As we push on through these months consumed by making guesses about next season, take a moment to think about the one that most recently ended and ask yourself: How many truly wild happenings did we witness last year?
In hindsight, 2015 produced some real doozies:
- Florida’s Will Grier was tagged with a year-long suspension for using banned performance-enhancing substances
- The Gators still won the SEC East in coach Jim McElwain’s first season
- Legendary coach Steve Spurrier resigned mid-season
- LSU’s Leonard Fournette rushed for 1,953 yards and was not even named a finalist for the Heisman Trophy
- Ole Miss upset mighty Alabama for the second year in a row
- And then the Crimson Tide won 12 straight games en route to its fourth national title in seven seasons
- Georgia fired longtime coach Mark Richt after nine-win season
- The Missouri football team threatened to not play against BYU amid intense on-campus student protests
Needless to say, any given season lends itself to the unpredictable, and this is especially the case in the highly-competitive SEC. So in the spirit of the college craziness we all love, SEC Country brings you a six-pack of cold, bold predictions about the upcoming season that’s sure to sate your summer football thirst.
1. The SEC’s best newcomer will be John Franklin III
The post-spring buzz is high on a number of the conference’s recent additions, but Franklin III — a junior college transfer quarterback — has history on his side.
Now, to be clear, Cam Newton and Franklin III rely on completely different styles. The reigning NFL MVP possesses an incomparable physicality as a runner and measures an imposing 6-foot-5, 245 pounds; the speedy Franklin III is listed at 6-1, 186 by Auburn, more Yamaha motorcycle than monster truck. We’re not comparing the two as players. Each is talented in his own way.
But Newton’s legendary one-and-done Heisman run does offer a huge takeaway: The athleticism of the quarterback can make or break Tigers coach Gus Malzahn’s system, considering its great simplicity.
If Franklin III can quickly develop comfort in that scheme and deliver on his own claims of 4.3 speed, well, a Michael Vick college comparison may not be totally out of line. But this prediction is undoubtedly a boom-or-bust scenario that could go up in flames.
2. Alabama will not hit the double-digit win mark
I would not be the first writer made to look foolish for doubting this program. Living legend Nick Saban has guided the Tide to at least 10 wins in all but his very first season in Tuscaloosa, and he just secured his sixth straight No. 1-ranked signing class. Alabama’s dominance is a marvel to behold and stands as one of the most successful single stretches in American sports history.
Part of what keeps the crimson and white machine humming amid all of the accolades is Saban’s insane drive to be the best. You could hand him another national championship trophy today and he’d probably jump on working to earn yet another.
So knowing all of that, plus the fact that several Alabama stars are actually returning after remarkable junior seasons, why would anyone bet against the Tide?
Lots of turnover on the coaching staff, for one. Question marks at running back and on the offensive line, which are arguably more important to this offense than the quarterback. And, of course, another challenging schedule — LSU, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Southern Cal all face Bama away from Bryant-Denny Stadium.
3. Leonard Fournette will not lead the SEC in rushing
Last year, Alabama’s Derrick Henry swiped the Heisman and the SEC rushing title from Fournette behind an inhuman effort from Oct. 17 to the end of the season (a stretch in which he averaged more than 170 yards rushing per game). Well, the same fate will again befall Fournette, this year’s presumed winner. The burden of logging 300 carries in 2015 combined with what should be an increased workload for backup Derrius Guice will leave enough room for someone else to lead the conference.
That someone could be Georgia’s Nick Chubb, Tennessee’s Jalen Hurd or even Auburn’s Jovon Robinson, but when it comes to the SEC rushing crown, No. 7 won’t find any extra luck this fall.
4. Tennessee will beat Alabama and Florida … and still not win the SEC East
How does this happen, you ask? It’s actually not unreasonable.
The Vols drop road games against Georgia and Texas A&M — both quality opponents — while Georgia rides a surprise run under first-year coach Kirby Smart to a 7-1 finish in the SEC.
Between the stacked roster at Butch Jones’ disposal, Tennessee’s recent big-game drought and the allegations made in a certain federal lawsuit, well, let’s just say the Lane Kiffin trolling wouldn’t end any time soon.
5. There will be three SEC West coaching vacancies next offseason
Can you guess which ones?
Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen, linked to every vacancy under the sun last offseason, finally leaves scenic Starkville behind for an even bigger opening (say, Texas?).
Whether or not the Franklin III experiment pans out, Malzahn will be sent on his way after Auburn trots out yet another atrocious defense. The Tigers haven’t fielded better than the SEC’s eighth-best scoring defense since 2009, and that trend won’t correct itself in 2016.
And then there’s Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, who will either be canned after another middling season or bolt for an NFL job before the university can officially boot him.
Just one year removed from the SEC East undergoing the same caliber of turnover, it would be another round of pure bedlam on the conference’s coaching carousel this winter.
6. Ole Miss will be the SEC’s lone College Football Playoff representative
Few would call Rebels coach Hugh Freeze the best football tactician out there, but the man can craft a sales pitch with the best of them (whether his assistants allegedly broke NCAA recruiting rules or not).
The unending stream of offseason drama has taken away from the fact that this roster is supremely talented, up there near the LSUs and the Alabamas of the college football world. As he did on the recruiting trail, Freeze will get that talent to buy into his program once again, and — with additional NCAA punishment still pending — help lead Ole Miss to the College Football Playoff promised land.