In & around SEC football - West Division Preview

August 8, 2019 chris
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By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent

Alabama
Coach: Nick Saban;
13th season at Alabama, 232-62-1 overall
2018 record: 14-1
There’s no safer bet in college football right now than Alabama winning at least 11 games in the regular season. The Crimson Tide have won at least 11 games in every season since 2010, when they finished 10-3. Nick Saban has set the standard so high that anything short of a national championship feels like a disappointment to UA fans. This Alabama squad is loaded once again and is led by junior quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, the 2018 Heisman Trophy runner-up. Tagovailoa has plenty of weapons at his disposal at receiver, including Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle. Dylan Moses anchors the defense. Saban arguably has the most talented team in the country again. The non-conference schedule is not challenging, and the Tide crosses with Tennessee and South Carolina from the East Division. Alabama will be heavily favored to make the playoffs for the sixth straight season.
Arkansas
Coach: Chad Morris
second season at
Arkansas, 16-32 overall
2018 record: 2-10
Morris quickly found out during his first season that the rebuilding stage in Fayetteville would not be an overnight process. The Razorbacks finished 2-10 and did not win a conference game. Only 12 starters return, but the Hogs are expected to improve in Morris’ second year at the helm.Junior running back Rakeem Boyd, who averaged six yards per carry a season ago, leads the offense. The schedule is manageable, and the toughest the non-conference game being a home game against Colorado State. Arkansas also crosses with Kentucky and Missouri from the East. The Hogs will be improved, and a bowl game is possible this season.
Auburn
Coach: Gus Malzahn
seventh season at Auburn
53-27 overall
2018 record: 8-5
It seems like Gus Malzahn is constantly rumored to be on the hot seat, and this offseason was no different. Malzahn once again is taking over play-calling duties, and the results were promising in Auburn’s 63-14 blowout victory over Purdue in the Music City Bowl. The Tigers return all five starters on the offensive line, every running back that contributed a season ago and several experienced receivers. The quarterback competition between Joey Gatewood and Bo Nix is ongoing, but whoever wins the job will be surrounded by plenty of experience. Auburn has 14 starters returning overall, including seven on each side of the ball. The defensive line is the strength of the team, as star defensive tackle Derrick Brown opted to return for his senior season. The roster is very talented and experienced, but the expectations are not very high because the schedule is so demanding. The Tigers open the season with a neutral site game against Oregon in Arlington, Texas, and travel to Texas A&M, Florida, LSU and Arkansas. Georgia and Alabama both visit Jordan-Hare Stadium, but Auburn has one of the most difficult schedules in all of college football. AU fans might not be happy with eight or nine wins, but that would be a reasonable outcome given the difficulty of the schedule.
LSU
Coach: Ed Orgeron
fourth season at LSU
41-36 overall
2018 record: 10-3
Ed Orgeron is entering his third full season in Baton Rouge, and the expectations have never been higher. After a promising 10-3 campaign a season ago, the Tigers are expected to contend for a playoff spot this fall. That will be challenging, considering they must play at both Alabama and Texas, but LSU return 16 starters – eight on each side of the ball – and is loaded with talent. Joe Burrow is back under center after a solid season in 2018, and the defense will be anchored by star defensive back Grant Delpit. The two aforementioned road games will be tough, but if LSU can split those two games, the Tigers will have a chance to make the playoffs. LSU crosses with Vanderbilt and Florida from the East and hosts Auburn and Texas A&M. Coach O has an opportunity to put the Tigers back on the map as a national title contender in 2019.
Mississippi State
Coach: Joe Moorhead second season at
Mississippi State
2018 record: 8-5
After a sluggish 4-3 start in 2018, Joe Moorhead finished his first regular season in Starkville by winning four of the last five games. Moorhead’s background is offense, and his offense improved over the course of the season. The defense carried the team for most of 2018, and that unit only returns four starters this fall while the offense returns seven. Mississippi State crosses with Tennessee and Kentucky from the East. The nonconference schedule includes Kansas State, Louisiana, Southern Miss and Abilene Christian. It would be surprising if the Bulldogs contend for the West Division title, but they should be back in another bowl game in Moorhead’s second season.
Ole Miss
Coach: Matt Luke
third season at Ole Miss 11-13 overall
2018 record: 5-7
Matt Luke is entering his third year as the head coach of his alma mater and made major changes to his coaching staff in the offseason. After an abysmal 2018 season defensively, Luke hired former Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre as his defensive coordinator. MacIntyre inherits a bad de-fense but the Rebels return 10 starters from that side of the ball, so they will at least be more experience. Luke also hired former Arizona, Michigan and West Virginia head coach Rich Rodriguez to pilot the Ole Miss offense. Rodriguez will have freshman gunslinger Matt Corral at quarterback and Scottie Phillips at running back, but the Rebels only have three offensive starters returning. The non-conference schedule is difficult, as the Rebels travel to Memphis to open the year and host California in Week 4, but it is certainly possible that Ole Miss get to six wins and returns to a bowl game for the first time since 2015.
Texas A&M
Coach: Jimbo Fisher
second season at A&M
92-27 overall
2018 record: 9-4
While a 9-4 season does not necessarily signify the Aggies are ready to contend, they were certainly much tougher and more physical during Jimbo Fisher’s first season in College Station. Kellen Mond looked like one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC in his sophomore season, and he’s expected to have an even bigger year in 2019 in Fisher’s system. The Aggies only return 11 starters, but seven of those are on offense. As good of a coach as Fisher is, it is hard to expect the Aggies to contend this season due to their schedule. They must play arguably the three best teams in college football, and two of those games are on the road. A&M travels to Clemson and Georgia and hosts Alabama in early October. There also is a road game at LSU, and the Aggies are 0-3 in Baton Rouge since joining the SEC. A nine-win season would be an accomplishment.