Post-spring SEC bowl projections
If any media member or fan sounds convinced they know which four teams are going to make the College Football Playoff this season, send them my way.
I’d be happy to put up some of my hard-earned cash on “the field” vs. whichever combination of teams they’re touting — with the exception of Alabama, which is gunning for its fifth national championship in eight years.
It’s very difficult to project the four best teams, much less pinpoint exactly how all 14 teams in the SEC are going to finish. That’s plenty of time for injuries, suspensions — and before we sound too depressing, newcomers to emerge as serious contributors.
RELATED: Post-spring SEC power rankings
Several impact players haven’t even arrived on campuses yet and did not participate in spring practice. Some quarterback competitions will linger into the fall, and we know there will be personnel changes that arise between now and September — both within the SEC and within several high-profile programs that SEC teams will face during the non-conference schedule.
But we’re starting to have a good idea about what every SEC program will look like after spring practice. We’re also 11 weeks away from SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala., which signifies the coming of fall each year.
A lot should change between now and Sept. 3, which on paper is one of the best opening weekends in college football history. For now, we’re projecting 11 SEC teams to make next year’s postseason. That includes seven programs from the SEC West, which would mark a third consecutive year that all seven teams in the division played in a bowl game.
Tennessee continues to present a temptation as a College Football Playoff projection. We love the Vols’ experience on both sides of the football coming off what was very nearly a special season in Knoxville (oh-so-close losses to Alabama and Oklahoma, both playoff teams). Bob Shoop figures to upgrade (read: increasingly aggressive) what already was a good UT defense. And Joshua Dobbs, Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara should combine to produce the best rushing offense in the SEC.
But Georgia and Florida reminded us this spring that to put all our chips into one team is foolish. We still like Tennessee to win the division, but it’s far from a sure thing. The Vols still play Alabama as the cross-division rival, and coach Butch Jones must prove that he’s capable of winning close games in the fourth quarter against championship teams. Oh, and there’s that pesky 11-game losing streak to the Gators.
In the SEC West, we’re torn between Alabama, Ole Miss and LSU as the preseason favorites. Personally, I find it hard to bet against the Tide, as Nick Saban has built probably the most sustainable, consistent football program in SEC history. But both the Rebels and Tigers are capable of winning the conference. And Texas A&M and Auburn seem like annual X factors — often disappointing but able to stun No. 1 teams when they’re clicking.
It may be just as exciting to find out which of the four non-bowl teams from 2015 is able to get to six wins. For Kentucky and Mark Stoops, it may be mandatory. Three consecutive close-but-no-cigar seasons may lead to a coaching change for the Wildcats.
Vanderbilt could be sneaky good, as coach Derek Mason has that defense playing strong, and Ralph Webb is one of the most productive running backs that most outside of SEC territory have never heard of. And Missouri and South Carolina are launching new coaching eras with Barry Odom and Will Muschamp.
Here are our still-early bowl projections for 2016:
2016 SEC BOWL PROJECTIONS (11 invites)
- College Football Playoff Semifinal (Peach Bowl): No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Oklahoma
- College Football Playoff Semifinal (Fiesta Bowl): No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Ohio State
- New Year’s Six Sugar Bowl: Tennessee vs. Oklahoma State
- New Year’s Six Orange Bowl: LSU vs. Florida State
- Citrus: Georgia vs. Michigan State
- Outback: Ole Miss vs. Wisconsin
- Music City: Mississippi State vs. Nebraska
- Belk: Arkansas vs. North Carolina
- Liberty: Texas A&M vs. Texas Tech
- TaxSlayer: Florida vs. Virginia Tech
- Texas: Auburn vs. Texas
- Birmingham: Missouri vs. Cincinnati
On the outside looking in: Vanderbilt, Kentucky, South Carolina