and will finish last in the division.
Need more?
OK, Derek Mason is in his 2nd season and his team did win 3 games last season.
That means they lost even a non conference game (against Temple).
The lost all conference games.
This season doesn't look much better.
But the non conference games do look promising.
The WKU game does have upset potential and WKU might win this, but normally the Commodores should win this.
Austin Peay (FCS) has to be won and the road game at Middle Tennessee does also have upset potential, but if the team does play "normal" they should win this.
Houston on the road on the other side could become a headache. I pick the Commodores also as a winner here, but don't underestimate the Cougars.
If the team is lucky the get 4 wins out of this.
It would be a sign of progress.
Let's focus on the easier teams in the SEC.
Unfortunately, only Kentucky looks in reachable distance.
That home game might decide the last place in the division.

Western Division

Alabama Crimson Tide
Alabama is the crown jewel of college football.
At least it was, until Ohio State did win against them last season and knocked them out of the playoffs.
Now the people are talking over their strength and some do see them on a small decline.
Nick Sabans Crimson Tide on a decline?
It's somehow hard to believe, but Saban is in his 9th season with the Tide and he has won 3 national championships, 3 conference titles and 5 division title.
He did something with Alabama of what every coach can just dream about, he build a juggernaut.
Last season was almost perfect, the only bad thing that happened was the loss against Ohio State.
So how do people see a decline coming?
Granted, there are other great teams in the division and not the division title and also not the conference title is given to the Tide already.
But I would never put Alabama out of the contender mix, as long as the team has that quality over years and years.
The season will start with a big bang, playing Wisconsin in Texas.
They then will play Middle Tennessee, at some point Louisiana–Monroe and before the Iron Bowl the will play Charleston Southern (FCS).
If Wisconsin does not play GREAT or Alabama does play weak, this non conference schedule will be perfect for Alabama.
Now, from the east they will play Georgia on the road and Tennessee.
Georgia on the road will be hard.
I think beside the Iron Bowl in Auburn, this game will be their hardest and if they can win this, they do have a big chance winning the division, even the conference.
My pick is, they will lose that Bulldogs game.
Now, let's have look at the other hard ones.
They play LSU at home and Auburn on the road.
For the rest I see them winning, even the A&M game on the road, but those 2 will be the hardest to win.
LSU is for some the favorite, but I think with that game in Alabama, they will lose here, so the Tide will win.
The Iron Bowl is the hardest game they will play.
Anything can happen.
Last season it was a shootout in Alabama, but I think this season the Alabama defense will be a bit better, or the Auburn offense a bit worse.
My pick is, Alabama will win the division, again.

Arkansas Razorbacks
It's very fascinating, but if you ask the people, who will win the west division, you will find supporters for every team!
Arkansas does have a new HC since 2013 and Bret Bielema, the former Wisconsin HC, did bring the team from 3 wins in 2013 to 7 wins in 2014.
Now some do see in them the dark horse in the west to win it all.
Possible, but not plausible with so many other good teams around.
They should be strong enough to win the non conference games.
UTEP, Toledo, Texas Tech and Tennessee–Martin (FCS) are no real threat, even if the 1st 3 teams might give them some more work than they wished for.
But Arkansas should win all of those games.
The 2 east team games are Missouri and Tennessee.
This looks like a split record, since I expect Missouri to be quite good and Tennessee also to be good, but the Vols could be beatable at that time.
Here is everything possible and if the luck of the Razorbacks might come back this season, they might even win more than 1.
This might be funny, but I think the 2 Mississippi games are the best option for them to add some wins.
But both teams were quite good last season, so it's hard to pick the winners and losers.
Overall I think the team will make some progress, but with that strong competition inside the division, I see them in the bottom half of the division.

Auburn Tigers
Some say the Tigers are also a national title contender and that might be true, but I think they might fall short.
Gus Malzahn is their HC since 2013 and he went to the big game in 2013 and lost to Florida State and last season they did fall short to Alabama inside the division.
This season they play Louisville in Georgia, Jacksonville State (FCS) San Jose State and Idaho before the Iron Bowl.
Only the Louisville game is a risk.
If Petrino has his team pumped up on the 1st gameday, it might end in an upset, but my pick is on Auburn anyhow.
The rest of the non conference games should be won, easily.
From the east they got Kentucky and Georgia.
The road game at Kentucky should be won easily, but the home game against Georgia could become a risk.
Since it is at home, I think the crowd will help and will give them the win here.
A trick which will not help against Alabama.
I think that home game will be a loss.
But if they win this, they will win the division.

LSU Tigers
Les Miles is LSUs HC since 2005 and won the division 3 times, the conference twice and a national championship once.
Since a few seasons his Tigers are in the shadow of Alabama, or Nick Saban if you like, and once Alabama looked beatable for a season or so, Auburn stepped in.
Miles for sure would have wanted more for his Tigers, but did fall short the past few seasons.
Last season was one of the worst they ever had under Miles.
The last time they had only 8 wins was in 2008 (and of cause in 2014, last season).
Now for the coming season do some see the Tigers as favorite for the conference.
Don't get me wrong, I think if things do happen in Tigers way, they can win it all.
In the past few season it happened that some things did not went in the Tigers favor and there for I think this trend will continue.
The games against McNeese State (FCS), Syracuse, Eastern Michigan and WKU will only add some wins to the record.
There is no real threat in this mix.
The real threat will come from the own division.
The east games are softer, with Florida at home, which will be great, and South Carolina on the road, which will be much tougher to play.
I think they can win this, but it will cost them.
Auburn at home is a gift they might need, but Alabama on the road is too much.
There does for me end the LSU division contender season.
Adding all stuff up does give them a nice 3rd place in my book.

Mississippi (Ole Miss) Rebels
Ole Miss had the nation for a few weeks on their lips. The team did start in a terrific way, did even beat Alabama and went all the way to a 7-0 start until reality came in and crashed the party.
The team did lose 3 out of the remaining 5 games and all talks about the great national force out of Mississippi (because Mississippi State did roll also at that time) and the talk about the great Rebels team did silent fast.
The massacre they had to survive against a frustrated TCU team in the bowl was the final prove of a Cinderella season crashing down.
Hugh Freeze will try to further improve the team in his 4th season.
He guided the Rebels from a 2-10 team, before he took over, to 7-6, to 8-5 and to 9-4 last season.
With great teams in the division and conference, he will have a tough time.
The non conference games will be easy.
Tennessee–Martin (FCS), Fresno State, New Mexico State and Memphis shouldn't be real threats.
Watch out for Fresno State and Memphis, if things go not so smoothly, those 2 games are the primary upset candidates.
From the east they got Vanderbilt and Florida and even with a road game at the Gators this could have been much worse.
They will at least split the games here, but chances are even there to win both.
But the real terror will come from within the division.
Alabama (road) will want, and probably also will get, a revenge, Auburn (road) will be strong and the rivalry game against MSU will also be on the road.
The Arkansas and the LSU games will be at home, but they might feed on the Rebels and the Rebels might fall into a hole this season.
I don't see them adding wins to last season record, more I see them losing 1 or 2 more games than last season.
They will very likely battle it out with MSU and Arkansas for the lower half of the division.

Mississippi State Bulldogs
Dan Mullen is now in his 7th season and he had some success to build a winner team out of the Bulldogs.
In the past were the Bulldogs never very long a winning team and more often a losing team and Mullen does have them on a winning record since 2010.
Last season was his most successful one with a 10-3 record.
They lost in the bowl, so those 10 wins were regular season wins.
Normally, after a good season does the team take a step back, as they did in 2011 and 2013, when they fell in both cases to 6 wins during the regular season.
I expect them to do this again this season.
The non conference games will very likely be nice trainings, with Southern Miss still bad, Northwestern State being a FCS team, Troy also sucking since some seasons and Louisiana Tech being good, but still not good enough to beat a SEC team.
So they will very likely get 4 wins here.
The conference games from the east will be Kentucky and a road game against Missouri.
The Tigers will be out of reach I think, but the Wildcats are beatable at home.
But which inner division team should lose?
The best bets could be Arkansas (road) and Ole Miss.
Chances for a win? Yes. High chances for both games? No.
Texas A&M is also a road game, which I expect them to lose.
Of cause this will all end up different, but at the moment, the Bulldogs do look for me like a team with 6 to 7 wins.

Texas A&M Aggies
The Aggies came into the SEC and looked like the real deal.
Nobody had seen the success coming they had in their 1st season.
They did not win the division, but won 10 regular season games and did even beat later national champion Alabama.
It all happened in their 1st season inside the SEC and it was also the 1st season of Kevin Sumlin as new HC of the Aggies.
Since then did the win record go down.
From the 10+1 wins in 2012 (they added a bowl win), to 9 wins in 2013 and 8 wins in 2014.
For 2015 they will try to improve the record, but who will have to lose to accomplish that?
They have Arizona State as a start and might lose this.
After that it gets better and they will likely win the rest non conference games against Ball State, Nevada and Western Carolina (FCS).
A 3-1 record would be great, but it will also indicate that the team is not ready to play with the big boys.
They play South Carolina and Vanderbilt from the east and that might be great for their record.
The Commodores will fall, I'm sure, the Gamecocks might fall, but this can go both ways.
Inside the division they will have the best chances for wins against Arkansas, Mississippi State and at Ole Miss.
They could win all of those.
Wouldn't be the LSU game not be on the read, I might have given them that game, too, but played in Louisiana, I'm confident the Tigers will win.
Overall, I think they have the best circumstances for the 4th spot inside the division.

So my TIP is:

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

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

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