Tag Archives: Nick Saban

The Outcome That College Football Needed

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Since 2008, the Alabama Crimson Tide have been the premier team in college football as they’ve claimed four national championships while steamrolling over the competition in the process. After the Tide went 6-6 in their first year under head football coach Nick Saban in 2007, they’ve managed to go 112-13 since then while only producing one three-loss campaign. Saban has built a dynasty at Alabama which is not easy to do in this day with parity, but they are the team that college football fans love to hate.

And what has set Alabama apart from the other football programs is that they shine the best in the big games which included going 4-0 in national championship games heading into the 2016 college football season. The Tide won the national championship last year and after entering this past season ranked as the top team in the land, they were looking to become the first squad since the USC Trojans to go wire-to-wire in order to repeat as national champions.

Alabama was able to accept the challenge as they mowed down the competition in the Southeastern Conference and when the regular season was over, they were the only undefeated team in the nation. The Tide would easily defeat the Florida Gators 54-16 in the SEC Championship Game which sent them to the College Football Playoff for the third consecutive year. And after the Crimson Tide made short work of the Washington Huskies in the Peach Bowl, it was back to the title game for them.

The team that had the indubious pleasure of watching Alabama claim the championship trophy last January were the Clemson Tigers. In nine years under head football coach Dabo Swinney, Clemson has become a national power which has seen them win three Atlantic Coast Conference Championships and defeat national recognized teams such as the Ohio State Buckeyes, Oklahoma Sooners and LSU Tigers. During the 2015 college football season Clemson was the feel good story as they were the underdog for the majority of their games. And even in defeat to Alabama, they held their own as they lost 45-40.

But whereas the close loss to Alabama might have broken the spirits of some teams, Clemson used it as fuel to their fire as led by junior quarterback Deshaun Watson and senior linebacker Ben Boulware, they took all of the body blows that they could absorb during the regular season which included getting by the Auburn Tigers of the Southeastern Conference 19-13 on the road to start the campaign. And when Atlantic Coast Conference play began, Clemson was pushed to the limit by teams such as the Louisville Cardinals, North Carolina State Wolfpack, and Florida State Seminoles. Clemson did slip up once during the season as they lost at home to the Pittsburgh Panthers 43-42 on November 12. But after the loss to Pittsburgh, Clemson would rebound to win their remaining games which included defeating the Virginia Tech Hokies in the ACC Championship Game which sent them back to the College Football Playoff for a second consecutive year.

And just like the previous season, the Tigers would head to the College Football Playoff as heavy underdogs. Clemson would meet the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Fiesta Bowl who were looking to win their second national title in the last three years. But for the second time in the last four seasons, Clemson got the best of Ohio State in a bowl game. However this time was in dominating fashion as the Buckeyes were taken behind the woodshed 31-0 which paved the way for Clemson to have a rematch with the Tide after they easily dispatched of the Washington Huskies in the Peach Bowl 24-7.

The scene was changing from last year’s battle between these two teams which took place at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. And having the game in Tampa provided more of a buzz for both of these schools which are located in the Southeast; especially for Clemson who had more fans in attendance for Monday night’s championship tilt.

As always there was plenty of anticipation and excitement leading up to the kickoff as one thing was for sure was that the Tigers would not be afraid of intimidated of Alabama when they met them. But when Alabama took a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter after a pair of pulverizing touchdown runs from sophomore running back Bo Scarbrough, it appeared to be a familiar tune as the Crimson Tide were ready beat the brakes off of another opponent.

But we forgot to measure the heart of Clemson as they clawed back into the game. And even after the Tigers were trailing 24-14 heading into the fourth quarter, they had Alabama right where they wanted them.

Swinney never wavered from his offensive game plan which called for the Tigers to go uptempo. Clemson wasn’t making substitutions which meant that neither could Alabama as the top-ranked defense in the land was beginning to run out of gas.

Clemson ran 99 plays on offense as they possessed the football for nearly 35 minutes of game time. And when the fourth quarter rolled around, Watson channeled his inner Vince Young as he baffled the Alabama defense, while seeing his stock rise for the 2017 National Football League Draft in the process.

The Tide didn’t have an answer for Watson who led Clemson on three, fourth quarter touchdown drives, and when Scarbrough suffered a broken leg in the second half, he took the Alabama offense to the sideline with him as well.

With just six seconds left in regulation and Clemson traling 31-28 with the football at the Alabama two-yard line, Swinney had a choice as he could get conservative by going for the game-tying field goal, or throwing caution to the wind and becoming a legend in the Palmetto State. Swinney opted to win the game as a field goal would have killed all of Clemson’s momentum heading into overtime. And with just one second left, Watson found sophomore wide receiver Hunter Renfrow in the end zone to give the Tigers their first national championship since 1981. But as much as Clemson’s victory over Alabama will be celebrated throughout the State of South Carolina from now until the cows come home, their victory was huge for the overall landscape of college football.

The Tide have been the team over the last decade and although that they have suffered losses against other marquee programs such as Oklahoma and Ohio State, they’ve never lost in the national championship game; especially when they were presented with a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter. Along with Saban’s time as the head football coach at LSU, he was 5-0 in title games before Monday night as he always knew how to push the right buttons. But Saban was done in by a head coach in Swinney that not only had seen his act, but also had the personnel in which he could slay the dragon.

College football may be seeking parity for its game, but in the three years of the College Football Playoff, Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State have all made multiple trips to the field of four with each program claiming the trophy once, while the top seed entering the tournament has never claimed the title which is good for the game.

But as Alabama left Raymond James Stadium on Monday night watching purple and orange confetti rain down, they’ll once again be set for another title push as Saban continues to recruit and develop talent that will be playing in the National Football League in the very near future. However on Monday when Clemson won the title, they won it not only for themselves, but for all of those people who were told they weren’t good enough to accomplish a goal.

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The Tide Is Rolling

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Nick Saban

It’s been a decade of dominance for the Alabama Crimson Tide under head football coach Nick Saban. In nearly ten years at Alabama, Saban’s record is a stellar 108-18 with six of those losses coming during his first year in Tuscaloosa. Saban has gone on to claim four national championships at Alabama, and the Crimson Tide have never finished worse than 11th in the Associated Press Poll on his watch. Saban has done this in an era where it’s not supposed to be done since recruiting, parity, and alternate uniforms in college football are at an all-time high. But the Tide have simply been a cut above the rest.

Typically when teams win the national title, there could be a bit of a lull in the next season, but that hasn’t been the case with Alabama. After the Tide defeated the Clemson Tigers this past January in the national championship game, it would have been very easy for them to take a step back. The Crimson Tide had to replace five starters from a defense that was fourth in the nation last season in total defense, and five starters on offense which included quarterback Jacob Coker and running back Derrick Henry who won the Heisman Trophy. The Crimson Tide had six players selected in the first, two rounds of the 2016 National Football League Draft which could have left them at a disadvantage this year due to their loss of valuable experience. But under Saban, Alabama chooses to reload as opposed to rebuilding.

The Tide began this college football season as the top ranked team in the Associated Press Poll and they have not disappointed.

On September 3, the Tide steam rolled the then ranked 20th USC Trojans 52-6 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Alabama would then use their home opener on September 10 against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers as a glorified scrimmage as they cruised to a 38-10 victory. And this would set the stage for the Tide to open their Southeastern Conference schedule on the road on September 17 against the Mississippi Rebels.

The Rebels came into the game on a two-game winning streak against Alabama, but this time around the Tide were more than up for the challenge.

Alabama would jump out to a 24-3 lead in the second quarter and they would keep Ole Miss in chase mode for the entire game as they went on the triumph by the score of 48-43. Alabama’s victory was highlighted by three defensive touchdowns, along with an 85-yard punt return by senior defensive back Eddie Jackson.

Alabama has continued to mow down the competition in the Southeastern Conference as this month alone has seen them easily take care of three ranked teams. On October 8, the Crimson Tide made it look easy when they went to Fayetteville and defeated the Arkansas Razorbacks 49-30. This game was highlighted by two more defensive touchdowns which included a 100-yard interception return by sophomore defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick.

On October 15, the Tide would travel to Knoxville to face the Tennessee Volunteers who were building momentum as a legitimate national title contender which was highlighted by comeback victories against the Florida Gators and Georgia Bulldogs. However Alabama would crush those dreams as they built a 21-7 halftime lead en route to cruising to a 49-10 victory.

This past Saturday would see the Tide host the undefeated Texas A&M Aggies in a game that will have a huge say as far as who’ll go on to represent the Southeastern Conference in the College Football Playoff.

After Alabama built a 13-0 lead, A&M would score on consecutive possessions to end the first half and start the third quarter to give them the 14-13 advantage. But from that point Alabama would dominate each phase of the gain as they got a 33-14 win. The victory over Texas A&M runs Alabama’s record to 8-0 this season, while they’ve also won their last 20 games.

Jalen Hurts

Alabama has had this success in spite of the fact that they have a freshman quarterback under center for them. Jalen Hurts didn’t start in Alabama’s victory of USC, but he made an impact off of the bench in that game, while he’s been the guy for Saban ever since. Hurts plays with ice water in his veins and he has quickly become a player that Saban and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin can trust in those critical situations.

Hurts is also Alabama’s second leading rusher behind running back Damien Harris who is well on his way to being the Crimson Tide’s next great ball carrier. Harris is closing in on gaining 1,000 yards on the ground, and adding his name to the likes of running backs such as Henry, Mark Ingram, and Trent Richardson who have all gone on to play in the National Football League.

As a unit Alabama’s offense is ranked 15th in the nation in total offense as Saban and Kiffin continue to spit in the face of those that said this pairing would never work when Saban hired the former head coach of the Oakland Raiders, Tennessee, and USC in 2014. But Kiffin has bought in to what Saban wants him to do, while he also isn’t afraid to open things up on offense.

However the backbone of this Alabama team is their defense. The Tide are once again ranked fourth in the nation in total defense, and it’s been a long time since college football has seen a defense that takes so much pride in scoring touchdowns as they’ve found pay dirt nine times this year. Alabama can get opponents at every level of the defense as they are led by Jackson, senior defensive tackle Jonathan Allen, and senior linebacker Tim Williams.

It’s not easy to have the success that Saban has enjoyed at Alabama, which is a testament to his coaching style, along with his ability to adjust. Saban walks into a room and he immediately commands respect, while he can walk into any recruit’s house in the nation, and not only walk away with a commitment to attend Alabama from him, but also that of his little brother if need be. Saban has gone from simply being a coach that loved to run the football, to a guy that isn’t afraid to recruit talented players at the skill positions to keep up with the ever growing affection of the spread offense in college football, while also finding guys on the other side of the ball that can stop it. Saban’s success at Alabama has seen every other school within the Southeastern Conference make at least one head coaching change on his watch as they’ve simply been unable to keep up with him.

And as Alabama is now set to begin the stretch run, they aren’t out of the woods just yet. The Tide will be off this Saturday, but they are prepping to make the trek to Baton Rogue, Louisiana on November 5 for a meeting with the LSU Tigers. Former LSU head football coach Les Miles has recently struggled against Alabama which led to his dismissal earlier this season. But Miles’ replacement in interim head football coach Ed Orgeron has the Bayou Bengals living up to their potential which should make Alabama’s journey to Death Valley very interesting. And on November 26, there’s the Iron Bowl against the Auburn Tigers who are playing some of the best football in the nation as they are currently on a four-game winning streak while they still have an eye on winning the Southeastern Conference Title themselves.

Eddie Jackson

Alabama will have to contend against LSU and Auburn without the services of Jackson who suffered a broken leg against the Aggies and it will be interesting to see who’ll step up and take his place as an impact player in the secondary for the Tide. But Saban has learned from his former boss in New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick as far as making adjustments and finding versatile players. From 1991-1995, Saban served as Belichick’s defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns and they’ve remained as good friends to this day. It isn’t surprising to see Belichick have the success that he is having in the National Football League, while Saban continues to dominate the collegiate ranks with both systems being stacked against them to do what they are currently doing.

Saban is set to turn 65-years of age on Halloween, but unlike other senior citizens, he isn’t showing any signs of slowing down as his sights are set on another national title while he ranks among the best to ever walk the sidelines in college football.

Sources: Cfbstats.com, nationalchamps.net

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2016 Southeastern Conference Football Projections

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East

Tennessee Volunteers 10-3 (6-2)

In a very short time Tennessee Volunteers head football coach Butch Jones has gotten his program back to respectability. Jones is coming off of his third year in Knoxville and last season he led Tennessee to their first 9-win season since 2007. But can Jones do something that hasn’t happened since 2007 which is to get the Volunteers to the Southeastern Conference Championship Game?

This year’s Tennessee squad has arguably the most experience in the Southeastern Conference as they have 10 returning starters on offense and 8 on defense. Senior Joshua Dobbs is in his fourth year as the Volunteers starting quarterback and his play has improved in each year. Dobbs has also shown the qualities to be a leader on the field for the Vols. As Tennessee has one of the bigger and more physical offensive lines in the SEC that features senior right guard Dylan Wiesman, they can lean on opponents with their running game. Junior running back Jalen Hurd nearly rushed for 1,300 yards last year and he is looking to add to the program’s long history at running back which includes the likes of Jamal Lewis and Arian Foster.

Jaylen Reeves-Maybin

Defensively the Vols were ranked 36th in the nation last year in total defense and there are players on the unit that have potential to play in the National Football League. Senior outside linebacker Jaylen Reeves-Maybin led the Volunteers in tackles last season with 105 and he has the potential to be an All-SEC player here in 2016. Junior defensive end Derek Barnett has the potential to hear his name called very early at next year’s NFL Draft as he is a solid edge rusher that offenses in the SEC must constantly account for. And if Tennessee’s front seven isn’t enough to deal with, they also have an opportunistic secondary that had 12 interceptions last year with 3 coming from junior free safety Todd Kelly Jr.

 

Last year all four of Tennessee’s losses came by four points or less and if Jones is able to remedy that, he will have a team on his hands that is worthy to win the Southeastern Conference.

Georgia Bulldogs 9-3 (6-2)

During Mark Richt’s 15 years as the head football coach of the Georgia Bulldogs, all he did was win. Richt comprised a record of 145-53 at Georgia which included a pair of Southeastern Conference Championships and nine years in which his team won at least 10 games. But all of that success wasn’t enough for Richt to maintain his job due to to the fact that he didn’t win enough big games. Richt has been replaced by former Alabama Crimson Tide defensive coordinator Kirby Smart who will have some lofty expectations to live up during his first go round as a head football coach.

Under Richt, Georgia had one of the best rushing games in the nation as they were a pipeline to the National Football League. That won’t change this year with the combination of junior running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel as each player has the potential to gain 1,000 yards rushing if they are healthy. Senior quarterback Grayson Lambert has had an up and down collegiate career that began with the Virginia Cavaliers. But as long as Lambert can keep it simple and not try to win games by himself, he and the Bulldogs should be able to enjoy a good year.

Mel Tucker is beginning his first year as Georgia’s defensive coordinator and he is inheriting a defense that was seventh in the nation last season in total defense. The Dawgs will have to replace some talent in their front seven, but the strength of this defense is in the secondary where all four starters from 2015 are back. Safety Dominic Sanders led the team in interceptions last year with 6, and here in his junior campaign, he should be in the conversation to win the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back, while also gaining a ton of attention from the National Football League scouts.

Kirby Smart

Smart is adding his own touch to Georgia’s program and he should have the Bulldogs right in the mix to win the Eastern Division of the Southeastern Conference.

Florida Gators 8-4 (5-3)

It didn’t take Florida Gators head football Jim McElwain that long to get his program back to respectability. In one year at the helm at Florida, McElwain was able to get the Gators to the Southeastern Conference Championship Game for the first time since 2009. But will McElwain be able to do something that hasn’t happened in Gainesville since the 2000’s which is to make the Gators consistent? The Gators have not finished consecutive seasons in the top 25 of the Associated Press Poll since 2009 while they’ve been an up and down program since then. And after winning the SEC East in 2015, the other six teams within the division will gunning for Florida this year.

One of the biggest things that has been holding Florida back in recent years is the fact that they have struggled mightily on offense. Last year Florida was 112th in total offense which makes the fact that they were able to win 10 games that more remarkable. McElwain is offensive coach that was able to make adjustments to his team during his first year at Florida, but he must find more consistent play at quarterback. Last year saw Treon Harris thrust into a tough situation as he was asked to be a pocket passer in spite of the fact that he came to Florida as a spread option quarterback under former Gators head football coach Will Muschamp.

Luke Del Rio

Sophomore quarterback Luke Del Rio transferred to Florida and he is more capable to run McElwain’s pro-style offense which makes him the favorite to start under center for the Gators when the season begins. The Gators still don’t have the explosion in the passing game that made them a national power during the 1990’s and 2000’s, but Del Rio will be protected by an offensive line that is returning four starters from last year.

In recent years the Florida defense has carried this team as they were eighth in the nation last year in total defense. And just like last year, the Gators have talent on that side of the football which will soon be coming to a National Football League City near you. Junior outside linebacker Jarrad Davis can tackle anything that moves and junior cornerback Jalen Tabor is one of the best cover guys in the Southeastern Conference.

Florida should once again be in the mix to qualify for the Southeastern Conference Championship Game, but all of that will come down to their meetings with the Tennessee Volunteers and the Georgia Bulldogs.

Kentucky Wildcats 6-6 (3-5)

The past two years have seen the Kentucky Wildcats go 5-7 and they appear to be on the cusp of becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 2010. Last year saw the Wildcats lose three Southeastern Conference games by five points or less. And as Kentucky head football coach Mark Stoops is set to begin his fourth year in Lexington, a trip to a bowl game could make him a very popular mean within the Commonwealth State.

Drew Barker

Last year as a freshman, quarterback Drew Barker was able to get some brief experience under center, and now in 2016 as a sophomore, he will be the guy for the Wildcats offense. But one of the main keys for Kentucky will be whether or not that junior running back Stanley “Boom” Williams will be able to gain at least 1,000 yards as that would be the symbol of the Wildcats success. The Wildcats have an experienced offensive line that has four junior starters and one senior in center Jon Toth.

Stoops’ specialty is defensive football which he has been unable to bring to Lexington and the Wildcats will be fighting an uphill battle on that side of the football due to the fact that they have a ton of experience to replace on that side of the football from last year’s team.

Kentucky won’t be able to dodge some of the heavyweights that the Southeastern Conference has to offer as they’ll tango with the Tennessee Volunteers, Georgia Bulldogs, and Alabama Crimson Tide. But if the Wildcats are able to handle their business against the teams that they should beat, they should be able to receive the bowl invite that has eluded them for more than five years.

Missouri Tigers 6-6 (3-5)

In the four years that the Missouri Tigers have been a member of the Southeastern Conference, it has been either feast or famine for them. 2012 saw Missouri go 5-7, while they would win the SEC East in 2013 and 2014. Last year the Tigers once again went 5-7 and it marked the end of the line for Gary Pinkel as Missouri’s head football coach as he decided to retire. Pinkel’s successor in Columbia is a Missouri lifer in Barry Odom. Odom was a linebacker at Missouri from 1996-1999, and he has also been an assistant coach there since 2003. Since 2012, Odom was the Tigers defensive coordinator and he oversaw a unit that has sent its fair share of players to the National Football League in recent years. But now Odom is the guy that is in charge of this program and he doesn’t want his team to get caught up in the wash that is the SEC.

Drew Lock

With Missouri’s struggles as a team last year, quarterback Drew Lock gained valuable playing time as a freshman that should translate to something positive for him and the Tigers here in 2016. But Lock will have to carry a Mizzou offense that was 125th in total offense last year.

However as bad as Missouri’s offense was, their defense kept them in games as they were sixth in the nation in total defense. And the Tigers have some key players in senior middle linebacker Michael Scherer, junior defensive end Michael Harris, and sophomore defensive end Walter Brady that have the potential to be the best at their respective positions in the Southeastern Conference.

Just like last year the defense will carry the Tigers. But as the season progresses, this will be a team that nobody in the Southeastern Conference will want to face.

South Carolina Gamecocks 4-8 (1-7)

It’s hard to believe, but the South Carolina Gamecocks will enter the 2016 college football season on the heels of their first losing season since 2003. The Gamecocks went 3-9 last year in what would be Steve Spurrier’s last year as South Carolina’s head football coach. In nearly 11 years in Columbia, Spurrier was able to build off of the transition that had begun under former head football coach Lou Holtz as he turned the Gamecocks into a national power which included winning the Eastern Division of the Southeastern Conference in 2010, while also having three consecutive top ten finishes in the Associated Press Poll. Now it is up to Will Muschamp build off of what Holtz and Spurrier were able to do at South Carolina.

Will Muschamp

Before Muschamp became the head football coach at South Carolina, he enjoyed several stints in the Southeastern Conference as a defensive coordinator for the likes of the Auburn Tigers and LSU Tigers. But Muschamp’s most notable venture within the SEC came as the head football coach of the Florida Gators where he compiled a record of 28-21 in four years. The expectations at South Carolina for Muschamp won’t be as high as they were for him at Florida which should benefit him and his program.

Being that South Carolina was 3-9 last year, there isn’t a ton of returning talent for Muschamp to work with as he’ll turn to a true freshman at quarterback in Brandon McIlwain. Senior middle linebacker Skai Moore will definitely garner some interest from the National Football League as he is one of the best overall linebackers in the Southeastern Conference. Moore has knowledge of his position as well as the other defensive positions, while he led South Carolina in tackles with 111 and interceptions (4) last year.

This year will definitely be a struggle for the Gamecocks, but as the season progresses, Muschamp will begin to put his stamp on this program.

Vanderbilt Commodores 3-9 (1-7)

It’s been a tough go for Derek Mason as the head football coach of the Vanderbilt Commodores. In two years at Vanderbilt, Mason has won seven games compared to the nine games that were won by James Franklin in his final year with the Commodores in 2013. But such is the life of the underbelly that is the Southeastern Conference as it is indeed difficult to keep up with the Joneses. However hopes springs eternal for Mason and Vandy as the 2016 college football season is set to begin.

Mason has some individual talent to work with this year in Nashville, but I doubt it will enough to make Vanderbilt respectable. Junior running back Ralph Webb is the heart and soul of the Commodores offense, while junior linebacker Zach Cunningham and junior defensive back Oren Burks have the potential to be two of the better players within the Southeastern Conference. But all of that won’t be enough to help the Commodores in the win column as the collective talent pool simply isn’t there.

West

LSU Tigers 12-1 (7-1)

In 11 years as the head football coach of the LSU Tigers, all Les Miles has done is win. Miles has compiled a record of 112-32 which includes a pair of Southeastern Conference Championships along with a national title. But what has hurt Miles is that his Tigers are 0-5 in their last five contests against the Alabama Crimson Tide which almost led to his departure last year. However cooler heads were able to prevail in Baton Rogue as Miles has been retained, and rightfully so being that he has a football team here in 2016 that is not only capable of winning the SEC, but the national title as well.

Under Miles, the Bayou Bengals get off of the bus running the football and you can expect more of the same this year. Junior running back Leonard Fournette has been as good as advertised in his first two years at LSU, and you will definitely hear his name in conversations to win the Heisman Trophy as he has the potential to rush for 2,000 yards this season.

Brandon Harris

Junior quarterback Brandon Harris has taken his lumps over the last two years, but if he is able to get on the same page with senior wide receiver Travin Dural and junior wide receiver Malachi Dupre to compliment the running ability of Fournette, the LSU offense has the potential to be very special this fall.

Dave Aranda is entering his first year as LSU’s defensive coordinator and he definitely has some talent to work with in Death Valley. Senior middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith will tackle anything that moves while senior defensive end Lewis Neal is one of the best edge rushers in the Southeastern Conference. And junior strong safety Jamal Adams is a ball-hawking player that can change the landscape of a game with his range and nose for the football.

I don’t see Louisiana State being intimidated by the fact that they’ll open their season at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin when they tango with the Wisconsin Badgers of the Big Ten Conference, while things are shaping up for them to run the table in the Southeastern Conference.

Alabama Crimson Tide 10-2 (6-2)

Nick Saban

Since Nick Saban became the head football coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide in 2007, he has done what most people said that he wouldn’t do which was to build a juggernaut in the toughest football conference in the United States. Since arriving in Tuscaloosa, Saban is 100-18 which includes five national titles and it has made life extremely difficult for every other program within the Southeastern Conference as they have tried to keep up with the Tide. The Tide head into the 2016 college football season as the defending national champions and this is a program that knows how to deal with the high expectations, along with the fact that everyone will be gunning for them.

Over the past two years, quarterback Cooper Bateman has gotten brief doses of being the guy at Alabama, but in his junior year he no longer has to look over his shoulder. The main thing for Bateman will be to not to try doing everything by himself and instead relying on the Alabama machine. The Crimson Tide are going to miss the production of running back Derrick Henry as he won the Heisman Trophy last year as sophomore running back Damien Harris will look to become the next great tailback for ‘Bama. Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will look for sophomore wide receiver Calvin Ridley and senior tight end O.J. Howard to continue improving their productivity which would definitely benefit Bateman, while there is plenty of experience on the Crimson Tide offensive line which is led by junior offensive tackle Cam Robinson and senior guard Alphonse Taylor.

Defensively the Tide lost plenty of talent to the National Football League, but as Saban is one of the best recruiters in the nation, there is always somebody in Tuscaloosa that is waiting for their respective opportunity. Senior strong safety Eddie Jackson led Alabama in interceptions last year with 6, while senior outside linebacker Reuben Foster returns to school after being the team’s second leading tackler in 2015 with 73. But Alabama will still be able to rush the passer with the likes of defensive ends Jonathan Allen and Tim Williams returning for their senior seasons. The duo of Allen and Williams combined for 22.5 sacks in 2015, and they should once again be menaces to quarterbacks in the Southeastern Conference.

Make no mistake about it that Saban doesn’t duck any of the top teams in the nation and this college football campaign won’t be any different as Alabama will make the trek to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas to clash with the USC Trojans of the Pac-12 Conference to kick off their defense of the national title on September 3. But road life in the Southeastern Conference won’t be easy for Alabama as they’ll travel to face the Ole Miss Rebels, Tennessee Volunteers, Arkansas Razorbacks, and LSU Tigers.

Ole Miss Rebels 9-3 (6-2)

Hugh Freeze

Hugh Freeze has completed four years as the head football coach of the Mississippi Rebels and in each year in Oxford, his win total has increased. Ole Miss coming off of their first 10-win season since 2003, and their first Sugar Bowl victory since 1970. Freeze has gotten things turned around as the 2016 National Football League Draft saw three of his players selected in the first round, while the Rebels were also able to secure a road victory over the Alabama Crimson Tide which was their only defeat en route to claiming the national championship. And as the Rebels have made tremendous strides in the last few years, the next step for them is to win the Southeastern Conference Championship for the first time since 1963. But will 2016 be the charm?

Senior quarterback Chad Kelly is looking to finish his collegiate career with a bang after he threw for 31 touchdowns in 2015, but he will miss the contributions of wide receiver Laquon Treadwell who is now the National Football League. There is plenty of returning talent on the defensive side of the football which includes the likes of junior defensive end Marquis Haynes, junior outside linebacker DeMarquis Gates, and senior cornerback Tony Bridges who all have the potential to be All-SEC performers.

Ole Miss no longer has to search for respect as they are getting it around the country. But that won’t stop the Rebels from facing the Florida State Seminoles from the Atlantic Coast Conference in Orlando, Florida to begin their season on Labor Day. The Rebels will definitely have to buckle their chin straps on September 17 when they welcome the Crimson Tide to Oxford as they will be seeking their third consecutive victory over the defending national champions. And road games against the Arkansas Razorbacks, LSU Tigers, and Texas A&M Aggies will definitely test how far that Freeze has brought his program.

Texas A&M Aggies 9-3 (5-3)

Kevin Sumlin

In Kevin Sumlin’s four years as the head football coach of the Texas A&M Aggies, he has compiled a record of 36-16, but that hasn’t kept him from avoiding the hot seat in College Station. After the Aggies won 11 games in 2012, they have been unable to replicate that success. And as the powers that be at A&M believe that their program is good enough to win the Southeastern Conference, it has put Sumlin in a bind.

One thing that has hurt the Aggies over the past two years is their inconsistency at quarterback as it has been a revolving door at College Station. But here in 2016, the Aggies appear ready to commit to senior quarterback Trevor Knight who transferred there after being a part of the Oklahoma Sooners program. Knight’s time at Oklahoma included leading the Sooners to an upset victory over the Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2014 Sugar Bowl. And the main thing that Knight will be able to provide the Aggies with is stability and leadership at the quarterback position which is something that they have lacked in each of the last two years.

Make no mistake about it that Texas A&M can run the football, but there is still the threat of the big play in the passing game. Sophomore wide receiver Christian Kirk is looking to add to his resume after a sparkling freshman season in which he tallied 80 receptions for 1,009 years. But the Aggies big home run hitter at wide receiver is junior Ricky Seals-Jones. At 6’5″, 235 lbs., Seals-Jones has the size that the pro scouts like; now it is just a matter of him putting it together for a full season.

Myles Garrett

Defensively the Aggies do have play makers, but they need to be more consistent. In 2015, A&M defensive backs made too many tackles as free safety Armani Watts led the team in tackles with 126. Junior defensive end Myles Garrett is arguably the best defensive player in the nation as he could be the first overall pick of the 2017 National Football League Draft. But the Aggies must find a way to become more consistent under defensive coordinator John Chavis which includes them getting off of the field on third down.

If A&M is going to be one of the better teams in the nation in 2016, they will have to earn it as their schedule isn’t filled with that many soft spots. The Aggies will begin the college football season by hosting the UCLA Bruins of the Pac-12 Conference, while having conference road games against the Auburn Tigers, Alabama, and the Mississippi State Bulldogs, along with finishing the regular season at home against the LSU Tigers.

Auburn Tigers 7-5 (4-4)

Gus Malzahn

After Auburn Tigers head football coach Gus Malzahn led his team to the Bowl Championship Series Title Game in 2013, it has been a rough go for him. In that year Auburn won 12 games en route to winning the Southeastern Conference Championship while they’ve combined to win 15 over the last two years. The competition is always hot and heavy in the SEC West. And as the Tigers don’t want to get caught up in the wash there, their fans are hoping to not avoid a repeat of when this program took a brief nose dive after winning the national title in 2010.

Under Malzahn, Auburn incorporates an uptempo offense that is predicated on solid production from the quarterback and a quality ground game. The Tigers were unable to get either in 2015 which has led to a three-man competition to be the team’s starting quarterback between JUCO transfer John Franklin III, senior Jeremy Johnson, and sophomore Sean White. Neither White or Johnson were as productive as Auburn was envisioning in 2015, and if the Tigers are unable to find the guy at quarterback, they will once be fighting an uphill battle.

The Tigers also need to get more out of their running game as so much of Malzahn’s offense is predicated by what they are able to get accomplished in their running game. There will be plenty of experience on Auburn’s offensive line as they have a pair of seniors in the starting lineup which includes left tackle Robert Leff, and three juniors.

Last year Auburn’s defense was attempting to get a feel for things under defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. But being that Muschamp was looking to get back to being a head coach sooner rather than later, you knew that he wouldn’t be there for long. After one year at Auburn, Muschamp agreed to become the head football coach of the South Carolina Gamecocks which has paved the way for Kevin Steele to become the Tigers new defensive coordinator.

This isn’t Steele’s first go round in the Southeast Conference as a defensive coordinator as he previously worked with the Alabama Crimson Tide and LSU Tigers. And now Steele will be charged with getting this Auburn unit back to the top of the SEC.

Last year as a freshman, defensive back Carlton Davis led the team in interceptions with 3, but Auburn lost its top five leading tacklers from 2015 which will leave a very huge void.

Auburn’s schedule won’t be an easy one as they’ll begin by taking on the Clemson Tigers of the Atlantic Coast Conference, along with road games against the Mississippi Rebels, Georgia Bulldogs, and Alabama.

Mississippi State Bulldogs 7-5 (4-4)

Dan Mullen

In Dan Mullen’s seven years as the head football coach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs, he has shown that he can hang with the best that the Southeastern Conference has to offer. The Bulldogs call the SEC West home and in each of the last six years, they have gone to a bowl game which is by far the longest stretch in the history of the program. And now as the 2016 college football season is set to begin, the Bulldogs are seeking to win at least 9 games for the third consecutive year which would be the first time in school history that it occurred.

It won’t be as easy for Mississippi State to rack up the victories as quarterback Dak Prescott who did everything for this team over the past few years has graduated. Last year as a freshman, quarterback Nick Fitzgerald got some brief time under center, but now he is expected to be the guy. At 6’5″, 227 lbs., Fitzgerald is a very imposing figure that can make life difficult for defenses in the Southeastern Conference once it all comes together for him.

Last year saw the Bulldogs get away from the running game that Mullen build his initial success upon and it will once again need to be a factor in 2016 for them to be in contention. Expect senior running back Brandon Holloway to get his chance to be the feature back in Starkville, but after carrying the football just 92 times last year, will he be up for the increased workload? However led by senior center Jamaal Clayborn, the Bulldogs do have three upperclassmen on the offensive line which should help out the inexperienced quarterback.

Richie Brown

Mississippi State’s defense has the potential to be very stout with six returning starters, which includes six of their top seven tacklers from 2015. Senior middle linebacker Richie Brown could be a first-team All-SEC member, while sophomore strong safety Brandon Bryant has shown that he has range in the secondary.

The road will define Mississippi State here in 2016 as they’ll travel to face the LSU Tigers, Alabama Crimson Tide, and Mississippi Rebels in three contests that will help to the shape the title picture in the Western Division of the Southeastern Conference.

 

 

Arkansas Razorbacks 7-5 (4-4)

In 2015, the Arkansas Razorbacks were unable to live up to the lofty expectations that were thrust on them as they were done in by the injury bug. But the Razorbacks were still a team that opponents in the Southeastern Conference were not excited to play against as they were the most physical team in the conference. During Bret Bielema’s time as a college coach which included a seven-year stretch with the Wisconsin Badgers where he compiled a record of 68-24, his teams have been known for their physicality on both sides of the football. Now as Bielema is set to begin his fourth year with the Hogs, he is starting to get his kind of football players to come to Fayetteville as he has now established himself in that region of the country.

After Brandon Allen spent that last four years as the Razorbacks starting quarterback which led to him being drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars, he has now made way for another member of his family at Arkansas. Junior quarterback Austin Allen is Brandon’s younger brother and now he gets his chance to show the Southeastern Conference what he can do under center. But the Hogs will have to replace plenty of talent in the running game as running back Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams are now in the National Football League. And after spending that last three years as a backup to Williams and Collins, senior running back Kody Walker will get his opportunity to be the feature back in Bielema’s power running attack.

At times in 2015, the Razorbacks defense took it on the chin as they surrendered 45 points or more in a game three times, but with nine starters returning on that side of the football, there is some optimism. Senior middle linebacker Brooks Ellis is the leader of the Hogs defense and he will tackle anything that moves, while sophomore outside linebacker sophomore Dre Greenlaw is his tag-team partner.

The Hogs might not be the team that will win the Western Division of the Southeast Conference in 2016, but they will be a squad that nobody wants to tango with.

SEC Championship Game: LSU vs. Tennessee

Conference Champion: LSU

Coach of the Year: Butch Jones-Tennessee

Offensive Player of the Year: Leonard Fournette-Running Back-LSU

Defensive Player of the Year: Jaylen Reeves-Maybin-Outside Linebacker-Tennessee

Sources: Nationalchamps.net, Ourlads.com, Sports-reference.com

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The Saban Dynasty

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It’s not supposed to be this easy, but don’t tell that to Alabama Crimson Tide head football coach Nick Saban. Saban just finished his ninth year at Alabama and he just led the Crimson Tide to their fourth national championship on his watch. Saban has compiled a record of 100-18 at Alabama with one-third of those losses coming in his first year on the job. The Tide have managed to finish each of the last eight college football seasons ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press Poll while becoming a pipeline for the National Football League.

But it isn’t supposed to be like this in college football where one team simply has the ability to dominate this era. College football is currently defined by parity that stems from constant turnover at the head coaching position, along with conference television deals that preach equality for each member, schools having to worry about players leaving early for the National Football League, transfers, and NCAA sanctions. But through it all, Alabama and Saban have found a way to rise above all of that by cornering the market while reminding us of a different era in college football where one team dominated as they are simply the team that everyone loves to hate.

Saban has done the impossible in the toughest conference in college football which is the Southeastern Conference. Since 2003, the SEC has produced nine national champions with Saban accounting for five of those as he was the head football coach of the LSU Tigers when they won it all in 2003.

When Saban came to Tuscaloosa in 2007, the folks there were looking for a head football coach that would not only win, but restore respectability. In the previous decade, Alabama had three different head football coaches and just one conference championship to show for it which has changed now with Saban.

Alabama has become so dominant that each school in the Southeastern Conference with the exception of LSU has made at least one head coaching change since Saban took over. There was a time when the annual game between the Tide and Tennessee Volunteers which is considered as “The Third Saturday in October” was a big deal. But under Saban, the Crimson Tide have never lost to the Volunteers. When Saban was at LSU, he was 4-2 against Alabama. But since Saban’s been at Tuscaloosa, the Tide are 7-3 against the Tigers which includes winning the last five straight in the series. The dominance by Alabama almost led to Les Miles being fired by LSU as their head football coach this past November. Under Saban, Alabama is 6-3 in the Iron Bowl against the Auburn Tigers in the Iron Bowl as this game can divide families within the state.  And Alabama’s dominance within the Southeastern Conference isn’t strictly just in the SEC West as the Tide are 4-1 in the SEC Title Game under him which includes wins over the Florida Gators and Georgia Bulldogs.

Saban has turned Alabama back to what they were under legendary head football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant as they are now every opponents game of the year. And after losing consecutive Sugar Bowls to the Oklahoma Sooners and Ohio State Buckeyes respectively, it was time for Alabama to get back to basics in 2015.

When Alabama lost to the Ole Miss Rebels on September 19, it marked the first time since 2006 that they lost their conference opener which actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise as from that point on the Crimson Tide began to come together as a collective unit. Senior quarterback Jake Coker was benched against Ole Miss by Saban while the Tide’s defense was picked apart which cast some doubt over Alabama’s chances in 2015.

But Alabama’s following game was against the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks and the Tide used the game to get their swagger back as they easily won 34-0. The following week Alabama traveled to Athens, Georgia to take on the Bulldogs who were ranked eighth in the country. And now that Alabama had their swagger back, it showed against Georgia as they easily knocked them off 38-10. In consecutive weeks in November, Alabama got wins over LSU and the Mississippi State Bulldogs as they combined to limit them to just 22 points. And by the time that the Iron Bowl came around, Alabama was clicking on all cylinders as they won 29-13.

The Crimson Tide would then face the Gators in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game and they were a team that was tailor made for Alabama being that they had one of the worst offenses in the nation. Alabama would defeat Florida 29-15 with all roads painted in crimson that were heading to the College Football Playoff.

And with last year’s memory of the Sugar Bowl loss to Ohio State in the heads of Alabama, the Michigan State Spartans never stood a chance against them in the Cotton Bowl as they lost 38-0. The destruction of Michigan State would then set up a contest between Alabama and the Clemson Tigers to declare whom the national champion would be.

All season long, Alabama and Clemson were clearly the two best teams in college football which was evident by their fierce battle as unlike previous title games for Saban, his team had to pack a lunch.

Clemson counter-punched with Alabama all game long as they weren’t afraid of swapping paint with junior running back Derrick Henry who is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, or the Tide’s defense that was ranked second in the nation.

Defensively Alabama found themselves reeling in the second quarter when they were unable to stop Clemson’s offense. The Tigers were leading 14-7 when Alabama junior defensive back Eddie Jackson picked off Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson which led to Henry’s second rushing touchdown of the game. But as the game went on, Alabama could not shake Clemson who wanted to show the nation that they were a team of destiny. However Saban didn’t accomplish what he has throughout his career by sitting on his hands, and after a field goal by Alabama junior kicker Adam Griffith tied the game at 24 early in the fourth quarter, the Crimson Tide converted a successful onside kick. And two plays later, Coker found junior tight end O.J. Howard on a 50-yard touchdown pass to give Alabama the lead at 31-24. Clemson wasn’t ready to waive the white flag as a field goal by freshman kicker Greg Huegel cut the Crimson Tide’s to only four points. However on the ensuing kickoff, Alabama senior running back Kenyon Drake would take it to the house with a 95-yard touchdown. Alabama would hold on to defeat Clemson 45-40, as they showed their mental toughness throughout which is a credit to the coaching ability and the teaching of Saban.

With five national titles to his credit, Saban never has to win another game because he has already established himself as a legend. And at this point if Saban wanted to become the governor of Alabama, he would win by a landslide as even the folks in Auburn have to respect him. But at 64-years of age, Saban isn’t showing any signs of slowing down as there is good shot that Alabama could be in the same position next year. Saban has another fine recruiting class coming into Tuscaloosa as when you’re on this kind of tide that he is, you just simply ride the wave. The boosters at Alabama knew what they were doing when they persuaded Saban to leave the Dolphins in 2006, but nobody in their wildest dreams could have ever expected what he has accomplished with Crimson Tide football.

 

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Cornering The Market

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Since 1998, the Southeastern Conference has become the premier conference in college football as they have produced nine national champions. The majority of games within the SEC pits two ranked teams against each other as the conference is a gauntlet and in the process it has become the envy of college football. The football traditions of some of the SEC schools along with the large football cathedrals that are stadiums make them second to none. And when coaches consistently win big games in the SEC, they are put on a pedestal and statues are built for them. But winning in the SEC comes at a steep price as there is a large amount of pressure that comes along with their seven-figure a year salary to produce wins and to get to the big bowl games as the conference has been known to swallow up some coaches whole.

Nick Saban

In 2007, Nick Saban was hired to become the head football coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide. For years the Crimson Tide have been one of the cornerstones of the Southeastern Conference, but they had fallen on tough times prior to Saban arrival. However since Saban came to Tuscoloosa, the Tide have compiled a record of 98-18 which has resulted in three national titles along with four conference titles. Since 2008, Alabama has finished no lower than 10th in the final Associated Press Poll as they have cast a large crimson shadow over the rest of the SEC which has seen some coaches at other schools within the conference pay the price.

Since Saban took over at Alabama, 11 of the other 13 schools within the Southeastern Conference have made at least one head coaching change; either by termination, forced retirement, buyout, or simply by just picking up and leaving. One more head coach bit the dust last week and he almost had company.

Mark Richt

After 15 years as the head football coach of the Georgia Bulldogs, Mark Richt was fired last week in spite of the fact that he had more wins than any other coach in the history of the program. Georgia cited the fact that Richt didn’t win enough big games which included not winning a Southeastern Conference Title since 2005 and never beating Alabama since Saban took over. LSU Tigers head football coach Les Miles wrestled with the notion that he was going to get his walking papers last month. Miles has the highest winning percentage in the history of LSU football, but he has lost his last five games against Alabama as the Tigers have not won the SEC West since 2011. And it wasn’t until last Saturday night after LSU had defeated the Texas A&M Aggies that Miles found out that he would be returning to the school for 2016. The third Saturday in October was once a marquee game on the SEC’s calendar as Alabama annually takes on the Tennessee Volunteers. But since Saban began to roll with the Tide, the Vols are winless and they are on their fourth different head coach since 2007. From 2006-2008, the Florida Gators won a pair of national titles and there appeared to be a re-opening of an age old rivalry in the SEC between the Gators and the Crimson Tide. But in 2010, Florida head football coach Urban Meyer decided to pack up and run to the Big Ten Conference where the Ohio State Buckeyes welcomed him with open arms. Meyer wasn’t the only head football coach that left the SEC for the Big Ten as James Franklin left the Vanderbilt Commodores in 2014 in favor of the Penn State Nittany Lions.

Saban and Alabama are doing what many people say can’t be done which is to dominate in a power conference during an era of college football where parity rules. But prior to coming to Alabama, Saban had developed a reputation of resurrecting college programs as he did it with the Michigan State Spartans and at LSU. And after a brief two-year stint with the Miami Dolphins in the National Football League, Saban came back to college where he has simply dominated.

With Saturday’s victory over Florida in the Southeastern Conference Title Game, the Tide are headed back to the College Football Playoff for a second consecutive year. And whereas most schools are going to multiple helmets and a different football uniform every Saturday in order to lure recruits, Alabama’s uniform remains as basic as they come to play with either white pants/white jersey, or white pants/crimson jersey with the iconic crimson helmet with a player’s individual number on the side of his helmet. Alabama consistently gets the top recruits from the Southeast region due to the fact that school has top-notch football facilities, and they know that they have a good shot to reach the National Football League under Saban as 48 players have been drafted under him since 2009.

The Southeastern Conference might be the envy of the college football, but under Saban, the Tide are at the head of the class in the top football conference in America as their success has put them on a throne while everyone else in the SEC appears to be left in the dust as they search for answers.

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2015 Southeastern Conference Football Projections

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East

Missouri Tigers 11-2 (7-2)

In a shock to most people the Missouri Tigers have been a force to be reckoned with in the Eastern Division of the Southeastern Conference. Missouri joined the SEC in 2012 and the last two years have seen them win the Eastern Division. In 2015, the Tigers will have a great opportunity to get back to Atlanta, Georgia for the SEC Championship Game for a third straight year under head football coach Gary Pinkel.

Junior quarterback Maty Mauk could be the best starting quarterback in the SEC East this year. Mauk has been starting for Mizzou since 2013 and his experience will be big this year. Pinkel preaches balance on offense which means that senior tailback Russell Hansbrough will be an important member of the Tigers offense; especially since Missouri has four senior starters returning on their offensive line.

Defense is where the Tigers bread has been buttered in the past few years as Pinkel has recently sent his fair share of defenders to the National Football League and he has some more talent coming down the pike this year as well. Junior linebacker Michael Scherer has the potential to be the SEC Defensive Player of the Year along with hearing his name called early in the 2016 NFL Draft. But first Scherer will look to be the anchor on a Missouri defense in 2015 that could be very relentless.

The Tigers have a very winnable schedule with their October 17 road game against the Georgia Bulldogs setting up to be the only potential hurdle that they could have in winning the SEC East for a third consecutive year.

Georgia Bulldogs 9-3 (6-2)

The last four years have seen the Georgia Bulldogs win 40 games, but they’ve been unable to win the Southeastern Conference and in the past two years they’ve been unable to even win the SEC East.

Mark Richt

For Georgia head football Mark Richt, his team returns six offensive starters, and he’ll have a new offensive coordinator as well. Former University of Florida quarterback Brian Schottenheimer has previously worked in the National Football League as an offensive coordinator for the New York Jets and the St. Louis Rams. Now Schottenheimer is returning to the college game where he will look to help a Georgia offense that will have its third different starting quarterback in as many years. Sophomore quarterback Brice Ramsey only attempted 39 passes last year, but now he’ll be the man in Schottenheimer’s offense. In the past few years, Georgia has become a pipeline for running backs. As a freshman, running back Nick Chubb rushed for 1,547 yards in 2014 and there is the possibility that he could flirt with the 2,000-yard mark this season.

In his first year as Georgia’s defensive coordinator, Jeremy Pruitt was able to lead the Dawgs to the 17th ranked defense in the nation for 2014. And led by senior cornerback Devin Bowman, Georgia has all four starters returning in their secondary as they look to play the pass and make opposing offenses one dimensional.

By the end of September, the Bulldogs would have played two conference games and they’ll be preparing to host the tough Alabama Crimson Tide on October 3. But Georgia’s chances to win the SEC East for the first time since 2012 will come down to their contest on October 17 when they host the Missouri Tigers who have been a thorn in the side of the Dawgs since joining the SEC.

Tennessee Volunteers 8-4 (5-3)

 

It hasn’t taken that long for Tennessee Volunteers head football coach Butch Jones to make believers of the folks in the Smoky Mountains. 2014 was Jones’ second year at Tennessee and he led them to their first bowl appearance since 2010 along with the school’s first winning season since 2009. And now Jones and Tennessee are looking to take that next step in 2015. The Volunteers had their fair share of ups and downs in 2014, but they are hopeful that this is behind them as they return all 11 starters on offense and eight starters on defense.

Joshua Dobbs

Jones and first-year Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike DeBord are hopeful that junior quarterback Joshua Dobbs is ready to take his game to the next level as he plays behind an offensive line that has three seniors including left tackle Kyler Kerbyson. And the Volunteers will look to have an opportunistic defense that will be led by sophomore defensive end Derek Barnett.

The Volunteers have a chance on September 12 to get back onto the national stage when they host the Oklahoma Sooners out of the Big 12 Conference. But Tennessee’s real test will come as they look to finish with a winning record in the Southeastern Conference for the first time since 2007.

Florida Gators 7-5 (4-4)

Some college football programs would be happy to have a 7-5 record, but that isn’t how things are run in Gainesville for the Florida Gators. The Gators went 7-5 last season, but it wasn’t enough for Will Muschamp to save his job as the head football coach at Florida. Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley replaced Muschamp with Jim McElwain. McElwain comes to Florida after compiling a 22-16 record in three seasons as the head football coach of the Colorado State Rams. And in each season with Colorado State, McElwain’s win total increased. McElwain has a sharp mind for offensive football which is something that the Gators need as they were 96th in the nation last season in total offense and that is something that the blue and orange is unaccustomed to. The Gators do return six starters on offense, but McElwain has his work cut out for him.

Treon Harris

Sophomore Treon Harris appears to be the favorite to be Florida’s starting quarterback, but he is more of a dual-threat as McElwain will be transitioning to an offensive system that’ll rely on more of a pocket passer. And although Muschamp is no longer in Gainesville, the Gators should still have a solid defense as they’ll be led by junior cornerback Vernon Hargreaves.

Beginning on September 26, the Gators will begin a brutal five-game stretch that will see them take on the Tennessee Volunteers, Ole Miss Rebels, Missouri Tigers, LSU Tigers, and Georgia Bulldogs as McElwain gets indoctrinated as a head football coach in the Southeastern Conference.

 

 

 

South Carolina Gamecocks 6-6 (3-5)

After three consecutive 11-win seasons, the South Carolina Gamecocks took a step backwards in 2014. The biggest problem with South Carolina was that they were unable to stop opponents as they had seven games in which they surrendered at least 30 points and in those contests they were 2-5. Now for 2015, South Carolina head football coach Steve Spurrier is going with co-defensive coordinators this season in the form of Shawn Elliot and Lorenzo Ward in order to spice things up for the Gamecocks. The Gamecocks do return seven starters on defense as they look to change things from last season. Junior defensive lineman Gerald Dixon will look to be an anchor in the trenches while led by senior strong safety T.J. Gurley, South Carolina returns all four starters in a secondary that could have a few All-Southeastern Conference performers.

Steve Spurrier

But for Spurrier, his bread has always been buttered on the offensive side of the football where he built his reputation as “The Ol’ Ball Coach”. The Gamecocks will have their third different starting quarterback in as many years with Connor Mitch expected to begin this season under center in Columbia. However an experienced wide receiver such as Pharoh Cooper can help Mitch get his feet wet in the South Carolina offense.

South Carolina might face the toughest schedule in the SEC this year due to the fact that there aren’t that many soft spots for them as Spurrier looks to for unprecedented an eighth straight bowl game with the Gamecocks.

Kentucky Wildcats 4-8 (1-7)

Kentucky Wildcats are set to embark on their 100th season and unfortunately for football in the Commonwealth State, it cannot hold a candle to the rich basketball tradition there. The Wildcats all-time record on the gridiron is 462-530-36 and they have not been to a bowl game since 2010. The Wildcats are also one of four schools in the Southeastern Conference to never participate in the conference title game. And for Kentucky head football coach Mark Stoops, he is hopeful that he can get his team over the hump this year in order to become bowl eligible.

Last year Kentucky began the season with a record of 5-1, but in the second half of the year when the schedule got tougher, they were never able to keep up. This season the onus for the Wildcats will be on junior quarterback Patrick Towles who has the size along with all of the physical tools to be a solid quarterback in the SEC.

This year will be more difficult for Kentucky to get off to a fast start as three of their first four games are within the conference as they’ll meet the South Carolina Gamecocks, Florida Gators, and Missouri Tigers whom they’ve been looking up at in the SEC East.

Vanderbilt Commodores 3-9 (0-8)

Once head football coach James Franklin left the Vanderbilt Commodores football program to take over at Penn State University, you knew that things would take a step backwards in Nashville, but nobody expected it to get so bad, so fast. After consecutive 9-win seasons in 2012 and 2013, Vanderbilt would go on to lose 9 games last year under head football coach Derek Mason. As Mason is heading into his second season at Vandy, he must find a way for his squad to be more competitive as they lost six games last year by 24 points or more. And unfortunately for Mason and the Commodores, the Southeastern Conference will swallow you up whole if you’re trying to find your groove and are unable to keep up.

The best thing for Vanderbilt to attempt to do is try to win early in order for them to gain some confidence for themselves.

West

Auburn Tigers 10-3 (6-3)

For some of those who are looking on from the outside in and don’t possess a sharp football eye, they will look at the 8-5 record of the Auburn Tigers in 2014 and feel that it was a down year for them. But Auburn’s record was merely indicative of how tough it is to win in the Southeastern Conference; more importantly in the SEC West. Auburn was 12-2 in 2013 during their first year under head football coach Gus Malzahn, but they got every opponent’s A+ game last season. And Malzahn and his Tigers are ready to rebound on the plains.

Auburn was 66th in the nation last year in total defense, but you can bet the farm that they’ll improve this season. After being dismissed as the head football coach at the University of Florida, Will Muschamp is returning to Auburn as their defensive coordinator. From 2006-2007, Muschamp was the defensive coordinator at Auburn and he can coach defense in his sleep with his attacking style that consistently sends players to the National Football League. Muschamp will have something to work with at Auburn as they are set to return eight defensive starters from last year’s squad that will be much more physical this year with senior middle linebacker Cassanova McKinzy expected to have a big impact as the leader on that side of the football.

Malzahn’s uptempo offense will have a new starting quarterback in junior Jeremy Johnson. Johnson saw limited action last year, but he should ready to fully grasp the offense for Auburn.

Auburn will have some tough road games in the SEC as they’ll travel to take on the LSU Tigers, Texas A&M Aggies, and Arkansas Razorbacks. But the Tigers will host the Mississippi State Bulldogs, Ole Miss Rebels, and Georgia Bulldogs before their regular season finale at Jordan-Hare Stadium versus the Alabama Crimson Tide which will more than likely decide the winner of the SEC West.

Alabama Crimson Tide 10-2 (6-2)

It’s hard to imagine the Alabama Crimson Tide not being one of the top teams in the Southeastern Conference. Nick Saban is set to begin his ninth season at Alabama where he has compiled a record of 86-17. And in the past four years under Saban, ‘Bama has finished no lower than second in the SEC West.

But as Alabama looks to keep that string of success going in the SEC, they’ll be a little “green” on offense. The Tide only have three starters offensively that are returning from last year’s squad. Senior quarterback Jacob Coker will have the spotlight thrust upon him in offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin’s system, but he does have all of the tools necessary to succeed as the defense might have to carry Alabama early as Coker gets his feet wet.

Alabama’s road slate in the Southeastern Conference won’t be an easy one with games against the Georgia Bulldogs, Mississippi State Bulldogs, Texas A&M Aggies, and Auburn Tigers. But Saban is a grizzled head coach that will have his team ready for all that the SEC has to offer in 2015.

LSU Tigers 10-2 (6-2)

The Louisiana State Tigers enter the 2015 college football season looking to bounce back. In 2014, the Tigers lost four conference games for the first time since 2008 and with head football coach Les Miles leading the way, LSU is looking to get back into the discussion as far as winning the Southeastern Conference.

 

Make no mistake about it that Miles is a blue-collar head coach that loves to run the football right down the throat of an opponent. The Tigers were 25th in the nation last season in rushing and you can expect another healthy dose of the ground game in Baton Rogue. As a true freshman in 2014, running back Leonard Fournette lived up to the hype as he ran for over 1,000 yards and this season he is looking to build off of that while attempting to be the feature back for Miles.

As good as the running game can be for the Tigers, they will still need more from the passing game in order to balance things out. Junior quarterback Anthony Jennings is not going to consistently scare teams with his passing ability, but he still needs to be efficient; especially with a speedster at wide receiver in junior Travin Dural.

Things will be a little different for LSU this year defensively. Defensive coordinator John Chavis has moved on to take the same position with Texas A&M and former Alabama linebackers coach Kevin Steele will replace him. Led by junior middle linebacker Kendall Beckwith and senior free safety Jalen Mills, the Bayou Bengals still have plenty of talent on the defensive side of the ball as they will be using this season as an audition for the National Football League.

As always to win on the road in the SEC isn’t easy for LSU, and in 2015, that means road games against the Mississippi State Bulldogs, South Carolina Gamecocks, and the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Arkansas Razorbacks 9-3 (5-3)

Bret Bielema

Arkansas Razorbacks head football coach Bret Bielema has turned things around in a rather short time in Fayetteville and thus the expectations for the Hogs in 2015 have increased. The Razorbacks went 7-6 last season with four of those losses coming by seven points or less. But as close as Bielema’s team was in 2014 to more success, they might be ready for break down the door and really make a name for themselves in the Western Division of the Southeastern Conference in 2015.

The Hogs will live up to their name as it all about the rushing game for Arkansas. Senior running back Jonathan Williams and junior running back Alex Collins each gained more than 1,000 yards of the ground in 2014 and you can expect more of the same in 2015. Collins and Williams will run behind an offensive line at Arkansas that has four starters returning from last year while senior quarterback Brandon Allen can be an effective game manager for Bielema.

Led by junior nose guard Taiwan Johnson, the Razorbacks have plenty of beef on the defensive line as they’ll be one of the most physical teams that the SEC has to offer.

Arkansas won’t begin this year on the road versus a Southeastern Conference opponent like they did last year when they faced the Auburn Tigers as they will need a quick start in September to get them ready for October when they’ll face the Tennessee Volunteers and Alabama Crimson Tide is consecutive road tilts.

Mississippi State Bulldogs 7-5 (3-5)  

One of the biggest surprises during the 2014 college football season was the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Mississippi State won their first nine games last season en route to their first 10-win season since 1999. But as the Bulldogs were able to sneak up on teams in the Southeastern Conference last year, it will be tougher for them this time around being that their opponents know what to expect.

Dak Prescott

Senior quarterback Dak Prescott is the offense at Mississippi State and for head football coach Dan Mullen, he’ll be ready to serve the opponents of the the Bulldogs another healthy dose of him. Prescott is a better passer than some people will give him credit for as his ability to run along with that off senior running back Josh Robinson can lull defenses to sleep as far as not thinking about the pass which is a viable threat.

Mississippi State was 86th in the nation last year in total defense and with only three starters returning on that side of the ball, they’ll have their work cut out for them in the SEC.

Last year Mississippi State enjoyed most of their big games in the comfort of Starkville, but this time around the road in the SEC could be frightful with road games the Auburn Tigers, Texas A&M Aggies, Missouri Tigers, and a home affair against the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Ole Miss Rebels 7-5 ( 3-5)

Although 2014 ended with a thud for the Mississippi Rebels, they still have high hopes for this year. Ole Miss began that season last year by winning their first seven games, but as the competition got stronger, they were unable to keep up as they went 2-4. And for Ole Miss head football coach Hugh Freeze, he is hopeful that his team won’t take a step back in 2015.

Laquon Treadwell

In order for Ole Miss to keep their heads above water this year in the Southeastern Conference, they’ll need a big season from junior wide receiver Laquon Treadwell. Treadwell was having a good 2014 campaign until he suffered a leg injury against the Auburn Tigers. But if Treadwell is healthy this year, he could be an All-SEC performer.

Two of the Rebels first three conference games this year are on the road against the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Florida Gators as they’re going to find out that re-tooling in the SEC is no easy task.

Texas A&M Aggies 7-5 (3-5)

Kevin Sumlin

Unfortunately for Texas A&M Aggies head football coach Kevin Sumlin, he won immediately and he raised the bar for himself and his program. In 2012, the Aggies won 11 games in their first year in the Southeastern Conference. But since then A&M’s win total has decreased due to the fact that their defense has been unable to stop opponents. Last year Texas A&M was 104th in the nation in total defense, but they are hopeful that things will change in College Station this fall.

John Chavis spent the last six years as the defensive coordinator at LSU where he sent his fair share of players to the National Football League. While at LSU, Chavis recruited many of his players from the State of Texas which is a pipeline for A&M. Chavis is hopeful to have something to work with in his first season with the Aggies as eight defensive starters from last year’s team are returning.

 

Kyle Allen

Led by sophomore quarterback Kyle Allen, Texas A&M offense should be must see TV in the SEC as they can light up a scoreboard and give the folks at the renovated Kyle Field in College Station plenty to cheer about.

A&M could sneak up on some teams this year in the SEC as the Mississippi State Bulldogs, Alabama Crimson Tide, South Carolina Gamecocks, and Auburn Tigers all travel to Kyle Field this season which is a venue that can play horror on an opponent.

 

 

 

SEC Championship Game: Missouri vs. Auburn

Conference Champion: Missouri

Sources: Cfbstats.com, Sports-reference.com, Nationalchamps.net

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