Bold SEC predictions in 2016
Ten bold SEC predictions for 2016:
1. Tennessee will beat Alabama … and make a run at 12-0
Tennessee led Alabama with 5 minutes left in this year’s game in Tuscaloosa. Just about everybody responsible for building that lead will be back in Knoxville when the teams collide Oct. 17. The same can’t be said for Alabama.
Jalen Hurd couldn’t contain his excitement when asked after the Outback Bowl about the possibilities and goals that lie ahead in 2016.
Without prompting, he told reporters he knew the 2016 national championship game was in Tampa.
Getting back to Raymond James requires beating Alabama.
The rest of the Vols’ schedule sets up nicely for a run at perfection: The Vols get Florida at home and they travel to Texas A&M and Georgia, where all three teams likely will have new quarterbacks. And the final five games might as well be SEC Championship Game tuneups.
2. Leonard Fournette will break Derrick Henry’s single-season rushing record
LSU’s star tailback ran for 1,953 yards in just 12 games in 2015. It’s unlikely he’ll get the two extra games from being a playoff team in 2016, but he should at least get a full regular season and a bowl. Henry ran for 2,219 yards in 15 games.
3. Chad Kelly will break Tim Couch’s single-season passing yards record
Couch threw for 4,275 yards in 1998 — in just 11 games.
Kelly became the third QB in SEC history to reach 4,000 yards this past season. Yes, he’s losing a serious weapon in Laquon Treadwell and a primary protector in Laremy Tunsil, but he’ll throw it even more in 2016 than he did in 2015.
4. Kentucky will have a winning record in the SEC … or Mark Stoops will be fired
One or other other will happen. Kentucky hasn’t had a winning record in conference play since 1977. It’s the longest streak, by far, for any Power 5 football team.
There isn’t a lot of wiggle room, either, not with a crossover at Alabama and a visit to Knoxville — essentially two automatic Ls. The Sept. 10 SEC opener at Florida will be telling. The Gators will be breaking in a new quarterback and won’t have Kelvin Taylor to lean on. The defense won’t resemble the shutdown group most responsible for the SEC East title this past season. It’s a good opportunity for Kentucky to steal a brand name victory.
5. Jacob Eason will start for Georgia but won’t throw for 2,000 yards
Expectations are rising in Athens, largely because of Eason’s arrival, but the SEC pocket is no place for toddlers. Chris Leak threw for 2,435 yards as a freshman at Florida, most by a rookie since 2000, but just two other freshman topped 1,500 yards. We all saw what happened last year — Will Grier being the obvious exception.
Ball control, feeding Nick Chubb and Sony Michel will lessen the burden on Eason, making a 1,500-yard campaign more realistic.
6. Georgia will finish no better than .500 in the SEC
Mark Richt was fired because he couldn’t win enough. Kirby Smart might be 2-3 after his first five games, especially if Nick Chubb isn’t ready to go early. Crossing over with Auburn and Ole Miss certainly won’t help. One slip up at Missouri or at Kentucky could push the Bulldogs below .500 in the SEC.
7. Speaking of Richt … Miami will win the ACC Coastal
North Carolina will be the preseason favorite, in large part because it returns workhorse back Elijah Hood. But Miami returns Brad Kaaya, the best QB in the ACC not named Deshaun Watson, and plenty of playmakers.
8. Bo Scarbrough will rush for 1,000 yards
It’s the Nick Saban way.
9. Texas A&M will score more in 2016 than 2015
What other offense could withstand having two five-star QBs transfer and … be better? They’ll be better because Christian Kirk and Josh Reynolds will be even better next season than this past season. Jake Hubenak showed in the bowl game how system-friendly this offense is for QBs. Whether he’s leading it or transfer Trevor Knight, the Aggies will score more than 27.8 they averaged this season.
10. Alabama won’t make the playoff
Clemson has the best player in Deshaun Watson and the easier conference, two key ingredients in a Final Four selection. Alabama got there this year largely on the strength of Derrick Henry and its defense, which will have multiple new parts next year. Jacob Coker turned out to be better than anybody thought, especially in the biggest games, and he’s gone, too.
Want an even bolder prediction? There is a much better chance next year than this past year that the SEC gets shut out of the playoff entirely.