Team to beat: Ala-BAMA!
We can’t hold the ‘kick six’ against them. That play was just too fluky (although Nick Saban could have prevented it). The Sugar Bowl debacle was bad, but it was not the bowl game the Crimson Tide had been practicing all season to get into, and the more spirited Oklahoma Sooners had their up-tempo spread offense explode at the right time in a 45-31 upset. Not to make an excuse, but trust me on this one, Alabama was the better team, and if not for the Auburn debacle could’ve won he national title let season. Alabama will return a chunk of its defense which gave up just 13.9 points (4th in the nation) and 106.2 yards per game (11th). That side of the ball is led by LB Trey DePriest (6-2, 245, Sr.) who tallied 65 tackles, two sacks and an interception last year. The coaching staff is also expecting a lot out of junior-college transfer Jarron Reed (6-4, 310) at DE. At quarterback, the Tide still trying to figure things out. The clubhouse leader is Jr. Blake Sims, who completed just 13-30 passes in the spring game for 178 yards, a touchdown and 2 interceptions. He’ll likely get pushed aside by FSU transfer and Mobile (AL) native Jacob Coker, who will have two years of eligibility left. Bama must also replace LT Cyrus Kouandjiou, but don’t expect bulldozing RB T.J. Yeldon (1,235 rushing yards, 14 TDs) or the electric WR Amari Cooper (45 catches, 736 yards, 4 TDs) to stop getting what’s theirs.
Overrated (clap, clap, clap-clap-clap): Auburn
Auburn got lucky last year. I mean, real lucky. As if the Hail Mary to beat Georgia wasn’t enough, the Tigers also had the defining moment of the season when Chris Davis returned a missed field goal 108 yards for a touchdown to end Alabama’s reign atop the college football world. It was a shocking play that I couldn’t even believe as I saw it happening, just like the Hail Mary. Chances are the Tigers won’t get two plays like that again this season, but there is still plenty enough returning talent for Auburn to be in the running for a second straight SEC title. Holding the keys to Auburn’s high-octane offense is senior quarterback Nick Marshall. Marshall passed for 1,976 yards and 14 TDs while adding another 1,068 yards and 12 TDs on the ground last year. Many people are expecting those number to go up, but with Tre Mason (1,816 rush yards, 23 TDs) no longer around to attract the defense’s attention and No. 2 NFL draft pick Greg Robinson leaving a huge void at left tackle, I’m a little skeptical. Remember, Marshall threw less than 19 passes a game last and was the No. 2 option in the running game last year. Can he handle the extra responsibility? I’m not so sure. Still, Gus Malzahn’s attack is ahead of its time and should come close to the nation-leading 328.3 rushing yards per game it produced last season. Defensively, there’s room for improvement on a unit that gave up 24.7 points per game (48th in the country). Dee Ford leaves a big hole in the middle of the line, but the back seven of Auburn’s 4-2-5 set looks stout with the return of junior LB Cassanova McKinzy (75 tackles), senior S Jermaine Whitehead (65 tackles) and senior Robensen Therezie (57 tackles, four interceptions) at the rover position.
Darkhorse: Ole Miss
A year after bringing in the best recruiting class in school history, Ole Miss might just be ready to make the leap. Senior Bo Wallace is the most experienced quarterback in the SEC, and he’ll have plenty of help. Sophomore WR LaQuon Treadwell (72 catches, 608 yards, 5 TDs) will continue to test defenses with his blazing speed while All-SEC first team safety Cody Prewitt is back to lead a defense that returns nine starters.