The SEC West has been college football’s most punishing division for some time now and that does not appear to be changing any time soon. All six western division teams earned a bowl bid in 2014, which was unprecedented. The champion of the division has gone on to win the SEC championship for six consecutive seasons and, undoubtedly, the west will, yet again, have a large impact on the College Football Playoff in 2016.
Auburn is poised to make another run to Atlanta with a (hopefully) revamped defense and a smooth quarterback transition from Nick Marshall to strong-armed Jeremy Johnson. Coach Gus Malzahn will gear his offense around his QB’s strengths which is going to make Auburn a very dangerous football team in 2015.
The Tigers also have the luxury of having three talented running backs who are waiting in the wings, including potential starter Jovon Robinson. At receiver, D’haquille Williams is a rising star who is looking to take the place of departed star Sammie Coats.
Defense, was unquestionably, Auburn’s glaring weakness a season ago, which is why former Florida head coach Will Muschamp has been brought in to revamp this unit. He will have some talent to work with, especially at the linebacker position where Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy are both poised to have tremendous senior seasons.
The division could very likely come down to the Iron Bowl against Alabama, which is being played this year in the friendly confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium. A win over the Crimson Tide could very well send this talented Auburn team right back to Atlanta once again.
11-1 (7-1) 1st place SEC West
The Crimson Tide fell short of another national championship last season but should be a force to be reckoned with once again in 2015 despite having a new starter at the quarterback position for the second straight season.
Jake Coker was unseated by fifth-year senior Blake Sims last year but the Florida State transfer is finally getting his time to shine in Lane Kiffin’s offense. The passing game may start out a bit unsettled as the team also has to find a way to replace Amari Cooper’s prodigious accomplishments. Look for Alabama to rely heavily on Derrick Henry’s massive frame to lead the charge for the offense.
On defense, the Tide will, once again, have to deal with key losses from a season ago, but this is still going to be a very strong unit and may finish as one of the best in the country when its all said and done. Linebacker Reggie Ragland is a beast in the middle of the defense and the secondary is in good hands senior Cyrus Jones should be the stand out in a secondary that struggled a bit last year.
This will likely look like a typical Nick Saban coached Alabama team. They have continued to re-load at an alarming rate throughout his tenure in Tuscaloosa and it is clear that they are, once again, on the cusp of another SEC championship type season.
11-2 (7-1) 2nd place SEC West
The Tigers are one of the biggest question marks in the SEC this year and they certainly have issues on both sides of the ball. However, there is enough talent on this team to compete for an SEC title and coach Les Miles is looking for a quick turnaround from an 8-5 record in 2014.
There is mounds of uncertainty at the quarterback position as potential starter Anthony Jennings was arrested recently along with two other teammates for unauthorized entry into an inhabited dwelling. Sophomore Brandon Harris could likely be given the rains and he will be called upon to find talented receiver Travin Dural early and often this season. Running back Leonard, who rushed for over 1,000 yards as a freshman, will carry the bulk of the offensive load for the Tigers.
LSU will have six starters returning from a defense that gave up just 20 points a game in SEC play last year, and they will be very nasty up front. Defensive tackle Christian LaCoture will provide a veteran presense to the defensive line and the linebacker group of Louis, Beckwith and Jones will be as solid as it gets in the SEC.
Ultimately, if LSU can become a viable passing team and continue to be a lock-down defense, then they will have a chance to compete for a division title. If the offense continues to struggle as it did in 2014, their defense will probably not be able to overcome that on a game-to-game basis.
2015 Season Outlook
9-3 (5-3) 3rd place SEC West
4. Texas A&M
Defensive struggles have kept Texas A&M for competing for division titles each of the last two seasons. New defensive coordinator John Chavis is in hopes of changing that for the upcoming season and he will have some talent to work with on that side of the ball, including freakishly talented sophomore Myles Garrett.
Returning quarterback Kyle Allen is looking to build off of a solid 2014 campaign in which he threw for 1,300 yards and 16 touchdowns after taking over for the suspended Kenny Hill. He will lead a very explosive Aggie offense that includes receiving stars Speedy Noil and Josh Reynolds. In addition, the running back duo of Tra Carson and Brandom Williams will provide a lot of stability in the ground game, a deficiency that has hurt A&M in the past.
Coach Kevin Sumlin has proven that he is a very good coach in this conference, and his recruiting prowess in the state of Texas has been remarkable. It is definitely time to see these talented recruits begin to shine on the brightest of stages, especially now that the renovated Kyle Field is now the largest football stadium in the country with a 102,512 capacity.
8-4 (4-4) 4th place SEC West
5. Mississippi State
Dazzling quarterback Dak Prescott helped lead the Mississippi State Bulldogs to just its third double-digit win season in school history a season ago and expectations are now high in Starkville. Prescott returned to school for his senior season and is hoping to keep the positive momentum going.
The Bulldogs did suffer key losses on offense including 1,500 yard rusher Josh Robinson, center Dillon Day and two starting receivers. The pressure will reside on the shoulders of Heisman candidate Prescott to continue lighting up the scoreboard for this offense. De’Runnya Wilson will be Prescott’s go-to receiver as he tries to improve on his 47 catches for 680 yards last season.
Defensively, the Bulldogs will have to get better in the secondary as they ranked dead last in the conference in 2014 giving up 272 yards per game through the air. Corner Taveze Calhoun is the only returning starter in the defensive backfield although there should be some veteran talent around him.
Dan Mullen made believers out of Bulldog nation last season. Now, it will be important to keep this program heading in a direction that involves consistent winning and competition in the SEC West. There may be a bit of a drop off in 2015, but expect Mississippi State to remain solid.
8-4 (4-4) 5th place SEC West
It appears that Arkansas has turned the corner under head coach Bret Bielema as they were able to win for of their final six games to reach bowl eligibility. It is very likely that Arkansas will be even better in 2015, although it may not show up in the win column due to a brutal conference schedule.
The Razorbacks turned heads last year with their smash-mouth offensive approach and 1,000 yard rushing tandem Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams are both back in the fold this season. Quarterback Brandon Allen had a solid season in 2014, throwing just five interceptions in a run-first offense. He is surrounded with loads of veteran talent (such as wide receiver Keyon Hatcher) and a massive offensive line.
The Hogs lost a lot of talent from a very good defense including defensive end Trey Flowers, who keyed the Razorback revival last season. There is still some decent talent on this defense as linebacker Brooks Ellis has moved to weak-side linebacker where he will likely thrive. The secondary, however, could be the ultimate strength of this defense as Arkansas coaches appear to be very high on corners Jared Collins and D.J. Dean.
It will be interesting to see if Arkansas is able to take the next step and start winning some of those close games that they lost a year ago. Ultimately, a very difficult schedule and some key personnel losses could be too much to overcome for a program who is trying to get back to the top of the division. It may happen eventually, but probably will not in 2015.
7-5 (3-5) 6th place SEC West
7. Ole Miss
Thought by many to be a dark horse to win the west in 2015, it remains difficult to erase the memories of the losses that were suffered down the stretch last season. Obviously, there is loads of talent on this roster and Hugh Freeze has done a wonderful job on the recruiting front. 2015 will go a long way in determining where Ole Miss is at as a program, especially considering wildly talented players like defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, tackle Laremy Tunsil and Laquon Treadwell are now veterans who have had a taste of success.
Uncertainty at the quarterback position could lead people to believe that a slight regression is on the horizion as junior Chad Kelly and sophomore Ryan Buchanan continue to battle for the position. A talented group of receivers should go a long way to help out the new QB and running back Jaylen Walton is back for his senior campaign as well.
The land shark defense will, once again, be a huge strength as seven starters are returning from a very nasty unit a year ago. If this defense is able to continue its top-level play and the offense can find some much-needed rhythm, then Ole Miss can absolutely finish near the top of the division in 2015.
6-6 (2-6) 7th place SEC West
SEC West Tidbits
- Loudest Stadium: Tiger Stadium
- Classiest Fans: Auburn
- Best Uniforms: Auburn
- Best Quarterback: Jeremy Johnson
- Coaches on the Hot Seat: N/A