Last week I made my prediction for how the SEC East would finish in the 2017 football season. Here is how I see the SEC West playing out. I disagree a little with the media picks at SEC media days.
Alabama: While there must be a season where the Tide’s run of division championships ends, at this point picking someone else to win it is just trying to be different. There is the old saying about a team not rebuilding, just reloading. Alabama is a step beyond that. It seems like they just change the names on the jerseys of the same players. I would name key players but, other than Jalen Hurts, it is hard to single out this or that player that is critical to this team. The roster and depth chart is stacked with talent. If there is any single weakness it might be this idea that Nick Saban seems to have that he must adapt to a changing game. I think the more he gets away from what he has done so well on offense, the more he opens the door for failure. If you have the best offensive line, the best running backs and a smothering defense, you do not need to get cute on offense. Just do what you do better than everyone else. Yes, you will occasionally lose a game but that is going to happen no matter what.
Auburn: The Tigers, or War Eagles, or whatever they are this week get my vote for second in the West for one reason only. Jarrett Stidham appears to be the perfect quarterback for Gus Malzahn’s offense. When Gus has the right guy taking snaps his offense is nearly unstoppable. Stidham should be that guy. The defense seems to be recovering from the Muschamp experiment and that should be enough to make Auburn competitive in the West.
LSU: I am not a big believer in crazy Ed Orgeron but I think there is a substantial drop off in talent from the top three in this division and the others. The Tigers get third by default. The critical game for LSU may well be when they travel to Gainesville to be the Gators’ homecoming opponent. If LSU cannot respond to the embarrassment of begging their way into a home game against Florida last season, then losing and now being picked for homecoming, it will be indicative of where the program is at this point. LSU has a very solid roster on both sides of the ball despite the departure of the much-heralded Leonard Fournette. Derrius Guice, while not as flashy as Fournette, might be more dependable and consistent.
Mississippi State: This is where I differ from the media days folks. I have grown tired of waiting for Arkansas to finally live up to the claim that they have arrived. Dan Mullen has proven he can win with a good quarterback and he has that with Nick Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald will likely be a future starter in the NFL. I expect Mullen to take advantage of that talent and win some big games this season. If new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham can field an effective unit the Bulldogs could make some noise in the West.
Arkansas: This team is an enigma. Just when you are convinced they are horrid they pull off a big upset. However, the Razorbacks have yet to put together a consistent season under Bret Bielema. This season Bielema has a returning quarterback, Austin Allen, that should be a star. If Bielema does not contend for the division in 2017 it will grow hard to convince fans that he ever will. An early matchup with TCU will go a long way to determine whether Arkansas can improve on last year’s 6 loss season. They do get the benefit of playing two of the weaker teams in the SEC East in South Carolina and Missouri.
Texas A&M: There is something missing in College Station. This is another SEC team with a critical game on opening weekend. Kevin Sumlin is beginning to lose support. An opening day loss to UCLA where Jim Mora is also fighting for his job could put Sumlin behind the eight ball right off the bat. Aside from the brutal SEC West, the Aggies also must travel to Gainesville to face Florida. This is why I gave Arkansas the nod over A&M.
OLE Miss: It would be difficult to name a program more in disarray than this one. Embattled head coach Hugh Freeze was finally forced to resign when yet another troubling issue sprang up this time involving his phone and a business of ill-repute. Is that Deborah Harry singing in the background? NCAA sanctions are looming. The roster’s talent in dwindling. Potential star quarterback Shea Patterson is unlikely to be enough to hold this team together. Perhaps, if the team develops an “us against the world” mentality and plays loose with no postseason at stake, the Rebels can move up the rankings in the West. I doubt it though.