SEC

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#9 LSU Tigers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#9

SEC West PREDICTION

#2

HEAD COACH: Les Miles, 112-32 (11 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Cam Cameron | DEF. COORDINATOR: Dave Aranda

LSU’s 2015 season ended in bizarre fashion, as there was plenty of doubt on coach Les Miles’ future entering the regular season finale against Texas A&M. However, after beating the Aggies, Miles was retained for 2016 and returns a roster capable of contending for a spot in the College Football Playoff. For LSU to win the SEC and claim a playoff spot, the passing game has to improve behind quarterback Brandon Harris. Running back Leonard Fournette will carry the offense once again, but Harris and his receivers have to provide more balance. Dave Aranda was one of the top coordinator hires in the nation, and the defense should rank among the best in the SEC with 10 returning starters.     

Follow Athlon Sports on Twitter: @AthlonSports

Previewing LSU’s Offense 
 

Returning as a Heisman Trophy frontrunner after setting LSU’s single-season rushing record, Leonard Fournette will once again buoy a Tigers offense that broke out in a Texas Bowl win against Texas Tech but is still searching for a consistent passing game. Fournette will be a workhorse, but returning quarterback Brandon Harris gets his two leading receivers back — along with a new position coach in Dameyune Craig — in hopes of reinvigorating a stagnant passing attack.

Harris and Purdue transfer Danny Etling battled throughout the spring, when Harris took most of the first-team reps. Harris said offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s move from the press box to the sidelines in the Texas Bowl aided his progression and said it’d be “paramount” to the unit’s success this year.

It also helps to have Fournette, who needs 13 yards to become the fastest back in school history to reach 3,000 yards. The development of sophomore Derrius Guice could give Fournette an opportunity to lighten his workload. They will run behind an offensive line that absorbed the losses of senior Vadal Alexander and Jerald Hawkins — LSU’s only early entrant into the NFL Draft. Ethan Pocic, whom Les Miles has called one of the most versatile linemen he’s ever coached, steadies the line at center.

Previewing LSU’s Defense 
 

Order a copy of Athlon's 2016 SEC College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

LSU’s third defensive coordinator in three seasons, Dave Aranda ushers in a new era, bringing a 3-4 alignment to Baton Rouge for the first time in Les Miles’ tenure.

Returning ends Arden Key and Lewis Neal will now play a more stand-up, outside rushing role, though Aranda’s flexible front won’t allow them to abandon the traditional, hand-in-the-dirt position. Interior linemen Christian LaCouture and Greg Gilmore will stay inside, but Aranda’s preached a more aggressive, active plan for them to get up the field.

Kendell Beckwith headlines an otherwise thin linebacking corps that was boosted by the emergence of mid-year enrollee Devin White in the spring. Donnie Alexander also impressed in spring to earn a spot. Senior Duke Riley, who saw some time at middle linebacker last season, expects to play more outside in Aranda’s scheme.

The scheme may change, but LSU’s loaded defensive backfield will not. Tre’Davious White, who was chosen to wear the program’s revered No. 18 last season as a junior, returns for a final season in Baton Rouge after leading the team with seven pass break-ups last season. Jamal Adams, a hard-hitting junior who had four interceptions last season and played his way into second-team All-SEC honors, returns at safety alongside Rickey Jefferson — another three-year letterman and rising senior in this veteran, deep position group that promises to anchor Aranda’s new-look defense.

Previewing LSU’s Specialists
 

Trent Domingue started last season 10-of-10 and was a Lou Groza Award semifinalist, eventually finishing 13-for-17 in his first season as LSU’s primary placekicker. Reloading the Australian punter pipeline, the Tigers will likely turn to Domingue or Aussie redshirt freshman Josh Growden to replace the graduated Jamie Keehn, another Aussie who was LSU’s starting punter for the last three seasons.

Final Analysis
 

LSU returns 18 starters from a team that, at its peak, was No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings and had the presumed Heisman Trophy winner. A trip to Tuscaloosa sent the season, and Miles’ job security, into a tailspin before the Tigers ended their season on a two-game winning streak and kept Miles. Aranda’s arrival interjected exuberance into a defense that struggled at times last season, but it was hardly the main problem. LSU’s offense will need to, once again, refine its passing game and get consistent quarterback play if the Tigers hope to live up to their lofty preseason expectations.  

The Debate

Is Dave Aranda the best assistant coach hire for 2016?

Click here to join the debate.




5 Reasons Why Ole Miss Can Win the SEC West in 2016

Ole Miss returns only nine starters this fall. Can the Rebels beat Alabama again?
5 Reasons Why Ole Miss Can Win the SEC West in 2016

Alabama is the perennial favorite, once again, to win the SEC West. It gets old hearing that every year, but the Crimson Tide have earned it. Then there's LSU, a team that couldn't possibly be more loaded headed into the fall. Call the Tigers this year's "trendy" pick if you will.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#10 Ole Miss Rebels

NATIONAL FORECAST

#10

SEC West PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Hugh Freeze, 34-18 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Matt Luke, Dan Werner | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jason Jones, Dave Wommack

Even with the departure of three NFL first-round picks, Ole Miss isn’t going to slip too far in the SEC West. The Rebels return the SEC’s top quarterback in Chad Kelly, and there’s a host of talented receivers waiting to emerge as a replacement for standout Laquon Treadwell. The biggest concern on offense is the line, but true freshman Greg Little could provide stability this fall. Each level of the defense suffered key losses, yet five returning starters form a solid foundation for 2016. Coach Hugh Freeze has to quickly find the right answers, as Ole Miss has one of the nation’s toughest starts to the season, featuring matchups against Florida State, Alabama and Georgia. 

Follow Athlon Sports on Twitter: @AthlonSports

Previewing Ole Miss’ Offense 
 

The Rebels have stability under center, and that’s where all great teams start. Chad Kelly threw for 4,042 yards and 31 touchdowns and is the top returning quarterback in the SEC.

Great quarterbacks need great blind-side protection, and Kelly had that for the latter half of last season when Laremy Tunsil returned from his suspension. Whether he has it this season remains to be seen, and much of that responsibility is expected to fall to true freshman Greg Little. Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze raves about Little’s athleticism, but it’s a lot to ask of a true freshman to step in at left tackle from Day 1. Three other offensive line positions will have new starters.

Laquon Treadwell, a once-in-a-generation-type player, leaves a hole at wide receiver, but the Rebels have the depth and talent to be strong at the position once again. Washington transfer Damore’ea Stringfellow had 36 catches in his first season at Ole Miss. Senior tight end Evan Engram is a weapon in the passing game as well.

Senior Akeem Judd and junior Jordan Wilkins are bigger backs than Freeze has typically had at Ole Miss. They both averaged more than 5.0 yards per carry in backup roles last year.

Previewing Ole Miss’ Defense 
 

Order a copy of Athlon's 2016 SEC College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

In spite of the loss of tackle Robert Nkemdiche, the Rebels figure to be talented and experienced up front. Junior end Marquis Haynes provides a pass rush threat off the edge. His 10 sacks last year tied a school record. Fadol Brown is a bigger body at the other end who could gain more NFL attention if his consistency improves. The wild card here is senior Issac Gross, who missed almost the entire 2015 season after neck surgery. He will be a disruptive presence in the backfield if he remains healthy.

The Rebels must replace two starting safeties but have recruited well at the position in recent seasons. Senior Tony Conner returns at nickel back in the 4-2-5 after missing most of 2015 following a knee injury in Week 3 at Alabama. He was a projected first-round pick before the injury.

Freeze was not able to address needs at middle linebacker to the level he had hoped on Signing Day. He continued to search for players and landed a couple of promising newcomers in graduate transfer Rommel Mageo and junior college transfer Detric Bing-Dukes. Mageo led Oregon State with 87 tackles last year and will be the favorite in August to win the starting job.

The Rebels have star potential at outside linebacker in junior DeMarquis Gates. He became a starter only when Denzel Nkemdiche’s season ended in early November, but Gates finished with a team-high 76 tackles.

Previewing Ole Miss’ Specialists  
 

Junior kicker Gary Wunderlich hit 19-of-25 field goal attempts and converted all 63 PATs to become the SEC’s top scorer at the position. Wunderlich doubled as the team’s long-distance punter. Freeze would like to use junior punter Will Gleeson, a rugby-style kicker, more often and is hopeful that Gleeson will bounce back after struggling late last season. Ole Miss has had solid kick and punt coverage units, but the Rebels have not produced enough big plays in the return game.

Final Analysis
 

The Rebels are 19–7 overall and 11–5 in the league in the last two seasons, highlighted by two wins over Alabama and a dominating win over Oklahoma State in the Sugar Bowl in January. This team has the talent to contend in the SEC West once again, but the offensive line must become a team strength and provide suitable protection for Kelly. If that happens, the Rebels’ offense should have little trouble scoring points. The defense loses its most talented player in Robert Nkemdiche, but there is star power on every level. Another top-10 finish is well within reach. 

The Debate

Does Ole Miss have the SEC's toughest non-conference schedule?

Click here to join the debate.




Ranking the SEC's College Football Coaches for 2016

Alabama's Nick Saban ranks No. 1.
Ranking the SEC's College Football Coaches for 2016

Success with any college football team starts with coaching. Even if a program doesn’t have the resources of the nation’s elite jobs, a good coach can elevate a program into national title contention. However, similar to any position on the field, statistics may not tell the full story when judging a coaching tenure.

 

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#16 Georgia Bulldogs

NATIONAL FORECAST

#16

SEC East PREDICTION

#2

HEAD COACH: Kirby Smart, First Year | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jim Chaney | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mel Tucker

It’s a new era for Georgia’s football program, as Mark Richt’s 15-year stint in Athens ended after the regular season, and former Alabama assistant Kirby Smart was hired to lead his alma mater to SEC titles. Smart inherits plenty of talent, but the Bulldogs also feature question marks on both sides of the ball. On offense, there’s uncertainty under center with true freshman Jacob Eason and Greyson Lambert battling for the starting job. Additionally, running back Nick Chubb is recovering from a serious knee injury. Georgia boasts one of the SEC’s top defensive backfields, but the front seven has to be retooled.

Follow Athlon Sports on Twitter: @AthlonSports

Previewing Georgia’s Offense 
 

For an offensive-minded coach known for developing quarterbacks, Mark Richt’s downfall at Georgia came down to those two things. When Mike Bobo left after 2014, Richt didn’t make the right hire to replace him, and Georgia’s passing-challenged offense sputtered to a ranking of 83rd nationally in 2015.

Enter Kirby Smart, a defensive-minded coach who had long had his eye on a couple assistant coaches to fill his staff. So he closed in on offensive coordinator and QB guru Jim Chaney and offensive line coach Sam Pittman, the latter of whom required a three-year contract at $650,000 per season to pry him away from Arkansas.

So how quickly will things be turned around? Potentially pretty quickly. The quarterback spot already looks better, whether it’s fifth-year senior Greyson Lambert (who started all but one game last year after parachuting in from Virginia) having a full offseason in Georgia, or five-star freshman Jacob Eason living up to his potential. And don’t rule out junior Brice Ramsey and his strong arm.

All eyes will be on how soon Nick Chubb will get back on the field, and how close to his old form he’ll be after significant knee surgery. Either way, junior Sony Michel — who rushed for more than 1,000 yards despite starting only six games last year — is back. Receivers Terry Godwin and Isaiah McKenzie offer dynamic options, and tight end is very deep.

Ultimately, the course of this offense may come down to quarterback and offensive line — which loses two starters — the two spots that plagued Richt’s final Georgia team.

Previewing Georgia’s Defense
 

Order a copy of Athlon's 2016 SEC College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Smart inherits a pretty good group on defense. Jeremy Pruitt, who replaced Smart in his old job as Alabama’s defensive coordinator, did a solid job recruiting on his side of the ball in two years at Georgia. The strength should be the secondary, which returns almost everybody from the nation’s top-ranked pass defense. That’s a tad deceiving, as Georgia faced two triple-option teams, and its schedule wasn’t that strong — Alabama, for instance, picked apart the Bulldogs secondary. But safety Dominick Sanders was first-team All-SEC and anchors a very talented group.

The front seven is inexperienced but offers plenty of upside. Defensive tackle Trent Thompson, considered by many to be  the nation’s best overall recruit last year, showed flashes. He’s joined by a deep class of sophomores and freshmen. The only question is how quickly this unit can harness all that talent.

The big question is at linebacker, where Georgia lost team MVP Jake Ganus, an inside linebacker, and outside linebackers Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd. Outside linebackers Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter are two talented juniors who could disrupt opposing passing games. Reggie Carter, who missed most of last year with a shoulder problem, is healthy again to play inside linebacker, and sophomores Natrez Patrick and Roquan Smith have high upside.

Previewing Georgia’s Specialists
 

McKenzie, in just two years, has already tied Georgia’s school record for return touchdowns and punt return touchdowns. His only issue will be staying healthy. The kicking spots are a concern. Marshall Long was signed to be the punter. The placekicking job will be occupied by a walk-on. There could be some very tense moments when Georgia is attempting field goals this year.

Final Analysis
 

Smart’s first season sets up a lot like Richt’s final few: A chance for a 10-win season, but maybe not quite enough to win it all. For it all to come together, quarterback play and blocking will have to be much better, the inexperienced front seven will have to play well immediately, and the kicking game will have to be unexpectedly good. That’s a lot to ask. But the pieces are still there to contend in the mediocre SEC East. 

The Debate

Is Jacob Eason already one of the SEC's top quarterbacks?

Click here to join the debate.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#20 Florida Gators

NATIONAL FORECAST

#20

SEC East PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Jim McElwain, 10-4 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Doug Nussmeier | DEF. COORDINATOR: Geoff Collins

Florida was one of college football’s biggest surprises last season. The Gators finished 10-4 and claimed the SEC East title under first-year coach Jim McElwain. While McElwain’s first season was a success, there’s plenty of work ahead for this team in 2016. The offense struggled after the suspension of quarterback Will Grier in the second half of last year. Transfer Luke Del Rio is slated to replace Treon Harris under center, but question marks remain on the offensive line and in the receiving corps. Despite losing a couple of key pieces, the defense should remain one of the best in the SEC. Winning the East Division once again will be a challenge, but an improved offense should allow Florida to stay within striking distance of Tennessee and Georgia in 2016. 

Follow Athlon Sports on Twitter: @AthlonSports

Previewing Florida’s Offense 
 

In four seasons under Will Muschamp, the Florida Gators had five different starting quarterbacks, three offensive coordinators and some of the nation’s least-productive attacks. Florida hired Jim McElwain to breathe some life into the side of the ball the Gators were known for under Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer.

Florida showed promise early on, highlighted by a 38-point outburst against Ole Miss. But after the NCAA suspended quarterback Will Grier for violating its policy on performance-enhancing drugs, the Gators went into a tailspin with Treon Harris at the helm.

McElwain now turns to transfer Luke Del Rio, the son of Oakland Raiders coach Jack Del Rio, or Purdue graduate transfer Austin Appleby. The winner of the quarterback race will become Florida’s ninth starting quarterback since Tim Tebow’s final season, in 2009.

Last season, the Gators’ lack of depth and experience up front were hard to overcome. At times UF started three true freshmen and ended the season surrendering a nation-leading 45 sacks. Left tackle David Sharpe is the veteran of the group, while sophomore Martez Ivey looks to live up to his billing as the nation’s No. 1 offensive line recruit in 2015.

McElwain values a physical run game, the backbone of his offenses during four seasons at Alabama (2008-11). Sophomore Jordan Scarlett hopes to emerge from the shadow of 1,000-yard rusher Kelvin Taylor and lead Florida’s trio of tailbacks. Keep an eye on juco transfer Mark Thompson.

Receiver Antonio Callaway is a gamebreaker who averaged 17.6 yards and scored six touchdowns on 69 touches. But the Gators still need more from their receiving corps. 

Previewing Florida’s Defense
 

 Order a copy of Athlon's 2016 SEC Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Muschamp left behind the ingredients for a top defense, and new defensive coordinator Geoff Collins did not squander the opportunity. The Gators ranked fourth in the SEC in both total defense and scoring defense in 2015. But the physical and mental fatigue of propping up a moribund offense took its toll, and Florida yielded 503 yards to Michigan during a 41–7 Citrus Bowl beat-down.

The Gators look to bounce back despite losing some key pieces, including two All-Americans (cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and tackle Jon Bullard) and a tone-setting safety (Keanu Neal). Many quality players remain, beginning with All-SEC cornerback Jalen Tabor and one of the SEC’s best linebackers, senior Jarrad Davis. Junior cornerback Quincy Wilson and senior safety Marcus Maye are established SEC talents, giving Florida a top secondary once again.

The Gators’ defensive line is loaded, beginning with tackle Caleb Brantley and end Cece Jefferson. Senior end Bryan Cox Jr. is equally effective against the run and pass, while two young ends — Keivonnis Davis and Jabari Zuniga — have bright futures. Quality depth abounds, too.

Previewing Florida’s Specialists

Placekicker Austin Hardin has moved on after making just 16-of-36 field goals at Florida, opening the door for Eddy Pineiro, a former Alabama commit best known for kicking a 77-yard field goal on YouTube. Punter Johnny Townsend is among the nation’s best and averaged 45.4 yards per kick in 2015. Callaway scored twice as a punt returner.

Final Analysis
 

McElwain led Florida to a 6–0 start and its first top-10 ranking in three seasons en route to the Gators’ first outright SEC East title since 2009. But a season-ending three-game skid exposed Florida’s deficiencies on offense, and teams outscored the Gators 97–24 during that stretch. Despite the ugly finish, McElwain brought a new vibe to the program, selling out The Swamp four times and overseeing facility upgrades. But to take the next step on the field, McElwain must develop a long-term answer at quarterback.

The Debate

Was Jim McElwain the Best New Coach Hire of 2015?

Click here to join the debate.




College Football Podcast: Preseason 2016 Top 25 Release

Listen in as we break down our Top 25.
College Football Podcast: Official 2016 Top 25 Release

Braden Gall and Steven Lassan break down every single team in the Athlon Sports Preseason Top 25.

 

- How deep is the Pac-12 and how many teams could legitimately win the title? And will the "surprise" conference champ make the Playoff?

 

15 Biggest Wild Card College Football Teams in 2016

Which teams are the toughest to rank in 2016?
15 Biggest Wild Card College Football Teams in 2016

Kickoff for the 2016 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about rankings, predictions and previews for the upcoming year. For most college football fans, one of the annual traditions each summer is the trip to the newsstand to pick up a preview magazine. The good news? The wait is almost over.

Ranking the Toughest Games on South Carolina's College Football Schedule in 2016

New Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp has plenty to work with on defense in his first year in Columbia
Ranking the Toughest Games on South Carolina's College Football Schedule in 2016

South Carolina comes into the 2016 season off an ugly showing last year. The Gamecocks finished 3-9 with losses in seven of their last eight games (including a loss to The Citadel at home).

15 Best FBS vs. FCS Football Games in 2016

After losing at Auburn in overtime last season, Eli Jenkins and Jacksonville State will head to Death Valley to face LSU on Sept. 10
15 Best FBS vs. FCS Football Games in 2016

FCS teams upsetting FBS programs have come to be one of the leading storylines early in a college football season. Over the first few weekends, Cinderella fires up fans as if it’s March.

 

Pages