On the surface, there doesn't appear to be a whole lot of guess work in terms of what to expect from the SEC in 2016. Alabama is projected by most fans and media members as the top team in both the conference and the country. Les Miles' LSU Tigers are expected to make a run at the Crimson Tide on the back of their workhorse running back and Heisman favorite Leonard Fournette.
A deeper look, however, reveals a conference with much more parity at the top than meets the eye. Truth be told, the SEC is as wide-open as it has been in years, with as many as seven team that could walk away with the conference championship and a berth in the College Football Playoff.
That, ladies and gentlemen, sets the stage for the outrageous to occur.
Outrageous College Football Predictions for the SEC in 2016
South Carolina won't win a conference game in 2016
As loaded as the SEC is at the top, it's pretty bad at the bottom — and the Gamecocks just might be the worst of the worst. A disturbing lack of offensive experience combined with a defense full of mediocre talent is a recipe for disaster against a conference slate full of tough road games and national title contenders. They might be favored in the three non-conference games against teams not named Clemson, but I'd still be shocked if they won two of them. Oh, and don't look now, but the Gamecocks just went through a coaching change in the offseason.
Leonard Fournette won't eclipse the 1,500-yard mark
This has less to do with Fournette's ability and more to do with his offensive line and the defenses he'll face. The Tigers lost their top two linemen to the NFL Draft in the spring, leaving the right side of the line inexperienced and the left side fairly young. When you factor in games against teams with stout defenses like Wisconsin, Florida, Ole Miss, Alabama and Texas A&M, it's tough to imagine him putting up monster numbers in those games. He'll need video game-like days against lesser opponent, but even then, it’s questionable that he'll get the carries. With leads in those games, Miles is likely to rest Fournette for the long haul in favor of letting the young and talented Derrius Guice close things out.
Alabama will lose two games in September
Like last season, the Crimson Tide will be a much better team at the end of the year than in the early stages. Another mass exodus of key talent means another first month or so of inexperienced players figuring out who they are as a team. During that process, they'll open the season on a neutral field against a loaded and experienced USC team. After what should be a walk-thru against Western Kentucky the following week, Alabama hits the road again, this time to Oxford to play Ole Miss, which has beaten the Tide the past two seasons. If you ignore the names of the teams and just look at the talent and experience on the rosters along with the game locations, I don't see how an un-biased eye can favor the defending national champions in two of the first three matchups.
Florida will win the SEC East again
Winning games is hard. Jim McElwain is apparently pretty good at it, and that's not likely to change anytime soon. He returns a number of key players from a very good defense a season ago and should have one of the more formidable pass rushes in the country. Offensively, the pieces and scheme are in place for a physical running game to become the staple of the Gator offense, which will help Florida control the tempo. Offensive lineman Martez Ivey figures to be an integral part of that process. Their toughest conference road game is at Tennessee, a team that will likely still be healing from the Virginia Tech game two weeks earlier. The schedule sets up favorably for the Gators the rest of the way.
Ole Miss will win the SEC West
The Rebels get a young Alabama team at home early, which should give them an early lead in the division like they had a season ago. After that, they are the most complete team offensively in the West — thanks in large part to quarterback Chad Kelly. Look for Kelly to put up another season of eye-popping numbers, this time resulting in an invite to the Big Apple for the Heisman ceremony. Defensively, the Rebels will continue to reap the benefits of stellar recruiting on that side of the ball. Their defensive line should once again cause chaos, while a talented group of defensive backs roams the secondary and allows Kelly's unit to come out on top of any would-be shootouts.
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.