It’s that time of year where we start thinking about the new college football season. Once again I’ll give you the teams and players to watch. We begin with the always competitive SEC West.
Alabama Crimson Tide
Let’s start with the defending national champion Crimson Tide. The Tide will have to replace both of their leading rushers, reigning Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry and Kenya Drake, so preseason All-American Damien Harris will have to carry the load.
They do have a lot of their receiving corps returning, led by first team preseason All-Americans Calvin Ridley and tight end O. J. Howard, receivers ArDarius Stewart and Robert Foster, who are coming back from season-ending shoulder surgery. Who’ll be throwing to them is still a question mark.
As for their defense, yes they’ve lost a lot of talent from last year, but there’s also a lot coming back while Jeremy Pruitt takes over as coordinator. Preseason All-Americans defensive end Jonathan Allen, linebackers Tim Williams and Rueben Foster and tackle D’shawn Hand lead the way up front. Preseason All-Americans safety Eddie Jackson and cornerback Marlon Humphrey lead a powerful secondary.
We go to Baton Rouge next, where the LSU Tigers and running back Leonard Fournette hit a wall last season but finished strong. Preseason All-American Fournette is a Heisman front runner again, but head coach Les Miles wants to reduce his carries. Quarterback Brandon Harris must be consistent, thankfully he’ll have playmakers like preseason All-American wide receivers Malachi Dupre and Travin Durel to help him out.
On defense, Dave Aranda will be the Tigers’ third coordinator in three seasons and they’ll be going to a 3-4 scheme. He has talent coming back, preseason All-Americans linebacker Kendell Beckwith, tackle Davon Chadeaux, safety Jamal Adams, and cornerback Tre’Davious White could shine in Aranda’s new look defense.
They host Wisconsin, Ole Miss and Alabama. They have to face Auburn, Florida, Arkansas, and Texas A&M on the road.
Ole Miss Rebels
Off to Oxford we go, as the Ole Miss Rebels will have to replace three NFL first round draft picks. Preseason All-American quarterback Chad Kelly threw for 31 touchdowns and over 4,000 yards, finishing as the conference’s top quarterback last season. Even though he will not have Laquan Treadwell to throw to anymore, Kelly will have a depth of receivers led by preseason All-American tight end Evan Engram. Running back Akeem Judd and Jordan Wilkins lead a strong backfield.
Defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche’s departure leaves a huge void on the Rebels’ defense. Defensive end Marquis Haynes does provide a solid pass rush and linebacker DeMarquis Gates finished with a team-high 76 tackles last year. Safety Tony Conner returns from a season-ending knee injury.
The Rebels play Florida State in Orlando. They host Alabama, Georgia, Memphis and Auburn. They play Arkansas, LSU, and Texas A&M on the road.
To Fayetteville next, as there will be many new faces on offense for head coach Bret Bielema. Justin Allen takes over for older brother Brandon at quarterback. Though Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams are gone, there’s still talent on the backfield led by Koby Walker and Rawleigh Williams, both coming off injuries. The Hogs’ veteran receiving corps includes Keon Hatcher, who’s returning from a foot injury, as well as Drew Morgan and Dominique Reed who stepped up in Hatcher’s absence last season.
The strength of the Hogs could be their defense, which returns nine starters. Preseason all-conference lineman Deatrich Wise made a name for himself last season. Dre Greenlaw and Brooks Ellis will have relief in the linebacking corps as depth was an issue last season.
They host Texas A&M, Alabama, Ole Miss, Florida and LSU. They go on the road to face TCU and Auburn.
The rest of the SEC West
In College Station, for the Texas A&M Aggies, the seat is warm for head coach Kevin Sumlin. Oklahoma transfers quarterback Trevor Knight and running back Keith Ford could have an immediate impact. Preseason All-American Christian Kirk leads a dynamic receiving corps. All-American defensive lineman Myles Garrett and All-conference safety Armani Watts lead a capable defense.
At Auburn, the Tigers will try to bounce back from a disappointing season. They have to figure out, who’ll start under center. Preseason All-SEC running back Jovon Robinson was dismissed from the team, so someone will have to step. Preseason All-American defensive end Carl Lawson, tackle Montravius Adams, and free safety Johnathan Ford lead a defense that could be one of the best in the SEC under new coordinator Kevin Steele.
Finally in Starkville, the Mississippi State Bulldogs must replace quarterback Dak Prescott. Wide receiver Fred Ross could be a breakout star. Defensive end A.J. Jefferson and linebacker Richie Brown lead a talented defense.
That’s it for the SEC West, next we take a look at the SEC East.