Alabama, the highest ranked of the SEC schools, opens against Wisconsin in Dallas and in addition to the killer West schedule, plays the top two projected teams in the East, Georgia and Tennessee. LSU, on the other hand, plays non-conference games against McNeese State, Syracuse, Eastern Michigan and Western Kentucky, hardly a murderers' row. They also dodge Georgia, Tennessee and Missouri from the East. Auburn opens with Louisville, my dark horse favorite to win the ACC and must also take on Georgia. Arkansas, while on the surface has what is a weak non-conference schedule, plays bowl teams Toledo and UTEP. So if a one-loss LSU wins the conference title, the committee may penalize them for a soft schedule. I don't think LSU can get through with just a single loss, but if it happens, controversy may be in the offing.
Scheduling could play a huge role in the outcome of the East. Georgia's talented, but they need to break in a new quarterback under first year offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. They also have the unenviable task of having to play both Alabama and Auburn, while also facing rival Georgia Tech to end the season. Tennessee should be improved under third year coach Butch Jones, coming off an impressive bowl win over Iowa that enabled them to win four of their last five games. Key games for them will be a Sept. 12 date at home against Oklahoma, and then a three game stretch during which they host Arkansas and Georgia, then get a week off before traveling to Alabama. If they get out of the month of October with just one conference loss, they could contend for a title. But let's not forget about two-time defending East champion Missouri. Despite getting mauled by Alabama in the championship game, the Tigers a still led by junior quarterback Maty Mauk, but he'll be throwing to a new group of receivers. Can they make it three in a row? With Mississippi State and Arkansas on the schedule and an East that includes Vanderbilt, Kentucky and rebuilding Florida, there's a good chance as long as Mauk can make plays and stay healthy. And finally, Steve Spurrier needs to get the South Carolina Gamecocks back on track in 2015. Although the old ball coach says he has no plans of retiring, another disappointing season could nudge him in that direction.
Perhaps the toughest division in college football, it's also very likely not to produce a College Football Playoff participant. As much as it appears that Alabama simply reloads, they only return two offensive starters, and they have to play Wisconsin the first weekend. They don't get a lot of time to get their act together before facing Ole Miss, the only team to defeat them in the regular season in 2014. With Arkansas projected to be better and Georgia on the schedule, the Tide will really need to develop their new starters in a hurry. Auburn stumbled down the stretch last year an will need to find more consistency if the potential they seem to have is going to be realized. A mid-season trip to Arkansas will be a gauge for both teams and perhaps establish which team will challenge Alabama for West supremacy. The Razorbacks, who averaged just over ten points a game defensively in their last six games, including a 31 - 7 trouncing of Texas in the Texas bowl, enter the season with high expectations. But trips to Alabama, Tennessee and LSU will prove to be challenging. Texas A&M was 5 - 0 after a thrilling win over Arkansas last year before hitting the skids, losing three in a row, ending in an embarrassing 59 - 0 defeat to Alabama and eventually losing five of their final six league games. But a new defensive coordinator has the Aggie fans hopeful they can stay with the big boys. Last year's darlings, Mississippi State and Ole Miss will probably take a step back, especially if Arkansas emerges as expected. Ole Miss, however, gets Vanderbilt and Florida from the East, giving them somewhat of a break from a schedule perspective.
This is a totally homer pick, partially because my nephew is a walk-on at the University of Arkansas and partially because the Razorbacks showed glimpses of complete dominance of the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball last year. I also think the winner of the West may end up with two conference losses, making the race totally wide open. A matchup with Georgia in the championship game will give Arkansas it's first ever SEC title. But it won't be enough to get them into the College Football Playoffs. I'm sure I'll catch plenty of flack from SEC fans, but that's how I see it.