Last season: 13-1, 7-1 SEC
Quick hit: Alabama is the popular choice to win a fourth BCS championship in five years as Nick Saban builds his case as college football’s all-time greatest coach. Winning a championship always takes a little luck, but Saban seems to have the process down to put the Crimson Tide in prime position.
Duo of note: While there’s not a better quarterback than Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, there may not be anyone better in managing an offense than A.J. McCarron. He makes very few mistakes, along with big plays when asked. McCarron threw for 30 touchdowns with only three interceptions last season. T.J. Yeldon may have been the SEC’s best freshman running back last year not named Todd Gurley.
They’ll win the division if: They avoid injuries.
They’ll come up short if: The chink in Alabama’s armor could be the offensive line, which lost three starters to the NFL, but the Crimson Tide has a nice selection of all-world recruits from which they can look for replacements.
Must-see game: Alabama at Texas A&M on Sept. 14.
Last season: 4-8, 2-6 SEC
Quick hit: Arkansas may be the SEC’s biggest mystery. New coach Bret Bielema won big in the Big Ten, but can he carry over his success to the mighty SEC? One thing is for sure: Arkansas can only go up from the Bobby Petrino mess.
Duo of note: After Brandon Allen won the QB job in the spring, backup Brandon Mitchell abruptly transferred to N.C. State. It left Arkansas with little depth at the position if Allen struggles under new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney … A lot of eyes will be on freshman running back Alex Collins from Miami. The five-star recruit made national headlines in February when his mother refused to sign his letter of intent with the Razorbacks. (Collins’ father ended the drama by signing.)
They’ll win the division if: Unlikely, but six or more wins would be a successful season.
They’ll come up short if: Bielema strays from what made him successful at Wisconsin — running the ball, solid defense and creating turnovers.
Must-see game: Auburn at Arkansas on Nov. 2. The two coaches did a little trash-talking with each other over the safety of the no-huddle offense at SEC Media Days.
Last season: 3-9, 0-8 SEC
Quick hit: After the worst season in 60 years, Auburn cleaned house and hired Gus Malzahn for a quick fix. During Malzahn’s first stop at Auburn, he was offensive coordinator for the 2010 BCS championship team and tutored Cam Newton on winning the Heisman Trophy.
Duo of note: If Malzahn will win sooner than later, it all starts with a quarterback who can run his fast-paced offense. Nick Marshall, who played defensive back at UGA two years ago (that’s right, defense), may give Auburn the best chance to win this season. Marshall, who is one of four contenders for the job, earned All-American honors at junior college last season — ironically, following a similar path as Newton. … Ellis Johnson was a disaster in one season as Southern Miss’ head coach, but gets mad respect as a veteran SEC defensive coordinator.
They’ll win the division if: They’re a long shot, but the glory days may be around the corner.
They’ll come up short if: They go winless in SEC play again. Not likely.
Must-see game: Alabama at Auburn on Nov. 30. Auburn may need a miracle to win, but it can earn some respect by keeping it closer than last year’s 49-0 loss (worst in Iron Bowl since 1948).
Last season: 10-3, 6-2 SEC
Quick hit: Nobody seems to be expecting big things this year out of LSU after it lost so many players to the NFL, including a record 11 underclassmen. Should Les Miles be underestimated like this?
Duo of note: Former UGA QB Zach Mettenberger has made progress with LSU’s new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. “It’s not like I’m Tim Tebow and have terrible mechanics,” Mettenberger famously said at SEC Media Days. … Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry could be the SEC’s best receiver tandem with a little more consistency.
They’ll win the division if: LSU can crank up the offense. The Tigers have won two of the past four games with Alabama, and almost pulled off the upset last year until T.J. Yeldon’s last-second heroics.
They’ll come up short if: John Chavis, one of the more respected defensive coordinators in the college football, can’t reload with seven new starters — which is doubtful.
Must-see game: LSU at UGA on Sept. 28. Remember the last time LSU played in Athens? The Tigers got a big break in 2009 when Georgia’s A.J. Green was flagged for a controversial excessive-celebration penalty.
Last season: 8-5, 4-4 SEC
Quick hit: Everything began so well for Mississippi State last year with the 7-0 start. Then the Bulldogs finally lost one (to Alabama), and then lost control of the season for a disappointing 1-5 finish.
Duo of note: QB Tyler Russell threw for 2,897 yards with 31 touchdowns last season, but lost his top four receivers, including Chad Bumphis, who led the SEC in touchdown receptions. The good news was that junior offensive guard Gabe Jackson bypassed the NFL and returned. He’ll graduate in December. Russell, used almost exclusively out of the shotgun, will take snaps under center as the Bulldogs tweak the offense.
They’ll win the division if: Unlikely, but it will be a success if Mississippi State can beat a ranked opponent (Mullen is 2-16 vs. Top 25 teams).
They’ll come up short if: Last season’s slump rolls into this season.
Must-see game: Ole Miss at Mississippi State on Nov. 28. Mississippi State reeled off convincing wins three years in a row before last year’s upset.
Last season: 7-6, 3-5 SEC
Quick hit: Hugh Freeze has some people thinking that Ole Miss is one year away from threatening for the SEC West championship. Some might laugh at the notion, but the Rebels return 18 starters from last season’s team that posted a 7-6 record, won a bowl game and nearly upset LSU and Texas A&M. Ole Miss also finished with the best recruiting class in school history (consensus top 5 in rankings).
Duo of note: Quarterback Bo Wallace was a superstar in junior college, but struggled with last season’s transition to the SEC (22 touchdowns and 17 interceptions). Wallace could get a lot of help from a lower-profile recruit, running back Mark Dodson, who turned heads this spring.
They’ll win the division if: Unlikely, unless freshmen studs grow up in a hurry.
They’ll come up short if: With the returning veterans and influx of star-studded recruits, anything less than eight wins would not be considered a success.
Must-see game: There are higher-profile games, but Vanderbilt at Ole Miss to open the season Aug. 29 will determine which one of the SEC’s mid-level teams is on the rise.
Last season: 11-2, 6-2 SEC
Quick hit: Has any program risen faster in one year than Texas A&M? The Aggies are national-championship contenders behind reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny Manziel. It’s hard to believe that Kevin Sumlin was a virtually unknown coach at Houston two years ago.
Duo of note: Love him or hate him and follow or unfollow him on Twitter, but Manziel is college football’s biggest superstar and most exciting player to watch. It will be hard for Manziel to repeat 5,000 total yards and 47 touchdowns, but everybody will be watching. … With top target Mike Evans (82 catches for 1,105 yards last year) likely to draw double coverage, Texas A&M will be counting heavily on wide receiver Ricky Seals-Jones, a darkhorse candidate to be the SEC’s Freshman of the Year.
They’ll win the division if: Manziel can stay off Twitter, ignore his celebrity friends and focus entirely on football during the season.
They’ll come up short if: Texas A&M can’t find a suitable replacement for Luke Joeckel, who protected Manziel’s blind side at left tackle. Joeckel was drafted No. 2 overall by the NFL’s Jaguars.
Must-see game: The world may shut down when Alabama plays at Texas A&M on Sept 14.