Optimistic, Pessimistic and Realistic Predictions for Every SEC West Team
Summer is almost upon us, preseason magazines are hitting the newsstands and college football is just around the corner.
That means it's prediction time. Well, sort of.
In the age of instant information, it'd be silly to set your preseason predictions in stone in late May or early June, considering there's still plenty of time for personnel moves in the offseason and a whole month of fall camp to learn about the new batch of stars in the SEC.
We can still cover our bases a little bit and give you some options. Our optimistic, pessimistic and realistic predictions for each SEC West team are in this slideshow.
Alabama Crimson Tide
All eyes in Alabama are on Florida State transfer quarterback Jacob Coker this summer, especially after a rather lackluster performance from the Crimson Tide quarterbacks in the spring game. All of new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin's eggs are in Coker's basket, because if Coker struggles and doesn't live up to the hype, Alabama could be in trouble.
That's relatively speaking, of course. Head coach Nick Saban has built the program up to a point where nine-win seasons are considered "down years," and he has enough talent around Coker to allow him to simply be a caretaker if he isn't ready to be a difference-maker.
Defensively, Alabama will be fine. The front seven is loaded with big, athletic studs like A'Shawn Robinson and Jonathan Allen. There's some concern in the secondary, especially at cornerback where the Tide never really settled on a starter opposite Deion Belue last year. With Belue gone and Eddie Jackson out with injury, somebody is going to have to step up.
Optimistic: 12-0, SEC champs, No. 1 seed in the inaugural College Football Playoff.
Pessimistic: 9-3 with losses to Auburn, LSU and either Texas A&M, Ole Miss or Florida.
Realistic: 11-1 with a loss to either Auburn or LSU. Let's be real, running the table in the SEC is hard. While Alabama's schedule is rather forgiving, it's asking a lot for a team to go unblemished.
Head coach Bret Bielema enters his second year in Fayetteville with more questions than answers.
Brandon Allen solidified the quarterback spot this spring, but will he be the same guy who completed just 47.7 percent of his passes in SEC play last year, or was that more a product of a nagging shoulder injury? Whatever the case, Arkansas will be able to run the ball with Alex Collins, Jonathan Williams and Korliss Marshall.
Defensively, there are some questions. Gone is defensive end Chris Smith, but Trey Flowers returns at end along with Darius Philon in the middle of the defensive line. Those guys are going to have to get pressure, because the Hog secondary was suspect last year, and getting pressure with four will be imperative.
Optimistic: 7-5 with wins over Nicholls State, Texas Tech, Northern Illinois, UAB, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and another upset.
Pessimistic: 2-10 with zero wins in the SEC and out-of-conference losses to Texas Tech and Northern Illinois.
Realistic: 4-8 with wins over Nicholls State, Northern Illinois, UAB and Ole Miss, Mississippi State or Texas Tech.
The defending SEC champs enter the 2014 season with relatively minor personnel turnover from last year's squad. Quarterback Nick Marshall's return marks the first time in Gus Malzahn's college coaching career that he's had a signal-caller return for a second year in the system.
Replacing star running back Tre Mason won't be an issue, because Malzahn's system has produced 11 1,000-yard rushers in eight seasons.
Defensively, there are some questions. But the Tigers are deep along the defensive line, have both linebackers returning and have amassed some much-needed depth in a secondary that was sorely lacking in the depth department in 2013.
Optimistic: 12-0, SEC champs, No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff
Pessimistic: 6-6, which would be a wildly pessimistic view. But considering the schedule, it's possible. Kansas State, LSU, at Mississippi State, South Carolina, at Ole Miss, Texas A&M, at Georgia and at Alabama is a big-time gauntlet, and if Auburn suffers a few injuries, the season could head south.
Realistic: 11-1, with a loss to Alabama, Georgia or LSU. Auburn's going to move the football and its defense is going to be better, but running the table in the SEC is so tough.
LSU is no stranger to massive roster turnover, and this year, it's primarily located on the offensive side of the ball. Head coach Les Miles has to replace a 3,000-yard passer, two 1,000-yard receivers and a 1,000-yard rusher from last year's squad that won the Outback Bowl.
Brandon Harris and Anthony Jennings are still battling it out for the quarterback job, Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard are holding down the fort at running back, awaiting the arrival of freshman Leonard Fournette, and fellow freshman Malachi Dupre might have to be a star at wide receiver right away for this year's Tigers.
Defensively, LSU has to replace two defensive tackles, but Danielle Hunter looked like a boss at defensive end at the spring game and there's plenty of talent for defensive coordinator John Chavis to work with.
Optimistic: 12-0, SEC champs, No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff.
Pessimistic: 7-5 with losses to Alabama, Auburn, Wisconsin and two out of a group consisting of Texas A&M, Florida, Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
Realistic: 9-3 with losses to Alabama, Auburn and either Florida or Wisconsin.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
Mississippi State is the chic pick to make some noise in the SEC West this season, and with quarterback Dak Prescott, wide receiver Jameon Lewis and a loaded two-deep on defense returning for head coach Dan Mullen, it's easy to see why.
But what exactly does "making noise" mean?
Are we talking about the Bulldogs actually winning the division, springing an upset or two or just being pesky when playing the big boys of the division?
It could go in a bunch of different ways for the Bulldogs, which will make them interesting to watch in 2014.
Optimistic: 9-3 with wins over all four out-of-conference opponents, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Arkansas, Ole Miss and an upset.
Pessimistic: 6-6 with losses to Alabama, Auburn, Texas A&M, LSU, Ole Miss and one upset (Kentucky, Arkansas or Vanderbilt).
Realistic: 7-5 with Egg Bowl serving as an opportunity to be 8-4.
Ole Miss Rebels
Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze has put together two straight solid recruiting classes, and it's time for that work to push the Rebels into division title contention.
There's a lot to love about this team, starting with the defense that consists of defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, linebacker Serderius Bryant and safety Cody Prewitt. Toss in safeties Tony Conner and newcomer C.J. Hampton, and Prewitt could be freed up to drop down and play some linebacker.
Offensively, Bo Wallace returns at quarterback, Laquon Treadwell is ready to take the next step at wide receiver and the Rebels are loaded with edge-rushers. If Mark Dodson, Jordan Wilkins or somebody else can step up at running back between the tackles, it will take some pressure off of Wallace in the ground game.
Optimistic: 10-2, losing only two out of four games consisting of Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn.
Pessimistic: 5-7, losing those four games plus three more out of Boise State, Tennessee, Mississippi State, Arkansas and Vanderbilt.
Realistic: 8-4 with losses coming to Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Texas A&M, Tennessee or Mississippi State.
Texas A&M Aggies
What exactly will life look like for Texas A&M post-Johnny Manziel? Whether it's sophomore Kenny Hill or true freshman Kyle Allen taking the snaps, expecting the Aggie offense to stay at the level it was for the last two years is asking an awful lot.
It will be up to the defense to pick up the slack. The bad news is that the defense finished 111th in the nation last year at 475.8 yards per game, but the good news is that another offseason of work for the nine returning starters couldn't hurt.
Head coach Kevin Sumlin knows how to tweak his offense based on the quarterback, so moving the ball won't be an issue—especially with one of the best running back stables in the nation. But that defense makes it very hard to trust the Aggies.
Optimistic: 10-2 with two losses coming out of a group of four teams consisting of South Carolina, Alabama, Auburn and LSU.
Pessimistic: 6-6 with losses to those four teams, Ole Miss and either Mississippi State or Missouri.
Realistic: 8-4 with losses to South Carolina, Alabama, Auburn and LSU.
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