Welcome to our college football conference previews, in which we will tell you what you need to know about various conferences, with an emphasis on watchability. First up was the Pac-12. Now, the SEC.
The SEC is not the best conference in college football. It’s okay to say so out loud, even. This is a safe place.
Pretty good. The SEC had a vice grip on all of college football for years, but that grip is loosening, and it seems that the past three years have been slowly building toward an era of post-SEC dominance. However, that doesn’t mean the SEC is any less awesome to watch than past years.
Although this is undoubtably the year of the running back in the SEC, the biggest thing to watch will be quarterback play. A number of teams have top-20 defenses and amazing running backs, but only Mississippi State has a stud under center. There are some other returnees at the position, but nothing to write home about. This season will be dictated by which teams’ new quarterback can hang in the SEC, and which teams have enough weapons around them to cover it up if they can’t.
Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott returns as the SEC’s top quarterback and a top-5 Heisman candidate.
For non-SEC fans, the first thought that normally attached to “SEC football” is Alabama, because it’s owned college football since before I could drive and hasn’t let up since. But if there was ever a time for the Tide’s grip on the conference and its division to be broken, it’s now.
The SEC West is the strongest and most difficult division in college football, and you should always watch. Although there are arguments for other divisions, (I see you, Pac-12 South!) the SEC West features some of the best games every single year, and seemingly has an important top-25 matchup each week. And this year—with LSU, Arkansas, and Ole Miss all trending up after solid 2014 campaigns—a non-Alabama team might finally reclaim the crown.
The SEC East, on the other hand, is kind of butt. Mizzou and Georgia just have to chill for something like seven games this year, pooping on garbage teams like Kentucky and Vanderbilt before going head-to-head for a spot in the SEC title game. Neither team is going to be terrified by Florida or Tennessee, either. This is not a division I’m overly invested in, given that whoever shows up in the title game will get stomped.
We’ll start with the team we all love to hate: Alabama. The Tide return just three starters on offense but seven on defense, meaning this could be another one of those years in which Alabama just shuts everyone down but doesn’t really blow anyone out, and that’s fine by me.
Of the folks back on offense, running back Derrick Henry is the one to circle—he will become the primary back this year with the departure of T.J. Yeldon. Henry actually out-rushed Yeldon in 2014, going for 990 yards and 11 touchdowns. The Crimson Tide defense will be dominant but probably not Cardale-proof, and Alabama will likely find itself in a late-season race for the SEC West title once again. And of course, you should absolutely watch Alabama. When they’re rolling, it’s just beautiful football, and when they lose, it’s just a beautiful moment.
Alabama players in disbelief that they just lost to Ohio State and a “third-string” quarterback.
Missouri was on the wrong end of a brutal 42-13 beat-down in the SEC title game for the second-straight year, but the Tigers have the pieces and the division to make it three straight. The Tigers return quarterback Maty Mauk, who is just fine and will continue to be just fine as he tries to win a third-straight division title. Mauk will have his work cut out for him though, as he lost three starters at receiver.
But Missouri’s rise to prominence and then dominance for the past two years happened because they built one of the best defenses in the nation. Michael Scherer and Kentrell Brothers hold it down at linebacker, and the Tigers bring back three veteran corners and a senior safety. They lost a lot of star power on the defensive line, though, which means Scherer and Brothers will have to deal with more blockers than they are used to.
Speaking of SEC East division titles, Georgia is about ready to knock off the Tigers, and I think it’s happening this year, even with the lingering question mark at quarterback. At first glance, I thought, “Poor Georgia. For two years now, they’ve been close to winning the SEC East only to have Mizzou jump up and snatch a chance at Auburn and Alabama in the SEC title game.” Then I remembered that they have Nick Chubb as their starting running back, and I no longer felt bad.
Here are Chubb’s 2014 numbers: 1,547 yards, 14 touchdowns on 219 carries. Oh yea, he did that despite logging just eight starts.
Before Todd Gurley was lost to a stupid suspension and then to an ACL tear, there weren’t many outside the Bulldog camp who knew who Nick Chubb was. But now, after running all over the SEC for just three-quarters of a season, it’s easy to say that Chubb is the best back in the game.
I’ve seen thousands of highlight clips, and Chubb’s is among the elite few that is actually worthy of having “Lux Aeterna” play in the background. You should watch Chubb every time he plays.
Auburn has just four starters returning on offense, but it is bringing back the guys it needs most. Although having Sammie Coates for another season would have been nice, receiver D’Haquille “Duke” Williams is not a bad new No. 1 option, as he caught 45 passes for 730 yards and five touchdowns in 10 games last year, though he is currently suspended for some unknown reason. If the Tigers don’t get Williams back before the season starts—which they probably will, because they want to win games—they will be in a ton of trouble. New quarterback Jeremy Johnson will likely have some shaky moments, but he’s probably going to be a top-3 quarterback in the SEC.
Will Muschamp will be in his first year as defensive coordinator, and if the Tigers want to get back to the national title game, he will have to work some wonders with a squad that allowed 26.7 points per game last year. Auburn also has the attention of the SEC media, and was chosen to win the conference at SEC media day earlier this summer. Even if you’re not as bullish on Auburn, you should still have a great time watching their games.
Next up is Ole Miss. Although it’s not 100 percent clear whether it will be fuckboy Chad Kelly or Ryan Buchanan lining up under center, whoever ends up taking snaps will have an exceptional stable of receivers to throw to, as tight end Evan Engram and receiver Laquon Treadwell return for Ole Miss. The pair combined for 1,294 yards last season and both will be expected to develop into true stars this year.
But as is SEC custom, the actual exciting stuff isn’t always happening on offense. Ole Miss led the nation last year in scoring defense, holding teams to just 16.0 points per game. They lost two All-Americans in their secondary, but the Rebels have a pair of capable replacements as well as a stellar defensive line, which will be anchored by tackle Robert Nkemdiche. Behind him, Ole Miss is going to be frighteningly good on defense. They’ve gotten better every year under head coach Hugh Freeze, and I don’t see this being the year they slow down.
On the note of not slowing down, we come to LSU and Leonard Fournette. I’m not saying he’s is the next Adrian Peterson, but if you can watch this video—in which he makes a grown man that goes to school to play football look like a child fresh out of the womb—and doubt Fournette, then more power to you.
The Tigers’ bread and butter last year was not their massive running back, but rather their defense. LSU had an amazing defense last year, ending the year as No. 8 in the nation in total defense while holding teams to 162.3 passing yards per game, good for fourth-best. LSU has plenty of talent returning in the middle of the line, and safeties Jalen Mills and Jamal Adams will keep the secondary strong along with corner Tre’Davious White. The Tigers will have to fill holes at the other corner slot and linebacker, but the depth and talent in line seems poised to pick up where last year’s D left off. If you like punishing running backs and amazing defense, you should absolutely tune into every LSU game this year.
Know why Arkansas is worth watching? 1) it’s in the SEC West, 2) they have two of the league’s best running backs, and 3) last year, despite being an average team, shut out then-No. 8 Ole Miss 30-0 to squash the Rebels hopes of winning the West. Arkansas should only get better this year on both sides of the ball, and that’s going to make for some more amazing games and even more dominant shutouts.
One luxury the Razorbacks have is that they are a top-20 team that don’t have to worry about who’s going to start at quarterback. Senior Brandon Allen will take the reigns for a third-straight year, and after tossing 20 touchdowns and five interceptions last year, it seems like he’s prepared to have another efficient season under center. Add to the mix that Arkansas has two running backs in Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins that both rushed for over 1,000 yards last season, and you’ve got one hell of an offense. Those guys—and the fact that they have to run against SEC West defenses—make Arkansas an exciting and watchable team in 2015.
Mississippi State was, for me, college football’s second-best surprise this past year, behind Chubb, of course. And though there’s a lot of praise to be heaped on the team as a whole, there are few players from last year’s top-ranked team, aside from quarterback and Heisman-hopeful Dak Prescott, returning to Starkville this fall.
The Bulldogs’ 2014 defense was dreadful and will likely stay that way this year. The team returns only 7-of-22 starters, with four on the offensive side and three on defense. It’s not completely fair to write them off already, and while I would recommend watching them, I wouldn’t bet money on the Bulldogs winning 10 games again this year.
I also wouldn’t bet any money on Florida. Watching the Gators play football is bad and not fun. They’re just an average team. They have an average defense with one awesome guy in corner Vernon Hargreaves, who is the nation’s best corner, and an average offense with another awesome guy, receiver Demarcus Robinson. Those two guys aside, they’re not really worth your time in a league that boasts so many better options. Just search for those guys on YouTube or something if you want to watch the good parts of Gator football. (Bonus: You get to listen to a trash remix of Lord Knows while watching Robinson do cool things.)
Want to know something funny? I went through this whole post and forgot about Tennessee. That tells you everything you need to know about how excited you should be to watch Tennessee games this year.
For these teams, we’re going to play Remember When. While two of these teams did win at least seven games last year, they did so against some of the most embarrassing schedules available in Power Five football, so I say in a conference with so many better teams, skip ‘em.
Remember when Texas A&M swaggered into Columbia last October with some fresh meat under center and beat then-No. 9 South Carolina 52-28, and everyone was like, “Johnny who?!?” Yea, the Aggies thought they could keep the magic going, and almost fooled us last year by opening 5-0. Then they finished the season 3-5 and everyone realized those teams they beat earlier actually all sucked, Gamecocks included. Kyle Allen will probably put up some massive numbers, and the Aggies could even be alright this year—hell, they did win eight games last year—but I’m going to need to see some proof before I declare them a not-shit SEC team.
Remember when some dumb-ass AP voters threw USC a top-1o preseason ranking last year and then they went and voided their bowels all over the Old Ball Coach in the very first game? Those were good times. Almost as memorable as when they LOST TO KENTUCKY. No joke, man. The Wildcats hung 45 on the Cocks. It was a limp performance from USC and was Kentucky’s only win against a team that finished above .500 last season. The Gamecocks get poor Pharoh Cooper and an experienced/terrible defense back this year, but it doesn’t matter. Steve Spurrier is just out here living and losing, and you shouldn’t watch them.
Remember when Vanderbilt was fresh off its first back-to-back 9-win season, and all the Vandy fans were like, “Yea, we back in this!” Well, worry not, the Commodores suck again, and will for some time. I’m not going to spend a ton of time focusing on a time on a program as dreadful as Vanderbilt, but they won a grand total of zero SEC games last year. In the past six years, Alabama has collected as many titles as Vandy has head coaches. If you want to get high and watch something funny, just tune in to Missouri at Vandy Oct. 24.
I have nothing to remember about Kentucky. They sucked. They suck. They will suck.
Oct. 17: Missouri at Georgia
The other obvious answer is the Iron Bowl, but that’s boring. It’s Auburn vs. Alabama every year. Sometimes cool things like a game-winning field goal return happen. Other times, the teams take turns curb stomping one another. It’s fun and you should watch it, but when it comes to this season, the game you need to watch is the clash between Georgia and Mizzou in Athens, Ga.
This game will decide the SEC East and will feature the nation’s best running back going up against a vicious Tiger defense. In last year’s matchup, Mizzou got dropped 34-0 at home. Combine that embarrassment with the fact that Georgia is peeved that they have been stonewalled from the title game the past two years, and you have some great southern football.