Leading up to the first Saturday of college football, we will be looking at the Power Five Conferences and what to expect out of each of them this season. The conference favorite, runner-up and dark horse teams that we think will fall into each category in each of the Power Five conferences and why.
The Southeastern Conference had its championship reign come to an end against Florida State in 2013 and it’s absence continued last season when Ohio State won the national championship during the first season of the College Football Playoff. At first glance, the SEC could be sitting out again this season and watching the championship game from home. The reigning SEC champ, Alabama, has an uncertain quarterback situation on its hands, but they are still led by head coach Nick Saban.
You might think that it would be the Alabama Crimson Tide and all of its glory, but the Auburn Tigers have a chance to make everyone forget all about the Alabama dynasty this season. In steps junior quarterback Jeremy Johnson and his 6’5″ frame, and the comparisons to Cam Newton seem to follow. Johnson will have plenty of speed on the outside with senior receiver Duke Williams returning for the Tigers, but redshirt freshman wide receiver Myron Burton Jr. has left the team after a strong showing in spring practice according to a Sports Illustrated report.
Auburn faces a difficult SEC schedule that includes a matchup in Death Valley with LSU on Sept. 19, a home game on Nov. 14 against the Georgia Bulldogs and their annual Iron Bowl game against Alabama on Nov. 28. If Auburn can win their opening game against Louisville, then they have a great chance to get to the College Football Playoff, assuming they beat their rivals and win the SEC Championship game against Georgia.
The Tigers have the tools that they need to be an offensive threat and they added former Florida Gators coach Will Muschamp as their defensive coordinator when he was fired at Florida. Muschamp will have a major impact on the Tigers’ defense and should turn them into an above-average unit, much like he did at Texas.
Alabama will not fall in this category this year either, as it will be Georgia that walks away as SEC runner-up in 2015. The Bulldogs are also dealing with uncertainty at the quarterback position, but they welcome back senior outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins who decided to come back to school instead of jumping to the NFL. Mark Richt always seems to be on the hot seat, even when Georgia is winning, but in steps a new offensive coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer.
The offensive scheme will remain a pro-style scheme, and the return of running back Nick Chubb will be a bonus. Last season, Chubb ran for 1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns behind Todd Gurley, and Georgia also welcomes back Keith Marshall and Sony Michel in the backfield. If the Bulldogs can survive their SEC schedule in October (Alabama, at Tennessee, Missouri, Florida in Jacksonville), they will make it to the SEC Championship game.
With teams like McNeese St., Eastern Michigan and Western Kentucky on your schedule, it is highly important to win those games — by a landslide. LSU will look to do just that while they hope to put an end to SEC title hopes for Auburn and Alabama. The rest of the Tigers’ schedule is very winnable, but this is the SEC. Any SEC team could fall into the dark horse category in any year, but this year looks like it will be the year of the Tiger.
Les Miles‘ teams always provide a challenge for other SEC teams and this year Death Valley will be rocking louder than usual. Suspended junior quarterback Anthony Jennings has been reinstated after charges were dropped and running back Leonard Fournette should have a more consistent showing in 2015. The Tigers have the pieces in place to make a run in the SEC and Miles is ready to eat more grass.
2015 might be the death of the Tide, much to the chagrin of Saban, but SEC fans will rejoice if that occurs. One thing that is always an expectation of the SEC is this: If you can survive a brutal conference schedule and mix in a few cupcakes, the recipe will be a successful one. Prior to the College Football Playoff things were a lot easier, but what’s one more game for teams in the SEC?