Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, July 25, 2015 at 7:00 PM
If you’re purchased the annual Athlon college football publication from your local newsstand, you’ve probably noticed that all seven teams in the SEC West are considered to be Top 25 caliber teams.
ATHLON’S EARLY RANKINGS
Ole Miss #11
Texas A&M #20
Mississippi State #21
That’s amazing…the WORST team is supposed to be #21! Now we all know that these teams play a round robin against each other…so it’s impossible for all seven to stay that high in media rankings through the full season. Somebody’s going to be losing games. Any team that takes a step backward or suffers serious injuries may lose a lot of games.
Let’s run through our key indicator numbers with an eye on whether or not those rankings are really justified. As high as we are on the talent levels in the SEC…and as supportive of these teams as we’ve been in past seasons with our selections…we have to admit that the group largely underachieved in the bowls last year. Not everyone (particularly Arkansas and Texas A&M vs. Texas and West Virginia). But…enough to make you curb your enthusiasm.
2014 Record: 12-2
2014 Rankings: 17 on offense, 12 on defense
Returning Starters: 2 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Notebook: Alabama was supposed to be a juggernaut, yet was bullied by Ohio State in the second half of their National Semi-Final. And, now they only return TWO starters on offense! Sorry…but you’re going to be #2 in the country when you have to rebuild that much offense? In a brutal division! Let’s assume that the defense will still be terrific. That’s Saban’s specialty. The offense will need to impress us vs. Wisconsin and Ole Miss within the first three weeks before we’re ready to pencil in a return trip to the Final Four. There’s no worse division for an inexperienced team to be in nationally than the SEC West.
2014 Record: 8-5
2014 Rankings: 16 on offense, 64 on defense
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Gus Malzahn
Notebook: The media seems to be falling in love with spread offense teams that really blow and go when things are clicking. Yes, Auburn at its “best” can play with anybody. But, they went 8-5 last year! They were blown out by Georgia, lost at home to struggling A&M, and then lost their bowl game to a Wisconsin team that struggled when stepping up in class within the Big 10. Throw in the fact that only half the returning starters are back…and it’s difficult to really buy this as a top five team out of the gate in 2015. A tough September starts with Louisville in Atlanta, before ending at LSU and vs. Mississippi State.
2014 Record: 9-4
2014 Rankings: 51 on offense, 13 on defense
Returning Starters: 9 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Hugh Freeze
Notebook: The Rebels were a huge disappointment on offense in their big games. And, now they have to adjust to a new quarterback. Very good team? Obviously. Top 10 contender? Hold your horses. We can’t forget that the Rebels lost their bowl game to TCU 42-3 in a blatant no-show against a national power. Plus they lost at Arkansas 30-0 late in the season. A September game vs. Alabama will tell us a lot about both of those teams. We like seeing all that experience…but new starting quarterbacks are never a shoe-in to produce from the get-go.
2014 Record: 8-5
2014 Rankings: 77 on offense, 9 on defense
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Les Miles
Notebook: Another SEC team with a great defense but disappointing offense. The Tigers lost their bowl to Notre Dame after failing to match up consistently with the big boys. It’s true that they were robbed of the Alabama game. Not so much in a 41-7 loss to Auburn. Games Two and Three this year are at Mississippi State and vs. Auburn. Man…the SEC is really going to OWN the September TV airwaves! LSU needs to find an offense fast.
2014 Record: 7-6
2014 Rankings: 60 on offense, 10 on defense
Returning Starters: 9 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Bret Bielema
Notebook: Very interesting situation. The Hogs took a huge leap forward from expectations last season, and showed that “Wisconsin-style” football can compete in the SEC. The problem is, you have to pass sometime! One dimensional teams can’t just grind all year and hope to win every coin flip ending. We have great respect for the leap Arkansas made. We’re not ready to assume a second leap forward now that everyone knows what the Hogs are capable of. The defense may take a step backward too. A friendly early schedule should help build confidence. It’s going to be brutal after that.
2014 Record: 8-5
2014 Rankings: 30 on offense, 102 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Kevin Sumlin
Notebook: A misleadingly hot start in 2014 led to a shocking collapse once the best in the SEC started bullying the Aggies pathetic defense. To help fix that, A&M stole LSU’s defensive coordinator. That sets up the legitimate possibility of a return to excellence. Defense is the easiest “quick” fix in this sport because schematics and effort mean so much. We’ll be watching the September 5 opener vs. Arizona State in Houston very closely. If the defense shines there…maybe we have a Cinderella story brewing. Otherwise, this is just another SEC team getting too much media hype.
2014 Record: 10-3
2014 Rankings: 8 on offense, 84 on defense
Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 3 on defense
Head Coach: Dan Mullen
Notebook: The Bulldogs made a run at #1 before November losses at Alabama and Ole Miss popped their balloon. Then Georgia Tech stomped all over that popped balloon in the Orange Bowl. Now only 7 returning starters are back in a division with little margin for error. Dak Prescott returns at quarterback, and is getting some Heisman hype because it’s assumed he’ll have to post huge numbers to carry the team. To us, the big factor is that combination of only 3 starters returning to a poor defense. This team could look this year like A&M did last year in terms of defensive helplessness. Should they be considered Top 25 in 2015 before they even beat anybody? LSU and Auburn are on the September schedule.
We admit that our SEC coverage has been pretty skeptical this season. It’s hard to properly characterize a league that is both “very good” and “probably overrated” at the same time. It’s possible to be only a B-plus when the media is screaming A-plus…particularly when so many in the media have a vested interested in people thinking you’re an A-plus! We are going to see a lot of great football in the SEC this season. We’re all looking forward to that. Just keep things in perspective as you compile your Power Ratings and compare them to Vegas lines.
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A few days of baseball now…until we run a string of college football conference previews as July turns into August. Got to get them all posted before the NFL Preseason starts!
Monday: MLB Series Preview…Detroit at Tampa Bay
Tuesday: MLB Series Preview…LA Angels at Houston
Wednesday: MLB Big Game Preview…NY Yankees at Texas
Thursday: College Football Preview…American Athletic Conference
Friday: College Football Preview…the Independents
Saturday: College Football Preview…ACC Atlantic
Sunday: College Football Preview…ACC Coastal
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