- Alabama Crimson Tide– They will begin the 2016 season the same way they ended it, on top of the college football world. They have won three of the last five national championships and are the projected favorites to win it all once again. The thing that I respect about Nick Saban is when he loses key guys on either side of the football, he recruits heavily and looks to fill those holes right away and this year they’ve lost guys from last year’s title team on both sides of the football. All the experience will be with Bama’s receivers more so than their running backs which we have seen in the past. For the first time in 10 seasons, Saban won’t have his first and second leading rushers back as Derrick Henry declared himself eligible for the NFL draft and Kenyan Drake graduated. Bo Scarbrough is tabbed to be the next star running back. Calvin Ridley is back to lead the receiving core along with number two target ArDarius Stewart and we can’t forget O.J. Howard, the star from the national title game. The defense took a hit when they lost some key guys to the NFL. A’Shawn Robinson and Reggie Ragland are two of those guys. This will be the year where the target is bigger in Tuscaloosa.
- LSU Tigers– It was a weird 2015 season to say the least. They were off to a strong start and had the front-runner for the Heisman in Leonard Fournette. At one time, they were ranked second in the first college football rankings then a loss to the eventual champions followed by some other bad losses had them on the outside looking in and Les Miles job was in question. Well, Les is back and so is Leonard Fournette and he’s expected to have another big year and will be considered a Heisman candidate once again. For LSU to win this division and make the College Football Playoff, the passing game will need to be more consistent behind Brandon Harris. Fournette will carry the offensive load once again but Harris and the receivers need to provide more balance. On defense, LSU will have its third defensive coordinator in as many seasons. Dave Aranda will be a basic 3-4 look to Baton Rouge for the first time in Les Miles tenure as head coach. The positive for these Tigers entering the 2016 season is that 18 starters from a team that looked to be a lock for the playoffs return.
- Ole Miss Rebels– Although they lost three guys to the NFL, the Ole Miss Rebels will still be in the thick of the SEC West divisional race. Chad Kelly returns as starting quarterback and he’s considered to be the best quarterback in the conference. The offensive line will have its concerns after the departure of star tackle Laremy Tunsil but freshman Greg Little will have to step up to protect Chad Kelly’s blind side. LaQuon Treadwell leaves a big hole in the receiving core and that’s something that Hugh Freeze will have to fill right away to give Kelly a target down the field. The third guy that Ole Miss lost to the draft was tackle Robert Nkemdiche but Marquis Haynes provides a threat off the edge as a pass rusher. They’ve finished with 11 wins in the last two seasons and two big time victories over Alabama including one in Tuscaloosa. They will have a more challenging schedule as they have matchups against Alabama, Florida State and the bulldogs of Georgia.
- Arkansas Razorbacks– Replacing guys are never easy, but that’s what the Arkansas Razorbacks must do to be competitive in the conference. On offense, they have to find ways to replace quarterback Brandon Allen, running back Alex Collins, tight end Hunter Henry and offensive tackle Denver Kirkland. There will be a lot of change in Fayetteville but Bret Bielema will have a trick or two up his sleeve. Junior Austin Allen was named the starting quarterback in mid-April after having a very impressive spring. Whenever you have a new starting quarterback, the one thing the offensive coordinator will do is build up the running game to take pressure off the quarterback and Arkansas will make it a point of emphasis to pound the football in between the trenches. With nine starters returning on defense, Arkansas will look to improve their pass rush and get after the quarterback more consistently. For a successful campaign in 2016, they must learn how to close out games as they lost quite a few nail biters in 2015.
- Texas A&M Aggies– Kevin Sumlin has a ton of pressure on him as his Aggies get set for their 2016 campaign. There is a lot of uncertainty on offense so the defense will be forced to carry the load. Oklahoma transfer Trevor Knight will be the starting quarterback which is a really good move because he brings experience and this is a guy who led the Oklahoma Sooners to a win in Sugar Bowl in 2014 over Alabama. Last season, he lost his job to Baker Mayfield. Keith Ford, another Oklahoma transfer, will be counted on to provide a big spark out the backfield and that’s something the Aggies haven’t had in a long time. I’m looking forward to watching this defense take the field and they have a player who I think can be really special and he goes by the name of Myles Garrett. He’s been listed as a Heisman candidate to some. Senior Daeshon Hall is another guy that will have a big impact on the defensive line. They key for A&M this year will be a more consistent effort on offense considering Sumlin is an offensive minded coach.
- Auburn Tigers– After their appearance in the national title game in 2014, they’ve seemed to go downhill from there and they are so well coached under Gus Malzahn. There are many questions though surrounding this team. Who will be the starting quarterback? Will the defense get things right with the hiring of new coordinator Kevin Steele? I expect the defense to carry this team more so than the offense. John Franklin III could be the starting quarterback come September but let’s not count out Jeremy Jackson or Sean White. This offense will be built around Jovon Robinson, a running back who is more than capable of making big time plays on the field. The defense has higher expectations than the offense does this year and that’s a first with a Malzahn coached team. There may be questions surrounding them, but there is definitely more talent for them to compete in 2016.
- Mississippi State Bulldogs– Dan Mullen will have his work cut out for him this year in a very tough SEC West. Some key pieces will be returning but the biggest piece of them all, Dak Prescott is now playing in the NFL. His impact meant more to that team more than people thought. Sophomore Nick Fitzgerald is expected to be the leading candidate for the starting quarterback. Three starters return on the offensive line that must improve if they want to go anywhere. This is an offensive line that last season gave up 32 sacks, nine in one game to Alabama. A new defense will be built for these Bulldogs as a new staff has been hired. It’ll be easy to say that this isn’t the 2014 Mississippi State team as one starter from that team returns.
2016 Prediction: Alabama will be victorious once again and win the West. Despite who they lost, they will always find a way to get the next man to step up and make an impact. Calvin Ridley will be the leader of the offense and the defense will get things right when they have too just like they did last year. Every single year, we can automatically pencil them in to be a top five team in the country.