It’s that time of year again: College football is back! With the return of college football comes the return of everyone’s favorite conference, the Southeastern Conference or SEC.
While Alabama may be the defending champ, there’ll be a new king of college football’s most successful conference come December.
1. Ole Miss
The Rebels return the best quarterback in the conference in Chad Kelly, and he can do it all. He threw for over 4,000 yards, 4042 to be exact, and threw 31 touchdown passes to go along with 500 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns on the ground. He’ll be expected to carry this Ole Miss team, and he’ll be up to the task. Kelly is one of two quarterbacks in college to have defeated Alabama, and the Rebels get Nick Saban and Co. at home this year. Not only will Ole Miss beat Alabama for the third year in a row, but they’ll win the SEC West as well.
A touch of destiny in the form of an Arkansas fourth-down conversion against Ole Miss in overtime helped Alabama catapult over Ole Miss in the SEC West standings last year, but the Crimson Tide will be out of luck this season. Alabama will be breaking in a new quarterback, new running back, four new offensive linemen, two new defensive linemen, three new linebackers, and two new defensive backs. That’s just too much inexperience to overcome. This team will still beat LSU because the Tigers never seem to have the ability to throw the football, but 2016 just won’t be their year.
The Bayou Bengals return a Heisman contender at running back in Leonard Fournette, but they still have last year’s problem: quarterback Brandon Harris simply isn’t a guy who can throw the football. He can run and throw screens, but he’s too inaccurate to lead LSU to the SEC crown.
See LSU. Bret Bielema’s squad lost longtime quarterback Brandon Allen to graduation, but they still managed to find a nearly identical replacement: his younger brother Austin. Austin Allen has the ability to make big throws, but like his big brother, battles with consistency issues. One game he’ll throw for 350 yards and three touchdowns. Then, he’ll follow that up with 115 yards and two interceptions. Inconsistency from the quarterback positions is death in the SEC.
5. Texas A&M
The Aggies have the second active college quarterback who has beaten Alabama, Trevor Knight. A&M won’t struggle to put up points with Knight and wide receiver Christian Kirk, but their defense is another story. While Texas A&M has the best defensive lineman in college, Myles Garrett, there secondary is simply atrocious. Not being able to force three-and-out’s will hamper Kevin Sumlin’s ball club.
The Tigers began their fall training camp this by kicking their starting running back, Jovon Robinson off the team, and they just named Sean White their starting quarterback a year after they benched quarterback Jeremy Johnson for him, only to bench White for Jeremy Johnson at the end of the year. QB instability does not equate to success in the SEC.
7. Mississippi State
Mississippi State isn’t the same with Dak Prescott running the show. He’s the school’s statistical leader in almost every offensive category. He’s a not a player that can be immediately replaced. The Bulldogs will struggle on offense.
Even though the Bulldogs are in the midst of quarterback competition, the outcome of the competition may not even matter because whoever the quarterback ends up being between freshman phenom Jacob Eason and senior battle-tested senior Grayson Lambert will be asked to just manage the game. This year’s UGA squad is built in the same format of Alabama’s most dominant teams. Georgia has a Heisman contender at running back in Nick Chubb, an incredibly elusive change-of-pace running back in Sony Michel, a solid tight end in Jeb Blazevich, and a defense full of experience. Plus, Georgia’s new head coach is none other than Kirby Smart, Alabama’s defensive coordinator during each of the Crimson Tide’s last four national championship.
Tennessee returns two of the top playmakers in the SEC in quarterback Joshua Dobbs and running back Jalen Hurd. Their defense is also a solid mixture of youth and experience. However, Tennessee has burned too many people with their late-game meltdowns. Last year, the Volunteers squandered two incredible opportunities to beat Oklahoma and Florida. Trusting this team means ignoring Tennessee’s DNA. It’s pretty much a guarantee that the Volunteers will choke away their biggest games.
The Gators haven’t been able to move the ball on offense since Tim Tebow roamed the sidelines. They’ve gone through two coaches since Urban Meyer left town: Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain. Muschamp is known for his defensive prowess, but his Gator offenses were futile. In McElwain’s first season, the Gators snuck into the SEC title game only to be run over by Alabama because they could’t put points on the board, just like Muschamp’s teams. This year’s Gator quarterback is Oregon State transfer Luke Del Rio. Del Rio couldn’t hold onto is job in the Pac 12, and he’ll be in for rude awakening when he faces the Southern hospitality of the SEC.
While the Wildcats schedule is thin without the presence of Alabama, Ole Miss, and LSU, they’re simply not ready for the big stage just yet. Head Coach Mark Stoops has led Kentucky out of the SEC East cellar, but this team needs work to compete with the football blue bloods of this conference.
5. South Carolina
They’re still missing Steve Spurrier in Columbia, South Carolina. Much like Florida, USC hasn’t had much offensive success since the Ol’ Ball Coach retired in the middle of the 2015 season. Will Muschamp brings an immediate defensive improvement with him in his first season, but the Gamecocks’ offensive future looks quite bleak.
First-year Head Coach Barry Odom doesn’t have enough talent to work with in Columbia, Missouri. This will be a long and trying season for Odom and the Tigers.
Vanderbilt is one of America’s finest academic institutions. Football is a completely different story. The Commodores won just two conference games in 2015, and it could get even worse in 2016.
SEC Championship Game: Georgia 31- Ole Miss 30
Chad Kelly will lead a high-powered offensive attack into Atlanta in a game that will decide which SEC power represents the conference in the College Football Playoff. Kelly will meet his match in Kirby Smart’s defense. UGA defensive lineman Trenton Thompson will dominate Ole Miss’ offensive line, and UGA running back Nick Chubb will run for over 200 yards in a high scoring affair that will end with UGA kicker William Ham kicking the football through the uprights as time expires, allowing the Bulldogs to avenge their 2012 SEC championship game defeat.
Featured image source: Dave Zanine, USA Today Sports