College football season is upon us, which means it’s time to preview the SEC West. This year’s division will be one of the most competitive ever as the University of Alabama, Auburn University, University of Arkansas and University of Mississippi battle for supremacy.

When it comes to SEC West college football, there are few teams that have more to prove than the two Texas schools. After the Longhorns went to two BCS championship games in four years, expectations were high for the 2013 season. And Texas got off to a very bad start, losing three of its first four games. Texas was blown out by an unranked BYU team in Arlington, Texas, in its first road game of the season. Then in the middle of September, Texas lost in overtime to lowly Kansas. The Longhorns beat Texas Tech—the third time in four years that they’d beaten the Red Raiders—but the team still finished the season with a four-game losing streak.

Auburn, Kentucky, and Texas A&M are all out in the SEC West. The three schools were the darlings of the conference last season, with Auburn finishing second, Kentucky third, and A&M fourth in the SEC East. But once the SEC West began, the conference title race was never close. The conference didn’t have a team ranked lower than second place as conference play neared its end—and only one team was in the top five at season’s end.. Read more about sec east and let us know what you think.

Since 2009, the SEC West has won eight national championships, while the rest of the FBS has won four.

When you think about it, it’s very startling. Clemson under Dabo Swinney is as near as anybody has come to Bobby Bowden’s record of straight top-five finishes. Ohio State is a Big Ten powerhouse, with recruitment numbers comparable to Alabama’s. Georgia excels in recruiting and came close to winning the national championship in 2017. There are a lot of possible Death Stars in the sky right now, but college football’s greatest prize usually passes through one division.

With six championships in that time, Alabama clearly leads the way, but this hasn’t been a one-horse town. Others have taken up the slack when the Tide has faltered. In this time period, their two worst seasons were in 2010 and 2019, when Cam Newton’s Auburn and Joe Burrow’s LSU, respectively, won the national championship.

The West is at its best, however, when Bama has competition. That was not the case in 2020, when the division’s only other ranked team, Texas A&M, fell by 28 points in Tuscaloosa. LSU fell deeply into a hangover, Ole Miss played well on only one side of the ball, Mississippi State stuttered under Mike Leach and Auburn suffered its worst season under Gus Malzahn (and promptly fired him).

How much will this change this fall? Bama could take at least a slight step backward following the loss of a particularly otherworldly set of talent to the NFL, but is Texas A&M ready to make a more serious challenge? How much will LSU bounce back after the worst title defense in 70 years? Can Ole Miss actually defend? The West is all but guaranteed to be the best division in college football on average, if only because Bama’s numbers count in said average. But how close will it get to the best version of itself?

Let’s take a look at the SEC West!

Bill Connelly will preview a different division from the Group of 5 and Power 5 every week for ESPN+ during the summer, eventually covering all 130 FBS schools. In one convenient graphic, the previews will contain 2020 breakdowns, 2021 previews, and a short history of each club. The MAC East and West, the MWC Mountain and West, the Sun Belt West and East, the top and bottom half of the AAC, the seven Independents, the ACC Atlantic and Coastal, the Pac-12 North and South, the top and bottom half of the Big 12, the Big Ten West and East, and the SEC East have all been covered so far in this series.

Jump to a team: Mississippi State | Arkansas | Auburn | LSU | Ole Miss | Texas A&M | Alabama

SEC-West-college-football-offseason-preview

In Mike Leach’s debut season, MSU averaged 37 points per game in four victories and 13 in seven defeats. Predictability and stability are overvalued.

Projections for 2021

SP+ projected rank: 44th

The average number of predicted victories is 6.3. (3.3 in the SEC)

  • At Vanderbilt, Tennessee State (99 percent) and Louisiana Tech (93 percent) are the most likely winners (86 percent )

  • Kentucky (63 percent), NC State (56 percent), at Memphis (51 percent), at Arkansas (43 percent), LSU (41 percent), and Ole Miss (41 percent) are relative toss-ups (40 percent )

  • Likely losses: at Auburn (31%), at Texas A&M (19%), Alabama (12%)

* Likely wins are games in which SP+ predicts a scoring margin of more than seven points, or a victory probability of more than 65 percent. Likely wins are the polar opposite, while relative toss-ups are everything in between.

There are a handful of “six relative toss-up” clubs in every conference. Both 3-9 and 9-3 are on the table at Starkville for the Bulldogs, who are one of two teams in the West.

In 2020, we learnt a lot about Mississippi State.

The Air Raid isn’t a simple plug-and-play system. In his first year at Washington State, Leach supervised a drop in win totals from four to three, as well as a drop in offensive SP+ from 51st to 88th. The Cougars improved to 41st in offensive SP+ the next season, scoring 10.6 more points per game.

Even a well-defined system, such as Leach’s Air Raid, requires a time of break-in. When MSU thrashed LSU for 632 yards and 44 points in the 2020 opener, we forgot about it, but the Bulldogs scored a total of 30 points in the following four games. Freshmen led the way at quarterback (Will Rogers), running back (Jo’quavious Marks and Dillon Johnson), and wide receiver (Jaden Walley), with four freshmen or sophomore offensive linemen seeing 200 or more plays — the offense was certain to stall.

Late in 2020, Rogers was outstanding against Ole Miss and Missouri, while Walley had four straight 100-yard games. Was it a foreshadowing of what was to come? Will Rogers win the starting position over Southern Miss transfer Jack Abraham? Will the additions of Jamire Calvin (Wazzu) and Makai Polk (Cal) as transfer wide receivers help?

Mississippi State in 2020: What We Didn’t Know

Was the improved defense a harbinger of things to come? After falling from first to 70th in defensive SP+ in 2019, Leach made a bold and exciting coordinator move in bringing in SDSU’s Zach Arnett to run a variation of the Rocky Long 3-3-5, and the Bulldogs recovered to 49th. They did a good job defending the run and dominated in the red zone, which helped to balance the fact that they blitzed a bunch but only got to the quarterback on rare occasions (62nd in sack rate).

Linebacker Aaron Brule is a keeper, and corners Martin Emerson and Emmanuel Forbes win a lot of fights, but more pass pressure is needed, particularly if the run defense suffers from the loss of two of the top three lines from last season.

The history of Mississippi State on a single graph

ESPN

  1. After a successful wartime run, MSU’s lone ranked finish between 1942 and 1974 occurred in 1957, when future No. 3 pick Billy Stacy led a 6-2-1 team.

  2. Billy Jackson is one of the best pass rushers in the SEC. During MSU’s nine-win 1980 season, he had 17 sacks and ended his career with 49.

  3. The Jackie Sherrill era ended in an NCAA scandal, although the high point was solid: 26 victories from 1998 to 2000, a top-15 finish, and the school’s lone West championship.

  4. In 2004, Sylvester Croom succeeded Sherrill as the first Black SEC head coach. He slogged through NCAA penalties, but he laid the groundwork for Dan Mullen’s great replacement.

  5. Mullen reached his pinnacle in 2014, when Dak Prescott passed for 3,449 yards and the Bulldogs were rated No. 1 in the CFP rankings for the first time. (They ended with a 10-3 record.)

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In Arkansas’ first season under Sam Pittman, the Hogs broke a 20-game SEC losing skid, won three games, and came close to winning three more. After the despair of 2019, this isn’t terrible.

Projections for 2021

SP+ projected rank: 41st

5.8 victories are expected on average (2.8 in the SEC)

  • UAPB (99 percent), Rice (88 percent), and Georgia Southern are the most likely winners (82 percent )

  • Missouri (65%), Mississippi State (57%), Auburn (44%), and Texas (44%) are relative toss-ups (36 percent )

  • Likely losses: at LSU (32%), at Ole Miss (31%), vs. Texas A&M (24%), at Georgia (15%), at Alabama (8%)

The Hogs have a chance to crack the SP+ top 50 for the first time since 2016, but a brutal road schedule — just one of their six highest-projected opponents visits Fayetteville — will limit their win total.

In 2020, we learnt a lot about Arkansas.

In Fayetteville, a brawl has erupted once again. Pittman’s first task was to just make Arkansas feisty again after the Hogs went winless in SEC play in 2018-19 (with blowout defeats to North Texas and Western Kentucky to boot). The mission has been completed. The Hogs couldn’t keep up with the top opponents, losing by an average of 35 points to Georgia, Florida, and Alabama, but they improved their SP+ ranking from 108th to 57th. The offense of Kendal Briles improved from 105th to 54th, while the defense of Barry Odom improved from 88th to 62nd.

Odom is in desperate need of playmakers. Take little chances, avoid huge moves, and capitalize on errors. It was the Odom way of doing things, and it worked at times. Arkansas was 93rd in terms of success rate allowed, but 18th in terms of explosive play rate, holding half of its opponents to 30 points or less. The Razorbacks, on the other hand, were burned a lot because they had no disruptive potential up front. Arkansas has a lot of versatile linebackers and strong safeties like Grant Morgan and Jalen Catalon. However, unless the line begins producing plays, the ceiling will stay low. Tre Williams, a transfer from Mizzou, is a big assist, but only so much.

What Arkansas didn’t teach us in 2020

Is it possible that we’ve seen enough of KJ Jefferson? Feleipe Franks, who took too many sacks but completed 69 percent of his throws, helped Arkansas climb to 30th in passing success rate. Jefferson, a big freshman, stepped in against Missouri and threw for 274 yards and 18 completions, but he only completed 49 percent of his passes for the season and had a high sack rate.

Treylon Burks is a fantastic slot receiver, and although Mike Woods, a big-play receiver, moved to Oklahoma, senior De’Vion Warren was his statistical clone. Trelon Smith, the running back, is effective but not especially explosive. However, Arkansas’ bowl chances are heavily reliant on Jefferson’s performance in a single game.

In a single graph, you can see the whole history of Arkansas.

ESPN

  1. Frank Broyles came in 1958 and started an 11-year reign of terror in 1959, with eight AP top-10 results and a claim to the 1964 national championship.

  2. Broyles resigned in 1976, and his hand-picked replacement, Lou Holtz, quickly restored the Hogs’ reputation with a 30-5-1 record from 1977 through 1979.

  3. Arkansas joined the SEC in 1992, but it wasn’t until Houston Nutt’s illustrious career, which included ten years, three ranked finishes, and 100 percent drama.

  4. With a 21-5 record in 2010-11 and one of the most famous firings in sports history, Bobby Petrino replaced Nutt and added to the drama.

  5. When Pittman took coach, Arkansas had just had its worst season since 1943. He has started to restore order, although there is clearly room for improvement.

Ranking-the-best-college-football-teams-that-didnt-win-a

Only Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Wisconsin… and Auburn have finished in the SP+ top 30 each of the last eight years. Gus Malzahn couldn’t win enough to please the Plains faithful, but he set a high standard for his replacement Bryan Harsin.

Projections for 2021

SP+ projected rank: 28th

The average number of predicted victories is 7.0. (3.9 in the SEC)

  • Alabama State (99.7%), Akron (98%), Georgia State (86%), at South Carolina (84%), Mississippi State (84%) are the most likely winners (69 percent )

  • Arkansas (57 percent), Ole Miss (54 percent), and LSU are all relative toss-ups (43 percent )

  • Likely losses: Georgia (33%), at Penn State (31%), at Texas A&M (30%), Alabama (21%)

Auburn has one of the hardest schedules in the SEC, with a trip to Penn State thrown in for good measure. Harsin, 44, has had quite the crash course.

2 Related

What we discovered about Auburn in the year 2020

Kevin Steele didn’t know everything. From 2017 through 2019, AU ranked sixth or higher in defensive SP+ with Steele as the coordinator. In 2020, though, with the offense struggling, defense would not be able to rescue the day. Auburn was able to stop huge plays but was unable to throw opponents off schedule or rush the passer, resulting in poor third-down statistics.

Harsin, Boise State’s longstanding head coach, attempted to compensate for his lack of SEC experience by bringing in former SEC head coaches Mike Bobo (Georgia) and Derek Mason (Vanderbilt) as offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator, respectively. He also brought in a slew of transfers. Northwestern’s Eku Leota joins Roger McCreary and Nehemiah Pritchett as AU’s most experienced edge rusher, while West Virginia’s Dreshun Miller joins Roger McCreary and Nehemiah Pritchett to form an outstanding cornerback trio. There’s a lot to appreciate here, especially with players like linebacker Owen Pappoe and safety Smoke Monday. However, there are a slew of unexpected problems to address.

What we learned about Auburn in 2020 that we didn’t know before

Is Bo Nix the genuine deal? Following a freshman-like performance in 2019, Nix was unable to make significant progress last autumn. The Tigers were rated 74th in passing success rate and 61st on passing downs, despite facing four of the top 13 defenses in the nation and averaging 14.5 points per game against them (and 31.1 against the rest of the field). Nix scrambled effectively, but he did it too often.

Bobo, who failed to improve at South Carolina last season, will either have to coax more consistency out of Nix or replace him, perhaps with LSU transfer TJ Finley. Whoever is in charge of the offense will have to contend with a completely new receiving corps: last year’s top three wideouts are all gone, and no returning wideout had more than ten receptions.

The run game has the potential to be outstanding, as RB Tank Bigsby is one of the best in the league, and the offensive line, headed by center Nick Brahms, has plenty of experience. However, teams must pass as well, and Auburn’s ability to do so isn’t certain.

Auburn’s whole history on a single graph

ESPN

  1. When Shug Jordan took over in 1951, Auburn had only won five games in four years, but from 1953 through 1963, he led the Tigers to seven top-ten finishes, including the 1957 national championship.

  2. Between 1970 through 1974, AU resurrected with four seasons of nine or more victories, three top-10 finishes, and a Heisman champion (Pat Sullivan).

  3. Pat Dye’s Tigers came close to winning the national championship in 1983 behind Bo Jackson, then dominated the SEC from 1986 through 1989, winning 39 games and finishing in the top ten four times.

  4. In 1993 and 2004, undefeated seasons did not result in championships, but Cam Newton’s streak in 2010 did. Newton earned the Heisman Trophy, and Auburn won their second ring after a 14-0 season.

  5. The Prayer at Jordan-Hare and the Kick Six came out of Malzahn’s first year as head coach. Auburn came within a whisker of winning another national championship. One of the most remarkable seasons in television history.

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Did we really learn anything about LSU last year? Injuries at quarterback and cornerback, poorly timed opt-outs, a new defensive coordinator hiring that didn’t connect… did we learn anything about LSU last year? Ed Orgeron really hopes not.

Projections for 2021

SP+ projected rank: 26th

The average number of predicted victories is 7.2. (3.9 in the SEC)

  • ULM (99%), McNeese State (99%), Central Michigan (87%), Arkansas (68%) are the most likely winners at Kentucky (67 percent )

  • Relative toss-ups: at Mississippi State (59%), Auburn (57%), at Ole Miss (44%), at UCLA (42%), Texas A&M (41%), Florida (41%)

  • Alabama is a team that is likely to lose (14 percent )

In 2019, the Tigers stormed to the national championship, only to slip to 45th in SP+ last autumn. Splitting the gap and putting them in the mid-20s makes sense, making LSU the second “six relative toss-ups” club in the West. Nothing the Tigers accomplish will be especially unexpected, good or bad.

In 2020, we learnt a lot about LSU.

Hires who aren’t up to par will set you back. Orgeron replaced two young, creative coaches — passing game coordinator Joe Brady and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda — with veteran hands Scott Linehan and Bo Pelini, rather than a fresh group of innovators. QB shuffling gave Linehan a bad hand, but Pelini’s defense was a catastrophe right away. Derek Stingley Jr., an All-Pro cornerback, was seldom healthy, and the Tigers struggled with communication and scheme problems throughout the season.

With offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger’s retirement, Orgeron got a fresh start, selecting two recent NFL coaches as his new coordinators: Jake Peetz on offense and Daronte Jones on defense. Perhaps new ideas and improved injury luck* can cure a number of the problems that plagued last year’s squad.

*It’s fair to say that quarterback Myles Brennan’s second severe injury in a year isn’t a good start to the “better injury luck” trend.

What we didn’t know about LSU in the year 2020

What are the ceilings that LSU is dealing with? In the last two NFL drafts, ten LSU players were selected in the top 70, including 2019 Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow, 2019 Biletnikoff winner Ja’Marr Chase, and NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Jefferson. Orgeron gathered a tremendous amount of talent for that championship run, and there’s no reason he can’t do it again.

Kayshon Boutte, we know, is his keeper. In LSU’s final three games, the freshman receiver became freshman quarterback Max Johnson’s go-to receiver, catching 27 passes for 527 yards. Freshman cornerback Eli Ricks also played well, and if Stingley is healthy in 2021 and some other high-upside players like former Clemson nickel linebacker Mike Jones Jr., defensive lineman Jaquell Roy, and running back Tyrion Davis-Price improve, LSU may be a top-10 team once again.

The Tigers, on the other hand, need a top-10 quarterback. Due to Brennan’s injury, Johnson will very likely take over the position, since he struggled in 2020 but destroyed Ole Miss in the final game. Is he up to the task of leading the Tigers through a slew of close games?

LSU’s whole history is shown on a single graph.

ESPN

  1. LSU had hit a snag in the early 1950s after flourishing with Y.A. Tittle as quarterback. When Paul Dietzel joined the team in 1955, it all changed.

  2. From 1958 to 1961, Dietzel was responsible for three top-four finishes. In 1958, the Tigers won the national championship, and Billy Cannon earned the Heisman Trophy with the best punt return ever.

  3. LSU defeated Auburn at the final second on Oct. 8, 1988, and the Death Valley crowd exploded with such ferocity that it was recorded on a nearby seismograph.

  4. When LSU hired Michigan State’s Nick Saban in 2000, it had just one top-five finish in almost 40 years. Three years later, the Tigers won the BCS title.

  5. For a while, Les Miles maintained Saban’s achievements and won the 2007 championship, until Orgeron took control in 2016. His last two seasons were each anomalies in their own right.

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Lane Kiffin’s Rebels had more fun going.500 last year than anybody else. The defense will have to improve if they want to have even more fun.

Projections for 2021

SP+ projected rank: 24th

7.6 victories are expected on average (4.5 in the SEC)

  • Austin Peay (98 percent), Vanderbilt (96 percent), Tulane (82 percent), Liberty (70 percent), and Arkansas (69 percent) are the most likely winners vs. Louisville (67 percent )

  • Relative toss-ups: at Tennessee (64%), at Mississippi State (60%), LSU (56%), at Auburn (46%), Texas A&M (42%)

  • Alabama is a team that is likely to lose (15 percent )

In nine games, the Rebels are predicted as small favorites, with just one game as a big underdog. They’re just a few defensive tweaks away from a big year.

In 2020, we learned a lot about Ole Miss.

Kiffin’s offense is going to put up points. Nick Saban’s decision to turn to Kiffin when the Alabama offense required modernisation in the mid-2010s tells a lot. He put Alabama on the road to offensive excellence before taking over as head coach at FAU and instantly fielding three of the Owls’ finest offenses ever. He acquired some great assets in his first season at Ole Miss and accomplished elite things with them. Matt Corral passed for 3,337 yards and was third in FBS in Total QBR, Elijah Moore had 1,193 receiving yards and was drafted 34th in the NFL draft, a quartet of running backs headed by Jerrion Ealy carried for 1,429 yards, and the Rebs climbed from 68th to 14th in offensive SP+ after falling to 68th.

Nine starters return, and although Moore is gone, the arrival of transfers Jalen Knox (Missouri), Jahcour Pearson (WKU), and Qua Davis (WKU) may help to mitigate Moore’s absence (Itawamba CC). Corral is the quintessential Kiffin quarterback: assured, accurate (71 percent completion percentage), and always ready to smash a home run. The Rebels’ offense is expected to break into the top 10 this season, and it’s simple to see why.

Ole Miss in 2020: What We Didn’t Know

Is it possible that Kiffin made the correct defensive hires? D.J. Durkin and Chris Partridge struggled to get momentum in their first year as co-coordinators. Ole Miss fell from 42nd to 80th in defensive SP+, failing in both efficiency (122nd success rate) and explosiveness (117th explosive play rate). The Rebels were unable to slow down opposition run games, and despite their desire to play a lot of man coverage, they were unable to do so effectively. AJ Finley, the safety, and Sam Williams, the rush end, were outstanding, but they needed a lot more assistance.

Nine starters are back, but fresh blood may be needed. Kiffin’s 2021 recruiting class included eight defensive backs, as well as Maryland linebacker Chance Campbell, two juco lineman, and blue-chip tackle Tywone Malone. Last year’s skill clearly didn’t fit the plan, but we’ll see whether the newcomers can assist.

The history of Ole Miss in a single graph

ESPN

  1. From 1959 through 1962, John Vaught’s time at Oxford revolutionized the program and placed his name on the stadium, with 13 seasons of eight or more victories, 13 top-15 finishes, and a 39-3-1 record.

  2. With Archie Manning at the helm, Vaught’s Rebels made one last push. In 1969 and 1970, he passed for 4,753 yards, ran for 823, and placed in the top five in the Heisman Trophy voting.

  3. In Vaught’s absence, Ole Miss struggled, but showed potential under Tommy Tuberville… who departed for Auburn two days after vowing never to go.

  4. David Cutcliffe, Tuberville’s successor, landed Eli Manning, who led the Rebels to within three points of the SEC West championship in 2003 and went No. 1 in the 2004 draft.

  5. Hugh Freeze produced a furious peak in 2015, with 10 victories, a No. 3 SP+ rating, and another West near-title.

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Jimbo Fisher has finally created expectations to match his big pay after a couple of years. Can his Aggies meet up to the growing expectations?

Projections for 2021

Rank projected for SP+: 13th

9.3 victories are expected on average (5.5 in the SEC)

  • Likely wins: Prairie View A&M (99.9% win probability), New Mexico (99%), Kent State (98%), South Carolina (95%), Mississippi State (81%), at Missouri (79%), at Colorado (76%), vs. Arkansas (76%), Auburn (70%)

  • Relative toss-ups: LSU (59 percent), Ole Miss (59 percent) (58 percent )

  • Alabama is a team that is likely to lose (34 percent )

It’s going to be a nice year at College Station, with just one predicted top-20 opponent on the schedule. A great one will need the rapid integration of a new offensive line and quarterback.

What we learned about Texas A&M in 2020

The RB room is top-notch. Isaiah Spiller gained 1,036 yards on the ground and averaged 3.5 yards per carry. Ainias Smith was the No. 2 RB and No. 2 receiver on the team. In the Orange Bowl, Devon Achane displayed his track-star speed versus UNC. They were behind a star-studded line that now needs four studs replaced. This is a top-10 run game if the line holds.

The defense is about to take the field. Mike Elko’s defense improved quickly when he took over as coordinator in 2018, but his 2020 defense was his finest yet. The Aggies struggled in the red zone and had a few big-play problems, but they excelled in the fundamentals of defense: forcing lengthy third downs, teeing off on the quarterback, and getting off the field. They were 13th in defensive SP+ last season, and with 14 of 16 guys who played 200 or more plays back, including probable all-SEC lineman DeMarvin Leal and Jaycee Peevy, they have a chance to improve even more.

What we didn’t learn about Texas A&M in 2020

Is one of two young QBs ready? Most teams looking to jump into the top five this year return their QB, but A&M doesn’t. Kellen Mond left a bar that is high but not necessarily impossible to clear, but the Aggies need someone to clear it. Haynes King fit a touchdown pass, interception and 22-yard run into his 16 snaps last season; his upside appears immense, but he’s young. So is big-armed Zach Calzada. If either plays at a high level, A&M will too.

Is it possible for Jimbo to update a little? “The Aggies were a classic ‘run on run downs, throw on pass downs’ system last season, and they didn’t utilize many of the bells and whistles that have become mainstays for top offenses — motion, play-action, RPO action, etc,” I wrote in June’s Ifs List article. It’s very difficult to get to the top without keeping up with the times.

Texas A&M’s history in one chart

ESPN

  1. Hiring Bear Bryant is a guaranteed method to energise a program. His Ags went 9-0-1 in 1956 and rose to No. 1 in 1957 when whispers of “Bryant to Bama?” led to a stalemate.

  2. Before Fisher, A&M lured another coach to town with the sport’s biggest contract: Jackie Sherrill, who generated two top-10 finishes before NCAA sanctions took hold.

  3. One of the era’s best defensive coaches, RC Slocum deftly guided A&M through sanctions: From 1991 to 1994, A&M won 42 games with three top-10s and three SWC titles.

  4. New coach Kevin Sumlin and new QB Johnny Manziel led A&M to a top-five finish, a classic win over Bama and a Manziel Heisman in the school’s first SEC season. Not bad.

  5. Sumlin’s last five years in town averaged just eight victories after establishing a high standard. Fisher, who has now won 14 of his last 17 games, is the man to beat.

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It seems Nick Saban’s Alabama program is still improving, which is the scariest phrase in the English language.

Projections for 2021

Projected SP+ position: 1st

10.2 victories are expected on average (6.6 in the SEC)

  • Likely wins: Charleston NMSU (99.9% win probability), Mercer (99.9%), Southern Miss (99.3%), Tennessee (94%), Arkansas (92%), at Mississippi State (88%), LSU (86%), Ole Miss (85%), at Auburn (79%), vs. Miami (68%), at Texas A&M (66%), at Florida (66%)

  • No relative toss-ups

  • Losses are unlikely to occur.

A youthful Crimson Tide team will play all three of its projected top-20 opponents away from Tuscaloosa, two of them in September. On paper, this is still an elite squad, so an early shock is possible.

In 2020, we learnt a lot about Alabama.

Nobody converts more five-star prospects into five-star performers than we do. According to SP+, Alabama had the greatest squad of the Saban era (and perhaps all time), and eight players were chosen in the first 40 selections of the NFL draft. That’s a lot of skill gone, and we saw what happened when LSU lost a comparable level of talent after 2019, but it’s difficult to be concerned. The Tide have finished in the top three in the SP+ rankings for the last 12 years, including four of the last five. They’re the most reliable option in football.

The defense is still a force to be reckoned with. The Tide’s defensive level has dropped somewhat since they led the country in defensive SP+ for four years in a row (2014-17), but they return eight starters from a team that finished sixth in 2020. Christian Harris and Will Anderson Jr. are excellent blitzers (as is Tennessee linebacker transfer Henry To’o To’o), corner Josh Jobe allowed just a 16.3 QBR in coverage, the offensive line is as seasoned as it has been in a long time, and, of course, a fresh crop of blue-chippers is on the way.

What Alabama didn’t teach us in 2020

What will Bill O’Brien bring to the table? In previous years, Saban has gone through a number of offensive coordinators, but new Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian may have had the greatest offense ever past season. What could former Penn State and Houston Texans coach Bill O’Brien do in the name of further development now that he’s in charge of playcalling?

Is Bryce Young’s ceiling really that high? Young was the top quarterback recruit in the 2020 class, and he brings both accuracy and rushing ability to the table. This autumn, he and a supporting cast that includes receivers John Metchie III and Jameson Williams (an Ohio State transfer), running backs Brian Robinson Jr. and Jase McClellan, and the necessary blue-chippers will be decent at worst. After last year’s near-perfect offense, there’s virtually nowhere to go but down. Is Young’s potential sufficient to keep Alabama at the top of the offensive SP+ rankings?

In a single graph, you can see Alabama’s entire history.

ESPN

  1. After Jennings “Ears” Whitworth went an unfathomable 4-24-2 in three seasons, Bama righted the ship by stealing Texas A&M’s coach, a former Bama end named Bear.

  2. Bryant’s initial peak occurred between 1961 and 1966. In six years, the Tide lost just five games, won three AP national titles, and came close to winning a fourth in 1966.

  3. From 1971 through 1979, Alabama’s integrated roster and Wishbone offense delivered Bryant’s second peak: from 1971 to 1979, the Crimson Tide averaged 10.8 victories per year, with seven top-five finishes (and two more championships).

  4. Between Bryant’s retirement in 1982 and 2007, Bama has just three top-five finishes and one national championship. When Saban eventually said yes to Mal Moore, the tide shifted, so to speak.

  5. Six national championships and 12 straight 10-win seasons, top-10 finishes, and SP+ top-three finishes for Alabama since 2008. Is this the most dominating run in college football history? It’s possible.

With only two teams from the SEC West participating in bowl games, it appears that the 2017 college football season is going to be a letdown. The annual Battle of Arkansas between the Razorbacks and Tigers will be the highlight of the conference this year, but it will only be the first of many exciting contests between the SEC West’s most storied programs.. Read more about ncaaf rankings and let us know what you think.

This article broadly covered the following related topics:

  • sec schools
  • southeastern conference
  • sec football standings
  • college football standings
  • sec east
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EastEnders: Is Tina dead? Viewers convinced character is still alive

Tina Carter was murdered tonight. (Photo: ) EastEnders viewers are convinced that…