Stuart McNair

Although Alabama has difficult schedule and few returning starters, Tide is SEC favorite

This year Alabama goes for third straight SEC football championship

A feature of Southeastern Conference Media Days is that sports reporters – at least about 10 per cent or so of the approximately 900 who cover the event in suburban Birmingham – will predict the order of finish in both the SEC Western Division and the Eastern Division and the winner of the SEC Championship Game.

 

Another feature of the event is that the media almost always gets it wrong. Last year BamaMag.com picked Alabama to win the West, which was correct, and Georgia to win the East, which was terribly wrong. We also had Bama to win the championship; right again.

 

But the media pick to win everything in 2015 was Auburn, which was puzzling at the time and embarrassing when the Tigers were one of the league’s poorest teams.

 

Although you wouldn’t know it by last year’s selection, much thought should be given to trying the near-impossible task of predicting how the season will go for 14 teams which do not play equitable schedules.

 

We go to Hoover and SEC Media Days this week armed with a preseason poll that’s not likely to change based on what we learn in four days of meetings with 14 SEC coaches and 42 SEC football players.

 

What legendary Alabama Coach Paul Bryant called “schedule luck” is not just how it looks at the beginning of the season, but how that can change as teams prove to be either stronger or weaker than expected. But in the preseason the schedule can be examined only for which teams should be strong and where those teams fall on a team’s schedule.

 

Ole Miss, Alabama, and Auburn are considered to have the most difficult schedules among SEC teams; Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee the least challenging.

 

Bryant also talked about injury luck, and there’s no way to predict how that might turn out. Teams which have good depth have a better chance of withstanding bad injury luck. Georgia will start fall practice having experienced bad injury luck already with top tailback Nick Chubb recovering from a knee injury last season and his replacement, Sony Michele, suffering a summer fracture.

 

Players count the most, and experienced players usually help the cause. We do note that a team that was not very good and which has a large number of returning starters may not benefit so much from experience.

 

Last year, Alabama returned a team with a great deal of experience, though not at the most important position -- quarterback. This year Bama ranks among the least experienced teams in terms of returning starters, but Alabama recruiting top classes year after year mitigates that to some extent. Tennessee is getting much love this year as the likely champion of the East (and perhaps beyond that) because it has the most experienced team returning. LSU, which is considered equal to Alabama in most preseason polls, also has an experienced team returning. But so does Vanderbilt.

 

Having a returning starter at quarterback is considered a plus, and that’s the case at Tennessee (Joshua Dobbs), Ole Miss (Chad Kelly), and maybe Auburn. Texas A&M has a quarterback Bama fans are familiar with. Trevor Knight, who shredded the Tide in the Sugar Bowl a couple of years ago, has transferred from Oklahoma to Aggieland. A&M has good talent at many spots and may be the darkhorse in the conference.

 

Alabama does not have an experienced quarterback returning, but won the SEC the past two years with first-year starters.

 

Also, in thinking about this preseason poll, it is reasonable to rely on a conclusion from many years ago:  college football is a coaches’ game, and much credit is given to a man who has proved himself to be in that upper echelon, such as Nick Saban, who has won four national championships at Alabama in the past seven years and also won one at LSU.

 

Finally, for many, many years our belief has been that Alabama will win every game, even although it happens only occasionally. Insofar as the conference title, Bama is historically a good bet. Alabama won its 25th SEC football championship last year, equal to No. 2 Tennessee (13) and No. 3 Georgia (12) combined. 

 

 

So after much study, though probably not enough, we will go to SEC Media Days having determined that our prediction will be:

 

WEST

  1. Alabama (8-0 SEC, 12-0 overall)
  2. LSU (7-1, 11-1)
  3.  Texas A&M (6-2, 10-2)
  4. (T) Ole Miss (4-4, 7-5)

4, (T) Arkansas (4-4, 8-4)

6. (T) Auburn (3-5, 6-6)

6. (T) Mississippi State (3-5, 7-5)

 

EAST

  1. Tennessee (6-2, 10-2)

2. (T) Florida (5-3, 8-4)

2. (T) Georgia (5-3, 8-4)

4. Missouri (3-5, 7-5)

  1. Kentucky (2-6, 6-6)
  2. South Carolina (1-7, 4-8)
  3. Vanderbilt (0-8, 2-10)

 

Champion: Alabama


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