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SEC Preview & Predictions

College football season is quickly approaching, and I couldn't be more excited for the 2015 season, particularly in the best conference in America - the SEC.  While you are enjoying summer in the greatest country on earth, take a look at my SEC previews and predictions for the 2015 campaign.  Let's start with defending conference champions - the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Alabama

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Offensive MVP: RB Derrick Henry

Defensive MVP: LB Reggie Ragland

Preview: Alabama had a disappointing end to a brilliant 2014 season in which they won an SEC Championship before losing to eventual national champion Ohio State in the CFB Playoff Semis.  The Tide are once again looking to reach the college football playoff, and this time finish the job.  Nick Saban, as usual, has led the Tide to another top-ranked recruiting class this year, and Alabama is loaded with talent at every position.  The offense will be led by one of the top running backs in the SEC in Derrick Henry, who will shoulder the majority of the carries since T.J. Yeldon is gone and should be the focal point of the Tide's offense in 2015.  The offensive line should be another strength as the unit is anchored by veteran center Ryan Kelly and sophomore sensation left tackle Cam Robinson.  Quarterback is the main position of concern on the Tide's roster and could make or break their championship aspirations.  Somebody has got to step up whether that be last season's back-up Jacob Coker, David Cornwell, etc.  On defense, the front seven should be arguably the best in the country, but as has been the case the last several years, the secondary will be a concern although it should be improved.  JK Scott has proven to be a weapon at kicker as he was a Ray Guy Award finalist last year as a freshman.  

Prediction: 10-2 with losses @Georgia and @Auburn; 2nd in West


Arkansas

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Offensive MVP: RB Jonathan Williams

Defensive MVP: LB Brooks Ellis

Preview: The Hogs have a lot of momentum coming into the 2015 season after a winning season in 2014 (after an abysmal 3-9 record in '13) and a blowout bowl win against old rival Texas.  Expectations are high as they have been in a while in Fayetteville and much thanks is due to 3rd-year head coach Bret Beilema, who has made the Razorbacks competitive again. Arkansas proved to be a very physical squad and a strong rushing team in 2014, and that won't change this year.  They have one of the best and biggest offensive lines anywhere in the country,  which will be charged with blocking for its two stud running backs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins.  That is definitely the strength of the team.  The Hogs also have the luxury of a veteran signal-caller that many SEC teams would love to have.  Many believe QB Brandon Allen, who has proved to be an adept game-manager, can be the missing piece for Arkansas to truly contend in the brutal SEC West.  He has one of the best tight ends in the SEC at his disposal in Hunter Henry to help in the passing game, but Arkansas is still looking for more deep threat receivers. Arkansas loses a lot of talent on defense from last season, but Brooks Ellis looks to step up at middle linebacker and lead a defense that still has playmakers.  

Prediction: 9-3 with losses @Alabama, vs. Auburn, and @Ole Miss; 4th in West


Auburn

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Offensive MVP: QB Jeremy Johnson

Defensive MVP: DE Carl Lawson

Preview: Auburn is poised to have some kind of season this year.  The offense is loaded with talent, and Gus Malzahn's unit will again be one of the best in the country.  The Tigers have the luxury of feeling great about their quarterback situation.  Jeremy Johnson will take over the starting position from the departed Nick Marshall.  Johnson has an outstanding arm and good passing accuracy and should make the Tiger's offense even more prolific by providing a solid passing attack.  Johnson can also make plays with his legs and is a physical quarterback similar to former Tiger great Cam Newton.  I believe he will be one of the biggest breakout stars in the SEC this year.  He'll be able to utilize one of the top receivers in the SEC in Duke Williams and the versatile Ricardo Louis. The running back position is loaded with guys like Jovon Robinson, Roc Thomas, and Peyton Barber sharing the carries.  Defense has been a weak point to say the least for Auburn the last several years, but that should change this year with the addition of Will Muschamp as defensive coordinator.  In my opinion, he is the best defensive mind in the country.  He'll take over a unit that was one of the worst in the SEC last season.  The Tigers certainly don't lack talent on a defense which is led by one of the top edge-rushers in the league in DE Carl Lawson, LB Cassonova McKinzy, and a stacked secondary.  I feel really good about AU this year.

Prediction: 11-1 with loss vs. Ole Miss; 1st in West (SEC Champion)


Florida

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Offensive MVP: WR Demarcus Robinson

Defensive MVP: CB Vernon Hargreaves III

Preview: Well, after another disappointing 2014 season where Florida could find no offensive identity and was plain terrible throughout the season, Will Muschamp was fired and Colorado State head coach and former Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain was brought in to restore the Gators' offense and hopefully bring them back to SEC East prominence.  McElwain is not only a good recruiter of offensive talent but a great developer and teacher.  One of his big accomplishments was winning the 2009 BCS Championship at Alabama with Greg McElroy at quarterback.  The Gators hope he can turn the offense back into one of the best in the country once again like in the Tim Tebow days.  That won't be an easy job.  The big question mark on offense for Florida is an offensive line that has struggled mightily with attrition and is extremely young and inexperienced.  It's arguably the weakest unit on the team.  The QB competition is still open, but redshirt freshman Will Grier is the favorite to win the job over Treon Harris as he was a top prospect coming out of high school and looks to be the more capable player.  Whoever the quarterback is, their job will easier as they'll have an All-SEC candidate at receiver in Demarcus Robinson, who led the Gators in receiving yards last year.  The Gators' run game should be strong as they return capable back Kelvin Taylor, 2014's second leading rusher.  The defense is loaded with talent, and the secondary should be the best in the country headlined by preseason All-American corner Vernon Hargreaves III.  LB Antonio Morrison and DE Jonathan Bullard are other players to watch on defense.  The defense should be one of the best in the country once again. 

Prediction: 7-5 with losses vs. Tennessee, vs. Ole Miss, @Missouri, @LSU, vs. Georgia; 4th in East


Georgia

Offensive MVP: RB Nick Chubb

Defensive MVP: LB Leonard Floyd

Preview: After a 10-win season in 2014, you think that Bulldog fans would be happy.  That's just not the case.  The Bulldogs always seem to have loads of talent every year and should be on top of the SEC East, especially considering powers Tennessee and Florida have been down the last several years.  Somehow, every year Georgia seems to underachieve and lose at least one or two games that it has no business losing (take for example South Carolina and Florida last season.)  It's sadly becoming a habit for UGA.  However, Georgia still has what it takes to represent their division in Atlanta.  The Bulldogs have a lot of returning talent on offense particularly in pre-season All-American running back Nick Chubb, who is a legit Heisman contender.  Chubb is absolutely sensational.  He's fast, elusive, strong, hard to bring down, and has a solid work ethic.  He alone can take the Bulldogs far this year.  Sony Michel and Keith Marshall provide solid depth behind him in what's arguably one of the best running back units in college football.  Georgia returns a strong offensive line and two receivers in Malcolm Mitchell and the injury-plagued Justin Scott-Wesley who have shown they can be game-changers.  The overall depth at receiver is thin and special teams ace and versatile offensive weapon Isaiah McKenzie will be utilized much more in the passing game this fall.  5-star Terry Godwin and other incoming freshman will be looked toward to provide depth and contribute at receiver as well.  Quarterback is the primary position of concern for the Bulldogs as Mark Richt doesn't seem the happiest with his QB situation, and no one (Brice Ramsey, Faton Bauta, or incoming Virginia transfer Greyson Lambert) has clearly set himself apart in the race to get the starting job.  That could make or break UGA's season.  Jeremy Pruitt has done an outstanding job with a defense that should be improved.  They have arguable the best linebacking corps in college football led by pass-rushers Jordan Jenkins, Leonard Floyd, and Lorenzo Carter.  

Prediction: 10-2 with losses @Tennessee and @Auburn; 2nd in East


Kentucky 

Offensive MVP: RB Stanley "Boom" Williams

Defensive MVP: LB Josh Forrest

Preview: Kentucky started out 5-1 last season and were quietly having a nice year.  Then, they lost six straight games to finish the season 5-7 and miss out on bowl eligibility.  Though disappointed, the Wildcats realize how close they were and are to reaching the postseason for the first time since 2010.  On offense, RB Stanley "Boom" Williams proved to be a weapon as he led the Wildcats in rushing in 2014.  Patrick Towles is the favorite to win the QB competition against talented freshman Drew Barker.  The defense will have to overcome the losses of defensive ends Bud Dupree and Za'Darius Smith who have departed for the NFL.  Veteran linebacker Josh Forrest should be the leader of the UK defense come fall, as he was last season's leading tackler.  I think the Wildcats are good enough to reach a bowl game this year although the schedule might make that difficult. 

Prediction: 5-7 with losses @South Carolina, vs. Florida, vs. Missouri, vs. Auburn, @MSU, vs. Tennessee, @UGA; 6th in East


LSU

Offensive MVP: RB Leonard Fournette

Defensive MVP: FS Jalen Mills

Preview: Les Miles needs to have a good season this year.  A five-loss season is not going to cut it. It seems so long ago since the Tigers were true national title contenders.  Miles hopes to get the Tigers back on track and a bounce-back season will ride on QB play.  Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris both struggled mightily in 2014, and one has to step up for the Tigers to have success this fall.  Many hope it's Harris, who is the more naturally gifted of the two.  Running back is solid with the emergence of Leonard Fournette last season rushing for over a thousand yards and proving to be dangerous as both a receiver and as a kick returner as well.  Travin Dural will be the primary target for whoever the quarterback is.  He led the Tigers in receiving yards last year with 758 yards for seven touchdowns.  Fellow receiver Malachi Dupre was a 5-star prospect coming out of high school and contributed in positively in 2014.  He showed he is an emerging star and is expected to be a break-out player in 2015.  LSU had the #1 overall defense in the SEC last season but have several key losses.  They still are talented across the board and boast a strong secondary with the likes of CB Tre'Davious White and four-year starting FS Jalen Mills. 

Prediction: 8-4 with losses vs. Auburn, @Alabama, vs. Arkansas, @Ole Miss; 5th in West


Ole Miss

Offensive MVP: WR Laquon Treadwell

Defensive MVP: DT Robert Nkemdiche

Preview: The Ole Miss Rebels surely had a fine season in 2014.  Hugh Freeze is undoubtably an outstanding head football coach and has take the University of Mississippi to new heights.  Even though Ole Miss enjoyed some great times in 2014,  including a nine win season with an upset win over then #1 Alabama in Oxford and at one point, rising to #3 in the rankings, they did finish the season in a bad way by losing to a very talented TCU team, 42-3.  Freeze hopes his Ole Miss squad can take the next step and finish strong while being serious contenders for the SEC West crown.  Their quarterback situation is uncertain after last year's starter Bo Wallace graduated.  The two primary candidates to win the quarterback job is Ryan Buchanan and former Clemson quarterback Chad Kelly who has had his share of off-the-field issues.  They'll be helped out by the best wide receiver in the SEC in Laquon Treadwell (who is coming off of a broken leg and ankle against Auburn last year) and the best tight end in the conference in Evan Engram.   The running game needs to help out the offense more this year if the Rebs are to be truly successful, and RB Jaylen Walton returns for his senior season.  He has proved to be a big-play threat on several occasions in 2014.  The Ole Miss defense is solid and should be one of the SEC's best.  Tackle Robert Nkemdiche leads Ole Miss up front as his imposing size and skills draws many double teams which will free up guys like 2012 All-SEC LB Denzel Nkemdiche and fellow linebacker C.J. Johnson.

Prediction: 9-3 with losses @Alabama, vs. Texas A&M, @Mississippi State, 3rd in West


Mississippi State 

Offensive MVP: QB Dak Prescott

Defensive MVP: LB Beniquez Brown

Preview: They had a great 2014. They were ranked #1 in the polls at one point last season (which is unheard of for a MS team) and had an Orange Bowl appearance.  They lose a lot of talent though including stud RB Josh Robinson, C Dillon Day, LB Benardrick McKinney, and DE Preston Smith among others, and that's why many think the Bulldogs will go back to being the Miss State of old.  But the players and fans still believe, and a big reason they believe they can enjoy similar success this fall is  the return of superstar quarterback and Heisman candidate Dak Prescott.  Prescott is a dangerous dual-threat quarterback in the mold of Tim Tebow, whose offensive coordinator at UF was current Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen.  He is different from Tebow though in that he is a better passer.  In 2014, he threw for 3,449 yards with 27 touchdowns with a 61.6% completion percentage.  He will look to be even better in '15.  His main target will be last year's leading wide receiver in the tall and physical De'Runnya Wilson, who was a basketball star in high school.  The defense loses a lot of talent and experience, but Beniquez Brown should step up considerably at linebacker and be the top contributor on defense in 2015.  

Prediction: 8-4 with losses vs. LSU, @Auburn, vs. Alabama, @Arkansas; 6th in West


Missouri

2014 Record: 11-3

Offensive MVP: RB Russell Hansbrough

Defensive MVP: LB Kentrell Brothers

Preview: Gary Pinkel is probably the most underrated coach in the country.  He has shocked many by taking Missouri to two-straight SEC Championship appearances in a conference that many thought they would struggle.  The strength of this team is their defense which always seems to be solid regardless of the personnel.  Shane Ray and Marcus Golden are gone at defensive end, but Mizzou returns a defense headlined by star linebackers Kentrell Brothers and Michael Scherer, who were both in the top five in the conference in tackles in 2014.  The offense is led at quarterback by Maty Mauk, who, although good, has proven to be very inconsistent.  Senior running back Russell Hansbrough should be the star of the offense as he had over a thousand yards rushing in 2014.  Leading receiver Bud Sasser and the versatile and the SEC-leader in all-purpose yards in Marcus Murphy will be sorely missed.  

Prediction: 8-4 with losses @Georgia, vs. Miss State, vs. Tennessee, @Arkansas; 3rd in East


South Carolina

2014 Record: 7-6

Offensive MVP: WR Pharoh Cooper

Defensive MVP: LB Skai Moore

Preview: 2014 was disappointing for the Gamecocks.  They finished the 7-6 season on a high note by beating Miami in the Independence Bowl.  Head coach Steve Spurrier had to feel relieved after it looked like his Gamecocks might suffer a losing season after getting double-digit wins three years in a row.  The "Head Ball Coach" is undoubtably one of the most underrated coaches in the country.  He has taken a team known for being an SEC cellar-dweller and transformed them into regular SEC East contenders and given them some swagger.  South Carolina hopes to be better in 2015 even though they also will have a new starting quarterback.  Connor Mitch is seen as the favorite although there is no declared starter.  Perry Orth and newcomer Lorenzo Nunez will be his competition.  The competent Brandon Wilds will take over the running back position and has shown he is more than capable of filling the rushing hole left by the departed Mike Davis.  However, the X-factor on offense and the big star on this team is wide receiver Pharoh Cooper.  Cooper proved to be quite a weapon in 2014 by having almost a thousand yards receiving while also contributing in the running game and on special teams.  He is definitely one of the SEC's best at his position.  Skai Moore will be the focal point of the Gamecock defense this fall as he led the team in tackles last year.  The defense will also be more experienced than in 2014 and will hope to improve from being the 2nd worst in the conference last year.  Unfortunately, I don't see the defense taking a major step forward.

Prediction: 5-7 with losses @UGA, @Missouri, vs. LSU, @Texas A&M, @Tennessee, vs. Florida, vs. Clemson; 5th in East


Tennessee

2014 Record: 7-6

Offensive MVP: QB Josh Dobbs

Defensive MVP: LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin

Preview: Tennessee is coming back.  In fact, I think they will win the SEC East this year.  Butch Jones is a heckuva coach and an even better recruiter.  After two years of extremely loaded recruiting classes, Jones is doing a good job building the Volunteers back up "brick by brick."  They are loaded on both sides of the ball and more experienced and formidable on the offense and defensive lines than they were a year ago. I think that Tennessee and Georgia are very close talent wise, but there is one main factor that I believe gives the Vols the edge over UGA and anyone else in the East.  That strength is quarterback, which is in the capable hands of the athletic Josh Dobbs.  Dobbs is an impressive dual-threat quarterback, who threw for 1,206 yards and ran for almost 400 more.  He gives an edge to UT at the QB position that a lot of SEC teams can't boast about.  The rest of the offense is stacked with second-year sensation Jalen Hurd at the running back position.  Hurd along with former Alabama running back Alvin Kamara, who could be the top newcomer in the SEC, should prove to be a notable rushing tandem and take the pressure off Dobbs to make all the plays.  The receiving corps is not only really good but very deep as well with guys like 2014's top two receivers Pig Howard and Marquez North returning as well as the talented Von Pearson, and super-sophomores Josh Malone and Josh Smith.  On the defensive side of the ball, John Jancek's unit should improve from being a middle of the pack group (and giving up to many rushing yards) to one of the best in the SEC despite losing stud middle linebacker A.J. Johnson to graduation.  Stepping up to fill his shoes is an All-SEC caliber linebacker in Jalen Reeves-Maybin.  He led the Volunteers in tackles last season with 101 total.  The defensive line should be a strength as it is bookended by 2014's Freshman All-American DE Derek Barnett and veteran pass-rusher Curt Maggitt on the other side.  The secondary should be strong as corner Cam Sutton should lead that group.  The recruiting class for UT especially on defense is phenomenal and should provide playmakers as well as depth right away.  

Prediction: 10-2 with losses vs. Arkansas and @Alabama; 1st in East (SEC runner-up)


Texas A&M

2014 Record: 8-5

Offensive MVP: QB Kyle Allen

Defensive MVP: Myles Garrett

Preview: Texas A&M certainly had a roller coaster ride in 2014.  They were declared as a possible candidate to reach the playoff after blowing-out what many believed was one of top teams in the country in South Carolina in the first week.  Kenny Hill a.k.a Kenny Trill passed for over 300 yards, and many people were anointing him as a Heisman candidate.  The Aggies even started the season 5-0.  That faded quickly.  Everyone figured out that South Carolina wasn't all they were cracked up to be, and Kenny Hill was essentially garbage when the Aggies suffered three-straight losses including a 59-0 spanking at the hands of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.  From then on true freshman Kyle Allen started every game for the rest of the season and did pretty well.  He helped the Aggies upset then #3 Auburn at Auburn and led them to a nice bowl win over West Virginia in the Liberty Bowl.  He is the favorite to be the starter at quarterback again this year although he will be pushed by blue-chip newcomer Kyler Murray.  Whatever happens at that position, it should be a strength for the TA&MU this fall.  The running back group is talented but has not always been very effective.  OC Dave Christensen hopes to get more out of the run game this year as he has three talented guys to work with in James White, Brandon Williams, and Tra Carson.  The receiving corps is one of the SEC's best, headlined by last year's leading receiver Josh Reynolds as well as the big-bodied Ricky Seals-Jones and the promising Speedy Noil (also functions as kick returner).  The defense has always been the weak spot for Texas A&M under head coach Kevin Sumlin and finished worst in the conference in 2014.  The Aggies responded by bringing in a great defensive mind in former LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis.  While Texas A&M's defense won't be among the SEC's elite in 2015, it should be improved under Chavis' leadership.  Keep an eye on defensive end Myles Garrett.  He's a great pass-rusher and one of the best at his position in the country.  The Aggies will be better, but the record might not show it.  

Prediction: 7-5 with losses vs. Arkansas, vs. MSU, vs. Alabama, vs. Auburn, and @LSU; 7th in West


Vanderbilt

2014 Record: 3-9

Offensive MVP: TE Steven Scheu

Defensive MVP: DE Caleb Azubike

Preview: Vanderbilt is back to being Vanderbilt.  The James Franklin revival days are over, and the Commodores are back to their status at the bottom of the Southeastern Conference.  Vanderbilt was just awful last year.  The quarterback position was always a position of question and a serious weakness in 2014, and that hasn't changed this year.  Running back Ralph Webb and tight end Stephen Scheu are bright spots in an otherwise dull team.  They should be the two top playmakers on offense as Webb rushed for over 900 yards, and NFL prospect TE Steven Scheu led the Commodores in receiving last year.  Derek Mason will take over coaching the defense himself this year and hopes to improve a mediocre unit.  

Prediction: 3-9 with losses vs. UGA, @Ole Miss, @South Carolina, vs. Missouri, @Florida, vs. Kentucky, vs. Texas A&M, and @Tennessee, 7th in East



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