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Future Rankings: Predicting the best SEC programs the next five years

One of the most anticipated college football seasons in recent memory is ahead with several months to forecast the year. Multiple changes make for what projects to be a memorable fall of football.

Conference realignment is at the forefront of changes that will transform the college football experience. Outside of the SEC, the disbanded Pac-12 conference is scattered across three other power conferences.

Stanford and Cal will play in the ACC after resisting a more logistically sound move to the Big 12. So we’ll see Stanford travel to face Syracuse in its first conference game of the year.

Utah, Colorado, Arizona and Arizona State join the Big 12 conference when they next take the field. Elsewhere, USC, UCLA, Oregon and Washington will play in the Big Ten.

The SEC’s expansion makes more sense. The conference will add Oklahoma and Texas to the league. Former and potential rivals Arkansas, Texas A&M, Missouri and LSU stand as games that could increase interest in the league in Texas and Oklahoma.

How the conference tiers moving forward will be of debate over the next few months. Here’s a look at how we rank the teams in the league for the next five seasons.

Vanderbilt Commodores

Vanderbilt is developing players that the likes of Georgia want to poach like wide receiver transfer London Humphries. The ‘Dores might be better than their record indicates. Unfortunately, the Commodores are nearly 100 games below .500 all-time and there’s little to no reason to believe in positive trajectory in the transfer portal era. The addition of Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC makes the path even more difficult for the team.

Arkansas Razorbacks

Arkansas could greatly benefit long-term from the addition of Texas and Oklahoma to the conference. In particular, Razorback faithful seemed to have been recharged when facing their bitter rivals from Austin in 2021.

Short-term, Arkansas will likely be moving on from its current head coach Sam Pittman in the near future. The Hogs were an abysmal 4-8 last season and probably won’t be much better in 2024. After that comes another rebuild. So, while the distant future might look good, the near future doesn’t. Having the No. 15 SEC recruiting class for 2024 doesn’t help.

Mississippi State Bulldogs

Mississippi State has not been the easiest place in the SEC to win games historically. The Bulldogs do add great offensive mind Jeff Lebby as head coach which should make them a formidable foe in the conference. That said, Lebby has never been a head coach and could have a difficult time winning games in a loaded SEC.

Kentucky Wildcats

Kentucky’s run of success in football could be nearing its end. While the team added an admirable transfer portal haul, the Wildcats don’t seem to have the NIL firepower to contend in college football’s toughest conference. If they do, it’s being utilized in basketball. The schedule gets tougher for the Wildcats as they no longer have a weaker SEC East schedule to count on in the fall.

Florida Gators

Florida tends to be one of the more impatient programs in the conference when it comes to giving its head coach time. Billy Napier, however, has had time to show progress and it doesn’t seem to be happening. The Gators have as high a ceiling as most other programs in college football as evidenced by the Urban Meyer and Steve Spurrier eras of Florida football. They just haven’t neared that ceiling since Meyer left the program.

South Carolina Gamecocks

South Carolina appears to be seeing an upward trajectory in recruiting. The Gamecocks secured two five-star recruitments in the 2024 recruiting class. They still managed to land in the bottom half of the conference in recruiting for lack of depth. That seems to be a recurring issue for the team. Despite having several great players join the program, Carolina has lacked the depth to win at a high level in the SEC. Perhaps they will turn a corner.

Texas A&M Aggies

It’s been 11 seasons since the Aggies won double-digit games. Texas A&M will have highs and lows, but its history suggests it will find itself somewhere in the middle of the conference. New head coach Mike Elko is an upgrade, but has a rebuild on his hands. There’s no doubt he can coach, but the notion that the Aggies are SEC title contenders in his first season seems farfetched. After the Aggies get through initial rebuilding years, we could see stability turn into double digit win seasons. But it will take time. We should know if Elko is the coach of the future by his third season.

Auburn Tigers

Auburn, like Florida, has demonstrated a national championship ceiling. The retirement of rival head coach Nick Saban gives the Tigers hope moving forward. If you recall, Auburn had a four-game winning streak over Alabama prior to Saban arriving in Tuscaloosa. Beating new Tide coach Kalen DeBoer will be a difficult task, but Auburn head coach Hugh Freeze has a year head start with his squad. The Tigers had the fifth-best recruiting class in the SEC for 2024. They will look to utilize it in the near future.

Missouri Tigers

Missouri won the Cotton Bowl over Ohio State over the last season. More wins should be on the way in 2024. The question is what happens after that. The Tigers don’t recruit like the rest of the big boys in the SEC and before long will lose quarterback Brady Cook and top pass catchers in Luther Burden and Mookie Cooper. What happens then will determine if the Tigers have staying power.

Ole Miss Rebels

Ole Miss might better than Alabama, Tennessee, LSU and Oklahoma in 2024, but those programs recruit at a strong enough level to catch up within a season. The Rebels should be a consistent contender for double-digit wins and a playoff berth, but they’ll have to compete with teams who can offer more in NIL. A 12-team playoff berth and quarterfinal win this season would go a long way in securing the team’s place atop the conference moving forward.

Tennessee Volunteers

If not for the ongoing feud with the NCAA and uncertainty around it, we’d rank Tennessee higher. The Volunteers have Nico Iamaleava at quarterback who I view as the conference’s top breakout quarterback for the upcoming season. The Vols have a succession plan at quarterback with recent commit George MacIntire, a five-star and the No. 2 quarterback in the 2025 class. We could see Tennessee return to the power it once was with battle tested and seemingly proven head coach Josh Heupel.

Oklahoma Sooners

Oklahoma is recruiting at a title contending level and got back to 10 wins in 2023. The team’s win over Texas proved the Sooners can compete with top teams in college football. Albeit, 2023 success comes with a caveat. The Sooners were benefitted from their easiest schedule in several years. It saw them face six opponents who played in the Group of Five in 2022: Arkansas State, SMU, Tulsa, Cincinnati, UCF and BYU. The games against the latter three were all close contests while the team lost to Kansas and Oklahoma State. Take away the Texas win and how do you feel about head coach Brent Venables? While the ceiling is there there is plenty to prove.

LSU Tigers

LSU has been one of the more explosive offensive in college football since head coach Brian Kelly took over in Baton Rouge. Take a look at how the Tigers’ 2025 recruiting class is taking shape and you’ll have a good idea of what the future could look like for the team. The questions lie on defense. The team significantly upgraded its coaching staff in adding former Texas defensive line coach Bo Davis. Can they better utilize and maximize defensive stars like linebacker Harold Perkins moving forward?

Alabama Crimson Tide

Contrary to my 2024 record prediction, I believe Kalen DeBoer can be incredibly successful at Alabama. He is perhaps the best in college football at game preparation and the in-game responsibilities of a head coach. DeBoer’s limitations come into play in recruiting where he will need to improve to avoid a repeat of his national title game against Michigan to stand up to an SEC grind that includes the better recruiting teams in college football.

Texas Longhorns

This prediction can be summed up by watching what the Texas offensive and defensive line did to Alabama in its own building. Sure, Texas is getting the five star quarterbacks, running backs and receivers. But they hadn’t been getting the five-star linemen. They’re getting them now. More than that, the team is developing them. The Longhorns’ impressive 2022 offensive line class is now entering its third season on the Forty Acres. With redshirts, the loaded offensive line class could contribute through the 2026 season. Look for the Texas line to surprise teams in its first season in the SEC.

Georgia Bulldogs

Georgia has two losses over the last three seasons. In that span the team won two national titles and an Orange Bowl. It’s hard to imagine that train will stop rolling. The Bulldogs secured the No. 1 recruiting class in 2024 after putting together the No. 2 class in 2023. Perhaps the team won’t win 21 games for every one loss moving forward, but it is set up for the most success over the next five years.

Story originally appeared on Longhorns Wire