Randy Smith: SEC West Preview

Monday, August 2, 2021
Randy Smith
Randy Smith
I'm hesitant to make my SEC predictions because of the  COVID resurgence, especially in the southern part of the country. SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey has already stated that if a team has a COVID outbreak, it will result in a forfeit rather than rescheduling a game as it happened last fall. Nevertheless, here goes...along with hope that we will increase our vaccination rates and have a great college football season, putting COVID in the rear view mirror.

7. Mississippi State - The Bulldogs would love to play the spoiler in the West and surprise a few folks in Coach Mike Leach's second season in Starkville. His first season got off to a great start as then quarterback K.J.
Costello set a new SEC record with 623 yards passing in an upset of defending national champ LSU. Things went downhill from there as MSU lost their next four games and finished 4-7 on the year. Sophomore Will Rogers should win the battle as starter at quarterback when the smoke clears, but Coach Leach has a lot of work to do before the Bulldogs can compete in college football's toughest division.

6. Arkansas - As Sam Pittman also enters his second season at Arkansas, it will take a lot of improvement for the Hogs to compete as well. The SEC West is top-heavy with Alabama and Texas A&M leading the way with everyone else competing for third place. The Razorbacks have 17 starters returning and making a bowl game  is a legitimate goal in 2021. The defense has to get better and with former Missouri head coach Barry Odom as defensive coordinator, it should improve greatly. Arkansas is a much more physical team under Pittman and that could mean another win or two down the stretch.

5. Auburn - The Tigers finally parted ways with Gus Malzahn and they hired Bryan Harsin  as the new head coach. Everyone seems to like the hire, but the talent level at Auburn is not what Tiger fans are used to. It will get better quickly under Harsin and actually the defense will be very good this year. Bo Nix returns at quarterback  and that's a plus, but his play needs to be more consistent. Auburn has a new offensive coordinator in Mike Bobo and his biggest chore is to bring Nix to the next level in his junior year.

4. Ole Miss - As Lane Kiffin begins his second season in Oxford, there is a lot of anticipation about the Johnny Rebs. They have the best returning quarterback in the SEC in Matt Corral who is also getting a lot of hype as a Heisman Trophy candidate. Ole Miss, under Kiffin will score a lot of points, but to compete the Rebels must get better on defense. They have seven starters back and a good bowl trip is almost a lock. Eight wins is very realistic for Ole MIss but to compete with the big three in the West the defense must get a lot better.

3. LSU - Just two seasons removed from a national title, LSU is again trying to regroup, or retool, or whatever. Ed Orgeron hired five new coaches after last year's 5-5 season. No one expected the Bengal Tigers to go 15-0 again, especially with the number of players lost to the NFL. But nobody thought they would go 5-5, including Ed Orgeron. The quarterback job is wide open, with three candidates expected to compete as camp opens. Myles Brennan is back after surgery but he is not a lock to become the starter. Look for LSU to be better, maybe even winners of nine games. But the West title is probably out of reach.

2. Texas A&M - Circle your calendar for Oct. 9. That's when Alabama travels to College Station to face Texas A&M. This could be the game of the year in the SEC this fall. The winner could be in the driver's seat for the West title and believe it or not the winner will likely face the East winner in Atlanta. A&M needs to find a starter at quarterback to replace Kellen Mond but it's between two guys, Zach Calzada and Haynes King. Nine starters return on defense from the SEC's best unit in 2020, which is really important in the SEC West. The Aggies will be the only team with a real chance to unseat Alabama in the West.

1. Alabama - No school has ever dominated college football like Alabama has for the last decade. And at age 70, Nick Saban shows no sign of slowing down. Keep in mind, Bear Bryant retired at age 72 and passed away just a few months later. Saban is no where near retirement, and even with an unproven freshman quarterback in Bryce Young, 'Bama is still picked at the top of the pre-season polls. Those who have picked against Alabama in the past learned their lesson the hard way. Five national titles in the last ten years and six in the last twelve years totally proves the Crimson Tide's dominance. There is a lot of pressure on Bryce Young however, who has already locked in more than a million dollars in endorsements before ever taking the field. Again, 'Bama is very very good and someone has to beat them to dethrone them because they're not going to beat themselves.    

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