My annual Crystal Ball series, which predicts game-be-game wins and losses for every team in the SEC, was rolled out the last two weeks.

In the West, I made the chalky selection and aligned with Alabama. Let’s face it: I like to be right. As far as I’m concerned, going against the Crimson Tide is intentionally contrarian at this point. They’re simply on another level.

But I’m higher on Arkansas than most people in this business. Needless to say, I’m putting a lot of faith in quarterback Austin Allen after what I saw from him last year. If the Razorbacks can protect him better in the pocket — the switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4 on D must work, too — then I think they can deliver an upset or two.

On the other hand, I’m lower on LSU than many of my colleagues. Yes, I love running back Derrius Guice — who wouldn’t? However, the Tigers are mediocre at quarterback and have tons of inexperience on defense. Their schedule is murderous, as well.

Here are some of my favorite reader comments from the last two weeks. I picked one from each of my seven previews for the West.

"Florida State is very talented, and if you look position by position, it’s hard to give one team the edge in the matchup; until you look at offensive line vs. defensive line. FSU has a very young and questionable O-line, and Bama’s D-line is a strength. That’s not a good equation for FSU." -- Alatide

I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate. While Florida State loses left tackle Roderick Johnson, his career in Tallahassee was a mild disappointment in hindsight.

Center Alec Eberle, guard Landon Dickerson and tackle Rick Leonard all have starting experience, as do projected backups Derrick Kelly at guard and Brock Ruble at tackle. Granted, brand new left tackle Josh Ball is a redshirt freshman and untested.

Needless to say, Alabama is loaded up front defensively and always will be so long as coach Nick Saban remains in Tuscaloosa. Especially since he doesn’t believe in suspending his players, so Da’Shawn Hand will be in the starting lineup Week 1. Da’Ron Payne is also a problem next to Hand. The linebacking corps features some strong pass rushers off the edge, naturally.

Seminoles quarterback Deondre Francois was unbelievably impressive a year ago as a redshirt freshman, although he continually took a pounding due to poor blocking. Hopefully, he’s learned to get the ball out quicker in order to save his own skin.

Does ‘Bama get the benefit of the doubt in the trenches when FSU has the ball? I believe so. Still, I’d stop short of calling it a mismatch.

"What about the rest of the team? The Ags have the limited ability to carry an average QB with the rest of the roster. Pigs? LOL." -- gman1772

Texas A&M hasn’t yet decided on a quarterback between Jake Hubenak, Nick Starkel and Kellen Mond, so this team is hard to read.

Contrary to what this reader may think, I don’t see a loaded Aggies roster ready to make it easy on whomever coach Kevin Sumlin decides will play QB. A&M had another awful November in 2016 with what I believe was a superior depth chart.

Christian Kirk remains at wideout, but youngsters have to replace the trio of Speedy Noil, Josh Reynolds and Ricky Seals-Jones. On the other side of the ball, I’m not sure how the pass rush survives without Myles Garrett on one side of the formation and Daeshon Hall on the other. Is Jarrett Johnson ready to be a superstar? Perhaps, perhaps not.

Arkansas may not be as deep as the Ags, but the gap is minimal at best. Given that scenario, having Allen makes an incalculable difference when evaluating the two squads.

"Auburn always gets the benefit of the doubt. I'm not sold on a QB who comes from a league that doesn't play defense. Let's see how he reacts after he has had his ass popped SEC style." -- Curtis Lowe

Anti-Auburn readers always point to the Jeremy Johnson hype of two years ago. The supposed Heisman Trophy candidate turned out to be a bust, unfortunately.

But while Johnson excited many on The Plains with the way he looked backing up dual-threat Nick Marshall in garbage time, Jarrett Stidman actually played meaningful football for Baylor in 2015. It’s impossible to deny that the SEC plays a lot more defense than the Big 12 does, but to dismiss his performance altogether — he was a freshman at the time, by the way — is just lazy.

Credit: Auburn Athletics

Did you watch the spring game at Jordan-Hare? Stidham was delivering dimes down the field. Marshall never did that, let alone Johnson.

"I believe LSU in Year 2 with Dave Aranda will be much improved. Offense is easier for a coordinator to have an immediate impact, and Matt Canada will bring a much better system." -- DawgTownHog

I couldn’t disagree with this statement more. In my humble opinion, it’s much easier to install a new defense than a new offense. I believe that’s one reason why Aranda showed up in Baton Rouge and turned around an underperforming unit immediately.

On the flip side, Canada doesn’t inherit such a ready-made situation. His quarterback, Danny Etling, isn’t a top-end talent. Many of his receivers are young and untested. But most of all, unlike what Aranda had to do, he has to completely remake a scheme that’s been stuck in the mud for quite a while. It’s a two- or three-year project.

"Didn’t they lose two of three with Shea Patterson starting last season? He looks like a stud, but I’m not sure how much help he will have." -- LSUMC

You’re right. We’ve been raving about Patterson’s potential all offseason, but he did lose two of his three starts as a freshman.

In Patterson’s defense, Ole Miss was falling apart around him. The 2016 campaign had gone down the drain by the time he got his chance to play, so his defense in particular had pretty much quit. Enough 4- and 5- star signees remain to make the Rebels dangerous this year, but to say that he’s surrounded by difference makers is inaccurate.

Even if the defense returns players like Marquis Haynes and DeMarquis Gates, are we sure that’s a good thing? Their side of the ball was awful a season ago.

"Guess you didn’t hear Mississippi State picked up 3 of the top 6 JUCO secondary players. That is the position that hurt us last year. And it will be better this year." -- JKStorm

Fans get too excited about JUCO transfers. On incredibly rare occasions, they’re home runs. But more often than not, they’re singles at best.

Many turn out to be strikeouts, as well. Last year, way too many column inches were dedicated to Jonathan Kongbo signing with Tennessee. But instead of adding another pass rusher off the edge, the Volunteers moved him inside. He completely disappeared.

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen is putting a lot of faith in his JUCO additions and redshirt freshmen to provide immediate relief for an ailing defense, and there were enough holes on the depth chart to expect many of them to be key players. The secondary in particular, as you suggested, needs fresh bodies in the worst way.

The Bulldogs should score a ton, so they don’t need their D to be airtight. But those kids were lowly JUCO signees for a reason.

"So if the Aggie quarterback comes out and plays above average, this prediction goes out the window quick. There is a lot of talent, although young, on this team." -- aggierider

To the surprise of many, I predicted Texas A&M to not only finish last in the West, but to crumble all the way to 4-8.

Obviously, Sumlin’s precarious situation at quarterback is a major reason why. As mentioned above, it’s a competition between Hubenak, Starkel and Mond. It’s fair to say that not one of them threw the ball well in the spring game.

Sumlin is sitting on the hottest seat in the league, so the last thing he can afford to do is shuttle QBs in and out of the lineup from week to week. That’s a recipe for disaster and likely leads to his immediate exit after the season — maybe earlier than that. The Aggies face defending division champions Alabama and Florida back to back before a much-needed bye in Week 8.

Recent reports out of College Station suggest that Starkel is winning the battle. If he turns out to be better than expected, naturally, A&M likely wins an extra game here and there since Sumlin’s offense can be prolific for any passer.

Readers keep telling me about these young studs the Ags have. However, until I see them for myself, I’m less than optimistic.

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SEC West


SEC East