SEC's biggest sleeping giants in 2016
During the course of the football season, media attention begins to focus on the teams competing to win division championships, conference titles and, potentially, the playoffs. A team that falls out of the discussion in October can become virtually ignored by the time conference championship games are played in December.
Some of those ignored teams are better than their record suggests, and perhaps in position to surprise people next year.
One could call those teams sleeping giants. Such as these:
Tennessee Volunteers – 8-4 in 2015
This giant has a habit of talking in its sleep – loudly. Big Orange Nation trumpeted Tennessee’s 45-28 win over Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl as a sign that UT would be “back” for 2015. The Volunteers got off to a rocky start (3-4), but closed the season on a five-game winning streak.
Tennessee’s losses to Florida and Alabama this season might put a damper on offseason hype, but coach Butch Jones, now the longest-tenured coach in the SEC East, has maintained continuity on his staff while signing the level of talent that suggests it is a matter of when, not if, Tennessee will win the SEC East. The Vols will have one of the division’s most experienced, potent offenses with wide receivers Josh Malone, Josh Smith, QB Joshua Dobbs and RB Jalen Hurd all returning.
Georgia Bulldogs 9-3 in 2015
Does a perennial preseason favorite count as a sleeping giant? As a team unranked by the playoff committee and playing in the lower-tiered TaxSlayer Bowl, one could consider the Bulldogs off the radar right now.
Transition seasons under a new coach are often written off as a year of growing pains and figuring out a new system, but Georgia coach Kirby Smart inherits one of the most talented rosters in the SEC. He also just landed five-star QB Jacob Eason, who will be ready to contribute on Day One. And 2015 preseason All-SEC RB Nick Chubb will be back too. Anyone sleeping on the Dawgs in 2016 does so in error.
Texas A&M Aggies – 8-4 in 2015
The Aggies went from leading the SEC West to out of the race in a matter of weeks during the 2015 season. QB Kyle Allen is transferring. Things aren’t exactly looking up for Texas A&M, but it could be a contender in 2016.
Five-star freshman QB Kyler Murray flashed his potential greatness throughout the season and will get to prepare for the bowl game without looking over his shoulder at Allen. Freshman stud receiver Christian Kirk leads a solid returning supporting cast. TAMU’s defense showed improvement in its first season under defensive coordinator John Chavis and should make even more strides in the offseason.
Missouri Tigers – 5-7 in 2015
The 2013-2014 SEC East champion might not like being called a sleeping giant, but after a 5-7 season, it won’t be a popular preseason pick to return to Atlanta in 2016. Missouri’s scoring offense was the worst in the SEC last season at 13.6 points per game. MU’s scoring defense, however, was No. 2 in the conference at 16.2 points allowed per game. With Barry Odom stepping up from defensive coordinator to head coach, the defense should be able to maintain its dominance next season.
The key to Mizzou’s 2016 could be Odom’s hire for offensive coordinator. If the right offensive coordinator can get even the slightest increase in scoring production next season, the defense could be good enough to get the Tigers back in contention for a trip back to the SEC Championship Game.