In & around SEC football


2015 season predictions

SEC East Division

1. Georgia (10-2, 6-2). Losses: Tennessee, Auburn. Georgia has been the most talented team in the East Division since Urban Meyer left Florida, but the Bulldogs haven’t won a Southeastern Conference title in a decade. This year, Mark Richt has yet another team capable of winning the SEC crown, and the Athens squad is a quarterback away from being a national title contender. The quarterback race likely will drag on into the season, but the ‘Dawgs’ talent elsewhere can make up for that situation at least a few weeks. Nick Chubb is an early Heisman Trophy candidate and the defense should be one of the best in the conference. Georgia must go at least 2-1 in the three-game October stretch of Alabama, Tennessee and Missouri to win the East, and the Bulldogs could get a rematch with rival Auburn in the SEC title game. 

2. Tennessee (8-4, 5-3). Losses: Oklahoma, Arkansas, Alabama, Florida. After nearly a decade of mediocrity, the Volunteers finally are ready to compete for a division crown. Butch Jones has recruited extremely well, and the Vols finally have talent and depth on both sides of the ball. An early season matchup against Oklahoma will be tough, but the three-game stretch consisting of Florida, Arkansas and Georgia will decide how UT finishes in the SEC. 

3. Missouri (9-3, 5-3). Losses: Georgia, Tennessee, Arkansas. After winning the East in back-to-back seasons, the Tigers are being overlooked yet again. This Missouri squad isn’t as talented as the previous two teams but is good enough to win the division if the Tigers can catch a few breaks along the way. The schedule sets up nicely again, and the road game against Georgia in October could decide the division. 

4. South Carolina (6-6, 3-5). Losses: Georgia, Mi-ssouri, LSU, Texas A&M, at Tennessee, vs. Clemson. The Gamecocks had a disappointing 2014 season mainly due to one of the weakest defenses in the conference. The defense should be better this year, but the offense might be the bigger concern. Steve Spurrier’s team is the biggest mystery in the league, but it’s unlikely USC is a real threat to win the East this season.

6. Florida (6-6, 3-5). Losses: Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, LSU, Georgia, South Carolina, Flo-rida State. Jim McElwain is a great offensive coach, but he’ll be provided with the biggest challenge of his coaching career with this year’s offense. The Gators’ offensive line is young and the skill position players are also inexperienced. The quarterback position is a major concern, and Flo-rida will have difficulty scoring most games. The defense is still talented, but it might not be enough for McElwain to reach a bowl game in his inaugural season as UF head coach.

5. Kentucky (6-6, 2-6).
Losses: South Carolina, Missouri, Auburn, Mississippi State, Tennessee,
Georgia. Mark Stoops’ team has made gradual improvements in his two
seasons in Lexington, and the next step for the Wildcats is bowl
eligibility. Kentucky’s schedule is difficult, and the Wildcats likely
need to knock off Florida and Louisville to reach a bowl game, but it’s
certainly possible considering how good UK could be on offense.

7. Vanderbilt (2-10, 0-8). Losses: Georgia, Ole Miss, Middle Tennessee State, South Carolina, Mi-ssouri, Houston, Florida, Kentucky, Texas A&M, Te-nnessee. The Commodores are staring directly at another very difficult season. Derek Mason’s job could be in jeopardy if Vandy keeps moving in the wrong direction. 

SEC West Division

1. Auburn (11-1, 7-1). Losses: at Arkansas. Everything is in order for Auburn to win the West Division again, but the Tigers have not fared well in recent years when they have high expectations. Quarterback Jeremy Johnson has limited experience but possesses all the necessary tools to run Gus Malzahn’s high-speed offense. The defense should improve under Will Muschamp, and the schedule is as lenient as an SEC schedule can be. A four-game stretch including Arkansas, Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Georgia will be tough, but an early-season road game at LSU will be the game that decides Auburn’s fate in 2015. 

2. Arkansas (10-2, 6-2). Losses: Alabama, Ole Miss. After a strong finish to last year’s campaign, the Razorbacks enter the 2015 season with a much higher ceiling. Despite losing running back Jonathan Williams to a season-ending injury, the Hogs’ offense will be one of the most difficult to defend in the SEC. Bret Bielema’s team has holes to fill on defense but will be in position to win the SEC West if it can make improvements as the season progresses. 

3. Texas A&M (9-3, 5-3). Losses: Arkansas, Auburn, LSU. The Aggies enter this season unranked but have as much talent as almost anyone in the country. Kevin Sumlin teams typically are very productive offensively, and if quarterback Kyle Allen can improve upon his strong 2014 finish, the Aggies should be in position to compete for the West title. John Chavis inherits a defense that has struggled in recent years, but A&M should be better on that side of the ball due to the presence of star defensive end Myles Garrett. The Aggies also have a favorable home schedule, al-though that hasn’t helped them much in the past. 

4. Alabama (9-3, 5-3). Losses: Georgia, Texas A&M, Auburn. The Crimson Tide is loaded with talent and has one of the best defenses in all of college football. UA has elite talent at every skill position except one, and that one position could keep the Tide from repeating as SEC champion. The quarterback situation in Tuscaloosa isn’t necessarily dire, but it’s far from ideal. Nick Saban still hasn’t named a starter, and it’s possible that multiple signal-callers will play in the first couple of games. The schedule is probably the toughest in the country, however, and it would be a mild surprise if Bama emerges with only one loss this season.

5. Mississippi State (7-5, 3-5). Losses: Auburn, Texas A&M, at Missouri, Alabama, Arkansas. The Bulldogs were the surprise team of the SEC last season, and Dan Mullen had his best season as a head coach. Dak Prescott returns for his senior year, but Mississippi State is replacing numerous starters on both sides of the ball. If the Bulldogs reach a bowl game, it will be another successful season for Mullen. 

6. Ole Miss (7-5, 3-5). Losses: Alabama, Florida, Texas A&M, Auburn, Mississippi State. Much like their in-state rival in Stark-ville, the Rebels had a very successful season in 2014. Hugh Freeze has recruited extremely well, and his team likely includes at least three first round NFL draft picks. Much like Alabama, however, the Rebels have major concerns at quarterback, an issue that could be the difference between Ole Miss being a playoff contender and a middle of the road SEC team. 

7. LSU (7-5, 3-5). Losses: Mississippi State, Auburn, Alabama, Arkansas, Ole Miss. LSU is always ta-lented. Les Miles recruits as well as anyone, and the Tigers usually are loaded with NFL prospects. Like so many other SEC teams, however, LSU is plagued with a quarterback problem. Brandon Harris, the presumed starter, struggled mightily during his freshman season. Miles has had some difficulty in developing quarterbacks, and if that problem persists, the Tigers could be in some trouble in the brutal SEC West. 

SEC Championship Game: Auburn 31, Georgia 24

Week 1 Predictions 

Thursday, Sept. 3

South Carolina vs. North Carolina (in Charlotte. N.C.). (+3). Both the Gamecocks and the Tar Heels are trying to bounce back from disappointing seasons, and a season-opening win would be huge for both teams. The SEC lost several games against the ACC at the end of last season, including South Carolina’s loss to Clemson, so conference bragging rights are also at stake. In addition, former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik is making his debut as UNC’s defensive coordinator, and he’s up against a familiar foe in Steve Spurrier. Prediction: South Carolina 27, North Carolina 23.

Western Kentucky at Vanderbilt (-1.5). The Commodores don’t have many wins on the schedule, but they do have the chance to start the season on a positive note. Western Kentucky is not pushover, and the ‘Dores might be in for a really tough opening game in Nashville. Prediction: Vanderbilt 23, WKU 20. 

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