Alabama is expected to enter the 2021 college football season as the favorite to win the SEC West, but whether or not LSU or Texas A&M is the biggest threat to the Crimson Tide at No. 2 is up for debate. The Aggies finished second in the West after a strong 9-1 regular season and an Orange Bowl victory over North Carolina. However, coach Jimbo Fisher’s team has a few holes to address this offseason, including quarterback and a rebuild in the offensive trenches. With a veteran two-deep and a better staff, the Tigers are expected to rebound from a disappointing 5-5 mark. But how high will this team climb in the West?
Will Texas A&M or LSU finish behind Alabama in the SEC West for 2021? How far will the Tigers improve behind a revamped staff? Can the Aggies build off last year's No. 4 ranking in the final poll? Or are the personnel losses too much to overcome. That was the question posed to Athlon editors and college football contributors.
LSU or Texas A&M: Which Team Finishes Higher in the SEC West in 2021?
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
LSU will improve in 2021, but I still like Texas A&M as the No. 2 team in the SEC West behind Alabama. Coach Jimbo Fisher’s program isn’t without a few question marks this year, but there’s no doubt this team is trending up after a 9-1 mark and No. 4 finish last season. Finding a replacement for quarterback Kellen Mond and restocking a standout offensive line that lost four starters are the biggest preseason question marks for Fisher to address. However, the defense should be among the best in college football, and provided the line is stabilized by the opener, the rushing attack will ease the transition for Haynes King or Zach Calzada at quarterback. Texas A&M has to travel to Baton Rouge for the annual showdown but won’t have to play Georgia or Florida in crossover games with the East Division. LSU simply has too much talent to finish 5-5 again and an improved coaching staff will help get this program back on track. However, can all of the problems be addressed in one season? It’s a close call between two very talented teams. I’ll take Fisher and the Aggies to claim the second spot in the West Division.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
It sort of feels like this is the season that Jimbo Fisher has been building up to since taking over at Texas A&M. Yes, Alabama is clearly the team to beat, but the Aggies are probably best positioned to challenge the Crimson Tide in the SEC West. A&M will be breaking in a new quarterback but Fisher has built and developed such a deep roster that whoever ends up under center will have plenty of support, both on offense and defense. LSU certainly doesn't lack for talent, but the Tigers haven't been the same since the bulk of their national championship-winning roster and several key coaches left Baton Rouge. I fully expect the Tigers to be better than they showed last season but it still feels as if they are a bit unsettled (breaking in two new coordinators) and seeking an identity. I'll give the edge to an Aggies team eager to build off of last season's success.
Ben Weinrib (@benweinrib)
Losing Kellen Mond will sting at first, but with all the rest of the Aggies’ skill position talent returning, projected starter Haynes King will have plenty to work with. And as the No. 5 dual-threat QB recruit in 2020, there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic about his future, assuming the line holds up. The defense should be great once again with nine starters returning, and DeMarvin Leal looks like a potential first-round pick. LSU should still be dangerous, and the defense can’t be any worse than it was last year. But now that Jimbo Fisher has had four years to recruit like crazy, A&M has the clear talent edge and more stability in the coaching staff, which makes it team with the best shot to take down Alabama.
Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB)
These are two programs that appear to be trending in different directions, and that swing should continue this fall. Texas A&M may not be a legitimate threat to reach the College Football Playoff (unless they are!), but the Aggies are clearly in a better position to make a run than LSU is this season. Texas A&M may easily finish as high as second place in the SEC West while it may just be a struggle for LSU to finish as high as third.
J.P. Scott (@TheJPScott)
Between losing so much talent over the last two seasons and working in two new coordinators, it's tough to see LSU finishing near the top of the SEC West. On the other hand, Jimbo Fisher has done a pretty good job over the last couple of seasons on the recruiting trail. He'll be working in a new quarterback, but all-in-all, the Aggies have a pretty talented roster — especially on defense. I'll be genuinely stunned if LSU finishes ahead of Texas A&M in 2021.
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