The SEC West is one of the most fascinating divisions to attempt to predict in quite some time.

Alabama no longer has a clear stronghold on the division. Arkansas, the last-place team the last two seasons, clearly is on the rise with coach Bret Bielema. But can the Razorbacks overtake anyone in the West Division?

Mississippi State returns a Heisman Trophy contender at quarterback and Ole Miss may have the most top-end NFL talent of any single team in its history. Auburn is a legitimate national championship contender. LSU is loaded with NFL talent once again. Texas A&M, at least on paper, is primed for some golden years.

What does that mean for the 2015 SEC standings?

We’ll have to wait until August to find out. But to try to gain some clarity, we’ll spend this week ranking the West Division teams on offense, defense, coaching and X factors, then put together a comprehensive preseason projection.

Today we’ve ranked the SEC West offenses.


Strength: Running game

Weakness: Inexperience at the skill positions

Best Player: WR Duke Williams

Operating within Gus Malzahn’s uptempo, power spread offense, the Tigers managed 5.9 yards per carry the last two years. Quarterback Nick Marshall and an array of blockers and ball-carriers executed the read-option with great success. Now the team turns to Jeremy Johnson, likely subtracting a smidgen from that running game while getting better at throwing downfield.

Malzahn’s long history of offensive production bodes well for a 2015 team with a revamped backfield (Jovon Robinson and Roc Thomas) and not much in the way of experience at receiver after D’haquille Williams and Ricardo Louis.

The offensive line is better than solid. Johnson has best-in-the-SEC potential at quarterback. Malzahn’s schemes and the more balanced personnel should allow the Tigers to exploit even good SEC defenses.


Strength: Abundance of pass-catchers

Weakness: Below-average power running game by SEC West standards

Best Player: WR/KR Speedy Noil

Despite playing with three future NFL draft picks on the offensive line last season, the group didn’t perform as well as it has in recent years. Switching from Johnny Manziel to Kenny Hill/Kyle Allen wasn’t nearly as difficult of a transition as some predicted, though the instability at the position midseason wasn’t ideal. Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil didn’t blossom as much as they might have in ’14.

Still, the Aggies tied for fourth in the SEC in scoring offense and finished first in passing offense. This year, the pass-catching options make some SEC schools (ehm, Florida) mighty jealous. Josh Reynolds, Seals-Jones, Noil, Christian Kirk, Edward Pope, Boone Niederhofer … you get the idea.

Allen is entrenched as the starting quarterback, though Kyler Murray is a talented backup. And with Dave Christensen installed as the new offensive line coach, the team’s running game should be as strong as it has been in years. That’s good news for Tra Carson and Brandon Williams.

The Aggies are loaded with players who can gain yards after the catch and aren’t afraid to sling the ball all over the field.


Strength: Balanced, versatile attack

Weakness: Unsettled quarterback position

Best Player: RB Derrick Henry

Lane Kiffin sure does look like a smart hire for the Tide. He ought to be able to get the most out of a versatile player like Kenyan Drake and squeeze production from a collection of talented, inexperienced receivers.

The offensive line isn’t the best Alabama has fielded under coach Nick Saban, but the left tackle (Cam Robinson) and center (Ryan Kelly) spots are very good. The team needs to settle on a quarterback, but was in the same predicament last season and did just fine with a limited Blake Sims.

As long as Derrick Henry stays healthy, Alabama should enjoy one of the better offenses in the SEC.


Strength: Experienced, versatile quarterback

Weakness: Offensive line

Best Player: QB Dak Prescott

Mississippi State may have the most impactful single offensive player in the SEC, thanks to Prescott’s return to Starkville. De’Runnya Wilson has the potential to morph into one of the SEC’s top playmakers. And the Bulldogs churn out solid backfield production each year, so replacing Josh Robinson won’t be too bad.

The offensive line is a big concern if Mississippi State wants to compete for a division title. The Bulldogs must replace three very good senior starters in left tackle Blaine Clausell, center Dillon Day and right guard Ben Beckwith. MSU also will use a by-committee approach at receiver and running back, with a swarm of players competing for touches.

Prescott is a great remedy if the offensive line slips, and he looked terrific during spring ball. He’ll negate some of the unit’s negatives, and Mississippi State should field a very good offense.


Strength: Surplus of talented young skill players

Weakness: Below-average quarterback play

Best Player: RB Leonard Fournette

Even if LSU doesn’t get much better production from Brandon Harris or Anthony Jennings at quarterback, the passing game should improve on the strength of Malachi Dupre, Travin Dural, D.J. Chark and Trey Quinn.

The Tigers would love it if those players took some pressure off of Leonard Fournette, who should fight for “best running back in the division” honors with Derrick Henry.

The offensive line looks strong despite the loss of La’el Collins. Jerald Hawkins (left tackle) and Vadal Alexander (right tackle) have rotated into more natural positions.

This LSU offense isn’t going to blow away many teams, but it’s good enough to outdo last year’s team, which finished 13th in the SEC at 27.6 points per game. (At least offensive coordinator Cam Cameron better hope so.)


Strength: Powerful running game

Weakness: Lack of vertical threats

Best Player: LG Sebastian Tretola

Despite some tinkering with the offensive line and a new coordinator in Dan Enos, this unit should be a near carbon copy of the ’14 group.

The Jonathan Williams-Alex Collins combination, behind a gigantic group of blockers, has a chance to be the most productive running game in the division, competing with Auburn. Hunter Henry and Jeremy Sprinkle give the Razorbacks a pair of steady, versatile tight ends as good as any in the SEC.

Senior quarterback Brandon Allen should limit mistakes, but he’s not going to win you many ballgames. Outside of Keon Hatcher, the team’s talent at receiver is lackluster. Physical defenses like Alabama that crowd the box, jam the receivers at the line and are athletic enough to run with Arkansas’ tight ends present tough matchups for this offense.

If Arkansas gets a second-half lead, this unit can be very effective, but it’s not as dynamic or multi-dimensional overall, which could be part of the reason the Razorbacks struggled in close games.


Strength: Good pass-catchers

Weakness: Lack of a clear-cut starter at quarterback

Best Player: LT Laremy Tunsil

With potential first-round pick Laquon Treadwell on track to recover from a horrifying leg injury, the Rebels should field a pretty good group of pass-catchers. Evan Engram led the SEC in receiving yards by a tight end last year (662). Cody Core is the No. 2 among a deep receiving corps.

Now if only the team could settle on someone to get them the ball. Chad Kelly and Ryan Buchanan should remain bunched (inseparable?) entering fall practice.

The offensive line was the group’s weak point last season, limiting the running game and forcing Bo Wallace to contend with near-constant pressure. Tunsil, a potential Top 10 draft pick, should anchor the group well, and there’s a lot of experience. Phil Steele recently ranked the group as one of the seven best offensive lines in the country in 2015. I think that’s being very optimistic, but the Rebels should expect improvement there as long as everyone returns to health.

Jaylen Walton is a serviceable starting running back who also can catch out of the backfield, but the team’s running game should rival Texas A&M for weakest in the division.