The SEC West is one half of arguably the most prestigious conference in College Football. With big time programs like Alabama and LSU, the SEC West never fails to provide fans with quality football, season after season. As of late, the SEC has been slightly lopsided in the sense that there are powerhouses like Alabama playing in the same conference as teams like Ole Miss, who struggled to put together 5 wins last season. Still, the quality of play is obviously above most other conferences, which always makes for some surprises. Here is a bit of a refresher on the breakdown of the SEC West entering the season.
SEC West Front Runner: Alabama
2016 Record: 14-1
2016 SEC Record: 8-0
As always, expect Alabama to be an SEC powerhouse this year. Saban’s Crimson Tide have appeared in the National Championship game the past two seasons and are looking to regain their status as College Football’s most dominant force. Alabama will likely have 11 returning starters on the field this year, including quarterback Jalen Hurts. With a 14-1 record as a collegiate starter, you can’t argue that the kid has the ability to win games. However, there is warranted speculation about his ability given his turnover issues, especially the 9 interceptions he threw last year. Still, Hurts made up for his many mistakes with raw offensive ability, boasting 23 touchdown passes, 13 rushing tds, and four 100+ yard rushing games.
If that didn’t even out his turnover issues, the Tide’s dominant defensive efforts certainly did. People may forget that this team averaged 1 defensive touchdown per game last season… That’s absolutely mind-blowing defensive talent. With that being said, this season Alabama is faced with the challenge of replacing just over half of their 2016 defensive starters. The secondary unit has remained relatively intact, but the departures of linebacker Reuben Foster and star defensive lineman Jonathan Allen are definitely glaring omissions. In typical Alabama fashion, Saban has a new crop of monstrously overdeveloped athletes ready to take the field, though. This includes the 6″7′, 303 pound, defensive lineman Raekwon Davis…With monsters like that ready to suit up, it’s safe to say the Alabama defense will be fine this season.
Contenders: LSU & Auburn
It’s tough to even be considered a contender in the SEC West, given the fact that Alabama has represented the SEC West in the conference championship for 4 out of the last 5 seasons, but the SEC is never short on talent. Both the Auburn and LSU Tigers will be looking to make a statement this year in the SEC West.
LSU finished 8-4 last year with a conference record of 5-3. Last season was hyped as the resurgence of the LSU football program, however their season was plagued with chaos, including the firing of long time head coach, Les Miles. Despite that setback, defensive coordinator Ed Orgeron took over head coaching duties and helped the team finish out the season with a 6-2 record. This season all eyes will be on new offensive coordinator, Matt Canada. He caught national attention last year for his offensive accomplishments with Pittsburgh, the most impressive of which was outscoring the Clemson offense in the National Champion’s only loss of the season. In order to bring his offensive success to LSU, Canada will be working closely with Danny Etling, the Tiger’s senior quarterback. If this offense can hold up its end of the deal, look for LSU to be a real threat in the SEC West this season.
Auburn ended last season in a similar fashion as LSU, finishing 8-5 with a conference record of 5-3. The big thing that stands out about Auburn this season is the amount of returning talent the squad has. Of their 22 starters last season, 17 are returning and are sure to be looking to improve on last years performance. Maybe the most important of the returning players is the dynamic rushing duo, Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson. In 2016, the pair dominated the SEC, combining to record 18 touchdowns and over 2000 rushing yards. On top of that, Auburn has 9 total starters returning on the defensive side of the football. The extra SEC experience on the defense gives Auburn a leg up on the majority of their competition this year.
Team to Keep an Eye on: Arkansas
The main thing to keep an eye on with this 2017 Arkansas team is their starting quarterback Austin Allen. The younger brother of former Razorbacks quarterback Brandon Allen, Austin hopes to impress in his senior season. His previous accomplishments include being named the SEC Third-team Quarterback on 3 different occasions, and an SEC Offensive Player of the Week award for posting 400 yards and 3 touchdowns in Arkansas’s 49-30 loss to Alabama last season. Head Coach Bret Bielema is very confident in his senior quarterback’s ability to lead the offense and is certain that the Razorbacks will be a real threat this season. The deciding factor could be whether or not their receiving core will provide Allen with the weapons he needs to succeed.
Participation Trophies: Texas A&M, Mississippi State & Ole Miss
In such a prestigious conference, it’s inevitable that some teams will get the short end of the stick. Last season, all three of these teams failed to break .500 conference records, and it doesn’t seem like this season will be much different for any of these programs. Keep in mind that this is the Almighty SEC, so consider these teams the worst of the best. Let’s face it, if any of these teams played in a minor conference last season, their record would most likely be significantly better.
But, the reality of it is that they are in the SEC and the conference games will always make for a very difficult schedule. Every season this skews the record of lower ranked SEC teams, leading people to believe that they are worse than they really are. While it doesn’t seem likely any of these teams will pose a threat to the powerhouses of the SEC West, here are some things to keep in mind for this upcoming season.
-The Quarterback situation at Texas A&M is very interesting since there is currently a position battle going on between veteran Senior Jake Hubenak, and highly touted freshman recruit Nick Starkel.
–Mississippi State Junior Nick Fitzgerald is among the top quarterbacks in the nation this season, however the Bulldogs will need to establish a running game to support his offensive efforts this season.
–Ole Miss still dealing with the backlash of the Hugh Freeze situation…Lol
Pac 12 North
Pac 12 South