As college football nears its kickoff, we're going around the country to preview the 2016 season, conference by conference, with analysis and projected records for every team. Today, in Part 9, we cover 20 things to know about the SEC.
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1. The nightmare is over. After two whole years, the SEC's national championship drought ended, thanks again to Alabama. The Crimson Tide have lost to Ole Miss two years in a row, but they've still ended up in the College Football Playoff anyway, making any panic about the dynasty crumbling appear foolish. With several key players deciding to return for their senior seasons, Alabama is No. 1 in the preseason coaches poll and was the pick to win the conference at SEC media days. Everyone, of course, is still chasing Alabama, which is the gold standard for college football programs with four national titles in seven years. That doesn't mean that the Crimson Tide are unbeatable -- they haven't actually finished undefeated since 2009 -- but the dynasty has shown few cracks, thanks in part to Nick Saban's adaptability.
2. Saban and Alabama continue to make the rest of the SEC crazy, and thus it sometimes seems as if everyone but Saban is constantly on the hot seat. Georgia fired Mark Richt after a 9-3 season, then hired Saban's longtime right-hand man, Kirby Smart. South Carolina hired ex-Saban assistant Will Muschamp. Florida hired an ex-Saban assistant, Jim McElwain, to replace Muschamp. LSU nearly fired Les Miles, and he's under significant pressure to beat Alabama after five straight losses. Nobody is under more immediate pressure than Auburn's Gus Malzahn and Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin. Just a few years ago, they had become two of the biggest stars in football: Malzahn led Auburn to the national title game in 2013, his first year back as head coach, and Sumlin coached Heisman winner Johnny Manziel and an 11-2 team that beat Alabama in 2012. But things have unraveled for both programs. Auburn has lost nine of its past 11 SEC games. It has gone 15-11 over two seasons despite opening ranked No. 6 in the AP poll both times. Malzahn has been hailed as an offensive genius, but the Tigers' passing game collapsed last season. Meanwhile, Texas A&M has turned 5-0 starts into 8-5 finishes the past two seasons, and it is 11-13 in the SEC in the past three years. Off-the-field drama has been pervasive as well, from the transfers of QBs Kenny Hill, Kyler Murray and Kyle Allen to the misguided tweeting of receivers coach Aaron Moorehead to the suspensions of offensive line coach Jim Turner and special teams coach Jeff Banks after a dreadfully tasteless women's football clinic.
3. Auburn's preseason camp got off on the wrong foot, too, when Malzahn dismissed starting running back Jovon Robinson. Robinson, Peyton Barber and Roc Thomas all had eligibility remaining when last season ended, but Robinson is gone, Barber left for the NFL and Thomas transferred, leaving Auburn with inexperience at tailback and an ongoing quarterback question. QBs Sean White and Jeremy Johnson both return to compete for the job again, and they're joined by Florida State/juco transfer John Franklin III, who is more of a runner. Auburn doesn't have a receiver back who had more than 203 yards, doesn't have a running back who had more than 208 yards and still has a lot of uncertainty at quarterback after its passing offense finished with 11 TDs and 12 INTs in 2015. Defensively, the Tigers have a lot of talent up front, led by a healthy Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams, but they're on another new coordinator (Kevin Steele). The defense should be fine, and it's possible Malzahn will be able to engineer a surprise on offense. Unlike the past two seasons, Auburn is flying under the radar with significantly lower expectations. But it's an uphill battle for Auburn to pull off an unexpectedly successful season. While the Tigers' first five games are at home, three of those games are against Clemson, Texas A&M and LSU. They also play on the road at Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama. It's one of the toughest schedules in the country, and it's doubtful whether the issues on offense can be solved in time.
4. To temporarily fix its quarterback exodus, Texas A&M signed Oklahoma graduate transfer Trevor Knight. It makes sense. Knight has experience -- most memorably tormenting Alabama in the Sugar Bowl a few years ago -- and he fills an unexpected void. However, it's important to keep expectations in check. Knight has averaged 6.3 yards per attempt in his career, with a 57.1 percent completion rate, 25 TDs and 19 INTs. He's shown flashes but has been inconsistent throughout his career. At Texas A&M, he will reunite with Oklahoma transfer RB Keith Ford and will team with one of the nation's best receiving corps, featuring Christian Kirk, Josh Reynolds, Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil. He'll need more help from an offensive line that is in need of a turnaround after a disappointing year, and he'll be playing in the Aggies' new system, as they brought in offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone from UCLA. Defensively, Texas A&M appears to be in better shape than it's been in a while: It's the second year for coordinator John Chavis, and he has a ton of talent up front, led by All-American DE Myles Garrett, and in the secondary. With only three SEC road games -- two of which are against South Carolina and Mississippi State -- a bounce-back season is plausible. But given all the drama and the questions beyond the receiving corps on offense, the Aggies may be heading for another .500 SEC season.
5. Ole Miss is dealing with its own offseason drama. It produced three first-round picks in the draft -- Laquon Treadwell, Robert Nkemdiche and Laremy Tunsil, all five-star recruits in 2013 -- but it is dealing with an NCAA investigation, complicated by the bizarre story of Tunsil's Twitter account getting hacked on draft night. On the field, the Rebels have the SEC's best returning quarterback, Chad Kelly, and what should still be a terrific defense despite losing several impact players. Expectations are relatively high for Ole Miss to continue hanging around the top 15 and perhaps beat Alabama and/or LSU again. But a few red flags could stop for the Rebels from competing with the Crimson Tide and Tigers for the SEC West title. The receiving corps remains talented, with Quincy Adeboyejo, Damore'ea Stringfellow and tight end Evan Engram, but there's no question that Treadwell's ball skills will be missed. While Ole Miss has gotten by without much of a running game, Jordan Wilkins was ruled academically ineligible and overall the ground attack is a question mark. Most importantly, the offensive line is mostly young and unproven. Three of the first four games are against Florida State, Alabama and Georgia, so there's not exactly a breaking-in period. This will be a good Ole Miss team, especially given its current quarterback advantage over the rest of the conference, but it may not match the heights of the past two seasons.
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QB: Chad Kelly, Ole Miss
RB: Leonard Fournette, LSU
RB: Nick Chubb, Georgia
WR: Calvin Ridley, Alabama
WR: Christian Kirk, Texas A&M
TE: O.J. Howard, Alabama
OL: Cam Robinson, Alabama
OL: Ethan Pocic, LSU
OL: Dan Skipper, Arkansas
OL: Braden Smith, Auburn
OL: Greg Pyke, Georgia
DE: Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
DE: Derek Barnett, Tennessee
DE: Jonathan Allen, Alabama
DT: Caleb Brantley, Florida
LB: Jarrad Davis, Florida
LB: Reuben Foster, Alabama
LB: Tim Williams, Alabama
LB: Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Tennessee
CB: Tre'Davious White, LSU
CB: Jalen Tabor, Florida
S: Jamal Adams, LSU
S: Eddie Jackson, Alabama
K: Daniel Carlson, Auburn
P: JK Scott, Alabama
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6. Arkansas has developed a flair for the dramatic. While Bret Bielema's teams have a reputation for plodding, methodical, powerful football, the Razorbacks were balanced last season and played in several shootouts. They went 2-1 in overtime games and also lost to Mississippi State 51-50, and their circus fourth-down conversion against Ole Miss also ultimately deprived the Rebels the SEC West title. This year's Arkansas team will tone down the shootouts. A rebuilding defense is now more experienced, led by rising star defensive end Deatrich Wise and eight other returning starters. The bigger question this time is what the offense will look like. Austin Allen takes over for his brother, Brandon, at quarterback, and he has a stellar receiving corps to throw to, led by Drew Morgan. Bielema's teams, however, are always known for their ground game, and this year only two starters are back on the offensive line, while Rawleigh Williams and Devwah Whaley are competing for carries at RB with Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams off to the NFL. In terms of wins and losses, Arkansas could have similarities to the past two seasons, looking better in the second half of the season than it does early on. The Hogs have a difficult schedule, but with Florida, LSU, Ole Miss and Alabama all visiting Fayetteville, there are opportunities for upsets.
7. The departure of Dak Prescott has caused Mississippi State to recede from the spotlight. Prescott was the face of the program, one of the greatest players in Bulldogs history, having led them to a 19-7 record over the past two seasons. Expectations are lower for Mississippi State this year, but depending on how the quarterback situation plays out -- sophomore Nick Fitzgerald is the favorite -- the Bulldogs still have enough talent to pull off a surprise or two. Given the stiff SEC West competition, the road isn't perfect, but the Bulldogs have three easy nonconference games (but also a challenge at BYU) and play South Carolina and Kentucky from the SEC East. With a solid defense, led by LB Richie Brown, Mississippi State should expect to extend its bowl streak to seven seasons, but this has the look of a rebuilding year, especially given how much Prescott factored into recent success.
8. Rebuilding is taking on a new meaning at South Carolina, as the Gamecocks are probably headed for a second-straight postseason spent at home. Steve Spurrier abruptly retired in the middle of last season, and they finished 3-9, losing to The Citadel while struggling to do much on offense besides feeding the ball to Pharoh Cooper. After a rocky coaching search, in steps Will Muschamp, a year removed from a tumultuous tenure at rival Florida in which he went 28-21 and drew frequent criticism for an outdated, conservative style of play. Muschamp has promised to be more flexible, but it may be hard to notice this season. While freshman QB Brandon McIlwain offers hope, if he wins the job he's stepping into an unproven offense that loses Cooper and top RB Brandon Wilds, among others. To make matters worse, the defense finished 98th in yards per play allowed and already lost its best player, LB Skai Moore, for the season. Muschamp can be counted on to improve a defense quickly, but recruiting fell off at the end of Spurrier's run, and there's too much rebuilding to do, even if the schedule is relatively manageable (Texas A&M and Mississippi State from the West) beyond the season-ending trip to Clemson.
9. Derek Mason's first two seasons at Vanderbilt have not gone well, but the Commodores showed some fight last year and can compete for a bowl bid. A coaching staff reboot after a winless SEC season in 2014 helped, as Mason took control of the defense and finished 33rd in yards per play allowed, up from 81st the year before. With standout LB Zach Cunningham leading the way, this Vandy defense is a tough matchup, giving the Commodores a chance to pull off some upsets. Will the offense do enough to take advantage? Last year, Vandy lost 9-7 to Florida, 14-12 to Western Kentucky and 19-10 to South Carolina, and three of its four wins were by a touchdown or less. It's destined to play close games, and it remains to be seen if the offense, which has a little more experience centered around junior RB Ralph Webb and sophomore QB Kyle Shurmur, can provide enough of a spark to actually pull off upsets and climb in the SEC East standings.
10. Kentucky has finished ranked in the AP poll three times since Bear Bryant's final season as coach in 1953. It has won more than seven games just twice since 1984. Needless to say, high expectations are saved for basketball. The Wildcats just want to go bowling again. They had a run of five straight bowls from 2006-10, but the Joker Phillips era proved to be a disaster, and Mark Stoops is still trying to turn modest gains on the recruiting trail -- compared to most of the rest of the SEC, Kentucky still lags behind -- into tangible results on the field. In 2014, Kentucky started 5-1 with a three-OT loss to Florida and failed to go to a bowl game. In 2015, Kentucky started 4-1 with a five-point loss to Florida and failed to go to a bowl game. Beating Florida for the first time since 1986 would clearly help the whole postseason eligibility thing. In the current SEC East, it's not as if wins can't be had, so Kentucky fans should have reasonable expectations of getting to a bowl. The key is the development of prized sophomore QB Drew Barker, a touted recruit who has thrown only 70 passes thus far in his career. With the hiring of new offensive coordinator Eddie Gran from Cincinnati and a solid running game led by Boom Williams, the offense has some potential. But the Wildcats need to fix their run defense and finally win some sort of big game if they're going to end their five-year streak without a bowl appearance.
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Top 20 Games
1. Alabama at LSU, Nov. 5
2. Florida at Tennessee, Sept. 24
3. Alabama at Tennessee, Oct. 15
4. Auburn at Alabama, Nov. 26
5. Alabama at Ole Miss, Sept. 17
6. LSU at Florida, Oct. 8
7. Ole Miss at LSU, Oct. 22
8. Tennessee at Georgia, Oct. 1
9. Georgia vs. Florida, Oct. 29
10. Florida State vs. Ole Miss, Sept. 5
11. Florida at Florida State, Nov. 26s
12. Alabama vs. USC, Sept. 3
13. LSU at Arkansas, Nov. 12
14. LSU vs. Wisconsin, Sept. 3
15. UCLA at Texas A&M, Sept. 3
16. Texas A&M at Auburn, Sept. 17
17. Clemson at Auburn, Sept. 3
18. Georgia vs. North Carolina, Sept. 3
19. Tennessee vs. Virginia Tech, Sept. 10
20. LSU at Auburn, Sept. 24
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11. For two seasons, Missouri was a terrific story, unexpectedly winning the SEC East in back-to-back seasons. Now, however, the Tigers are just hoping to find the end zone in any given week. With massive struggles on the offensive line in front of freshman QB Drew Lock (who started most of the season because of Maty Mauk's troubles), Missouri finished 127th in the nation in scoring and failed to score a touchdown against Florida, Georgia, Vanderbilt and Arkansas (it also scored under 10 points in two other games). It's been a tumultuous year, from the racial unrest on campus that resulted in the threat of a strike by the football team, to coach Gary Pinkel's resignation for health reasons, to Mauk's dismissal, to the exit of athletic director Mack Rhoades for Baylor, to the dismissal of impact defensive linemen Harold Brantley and Walter Brady. With the promotion of defensive coordinator Barry Odom to head coach, a terrific defense should still be stingy despite those dismissals and the departure of defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski. The fate of Missouri's 2016 season rests on developing Lock and figuring out how to protect him. The Tigers are stuck playing at LSU from the SEC West, and they have a tricky opener at West Virginia. They'll be improved from last year, but a bowl bid appears to be a toss-up barring substantial improvement from an unproven O-line.
12. Jim McElwain is a terrific offensive coach who helped win a national title at Alabama and built Colorado State into a prolific team. He inherited a disastrous Florida offense from Will Muschamp, and he somehow managed to win the SEC East in his debut season despite having a team nearly incapable of scoring for half the season. Once QB Will Grier was suspended (he has since transferred), the Gators offense mostly stalled -- well, beyond the shellacking of Georgia that got Mark Richt fired -- with a 9-7 win over Vandy, tight wins over South Carolina and Florida Atlantic and horrific offensive performances against Florida State, Alabama and Michigan. Once again, Florida is going to have to lean heavily on its defense in its pursuit of an SEC East title. That's not all a bad thing: McElwain hired an excellent defensive staff, and their starting unit is full of stars, from CB Jalen Tabor (who is suspended for the opener vs. UMass) to S Marcus Maye to LB Jarrad Davis to DT Caleb Brantley. The schedule is not terrible, although it has four huge games: at Tennessee, who Florida hasn't lost to since 2004; LSU; Georgia in Jacksonville; and at Florida State. The Gators can't be dismissed as SEC East title contenders, given Tennessee's dubious history against them. But there is still a lot of ground to make up on offense, with an unproven running game, a lack of proven receiving options beyond Antonio Callaway (who it appears will play this season), questions on the offensive line and an unproven QB in Oregon State transfer Luke Del Rio. Florida is a contender and McElwain will fix the offense eventually, but a division title repeat will be tough if Tennessee lives up to its high expectations.
13. Mark Richt had a 145-51 record at Georgia, winning 74 percent of his games, and he never missed the postseason. But after 15 years, the Bulldogs opted to make a change, thanks to the lack of an SEC title since 2005 and last year's ugly defeats to Alabama and Florida. Moving on from Richt made room for Kirby Smart, an ex-Georgia safety who has spent the past eight years as Nick Saban's defensive coordinator, helping Alabama win four national championships. It is a risky move, given Richt's consistency. Smart is a first-time head coach, and while Georgia is one of the most attractive jobs in college football, chasing Alabama's standard of success can be foolish. For now, it's hard to know what to make of the Bulldogs in 2016. Smart is a great defensive coach, and he hired a good offensive coordinator in Jim Chaney. The offensive line has experience, and if star tailback Nick Chubb, who injured his knee last October, and Sony Michel, who broke his forearm last month, are healthy, the Bulldogs can have a dominant ground game. There are, however, questions in the passing game, with a lack of proven weapons at receiver and the ongoing quarterback debate as Smart decides between playing true freshman phenom Jacob Eason or incumbent Greyson Lambert (or Brice Ramsey, who has spent more time at punter than quarterback).There's also talent in the defensive front, but a question of how quickly Smart builds depth -- especially with tough games against the North Carolina, Ole Miss and Tennessee offenses early in the year. It's unreasonable to expect an SEC title in Smart's first year at Georgia, and the Bulldogs are unlikely to win the SEC East either. Last year's results may have gotten Richt fired, but ultimately Georgia should hope to get the running game going, keep Chubb and Michel healthy once on the field and start preparing Eason for the future, with matching 2015's results -- minus the embarrassing losses -- an acceptable target.
14. Tennessee needs to win the SEC East. Georgia is breaking in a new coach and possibly a freshman quarterback. Florida still doesn't have an offense, and neither does Missouri. South Carolina is starting over. Meanwhile, Butch Jones has been building the level of depth at talent back up to past Tennessee standards. Seventeen starters return. The Vols have two excellent running backs, Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara, and a quarterback in Joshua Dobbs who can make plays with his legs, too. The offensive line, previously a liability, is in solid shape. The defense has a handful of stars -- DE Derek Barnett, LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin, CB Cameron Sutton -- and brought in one of the game's premier coordinators, Bob Shoop. Both Alabama and Florida -- whom the Vols haven't defeated since 2006 and 2004, respectively -- have to come to Knoxville. The red carpet has been rolled out. After blowing three double-digit leads to Oklahoma, Florida and Arkansas last year and being seen as a disappointment, despite finishing three spots ahead of where it started in the AP poll, now's the time for Jones and the Vols to turn that improved talent into actual wins in big games. They don't need to win them all. They don't need to even win the entire SEC. But they do need to get to Atlanta and win double-digit games for the first time since 2007, because this is their best opportunity in a long time.
15. Once again, Tennessee's season revolves around the first half of the schedule. With South Carolina, Tennessee Tech, Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt in the second half of the season, all the focus is on the first seven weeks, which feature Virginia Tech at Bristol Motor Speedway and, more importantly, four SEC games in a row against Florida, Georgia, Texas A&M and Alabama. The Vols have the defense to win bigs games; they need to avoid taking the foot off the gas on offense, and they need to find a way to make more big plays. Dobbs is smart and experienced, a good leader for the offense who can move the chains with his legs and avoid mistakes with his arm. But he also completed 59.6 percent of his passes and ranked eighth in the SEC in passer rating and 10th in yards per attempt. Neither Dobbs nor the receiving corps created many opportunities downfield, and if the Vols can get improvement from both, Hurd and Kamara can start punishing defenses on a more consistent basis.
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1. Tennessee (10-2, 6-2)
2. Florida (9-3, 6-2)
3. Georgia (8-4, 5-3)
4. Kentucky (6-6, 3-5)
5. Missouri (5-7, 2-6)
6. Vanderbilt (5-7, 2-6)
7. South Carolina (4-8, 1-7)
1. LSU (11-1, 7-1)
2. Alabama (10-2, 6-2)
3. Ole Miss (8-4, 5-3)
4. Texas A&M (7-5, 4-4)
5. Arkansas (7-5, 4-4)
6. Auburn (6-6, 3-5)
7. Mississippi State (5-7, 2-6)
Conference Championship: LSU over Tennessee
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16. Alabama was one of the winners of the NFL draft's early entry deadline, which is a scary thought. That may seem ridiculous for a team that lost a Heisman Trophy winner, RB Derrick Henry, plus star defensive lineman A'Shawn Robinson, but things could have gone so much worse. Instead, despite winning a national championship, TE O.J. Howard, DE Jonathan Allen, SS Eddie Jackson and LBs Tim Williams and Reuben Foster all decided to come back. Alabama expects to lose players early, and given that it has signed six straight No. 1 recruiting classes, it is far more prepared than anyone else in college football to handle attrition. It doesn't need to worry about as much as it could have, even though it loses four of its top five tacklers, plus Henry, backup RB Kenyan Drake, QB Jake Coker, CB Cyrus Jones and other key contributors. The defense was the best in the country last year, and it can be that again this year. The line is loaded, the pass rush is as good as it's been under Saban, Foster is a complete player roaming the middle of the field and the secondary is terrific. Alabama lost Smart, but it brought back former DBs coach Jeremy Pruitt, who has been the coordinator at Florida State and Georgia. Moving the ball against the Tide will continue to be very difficult for just about anyone not named Deshaun Watson.
17. Alabama has more than earned the benefit of the doubt, but this is still as much backfield reloading as the Crimson Tide have had to do in a while. Blake Sims was a fifth-year senior when he became starting QB, and he had T.J. Yeldon and Henry in the backfield. Coker was also a fifth-year senior when he got the job, and he also had Henry. Now, it will be an entirely new look for Alabama. The QB competition is undecided between junior Cooper Bateman, redshirt freshman Blake Barnett and true freshman Jalen Hurts. Bateman is the only one who has played, getting the starting nod and getting pulled for Coker in the loss to Ole Miss last year, and it's still to be determined how long it will take for a new QB to earn Saban's trust. At running back, Henry and Drake take their 2,627 yards with them. The leading returning rusher is Damien Harris, who had 46 carries for 157 yards. Harris and Bo Scarbrough are sophomores who were five-star recruits, and true freshman B.J. Emmons was also one of the nation's top RB prospects. There are talented options here; the line is in solid shape, led by Cam Robinson; and the receiving corps has an argument for best in college football, with Howard joining sophomore phenom Calvin Ridley and others. Lane Kiffin has proven himself to be an excellent play-caller, and there's no reason to doubt that Alabama's offense will be fine. Still, Alabama hasn't had this type of backfield inexperience in a while, and it plays USC, Ole Miss, Arkansas and Tennessee away from home in the first seven games, and, of course, plays at LSU on Nov. 5. Alabama is the safest bet in college football, and it is without a doubt a national championship frontrunner. That doesn't mean there are ever any guarantees.
18. For two months, LSU found itself in perfect position in 2015. Leonard Fournette was the obvious Heisman Trophy frontrunner, and the Tigers jumped out to a 7-0 start, landing at No. 2 in the first College Football Playoff rankings. And then they ran into Alabama's brick wall, lost their undefeated record and Fournette's Heisman campaign and nearly got Les Miles fired after following the Bama debacle with losses to Arkansas and Ole Miss. Miles saved his job, with one of the most surreal college football scenes we've ever seen after the Texas A&M game, but he's undoubtedly still under a lot of pressure to win, and win big. Miles is 112-32 at LSU with a national title and two SEC titles, but the Tigers have lost five games in a row to Alabama and have lost at least three games in four straight seasons despite continued recruiting success. Combine that with the perceived inflexibility of Miles on offense, and there is restlessness despite Miles' overwhelming success overall. It's somehow both hard to fathom and completely understandable, all at once.
19. This is LSU's deepest and most talented team since 2011, when it beat Alabama in the regular season but fell apart in the BCS rematch. After a couple years of unprecedented early NFL draft attrition, the Tigers have replenished their roster. Only tackle Jerald Hawkins left early. Everyone else came back, to a team that has had recruiting success comparable to top programs like Florida State and Ohio State. After a decent but unimpressive 2015 season, the LSU defense is ready to restore past glory, bringing in defensive coordinator Dave Aranda to take over a stocked unit (although the season-ending injury to DL Christian LaCouture hurts) that features stars like CB Tre'Davious White, SS Jamal Adams, LB Kendell Beckwith and pass rusher Arden Key. LSU is strong at every level of the defense, and it should be more capable of making big plays, whether it's in the backfield or forcing turnovers. On offense, a familiar question remains: Will quarterback play improve? In his first season as starter, Brandon Harris looked good at times, but a disastrous November -- particularly against Alabama -- raised a lot of doubts. He's still just a junior, though, entering his second year as a starter. He has quality targets in WRs Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural, and he's still handing the ball off to a phenomenal talent in Fournette, plus excellent backup Derrius Guice. To beat Alabama, LSU is going to have to attempt to spread the field a little more often and get something going with Harris and the downfield passing game. It's not unreasonable to believe that he can take a step forward. Despite the issues, LSU's offense still finished 17th in yards per play last year. There are problems, but those problems are often exaggerated. LSU is a national championship contender, and Fournette is a Heisman Trophy contender.
20. There are not many good reasons to pick against Alabama. In fact, it's almost pointless to argue against the Crimson Tide. But we can argue for LSU this year. It may feel foolish to ever pick against Nick Saban, but even at its best Alabama has not been incapable of losing. If LSU can make progress in the passing game and force a new Alabama quarterback into mistakes, it can win a close game against the Tide. If it does that, LSU will win the SEC, beating Tennessee in Atlanta to make the College Football Playoff. Maybe the pick is LSU because it's boring to pick Alabama yet again, but the Tigers have climbed to the top under Miles before, and they're capable of doing it again.