Its ‘Bama Vs “Everyone Else” In The SEC West

, , , ,

With the college football season right around the corner, lets take a look at how the SEC Western conference will line up.

10 years ago,  Nick Saban led Alabama to a 7-6 record in his inaugural season as Crimson Tide head coach–having a decent bounce back season after former head coach Mike Shula had marred the program with NCAA sanctions and losing seasons during his tenure in Tuscaloosa.

Saban and Alabama have come a long way since then, winning five SEC titles and four national championships during the last decade. Despite losing to Clemson in last year’s national championship, there is no team in the nation that has sustained long-term success like Saban and the Tide have.

Last week I did my predictions for the SEC East, picking Georgia to represent the division in Atlanta. But as we take a look at the SEC West this week, it appears to be Alabama versus everyone else south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Alabama Crimson Tide (12-0, 8-0 SEC)

Courtesy USA Today

Let the good times and the Crimson Tide flow in Tuscaloosa, as Bama is the overwhelming favorite to win the division once again. With the top-ranked recruiting class in the land, and with players like quarterback Jalen Hurts and running back Bo Scarbrough returning, it appears that Alabama’s number one challenger at this point is themselves.

Even though former offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin was forced to leave town and take refuge down in Boca Raton, expect Alabama to run an up-tempo, run-and-gun offense–much like last season.

The Tide, demonstrating just how more dominating they were with a running quarterback, averaged 38.8 points per game last season, and scored 40-plus points six times. As far as defense goes, the Tide lost five of seven starters on the front line to the NFL draft, but expect the Bama defense to be clicking on all cylinders by the end of September.

PREDICTION: The Crimson Tide will roll on to an undefeated regular season, and go on to win the SEC and national championship. Meanwhile, Kiffin will be sitting on a beach in south Florida somewhere, stewing with the success of his former employer.

LSU Tigers (10-2, 6-2 SEC)

Bring out the gumbo and the crawfish, because it’s time for the second year of Coach Orgeron’s reign down in his native Cajun Country.

With his Cajun accent and eccentricities, Orgeron has reignited the atmosphere in Baton Rouge, following the disappointing end of Les Miles’ tenure during the middle of last season.
The Tigers did lose 11 starters from last year’s team, but LSU will return preseason All-SEC running back Derrius Guice—the guy that will be the piston that drives what will be a run-first Tiger offense.

PREDICTION: The Tigers will roar through the regular season, the only two losses of the year coming on the road at Florida and Alabama.

Auburn Tigers (8-4, 5-3 SEC)

Gus Malzahn and company return seven starters from a defense that only allowed 17.1 points per game last season. Also returning are running backs Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson, to a Tiger offense that ranked 6th in the nation at 271.3 rushing yards per game.

Courtesy Bleacher Report

However, Auburn having to play what may be the toughest schedule in the nation will keep the Tigers from contending with rival Alabama for the division title.

The Tigers will open up with Georgia Southern—a mid-major team that has been an absolute menace for the SEC in recent years, knocking off Florida in Gainesville in 2013—before travelling to Clemson the following week. The toughest part of Auburn’s schedule will be three consecutive road games at LSU, Arkansas, and Texas A&M, and the Tigers’ “reward” will be getting to play host to Georgia and Alabama in November. The hand the Tigers were dealt this season is certainly not in their favor.

PREDICTION: Auburn will take care of business in the games they’re supposed to win, but will lose to Clemson and LSU on the road, and Georgia and Alabama at home.

Arkansas Razorbacks (8-4, 4-4 SEC)

Behind quarterback Austin Allen, the Razorbacks have the potential to make some noise in the SEC West.

However, two major things will hold the Razorbacks back: run defense and a tough schedule. Arkansas allowed an FBS-worst 39 rushing touchdowns last season, and statistics like that are not a recipe for success in a “run downhill and grind it out” conference, where the players are as tough as the grits at Waffle House.

The schedule consists of road trips to Tuscaloosa, Baton Rouge, and Columbia (South Carolina), as well as playing host to TCU and having a showdown with rival Texas A&M in Arlington on September 23. It is vital that the Razorbacks at least split the games with the Texas schools to get some momentum heading into the heat of conference play.

PREDICTION: The Razorbacks will take care of TCU, Texas A&M, and South Carolina, but will fall to Alabama and LSU on the road, and Auburn at home.

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

It has been the same script for Coach Kevin Sumlin and Texas A&M the last couple of seasons: get off to a hot start, fade late, go to a non-BCS (but decent) bowl.

Courtesy Gigem247

With the first five games on the docket (at UCLA, Nicholls State, UL-Lafayette, Arkansas, and at South Carolina) being considered “winnable” before hosting Alabama, that scenario appears likely this season as well.

The burning question going into this season however, is how the Aggies will fare without quarterback Trevor Knight–the current Arizona Cardinals’ QB–completing 193-of-362 passes for 2,432 yards and 19 touchdowns last season for the Aggies. A&M does return leading receiver Christian Kirk, but without a consistent starter like Knight taking the snaps, it could be a long season in College Station.

PREDICTION: The Aggies will start out 3-0 before enduring a brutal stretch with three losses (at Arkansas, Alabama, at Florida) in four games. They will have a 5-3 record heading into November, before losing to Auburn at home and LSU down in Death Valley.

Mississippi State Bulldogs (6-6, 2-6 SEC)

In a different conference, the Bulldogs would be a contender. But with road games at Georgia, Auburn, Texas A&M, and Arkansas, and games at home versus Alabama and LSU, a .500 season is about the limit.

Coach Dan Mullen does have one of the more versatile players returning this season in redshirt junior Nick Fitzgerald. The All-SEC quarterback is a dual-threat QB that possesses both wheels (16 rushing TDs; 1,385 yards) and an arm (24 TDs, 2,685 yards). But even with Fitzgerald, a bowl appearance and victory should constitute a successful season in Starkville.

PREDICTION: Mississippi State will win all of its non-conference games (Charleston Southern, at Louisiana Tech, BYU, and UMass) and knock off Kentucky and rival Ole Miss at home to reach bowl eligibility.

Ole Miss Rebels (4-8, 0-8 SEC)

After all the events that have unfolded in Oxford during the past month, with Hugh Freeze’s shocking resignation, it’s hard to imagine Ole Miss seeing much success this season. Yes, five-star quarterback Shea Patterson will return, but without a well-established coach at the helm, the Rebels will continue to backslide into non-relevance.

PREDICTION: The Rebels will come close to beating Vanderbilt, Kentucky, and Mississippi State–but will fall just short every time. A 4-8 record and a winless mark in SEC play will make that Thanksgiving turkey taste not nearly as good for Rebels’ fans.


About Cameron Brown

Cameron Brown is sports columnist with The Journal-Enterprise, Providence, Kentucky and winner of the Kentucky Press Association “Best Sports Column of the Year” award. Cameron has a passion for basketball–like so many others in his home state of Kentucky. He played basketball for his high school in rural western Kentucky and enjoys other sports, including college football and Major League Baseball. His dream is to have a job in sports.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *