Randy Smith: Previewing The SEC West

Wednesday, July 16, 2014 - by Randy Smith
Randy Smith
Randy Smith

Yesterday, I chose South Carolina to edge past Georgia and Missouri in the SEC East and advance to the SEC Championship Game. If you add Florida to the mix, there will be a four-team chase to the finish in the East. In the SEC West, there may a more clear-cut favorite, but there could also be a four team race as well.

7. Arkansas: The ‘Hogs were just 3-9 last year under first year head coach Bret Bielema and winless in the SEC. They may not be winless again in league play, but any more than 1-2 wins will surprise a lot of people. Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams will provide one of the best backfields in the SEC, but returning quarterback Brandon Allen doesn’t have a lot of playmakers among the receivers and the defense will have to be completely rebuilt. A small improvement for the Razorbacks, but more than four wins will be tough.

6. Mississippi State: As Dan Mullen enters his sixth season in Starkville, it’s hard to say anything bad at all about the job he’s done so far. The Bulldogs have averaged eight wins a year and been to four straight bowl games. On paper, recruiting has not been very favorable. (35th in the country and 12th in the SEC) Coach Mullen however doesn’t see it that way. “We identified the guys we wanted, priority guys, and we got all those priority guys early. That has been huge for us.” Three straight wins to end the 2013 season, and 16 starters returning is a huge reason for optimism in the Bulldogs’ camp.  They could be a play or two away from a magical season.

5. Texas A&M: Losing college football’s most exciting player in years doesn’t necessarily mean the Aggies will fall deeply in the SEC West, but there is no way they can be as good. Not only was Johnny Manziel the team’s passing leader but he also led A&M in rushing. With “Johnny Football” now in the NFL, the Aggies may rely heavily on a ground attack. Coach Kevin Sumlin has recruited back-to-back top-ten classes, so the talent level is good. Texas A&M’s schedule is as tough as any, and even though the team could be better than last year, the record may not show it. Eight to nine wins is possible.

4. LSU: To be consistently good in the SEC isn’t enough anymore.Ten wins a year is okay if you compete for an SEC title every three-four years. It’s time for LSU to compete once again for both an SEC crown and a national title as well. Coach Les Miles is 95-24 in nine years in Baton Rouge and has averaged almost eleven wins a year in the last four seasons. The Tigers will need to replace a lot of key offensive personnel but the cupboard is certainly full of talent. Running back Leonard Fournette is as good as advertised, and with another solid defense from John Chavis, the Bengal Tigers should be ready to compete once again for all the marbles.

3. Ole Miss: The Johnny Rebs averaged thirty points a game last fall on their way to seven wins in Coach Hugh Freeze’s third season. Another big recruiting class puts Ole Miss into a position to compete with the Alabamas  and Auburns of the world. Quarterback Bo Wallace is the key to the Rebels’s offense. One SEC West assistant coach said Ole Miss was as good as any team in the league, and for that to be true Wallace must stay healthy and have a big year. Ole Miss should be quite a bit better on defense, and while the recruiting class of 2014 wasn’t as heralded as the 2013 class was, Coach Freeze said from the get-go, that he didn’t need to have a top five class every season to compete in the SEC. 2014 could be a really big year in Oxford.

2. Auburn: It’s safe to say that Auburn was the biggest surprise in college football in 2013. The Tigers under first year head coach Gus Malzahn went from dead last in the SEC West to a couple of plays away from winning a national title.  Every good team needs a lot of luck and Auburn got their share last season. (Had Alabama just played for overtime instead of trying to win it at the gun with a 57 yard field goal in last year’s “Iron Bowl”……well you know the rest of the story) Quarterback Nick Marshall will be an improved passer as he has worked hard all off-season with the Tigers’ receivers, but his recent suspension from the SEC Media Days due to marijuana possession, makes the start of the season a bit smoky….pardon the expression. Auburn should still be a strong running team this fall, but much less one-dimensional.  They could be even better than last year, but getting by Alabama will be a hard task, especially after the way last year’s meeting ended.

1. Alabama:  Picking Alabama to win the SEC West is almost a default operation.  Head coach Nick Saban has put the Crimson Tide in a position that is even better than “reloading” every year. ‘Bama gets who it wants in every recruiting class, and as the 2014 season is upon us, the Tide is favored once again to compete for a national crown. Since 2009, Alabama has won three BCS titles. That’s three in five years. Replacing quarterback A.J. McCarron will be the toughest task for new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffen. Florida State transfer Jacob Coker is the pick to replace McCarron, and with the SEC’s best group of receivers to throw to there is little worry about the team’s offense in Tuscaloosa. With four teams to pick from to play in the brand new college football playoffs this season, it will be hard to keep Alabama out of the picture, whether they win the SEC or not.

Final Four picks for the college football playoffs:

1.       Florida State

2.       Alabama

3.       Oklahoma

4.       Oregon     

-----

Randy Smith has been covering sports on radio, television and print for the past 45 years. After leaving WRCB-TV in 2009, he has written two books, and has continued to free-lance as a play-by-play announcer. He is currently teaching Broadcasting at Coahulla Creek High School near Dalton, Ga.

His career has included a 17-year stretch as host of the Kickoff Call In Show on the University of Tennessee’s prestigious Vol Network. He has been a member of the Vol Network staff for thirty years.

He has done play-by-play on ESPN, ESPN II, CSS, and Fox SportSouth, totaling more than 500 games, and served as a well-known sports anchor on Chattanooga Television for more than a quarter-century.

In 2003, he became the first television broadcaster to be inducted into the Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame. Randy and his wife Shelia reside in Hixson. They have two married children, (Christi and Chris Perry; Davey and Alison Smith.) They have four grandchildren, Coleman, Boone, DellaMae and CoraLee.

To contact Randy: rsmithsports@epbfi.com


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