Top SEC West Questions

The big SEC West questions with spring football a few weeks away.

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It’s all relative, but is the Alabama defense slipping?

The Alabama defense was hardly awful last season, finishing fourth in the nation against the run, 12th overall, and sixth in scoring defense, but it’s not like it was the brutally dominant brick wall it was during some of Nick Saban’s national championship seasons. The mystique was erased a bit by Johnny Manziel and then Trevor Knight, but last year it was hard to argue with 11 straight games to start the season allowing 24 points or fewer and with six games giving up 14 or fewer. Auburn’s Nick Marshall exposed the secondary a bit, and then Ohio State got nasty and pounded its way to national title game, but that doesn’t mean the wheels are coming off. This year, there’s way too much talent up front – as always – not to expect yet another huge year from the run defense – Wisconsin will test that out right away – but that’s not the real problem. Forget how Ohio State gashed the front seven – the real key is a secondary that has been way too soft at times and hasn’t come up with the lockdown cover-corners it needs. It’s a bit much to call the Bama corners an Achilles’ heel, but they have to be better. Everyone of note at corner is back, but losing SS Landon Collins is going to hurt.

Is the Auburn offense going to be more 2013 or 2014?

Gut feeling – everyone is going to assume the Auburn offense will be fine, but it’s not going to get the play it received coming off the whopper of a 2013 season, and then … boom. Nick Marshall was a far, far better passer than he ever received credit for, and Cameron Artis-Payne had a nice year as the main back, but this season it’ll be extremely interesting to see what Jeremy Johnson does. Everyone around the program swears that the 6-5, 230-pound quarterback has the ability to take things to a whole other level, and with D’haquille Williams back as a dangerous No. 1 target, watch out for the passing game. It’s Auburn, so the running game will rock even with changes in the backfield, but if this is going to work, and if this is going to be a really, really big year, Johnson has to be a Heisman-caliber baller.

What’s the deal with the LSU quarterbacks?

Uhhhhh, Everett Golson? Anthony Jennings wasn’t totally miserable, and Brandon Harris wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t pretty. Jennings didn’t hit half of his passes, and Harris just didn’t provide any spark. It would’ve been interesting to see if the quarterback play was any better if Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry were still around, but Travin Dural, Malchi Dupre and John Diarse are players. Remember, the top four receivers from last year were underclassmen, so as they mature and improve, and as Leonard Fournette becomes more and more of a factor as a next-level looking running back, the quarterback play should be better, too.

Let’s be honest. Is Texas A&M really a threat to win an SEC title, or is it just a fun novelty?

The offense came into the SEC like a thunderstorm with Johnny Manziel, Mike Evans, and the devastating attack rocking and rolling, but without winning anything. It’s not A&M’s fault that it’s in the SEC West, but that’s the deal, and now Kevin Sumlin has to figure out how to navigate through it. Last year showed that you need a little bit of a defense, too. For as much success as A&M has had, it’s still a young group program in the SEC world that’s still maturing after some great recruiting classes. The D loses three of its top four tackles, but the depth and talent level is starting to build up. The Aggies might be one more year away from truly challenging for the SEC title – and they need QB Kyle Allen to develop and be better - but they’ll be dangerous.

Just how close is Bret Bielema to making Arkansas a contender for the SEC title?

The Hogs might be right there. While Texas A&M made a splash with a devastating, high-flying offense, Bielema’s style might work better for the long haul with the emphasis on physical play on both sides of the ball, a tough defense, and a ball-control attack that could be better suited to deal with the Alabamas and LSUs of the division. No, Arkansas isn’t going to win the SEC West, but could it be a Mississippi State and be America’s darling for a long stretch? With almost everyone back on offense, a dominant ground game, and a better-than-you-think QB in Brandon Allen, the success from the end of last year should continue. The defense loses some key parts, but it’s going to be really, really good. It takes something absolutely amazing to with the SEC West, and Arkansas might not be that, but it’s going to be a tough out each and every week.

Were Ole Miss and Mississippi State a mirage over the first half of last season, or was that a sign of better things to come?

Ole Miss, blowout to TCU and all, appears to have a bit more staying power with the great recruiting class of two years ago maturing and with more talent beefing up the depth. It’s hard to know quite what the Rebels would’ve been had everyone stayed healthy, and that’s part of the war of attrition in the SEC West, but this was still the team that whacked a Boise State team that won the Fiesta Bowl, crushed a strong Memphis squad, and blew out Tennessee and Texas A&M – and, of course, beat Alabama – before the two heartbreakers to LSU and Auburn changed everything around. Mississippi State did its part beating LSU in Death Valley and Texas A&M, Auburn and Arkansas, but last year was the year. It was a matured team that was peaking at the right time and with the right players in place, but overall, the talent isn’t quite there compared to others in the SEC West – but that’s splitting hairs. Expect a step back this year for the Bulldogs, and for Ole Miss to be dangerous.

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