After all was said and done, the SEC remained a consistent entity throughout the “conference expansion” ordeal. And consistency is the key word for any team vying to head to Atlanta for the SEC Championship.
As a whole you can see many different variations for this season, a one team league, a two team league, or a gaggle of eight to ten win teams looking for a bid to the Sugar Bowl.
Instead of going game by game, I’ll list and describe the teams in the order I think they have a chance at getting to Atlanta, from likely to less likely.
SEC Western Division
Alabama (SEC Champion, National Champion)
The Crimson Tide is on the complete opposite side of the spectrum this season. Instead of replacing an entire offense, they will have to replace nearly an entire defense. The key will be if Alabama’s potent offense can post enough TDs on the board while the defense will learn Saban Defense 101.
The schedule, though, is not easy, with games in September against Penn State and Arkansas, a gauntlet in October featuring road trips to Tennessee and South Carolina, and that small prime-time game against Florida.
Will they have enough left for November at LSU and the Iron Bowl?
Even though the Tide will have a lot to deal with I still think they will three-peat as Western Division Champions. When it comes down to it, Nick Saban is one of the best coaches in the game right now.
Arkansas (Liberty Bowl Champions)
It was tough deciding between the Hogs and the Bayou Bengals for No. 2, but with Les Miles being a bit sketchy on time management (see Ole Miss/LSU last year) and Petrino being one of the best offensive minds in the game, I give the nod to the Hogs. But the distance between them and Alabama is pretty substantial.
Arkansas will HAVE to get better defensively if they have a prayer of getting to Atlanta. They could pull off the upset in September against Alabama, but can Arkansas hold firm against a tough road slate at Georgia and Auburn?
I don’t think so, but if Alabama slips and they pull off the upset a different shade of red could be in Hotlanta.
This is a key year for Les Miles, his lifestyle in Baton Rouge will come down to one game, Alabama. If he loses this game it will be three in a row against the guy he replaced. Also a lot of heat was put on Miles after some questionable coaching last season. LSU has other big games against Florida and Arkansas, and a interesting game in Atlanta against North Carolina. I can see LSU being really good or so-so with an eight-ish win record. Thus I put them No. 3.
Auburn (Outback Bowl Champions)
Auburn has to be the biggest mystery in the SEC West this year. So I’m putting them in the middle. I can see them on a role and win nine or ten games, but I can see them going 6-6 as well. One thing is for sure, they will have a tough time getting to the SEC title game going on the road to Alabama. After last season, Saban will not allow his team to overlook Auburn this year.
Plus, Auburn has made the mistake (in my opinion) to wait and have their bye week before the Alabama game. I don’t care how good a team is going week-in-and-out for 11 straight weeks in the SEC is asking for a lot of problems.
However, I think Auburn is going to repeat what they did last year, a hot streak followed by hitting a wall around the Kentucky game. But there have been bigger surprises before.
Ole Miss (Cotton Bowl Champions)
The Rebs, I think, are headed for a rebuilding year, thus I put them near the bottom of the list. Replacing the offensive production of Dexter McCluster will take a lot out of this team early. I think Houston Nutt is one of the best coaches in the game at overproducing with the talent he has, when there aren’t any expectations. The goal this year is to get to Memphis, Nashville, or Birmingham. I will be stunned if we are talking Rebels football in mid-October.
Though I give Dan Mullen no chance of getting to Atlanta, I think he may have the most to say on who goes. I really think the Bulldogs will upend someone's season in the West, and by virtue of that head to a bowl game. And that is all is required of State football teams, it is a successful season if they head to Memphis or Birmingham, which I think they will.
There you have it for the West, I don’t think really anyone can touch Alabama, unless they lose more than two games (which is entirely possible), but in the West its Bama and everyone else.