Experts across the college football landscape are looking to figure out how things will shake out in the SEC West this fall.
However, figuring that out with nearly two more months of waiting is nearly impossible without knowing the answer to some burning questions, so let’s take a look at the biggest questions in the SEC West entering the season.
How many national title contenders will come out of the division?
With six of the last seven national championship games consisting of at least one SEC West team, it’s fair to assume the division will have at least one team in the College Football Playoff conversation come November. Alabama and LSU are the safest bets to be in contention, but a strong September showing from Ole Miss should vault the Rebels into the mix as well. Look for Texas A&M to be a darkhorse contender if several things align for the Aggies.
Will Alabama’s quarterback concerns finally open the door for someone else to win the division?
For the third consecutive season, Alabama will have a starting quarterback with no experience, but is the third time a charm for the rest of the SEC West? Ole Miss has taken down the Crimson Tide the last two seasons, but that still hasn’t been enough to keep Alabama out of the SEC title game. With plenty of question marks still surrounding the quarterback battle in Tuscaloosa, is this the year that will finally catch up with Nick Saban’s squad? With the way Alabama has been able to navigate the schedule with Blake Sims and Jacob Coker under center, it’s hard to bet against the Tide.
Will Gus Malzahn, Les Miles and Kevin Sumlin survive the hot seat?
There’s no question those three coaches enter 2016 with some pressure on their shoulders, but will any or all of them survive to coach in 2017? Miles and Sumlin have to be the safest of the group, but that really hinges on what other coaches would be available if LSU or Texas A&M didn’t have the season for which they are hoping. As for Malzahn, Auburn likely has a higher win total to get to in order for him to feel safe, and what happens in September good provide the writing on the wall for his future on The Plains.
Can Ole Miss sustain success after losing three star players and dealing with an NCAA investigation?
Laremy Tunsil, Laquon Treadwell and Robert Nkemdiche are gone from Oxford, and we’ll finally find out how far Ole Miss has come at developing depth in the first four years under Hugh Freeze. Returning Chad Kelly at quarterback will help with the transition, but how the Rebels can plug and place guys in bigger roles along the offensive line, wide receiver and along the defensive lines will determine if Ole Miss can continue to be a major threat in the SEC West.
Will Brandon Harris finally put it together and solve LSU’s missing piece?
LSU is likely the most talented team in the country heading into the fall, but it’s hard to have confidence that the Tigers can be a dominant team with the play they’ve had at quarterback in recent memory. Brandon Harris has shown flashes of brilliance, but those moments have been few and far between. As Harris heads into his third year in Baton Rouge, his play will ultimately determine if LSU is a good team in the SEC West or a major contender to make the College Football Playoff.
How will Mississippi State begin the post-Dak Prescott era?
Mississippi State has seen unparalleled success over the past few years, but heading into 2016, the Bulldogs won’t have Dak Prescott to rely on at quarterback. Dan Mullen has a good track record of getting the most out of his quarterbacks, so whoever ends up as Mississippi State’s starter should do an adequate job this fall. But anytime a program transitions away from its best player in history, it can take its toll, as players take on more responsibility. How the Bulldogs handle that change in leadership will play a big factor in how relevant they’ll remain in the grueling SEC West.