The next college football season will be a dogfight, and few divisions are more cut-throat than the SEC West. This has often been the toughest division in college football, though Alabama has sometimes been so good that it towers over the rest of the division. Let’s see what is in store for the SEC West in 2021. The rankings for this division go from the first team listed (predicted division champion) down to the last team listed (seventh place).
Alabama Crimson Tide
The Crimson Tide lose a ton of players from last season’s national championship team: Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith, quarterback Mac Jones, receiver Jaylen Waddle, running back Najee Harris, tackle Alex Leatherwood, center Landon Dickerson, guard Deonte Brown, cornerback Patrick Surtain II and tight end Miller Forristall.
Yet, Alabama showed last year that the program simply reloads. It doesn’t have to rebuild. Tua Tagovailoa left for the NFL, and yet the Alabama offense was better than ever last season. Losing Smith, Jones, Harris, and Waddle feels like an enormous deficit, but Alabama can simply restock the supply of high-end players: tackle Tommy Brockermeyer, tackle J.C. Latham, linebacker Dallas Turner, cornerback Khyree Jackson, quarterback Bryce Young and running back Camar Wheaton.
Alabama is the clear favorite in the SEC West and still highly likely to play in the SEC Championship Game, probably against Georgia. If the Tide win that game, they’ll be back in the College Football Playoff as the team to beat.
Texas A&M Aggies
Odds To Win National Championship: +2000
The Aggies lose quarterback Kellen Mond, who had a decent but erratic career in College Station. A&M is hoping for an upgrade at the position, but with two freshmen – Zach Calzada and Haynes King – battling for the starting job, it might be asking too much for an elite passing game in 2021. Maybe it will all come together in 2022.
The other big losses for A&M in the offseason came on the offensive line. At least three of last year’s starters won’t be coming back. It would be one thing if the veteran quarterback stayed and the O-line left, or if the quarterback left but the line remained intact. Having to start fresh at both position groups is the real challenge for head coach Jimbo Fisher, who will have to do a lot of juggling and slowly ease his personnel into the flow of the season. This will be a dramatic balancing act for the A&M staff, especially on offense.
Odds To Win National Championship: +3000
The Tigers lose linebacker Jabril Cox, who was all over the field for this team last season and made a ton of important defensive plays. LSU loses receiver Terrace Marshall, tight end Arik Gilbert, who transferred to Georgia, and quarterback T.J. Finley, who transferred to Auburn. The biggest offseason change for this program, though, is at defensive coordinator. Bo Pelini was an absolute disaster for this team last season. In comes Daronte Jones as his replacement. Jones needs to massively upgrade a defense which was embarrassed much of the time in 2020. The offense wasn’t where it needed to be on certain occasions, but the defense was nearly always atrocious. LSU should definitely be a few games better than it was last season, but it will be hard for the Tigers to reach a very high ceiling.
Odds To Win National Championship: +8000
The huge change at Auburn this past offseason came at the head coaching position, and it dwarfs everything else surrounding the Tiger program. Gus Malzahn, who coached Auburn to the 2013 season’s national championship game against Florida State and who defeated Nick Saban and Alabama three different times as head coach, was fired after the 2020 season. Malzahn’s big problem is that he could not develop quarterbacks within his own program. His best teams at Auburn had transfer quarterbacks who performed extremely well. Replacing Malzahn is Bryan Harsin, who was previously the head coach at Boise State. This is a transition year for Auburn, which loses receivers Anthony Schwartz and Seth Williams, but the Tigers hope that before 2022, they will be able to reload and make a real run at the SEC West title.
Ole Miss Rebels
Odds To Win National Championship: +10000
The Rebels have starting quarterback Matt Corral back for another year, but he won’t have his favorite target back. Receiver Elijah Moore is off to the NFL. Ole Miss has been a receiver-producing factory in recent years, most notably D.K. Metcalf, who has thrived with the Seattle Seahawks. Ole Miss should have a very good offense, but given how bad the Rebels have been on defense in recent years, it is going to be hard for this team to reach a very high ceiling. Ole Miss gets into a lot of 49-42 games, but some of the offenses in the SEC are good enough – and will be good enough – to score 49 instead of 42. The Rebels are good enough to pull one upset this year, and they are weak enough to lose a game they should be expected to win. That generally means a season which is no greater than 8-4 and no worse than 5-7.
Odds To Win National Championship: +20000
The Razorbacks lose very few starters from a team that was surprisingly competitive in the SEC West last year. Quarterback Feleipe Franks and defensive lineman Jonathan Marshall are the two lost starters. The Hogs looked a lot better than anyone expected under first-year head coach Sam Pittman last year. However, the SEC West was down in 2020, and if other teams in the division make improvements, Arkansas will still find it hard to make big steps forward this season.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
Odds To Win National Championship: +20000
The Bulldogs lose quarterback K.J. Costello and guards Greg Eiland and Dareuan Parker. On defense, they lose linebacker Erroll Thompson and defensive linemen Marquiss Spencer and Kobe Jones. Coach Mike Leach needs to figure out how to make his Air Raid offense thrive in the SEC. Last season was a tough one for his spread passing concepts. Defensive coordinators played zone and forced MSU’s quarterbacks to throw the ball short. If they weren’t patient, they threw lots of interceptions. Mississippi State faces a long, hard climb in the SEC West. The Bulldogs need to develop their young players for the future. They will not contend for championships this year.