The SEC West may no longer have a stranglehold on the national title, but there’s little argument it’s the best division in all of college football. And with all seven teams landing in Athlon Sports’ Preseason Top 25, the SEC West also could be the most exciting, if not intriguing, division to watch this season. Alabama is the reigning champion, but Auburn, Ole Miss, LSU and even Arkansas, Texas A&M and Mississippi State all will have something to say about how the West will be won in 2015.
For the purposes of this exercise, projected win totals are broken down into three categories — definite wins, definite losses and toss-ups. Most of the conference games will in the toss-up category, especially ones on the road. This preview will offer thoughts on each team and if there’s any value either over or under.
Note: Over/under odds courtesy of 5Dimes Sportsbook
Alabama Crimson Tide
(Over 9.5 wins -145...Under 9.5 wins +105)
Record Last Year: 12-2, 7-1
Returning Starters: 9 (2 on offense, 7 on defense)
Offense: They might as well have name cards to help identify all the new pieces here. No Amari Cooper, T.J. Yeldon or Blake Sims among others. Jake Coker and David Cornwell battle it out at QB in the classic senior vs. freshman struggle. Thank goodness for Derrick Henry, who rushed for 11 TDs in 2014.
Defense: Kirby Smart is back and that's a good thing for Crimson Tide fans. Reggie Ragland and Cyrus Jones are the best returnees as well as a front line that features A'Shawn Robinson and Jonathan Allen.
Schedule: A neutral-field matchup with Wisconsin starts things off for Alabama. The Tide then play six of their next eight at home. Included in that span are home tilts with Middle Tennessee and Louisiana Monroe.
Selection: I'm going under on Nick Saban's squad. I think they lose at Auburn, Georgia and either Texas A&M or to Wisconsin. There are so many question marks that this team will take a rare step back.
(Over 8.5 wins +115...Under 8.5 wins -155)
Record Last Year: 7-6, 2-6
Returning Starters: 14 (9 on offense, 5 on defense)
Offense: This team figures to run and run and run the ball some more with Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins back. This destructive duo will do so behind pretty much the same offensive line as last year. Brandon Allen threw 20 TDs in 2014 to just five interceptions.
Defense: Taiwan Johnson is back in the middle of a good defensive line. The linebackers will not be the same without Martrell Spaight who was taken in the NFL Draft. This unit allowed just 19.2 points per game last year.
Schedule: The Razorbacks get UTEP, Toledo, Texas Tech and Tennessee-Martin outside of SEC play. The first two weeks of October are Tennessee and Alabama back-to-back on the road.
Selection: The under is the play on Arkansas. Getting road games at Tennessee and Alabama back-to-back before a home tilt with Auburn is extremely tough.
(Over 8.5 wins -190...Under 8.5 wins +150)
Record Last Year: 8-5, 4-4
Returning Starters: 11 (5 on offense, 6 on defense)
Offense: The Jeremy Johnson hype is real as many believe he'll run this offense better then Nick Marshall did. He's got solid WRs in D'haquille Williams, Ricardo Louis and Marcus Davis. The run game will need to be rebuilt a bit with Jovon Robinson and Roc Thomas leading the way.
Defense: Will Muschamp now coaches this unit and he's got some things that need to be fixed. The top three tacklers are back in Johnathan Ford, Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost. Daniel Carlson was a pleasant surprise at kicker in 2014 as a freshman.
Schedule: The Tigers play Louisville in Atlanta on Sept. 5 to open the season. They follow that up with a home game against Jacksonville State. The other two non-SEC games are at home vs. San Jose State and Idaho. The last three tilts on the schedule are all at home.
Selection: I hope you've noticed a trend that the most public conference has had correct line moves for almost every team. The upgrade in the coaching staff with Muschamp will help the defense.
(Over 8 wins -180...Under 8 wins +140)
Record Last Year: 8-5, 4-4
Returning Starters: 13 (7 on offense, 6 on defense)
Offense: Brandon Harris should be under center week 1 with Anthony Jennings' suspension. Harris will need to throw himself into the playbook after struggling with it last year. Leonard Fournette is a stabilizing force in the backfield with Travin Dural and Trey Quinn out wide. If they can figure out QB, watch out for the Tigers' offense.
Defense: Kendell Beckwith leads a defense that struggled with the run at times last year. The Tigers have a young defensive line that will need to get pressure.
Schedule: LSU has an odd mix of cupcakes on their non-conference schedule. They play at home against McNeese State, Eastern Michigan and Western Kentucky while traveling to Syracuse. The Tigers do not spend more then one week away from Baton Rouge.
Selection: Same story, different team as the overwhelming line move to the over is correct. If you are looking for a reason to take the under, look to the uncertainty at QB. I just don't think enough teams on the slate can take advantage of it.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
(Over 7 wins -140...Under 7 wins EVEN)
Record Last Year: 10-3, 6-2
Returning Starters: 7 (4 on offense, 3 on defense)
Offense: It's Dak Prescott and a lot of question marks here. Prescott accounted for 41 touchdowns last year and is the team's leading returning rusher as well. De'Runnya Wilson caught nine touchdowns out wide. The offensive line needs to replace the majority of last year's group.
Defense: Things may get ugly here for Mississippi State as the Bulldogs were gashed through the air in 2014. The Bulldogs lose three of four starters in the secondary. It's bad when a linebacker is tied for the lead in interceptions among returnees.
Schedule: A tricky road game at Southern Miss starts things off before a home tilt with LSU. The other non-SEC matchups are Northwestern State, Troy and Louisiana Tech. Mississippi State finishes up with five of its last seven at home.
Selection: The under is the play here. I'm surprised to see the money coming in on the over because this team lacks SEC talent on both sides of the ball. LSU and Auburn among others will be licking their chops for revenge after losing to Mississippi State last season.
(Over 8.5 wins -110...Under 8.5 wins -130)
Record Last Year: 9-4, 5-3
Returning Starters: 16 (9 on offense,7 on defense)
Offense: It will be great to see Laquon Treadwell back on the field after his gruesome injury. He would have been a first-round pick in the most recent NFL Draft if he stayed healthy. Almost everything is back on this side of the ball except quarterback where the Rebels will start either Chad Kelly or Ryan Buchanan.
Defense: It all starts with Robert Nkemdiche on the front line. This secondary figures to be a strength and will be extra tough with the pressure the front seven will generate.
Schedule: The Rebels play four of their first six at home. They host Tennessee-Martin, Fresno State and New Mexico State in the non-conference along with a road matchup against Memphis. SEC road games will be tough at Alabama, Florida and Auburn.
Selection: I lean to the over as this offense could be the best in the SEC West. The defense should be fun to watch. Don't be surprised if the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft features a ton of Rebels.
Texas A&M Aggies
(Over 7.5 wins -210...Under 7.5 wins +160)
Record Last Year: 8-5, 3-5
Returning Starters: 12 (6 on offense, 6 on defense)
Offense: Kyle Allen figures to win the job at QB, but freshman Kyler Murray will make things difficult. Whomever wins gets a complement of weapons including Speedy Noil, Josh Reynolds and Ricky Seals-Jones. Reynolds had 13 touchdowns in 2014. The run game needs improvement and the school hopes former Wyoming coach Dave Christensen brings it.
Defense: The Aggies managed to lure coordinator John Chavis over from LSU and that's one of the biggest improvements. He'll love having Myles Garrett, who put up 11.5 sacks as a freshman. The linebacking corps may need the most help on this side of the ball.
Schedule: The Aggies don't leave the state of Texas until Oct. 24 when they play at Ole Miss. They take on Arizona State in Houston to start things off before hosting Ball State and Nevada. A&M has just three true road games all year long.
Selection: The over is the right side for this one. John Chavis will help Texas A&M pick up at least one win himself this season. With all these home contests, you can't help but think this team will be a factor in the SEC West. Alabama and Auburn both come to College Station.
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.