Bold SEC predictions for 2016: Who will win divisions? Which coaches will be out?
It’s fun to speculate about the upcoming season. Every team is undefeated with hopes that everything will fall into place for a championship season.
There’s always unexpected, magical moments for some teams and bitter disappointment waiting for others. But most teams experience a little bit of both.
Gazing into a crystal ball, here’s five bold predictions for the 2016 season:
There will be no SEC head coaching changes: What? A year without pink slips in the pressure-packed SEC? It’s been 10 years since the conference coaching lineup survived without a firing or departure. But in 2016, only spots at LSU, Kentucky and Texas A&M seem more than remotely possible to change. The other schools have coaches who are either successful, seem to be making progress, or haven’t had enough time for a valid evaluation to be made. Three changes were made in 2015, and one – Gary Pinkel’s retirement at Missouri — was made for health reasons.
Fewer yards, higher Heisman finish for Leonard Fournette: Les Miles and Cam Cameron are going to spend much of the next eight months trying to improve the LSU passing attack. They saw what happened — they almost lost their jobs — when Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss either stopped Fournette or held him in check. With an improved passing game, LSU won’t run the ball on 65 percent of its plays like it did in 2015. Fournette won’t match his 1,953 yards of last season, but he might improve his 6.51 yards per carry average. His Heisman candidacy against the likes of Christian McCaffrey and Deshaun Watson will depend on his team’s success. Regardless, he’ll finish higher than sixth.
Georgia will win the East: Tennessee will be the preseason pick. With solid quarterback Joshua Dobbs and most of their talented starting lineup returning, the Volunteers are the obvious choice. But Georgia’s going to win it. All the Bulldogs need is a quarterback. Jacob Eason will be up to the job as a true freshman. Georgia will be at home against Tennessee and Auburn. The Bulldogs must play at Ole Miss. But Tennessee will fall victim to a grueling four-week stretch with road games against Georgia and Texas A&M tucked between home games against Florida and Alabama. Kirby Smart will get the credit for winning a division, and maybe a conference championship. But it was Mark Richt who went out and got Eason from Washington.
Alabama won’t win the West: It might be Ole Miss. It might be LSU. It might be Auburn. But it won’t be Alabama representing the West in the SEC title game. The Crimson Tide lost too much experienced talent to the NFL Draft. The Tide will start a new quarterback for the third straight year. They’ll miss Derrick Henry, though they always have a new star running back ready to go. The defense will return Jonathan Allen, but most of the front seven as well as standout corner Cyrus Jones are gone. The Tide has four tough SEC road games — Ole Miss, Arkansas, Tennessee and LSU — and they’ll lose one, maybe two, of them.
Two true freshman quarterbacks will open the season as starters: Eason will win the job at Georgia over Brice Ramsey and Greyson Lambert — look for Ramsey to climb over Lambert in the pecking order, though. Feleipe Franks will get the nod over Luke Del Rio and Treon Harris at Florida. Del Rio came up short at Alabama and Oregon State. Harris doesn’t have the needed skills. Jim McElwain can get Franks ready with three home games against UMass, Kentucky and North Texas before the Gators’ pivotal trip to Tennessee. A bonus prediction: Cooper Bateman — not Blake Barnett — will open the season as Alabama’s starter. Nick Saban has a history of going with older quarterbacks.