HOOVER, Ala. — It’s time for rubber to meet the road.
The SEC sent out ballots for predicted order of finish in each division and the SEC Championship Game on Tuesday morning. The conference will tabulate and release its full “media” picks on Thursday afternoon at the conclusion of the four-day event at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham – The Wynfrey Hotel.
Over the years, the group as a whole hasn’t been right very much.
At Bleacher Report, we’re in the business of transparency. Here is how I submitted my ballot for the predicted order of finish in the SEC and the result of the SEC Championship Game.
- South Carolina
Yes, that’s right—Tennessee is my pick to win the East for the second straight year (Georgia received the overall media vote).
Last year, I was one play away from being right, as Tennessee gave up a 4th-and-14 touchdown with just under 90 seconds remaining in its late-September game at Florida, which ultimately kept the Volunteers out of the SEC Championship Game.
This year, the Vols will return to the Georgia Dome in December for the first time since 2007. The roster is the deepest and most complete in the division. The Vols upgraded at defensive coordinator with Bob Shoop, and they should be able to take the next step in the passing game thanks to the emergence of Preston Williams. They also get Alabama and Florida at home.
For the second straight season, that Florida game will be the one that decides the division, with Tennessee breaking its 11-year losing streak to the Gators.
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart and his Bulldogs will show flashes of brilliance, but inexperience at the line of scrimmage will cost them a couple of games.
Behind the Bulldogs, Vanderbilt is dangerous with a defense that’s one of the best in the SEC. The Commodores—who also finished fourth last year—won’t win the SEC East but will scare the daylights out of a couple of teams and could spring an upset or two. South Carolina, Kentucky and Missouri have far too many questions and will be fighting uphill battles to make bowl games.
- Ole Miss
- Texas A&M
- Mississippi State
Out West, it’s Alabama’s division to lose until further notice.
It won’t lose it in 2016.
The Crimson Tide defense is as deep, talented and fast as it has ever been, and it’s loaded with potential high-round draft picks, including defensive end Jonathan Allen, linebackers Tim Williams and Reuben Foster, and defensive backs Eddie Jackson, Marlon Humphrey and Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Are there questions on offense? Sure. But offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin is back for his third season with the Crimson Tide and has proved over the last two years that he can handle massive roster holes and still lead the team to success.
Ole Miss has earned a little bit of that benefit of the doubt as well. The offensive line has been an issue for about two years now. The Rebels haven’t been able to run between the tackles for three seasons and have still earned two straight New Year’s Six bowl berths, improving every year under head coach Hugh Freeze.
Auburn and Texas A&M both made moves to improve their rosters this offseason. The health of defensive end Carl Lawson combined with a veteran defense that gave up just 339 yards per game over the final five games of 2015 and the presence of dual-threat quarterback John Franklin III will keep Auburn competitive. Behind the departures of two former quarterbacks and some Twitter shenanigans, Texas A&M hired the right offensive coordinator in Noel Mazzone to run the power spread offense, has a loaded defense that should improve in Year 2 under John Chavis and landed one of the best graduate transfer quarterbacks on the market in Trevor Knight.
Then there’s LSU. The Tigers are essentially a mirror image of what they were last year. The defense should stay elite thanks to returning stars and the arrival of new coordinator Dave Aranda, and the running game is in good hands with Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice. But head coach Les Miles has employed an ultra-conservative offense for nearly a decade and hasn’t shown the creativity and flexibility needed to win games 45-42 consistently when Plan A doesn’t work. I can’t count on that changing this offseason, which is why I have the Tigers tied for third in the SEC West with Auburn and Texas A&M but losing the head-to-head tiebreaker with each to finish fifth.
Mississippi State and Arkansas will both be competitive and make bowl games, but this a retooling year for each.
SEC Championship Game
Alabama over Tennessee.
Yes, this will be a rematch of “The Third Saturday in October” in Neyland Stadium and serve as a revenge game for Alabama—which will fall in Knoxville to the Vols.
The Crimson Tide won’t fall in December under the big top in Atlanta in the SEC Championship Game.
Alabama will win a hotly contested SEC Championship Game, claim its third straight SEC title and make its third straight College Football Playoff over a Tennessee team that is not only worthy of the hype, but will be vying for a playoff spot as well.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.
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Source: Bleacher Report CFB