Saturday it was the SEC East. Today it’s the West. Let’s go!
Alabama 2/3 – Nick Saban begins his eighth year in Tuscaloosa and has to pick up the pieces of two straight ‘hard-to-take’ losses to end the season. It was clear in the Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma that the team hadn’t recovered from their stunning loss at Auburn. Now, Saban leads a team wit a new man at quarterback and six new starters on defense. Bama should be 3-0 before entertaining Florida then has road trips to Arkansas, Tennessee and LSU before finishing the season with the Iron Bowl at home.
Arkansas 33/1 – Bret Bielema has the challenge he was looking for when he left Wisconsin in his hands now as he led the Hogs to a poor 3-9 record. It goes without saying that anything short of a bowl game this year could spell his end in Fayetteville. The team returns seven starters on both sides of the ball and the schedule isn’t horrendous. They get Texas A&M, LSU and Alabama at home and get Georgia in Little Rock. The only significant road trips are at Auburn in the opener, at Texas Tech and at Missouri. Six wins is doable but not a guarantee.
Auburn 4/1 – Head Coach Gus Malzahn returns for his second season and the fans will be hungry for more of the same but is that a fair expectation? Gone are studs like Tre Mason, Greg Robinson and Dee Ford but they do have eight starters returning to the offense including the quarterback. The schedule features home dates with LSU, Texas A&M and South Carolina while the road features tough games at Kansas State, Georgia and Alabama in the finale. I do not see a repeat of last season but I do envision eight or nine wins.
LSU 5/1 – If the Tigers do not reach a big-time bowl then the natives in Baton Rouge will become even more restless then they are. Seeing rivals Alabama and Auburn fighting it out at the top doesn’t sit well on the bayou. Les Miles has five offensive starters returning and seven on the defensive side of the ball. The schedule is not easy as they open in Houston against Wisconsin. They also go to Arkansas, Auburn, Florida and Texas A&M. Alabama will likely be the only ranked team that comes into Death Valley in 2014. I think nine or ten wins is possible.
Mississippi State 12/1 – Head Coach Dan Mullen will have no excuses not to challenge in the SEC West. With eight starters returning on both sides of the ball, the Bulldogs’ faithful will have very high expectations. The non-conference schedule is weak and should provide four wins in four games. The conference road slate features tough games at LSU, Alabama and Ole Miss, but they do get Texas A&M and Auburn at home. Mullen knows the importance of this season and I’m not sure even eight wins will be enough.
Ole Miss 9/1 – The Rebels have nine starters back on defense and six on offense and that includes QB Bo Wallace. The question is whether the depth is enough to challenge the rest of the division. I predict a 3-1, possibly 4-0 non-conference schedule if they can beat Boise State in the opener. The conference road schedule games at Vanderbilt, LSU and Texas A&M while they get Auburn, Alabama and Mississippi State at home in the Egg Bowl. That opening game with the Broncos could tell a lot about the direction of this season.
Texas A&M 14/1 – The obvious is replacing Johnny Manziel at quarterback but the Aggies also lost big play receiver Mike Evans and stud offensive tackle Jake Matthews to the NFL. With Kyle Field under-going a massive addition and renovation, the pressure is on Kevin Sumlin to make 10-win seasons the norm in College Station. The road will not be kind to the Aggies as they open at South Carolina and have other contests at Auburn and at Alabama. They end the season with LSU and Missouri at home and have a very weak non-conference slate. With the defense returning nine starters, they’ll need to lead the way with a new QB at the helm.
The Pick: It’s one top recruiting class after another for Nick Saban and despite losing some important guys to the NFL, I look for the Crimson Tide to roll to another SEC West Division Title.