By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent
Alabama (12-0, 8-0)
Projected wins: Louisville, Arkansas State, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Louisiana-Lafayette, Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, LSU, Mississippi State, The Citadel, Auburn
Projected losses: None
Alabama will be inexperienced in parts of the defense – especially the secondary – but the overall talent on the roster will be able to overcome any experience concerns. There isn’t as much depth at linebacker as Nick Saban would prefer, and the Crimson Tide might have to rely on the offense early in the season.
The good news for Alabama is that the offense is loaded with talent. While the quarterback situation hasn’t played itself out yet, Tua Tagovailoa or Jalen Hurts will have plenty of weapons at their disposal. There is exceptional depth at running back and wide receiver, and the offensive line will be one of the best in the country.
Additionally, the schedule isn’t very challenging. The season opener against Louisville would have been difficult had Lamar Jackson not departed for the NFL, but the Tide should have no problem with the Cardinals in Orlando. Auburn and Mississippi State both visit Tuscaloosa, and Alabama plays Missouri and Tennessee from the East Division. Nick Saban’s team is a safe bet to reach the playoffs for the fifth straight season.
Auburn (9-3, 6-2)
Projected wins: Alabama State, LSU, Arkansas, Sou-thern Mississippi, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Liberty
Projected losses: Washington, Georgia, Alabama
Auburn won the West Division, won 10 games and defeated both Georgia and Alabama in 2017. But the Tigers also sat at home in January and watched the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide play for the national championship. Auburn has a loaded roster this fall, but the schedule might prevent the Tigers from reaching the playoffs.
The Tigers play three top six teams away from home in Washington, Georgia and Alabama and travel to Mississippi State. Even if Auburn is a great team, it will be difficult for the Tigers to make it through that slate unscathed.
Defensively, Gus Malzahn’s team will rely on its front seven to carry the Tigers this year. Auburn will be effective offensively with Jarrett Stidham at quarterback but it might take several weeks for the offensive line to jell.
This team is capable of contending for the SEC West again, but AU needs to start the season with a win over Washington to have a chance.
Mississippi State (9-3, 5-3); over/under 8.5
Projected wins: Stephen F. Austin, Kansas State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Kentucky, Florida, LSU, Texas A&M, Louisiana Tech, Arkansas
Projected losses: Auburn, LSU, Alabama
Joe Moorhead inherited a very talented roster, and many analysts consider the Bulldogs to be a dark horse in the SEC. There is talent on both sides of the ball, and quarterback Nick Fitzgerald is one of the top signal callers in the conference.
The early season road game at Kansas State is a tricky spot, and MSU must visit Baton Rouge, Tuscaloosa and Oxford. However, the Bulldogs host Florida, Auburn and Texas A&M, so some of the tougher games on the schedule are in Starkville.
It’s unlikely Mississippi State makes it to Atlanta, but the Bulldogs are capable of beating anyone on any given Saturday.
Texas A&M (8-4, 5-3)
Projected wins: Northwestern State, Louisiana-Monroe, Arkansas, Kentucky, South Carolina, Ole Miss, UAB, LSU
Projected losses: Clemson, Alabama, Mississippi State, Auburn
The Aggies aren’t void of talent, but the roster doesn’t have the style of players suitable for Jimbo Fisher’s offense just yet. It won’t take Fisher long to bring in the players he needs, but this could be a transition year for Texas A&M.
Nevertheless, Fisher is a great coach, and he will be more engaged with this team than he was in his last couple of seasons with Florida State. Unfortunately, the Aggies play both Clemson and Alabama in the first month of the season, so it likely will be a slow start to the season.
LSU (7-5, 3-5)
Projected wins: Miami, Southeastern Louisiana, Louisiana Tech, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Arkansas, Rice
Projected losses: Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Texas A&M
LSU rebounded from a terrible start to the 2017 season to win nine games, and the turnaround bought Ed Orgeron some time in Baton Rouge.
The Tigers will be challenged right from the start as they take on a very talented Miami team in the season opener.
Orgeron’s squad also plays the best two teams from the East Division. The Tigers travel to Gainesville to face Florida, and host Georgia in the middle of the season. LSU also travels to Auburn and Texas A&M. It’s a brutal schedule, and it’s worth asking if Orgeron can survive a six or seven-win season.
Arkansas (6-6, 2-6)
Projected wins: Eastern Illinois, Colorado State, North Texas, Ole Miss, Tulsa, Vanderbilt,
Projected losses: Auburn, Texas A&M, Alabama, LSU, Mississippi State, Missouri
Chad Morris certainly isn’t walking into an easy situation in Fayetteville, but he’ll have time to turn the program into a contender in the West Division. No one is expecting anything from the Hogs this fall, so if Morris can get them to a bowl game, it will be a successful season.
Arkansas doesn’t have a very talented roster but Morris knows how to maximize the talent on offense. The Razorbacks don’t have the personnel right now to run Morris’ offense, but should be more effective on that side of the ball.
The non-conference schedule is pretty easy, and Arkansas hosts both Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. The Razorbacks should be able to find a way to make the postseason.
Ole Miss (5-7, 1-7)
Projected wins: Texas Tech, Southern Illinois, Kent State, Louisiana-Monroe, Vanderbilt
Projected losses: Alabama, LSU, Arkansas, South Carolina, Texas A&M, LSU, Mississippi State
Matt Luke made the most out of a difficult situation in Oxford last year and now has the job on a full-time basis. The Rebels are banned from the postseason this year, which is a shame considering how much talent they have on offense.
Receiver A.J. Brown and offensive lineman Greg Little could both be top 10 picks in the NFL draft next spring. Ole Miss will be able to score on just about anyone in the country. The problem will be on the other side of the ball. The Rebels have struggled defensively in recent years and that will remain an issue this season.
Ole Miss will be a tough team to beat due to its offense, but the Rebels’ ceiling probably is seven wins.