Sunday, August 16, 2015

College Football Preview 2015: SEC

The once all dominant SEC proved in 2014 that not even God's gift to college football even stops giving after a while. Alabama fan found out that they cannot win every single title just because Nick Saban patrols the sidelines, and even with the rise of Mississippi State and Ole Miss, the league can still look entirely mortal in bowl games. The east, the bane of this conferences top to bottom rankings the last few years, proved to still be down, with only Missouri and Georgia running as serious conference title contenders. Florida sank further into the abyss, and South Carolina never got out of the gate after a disastrous opening at home against Texas A&M. The SEC has some serious work to do to get back to the top, but is still dangerous, especially in the West. The East, however, is largely a big messy muddy puddle.

Projected Order of Finish

1. Auburn
2. Arkansas
3. Alabama
4. LSU
5. Texas A&M
6. Mississippi State
7. Ole Miss

1. Missouri
2. Georgia
3. Tennessee
4. Kentucky
5. Florida
6. South Carolina
7. Vanderbilt

All-Conference Team
QB-Zak Prescott, Mississippi State
QB-Maty Mauck, Missouri
QB-Brandon Allen, Arkansas
RB-Nick Chubb, Georgia
RB-Jonathon Williams, Arkansas
RB-Alex Collins, Arkansas
RB-Leonard Fournette, LSU
WR-Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina
WR-Josh Reynolds, Texas A&M
WR-Demarcus Robinson, Florida
WR-Travin Dural, LSU
TE-Evan Ingram, Ole Miss
TE-Steven Scheu, Vanderbilt
TE-Hunter Henry, Arkansas

DL-Derek Barnett, Tennessee
DL-Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
DL-Jonathon Allen, Alabama
DL-Marquis Haynes, Ole Miss
LB-Curt Maggitt, Tennessee
LB-Stephen Weatherly, Vanderbilt
LB-Knetrell Brothers, Missouri
LB-Michael Schere, Missouri
DB-Jonathon Jones, Auburn
DB-Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
DB-Cameron Sutton, Tennessee
DB-Cyrus Jones, Alabama

PK-Austin MacGinnis, Kentucky
P-JK Scott, Alabama
KR-Stanley Williams, Kentucky
PR-Isaiah McKenzie, Georgia

Team Previews

Auburn Tigers
2014 Record: 8-5
2015 Projected Record: 10-2
Head Coach: Gus Malzahn (20-7, 3rd season)

The Good News: The Tigers are set at Tackle on the line with the return of both LT Shon Coleman and RT Avery Young, so they should be able to take advantage of speed off the edges. Devonte Danzey returns at LG as well, but faces a camp battle with Alex Kozan. Everyone is raving about the talent of Jeremy Johnson at QB, some even calling him the next Cam Newton. Johnson only attempted 37 passes last fall, completing 28 of them for 436 yards. The burden is on him to produce, and almost everyone in America is jumping on the wagon with him.
Six starters return on defense, a unit that stepped back and ranked just 64th in the nation in total defense. The middle of the line is solid with the return of DaVonte Lambert at DT, and Montravius Adams. This tandem should help improve a rush defense that ranked just 67th nationally a year ago. Cassanova McKinzy is back at MLB, and Kris Frost is back at OLB, so they should help there as well. Jonathon Jones is the centerpiece of the secondary at CB, after recording six picks. S Jonathon Ford is solid in support after recording 93 tackles last fall.
PK Daniel Carlson is back as a sophomore after hitting 18 of 24 FGs last season. That's a solid start for a freshman kicker, and he should improve on those numbers this season.
The Bad News: If Jeremy Johnson is as good as everyone wants to believe (I'm not buying in on word alone on experience as a backup), he may have a hard time finding experienced targets to throw to. D'Haquille Williams, the leading returning receiver, has been suspended thus far in camp. There is no telling when he will come back. If he does come back, the passing game could be markedly better. Melvin Ray is the only other returning starter at receiver, and the group is thin. The are questions all throughout the middle of the line, which may be a problem when it comes to finding a leader at RB in camp, as Jovon Robinson and Roc Thomas will be competing for the job. Neither has any decent experience, and that could be a problem.
Defensively, Auburn wasn't great last fall. The Tigers were, in fact, a very average defensive football team, which largely helped in losing five football games last fall. If Auburn is to meet expectations, those numbers must go down, and this defense has to find their previous identity. The Tigers need a new DE, and a new BUCK. They also need a new OLB, and a new CB and Safety as well. There are several questions throughout the unit.
Punter is a question as well, as freshman Ian Shannon is in line to take over.
The Overview: Auburn could be one of the best teams in the nation, or could sorely disappoint. I am going to bet on Malzahn getting this football team together in camp, and having a very solid unit heading into the season. The schedule is largely forgiving after September dates with LSU and Mississippi State, so an 11 win season is within their grasp. Now, reality says that Auburn could end up finishing anywhere between first in the West and third. It's anyone's guess heading in.
First Game: 9/5 Louisville at Atlanta

Arkansas Razorbacks
2014 Record: 7-6
2015 Projected Record: 11-1
Head Coach: Bret Bielema (10-15, 3rd season)

The Good News: I have not touched a football competitively in 27 years, and I can run behind the Razorback line. This line is likely the best in the nation, and returns four starters in LT Denver Kirkland, LG Sebastian Tretola, C Mitch Smothers, and RT Dan Skipper. The only spot that's open is at RG, where sophomore Frank Ragnow and senior Marcus Danenhauer. Brandon Allen returns at QB, and he doesn't need to do too much in this offense other than play mistake free and let his backs do their jobs. Allen passed for 2285 yards last season, with 20 TDs and five picks. He has some solid targets in WR Keon Hatcher (43 receptions) and TE Hunter Henry, and Cody Hollister is back at WR as well. Hollister could lose his starting spot to Jared Cornelius in camp. The run game should be explosive this fall, after they had two 1000 yards rushers who both return in Jonathon Williams and Alex Collins.
The defense could step back a pace this fall after ranking 10th in total defense last fall. The reason is that only five starters return. DE LaMichael Winston is back at DE, with DT Taiwan Johnson returning as well. WLB Brooks Ellis returns after recording 72 tackles last fall, but the CB position is the strength of the unit as both Jared Collins and DJ Dean return.
The Bad News: There's virtually none on offense, so we can skip right to the defense. The line returns some talent, but there are also questions at both DE and DT. Bijhon Jackson, a sophomore, should be seeing his first real time as a front man at tackle, but has to stave off competition in DeMarcus Hodge, a senior who may be better suited to the rotation as a backup. Junior Deatrich Wise is back at DE, but could face a challenge from sophomore Tevin Beanum. In all, there is a lack of star power with those choices. The Hogs need new starters at both SLB and MLB, and that could be a problem. Josh Williams and Randy Ramsey are both competing at SLB, while sophomore Khalia Hackett will try to fight off freshman Josh Harris at MLB. Both Safeties need to be replaced as well, with senior Rohan Gaines and sophomore Josh Liddell looking to start. Depth is minimal at best.
Both kickers need to be replaced this fall, as Adam McFain should have the edge at PK, while TOby Baker should step in at Punter.
The Overview: Arkansas is a program ready to turn a corner and rise up this fall after some really messy seasons since the Bobby Petrino debacle ruined a program that was heading towards winning the SEC and competing for a national title. Bret Bielema has put in the work, and the program has struggled to get back, but this is the major dark horse contender in the SEC West this fall, and could shock everyone by wrapping up a top ten finish. Once again, there as many questions as answers, but I like the chances with Arkansas this fall.
First Game: 9/5 UTEP

Alabama Crimson Tide
2014 Record: 12-2
2015 Projected Record: 10-2
Head Coach: Nick Saban (91-17, 9th season)

The Good News: Only two starters return on offense, but there are some options and talent. LT Cam Robinson and C Ryan Kelly are the lone returning starters. That being said, Derrick Henry is like having a solid starter back at RB this season after rushing for 990 yards and 11 TDs last season on 172 carries. Senior Kenyan Drake is back as the primary backup, however Henry will likely see a majority of the carries. Jacob Coker is the frontrunner at QB, but he was in that role to most outsiders a year ago. He played sparingly behind Philip Sims last season, passing for 403 yards. Freshman David Cornwell will battle him in camp. OJ Howard should be solid at TE, and could see an expanded role.
Seven starters return on defense, and this unit may have to carry the offense for a time. The line is all set, with DEs Jarran Reed and Jonathon Allen returning, and NG A'Shawn Robinson is back as well. Allen recorded 5.5 sacks last fall and could be better in 2015. Reggie Ragland is the anchor in middle, and returns after recording 95 tackles last fall. Denzel Devall is back at OLB as well. CB Cyrus Jones is dangerous at CB, and S Eddie Jackson is back in the secondary as well.
JK Scott is one of the best Punters in college football today, and he's just a sophomore. He averaged 48 yards per punt as a freshman last season, which is just staggering.
The Bad News: The QB position could end up being ok, but the Tide lost a ton of talent at WR after last season, and there is virtually no real experience coming back. Sophomore Robert Frazier and junior Chris Black could start, but look for pushes from sophomore ArDarius Stewart and freshman Calvin Ridley. One name not to count out in the QB battle is incoming Californian Blake Barnett from my hometown of years ago, Corona. He could step in if Coker and Cornwell can't impress in camp. The line needs three new starters, which could hamper the new QB especially.
The Tide really struggled against the pass last fall, especially in the final few games. Alabama finished just 58th against the pass, which knocked them out of a top ten ranking in total defense (12th). Two new starters need to be named in camp at CB and S. Sophomore Tony Brown could be the guy at CB, and senior Geno Smith looks like the guy at S. Two new starters must be named at LB as well.
Adam Griffith is back at PK, but hit only 12 of 19 FGs. He was affected greatly by a back injury in the middle of the season, so it's interesting to see how he can be if healthy.
The Overview: Alabama is Alabama. It's hard to bet against Nick Saban and the Tide, but if there is a season that they are especially vulnerable, this is it. The Tide have several glaring issues on offense, and a few on defense as well for a change. The Tide, at the end of the day, could still win this West division, but they have some hills to traverse before that happens. Alabama, like Auburn and Arkansas, could finish anywhere between first and third in this division. I am banking on a step back for the Tide before jumping back up next season. It happens.
First Game: 9/5 Wisconsin at Arlington, Texas

LSU Tigers
2014 Record: 8-5
2015 Projected Record: 8-4
Head Coach: Les Miles (103-29, 11th season)

The Good News: By default, there will be no QB battle between Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris. Jennings decided to break into a dorm apartment, and therefore is no longer with the team. That Leaves Harris as the guy all by himself. Leonard Fournette will likely be the focus of the offense this fall anyway, as he returns as a sophomore after rushing for 1034 yards and 10 scores last fall on 187 carries. He is the best weapon on the team right now. Tavin Dural is back at WR after catching 37 passes last fall for 758 yards and seven scores, giving the Tigers a big play threat. Sophomore Trey Quinn returns as well, but must step into a bigger role this fall. TE Dillon Gordon must step up into a larger role as well in the passing game. Three starters are back on the line in LT Jerald Hawkins, LG Ethan Pocic, and RT Vadal Alexander.
The defensive line has some experience coming back in the middle in tackles Christian LaCoutre and Davon Godchaux. MLB Kendall Beckwith should be taking on a leadership role this fall after recording 77 tackles last fall. Lamar Louis is back at SLB as well. Tre'Davious White returns at one CB spot, while FS Jalen Mills is back at FS.
PK Colby Delahoussaye is returning after hitting 11 of 15 FGs last fall. Late season struggles have him being pushed in camp this fall, but I feel he will likely win the job once again. P Jamie Keehn would get plenty of attention in most conferences after averaging 44.92 yards per punt.
The Bad News: Those off-field situations at LSU just keep on happening, and four players were suspended coming into camp. Once that starts to become a thing, it becomes obvious that control is lacking in the program. It will really have a negative impact on depth when it comes to the actual on-field product, especially when it comes to the QB situation.
There is no depth at WR, with experience lacking in probable starter Malachi Dupre and John Diarse, who is competing with Dupre. There could be freshman starting at both C and RG as well this season, which could be a huge problem with an already destabilized QB position. There are seven sophomores listed in the second unit, so experienced backups will be lacking.
Both Ends need to be replaced on defense, so running the edge against the Tigers may be the way to go early while they adjust. The Tigers need a new starter at one OLB spot as well. Ed James could be starting at one CB spot, while Jamal Adams is the leader at SS. Both are just sophomores. Two key second teamers are suspended with Jennings as well in DE Maquedius Bain and CB Dwayne Thomas. Both were looking at significant playing time, so that will cut the depth issue deeper, especially with six other underclassmen on the second unit already.
The Overview: Les Miles and his Tigers are slipping behind Arkansas, Auburn, and Alabam as far as West influence is concerned. Bad QB play continued to be a hampering development last fall, and likely won't get much better this season. LSU finished 114th in passing last fall, and so I don't care how good the run game is, they flat out don't have a QB that can make things happen, and that's going to hurt this team. In my opinion, LSU is now a second tier SEC program, and that's not a good thing at all. I just don't see much special about this program right now.
First Game: 9/5 McNeese State

Texas A&M Aggies
2014 Record: 8-5
2015 Projected Record: 8-4
Head Coach: Kevin Sumlin (28-11, 4th season)

The Good News: The Aggies are in good shape as they head into camp on the offensive side of the football, in the passing game, that is. Kyle Allen is back at QB, and that's where it starts for the Aggies this season. He passed for 1322 yards and 16 TDs when he finally grabbed the job away from Kenny Hill, who transferred away after the season. He did also toss seven picks during his time as starter, which is an issue that needs to be rectified. As Allen pushed out Hill, look out for incoming freshman Kyler Murray, who could push Allen in turn. Josh Reynolds returned at WR as the top receiver after catching 52 passes last season for 842 yards and 13 scores. Ricky Seals-Jones and Ed Pope also return, but Pope could get pushed by Speedy Noil, a deep threat sophomore. Freshman Christian Kirk could start right away at IR, but he has to beat Sabian Holmes for the job first. Three linemen return to start this season from Center to the Right in C Mike Matthews, RG Joseph Cheek, and RT Germain Hedi.
The line may be the heart of the defense this season, but the defense as a whole was a mess last fall. Three starters return on up front in DEs Myles Garrett and Julien Obioha. Garrett is an all league pick after 11.5 sacks last fall. Senior Alonzo Williams is back at tackle, and needs to step up his game as the Aggies gave up 216 yards rushing per game. There is some help coming back in the secondary as well in CB De'Vante Harris and S Armani Watts.
Drew Kaser averaged 44.15 yards per punt last fall, and returns for another go.
The Bad News: The run game last season was not great, and a solid run game is a Texas A& trait historically. Tra Carson is back after rushing for 581 yards last fall, and scored five teams. He will have to fend off Brandon Williams for carries in camp. The Aggies finished 82nd nationally in rushing, and 12th in the SEC out of 14 teams. The left side of the line needs to be replaced as well, which is not going to help matters.
While the line may be a strength this season, the Aggies must return every starting LB. Shaan Washington returns after recording 64 tackles last season, but may not start this fall as he battles AJ Hilliard at OLB. Sophmore Josh Walker has the edge in the middle over junior Claude George. Otaro Alaka, another sophomore, has the edge at LOLB, with freshman Richard Moore giving chase there. Two spots are also open in the secondary after that unit gave up 234.8 yards passing per game last season.
The PK game is starting over again, with Taylor Bertolet getting the job back as we start camp, but he has been largely terrible during his career.
The Overview: Two staple items with A&M football are strong defense and an amazing run game. Right now, they have neither of those items right now, and that's why they cannot compete for the SEC divisional or conference title. They seem to be a one trick pony right now, and that identity isn't flying. They still have enough talent to be one of the better middle teams in the league, but that's as far as they get right now.
First Game: 9/5 Arizona State at Arlington, Texas

Mississippi State Bulldogs
2014 Record: 10-3
2015 Projected Record: 6-6
Head Coach: Dan Mullen (46-31, 7th season)

The Good News: The centerpiece of this football team is their amazing QB, Dak Prescott, who is by far the best piece available. As Prescott has gone, so have the Bulldogs. Prescott passed for 3449 yards and tossed 27 TD passes last fall against 11 picks. He added another 986 yards and 14 TDs rushing the ball. He is the be all, end all for the Bulldogs, and all their eggs are in his basket. He is fortunate enough to have a solid target returning at WR in De'Runnya Wilson, who caught 47 passes for 680 yards and 9 scores.
Beniquez Brown is going to have to step way up and become a leader on defense after recording 62 tackles last season. He is one of only three starters returning on defense. DE Ryan Brown and CB Tavaze Calhoun are the others.
Devon Bell averaged 43.2 yards per punt last season, and is back once again. He will have to handle both kicking and punting this fall after Evan Sobiesk left the team to attend dental school.
The Bad News: Only two starters return on the offensive line this fall in LT Justin Senior and RG Justin Malone. That's bad news for Prescott, and for whomever wins the job of taking over at RB, which is being fought out between Ashton Shumpert and Aeris Williams. Wilson is the only seriously experienced WR returning, and so the Bulldogs need to find two new starters there as well. Two new starters need to be found at LB, and three new starters must be found in a secondary that already ranked an abysmal 114th nationally against the pass.
The Overview: The magic carpet ride that was the 2014 season came crashing down in the bowl loss to Georgia Tech, and I look for it to continue to slide this season. MSU is not a premier SEC program, nor will it likely be in the near future. Dan Mullen has them playing at a higher level, but who are we kidding? This isn't Alabama, Auburn, or Georgia. The recruits are better than they used to be, but the best of the best aren't heading to Starkville. Prescott has been a real find for them, but he has little to work with this fall, and so finishing with six wins is where the expectation should be.
First Game: 9/5 at Southern Miss

Ole Miss Rebels
2014 Record: 9-4
2015 Projected Record: 6-6
Head Coach: Hugh Freeze (24-15, 4th season)

The Good News: The line returns intact this fall for the Rebels, as LT Laremy Tunsil, LG Aaron Morris, C Ben Still, RG Justin Bell, and RT Fahn Cooper all return. TE Evan Engram returns as wlel, and may be one of the better TEs in the nation this fall. Laquon Treadwell is back as the top receiver this fall after catching 48 passes for 586 yards and five scores. Senior Cody Core returns as well. Markell Pack is likely set to win the open WR job. He will battle with DaMarkus Lodge (freshman), Damore'ea Stringfellow (sophmomore), and Quincy Adeboyejo (junior) for the spot.
Ole Miss was one of the best defensive clubs in the nation last season, and seven starters are back this fall from that group. The middle of the line is set with the return of NT Isaac Gross and DT Robert Nkemdiche. DE Fadol Brown is back as well. There is depth at DE, as Marquis Haynes recorded 7.5 sacks last fall. He will play in the rotation this fall as well. CJ Johnson is back at MLB, while Tony Connor is back at the HUSK position. Both Safeties are back as well in Mike Hilton (71 tackles) and Trae Elston. Hilton also picked off three passes last fall.
Gary Wunderlich hit six of eight FGs last fall in 11 games, and returns as a sophomore. Will Gleeson is back as the Punter as well after averaging 42.95 yards per punt.
The Bad News: The Rebels have had a plethora of QBs in which to draw from in recent history, however those days may be coming to an end this fall. Chad Kelly, a Clemson transfer and nephew of Jim Kelly, is likely the new starting QB if he can hold off sophomore Ryan Buchanan, but there are some issues here. Kelly has been a mess off the field since heading to college, and seems to have massive maturity deficiencies. In order to lead this team in an upward arch, he has to get over his petulance immediately. The run game needs to step up to protect what will likely be an evolving passing game. The Rebels ranked just 73rd last fall in rushing offense, and that will not fly in this league. Ole Miss also had a scoring deficiency at times last fall, ranking just 67th nationally, and 11th in the SEC. Their big numbers in the passing game largely carried the offence, and so much of what they did at times was illusory.
It's hard to knock anything on this defense, but the most pressing issue this fall is replacing both CBs from a unit that finished 16th against the pass last fall. Juniors Tony Bridges and Tee Shepard have the lead heading into the fall, with sophomore Kendarius Webster and freshman Cameron Ordway giving chase.
The Overview: With all of this returning talent, why do I pick Ole Miss to finish last in the SEC West you might ask? Look at how they finished last fall. Ole Miss lost four of their final six games last season, and that is how they head into the season. September may not be very difficult at all,  but the last half of October and all of November are brutal on the schedule. The QB issue wouldn't worry me so much, but with Kelly being such a ticking bomb, you never know what will happen, and there isn't much production to go on, and there isn't much depth. That one situation could derail the whole structure of the season. I'm just not buying in with what I see.
First Game: 9/5 Tennessee-Martin

Missouri Tigers
2014 Record: 11-3
2015 Projected Record: 9-3
Head Coach: Gary Pinkel (113-66, 15th season

The Good News: Six starters return on offense, including QB Maty Mauk, a junior. Mauk gets a ton of criticism, and he deserves much of it, however, this could finally be the breakthrough season that people are hoping for. He passed for 2648 yards last season with 25 TDs, but did manage to toss 13 picks in 14 games. If he can knock down the turnovers, this could end up being one heck of a year for Mauk and the Tigers. Russell Hansbrough will also be back at RB after rushing for 1084 yards and 10 scores. He could be even better this fall as well. Four starters are back on the line, which is great for the continued development of Mauk and Hansbrough. LT Taylor Chappell, LG Brad McNulty, C Evan Boehm, and RG Conner McGovern all return. TE Sean Culkin could have a big season after catching just 20 passes last fall.
LB should be a strength for the Tigers with the return of WLB Kentrell Brothers and Michael Scherer at MLB. Brothers recorded 122 tackles last fall, and is one of the best in the nation. Missouri finished 39th against the pass last fall, and returns both CBs in Kenya Dennis and Aarion Penton. Penton picked off three passes last fall. FS Ian Simon is back as well.
Andrew Baggett is back after hitting 18 of 25 FGs last fall. He just needs to capitalize on more opportunities this season, and likely will.
The Bad News: The receiving corps is mostly new and inexperienced. Three new starters must be found from a group that includes Nate Brown, Wesley Leftwich, J'mon Moore, Thomas Richard, DeSean Blair, and Eric Laurent. The Tigers also need an answer at RT, as a pair of sophomores are battling it out in Clay Rhodes and Nate Crawford. The main issue on offense is depth and experienced. There are seven underclassmen in the listed second unit. IN any event, the offense really needs to get fired up this season after ranking a dreadful 95th in total offense last fall, and 99th in passing.
The line needs to find some experience on defense, as three new starter must be found. The lone returning starter is DT Harold Brantley, who recorded five sacks from inside last fall. Marcus Loud, Charles Harris, Walter Brady, and Marcel Frazier are all battling it out at DE, but are mostly young, and all of them lack experience. SLB is open, with Donavin Newsom and Clarence Green fighting it out there. SS is the final area of concern, with Anthony Sherrits and Cortland Browning both fighting it out.
The Overview: The Tigers are never going to overwhelm anyone with any aspect of what they do. They win ugly sometimes, and the reality of the situation is that they came into the SEC from the Big 12 at a time when the East is at an all time level of horrible. The Tigers are good enough to win this division this fall, despite their own issues. In short, even with a trip likely to the SEC title game, Missouri is not ready to win it.
First Game: 9/5 Missouri State

Georgia Bulldogs
2014 Record: 10-3
2015 Projected Record: 8-4
Head Coach: Mark Richt (136-48, 15th season)

The Good News: The line is all set, which is important because of one player we'll speak of later. LT John Theus, LG Brandon Kublanow, RG Greg Pyke, and RT Kolton Houston are all back up front. TE Jeb Blazevich is back as well, but will be more important in a blocking role. All of this is because of the return of all world RB Nick Chubb, who is back after rushing for 1547 yards and 14 scores last fall. Chubb is a huge favorite in the Heisman race, but must find other pieces around him to work off of, or it will be much too easy for teams to stack the box.
Georgia had a beast of a defense last season, and six starters return from that group. Jordan Jenkins is back at OLB after recording 70 tackles last fall, and Leonard Floyd is back at the opposite OLB spot after recording six sacks. Three starters are back in the secondary from a unit that ranked 5th nationally against the pass. Devin Bowman is back at CB, while Quincy Mauger (SS) and Dominick Sanders (FS) is back as well. Mauger picked off four passes last fall.
Marshall Morgan returns at PK this fall after hitting 16/21 FGs last season. He'll be more important than anyone knows this season.
The Bad News: While the run game will be a strength, the passing game could be a major mess. Georgia ranked just 88th in passing last fall, and now they have to find a new QB and a new set of WRs. Brice Ramsey and Faton Bauta are fighting it out at QB, while Greyson Lambert transferred over from Virginia. There is zero experience at QB until Lambert becomes eligible. The Bulldogs also must find two new starters at WR, with Malcolm Mithcell, Isaiah McKenzie, Reggie Davis, and Terry Godwin fighting it out.
The line is looking for a ton of replacements, as they need three new starters there. Sterling Bailey, Jonathon Ledbetter, Josh Dawson, and Chauncey Rivers are all fighting it out at DE, while Trent Thompson and Chris Mayes battle at NG. The Bulldogs must also replace both starters at ILB. Reggie Carter, Tim Kimbrough, Jake Gainus, and Natrez Patrick are all in the mix. Aaron Davis started at CB last fall, but he's being pushed this fall by Malkom Parrish.
Punter Collin Barber returns at Punter, but averaged just over 39 yards per punt last fall.
The Overview: Georgia is in trouble this fall, as even with Nick Chubb at RB, the offense could suffer immensely from a seriously lacking QB situation. Chubb could get derailed if everyone can stack up against the run, which is exactly what they will do early in the season. The defense, as good as it was last fall, will likely slip just a bit this season with so many new faces coming up in the front seven. Nine underclassmen are in the second team defense, meaning depth and experience will be seriously lacking, and there are seven on the second unit on offense as well. This will be a year of reloading for Georgia, but their still good enough to finish right behind Missouri in the standings.
First Game: 9/5 Louisiana-Monroe

Tennessee Volunteers
2014 Record: 7-6
2015 Projected Record: 7-5
Head Coach: Butch Jones (12-13, 3rd season)

The Good News: Despite all the talk about Joshua Dobbs at QB, the real star potential is in RB Jalen Hurd, who rushed for 899 yards and five scores last fall. Of course, when I say potential, it is strictly that right now. He played 13 games last fall, and so he needs to ramp up production to meet that potential. The line is a huge strength this fall, as four starters return in LT Kyler Kerbyson, LG Marcus Jackson, C Mack Crowder, and RG Jashon Robertson. Pig Howard is the leading returning receiver, as he caught 54 passes last fall for 618 yards, but scored only once. Marquez North and Von Pearson also return, as does TE Ethan Wolf.
Both ends return on the edge for the Vols in Derek Barnett and Curt Maggitt, which gives Tennessee one of the best sets of DEs in the country. Maggitt recorded 11 sacks last fall. Corey Vereen also returns at DE with starting experience. DT Danny O'Brien is back as well, but could be pushed by Kahlil McKenzie, a freshman. The secondary is in solid shape this fall, as three starters are back in CB Cameron Sutton, S Brian Randolph and S LaDarrell McNeil.
Aaron Medley is back at PK after hitting 20 of 26 FGs, and will be an important part of the offense this fall.
The Bad News: Everyone is singing the praises of QB Joshua Dobbs, but he needs to show much more than what he has to get me to buy in. Dobbs rocketed up the depth chart of mostly bad QBs last fall, and ended up playing in six games. He passed for 1206 yards, which is decent, but his TD to pick ratio was nine to six. That's not great by any standards. Dobbs has miles to go before he reaches the peak of what people are illegitimately expecting at this point, and Heisman talk, which I 've heard while referencing him, is laughable.
The Vols need to find a new starter at RT, with Sophomore Coleman Thomas and Kyler Kerbyson battling.
Defensively, the Vols are likely to have two new starters at DT, with McKenzie and Owen Williams the likely new starters. Trevarris Saulsberry is fighting as well there. Jalen Reeves-Maybin is the lone returning starting LB this fall. Kenny Bynum and Dillon Bates have the edge at the two open spots, but Bates is a mere freshman. There is also one open job at CB this fall, with a pair of sophomores fighting it out there in Emmanuel Moseley and Justin Martin in the mix.
The Vols need a new Punter, and Maryland transfer Nathan Renfro has the edge there, but is no shoe in for the job.
The Overview: I've been hearing for a couple of years now about all of the great recruiting that has happened with the Vols. I'm still waiting on the returns. This is why I rarely cover recruiting. Recruits are all potential, with no reality base in the process. You never know what's going to happen. I'm still not sold on Tennessee's talent in comparison to other programs in this conference. I'm still not sold on Butch Jones. I'm basically not sold that Tennessee will be any other thing than what they are right now and that's a middle tier at best program in the SEC.
First Game: 9/5 Bowling Green at Nashville

Kentucky Wildcats
2014 Record: 5-7
2015 Projected Record: 7-5
Head Coach: Mark Stoops (7-17, 3rd season)

The Good News: The offense is likely to get better in year three of the Mike Stoops era, and six starters return to move the needle. Patrick Towles is back at QB, and UK will need some improvement from him this fall. He passed for 2718 yards last fall, but now we need to see improvement on his marks of 14 TDs and nine picks. If he cannot turn the corner, freshman Drew Barker is barking up the tree for playing time. Four starters are back on the line, which is all important. LT Jordan Swindle, LG Zach West, C Jon Toth, and RG Ramsey Myers all return. Ryan Timmons caught 45 passes for 536 yards last fall, and will have to lead the receiving corps this season.
Six starters also return on defense, including three from a secondary that ranked 45th against the pass last fall, allowing 251.8 yards per game. Cody Quinn and Fred Tiller both return at CB, while AJ Stamps is back at FS after picking off four passes a year ago. ILB Josh Forrest is the center of the defense, and picked up 110 tackles last fall. Khalid Henderson also returns at ILB, but could be pushed for time by senior Ryan Flannigan. The middle of the defense is made more solid by the return of NT Melvin Lewis.
Landon Foster returns at Punter after averaging 42.6 yards per punt last fall, and PK Austin MacGinnis is back as well after hitting 21 of 27 FGs last fall.
The Bad News: Kentucky ranked just 77th in rushing offense last fall, and they need a new starter this year. The fight heading into camp includes Boom Williams and Jojo Kemp. The passing game may be in a bit of trouble as the Cats need two new starters at WR, and one at TE. Garrett Johnson, Blake Bone, Dorian Baker, Jeff Badet, and Thaddeus Snodgrass are all looking for time at WR, while freshmen CJ Conrad and Darryl Long are fighting it out. UK also needs to find a new starter at RT, where sophomore Kyle Meadows and Sophomore George Asafo-Adjeri are battling.
The line needs help at DE, as two new starters must be found from a group that includes Farrington Huguenin and Regie Meant on one side, and Cory Johnson and Adrian Middleton on the other. BOth OLB spots need replacing as well, leaving the edge of the defense with a ton of inexperience in games. SS must be replaced as well.
The Overview: If the Wildcats can shore up some issues on both offense and defense, and maybe just move up 10 to 15 spots in both total offense and defense, a bowl game could very well be on the horizon in year three of the Mike Stoops era. Year three is always where the turning point should come, and Kentucky seems primed to get there. The school is finally making a commitment to football, which was long overdue, so the time has come to reward that commitment. Kentucky is on the rise.
First Game: 9/5 Louisiana-Lafayette

Florida Gators
2014 Record: 7-5
2015 Projected Record: 6-6
Head Coach: Jim McElwain (1st season)

The Good News: It all starts with a coaching change for the Gators, and Jim McElwain should be a breath of fresh air for both the media and the fans after the debacle that was the Will Muschamp era. It's year one, however, so change will not come as quickly as some would want it to, but there is no reason to expect the Gators to be down forever with Muschamp gone.
Seven starters return on defense, a unit that finished 15th in total defense last season. The Gators could be very good here again under DC Geoff Collins, especially on the edge where both Bryan Cox and Jon Bullard return at DE. Cox could be getting a push from Alex McCalister, but both could playa ton. Antonio Morrison is a tackling machine at MLB, and recorded 101 last season. He will be the center of the unit this fall. Four starters return in the five man secondary, including NB Brian Poole, who picked off four passes last season. CB Vernon Hargreaves III is an all conference pick, and returns for more action, as do Safeties Keanu McNeil and Marcus Maye.
The Bad News: The offense has to be beasically scrapped and built over again from scratch, a task that McElwain and OC Doug Nussmeier will set themselves to immediately. Florida finished just 104th in passing last season, which just does not fly. In all, the Gator ranked just 93rd in total offense. Treon Harris is back at QB, and passed for 1019 yards with nine TDs and four picks in limited action, but may be pushed out by freshman Will Grier. Demarcus Robinson and Latroy Pittman both return at WR, but Pittman will likely get pushed out by sophomore Brandon Powell. The Z spot is a battle between Ahmad Fulwood and Chris Thompson. A new starting TE must be identified as well. C Trip Thurmon is the lone returning starter n the line as well, bringing another rebuilding project to bare.
The middle of the line on defense needs rebuilding as well, as both DT spots need filling. The battle is up between Joey Ivie and Khairi Clark, while the DT spot is up between Caleb Brantley and Taven Bryan. WLB is up between Jarrad Davis and Daniel McMillian. Luckily, there is only one open spot in the secondary at CB. That is a fight between Jalen Tabor and Deiondre Porter.
The PK game could use a boost as well, as Austin Hardin only connected on 11 of 22 kicks last season.
The Overview: The Gators are a project right now in year one of the McElwain era. He was left with not a ton to work with on offense, so the defense will likely have to carry the day for another year or two. Like I said, the good news is that Muschamp has moved on, and that is a huge win for everyone in Gainesville. The relationship was sour between all parties, and the product on the field suffered immeasurably. McElwain is a breath of fresh air for a program desperately in need, and the payoff could be a very minor bowl appearance in year one. It's not too outside of the imagination to feel that is possible, with the Gators pushing for SEC East titles in two to three years.
First Game: 9/5 New Mexico State

South Carolina Gamecocks
2014 Record: 7-6
2015 Projected Record: 4-8
Head Coach: Steve Spurrier (84-45, 11th season)

The Good News: There isn't much on offense, but we will start there anyway. Three starters return on the line, all from Center right. C Alan Knott joins RG Will Sport and RT Brandon Shell for one more go. The only returning skill set player is all league pick Pharoh Cooper, but there is some bad news to report in the next section on that front.
Six starters return from a defense that was just completely victimized and torn apart in 2014. Gerald Dixon is back at DE, and is joined up front by the return of Gerald Dixon, Junior. LB Skai Moore is back at LB after recording 93 tackles last fall, and three starters are back in the secondary in CB Chris Lammons, CB TJ Gurley, and S Chris Moody. Moody and Gurley, however, could get pushed out of their jobs, which we will discuss in the next section as well.
Elliott Fry is back at PK, but must improve on seven missed FGs last season after hitting 18 of 25.
The Bad News: Almost every single skill player must be replaced on offense, a situation that could drastically drop the Gamecocks in terms of their ranking of 33rd in total offense last season. Sophomore Connor Mitch and junior Perry Orth are the options at QB, but there is no experience to speak of there. Brandon Wilds is back at RB, but rushed for 570 yards last fall. He now has to be the guy, or get pushed by sophomore David Williams. FB is a battle between Garrison Gist and Clayton Stadnik. The left side of the line is being rebuilt, wit Mason Zandi and Mike Matulis fighting at LT, and Matulis also battling with Brock Stadnik at LG. Cooper was injured when camp opened last week, and has both hand and knee injuries starting out in 2015. That is horrible news, because it's not likely that he will be entirely healthy when the season starts, and the Gamecocks need him to be top shelf, because he's virtually all they have as far as a reliable offensive option.
South Carolina's defense completely imploded last season, and it all started in a loss to Texas A&M, where USC gave up 52 points and over 600 yards of offense. It never got much better, and the Gamecocks gave up 30.4 points per game on the year. Everyone ran wild against the Gamecocks as well, as they gave up 212.2 yards per game. The only area where they weren't an abject disaster was against the pass, where they still ranked 53rd.
The Overview: For the time being, South Carolina is done. Three straight seasons of 11 wins has now receded to barely treading water in a season where it was a miracle that they won seven games at all, to a season this year where they would be lucky to win four. Spurrier's day is done. He's doing a disservice to the program by still insisting on being his own offensive coordinator, and the program is in a quick backward slide. Last season was a huge eye opener for everyone, and it's not getting better. South Carolina has never been a premier program, and eight win seasons were a spectacle once upon a time. Expectations are higher now, but maybe that's unrealistic for a program that has never seen the heights they've seen recently. The blip is over, and until new blood is brought in, it's bound to stay that way for the foreseeable future.
First Game: 9/3 North Carolina at Charlotte

Vanderbilt Commodores
2014 Record: 3-9
2015 Projected Record: 2-10
Head Coach: Derek Mason (3-9, 2nd season)

The Good News: It can't get much worse for a club that opened last season with an absolutely lifeless 37-7 loss to Temple at home followed by a 41-3 drubbing at the hands of Ole Miss.
Eight starters return from an offense that was an absolute disaster last fall. Two starters return at WR in CJ Duncan and Latevius Rayford, but the top target in the passing attack may be all league pick TE Steven Scheu, who caught 39 passes last fall for 525 yards. Scheu is the top candidate to have a breakout season in 2015 for the Commodores. Four starters return on the line in LT Andrew Jelks, LG Jake Bernstein, C Spencer Pulley, and RT Will Holden. RB Ralph Webb rushed for 912 yards last fall, but may be able to improve a great deal behind a more experienced offensive line.
Two of three starters return on the defensive line in DT Adam Butler and DE Caleb Azubike. Three of four LB return in OLB Stephen Weatherly (4.5 sacks), and ILBs Darreon Herring and Nigel Bowden (78 tackles). There is some experience returning in the secondary as well in CBs Torren Mcgaster and Taurean Ferguson, and Safeties Andrew Williamson and Jahmel McIntosh.
Tommy Openshaw returns at PK after hitting 8/11 FGs last fall, and could be a bigger weapon this season as a sophomore. Colby Cooke is solid at Punter as well after averaging 42.4 yards per punt.
The Bad News: The offense has to find some life. This team averaged just 17.2 points per game last fall, which ranked 116th. They ranked 113th in rushing offense, 105th in passing, and 122nd in total offense. Karl Dorrell, by far one of the most overrated minds in the history of college football, was fired as OC and replaced with Andy Ludwig, which is an upgrade of massive proportions. Ludwig is a solid offensive mind, but he has to find a way to improve the same group that Dorrell couldn't even get the most minimal pulse from last fall. That is a situation to watch.
The defense was largely left hanging in the wind from that miserable offense, but they had their own faults as well, especially when it came to giving up 33.3 points per game, good for ranking 104th nationally. The secondary is strong, which is good, because that's where the Commodores were passable in Derek Mason's first season as head coach. Vandy ranked 49th against the pass last season. They finished a lowly 84th against the run, but they bring back more experience up the middle, and even on the edge this season. Still, improvement in real time must be made.
The schedule begins in a brutal way, with games against Western Kentucky, Georgia, and Ole Miss on the slate in September. Vandy may be better in many ways this fall, but because of that schedule, and all of their many questions all over the place, it's hard to see the record itself improving right away.
The Overview: Vanderbilt football took a huge step backward last fall after losing James Franklin to Penn State. Nobody is writing off Derek Mason just yet, but there are many doubters that are blooming up all over the place. One more season like last year, and Vandy could be thinking in a knee jerk way. This season could be another mess, but Vandy could turn a corner in year three and get back to a bowl. This season will simply just be year two in a massive overhaul project.
First Game: 9/5 Western Kentucky

Next: FCS Preview

No comments:

Post a Comment