In & around SEC football – West Division Preview

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By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent

West Division predictions
Alabama (12-0, 8-0)
Over/under 11
Projected wins: Duke, New Mexico State, at South Carolina, Southern Mississippi, Ole Miss, at Texas A&M, Tennessee, Arkansas, LSU, at Mississippi State, Western Carolina, at Auburn
Projected losses: none
No one would dare suggest this to Nick Saban, but at this point, the regular season is just a formality for Alabama. Sure, the Crimson Tide could slip up and lose a regular season game to LSU or Auburn, but they are not losing more than once and will be in the postseason yet again. Another Alabama/Clemson showdown seems likely in the playoffs, though the Tide might have to go through Georgia again (and perhaps twice) to win a title. Either way, UA will destroy everything in its path over the next three months.
LSU (11-1, 7-1)
Over/under 9
Projected wins: Georgia Southern, at Texas, Northwestern State, at Vanderbilt, Utah State, Florida, at Mississippi State, Auburn, at Ole Miss, Arkansas, Texas A&M
Projected losses: at Alabama
This is the first time Ed Orgeron has exceedingly high expectations in Baton Rouge, and those championship aspirations are well warranted. The Tigers are loaded on both sides of the ball, and quarterback Joe Burrow should make strides in his second year as the starter. There are two challenging road games at Texas and Alabama, but this group has the potential to contend for a playoff spot.
Texas A&M (8-4, 5-3) Over/under 7.5
Projected wins: Texas State, Lamar, Auburn, Arkansas, at Ole Miss, Mississippi State, UTSA, South Carolina
Projected losses: at Clemson, Alabama, at Geor-gia, at LSU
Jimbo Fisher’s team improved last season throughout the year and should be even better this fall. However, A&M have one of the two hardest schedules in all of college football. The Aggies play at Clemson, Georgia and LSU – arguably three of the five best teams in the sport – and host Alabama and Auburn. This team might be better overall, and Kellen Mond should make a leap at quarterback, but the improvements might not be noticeable in the win-loss column.
Auburn (9-3, 5-3)
Over/under 7.5
Projected wins: Oregon, Tulane, Kent State, Mississippi State, at Florida, at Arkansas, Ole Miss, Georgia, Samford
Projected losses: at Texas A&M, at LSU, Alabama
Auburn’s schedule might not be quite as hard as Texas A&M’s, but it’s pretty close. Gus Malzahn named true freshman Bo Nix the starter heading into the season opener against Oregon. Nix has a talented offensive line and plenty of weapons around him, and the Auburn defense is loaded. But there isn’t much margin for error due to the schedule, and Nix will have an uphill battle right out of the gate. If Malzahn can steer this team to nine wins, it would be a very good season on The Plains.
Mississippi State (7-5, 3-5)
Over/under 8
Projected wins: Louisiana-Lafayette, Southern Mississippi, Kansas State, Kentucky, at Arkansas, Ab-ilene Christian, Ole Miss
Projected losses: at Auburn, at Tennessee, LSU, at Texas A&M, at Alabama
Last season, the defense carried Mississippi State to an eight-win season in Joe Moorhead’s first year in Starkville. Most of that defense is gone, so the Bulldogs will rely on the offense more this season, which is Moorhead’s specialty. This won’t be a very ex-perienced team, but MSU starts the year with what should be three or four wins before the Bulldogs hit the meat of the schedule. The road schedule is brutal, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see this team reach eight or nine wins this fall.
Ole Miss (6-6, 2-6)
Over/under 5
Projected wins: at Memphis, Arkansas, Southeast Louisiana, Cal, Vanderbilt, New Mexico State
Projected losses: at Alabama, at Missouri, Texas A&M, at Auburn, LSU, at Mississippi State
Ole Miss is finally free from scholarship restrictions, and the bowl ban has been lifted. This group is not close to be a contender in the West, but making a bowl game would be a success for 2019. Matt Corral is a talented quarterback, though he does not have many returning starters surrounding him. The defense does return 10 starters from last year, but it was the worst defense in the league. If the Rebels can start the season with an upset over Memphis, they will likely reach a bowl game for the first time since 2015.
Arkansas (4-8, 0-8)
Over/under 5
Projected wins: Portland State, Colorado State, San Jose State, Western Kentucky,
Projected losses: at Ole Miss, Texas A&M, at Kentucky, Auburn, at Alabama, Mississippi State, at LSU, Missouri
Chad Morris’ first season in Fayetteville only ended with two wins, a rough season for the Razorbacks. This year does not promise a return to SEC West contention, but the Hogs should be in the mix for a bowl in November. The non-conference schedule is easy, and there is opportunity for a couple of conference wins early in the season. The rebuild for Morris might take another year or two, but this group should make strides in the right direction this season.
SEC Championship: Georgia over Alabama
College Football Playoffs: Clemson (13-0), Georgia (12-1), Michigan (12-1), Alabama (12-1)
College Football National Championship: Alabama over Georgia
Week 0 Previews and Predictions
Saturday, Aug. 24
Miami vs. Florida (-7.5). The two in-state rivals kick off the college football season in Orlando, Fla., a week before everyone else is scheduled to play, and it is a very important matchup for both squads. Florida is starting the year ranked in the top 10 and is expected to be a playoff contender in Dan Mullen’s second season. Miami is entering its first year with Manny Diaz as head coach, and the former defensive coordinator has energized the program in the offseason. Diaz was Mullen’s defensive coordinator at Mississippi State for two seasons, so the two coaches know each other well. The Gators are little more experienced than the Hurricanes, but there might not be as much separation between these two as the rankings suggest. Prediction: Florida 27, Miami 23.

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