The SEC West continues to be the standard for competition in college football.
The division has produced seven national champions since the start of the BCS system as well as a No. 1 and a No. 2 seed in the two editions of the College Football Playoff. The division also has also recruited better than any other in college football.
But with this level of competition, finding wins on a schedule can be difficult. Alabama will be a favorite in every game it plays, but every team will have to fight for wins. Here are the games each team should win in 2016.
Should win: vs. USC, vs. Western Kentucky, at Ole Miss, vs. Kent State, vs. Kentucky, at Arkansas, vs. Texas A&M, at LSU, vs. Mississippi State, vs. Chattanooga, vs. Auburn
If you want to go and count all the “should win” games above, you may notice 11 games are listed. The Crimson Tide have become the standard for college football in a way the sport has not seen since at least Pete Carroll’s USC squads.
The Crimson Tide probably will lose at least a game next season, especially since they must replace several key pieces. However, Alabama should be the favorite in every single game it plays, with the potential exception of a contest at SEC East favorite Tennessee in October.
Should win: vs. Louisiana Tech, vs. Texas State, vs. Alcorn State, at Auburn, at Missouri
Arkansas has started slow and finished fast each of the last two seasons, but the heart of the schedule is where the Razorbacks might run into some trouble.
Arkansas faces Alabama, Ole Miss, Auburn, Florida and LSU in subsequent weeks. The Razorbacks might be happy going 2-3 in that stretch, but it could go winless. Making a bowl game will come down to beating Auburn, along with beating either Texas A&M or Mississippi State down the stretch. With a young roster, this could be a difficult feat.
Should win: vs. Arkansas State, vs. Louisiana-Monroe, vs. Vanderbilt, vs. Alabama A&M
When a team is coming off a rough season, starting the next season against Deshaun Watson is less than ideal.
Auburn’s schedule is one of the toughest in the nation, especially considering all the questions surrounding the program. If QB John Franklin III can energize Gus Malzahn’s offense, the ceiling instantly goes way up. If not, there are only four gimme games on the schedule.
Should win: vs. Wisconsin, vs. Jacksonville State, vs. Mississippi State, at Auburn, vs. Missouri, at Florida, vs. Southern Miss, at Arkansas, vs. South Alabama, at Texas A&M
It’s no secret that Les Miles was nearly out of a job after last season, but the Tigers are poised to silence the doubters this season with a favorable schedule.
LSU plays a Wisconsin team to start that isn’t quite as good as its recent record, and faces a relative cakewalk from there. Games against Florida, Alabama and Ole Miss will decide the difference between a very good team and a national championship team.
Should win: vs. South Alabama, vs. South Carolina, at UMass, at Kentucky, vs. Samford
After losing Mississippi State legend Dak Prescott to the NFL, the expectations for next season are somewhat unclear.
There’s talent on the roster, especially at wide receiver. But without a clear starter at quarterback and with lingering questions along the offensive line, projected results remain mediocre.
The Bulldogs have winnable games on their schedule, including against Auburn, BYU and Arkansas. The team likely will sneak into a bowl game in a rebuilding year.
Should win: vs. Wofford, vs. Memphis, at Arkansas, vs. Auburn, vs. Georgia Southern, at Texas A&M, at Vanderbilt, vs. Mississippi State
The Rebels have a roster that can beat any team on a given day, but Ole Miss lives and dies on the arm of QB Chad Kelly.
Replacing several key playmakers won’t be easy, as the Rebels have Florida State, Alabama and Georgia within their first three games. After a likely 2-2 start, Ole Miss only has one daunting game (against LSU) left on its schedule.
Ole Miss should scrounge together another nice season.
Should win: vs. Prairie View A&M, at Auburn, vs. Arkansas, at South Carolina, vs. New Mexico State, at Mississippi State, vs. UTSA
It’s time for Kevin Sumlin to put up or shut up.
The Aggies went 11-2 a few years ago with Johnny Manziel, and that can’t be overlooked. The Aggies have bolstered their roster with top recruiting classes and legitimate superstars. But Texas A&M has gone 11-13 in conference since that fateful season, well below the lofty expectations that come with being the second-highest paid coach in the SEC.
The Aggies will need to take care of business against these seven teams, or Sumlin’s chair could go from hot to scalding.