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SEC Football Preview 2015
By Tyler Smith (@arenafanatic) and Matt Hetzler (@thehetz)
All logos via CBSsports.com
SEC Football Predictions 2015
Offense: QB Josh Dobbs finally had his chance to shine at the end of 2014. Dobbs was redshirted at the beginning of the season. It’s hard to imagine what Tennessee’s season would’ve been with a full season of Dobbs. Dobbs led the Vols to a 4-1 record at the end of the season. Dobbs completed 63% of his passes for 1,206 yards and 9 TD’s. Dobbs is a dual threat QB, Dobbs had 8 rushing TD’s. RB Jalen Hurd shined bright as a true freshman. Hurd rushed for 899 yards and 5 TD’s. Hurd will be joined by Alvin Kamara who could see some carries as well. Tennessee is loaded with WR’s, Pig Howard is the classic slot receiver. Howard led the Vols in catches with 54. You may not find a better group of WR’s in Marquez North, Von Pearson and Josh Malone. All 3 guys have the talent to be the #1 receiver, they combined for 13 receiving TD’s in 2014. With the Vols returning 4 starters on the offensive line it makes them even better rolling into 2015. This will be breakout season for this offense and it will be a special time on Rocky Top.
Defense: As good as the offense will be, the defense is going to match them. DE Derek Barnett is a freak on the edge. Barnett had 72 tackles and 10 sacks as a freshman. LB Curt Maggitt could possibly be one the best in the country. Maggitt comes off a junior season where he led the Vols defense with 11 sacks. Jalen Reeves-Maybin tied for the team lead in tackles with AJ Johnson with 101. Maybin added 9 tackles for loss. Cameron Sutton was a playmaker in the secondary. Sutton led the Vols with pass break ups and had 3 INT’s. Sutton is hands down one of the best corners in the SEC. Brian Randolph and LaDarrell McNeil are two senior safeties coming off of career years in 2014.
Special Teams: Kicker Aaron Medley went 20-26 from FG range with a long of 46 as a true freshman. Nate Renfro will handle the punting duties.
Forecast: Butch Jones enters year 3 in Tennessee with a great team. He has turned the program around quicker than anyone expected. At the end of last season Tennessee was a team I would have bought stock in. Tennessee opens with a neutral site game vs MAC favorite Bowling Green. Tennessee then gets to host an Oklahoma team that embarrassed them last season. SEC plays opens at Florida who they have not beaten in what seems like forever. Tennessee then hosts Arkansas and Georgia back to back weeks. After a trip to Alabama, Tennessee plays 3 consecutive winnable games before a visit to Missouri. The schedule is certainly loaded towards the beginning of the season. Tennessee has to win at Florida and beat Arky and UGA in order to win the SEC East this season. I am taking Tennessee to win the East despite the fact they have been irrelevant for so long. People may think it’s a year early but with Dobbs, Hurd and the receivers this will be a great offense. The defense will be even better from a year ago, Tennessee’s time is now in the SEC.
Offense: UGA comes into the season with a new quarterback in Brice Ramsey. It seems like every year Georgia is able to find a great QB. All the hype coming into the season will be about RB Nick Chubb. Chubb is arguably the top back in the country. Chubb averaged 7.1 yards per carry which is ridiculous. Chubb shined once Gurley was out for suspension and a late injury. Chubb had 1,547 yards rushing with 14 TD’s. Malcolm Mitchell will return for a senior season at WR and will be the #1 target. TE Jeb Blazevich averaged nearly 15 yards per catch in 2014. The line returns four starters which will help Ramsey get into an early groove.
Defense: DE Jordan Jenkins is the leading returning tackler from 2014. Jenkins had 70 tackles, 24 QB hurries and 5 sacks. Leonard Floyd is getting a lot of love and for good reason. Floyd led the Bulldogs with 6 sacks and 17 hurries. Lorenzo Carter had 18 hurries and 4.5 sacks. The secondary returns 3 starters. Quincy Mauger leads the team with INT’s with 4. Dominick Sanders and Aaron Davis are a couple young players to watch.
Special Teams: Marshall Morgan is back for what seems like his 20th year. Morgan was 16-21 with a long of 53 in 2014. Colin Barber averaged 39 yards per punt in 2014.
Forecast: The expectations are high in Athens for the Bulldogs this season. It feels like it’s a SEC East championship or bust season. The non-conference schedule is almost laughable. UGA opens SEC play with South Carolina and then will host Alabama for a huge showdown in early October. UGA then plays possibly its biggest game of the season at Tennessee and gets Missouri at home the following week. If UGA gets wins in those two games it will likely win the East. A big showdown at Auburn is the only remaining SEC game in question. UGA finishes the season with a rivalry game at Georgia Tech, seeking revenge for the OT defeat last season. I see UGA beating Alabama but falls the week after a physical game at Tennessee. I feel UGA loses at Auburn as well, leaving them 6-2 in the conference and not being enough to get to Atlanta over Tennessee. A 9-10 win regular season will still mean a big bowl for the Bulldogs but will it be enough for Mark Richt who seems to always be on the hot seat.
Offense: Florida will have plenty of new faces this season on offense. Redshirt freshman Will Grier will get first crack as solving Florida’s offensive woes in 2015. Treon Harris will not be far behind and could see snaps as well. Kelvin Taylor will be the featured back for the Gators. Taylor scored 6 TD’s and averaged nearly 5 yards per rush in 2014. Leading receiver Demarcus Robinson is back and will look to build on an impressive 2014. Robinson had 53 catches for 810 yards and 7 TD’s. Highly touted freshman Martez Ivey should get a shot to start at the beginning of 2015 for a line that returns only 1 starter.
Defense: Leading tackler Antonio Morrison will be back for the Gators. Morrison recorded 101 tackles in 2014. Jonathon Bullard will anchor the defensive line, the senior had 52 tackles and 12 QB hurries. The secondary returns every starter from last season. Vernon Hargreaves is possibly the best CB in the country and will surely forgo his senior season to enter the NFL.
Special Teams: Austin Hardin was 7-10 last season with a long of 52 yards. Johnny Townsend will handle the punting duties.
Forecast: Florida returns only 11 starters and has a new head coach Jim McElwain. McElwain is a great coach and should the program around in no time. 2015 will be a tough season for the Gators. Cross division games against Ole Miss and LSU will be tough for this team. A trip to Missouri could be winnable and the Gators host Tennessee and Florida State. To be honest this team is a complete mystery to me. Florida could surprise some people but on paper I’m just not seeing it this year. Florida will struggle to get to bowl eligibility in my opinion but wouldn’t be shocked if they grabbed a couple wins they shouldn’t have.
Offense: QB Maty Mauk returns for his junior season. Mauk has been solid the last two years for the Tigers. Mauk threw for 2,648 yards and 25 TD’s. 1,000 yard rushed Russell Hansbrough returns for the Tigers offense. Missouri has to find new receivers to step up, as they lose the top 4 from last season. J’Mon Moore is one to watch out for. 4 starters returning on the line will really help the offense early.
Defense: Missouri returns only 6 starters on defense but has a couple of 100+ tacklers coming back. Kentrell Brothers and Michael Scherer return at LB and both went for 122 and 114 tackles respectfully. DT Harold Brantley recorded 5 sacks and 54 tackles. Missouri’s secondary returns 3 starters, including Aarion Penton who leads the returning starters with 3 INT’s.
Special teams: Kicker Aaron Baggett returns for his senior season. Baggett went 18-25 with a long of 52 yards. Freshman punter Corey Fatony will handle the punting duties.
Forecast: Missouri has surprised many people by winning the SEC East the last two seasons. What Coach Gary Pinkel has done is nothing short of amazing. Missouri is a combined 23-5 in the last two seasons. Missouri has a pretty easy non-conference schedule except for a late-season neutral site game with BYU, which really boggles the mind. Missouri opens SEC play at Kentucky, followed by home games vs South Carolina and Florida. Trips to Georgia and Vandy are next before Mississippi State visits. Missouri hosts Tennessee before heading to Arkansas to end the regular season. Missouri has two tough cross division games in Mississippi State and Arkansas which is why I see the Tigers finishing 4-4 in conference. Missouri will still get to 7-8 regular season wins and get to a respectable bowl game.
#5 South Carolina
Offense: South Carolina comes into 2015 with only 4 starters coming back on offense. It has to be tough for Coach Spurrier to deal with. The offense is completely a huge question mark coming into the season. Connor Mitch will be the starting QB. Pharoh Copper is a do it all player for this team. Cooper had 1,136 yards receiving and 9 TD’s. Cooper will see some extra snaps at QB this season. David Williams and Brandon Wilds will split touches at RB. 3 returning starters at OL should help with some early growing pains.
Defense: The defense will be miles ahead of the offense in terms of talent. The Davis brothers will anchor the DL in 2015. Skai Moore led the Gamecocks with 93 tackles in 2014. TJ Gurley and Jonathon Walton will also be back at LB to make this unit very special heading into the season. The secondary will be young but have a couple of starters returning.
Special Teams: Elliott Fry returns as kicker for SC. Fry went 18-25 in FG’s last season with a long of 47. Sean Kelly will be the starting punter.
Forecast: South Carolina opens with a neutral game vs UNC. South Carolina kicks off SEC play in week 2 vs UK before visiting UGA. South Carolina has a brutal SEC schedule. SC hosts LSU and Florida but has to visit Mizzou, A&M and Tennessee. South Carolina gets Clemson at home to finish the season but could play spoiler. I feel like this will be a tough season for South Carolina. I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t make a bowl game this season.
Offense: If one thing is clear coming into the 2015 Wildcats season; it’s that Patrick Towles will be the program builder. Towles did everything for a Kentucky team that he possibly could. Towles threw nearly 400 times and ran 145 times. Leading rushed Stanley Williams returns, as does leading receiver Ryan Timmons. The offensive line returns 4 starters which will help anchor this young team.
Defense: Kentucky returns 7 defensive starters for 2015. LB Josh Forrest led the Wildcats with 110 tackles in 2014. He is joined by LB Ryan Flannigan who recorded 57 tackles. The secondary returns 3 starters. AJ Stamps had 56 tackles and led the team with 4 INT’s. Marcus McWilson will get a chance to start in the secondary after grabbing 3 INT’s in 2014.
Special Teams: 1st team SEC kicker Austin MacGinnis returns. As a freshman he hit 21-27 FG’s with a long of 54. Landon Foster returns as punter, he averaged 43 yards per punt.
Forecast: Kentucky started 5-1 last season before losing its final 6 games. UK only plays 4 road games in 2015, which are at SC, Miss St, UGA and Vandy. UK gets the luck of the draw hosting Florida, Tenn, Auburn and Mizzou. UK finishes the season hosting Louisville. It’s hard to get real excited about the 2015 version of the Wildcats. I love Patrick Towles, I think he is an exciting player to watch. However, the schedule is really tough in the home games for UK to make a bowl game this year
Offense: Vandy started 4 different QB’s last season, trying to find one who would be consistent enough to compete in games. Sad thing Is, Vandy couldn’t find out. Johnny McCrary was the best option coming into the season. He struggled last season with 51% completion and 9/8 TD/INT ratio. One piece of the Vandy offense I love is RB Ralph Webb. Webb grinded it out to almost reach 1,000 yards rushing. Steven Scheu and CJ Duncan are the leading receivers coming back, both had 4 TD’s last year.
Defense: Vanderbilt’s defense returns 9 starters from a year ago. Stephen Weatherly led the team in sacks with 4.5, Caleb Azubike wasn’t far behind with 4. Vandy returns its top 6 leading tackles from 2014. Nigel Bowden was the top tackler with 78. CB Torren McGaster led the Commodores with 2 INT’s.
Special teams: Tommy Openshaw returns as kicker after going 8-11 as a freshman. Colby Cooke returns as kicker.
Forecast: Vandy will have another tough season under Derek Mason. Although the Commodores return 18 starters, they are far behind everyone else in terms of talent in the SEC. I don’t want to predict that Vandy won’t win a SEC game this season for the second consecutive year but it is probable. Vandy’s best chance for an SEC win is against UK at home but I think UK is slightly ahead of them talent wise.
Offense: Auburn comes into 2015 with maybe its best offense in a couple years. Jeremy Johnson is legit and the hype is well deserved. Johnson has a cannon and can run with the ball. Johnson is a Heisman candidate and if Auburn wins the West, he will be the reason. Auburn replenishes its talent at RB with Roc Thomas and #1 JUCO transfer Javon Robinson. Peyton Barber will also play a major role in the running game. Duke Williams returns for his senior season. Williams coming back was a bit of a surprise to me. Williams had a solid season but will need to stay healthy in 2015. Ricardo Lewis, Melvin Ray and Marcus Davis will be the supporting cast at WR. Auburn’s offensive line will be great. Alex Kozan returns after a back injury sidelined him in 2014. Ole Miss transfer Austin Golson will play a huge role at center.
Defense: Auburn made a splash by hiring Will Muschamp to take over the defense for 2015. Auburn returns 8 starters from a defense that gave up nearly 400 ypg. DaVonte Lambert and Montravius Adams will look to add to their sack totals from last season. I look for their numbers to go up with the return of DE Carl Lawson. Lawson was sidelined with a knee injury and was a freshman All- American the season before. Lawson will give the pass rush what it’s been missing. Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost are two very good LB’s. Both could be 1st round draft picks after the season. McKinzy had 91 tackles and 9.5 for loss; Frost added 87 and tied for the team led with 3.5 sacks. Freshman Jeff Holland should fill out the linebacker core. I have heard about Auburn’s inexperience in the secondary but I’m not seeing it. Jonathan Jones is one of the best corners in the country. Jones had 6 INT’s and 11 break ups. Safety Rudy Ford led the team in tackles with 93 last season. Tray Matthews who transfers in from Georgia will fill in at FS.
Special Teams: Daniel Carlson returns at kicker. Carlson converted 18-24 FG’s with a long of 51. Ian Shannon should start at punter, if not it will be Carlson.
Forecast: Auburn comes in with the same hype it had last season. Last season turned into a disaster after the Ole Miss win. Auburn opens the season in Atlanta against the Louisville Cardinals. Auburn opens SEC play at LSU. Auburn returns to play Miss State at home and then gets a Thursday night road game at UK. Auburn then travels to Arkansas before getting Ole Miss at home. Auburn then heads back out to Texas A&M looking for revenge. Auburn ends conference play with Georgia and Alabama at Jordan-Hare. Gus Malzahn has to have a bad taste in his mouth after the way Auburn finished 2014. Muschamp is back where he once had great defenses. I am picking Auburn to win the West because I like the way the schedule sets up and I think the defense will be much better this season. Auburn will make the playoffs in 2015 and win another National Championship.
Offense: Much like LSU, Alabama comes into the season with questions about QB play. Jake Coker is expected to get first crack. Coker played well in mop up duty for the Tide in 2014. Running backs Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake should see most of the carries out of the backfield. Alabama has to replace its top 3 receivers from a season ago, including Heisman finalist Amari Cooper. Returning WR’s had 0 TD’s last season. Young receivers Robert Foster and ArDarius Stewart should start in the opener. Only 2 starters return up front but one is big Cam Robinson at tackle.
Defense: Alabama returns 7 starters from 2014. Jonathan Allen led the team with 5.5 sacks. A’Shawn Robinson is a force at the DT postion. Jarran Reed should have an even better 2015, and he was solid last year. Reggie Ragland had 95 tackles and 9.5 for loss last season. Rueben Foster will get a chance to start at MLB. Cyrus Jones had 3 INT’s last year and 13 break ups. This may be a better defense than last season.
Special Teams: Adam Griffith returns as the starting kicker, he was inconsistent last season going 12-19. JK Scott is a solid punter, he put 31 balls inside the 20 and averaged 48 yards per punt.
Forecast: Alabama plays a fairly difficult conference schedule this season. Alabama does open the season playing B1G West favorite Wisconsin. Bama will likely start 4-0 before heading to Athens, GA for a huge game with the Bulldogs. Bama then plays Arkansas, @A&M and Tennessee before a bye week. Bama then gets LSU at home and should win the next two contests before heading to Auburn for the Iron Bowl. With questions on the offensive side I had to put Alabama 2nd in the west, also because they play at Auburn this season. The Iron Bowl should be another SEC Championship play in game and I’ll give Auburn the edge right now.
Offense: LSU’s biggest question mark coming into the season is at the QB position. It looks like Brandon Harris will get the start coming into the season. Harris played well in the limited action he saw as a true freshman. Leonard Fournette is a Heisman contender coming into the season. Fournette rushed for 1,034 yards and 10 TD’s as a true freshman. Travin Dural led the Tigers in receiving last season with 37 catches, 758 yards and 7 TD’s. Malachi Dupre and John Diarse are big targets that could have breakout seasons. Vadal Alexander is the highlight of 3 returning starters on the offensive line.
Defense: The loss of DC Chavis will be headline coming into the season. LSU loses 4 of its top 5 tacklers from last season’s team that allowed only 17.5 ppg. LB Kendell Beckwith leads all players with 77 tackles. LSU will need the DL to get more pressure on the QB this season. I really like Jalen Mills at FS.
Special Teams: Colby Delahoussaye returns as kicker for the Tigers. He hit 11-15 FG’s with a long of 50. Jamie Keehn could be the best punter in the nation.
Forecast: LSU opens SEC play at Mississippi State in week 2 before hosting Auburn in a huge game on September 19. A non-conference game vs WKU in late October looks interesting. November will make or break the Tigers. LSU starts at Alabama then hosts Arkansas. LSU then heads back on the road to play Ole Miss and finishes hosting Texas A&M. LSU could very well start the season 8-0 if it beats Auburn at home. I am picking LSU 3rd in the West but I find that schedule to be very manageable to get them back to an SEC Championship appearance.
#3-T Ole Miss
Offense: Ole Miss loses QB Bo Wallace but virtually returns every other starter. Chad Kelly will be the man to lead the offense at QB. Kelly is a transfer from Clemson and will have plenty of playmakers around him. Jaylon Walton will return at RB. The WR’s are a special group. Laquon Treadwell and Cody Core both had solid 2014 seasons. TE Evan Engram had 38 catches and 2 TD’s. All 5 starters returns including tackle Laremy Tunsil.
Defense: Ole Miss will have another solid defense in 2014. 7 starters return from a roster that allowed only 16 ppg last season. Leading tacklers Mike Hilton and Tony Connor return for the land sharks. DT Robert Nkemdiche will look to break out in 2015 after only 2 sacks in 2014. Marquis Haynes led the Rebels with 7.5 sacks off the edge. I also really like CJ Johnson at MLB.
Special Teams: Gary Wunderlich was 6-8 with a long of 47 last season and Will Gleeson averaged nearly 43 yards per punt.
Forecast: Ole Miss comes into the season with pretty high hopes. It will be interesting to see how to QB position plays out. Bo Wallace cost Ole Miss some games last season. I think the receivers will really help whoever is at QB. Ole Miss has to travel to Alabama, Florida, Auburn and Miss State. Getting A&M, Arky, and LSU at home leaves them a very balanced schedule. I am not down on Ole Miss as some other people may be. I think Ole Miss gets another 8-9 win regular season and a high profile bowl.
Offense: Arkansas returns 9 offensive starters. QB Brandon Allen returns for his senior season and will look to put the Razorbacks back on top of the West. Allen isn’t asked to do too much in this offense and it certainly helps him. He toosed 20 TD’s and only had 5 picks last season. RB Jonathan Williams will start the season on the sidelines with an injury but his 1,190 rushing yards were a team high in 2014. Alex Collins will get the bulk of the carries with Williams out. Collins also went over 1,000 yards, finishing with 1,100 and 12 TD’s. Leading receiver Keon Hatcher is back off of a 43 catch season. Hunter Henry is widely regarding as one of the best TE’s in the country. 4 starts back on the offensive line will be huge. I really like watching 6-10” tackle Dan Skipper.
Defense: Arkansas loses some key players from last season’s team. Taiwin Johnson will look to build on his 4.5 sacks from 2014. Brooks Ellis is the top tackler returning after recording 72 last season. Corners DJ Dean and Jared Collins bring stability to the position. Rohan Gaines will no doubt the leader of the defense.
Special Teams: Cole Hedlund and Toby Baker will be the kicker and punter.
Forecast: Arkansas opens with 3 very winnable games before the SEC opener against Texas A&M. From there, Arkansas travels to Tennessee and Alabama before a bye week. Auburn comes into town following the bye and Arkansas has tough road games at Ole Miss and LSU after. The Razorbacks finish with back-to-back home games against Mississippi State and Missouri. The road schedule has to be the toughest in the SEC. Only 3 true home games I think will make a huge difference in the season. I really like the offense and the job Bret Bielema has done. I don’t think an SEC West crown is in the picture but a nice 8-9 win season could be achieved.
#6 Texas A&M
Offense: Texas A&M returns 8 starters on what should an explosive offense. Kyle Allen will be the man at QB for the Aggies. Allen showed signs of greatness as a true freshman. Allen threw for 16 TD’s and 1,322 yards. Tra Carson returns at RB. Carson rushed for a team high 581 yards and scored 5 TD’s. Texas A&M has a loaded group of receivers. Josh Reynolds had 13 receiving TD’s last season. Speedy Noil, Ricky Seals-Jones and incoming freshman Christian Kirk will all play major roles in the passing game. A veteran offensive line will be the x-factor of this offense.
Defense: Myles Garrett is the big man on campus for the Aggies defense. Garrett had a breakout freshman season recording 11.5 sacks. Alonzo Williams is a big man, Williams had 57 tackles and 4.5 sacks in 2014. Shaan Washington’s 64 tackles makes him the leading tackler coming back. Armani Watts is a player to watch in the secondary. Watts led the team in INT’s last season.
Special Teams: Punter Drew Kaser averaged over 44 yards per punt and is back for his senior season. The kicking position is still up for grabs.
Forecast: Texas A&M is a trendy pick for a dark horse in the SEC West and for good reason. A&M only plays 3 true road games in the SEC. (Ole Miss, Vandy, LSU) The crossover division game is South Carolina which should be a win, especially at home. Getting Auburn and Alabama at home is huge for this young team. I really like the Aggies but I put them 6th because of the youth of the team overall. If A&M won the West I would not be shocked, but I still think they are a year away.
#7 Mississippi State
Offense: Mississippi State has no questions at QB coming into the season. Dak Prescott returns for his senior season in Starkville. Prescott is coming off of an incredible season, where he led the Bulldogs to a #1 ranking during the season. Prescott threw for 3,449 yards and 27 TD’s. He added 14 rushing TD’s and nearly eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark. Prescott’s biggest threat at WR returns in De’Runnya Wilson. Wilson pulled in 9 TD’s receiving. Mississippi State was hit hard with only 4 starters returning on offense. Prescott will have to carry this offense for them to be successful in 2015.
Defense: The defense returns fewer starters than the offense. Chris Jones needs to return to his freshman self and be dominate once again. Beniquez Brown is the leading returning tackler with 62. Only one starter in the secondary will be tough to overcome. This inexperienced defense will have a hard time growing up in the SEC West. I look for them to struggle big time.
Special teams: Logan Cooke will be the kicker and Devon Bell returns as the Bulldogs punter.
Forecast: Mississippi State gets a huge SEC home opener vs LSU. If they can beat LSU it may give them some confidence heading into the meat of the schedule. Road games at Auburn and Texas A&M should be difficult to win. The Bulldogs get Alabama and Ole Miss at home. This is a tough schedule for a team returning only 7 total starters. Dak Prescott should find a way to get Mississippi State back to a bowl game but it won’t be another Orange Bowl appearance.
SEC Offensive POY
Jeremy Johnson, QB, Auburn
SEC Defensive POY
Curt Maggitt, LB, Tennessee
SEC Coach of the Year
Butch Jones, Tennessee