It's almost panic time in SEC country as after that conference won a stunning seven straight national championships it now has gone two straight without. Here's a projection of how the SEC will breakdown in the 2015 season with futures odds.
The East Division has been the weak sister in the SEC probably ever since Tim Tebow left the University of Florida. That dragged the Gators program down and the East Division really hasn't recovered -- or won the SEC title game since Tebow's Gators in the 2008 season. I believe there's a great shot that changes this December, although the West is still clearly better top to bottom.
Georgia has the shortest college football odds to win the College Football Playoff among the SEC East teams at +2000, and I believe the Dawgs are the team to beat in that division. They are set to bring back 12 starters, led by dynamic running back Nick Chubb, who is +1000 at sportsbooks to win the 2015 Heisman Trophy. As a freshman and backup to Todd Gurley before Gurley was suspended and then injured, Chubb rushed 219 times for 1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns. He could form the nation's top backfield along with Sony Michel, who averaged a nice 6.4 yards per carry with five touchdowns also as a freshman in 2014.
UGa projects to bring back seven starters on offense and five on defense. The big question is who replaces Huston Mason at quarterback. Brice Ramsey, Mason's backup, probably is the guy to beat. Coach Mark Richt also had to replace offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, who took the Colorado State head coach job. The Bulldogs hired former NFL assistant Brian Schottenheimer to replace Bobo.
Georgia's schedule is a monster as it must face both Auburn (at Jordan-Hare) and Alabama (in Athens) from the West. The Dawgs host South Carolina on a big early game on Sept. 19 but visit improving Tennessee on Oct. 10.
My surprise college football pick to be the main challenger to Georgia? That would be Tennessee, which is +5000 to win the national title at sportsbooks. The Vols lead all SEC teams and are among the national leaders with 18 starters due back, including 10 on offense. Coach Butch Jones has done a terrific job restocking the talent in Knoxville. UT also closed last season by winning four of its final five games, including routing Iowa in the Taxslayer Bowl. QB Joshua Dodds looks like a future star, and Tennessee has only four true road games: at Florida, Alabama, Kentucky and Missouri.
NCAAF East Projected Finish: 1. Georgia, 2. Tennessee, 3. South Carolina, 4. Florida, 5. Missouri, 6. Kentucky, 7. Vanderbilt.
The SEC West last season was the best division in college football history even if it did go a disappointing 2-5 in bowl games. Top-ranked Alabama was pushed around in the Sugar Bowl by Ohio State; Mississippi State was clobbered in the in the Orange Bowl by Georgia Tech; Ole Miss was embarrassed by TCU in the Peach Bowl; Auburn lost in overtime to Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl; and LSU lost a close game to Notre Dame in the Music City Bowl.
The Crimson Tide have the shortest national title odds at sportsbooks at +900, but they lost a ton of talent, led by QB Blake Sims, running back T.Y. Yeldon, receiver Amari Cooper and safety Landon Collins. Overall only 11 starters are due back, with four on offense. That unit should revolve around tailback Derrick Henry, who is +1200 on early Heisman odds at sportsbooks. Alabama will be favored in every home game on NCAA football odds but has to visit Georgia, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Auburn. The season opener in Arlington, Texas, against Wisconsin won't be a walk in the park, either.
Auburn (+2500 to win College Football Playoff) must replace quarterback and Heisman candidate Nick Marshall, but some believe his former backup Jeremy Johnson will be even better. You know the Tigers' porous 2014 defense will improve with former Florida coach Will Muschamp as the team's new defensive coordinator. As noted above, Auburn gets Alabama at home and also hosts Georgia. The road games: LSU, Kentucky, Arkansas and Texas A&M.
The potential surprise of this division? Arkansas, which brings back 15 starters. Coach Bret Bielema's Hogs were just 2-6 in the SEC last year but lost to Texas A&M, Alabama, Mississippi State and Missouri all by a touchdown or less. Arkansas blew out LSU and Ole Miss and then Texas in the bowl game. If Georgia doesn't have the best backfield tandem in the nation then it might be the Razorbacks with Jonathan Williams (1,190 yards, 12 TDs) and Alex Collins (1,100 yards, 12 TDs).
NCAAF West Projected Finish: 1. Auburn, 2. Alabama, 3. LSU, 4. Ole Miss, 5. Arkansas, 6. Texas A&M, 7. Mississippi State. Georgia beats Auburn in SEC title game.