The big news in Southeastern Conference football these days doesn’t have anything to do with on-the-field activity, although spring practice is beginning to get underway around the league. Alabama is not expected to start its spring practice until after The University’s spring break, which concludes March 19. The Crimson Tide will have its A-Day Game on April 22.
Since the end of the 2016 season, the unfortunate end being Alabama’s loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, the nuts and bolts of SEC conversation had been on recruiting (Alabama finished No. 1) and the shuffling of coaching staffs. Alabama in the forefront of that subject, too, with the addition of three new offensive coaches, including Brian Daboll as new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
And then came the hardball from the NCAA at Ole Miss, numerous allegations of improprieties, including the dreaded lack of institutional control and Head Coach Hugh Freeze charged with failure to monitor. Although we are some months from a final resolution, no one doubts the serious situation for the Rebels and the likelihood the football program is in for rough sledding in future seasons…perhaps as early as this season.
There is never a shortage of speculation regarding SEC football. One of the major questions heading into the 2017 season will focus on what team or teams might challenge Coach Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide. Bama has won three consecutive SEC championships and Alabama is the early favorite to rule again this season.
As we have pointed out, a number of national preseason polls have been released. We have also noted that preseason polls even right before the start of the season usually prove to be flawed, and those before the start of spring practice are even more problematic.
Alabama is the consensus number one in the nation in these early polls, and one has to get down to the second 10 in most of them to find the SEC challengers.
SEC observers seem to agree that the Western Division will again hold the strength. LSU, which also has a new offensive coordinator, is generally regarded as the most likely challenger to the Tide. But Auburn, also with a new offensive coordinator and also with a transfer quarterback the Tigers expect to fix the woes of the past couple of years, is also given consideration.
And the NCAA distraction notwithstanding, some are also giving Ole Miss a chance to contend, at least for one more season. Arkansas and Texas A&M both seem to have backs to the wall. Mississippi State doesn’t get much preseason credit, but Coach Dan Mullen has proved that he gets the most possible out of the Bulldogs.
Florida has won the last two Eastern Division championships, but the Gators had serious losses from last year’s team. Georgia is expected to be the top team in that division under second year coach Kirby Smart. The only other SEC team from the East getting any reasonable support as a challenger is Tennessee. Most feel Coach Butch Jones’s team had its best chance to return to prominence last year, but the Vols return a lot of experience and a good quarterback in Joshua Dobbs.
South Carolina under Will Muschamp will have to have recruiting success to build back to contender status, but a team with good defense — and Muschamp knows defense — can have success. Kentucky was surprisingly strong last year and the Wildcats will have some confidence. Vanderbilt also feels it is getting closer, but the Commodores will likely battle Missouri to stay out of the East basement.