Counting the Days Until College Football
Breaking Down the SEC Western Division
The SEC Riviera Roundup
By Chris Warner
Author, “Tailgater's Guide to SEC Football Volume 5 – 2020”
320 pp. (Kindle, Apple, Google Books)
June 30, 2020
Alabama's Decline Marked By LSU and Auburn's Rise
Despite a mixed bag of results, Auburn's Gus Malzahn holds three victories over Nick Saban—more than any of his coaching counterparts. With a favorable schedule, his Tiger team is poised for a return to championship glory on the Plains. LSU, coming off a surreal 15-0 season, has forgotten how to fail—or have they? Some say A&M is ready to pounce, but just as many are unsold on their quarterback—and high-priced, iffy head coach. The Mississippi schools are embroiled in a social justice struggle amidst an exciting, unsung college football comeback story between Magnolia State rivals. Two talented new coaches highlight the impending Egg Bowl, making for a fall conference football slate sure to tantalize the most avid college football fan; Oh and Arkansas has a new coach as well; as if there wasn't enough drama already in this so far, unpredictable year. 2020 on the SEC gridiron could prove to be equally puzzling and dramatic, given LSU's unforeseen success a year ago and the increasing parity annually demonstrated by a game typified by explosive offenses, superior special teams and adequate defensive play.
Alabama's Last Three Losses Tell the Story of its Waning Defense
2018 National Championship Game: Clemson 44, Alabama 16
2019 LSU 46, Alabama 41
2019 Auburn 48, Alabama 45
In its last three games against ranked opponents, the Crimson Tide has given up 44, 46 and 48 points, respectively, for an average of 46 points allowed per game. Any astute Crimson Tide fan will admit this is an alarming statistic. The reason for the concern for the defense is amplified by the fact that Mac Jones is not a proven playmaker or game changer capable of carrying the Alabama football team—especially when it must come from behind to win a football game—something it as a program is heretofore unaccustomed to. Put simply, this is not your stingy Alabama team of old—certainly from a defensive standpoint. One must wonder if the game has finally outrun master Saban, the avowed defensive guru and specialist who for years won with defense, a sound running attack and by protecting the football from the opponent. The game has irreparably changed. Will Saban?
Offensive Line Concerns Prominent Among Auburn Onlookers
Auburn must replace five starters on the offensive line. Some say that is just too much to overcome and still be competitive—especially with a sophomore quarterback. However, the second-year signal caller already has a victory against the Tide, and that could pay great dividends moving forward, as there is no substitute for experience—and the confidence that comes from winning. Nix played well enough in his debut that he should be in the mix for all-conference honors at the end of the year. What he lacks in throwing ability he makes up for with moxie and athletic ability. The close loss to Minnesota in the Outback Bowl was both a wake up call and motivator. Coming off a top five recruiting class, Auburn will fill its holes on the offensive line and reload with another salty defense highlighted by elite linebacker play. If AU gets momentum early and beats LSU at home on November 21st and Alabama in Tuscaloosa on the 28th, the Western Division is likely theirs.
LSU, Despite An NFL-Record Draft Result, Remains Loaded and Ready to Repeat as Champions
For LSU, the dream season relied little on luck—after all, it never really trailed anyone after the Texas game early in the season. That game used an amazing 3 and 17 touchdown pass to defeat the upstart Longhorns. But it wasn't luck. It was simply LSU's time. Is 2020 a repeat? It's hard, but not impossible—to imagine it. LSU's quarterback Myles Brennan has a better arm than his predecessor. How well the Tigers prevail this fall will be determined by Brennan's ability to run the new offense and get the ball to his amazing playmakers. Defensively, LSU will be more bullish up front, and that could result in more turnovers, i.e. interceptions, by an all-star backfield full of NFL ballers to be. Tough games on the road await at Florida and Auburn.
Expect No Undefeated Team to Emerge From the SEC Western Division to Play Florida
It is unlikely that any Western Division team repeats what LSU did a year ago—including LSU. I rank Auburn ahead of LSU as their schedule is more favorable, and I think Bo Nix will emerge to help the Tigers grind out a manageable early schedule. Swapping Georgia for LSU early for late is an interesting switch. Georgia will be breaking in a new signal caller so it may play out in their favor; but nevertheless, so is LSU. Alabama has the horses, but can Jones keep up with the rest of the Jones' in the SEC at quarterback? There are some good ones.
A&M will only go as far as Mond and Jimbo take them. Jimbo (9-4, 8-5) must get nine, preferably ten wins this year. That means he must win every game he's supposed to and pull an upset or two, while weathering the usual letdown game to a maturing program. State has Mike Leach, one of the more interesting coaches to come around in some time, and a serious breath of fresh air in Starkville. The Egg Bowl just became sexy with Lane Kiffin's quick landing in Oxford, meaning even Mississippi football fans are excited about teeing it up in September! Oh, and in the offseason Arkansas hired a former well-traveled offensive line coach, Sam Pittman, to take over the Hogs ongoing gridiron experiment. Start checking on your tailgating equipment. College football will soon be here!
Chris Warner's SEC Western Division Picks:
4) Texas A&M
5) Mississippi State
6) Ole Miss
Until next time...*Chris Warner is the author of “Tailgater's Guide to SEC Football Volume Five-2020,” and a number of other books, including “The Wagon to Disaster” with Aaron Beam, and “Bushwhacked at the Flora-Bama,” with Joe Gilchrist.
Find out more about Chris at: chriswarnerauthor.com