Randy Smith: SEC West Preview

Monday, August 13, 2018 - by Randy Smith
Randy Smith
Randy Smith
With the start of the college football season less than three weeks away, it's time to speculate about how the SEC divisional races will turn out. Auburn is the defending champ but Alabama is the prohibitive favorite every year including this one. The West may still be the toughest division in college football but it's not as tough as it was a few years ago. 

7. Arkansas Razorbacks
The Hogs have a new head coach as Bret Bielema was fired after his final team in Fayetteville posted a 5-7 record and only 1-7 in the SEC. The new head coach is Chad Morris, formerly the head coach at SMU and also a former offensive coordinator at Clemson. Morris has already installed a power spread up tempo offense and the defense, one of the worst in the country a year ago, will look to John Chavis to right the ship.
Chavis is coaching at his fourth SEC school and "The Chief" has a tough chore ahead. While a bowl game is a possibility it's not likely Arkansas can contend in the SEC West.

6. Ole Miss Rebels
Coach Matt Luke had the term interim removed from his title during the off season and is now charged with bringing the Johnny Rebs back to respectability. Ole Miss was 6-6 a year ago and they're ineligible for a bowl game for a second year in a row following the disastrous tenure of Coach Hugh Freeze. Luke's hiring was in jeopardy until the Rebels won three of their last four games including a win over 16th ranked rival Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl game. The Rebs could be better than they were a year ago but like Arkansas it will take a while to contend.

5. LSU Tigers
 After Coach Ed Orgeron's first full year as LSU head coach, there are serious questions about the stability of the program. He has a good staff in place but Tiger fans are worried about the talent level. Only one five star recruit was signed by Orgeron but he's a good one. Receiver Terrace Marshall has a chance to play a lot as a true freshman. LSU has the highest paid defensive coordinator in college football in Dave Aranda and, while stats matter, LSU folks want wins and championships. They're likely not going to get a title this season but they could be looking at eightwins. The schedule is not in the Bengal Tigers' favor as they have to face Alabama, Georgia, Auburn and Miami. 

4. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Joe Moorhead takes over in Starkville and, when Dan Mullen left for Florida, he left plenty of talent for Moorhead and his staff. The Bulldogs have one of the top three quarterbacks in the SEC in Nick Fitzgerald, but the biggest question here is how well he can bounce back from that gruesome ankle injury he suffered in the Egg Bowl last season. Fitzgerald is considered to be a tough customer so he should be fine. Fourteen total starters return on both sides of the ball including Fitzgerald so the talent is there. Bulldog fans are shaking their cowbells and looking for 10 wins, which is attainable. Eight wins are more likely for the Bullies this season but since Moorhead is one of the new coaches on the block it remains to be seen.

3. Texas A&M Aggies
Aggie fans in College Station grew tired of four straight seasons with eight or fewer wins, so the school invested $75 million in Jimbo Fisher to turn things around. Fisher had great success at Florida State, winning the 2013 national championship. With 15 starters back from last year, Fisher inherits plenty of talent and A&M folks are excited beyond words. Can Texas A&M compete for the SEC West title? Certainly, but the two teams picked ahead of the Aggies in most polls will be nationally ranked squads, with Alabama and Auburn considered to be national powers. Jimbo Fisher is the kind of coach who can work miracles and an SEC West Championship in 2018 might be considered a miracle. 

2. Auburn Tigers
Auburn was 10-4 last season with wins over both Alabama and Georgia - the two teams who met for the national championship. Both those victories came at Auburn last year which means, to duplicate that feat, the Tigers are forced to win those same games on the road. One of the strong points of this season's Tiger squad is the defensive front which could be the SEC's best. Quarterback Jarrett Stidham returns along with starting halfback Chandler Cox. Stidham's top receiver Ryan Davis, who caught 84 passes last year, is also back.  Since head coach Gus Malzahn just signed a seven-year contract extension worth $49 million, Auburn fans are expecting big things sooner rather than later. Auburn will be very good but not good enough to win the SEC West a second year in a row. 

1. Alabama Crimson Tide
Alabama has won five of the last nine national championships under head coach Nick Saban and guess who is picked to win it again in 2018? Alabama of course. Strangely enough with a starting quarterback who has guided the Tide to a 26-2 mark returning, there is a major quarterback controversy brewing in Tuscaloosa. Tua Tagovailoa, who guided 'Bama to a come from behind overtime win over Georgia in last season's national championship game, is challenging Jalen Hurts for the starting job. Whomever wins that battle will have an uber talented team on the field with them, which is the mark of a Nick Saban program. Just reload when a lot of your starters leave for the NFL or graduate, that's the Nick Saban way. The schedule is also in Alabama's favor with the toughest road game being a November 3rd match up at LSU. A rematch of last year's national championship battle with Georgia is widely expected in this year's SEC title game.

On Wednesday, we'll preview the SEC East.   

(Randy Smith can be reached at rsmithsports@comcast.net )


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