Projecting the 2023 SEC West standings
The SEC West is the strongest division in college football with nine of the past 16 national champions coming from this side of the conference alone. The 2023 season will be no different with Alabama vying to reclaim the throne from LSU, Arkansas, and Ole Miss lurking in the dark.
The coaches in the West are unbelievable between Nick Saban, Brian Kelly, Lane Kiffin, Jimbo Fisher, Sam Pittman, Hugh Freeze and Zach Arnette, every single week is a chess match. The Crimson Tide enter the 2023 conference play as the likely favorites due to all of their biggest showdowns coming at home, but last season showed us that nothing is a given anymore and the Tide is more mortal now than they have been in years.
Below I project how I believe the SEC West will shake out.
Mississippi State Bulldogs: 4-8 (0-8 SEC)
Losses: LSU, @South Carolina, Alabama, @Arkansas, @Auburn, Kentucky, @Texas A&M, Ole Miss
This is a really tough spot for the Bulldogs after the incredibly unfortunate passing of Mike Leach, one of the most iconic figures in the sport. It’s pretty uncommon to go winless in the SEC, but first-year head coach Zach Arnett has a very tall task. Will Rogers is one of the two or three best quarterbacks in the conference, but they play very a difficult schedule with the only winnable games being Kentucky and Texas A&M. I guess anything could happen in the Egg Bowl, but the Ole Miss squad is just a lot more talented.
Auburn Tigers: 6-6 (2-6 SEC)
Losses: @Texas A&M, Georgia, @LSU, Ole Miss, @Arkansas, Alabama
I must admit, I do think the Hugh Freeze hire was solid for the Tigers, but they have a lot of questions to answer and a difficult schedule. Does Auburn go with Robby Ashford or Michigan State transfer Payton Thorne? At the running back position, Tank Bigsby departed for the NFL and Jarquez Hunter was suspended from the team earlier this week. In 2022, they had no receivers surpass 30 receptions or 500 yards. I think Auburn could up being better than a .500 team, but I am not sure which game they win of their six projected losses outside of maybe A&M.
Texas A&M Aggies: 6-6 (2-6 SEC)
Losses: @Arkansas, Alabama, @Tennessee, South Carolina, @Ole Miss, @LSU
Honestly, 6-6 might even be an over-projection for the reeling Aggies. Just this time last year we were discussing one of the all-time great recruiting classes, and it simply did not pan out. The six projected wins include victories over Miami and Auburn, which could honestly go either way. If Texas A&M has another losing season under Jimbo Fisher, things will get very interesting in College Station. Especially, with their in-state rivals the Texas Longhorns set to join the conference in 2024.
Arkansas Razorbacks: 9-3 (5-3 SEC)
Losses: @LSU, @Ole Miss, @Alabama
I am a big fan of Sam Pittman and what he has done for the Razorbacks program as he has completely revived the program. In the two years prior of Pittman’s arrival, the Hogs went a combined 4-20 and 0-16 in the SEC. KJ Jefferson and Raheim Sanders make up the best QB/RB duo in the SEC and will be tough for any defense to stop. Catching Alabama, LSU and Ole Miss on the road is a bit of a bummer, but their two crossover games are incredibly winnable in Florida and Missouri. Arkansas and Ole Miss will be one of the most enjoyable games of the 2023 season as a neutral observer in my opinion.
Ole Miss Rebels : 9-3 (5-3 SEC)
Losses: @Alabama, LSU, @Georgia
The Rebels are really close to getting over the hump and I think Lane Kiffin is a phenomenal coach that can get them there. He has an absolute superstar in RB Quinshon Judkins, who rushed for 1,567 yards on 274 carries with 16 touchdowns as a true freshman in 2022. As for the quarterback position, Jaxson Dart returns to campus as well as adding former Oklahoma State QB, Spencer Sanders, via the transfer portal. If Ole Miss were in the Big 12 or ACC I think they would be able to compete for the title, but with Alabama, Georgia and LSU on the schedule, it’s tough to see them winning the West. They also face a sneaky difficult out-of-conference game when they go on the road to face the defending Cotton Bowl champion, Tulane, in New Orleans.
LSU Tigers: 11-1 (7-1 SEC)
LSU very well may end up winning the West, but I just don’t think Brian Kelly has it in him to beat Nick Saban in back-to-back years, especially with this year’s matchup taking place in Bryant Denny Stadium. They face one of the easier in-conference schedules outside of traveling to Alabama with Mississippi State, Missouri and Ole Miss being their three other road games. Jayden Daniels is the real deal and has a chance to play himself into a first-round projection ahead of the 2024 NFL draft. Linebacker, Harold Perkins, might be the best player in the SEC regardless of position and the Tigers are the defending champs of the West, so they will get everyone’s best shot week in and week out. The Tigers will face the Florida State Seminoles in Week 1 which will be one of the best games of the entire year in my opinion, especially coming off of a heartbreaking loss to them in 2022.
Alabama Crimson Tide: 12-0 (8-0 SEC)
Going undefeated as an SEC team is no easy task, even Nick Saban has only done it three times. Fortunately, the Tide catch all of their toughest games at home in 2022 with Texas, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Tennessee and LSU all coming to Tuscaloosa. Auburn is the best team they will play on the road, who I project to be 6-6, but we all know the weird things that happen inside Jordan-Hare stadium. A lot of the buzz surrounding the Tide is about what will happen at the quarterback position, but the reality is that the offensive line and running back rooms are extremely strong and will be the focal point of the Alabama offense. Defensively, I expect a massive step forward in 2023 as opposed to what we became accustomed to seeing under Pete Golding. Alabama vs. LSU on Nov. 4 is a de facto SEC Championship semi-final.