Five Predictions For Southeastern Conference In 2016
The 2016 College Football season began last night with California defeating Hawaii 51-31 in Sydney, Australia. Below are five predictions for Southeastern Conference for the 2016 season. Some predictions will be right, some predictions will be wrong, and some will be spectacularly awful (or correct) by the end of the season.
There are no changes to the teams for the Southeastern Conference as the fourteen teams remain the same and are split into East and West Divisions. The seven teams in the East Division are Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt. The seven teams in the West Division are Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi State, and Texas A&M.
Here are five predictions for the Southeastern Conference in 2016:
1. Every SEC West team will make a bowl game – The SEC West has done this two years in a row already with every team going to a bowl in both 2014 and 2015. In both of those years, every team finished with a winning record as well. The SEC West sets up well again for it to be three straight years with every team making a bowl game. No time needs to be spent on Alabama, LSU, or Ole Miss as they should easily reach six wins.
Arkansas – They play Louisiana Tech, Texas State, and Alcorn State in the state of Arkansas (the Alcorn State game is played in Little Rock), and TCU on the road for their non-conference schedule. From the East, they draw Florida at home and Missouri on the road. They may need two or three wins against SEC West opponents to reach six wins.
Auburn – They face Clemson, Arkansas State, Louisiana Monroe, and Alabama A&M at home in their non-conference schedule. They also draw Vanderbilt out of the East, which means they only need two wins against fellow SEC West opponents if they go 4-1 against the aforementioned opponents.
Mississippi State – Their non-conference schedule consists of South Alabama and Samford at home while facing Massachusetts and BYU on the road. A 3-1 record looks like the worst case scenario for the Bulldogs and they draw South Carolina (home) and Kentucky (road) from the East.
Texas A&M – They have to face UCLA, Prairie View, New Mexico State, and UT-San Antonio out of conference all at home. They will play South Carolina (away) and Tennessee from the East. Like Auburn, if they go 4-2 in those games, they will only need two wins against the SEC West.
It looks likely the SEC West will make it three straight seasons with every team making a bowl if each of the teams above only require two wins to reach six wins. Every team is capable of grabbing a couple of wins against fellow SEC West teams.
2. Kentucky will not reach that elusive bowl game – Kentucky has not been to a bowl game since 2010 when they lost to Pittsburgh 27-10 in the Compass Bowl. This will be Mark Stoops’ fourth year and the seat will be a lot hotter if the season unravels as it has the past two years.
In 2014, Kentucky opened with a 5-1 record that included a triple overtime loss to Florida on the road. The final six games featured five losses by double digits and a close loss on the road to rival Louisville (44-40). In 2015, Kentucky had another strong start going 4-1 with another close loss to Florida. They went 1-6 in their final seven games with a victory over Charlotte and two close losses to Auburn (30-27) and Vanderbilt (21-17).
There are nine starters back on the offensive unit after putting up 24.7 points and 372 yards per game last year (both down from 2014). One of those two starters being replaced is at quarterback where Drew Barker is expected to take over. He only threw for 364 yards with a touchdown and two picks in just two starts last season. He has the top four running backs as well as the top ten receivers from 2015 returning. The offense should be more efficient and there are plenty of reasons for Barker to succeed.
The defense returns just five starters from their unit that allowed 27.4 points and 394 yards per game in 2015. That was an improvement of nearly four points and 13 yards per game over 2014’s defense. However, this year the losses are heavy as seven of the top eight tacklers have left. This is the area of concern for the Wildcats and may prevent them from getting to six wins.
2016 starts with Southern Miss at home and then Florida on the road before back-to-back home games against New Mexico State and South Carolina. A 3-1 record is mandatory for Kentucky to have a chance at making a bowl. Alabama (road) and Vanderbilt (home) are the next two games before a bye. The final half of the season only gets harder. They finish with Mississippi State (home), Missouri (away), Georgia (home), Tennessee (away), Austin Peay (home), and Louisville (away). The Wildcats are going to need a few upsets (and avoid that second half of the season swoon) if they are to end the bowl drought.
3. Vanderbilt will make a bowl game – 2016 will be Derek Mason’s third year and it is clear that the team is heading in the right direction. They went 3-9 in 2014 and 4-8 in 2015 with a huge improvement on defense. After allowing 33.3 points per game in 2014, they only allowed 21 points per game last year. The offense needs improvement after putting up just 15.2 points and 327 yards per game. That side of the ball will have running back Ralph Webb again after rushing for 1,152 yards and 5 touchdowns. The quarterback play will be better regardless of who wins after throwing for just 172 yards per game in 2015. There are eight starters back on offense and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig is in his second year.
The defense will have seven starters back with Mason running the unit again. Four of the top five tacklers are back while nearly all of the secondary returns. It would not be surprising to see the Commodores have another very good season on defense and it will need to be if they are to make a bowl appearance.
The schedule is challenging for Vanderbilt, but not overwhelming to start the season. They have South Carolina and Middle Tennessee at home before back-to-back road games at Georgia Tech and Western Kentucky. Up next are Florida (home), Kentucky (road), Georgia (road), and Tennessee State (home) before their final four games in November. They take on Auburn and Missouri on the road while facing Ole Miss and Tennessee at home. Vandy can start no worse than 3-1 if they are to have a shot at making a bowl game, but that start is very doable.
4. The Arkansas-Mississippi State game will determine the last place finisher in the SEC West – These two teams appear to be the weakest on paper, but that is why they play the games. Both teams lost their quarterback from last year (Dak Prescott for MSU and Brandon Allen for Arkansas). Both teams also lost their leading rusher (Prescott for MSU and Alex Collins for Arkansas). However, both teams return their top receiver from a year ago (Fred Ross for MSU and Drew Morgan for Arkansas).
The key for this prediction is how well the teams have come together and there will be plenty of time for that as Arkansas travels to Starkville on November 19 (the tenth game of the year for both teams). The Bulldogs having won four straight in the series, but the last three have been decided by a touchdown or less. While both teams have rivalry games the next week (MSU in the Egg Bowl vs Ole Miss and Arkansas versus Missouri), no game in the SEC West can be classified as a trap game this year.
5. Missouri will win the SEC East – This seems preposterous with the amount of hype around Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida, but let’s take a look outside the box. Missouri lost long time head coach Gary Pinkel as he retired after 15 years at the helm. Taking over is defensive coordinator Barry Odom who was with the team in 2015 and also played as a linebacker the school from 1995 to 1999.
The offense returns just five starters, but last year’s unit was abysmal averaging just 13.6 points (only Kent State’s 13.1 points per game were worse in the FBS) and 281 yards of offense per game. Former Oklahoma Sooner quarterback Josh Heupel is the offensive coordinator and a fellow Sooner is in the backfield in Alex Ross to give the rushing attack a spark. Drew Lock is back at quarterback after throwing for 1,322 yards with 4 touchdowns and 8 interceptions (49%) while starting the last eight games. The top receivers are back as well and the only place this offense can go is up.
The real crux of this team is the defense, which a large part of the reason the team did not end up worse than 5-7 last year. They gave up just 16.2 points and 302 yards per game in 2015 and now have eight starters back. Six of the top seven tacklers return as well as the entire defensive line and two of the three linebackers from last year. The defense has given up 133 and 134 yards rushing per game the last two years and they should duplicate that again in 2016.
Missouri does not have the friendliest SEC schedule. They start with Georgia at home on September 17 before a road game at LSU on October 1. Up next are the Gators on the road again October 15, but at least they have a bye week to prepare for that contest. Middle Tennessee (home), Kentucky (home), South Carolina (road), and Vanderbilt (home) all lead up to their final pair of games: on the road at Tennessee and home to Arkansas.
Since joining the SEC, Missouri is 2-2 against Florida, 1-3 against Georgia, and 3-1 against Tennessee. Perhaps the biggest test is not their penultimate game (Tenn), but the third game of the season against Georgia. If the offense improves by a touchdown or ten points a game along with the defense that should be very tough and keep them in every game, then these Tigers could surprise some teams this year.
With the SEC predictions above, predictions have been made for every conference. Links to all the predictions for each conference are provided below.
July 17 – FBS Independents
July 17 – Sun Belt
July 23 – C-USA
July 24 – MAC
July 30 – American Athletic
July 31 – Mountain West
August 7 – Big 12
August 13 – Atlantic Coast
August 14 – Pac-12
August 20 – Big Ten
August 27 – SEC