The SEC West will flex its muscles once again in the conference with a lot of talent coming back in this division. Alabama and LSU figure to lead the way while Ole Miss, Arkansas and even Texas A&M could make things interesting. For one thing, this offseason has been filled with headlines that the West would not like to be known for. They'll be as excited as anyone that the season is about to begin.
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 South Point Casino
Alabama Crimson Tide
(Over 9.5 wins -135...Under 9.5 wins +115)
Record Last Year: 14-1, 7-1
Returning Starters: 11 (6 on offense, 5 on defense)
Offense: Cooper Bateman is blessed with Calvin Ridley, ArDarius Stewart and O.J. Howard, who it seems is in for more work this season. The O-line could be an issue although Cam Robinson will hold down left tackle. Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris lead the way in the backfield.
Defense: Kirby Smart is gone, but stepping in is Jeremy Pruitt. He has a group that should be real good. The strength is in the secondary with Eddie Jackson leading the way. The front line has just Jonathan Allen back, but the rest of the group is highly touted and finally getting a chance to make an impact.
Schedule: The Crimson Tide open up with USC in Arlington, Texas, followed by Western Kentucky. They finish out the year with three home games and play just four true road matchups with one being at LSU.
Selection: Seriously, how can anyone not play the over? Nick Saban is the best head coach in America and if Bateman can figure things out early, I see only two losses at the most. The schedule lines up nicely for the Tide to be there in the end yet again.
(Over 7.5 wins -120...Under 7.5 wins EVEN)
Record Last Year: 8-5, 5-3
Returning Starters: 13 (4 on offense, 9 on defense)
Offense: This group figures to take a step back after putting up almost 36 points per game in 2015. Austin Allen is under center and he'll get some help from seniors Keon Hatcher, Drew Morgan and Dominique Reed out wide. This unit figures to rely more on the pass then the Razorbacks have in the past.
Defense: The Razorbacks were awful against the pass last year, but that should change with nine starters back. Brooks Ellis is a good place to start at middle linebacker with the rest of his running mates back. Special teams weren't that special last year.
Schedule: The Razorbacks get Louisiana Tech, TCU, Texas State and Alcorn State outside of SEC play. They actually play three straight games against Texas-based schools. The most friendly stretch is four of five at home from Oct 8-Nov. 12, which includes dates with Alabama, Ole Miss and LSU.
Selection: The over is the play here unless the price gets much higher. Arkansas gets almost all of the best teams in conference at home and should be able to take care of business out-of-conference as well. The defense will be a lot better.
(Over 7 wins -120...Under 7 wins EVEN)
Record Last Year:7-6, 2-6
Returning Starters: 11 (6 on offense, 5 on defense)
Offense: Jeremy Johnson didn't quite live up to the hype and now is battling John Franklin III for the starting QB job. There have been good things coming out about Franklin so this will be one to watch. Marcus Davis is back with all of 181 receiving yards last year. The middle of the offensive line is back, which should open some holes up in the run game.
Defense: The front line is going to be real strong with Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams. Rudy Ford and Carlton Davis are important pieces to the secondary. The linebackers will be the weakest part of this side of the ball with potentially all new starters.
Schedule: Auburn hosts Clemson, Arkansas State, ULM and Alabama A&M. Gus Malzahn’s team doesn't leave home until Oct. 8, which is six games in. The Tigers close with three of their final five on the road, including stops at Alabama and Georgia.
Selection: I think seven is a very good number. Auburn has its issues, but the Tigers have enough "easy" games on their schedule to make it close to the number.
(Over 10 wins EVEN...Under 10 wins -120)
Record Last Year: 9-3, 5-3
Returning Starters: 18 (8 on offense, 10 on defense)
Offense: Leonard Fournette ran for almost 2,000 yards and had 22 rushing touchdowns for the Tigers last year. This year the surrounding cast is pretty much the same especially with Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural out wide. Returning starting QB Brandon Harris is the key though, as he just has to do enough with his arm to help open up running lanes for Fournette.
Defense: There are returnees up and down the roster here. Dave Aranda becomes the third defensive coordinator in three years and he wants to move to a 3-4 alignment. Luckily LSU can pull it off with guys like LB Kendell Beckwith back. Tre'Davious White and Rickey Jefferson solidify the secondary.
Schedule: The Tigers open with Wisconsin in Green Bay, but then play three of their next four at home. LSU has Jacksonville State, Southern Miss and South Alabama out of conference. They also play four of their final six in Death Valley.
Selection: I think 10 is a good number. I'd lean to the over though especially if Harris becomes more of a threat in the pocket. Fournette is going to get his yards and touchdowns, but can Harris make the play on the road at Florida or Arkansas when LSU needs it?
Mississippi State Bulldogs
(Over 6.5 wins -120...Under 6.5 wins EVEN)
Record Last Year: 9-4, 4-4
Returning Starters: 11 (5 on offense, 6 on defense)
Offense: Dak Prescott is gone with the expectation that sophomore Nick Fitzgerald will take over as the starter. Thankfully, Fred Ross and his 1,007 yards receiving are back to give the new QB a reliable target. The offensive line should be strong for lead RB Brandon Holloway.
Defense: Peter Sirmon comes over from USC and is bringing a 3-4 defense. A.J. Jefferson had 13.5 tackles for a loss last year and may push that this year. With all the controversy surrounding Jeffery Simmons and his addition to the roster, the freshman has some things to prove. The rest of the group is alright. Special teams is solid as well.
Schedule: The Bulldogs have an odd game against UMass in Foxboro as part of a non-conference slate that also includes South Alabama, BYU and Samford. They play at Alabama and LSU.
Selection: Last year I loved the under here and was dead wrong. This year, I like the under once again especially at even money. The road is tough with a few home games that are going to be tricky as well. The QB issues will hold this team back.
(Over 8 wins -130...Under 8 wins +110)
Record Last Year: 10-3, 6-2
Returning Starters: 10 (5 on offense, 5 on defense)
Offense: Some big names are gone, but the cupboard isn't bare. QB Chad Kelly has TE Evan Engram and WRs Quincy Adeboyejo and Damore'ea Stringfellow back. Kelly will be playing for his NFL Draft position so he'll be highly motivated.
Defense: Marquis Haynes and his 10 sacks are back as this unit has to try and replace Robert Nkemdiche's talent up front. The linebackers could be the weak part of the team's 4-2-5 alignment. Tony Conner's back in the secondary and he's got the potential to be a first-round pick in next year’s NFL Draft.
Schedule: The Rebels play four of their first five at home although the opener is against Florida State in Orlando. They also host Wofford, Memphis and Georgia Southern outside of SEC play. Ole Miss plays just four true road games although two of them are at LSU and Arkansas.
Selection: I like the number eight for Ole Miss. I think the Rebels slip up against Florida State as well as struggle with LSU, Alabama and Arkansas. If you asked me to make a lean, I'd play the over, but I just don't love it.
Texas A&M Aggies
(Over 6.5 wins -115...Under 6.5 wins -105)
Record Last Year: 8-5, 4-4
Returning Starters: 12 (6 on offense, 6 on defense)
Offense: Trevor Knight comes over from Oklahoma, which is a real nice addition given all the turnover at the QB position. He's got arguably the best WR group in the SEC with Speedy Noil, Ricky Seals-Jones, Christian Kirk and Josh Reynolds. The offensive line could have some struggles when it comes to protecting Knight.
Defense: Myles Garrett is back along with Daeshon Hall, with this duo combining for 19.5 sacks last year. The secondary returns three starters with Armani Watts leading the way. Linebacker will be a question outside of Shaan Washington.
Schedule: The Aggies close out the year with three at home, getting Ole Miss and LSU at their place. The non-conference slate is UCLA, Prairie View, UTSA and New Mexico State. Getting Tennessee and Alabama back-to-back won't be fun.
Selection: I love the over here and it may be my favorite play on the board. The Aggies have the pieces in place on both sides of the ball that will make them a factor. Kevin Sumlin will have to prove something this year that a lot of his success wasn't Johnny Manziel-driven.
— 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.