VOL. 130 | NO. 158 | Friday, August 14, 2015
Alabama Still Team to Beat, Tennessee On the Rise in 2015 Football Season
By Don Wade
Dak Prescott, the best returning quarterback in the Southeastern Conference, isn’t buying the national narrative that the league is “down” because the first College Football Playoff title game featured Ohio State beating Oregon.
Alabama running back Derrick Henry works through drills during a Friday, Aug. 7, practice in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Henry will carry the Crimson Tide’s offensive load this season.
(Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP)
“Yeah, I’m not sure about that,” said Prescott, who threw 27 touchdown passes and amassed 3,449 yards through the air for Mississippi State last season. “We still had a team there (Ohio State beat Alabama in the semifinals). Just fell a couple of plays short. I still believe in our conference. I think we’ll be all right.”
Judging by the preseason USA Today Coaches Poll, many people have come around to agreeing with Prescott. The Top 10 features three SEC teams – 3. Alabama. 7. Auburn 9. Georgia. Then LSU checks in at 13 and Ole Miss at 15. Arkansas is at 20, Missouri 23 and Tennessee at 25.
So that’s eight SEC teams among the Top 25 and based on votes, Mississippi State would be No. 26 and Texas A&M would be No. 27.
“You’ve got to buckle it up and go play and deliver every Saturday,” said Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, whose team is coming off two straight East Division championships. “Remarkably competitive.”
And it will be again. Here’s a quick look at all 14 teams and The Daily News’ predicted order of finish.
Alabama: Yes, they have QB questions. They also have Nick Saban and one of the best defensive fronts in the nation. RB Derrick Henry will carry the offensive load. Legit CFB Playoff contender again.
Auburn: Junior Jeremey Johnson could emerge as an elite QB. Defense is now in the hands of former Florida coach Will Muschamp as coordinator. Beating Alabama at home in the Iron Bowl could clear a path to CFB Playoff.
LSU: Probably a two-team race for the West, but the Tigers never lack for talent. However, the season starts with offensive coordinator Cam Cameron on the hot seat and head coach Les Miles needs to do better than last year’s 8-5 finish.
Ole Miss: Mark the Rebels down for losses at Alabama and Auburn, but with a solid defense they are capable of winning every other game. They also could lose several low-scoring games if they don’t get better production at RB or fail to settle early on a QB that can protect the ball.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs lost a lot from last year’s 10-win team, but Prescott is a Heisman contender and the schedule sets up for them to be no worse than 6-2 heading into November.
Arkansas: Only a brutal SEC road schedule keeps the Hogs toward the bottom of the division. Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins are a great one-two RB punch. Might be the sleeper in the West.
Texas A&M: The offense, though potent, isn’t what it was in the Johnny Manziel era and head coach Kevin Sumlin is counting on new defensive coordinator John Chavis to shore up the Aggies’ traditional weakness.
Georgia running back Nick Chubb (27) pushes past Arkansas defenders linebacker Martrell Spaight (47), safety Rohan Gaines, bottom left, and defensive end JaMichael Winston, top left.
(AP Photo/Danny Johnston)
Georgia: With crossover games vs. Alabama and Auburn, the Bulldogs will have to take care of business within the East to get to Atlanta for the SEC title game. RB Nick Chubb (1,547 yards in 2014) is the league’s best and a strong Heisman contender. The defense will be solid; QB is a question.
Missouri: New defensive coordinator Barry Odom (formerly at Memphis) will have six returning starters on defense and a fierce LB corps. But much of the season will rest on the play of QB Maty Mauk, who has shown a high ceiling and a low floor. Cupcake September schedule, light road schedule overall with only at-Georgia as a near-certain loss.
Tennessee: Popular pick to emerge from the East, but the Vols are still too young this year. That said, they have eight starters back on defense and QB Joshua Dobbs is probably the best at his position in the East. An eight-win season is very possible.
Florida: Gators are the best-of-the-rest in the East, but not a contender. The combination of an unproven QB and a thin offensive line will be a challenge for first-year coach Jim McElwain.
South Carolina: Never count a Steve Spurrier team out, but the defense allowed almost 37 points per SEC game a year ago and more than once blew games late. Caught a break by not getting Alabama or Auburn in crossover games. WR Pharoh Cooper, 69 catches for 1,136 yards in 2014, is the most dynamic offensive player.
Kentucky: After a 5-1 start, the Wildcats lost six straight and didn’t get to a bowl. September will tell the story as UK plays at South Carolina in week two, then has consecutive home games vs. Florida and Missouri. The defensive line must be rebuilt.
Vanderbilt: It’s a lot to say, but the Commodores were even worse than their 3-9 record under first-year coach Derek Mason, who now takes over defense to try and save his job. RB Ralph Webb rushed for 912 yards as a redshirt freshman. Whoever plays QB won’t be a difference-maker.