SEC Football: Ranking the West Division
7 Mississippi State
2015 Record: 9-4 (4-4 SEC)
Points Per Game: 34.4
Opponents Points Per Game: 23.2
The Bulldogs will have a totally different look on offense without Dak Prescott under center but they still return three starters on an offensive line that only gave up 32 sacks in 2015, so all is certainly not lost. The defense could see some early struggles with a new coaching staff in place behind former USC defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon but he’s got the talent to coordinate a decent defensive effort. However, expect a bumpy road for the Bulldogs in a tough SEC West division in 2016, with quarterback questions being the biggest concern.
Key Game: @BYU, October 14
This game in the middle of the season will be the measuring stick for the Bulldogs season. A Friday night game against an unorthodox opponent will speak volumes about the season Mississippi State is having in the long run.
2015 Record: 7-6 (2-6 SEC)
Points Per Game: 27.5
Opponents Points Per Game: 26.0
Finding consistency on offense is the name of the game in 2016 for the Auburn Tigers. Auburn had the tenth best team offense in the SEC with 369.9 total yards per game last season. Gus Malzahn hopes JUCO transfer John Franklin III is the answer at quarterback going forward. Defensive ends Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson lead the way for a very underrated defense, throw in Illinois transfer linebacker T.J. Neal and the Tigers could have a strong defensive performance on their hands in 2016.
Key Game: Clemson, September 3
Week 1 sets the tone for the entire season for the Auburn Tigers. Playing arguably the best team in the ACC looks good on paper, but the performance must match the moment. If the Clemson Tigers expose holes in the Auburn offense, Gene Chizik could be in for a long season.
5 Texas A&M
2015 Record: 8-5 (4-4 SEC)
Points Per Game: 27.8
Opponents Points Per Game: 22.0
There’s a lot of uncertainty on offense for the Aggies after the transfer of former starting quarterback Kyle Allen, which doesn’t bode well for All-American defensive end Myles Garrett and company in the long run. It is the Aggies fourth starter at quarterback in four years. Kevin Sumlin looks to graduate transfer Trevor Knight from Oklahoma to lead the way on offense in 2016. The Aggies return all four receivers including sophomore Christian Kirk who caught 80 passes for 1,009 yards and seven touchdowns in his first collegiate season. So there’s hope!
Key Game: UCLA, September 3
The pass heavy UCLA Bruins led by Josh Rosen are a tough draw as a season opener for the Aggies but it’s a much needed test for Kevin Sumlin as he looks to be on the hot seat and the Aggies need to make a run in the SEC West in order for him to remain head coach.
2015 Record: 8-5 (5-3 SEC)
Points Per Game: 35.9
Opponents Points Per Game: 27.4
Junior quarterback Austin Allen hopes to lead the way for the Razorback offense as the defense returns nearly every starter from last year’s team, including defensive end Deatrich Wise, who led the team with eight sacks. The Razorbacks return some experienced players on offense like tight end Jeremy Sprinkle and receiver Dominique Reed, so who knows what Bret Bielema has up his sleeve? Entering just his fourth season as head coach, Bielema has amassed a record of 18-20 with two bowl wins in the last two seasons.
Key Game: @TCU, September 10
The Razorbacks go into hostile territory looking to silence the crowd when they face the TCU Horned Frogs. It will certainly set the tone for the season as they face one of the Big 12’s better teams. In the SEC, every game is a key game, so this uptempo Horned Frog offense will certainly warm the Razorbacks up for what else they’ll face in 2016.
3 Ole Miss
2015 Record: 10-3 (6-2 SEC)
Points Per Game: 32.8
Opponents Points Per Game: 24.3
Chad Kelly returns, possibly as the best SEC quarterback in 2016, but the loss of receivers Laquon Treadwell and Cody Core and offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil & Fahn Cooper will show. Senior tight end Evan Engram returns as a key weapon in the passing game as does receiver Damore’ea Stringfellow, who caught 36 passes in 2015. Defensive end Marquis Haynes returns looking to be a disruptive presence up front. Look for the Rebels to bounce back in 2016 with some new playmakers on both sides of the ball.
Key Game: Florida State, September 5
The Rebels open 2016 against a very good ACC foe in the Florida State Seminoles. If they can pull off a victory against what should be a tough defensive opponent, look for them to carry much of that momentum into early season matchups with the Crimson Tide and Georgia Bulldogs in back to back weeks.
2015 Record: 9-3 (5-3 SEC)
Points Per Game: 32.8
Opponents Points Per Game: 24.3
The LSU Tigers hope Brandon Harris can make some key adjustments to his passing game after bringing in quarterbacks coach Dameyune Craig in the offseason. Couple that with the brilliance of running back Leonard Fournette and the Tigers could very well be a threat to overtake Alabama in the SEC West. The defense returns eight starters including cornerback Tre’Davious White and safety Jamal Adams with a new 3-4 look, the first ever in Les Miles’ tenure. Hopefully the adjustments can pay dividends as last season looked to be Les Miles last before the Tigers finished 2015 with two much needed wins.
Key Game: Alabama, November 5
The LSU Tigers have lost the last five meetings to the Alabama Crimson Tide dating back to 2012. If the Tigers want to make noise in the SEC, particularly with Leonard Fournette in the backfield, this is the season to do that and dethrone the Crimson Tide in the process. November 5 will be a big date for the LSU Tigers.
2015 Record: 14-1 (8-1 SEC)
Points Per Game: 35.1
Opponents Points Per Game: 15.1
With the Alabama Crimson Tide, it’s hard to ignore their dominance these past few seasons. The Crimson Tide have claimed three of the last five national championship and their defense is why their #1 in the SEC. However, the Crimson Tide have a quarterback competition on their hands with plenty to choose from in Cooper Bateman, David Cornwell, Blake Barnett, and Jalen Hurts. With receivers Calvin Ridley, ArDarius Stewart, and tight end OJ Howard in the stable, the Crimson Tide need to find an accurate passer to match the intensity the defense will bring in 2016. Running Bo Scarbrough looks like he’ll receive the nod at running back as well, another unsure thing for the Crimson Tide. The offense may struggle but the defense will keep the pace for the Crimson Tide in 2016.
Key Game: USC, September 3
The Crimson Tide open the 2016 season against the USC Trojans, who are under the direction of new head coach Clay Helton. With their defense and new look offense, look for the Crimson Tide to start the season with a bang or maybe even a hiccup with some holes to replace on offense.