It’s that time of the year.
I had some overreactions in my SEC Media Days ballot back in July. I aggressively put Texas A&M at fifth because I was so high on other squads in the West after hearing what their coaches and players had to say. I disregarded LSU. I was extremely high on Ole Miss throughout most of the offseason.
Now, after some time to reflect, and to get a feel for what’s going on in fall camp, I am ready to make some predictions.
These are my official predictions for the SEC West in 2021.
7. Mississippi State (4-8, 1-7 SEC)
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Look. This team brings back 16 combined starters and should have one of the better defenses in the league. But that offense (21.5 ppg in 2020) will hold this team back from bowl eligibility. A tough non-conference slate (LA Tech, NC State, at Memphis) makes this already tough SEC schedule much more difficult for a bottom feeder like MSU. I don't see Mike Leach and the Air Raid staying in Starkville for much longer. The Bulldogs have missed on their last two hires from a culture standpoint. Hey, Jamey Chadwell, you busy next year?
6. Arkansas (6-6, 3-5 SEC)
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
Maybe I'm sipping the KJ Jefferson Kool-Aid just a little too much? The Hogs' defense was atrocious last year. And while some media assume that linebackers Grant Morgan and Bumper Pool are at the top of the conference at their respective position, I just don't buy it after looking some of the numbers past their total tackles. The offense should give Arkansas just enough gas to beat the teams they should beat, with an upset thrown in there. The upset? Week four against Texas A&M in Arlington. The receiver combo of Treylon Burks and Trey Knox is no joke. The Razorbacks get back to a bowl for the first time since 2016.
5. Ole Miss (8-4, 4-4 SEC)
Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports
I want this team to be good. I really do. Matt Corral will lead one of the nation's best offenses this season. The Rebels will be an exciting team to watch. However... That defense was historically bad last season. How much does it improve? Statistically, Ole Miss should be able to bring down their points allowed per game (38.3 ppg, the worst mark I could find since the 1970s) as well as their total yards allowed (519.0 yards per game, 126th nationally) with the addition of non-conference play this season, but the defense will not be the reason the Rebels win in conference play. Ole Miss will beat and lose to the teams they should (losses to Alabama, LSU, Auburn, and Texas A&M).
4. Auburn (8-4, 5-3 SEC)
John Reed-USA TODAY Sports
If Nix doesn't progress, the team won't get better this season. That's the bottom line. Word from both of Auburn's fall scrimmages says that he's still working on his decision making. His offensive line isn't helping him out either. What will help him out is a more efficient scheme that will rely on All-SEC running back Tank Bigsby to carry the load. The defense will be much improved compared to last years totals (24.7 ppg, 242.6 passing yards allowed per game). Should Nix take a visible step forward during Auburn's September slate (that includes a road trip to Penn State), Auburn should be just fine. If the Tigers haven't found an answer at quarterback after the Georgia game week six, Auburn could be in some trouble. This may be the most difficult team in all of college football to predict heading into the 2021 season.
3. LSU (10-2, 6-2 SEC)
(Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
Before the plethora of opt outs for LSU in 2020, I said (like most people) that LSU would go 5-5. They did, and it didn't look pretty. This season, their bounce back depends on two things. Can Max Johnson carry the load, and is Daronte Jones (the defensive coordinator) the answer? I said earlier in the spring that I believed Johnson should start at quarterback over Myles Brennan (who is now injured), and now he gets his shot to do so. LSU's passing defense was quite literally the worst in the country last season (323 passing yards allowed per game). Corners Derek Stingley Jr. and Eli Ricks have so much talent it's hard not to see LSU making major strides on that side of the ball. The Tigers finish 10-2 with losses to Alabama and Texas A&M in November.
Texas A&M (10-2, 6-2 SEC)
Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
The Aggies will take part in what will be the biggest upset of the season: A&M will beat Alabama for the first time since 2012, en route Saban losing to a former assistant for the first time ever. Somebody's bound to do it at some point, right? It will take some heroics from freshman quarterback Haynes King, as well as an impressive showing from what may be the most experienced defense in the SEC (nine starters return from a defense that finished first in the SEC in total yards allowed per game). However I do expect there to be a couple of bumps in the road for the Aggies. Those two bumps specifically being Arkansas and Auburn. Jimbo Fisher continues to build this A&M program.
1. Alabama (11-1, 7-1 SEC)
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
In my article stating five reasons why Alabama won't go undefeated in 2021, I specifically noted that while I don't think Miami will beat Alabama, they will lay out the blueprint as to how. I think Texas A&M is the first team to take advantage of said blueprint. Alabama will not go undefeated this season. Last year, it took three Heisman finalists to do so for the first time since 2009. The quarterback is new. The receivers Bryce Young will be throwing to are new. The offensive coordinator is new. The defense may be stout (eight starters return from a defense that gave up an SEC-best 19.4 ppg), but much like A&M, there will be growing pains. Expect wins against Miami, LSU, and Auburn to be very close.