My 2015 preseason SEC predicted order of finish

Price1With the SEC’s preseason poll expected to be released anytime now, I thought I’d take a shot in providing my “vote” and picks that we talked about on “Straight Up With Sturg” this week. It’s not easy this year, especially in trying to sort out the SEC West because of the quality and depth going into the season.

But as of today, here’s how I think the final standings turn out…

SEC East

1. Georgia – Despite an unsettled situation at QB, the Bulldogs return four of five starters up front to block for a deep running back corps led by the SEC’s best in Nick Chubb. Jeremy Pruitt’s defense will be much improved in his second season.  While many are picking Mark Richt’s squad to win the division by default, I don’t think the Dawgs are far and away the class of the division and will be challenged.

2. Tennessee – The Vols have all the buzz and many thinking Butch Jones’ talented recruiting classes will finally begin paying off in competing for a division title. Despite having 10 started back on offense, including dual-threat QB Joshua Dobbs and a bevy of playmakers, I still think UT is one more season away. An underrated defense plus a favorable schedule (UGA comes to Knoxville) will have the Vols in the top-half of the East.

3. Missouri – How can anyone not pick the Tigers to win the division? Gary Pinkel’s team has only won it in both seasons since entering the SEC. Well, I think Mizzou’s two-straight trips to the SEC title game comes to an end having lost so many players to the NFL recently and without a handful of power forwards at WR. Russell Hansbrough is a workhorse at RB and will shoulder a heavy load this season.

4. South Carolina – The biggest unknown and toughest team to figure out in the entire SEC is South Carolina. Exactly what does Steve Spurrier have to work with besides a very unclear picture at QB and a defense that was un-Carolina-like last year? Dynamic WR Pharaoh Cooper could be a dark horse Heisman contender, especially if USC is better than most think. Cooper will be ALL over the field and take his share of snaps at QB. The defense should be much improved under new defensive coordinator Jon Hoke.

5. Kentucky – I know Big Blue is my alma mater and I’m not just going out on a limb believing Mark Stoops’ team is much better. After a 5-1 start last season, UK ran out of gas down the stretch with so many talented freshmen and sophomores on the field. Starting QB Patrick Towles (6-5, 250 lbs.) has a cannon for an arm and some big receiving targets outside. The biggest question mark is will UK be better defensively and who’ll replace the Cats’ two best players in DE’s first-round NFL Draft pick Bud Dupree and fourth-round pick Za’Darius Smith.

6. Florida – I think I’m one of the few who absolutely loved the Jim McElwain hire. He brings the fun, uptempo offense Gators fans are accustomed except it’ll have to wait a year. McElwain will be looking for playmakers in August camp and have a razor thin offensive line with only six letterman coming out of spring practice. One bright spot is the defense led by one of the country’s top DB and first-team, All-SEC pick Vernon Hargreaves.

7. Vanderbilt – If you think Vandy finishes anything higher than last, then will you please raise your hands? Yeah, I don’t see many hands up.

SEC West

1. Auburn – Sturg doesn’t like my pick to win the SEC West but the marriage of offensive-minded Gus Malzahn coupled with new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp is too perfect of a tandem. The fiery Muschamp makes the Tigers’ defensive instantly better and he’s got some stud true freshmen, who’ll see the field including No. 1 recruit in the ESPN 300 Byron Cowart. But it’s still all about offense on the Plains and starting QB Jeremy Johnson. Despite limited starting experience, Johnson’s got an outstanding arm and isn’t short on big-time receivers to throw to. Maybe the different in the SEC West? The fact Auburn gets Bama at home to end the season.

2. Alabama – It’s tough to count out Nick Saban and the Tide as the preseason favorite, but I think this year the loss of so many players the last two season to the NFL finally catches up with Bama much like LSU last season. Talent will NEVER be a problem in Tuscaloosa and for a Saban-coached team. Junior RB Derrick Henry is as good as any back in the SEC and he’ll carry a big load with Saban saying this week he’s looking to getting back toward a run-first, power game. The fact that Jacob Coker has solidified himself as the firm starter at QB yet is troubling, though he’ll be under center in the opener against Wisky.

3. Ole Miss – Almost all of my picks in the West are uncomfortable here. But picking Ole Miss to finish third might be the riskiest. With the NCAA investigation surrounding star OT Laremy Tunsil, stud WR Laquon Treadwell coming off a knee injury suffered last year against Auburn and looking for a QB to replace Bo Wallace gives me heartburn. Hugh Freeze’s Rebels still have a defense that will keep them in every single game plus the probably the best defensive line in college football.

4. Arkansas – Like the Vols, Arkansas has all the preseason buzz in the SEC West. The Hogs feature a pair of RB’s that each ran for more than 1,000 yards last season in Jonathan Williams (1,085) and Alex Collins (1,024). Both average more than 5.5 yards per carry and combined for 23 rushing TDs. Throw in Brandon Allen who passed for 2,285 yards last year with 20 TDs and just five picks and the Hogs could have an offensive as explosive as Auburn.

5. LSU – Attrition to the NFL Draft finally caught up with LSU last season in going just 8-5 (4-4 SEC). Les Miles has reloaded with talent but I’m still skeptical with Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris unable to take hold of the QB job. The Tigers will ride Leonard Fournette as far as they can and defensively with John Chavis gone to College Station, it’s unknown just how good Kevin Steele’s unit will be.

6. Texas A&M – Speaking of John Chavis, defense is a major area of improvement needed if the Aggies are gonna challenged for the top-half of the division, which is where Chavis comes in. It wouldn’t surprise me if Kevin Sumlin’s team finished second or last in the division.

7. Mississippi State – What’s the one thing MSU has that nobody in the league can boast? A dual-threat Heisman contender last season in Dak Prescott that’s been thru the wars of the SEC. Prescott’s senior year will have to be special for the Bulldogs to avoid the SEC cellar, while Dan Mullen has several question marks on defense thanks to the NFL Draft.

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