2015 NCAA Football Preview: Southeastern Conference

September 3, 2015

We’re about to round out the last of the Power 5 conference previews for ATC, but be sure to read the final two as well.

Here is a look at the Southeastern Conference.


It has been two full seasons since an SEC school was crowned national champion in college football, so its a wonder that the sky hasn’t fallen in certain pockets of the southeastern United States. It’s funny what a playoff can do. One minute, you think that the Big Ten and the SEC have no business being on the same field together. The next, Ezekiel Elliot is running straight up the gut against the most well coached defense in the country. But the popular phrase “what goes around, comes around” isn’t totally inappropriate here.

The SEC will be back in full force again, with a slew of teams capable of winning at least 10 games this season. Only a few appear to have realistic playoff aspirations, though, which isn’t out of the ordinary or concerning. This is a very good league, where every weekend truly will be a battle. The good teams will eat each other alive, while only the great teams will emerge unscathed or mostly intact. It is entirely possible that analysts will ask at some point in the season whether the SEC will miss out entirely on the playoff. It won’t. The committee knows that this is still the best conference in college football until another one consistently proves otherwise. I’m writing that smack in the middle of Big Ten country, so you know it’s legitimate.

College Football Playoff Contenders


The Crimson Tide will again be in the thick of the playoff conversation to start the year despite once again having to break in a new quarterback. This year it will be senior Jake Coker, who may not have the running ability of Blake Sims but does have a stronger arm. The heart of the offense will still be the running backs corps, who will rumble behind four returning starters on the offensive line. If Alabama is going down, it will be to a team that stops the combination of Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake.

The one area of concern for the normally rock solid Crimson Tide defense will be in the secondary, where only cornerback Landon Collins left but will need to shore up the pass coverage. Auburn has a terrific quarterback this season, as do a couple of the other teams on Alabama’s schedule. If Ohio State’s 42 points were an anomaly and not a revelation, then Nick Saban will need to hope that the secondary improves this season.


Gone is dual-threat quarterback Nick Marshall, but in his place may actually be a better component in Auburn’s offense. If you believe Guz Malzahn, Jeremy Johnson is as good as Cam Newton, and we all know what happened when the Tigers had the current Carolina Panthers quarterback for one season. One thing that is safe to assume is that Johnson will use his arm more and legs less than Marshall, meaning that the rotation of running backs will be primarily responsible for maintaining Auburn’s recent streak of potent rushing attacks.

A lot of attention will be given to the offense, but the Tigers are one of the early favorites to compete for a playoff spot as much for the potential on the defensive side of the ball. A lot of pieces return to a unit that gave up a ton of points but not a lot of yards. If Auburn improves under the tutelage of new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, this will be a scary team. Muschamp’s defenses at Florida suggest that scoring on the Tigers will be much more difficult now compared to 2014.

Watch Out! (Team That Could Surprise)


The Volunteers were the youngest team in the SEC last season but also managed to win seven games, suggesting that this year could be a special one in Knoxville. Quarterback Josh Dobbs did a nice job taking over for the injured Justin Worley last season and now has almost everyone back on the offense. Familiarity and the experience he gained last season could be enough to propel him into the upper echelon of SEC quarterbacks fairly quickly.

The defense was what made this team competitive last season and even though it must replace leading tackler A.J. Johnson, the Volunteers should be okay. The schedule sets up nicely, with trips to Alabama and Missouri being the only real difficult road tests. If Tennessee lives up to the potential, it will be in a tight race for the SEC East title in November.

Hi, My Name Is… (Players to Watch)

Jonathan Williams, Arkansas senior running back

Choose your poison in the Arkansas backfield. Williams is just one part of a two headed monster for the Razorbacks, who along with Alex Collins make up the most feared running back tandem in the country. This is just what Bret Bielema wants as the former Wisconsin head coach has employed his strategy down South and may finally see its dividends in 2015.

While Williams will share the load with Collins, expect both of them to eclipse the 1,000 yard mark this season. They are both so strong that it doesn’t matter who you give the ball to near the end zone, so don’t be surprised to see formations with both lined up in the backfield near the goal line,

Jeremy Johnson, Auburn junior quarterback

Could Johnson end up being another one year wonder at Auburn that leads the Tigers to a national title and also wins the Heisman? It seems like a lot to ask of a first year starter, but that’s the level of excitement that the junior quarterback is creating at Auburn. Johnson is a bit more traditional than Nick Marshall, preferring to use his strong arm to lead the team down the field, but that should serve as an asset despite Gus Malzahn’s typical offensive scheme.

While Johnson has the tools to be great, it will be interesting to see how his offensive line’s relative inexperience affects his ability to produce. While Marshall would be just fine scrambling, Johnson may have to learn to take what the defense gives him before he can truly shine.

Out-of-Conference Games to Watch

Arizona State vs. Texas A&M [in Houston] (September 5)

Hardly a road game for the Aggies, Kevin Sumlin’s team will open up with a stiff test against one of the Pac-12’s better teams. Arizona State has the ability to score often with quarterback Mike Bercovici under center and D.J. Foster moving to wideout, so if Texas A&M could struggle defensively.

Aggies quarterback Kyle Allen is similarly talented and should keep his team in the game. One has to wonder how many times this season Texas A&M will look for Allen to bail the defense out of tricky situations.

Georgia at Georgia Tech (November 28)

Both teams have high expectations this season, so although this game doesn’t have any implications with regards to conference position it is still one that could decide a New Year’s Six bowl berth. Clean, Old Fashioned Hate has been an appropriate title for this game in recent years, as the last two meetings have gone into gritty overtime periods.

Expect a lot of the ground game from both sides. Nick Chubb could be the best back in the SEC and Paul Johnson’s triple option features very little passing.

In-Conference Games to Watch

Georgia at Tennessee (October 10)

There is a good chance this will be a battle between two Top 25 teams and may end up playing a crucial role in deciding the SEC East Division. For the first time in awhile, Tennessee should have the advantage at quarterback. It may not matter much, however, because Georgia’s secondary will be difficult to beat.

The Volunteers will need to find a way to slow down Nick Chubb in this one. The run defense is the one area of concern for Tennessee despite so many returning starters, and Chubb is capable of taking over this game.

Alabama at Auburn (November 28)

Are you surprised? The Iron Bowl is likely to decide the SEC West winner and probably the SEC’s representative to the College Football Playoff. If you liked last year’s edition of the rivalry, you’re in luck because the scoring should again approach the high 40s from both teams.

It isn’t a matter of who will step up but rather when. This rivalry has started to resemble a story of two halves, with one team getting out to a big lead only to collapse when it matters most. The stars will play well, but those who do so in the fourth quarter will be the heroes.


West Division

1. Auburn (11-1, [7-1])

2. Alabama (10-2, [6-2])

3. Arkansas (9-3, [5-3])

4. Texas A&M (7-5, [4-4])

5. LSU (8-4, [4-4])

6. Mississippi (7-5, [3-5])

7. Mississippi State (6-6, [2-6])

East Division

1. Georgia (10-2, [6-2])

2. Missouri (9-3, [5-3])

3. Tennessee (9-3, [5-3])

4. Florida (7-5, [4-4])

5. South Carolina (6-6, [3-5])

6. Kentucky (4-8, [1-7])

7. Vanderbilt (4-8, [0-8])

Championship Game (Auburn vs. Georgia)

Winner: Auburn

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