Phil Steele breaks down how SEC East and West will shape out in 2016
analyst human encyclopedia Phil Steele joined the Paul Finebaum Show on Wednesday to discuss his preseason predictions for the SEC East and West divisions ahead of the upcoming 2016 season.
It’s a no-brainer for the East, as Steele believes that Tennessee “is the most experienced” and “the most talented” team in the division and should be the easy favorite to play in the conference championship game in December.
“When I look at Tennessee, here’s what I see — I see a team that, last year, had four losses, but if you change one play in each of those games and it’s a team that could have potentially gone 13-0,” said Steele. “They were just one play away from winning all four games.
“Butch Jones has said, ‘we’re a young team, we’re a young team’ for all three years. He can’t say that this year. He’s got 17 returning starters. They lose 16 lettermen, but they’ve got Joshua Dobbs back. It’s a junior-senior team, and this is a Tennessee team that has the most experience in the East, and I think the most talented. I’m going with Tennessee to win the East.”
Things get a little bit more complicated on the other side of the SEC. Arguably the nation’s most difficult division, Steele says the West could be won by three different teams, but right now, he has a “tie for first” between Alabama and LSU.
“I have a tie for first in the SEC West this year; I’ve got Alabama and LSU,” Steele said. “In my power poll, I name Alabama as the most talented team in the country, but the top four teams in the SEC this year are Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and LSU [no particular order].
“Alabama has to play each of the other three on the road. That’s going to make it very difficult to run the table, but when you look at the Tide, the fact that they get back Jonathan Allen at defensive end, Reuben Foster at middle linebacker, Eddie Jackson [at corner] — three guys that could have gone to the NFL. That’s huge. You look at them offensively, I don’t think they’ll miss too much of a beat even without Derrick Henry. I like Damien Harris, Bo Scarborough; they’ve won three of their last four national titles with a first-year starting quarterback; Calvin Ridley, Robert Foster in the receiving corps; O.J. Howard at tight end. It’s a loaded Alabama team.”
Alabama will likely enter the season as either the No. 1 or 2 team in the country when the first AP Top 25 preseason poll comes out this summer. And while Steele is obviously very high on the Tide — for many great reasons, as described above — he cautions those listening/reading to watch out for LSU.
The Tigers have what it takes to dethrone Alabama in 2016.
“LSU is loaded as well,” said Steele. “The key piece they’re missing is at quarterback, everything else is beautiful. Leonard Fournette at running back, two NFL receivers in Travin Dural and Malachi Dupre, an outstanding offensive line, practically the entire defense is back, plus they get Dave Aranda at defensive coordinator — he did so much more with Wisconsin’s defense and he steps in here and has more talent than he ever had at Wisconsin.
“That’s a dangerous LSU team, and the game I’m really looking forward to, Paul, is November 5 when LSU hosts Alabama,” he continued. “That’s not only going to determine the West, but potentially the SEC and maybe even the national title.”
Without question, it’s going to be another fun year in the SEC.